How New Jersey Has Embraced "State-Sanctioned Loan-Sharking" to Students

truthout - July 16, 2016 - 4:00am

New Jersey has the country's largest state-based student loan program. It's also incredibly unforgiving. For this ProPublica Podcast, I talked with our own Annie Waldman about her story on what one bankruptcy attorney described at New Jersey's "state-sanctioned loan sharking." Waldman found one mother who has been required to keep paying off her son's loans even after he was murdered.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation.

On how easy it is for families to take out large sums of money through New Jersey's student loan program:

Waldman: One thing that was consistent with everybody that I spoke with is that nobody actually spoke with somebody on the phone from this agency and gave them their situation. This is how much money my family makes. This is what I'm majoring in. This is what I want to do with my life. I didn't hear that there was really any direct communication between the agency and the students in that way. A lot of people told me that they applied for these loans online. It took them 15 minutes to fill up the application, and within an hour they were approved.

On the state's refusal to forgive the debt of one young man, instead leaving his mom stuck with monthly bills for years after his death:

Waldman: She sent in her tax information and her husband's. They don't make a lot of money. They're a middle class family. She's a nanny part-time. She cleans houses part-time. Her husband is a landscaper. They are by no means rolling in dough. She sent in this information and the state agency sent her a letter back and said, "We looked at it, your information and you don't fit the criteria for forgiveness. We're going to continue to send you bills," which she was shocked. She was shocked and confused. This is a state agency. How could they do this to her family? To this day, she's been continuing to pay off his loans. She's made 17 payments since he died at $180 a month. Then she'll continue to do that for the next 6 or 7 years.

On the power of the state behind the loans:

Waldman: [T]he one thing that I think was so shocking for me was that these loans – even though they're literally private loans … the agency has the powers of the state when they want to compel families to pay, which means that they can garnish their wages. They can seize your wages without a court judgment even before you default on your loans. They can also suspend any kind of professional license or revoke any kind of professional license if you default. For example if you're a doctor, if you're a nurse, you can have your license taken away. They can also take away your lottery winnings. If you win more than $1,000, they can take away your lottery winnings and on top of that, they can also take away your state tax return, which a lot of families will rely on at the end of the year.

Listen to this podcast on iTunesSoundCloud or Stitcher. For more, read Waldman's piece, New Jersey's Student Loan Program is 'State-Sanctioned Loan-Sharking'.

Categories: Newswire

Is What's Good for Facebook Not so Good for Democracy?

truthout - July 16, 2016 - 4:00am

Around the country, thousands have returned to the streets again to protest the deaths of black people at the hands of the police. One of those deaths, the shooting of 32-year-old Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, was broadcast on Facebook Live by Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, spurring the outrage that prompted people around the country to act.

The fact that an extraordinarily self-possessed user managed to deploy Facebook's live tool to broadcast a police killing seemed inevitable once it had happened. Videos of other such killings, spread by social media, have been a key driver of the Black Lives Matter movement. While Facebook's decision to privilege video, particularly video hosted on Facebook itself, in its ever-changing algorithms likely helped Reynolds's video go viral, but also raises questions about how much power social networking sites have over politics and activism.

To see more stories like this, visit Moyers & Company at Truthout.

While social media has become integral to the work of political organizing, activists are victims of the success they've helped create for the social networks. As social networking companies become the new media giants, they've become less welcoming to the grass roots. Algorithm tweaks leave some scrambling to adapt their strategies. Harassment and trolling -- particularly targeting the marginalized -- drive others away. And then there is the question of whether progressive activists can trust the motives of those who control the media they use.

For activists, this presents challenges. As Malaya Davis of the Ohio Student Association notes, social media remains a particularly potent tool in "high-intensity movement moments" like now, as well as for community-building in quieter times. Yet problems emerging around the use of social media have led organizers like herself to examine their strategy.

Algorithm Troubles

Online organizing persists, despite the fact that Facebook sometimes seems determined to kill it. With some 1.65 billion active users, Facebook is easily the world's largest social network, and that means that every tweak in the algorithms that decide which information its users will see can have a massive effect.

Jenni Dye, who first made her Twitter account public during the Wisconsin protests against Gov. Scott Walker's 2011 anti-union law, considers that moment a "sweet spot in the emergence of social media."

"More and more people were joining Twitter and Facebook, so it was the perfect opportunity to reach a bunch of people but not so many people that your message got drowned out," she says. Now, as an elected member of the Dane County Board of Supervisors and the research director for the nonprofit One Wisconsin Now, she finds that on social media "we've reached a point where there are so many voices that it's harder to break through that noise." Even reaching people who have already "liked" her organization's page has become a challenge.

"You have to have a lot of time to keep up with the algorithm," she adds. "If you aren't going to buy into their just-pay-to-have-your-content-seen service strategy, you have to have time then to come up with a strategy of how to work within the algorithm to still be seen." That makes it harder for new voices and new organizations to break in, Dye notes. Groups or individual users who already have a lot of friends or likes will be more likely to show up in users' news feed, generating even more clicks for them.

The recent changes in the site seem aimed at producing more revenue for Facebook; users who can't afford to pay to promote their pages often find their content hidden with only a few lonely "Likes." (Facebook did not respond to multiple requests for an interview for this piece.)

"Their pushing of sponsored content has become much more aggressive over the past six months or so," says Cayden Mak, chief technology officer of 18 Million Rising, a group founded to promote civic engagement and movements within the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community. "It is really tempting, because they're like, 'For a very small amount of money you can promote your thing!' and it's in everything. When I look at Facebook on my phone during off hours it's like 'Don't you want to promote 18 Million Rising?'" Other organizers complain of event invitations being limited in an attempt, perhaps, to push them toward paid advertising.

Of particular concern to political organizers lately has been the question of whether Facebook is intentionally stifling certain topics. The site launched a new tagging system in January to help organizations better target their desired audiences, but the news broke that Black Lives Matter was not an available tag in the system. That followed on the heels of a report, citing a former Facebook "news curator," that the curators regularly suppressed conservative news, and led Facebook users once again to wonder how much control they had over their experience on the site. Facebook curators also said that they were told to "inject" selected stories into the site's trending topics.

"It does raise the question of how much of this is human control," Mak says. "It's impossible to say where humans come into the process and who those humans are, what their perspectives, understandings and biases are." Those perspectives can come into play with trending topic curation or even content moderation. "If you're reporting content to content moderators in multiple countries who don't necessarily understand, especially when we talk about the ways that we talk about race and racism in the US context, it opens up this door for basically naive censorship." Posts that use certain words or imagery often get pulled, he explains, even if the words were used to describe something that happened rather than to insult, or an image had news or historical value. More questions arose when Diamond Reynolds' video of the Castile shooting disappeared from Facebook. The company originally blamed its disappearance on a "glitch" but an unconfirmed report later surfaced blaming the police.

Because it's not an arm of the government or a public utility, Facebook is under no First Amendment obligations. Under the company's Terms of Service, it can block any content it wants, but its users would like some transparency in how those choices are made. Michelle Gunderson, a teacher and member of the Chicago Teachers Union and the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators says that she's been put in "Facebook jail" (had her account blocked from posting) after a post she wrote about the education reform group Teach for America was reported.

Even so, Gunderson and the CTU teachers continue to use Facebook and have found ways to work within its algorithms. They shot one-minute videos around their April strike vote, explaining their reasons for voting to walk off the job, which were particularly successful.

Facebook has been central to the work of OUR Walmart, a group of Walmart workers who have been organizing for better working conditions at the retail giant since 2012.  But they spend less time these days on their main page, using a small bit of paid promotion as a supplement to it. Unlike most of the labor movement, which still uses social mainly to push one-way messages, OUR Walmart uses Facebook groups to connect to new recruits and let workers connect with each other and realize the problems that are common across multiple stores. On the Facebook groups, "people find other people in their stores," says Cynthia Murray, one of the group's founding members. "They had no idea that they were in one of our groups."

Social media, says Andrea Dehlendorf, co-director of OUR Walmart, is "such an opportunity for workers to build power for themselves, and it requires organizations to be really open and to not fear the dialogue." The workers, not staff members, are the most effective organizers.

Ultimately, whether it makes sense for organizers to spend a lot of energy (or money) on Facebook depends on which audience they are trying to reach. Social media was an effective part of the Ohio Student Association's successful campaign against Cuyahoga County Prosector Timothy McGinty after the failure to prosecute the police officer who killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice and the botched prosecutions of other officers who killed black Cleveland residents.

"Most of the stuff that we produce online is for a specific audience, typically young people, mostly young people of color who are interested in racial and economic justice but there are also older folks who follow us on social media," says OSU's Davis. She says people under 25 are using Facebook less and spending more time on Twitter. But Twitter comes with its own set of problems.

Twitter Strife

Twitter has a troll problem. This is not news to the company; its CEO admitted in 2015, "We suck at dealing with abuse." Twitter rolled out the beginnings of a new plan for dealing with the harassment that many of its users face this year, but that hasn't stopped many of the people I spoke with for this story cutting back on their use of the site.

"It feels like the fun, the joy of Twitter has been sucked out," says Dye. In part, she notes, that's because more journalists are actually using Twitter to report news, and there's also been a flood of corporate accounts using Twitter for brand-building. "On the other hand," she notes, "there is also a rise in everyday users and that has resulted in a rise of the same culture that we see everywhere on the internet, whether it's Twitter or Facebook or the comments section in your local newspaper. People say horrible things on the internet that they would never say in person."

The British think tank Demos (not to be confused with the US-based organization by the same name) ran a study mapping thousands of tweets and "found 6,500 unique users were targeted by 10,000 explicitly aggressive and misogynistic tweets." They filtered tweets to attempt to avoid the kind of "naive censorship" Mak mentions, attempting to identify which tweets were genuinely abusive. They also noted that despite the study focusing specifically on misogynist abuse, 50 percent of the propagators of such tweets were women. Abuse, Mak notes, is certainly not specific to Twitter and certain other platforms, like Tumblr, "but it is endemic to those platforms."

Even aside from the question of trolls, Twitter has just become more work. Gunderson and her teachers' union colleagues have begun spending more time attending events and public meetings and live-tweeting them.

Because journalists rely on Twitter during "movement moments," Davis says there's a tendency for the media to anoint movement "leaders" based on their Twitter presence, which doesn't always reflect their actual status. She also noted the recent decision of the Dream Defenders, an organization of young people of color that grew out of the protests after the death of Trayvon Martin, to have a "social media blackout" to reconsider the role of social media in their work.

"I do not mean to send the message that the internet is not a powerful tool for our movement or that digital organizing doesn't matter," wrote Dream Defenders Chief of Strategy Rachel Gilmer on the organization's blog after the blackout. "However, we must recognize that the internet in and of itself is not a democratizing force and should not replace community-owned media outlets. As much as we would like to believe otherwise, the purpose of social media is to collect data and sell advertising space to corporations so we buy their stuff and build their power."

Whose Media? Our Media

The importance of controlling the media you use is not lost on any of the organizers. OUR Walmart is working on building its own platform for just that reason. Social media has allowed the independent nonprofit to function on a shoestring budget, particularly after the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which had backed the organization, cut its funding in 2015. So now the group is thinking of making its own.

The goal is to create a platform that belongs to the workers, not to a massive corporation. "What we're trying to figure out is how do you add a new space online that is really devoted to workers helping each other," says Dehlendorf. "Workers themselves have a tremendous amount of accumulated knowledge and skill and experience if we're just able to use technology to connect them to the people who have big needs."

OUR Walmart is building an app that would allow for Walmart workers not only to organize but to connect to a group of "peer advisers" who can answer questions about Walmart policy and legal rights, and propose ways to handle problems. If the app works, Dehlendorf says her group will make it available to other worker organizations.

For now, however, Facebook and Twitter are the dominant social media and potential drivers of political behavior. In 2014, a Pew study found that 16 percent of registered voters followed candidates or other political figures on social media and voters who use social media were more likely to volunteer for a campaign or candidate. In a January 2016 Pew survey 14 percent of respondents said they found social media "most helpful" in learning about the election, a figure that more than doubled, to 35 percent, for those 18-29. Facebook was by far the most common site for getting election-related information.

This year, days before the deadline, Facebook sent a May 16 reminder to Californians to register to vote. It prompted the second-highest online registration activity in the site's four-year history, according to California Secretary of State Alex Padilla.

As Micah Sifry wrote in 2014, Facebook has experimented with the effectiveness of such tools for increasing voter turnout -- one experiment tweaked the feeds of 1.9 million users to contain more hard-news stories, and its researchers claimed a measurable increase in voter turnout thanks to its actions. But, Sifry noted, if the company is not going to be transparent about its experiments, such power is cause for concern rather than celebration. "Using those tools, national political campaigns, building on the Obama 2012 reelection effort, are learning how to 'engineer the public' without the public's knowledge, as sociologist Zeynep Tufekci has warned," Sifry wrote.

Facebook's new tools for electioneering are likely to make the company big bucks from the major presidential candidates and high-profile congressional races. But for local candidates, it's a very different story. "For Hillary Clinton, Facebook targeting is definitely going to work for her campaign. If you're running for governor, Facebook targeting is going to work for your campaign," says Jenni Dye. "Even if you're running for a state senate seat, you're probably going to be able to utilize Facebook targeting." On the Dane County Board of Supervisors, "my district is part of a ZIP code," she says. "I don't have all of my city, so how do I target it down to those people at a price point that is reasonable for somebody who is running a local election?"

In 2011, she says, social media was much more helpful, but now, its emphasis on pay-for-play services combined with the imprecision of its tools at the hyper-local level means it's much less useful for her. And because campaigns like hers are unlikely to have lots of money to spend, Facebook has little incentive to develop targeting that will work for people like Dye. Instead, she finds herself using email to ask people to share a post on Facebook. "I have to actually purposefully activate my network to activate theirs. It's like the Facebook version of a phone tree," she says.

Social media may, as Cayden Mak notes, be closer and closer to simply becoming mainstream media these days, but that makes it paradoxically harder for organizers to avoid. The past week's uprisings around the country have underscored how important it is. "I don't know what the next 10 years looks like for traditional organizing but I know that social media is definitely going to be taking a larger role in it than what we are even experiencing now," Davis says. "It's in our best interests to figure out how do we move this to the best of our ability to build the power that we need."

Categories: Newswire

States Sue over Department of Education’s Transgender Equality Initiative

Feminist Daily News - July 15, 2016 - 9:11pm
Ten more states sued the Obama Administration last week over a federal directive requiring schools to allow transgender students to use restrooms that correspond with their gender identity, joining the eleven states that had already filed suit in May. Related posts:
  1. Pat Summit, Trailblazer of Women’s Sports, Dies at 64
Categories: Newswire

House Majority Passes Yet Another Anti-Abortion Bill

Feminist Daily News - July 15, 2016 - 6:28pm
The House on Wednesday voted 245-182 to pass the Conscience Protection Act of 2016, a bill which would restrict access to abortion by allowing healthcare workers and health insurance providers to refuse to cover abortion services. Related posts:
  1. Oakland, California Considering Ordinance to Penalize CPCs for False Advertising
  2. House Investigation of Abortion Providers Set to Exceed $1 Million
  3. “Abortion Drone” Will Fly from Ireland to Northern Ireland
Categories: Newswire

These Newly Restored Indie Films from Cinema’s Early Days Show Black Life From a Black Perspective

In These Times - July 15, 2016 - 10:00am

Running parallel to Hollywood movies, there has been a secret history of film, unspooling out of the spotlight, speaking to specific peoples. Unsubtitled Yiddish cinema was for years produced and shown wherever there were Jews, while Cantonese films were exported globally to Chinatowns. Likewise, practically from the turn of the century, the American “race film” was screened sometimes in low-rent urban theaters and sometimes barnstormed into town and thrown onto a church basement wall.

Rough, passionate and unconcerned with Hollywood conventions, these films constitute a bedrock of pre-civil rights era culture. Now, film distributor Kino Lorber has packaged many of the surviving films into a five-disc DVD set, Pioneers of African-American Cinema. Roughly 20 hours of restored film, the set begins with a 1915 comedy short from trailblazing Ebony Productions and rounds off in 1946 with Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A. What you see here is very different from the occasional “black cast” films Hollywood studios would produce, like The Green Pastures (1936) and Stormy Weather (1943), usually musicals and almost always fashioned by white filmmakers hoping to cater to black audiences. Instead, race films were produced independently by black filmmakers with amateur budgets. Shot with artless simplicity, movies like Body and Soul (1925) and Ten Nights in a Barroom (1926) are generally oldschool melodramas, brimming with cautionary sermons. Via fringe filmmakers like Oscar Micheaux, Spencer Williams, R.W. Phillips and James and Eloyce Gist, the black subculture we see here is wracked by poverty and vice: families plagued by booze, goldbricking men trying to sully honest women, nest eggs stolen, duplicitous preachers, debt-ridden husbands dying in cardgame shoot-outs. Whites are mostly absent; the early-20th-century struggle for identity as an American class is one that blacks wage on their own.  

It is all invariably staged and shot full-frontal, so you can’t look away, with acting that reaches the back row. You get pelted by racial stereotypes like the shiftless, drunken horndog—if “stereotypes” is the right word, given their origin. But we as a culture are far beyond dismissing the films because of their coarseness. Film critic J. Hoberman could get by, in a 1980 Film Comment piece, with citing Micheaux’s films as an axiom of entrancing “bad movies,” but in the decades since, Micheaux has been reclaimed by critics as a counter-culture giant, defiantly representing a commercially oppressed but all-American point of view. By now, scores of colleges offer race film courses, and Micheaux is the subject of numerous studies and biographies. Who made the films and how their perspective is shaped by race is as important as the experience of watching them.

What’s most fascinating is the films’ tackling of racial stress. These filmmakers didn’t pretend that social roles were steadfast and just, as Hollywood did. Micheaux—in God’s Step Children (1938), among others—routinely examined the anxious conflict of lightskinned blacks “passing.” In his The Symbol of the Unconquered (1920), a tortured mulatto man, whose desire to pass makes him more corrupt than any white character, even ends up inadvertently heading a KKK raid. From this perspective, race relations are a matter of constant moral conflict. At the very least, any layman can place Micheaux’s oeuvre, and the entirety of this video box, against the century of black marginalization in American films proper (decades of servants, gardeners and cheerful slaves), and see the films’ importance emerge.

Highlights also include Williams’ lovely 1941 morality play, The Blood of Jesus (the first race film to be included in the National Film Registry), the Gists’ hallucinatory anti-vice church film, Hellbound Train (1930), and documentary footage of Florida and South Carolina black life shot by novelist Zora Neale Hurston. It is very much a fastidious and earnest piece of history-keeping, with a plethora of newly commissioned essays, documentaries and musical scores. The scholarship falls into sharp relief against some of the earliest films’ horrific nitrate decay; watching them is like seeing history dissolve before your eyes after it had been barely recorded and frozen in amber to begin with. However many films have already been lost, we’ve caught these just in time.

Categories: Newswire

As Bastille Day Attack in France Kills 84, Is the War on Terror a "Self-Fulfilling Prophecy"?

truthout - July 15, 2016 - 4:00am

More than 84 people are dead in Nice, France, after an attack on a crowd of people celebrating Bastille Day in the city in the French Riviera. Witnesses said a man in a large truck deliberately drove into a massive crowd watching a fireworks celebration. The truck continued driving a mile, mowing down people in the crowd. No group has taken responsibility for the attack. French media have identified the driver of the truck as Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a French man of Tunisian descent who lived in Nice. Earlier today, French President François Hollande announced he would extend the state of emergency put in place after the Paris attacks which killed 130 people eight months ago. We go to France to speak with Palestinian-American playwright Ismail Khalidi in Nice and French human rights and civil liberties activist Yasser Louati in Paris.


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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: More than 84 people are dead in France after an attack on a crowd of people celebrating Bastille Day in a city in the French Riviera. The dead include as many as 10 children. Another 18 people are critically injured. Witnesses said a man in a large truck deliberately drove into a massive crowd watching the fireworks celebration. The truck continued driving a mile at high speed, mowing down people in the crowd. Survivors described horrific scenes on the streets of Nice.

KARIM LAAMARA: [translated] There were people on the ground, yes, only people on the ground -- many, many. I was trying not to look. I tried to look up. I didn't want to see. It was too painful. There were people crying, people covered in blood, people covered in blood everywhere. It is so sad.

AMY GOODMAN: No group has taken responsibility for the attack. French media have identified the driver of the truck as 31-year-old Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a French man of Tunisian descent who lived in Nice. He was shot dead by police during the attack. Earlier today, French President François Hollande announced he would extend the state of emergency put in place after the Paris attacks, which killed 130 people eight months ago.

PRESIDENT FRANÇOIS HOLLANDE: [translated] I have decided that the state of emergency, which should have ended on July 26, will be extended for another three months. A bill will be presented to the Parliament in the coming week. Nothing will make us yield in our will to fight against terrorism. And we will once again reinforce our activities in Syria and Iraq, and we will continue to strike precisely those who strike us on our own soil in their hideouts.

AMY GOODMAN: We're joined right now by two guests: from Nice, France, Ismail Khalidi, a Palestinian-American playwright and writer -- he was in Nice visiting his family -- and in Paris, Yasser Louati, a French human rights and civil liberties activist and researcher.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Ismail Khalidi, you were there last night. While you didn't see the truck, you certainly saw the aftermath of people running. Can you tell us what you experienced?

ISMAIL KHALIDI: Yeah. Hi, Amy. Hi, Juan. Yeah, I, fortunately, was not at the scene and did not witness the carnage, but I was probably about six blocks down the Promenade des Anglais from where the attack took place and where the fireworks had just ended. And there was really thousands and thousands of people -- families, tourists -- congregating. And all of a sudden, we witnessed what really, essentially, amounted to a stampede of people shouting, screaming, and a lot of confusion, obviously, resulted from that, as there was not really very clear information about what was going on, only that the police had told people to run. And they followed -- they followed suit. You know, one of probably the most harrowing things we saw last night was a young father jettisoning his two kids over a fence and then clambering up the fence himself in order to get out. But it was really -- I mean, it was obviously a horrible, horrible night here in Nice. And it was quite chaotic and confused. And there was not a lot of information, I'll say, in the aftermath from the police on the streets about where people should go and what they should do next.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what have you been able to learn, or have we been able to learn, since the attack about the man who led the attack, was in the truck and was killed?

ISMAIL KHALIDI: Yeah, I mean, I think that you guys reported a little bit on it. What I've read is that he's a local Nice resident, a French -- young French man of Tunisian, I think, descent, with a, you know, petty criminal record, as far as I know. But, I mean, it seems to me that he fits the bill of a lot of these attackers from the Paris attack, for example, of November 13th, of young, alienated immigrant men who, in many cases, grow up in marginalized ghettos in French cities and who have criminal records and carry out acts of violence. But I actually can't speak to much more than that. That's what I know. I do know that Nice, from where I am right now, more or less in the center of the city, seems to kind of be going about business as normal. I mean, I think that probably where the attack took place is obviously, I'm guessing, shut down at this moment.

AMY GOODMAN: Yasser Louati, you're in Paris, French President François Hollande has left there and gone to Nice, where he has just arrived. There was a state of emergency ending next week, after the attacks in November. He has now said that they will be extended, and France will increase its presence in Iraq and Syria. Can you talk about what you understand about what happened and what's happening in your country, France, today?

YASSER LOUATI: Hi, Amy. Hi, Juan. This is a feeling of déjà vu. This is my fourth time on your show, and I'm going to repeat the same things again, unfortunately. It's a great confusion coming from the government. But first we have a question: How sure can we be that this is a terrorist attack, and does it even qualify as such? I mean, like the culprit is -- well, was known to be nonreligious, made no political claims, left no letter behind him. He was known to be a womanizer, a salsa lover, who was isolated and had no connection whatsoever to any organization. And so we need to leave time enough for the government to do its job [inaudible] and Justice Department to really identify the motives behind this attack.

What we should keep in mind is that President François Hollande, on July 14th, yesterday morning, was saying that he was going to lift up the state of emergency, that it will be over on July 26. The very same day, around, I think, 10:00 p.m., he said that, you know, they are going to extend it for three months. But talking about the state of emergency, you know, it's been in full effect since last November, and it did not bring any more protection to us as everyday citizens, nor did it crack down on this terrorist threat. At the same time, you know, the Sentinel Operation, which means the presence of military people in big cities and major public areas, has not shown its effects. And even the repressive laws that have been passed since November, and also the enhanced powers given to the intelligence community, to the police and the government itself, did not protect us in any way whatsoever. And we should go back to the 2013 confidential report from the domestic intelligence saying that the government is failing by adopting security measures alone and should take into consideration the financial, social and identity crisis, you know, deep-rooted in this country. About four or five days ago --

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Yasser, I just wanted to ask you, what -- you mentioned the emergency -- the emergency decrees. What is the impact on the Muslim community of the United States of these emergency powers?


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I'm sorry, France.

YASSER LOUATI: Yeah, I mean, like, you know, this state of emergency has led to over 3,600 raids, leading only to six inquiries on terror charges. In the meantime, you have dramatically used the Muslim community as a scapegoat to divert attention from the government's failures to protect the people of France and, at the same time, to review its own policies both abroad and here at home. When you have Human Rights Watch, the U.N., Amnesty International and various human rights organizations saying that the state of emergency did not help in reducing the terror threat, but targeted the Muslim community to hold it responsible, at the same time, again, we have received two waves of terrorist attacks in 2015. Nobody resigned. Nobody took responsibility. Nobody got sacked. So, the government cannot, you know, flee its responsibilities and keep holding minorities responsible for those very same failures. I was saying a couple of days ago there was a parliamentary inquiry released, you know, by the National Assembly pointing to the fact the intelligence community in France has historically failed. So, when you keep, you know, piling up all these reports and the government keeps repeating that it's going to repeat the same strategy, then, I'm sorry, you have a person from Nice killing people from Nice -- why would bombing Syria and Iraq give us any more security?

AMY GOODMAN: Ultimately, what do you want to happen right now? We have about 30 seconds, Yasser.

YASSER LOUATI: It's on the French government to review our foreign policy. How come we became this enemy number one for these terrorist organizations? We need to have an upstream strategy that takes into consideration all the facts that lead to terrorist attacks, and then we have to listen to what the professionals say. We cannot use security-based measures alone when they turn out to be countereffective. And the last point is that -- don't forget that in the famous article from ISIL called "Destroying the Gray Zone," saying that we need these terrorist attacks so the Muslim community will be cast aside, stigmatized and persecuted. This will help hire more people and bridge the -- and bring a divide between Muslims and non-Muslims, and make it impossible for these two communities to live together in peace.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me play for you what Newt Gingrich, one of the -- what's believed to be the three people on the short list for Trump for vice president -- that's Newt Gingrich; the New Jersey governor, Chris Christie; and the Indiana governor, Pence. But this is what Newt Gingrich said last night, speaking on Fox News.

NEWT GINGRICH: Western civilization is in a war. We should, frankly, test every person from here who is of a Muslim background. And if they believe in Sharia, they should be deported.

AMY GOODMAN: Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker in the United States, is talking about Americans being deported who believe in Sharia, after the Nice attack. Yasser Louati, respond.

YASSER LOUATI: Well, this -- so much ignorance from [inaudible] politicians is just -- just beyond words. The Western world is not at war with Islam, because there are Western Muslims being killed in the West by terrorist organizations. Second, I think Newt Gingrich should send his résumé to ISIL and get a job there, because he's doing exactly what they're asking for. They kill us here, and then these politicians play into their hands, dividing people further and then continuing this job of the terrorist organizations. Unfortunately, this will go on. And what Gingrich is saying, you know, joins what Trump is saying, even Hillary Clinton are saying, with they are waging war on terror. Should I remind them of what Brzezinski said about the war on terror, that it's a fallacious concept, it's a self-fulfilling prophesy? And how about this 16-year-old war on terror? For 16 years, $4,400 billion spent, hundreds of thousand people being killed, and the multiplication of terror, of terror organizations. But I have a question for them: How about prosecuting the very same people who led to the emergence of ISIL? I don't know -- like George W. Bush, the neocons who were in the White House, Tony Blair. And we can use the Chilcot report to prosecute these people.

AMY GOODMAN: Yasser Louati, we want to thank you very much for being with us --

YASSER LOUATI: Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN:  -- French human rights and civil liberties activist and researcher, and also -- he was speaking to us from Paris -- Ismail Khalidi, who was speaking to us from Nice, France, where the attack occurred last night. At least 84 people have been killed.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, where does the debt that it has been said Puerto Rico owes come from? Stay with us.

Categories: Newswire

The Terror Suspect Who Had Nothing to Give

truthout - July 15, 2016 - 4:00am

"I would be strapped to a board by my arms and legs and by my waist (which was very painful because of my wound.)

Guards with black costumes, masks and black goggles strapped me in. My mouth and nose and eyes were covered by a cloth.

The board -- and my body -- were placed horizontally. My head was immobilized by a board. Someone poured over the cloth, which entered my mouth and nose. I could hear one water bottle empty out by the gurgling noise it made; I hoped that would end the process, then I heard another bottle start to pour.

Water would enter my lungs. I felt like my whole body was filled with water; even my eyes felt like they were drowning. I experienced the panicked sensation of death and my body convulsed in terror and resistance.

I thought 'I will die. I will die.' I lost control of my functions and urinated on myself. At the last possible moment, I instantly vomited water violently but at the same time was still panicked and desperate for air."

In 2009, Abu Zubaydah's lawyers interviewed their client and prepared a handwritten, first-person account of the torture their client suffered at the hands of the U.S. government.

The document, quoted above, recounts the terrifying experience of a man repeatedly waterboarded in the mistaken belief that he was al-Qaida's No. 3 official. It was filed in federal court as part of his lawsuit seeking release from Guantanamo, and like nearly all the documents in the case, was sealed at the government's request.

Now, seven years later, Zubaydah's statement, which he signed under oath, has been released, and it provides the most detailed, personal description yet made public of his "enhanced interrogation" at a Central Intelligence Agency "black site" in Thailand.

The United States waterboarded Zubaydah 83 times. According to his statement, he was also hung from hooks, "shackled to a chair naked in freezing temperatures," and bombarded with loud noises that kept him awake for days.

While shackled and being screamed at, he was forced to stand naked in front of a woman. "When I refused to talk with a woman present, [name blacked out] beat my head against the wall repeatedly."

In between waterboarding sessions, he was placed in what he called a "dog box," a wooden container that was about 2 ½ feet long, 2 ½ feet wide and 2 ½ feet high.

"The pain in the small box was unbearable," he said in his declaration. "I was hunched over in a contorted way and my back and knees were in excruciating pain. I began slamming my body and shackled arms against the inside and screaming for help and tried to break the door. The wound in my stomach and leg opened up and I started bleeding; yet I didn't care: I would do anything to stretch my leg and back for 1 minute."

At night, he was placed in a slightly larger, coffin-like box.

His interrogators screamed questions and at times he pleaded: "tell me what you want me to say, I will say it! " At other times, "I just said things that were false and that I had no basis to know or believe simply to get relief from the pain."

Zubaydah was captured in Pakistan in March 2002. Senior government officials, including President George W. Bush, immediately boasted that they had seized "one of the top three leaders of al-Qaida."

Years later, the government admitted it had been mistaken about Zubaydah. In a court filing, it said Zubaydah had no involvement or advance knowledge of 9/11, knew nothing about future plots against America, and was not even a member of al-Qaida or the Taliban. He nonetheless remains imprisoned at Guantanamo as an "enemy combatant."

The case of Abu Zubaydah is part of a contentious political debate about the morality and tactical value of waterboarding. Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has said he approves of the technique, among others, to obtain information from terror suspects. The former director of central intelligence, Michael Hayden, said the agency would never do it again and that it would tell any future president: "If you want somebody waterboarded, bring your own damn bucket."

In his statement, Zubaydah says a person visited him while he was still in one of the agency's secret prisons and apologized for the false accusations and his horrific treatment.

The two men "got into a political discussion about my beliefs and my desire for a Palestinian homeland, my opposition to violence against civilians and that I had no interest in hurting Americans or fighting against them," Zubaydah recounted in his statement.

"He understood this. During this conversation he admitted to me that the U.S. was wrong about me. He said he had no problem doing what he did to Khalid Sheik Mohammed," a confirmed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks who was also waterboarded. "But he was very sorry about what had been done to me, because I was not the person they once thought I was.

"At one point in this conversation," he said that this person, whose name was blacked out, "became emotional and became unable to speak; he removed his glasses and wiped his eyes."

The questioning of Abu Zubaydah has been previously described in news reports and in the Senate Intelligence Committee's Report on Torture, which was released in 2014. Just last month, in response to a lawsuit by the ACLU, the government released a full transcript of a military hearing in which Zubaydah described, in halting English and through a representative, some aspects of his time in the CIA's hands.

His 12-page statement offers a fuller, more chilling account of what he endured. It was released last week in response to a motion filed on behalf of ProPublica by the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School, which seeks full access to the court records in Zubaydah's case.

The government has released some documents as a result of that request but many were heavily redacted. The copy of Zubaydah's statement, for example, obscured the names of the individuals who conducted the interrogations.

The government is still withholding a substantial number of documents, including the CIA's record of Zubaydah's medical treatment, and copies of drawings he made depicting his torture, 100 pages of his personal diary, poems, letters to his mother and communications with his lawyers, who have spent hundreds of hours with him over many years.

Taken together, that material would "refute the image that he is the monster the government has painted," said Joseph Margulies, one of his lawyers, a professor of law and government at Cornell. "They reveal his humanity," said Margulies, who is barred from talking about the specifics of the still-sealed documents.

Abu Zubaydah is the nom de guerre for Zayn al Abidin Muhammad Husayn. He was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on March 12, 1971, but grew up in the West Bank, where he was part of the Palestinian uprising. In the late 1980s, he went to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets, which put him on the same side as the CIA. He sustained a serious head injury as the result of an exploding mortar shell in 1992, leaving him unable to speak for almost a year. He still suffers from the injury.

After the Soviets withdrew, Zubaydah stayed on, working at the Khalden camp, where men from the Middle East and North Africa came for training before returning to wage jihad against the Russians in Chechyna, the Serbs in Bosnia, the Israelis in Palestine. Osama Bin Laden sought to close the camp, and bring all the mujaheddin into camps under his control.

After 9/11, Zubaydah fled to a safe house Pakistan, where he was captured, in March 2002, in a joint CIA-FBI-Pakistani operation. Zubaydah, who has said he was unarmed, was shot in the groin, thigh and stomach. Bush and other senior administration officials said he was bin Laden's chief of staff, that he was one of the highest-ranking members of al-Qaida, and that he was plotting more attacks on Americans.

Drugged, trussed and blindfolded, Zubaydah was flown to a secret site in Thailand, where he became a guinea pig for the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques." He was the first al-Qaida suspect questioned under the Bush Administration's expanded authority.

He insisted that he wasn't a member of al-Qaida and knew nothing about 9/11. "Nobody in Washington believes you," he writes that he was told after the fourth day of waterboarding.

In his statement, Zubaydah speaks with surprising equanimity about his questioners whose names are redacted.

"Over time, they became more civil with me and tried to greet me politely and ask how I was doing," he writes. "I think they finally realized they were wrong about me, and that they finally accepted the truth about me. In fact, (redacted) told me this later, and (redacted) did too."

Zubaydah said he even managed to joke with his interrogators about the failures of American intelligence. "What about me?,'" he said he asked one of his interrogators. "What about your fancy satellites and intelligence -- and you thought I was al-Qaida."

"He sort of smiled to acknowledge my point and nodded his head; he said, 'well your case was a mistake.'"

In spite of all the admissions and informal apologies, Abu Zubaydah remains a prisoner at Guantanamo. In July 2008, he filed a petition for habeas corpus in federal district court in Washington, D.C., seeking his release.

For eight years, the case languished, assigned to Chief Judge Richard W. Roberts, who declined to rule on virtually every motion filed by the defense. Roberts stepped down earlier this year -- amid sexual assault allegations. The case has been assigned to Judge Emmet G. Sullivan.

Categories: Newswire

In Finance, Even Business as Usual Comes at Too High a Price

truthout - July 15, 2016 - 4:00am

A healthy financial system is crucial to a stable and productive market economy. But after decades of deregulation, the US financial system has turned into a highly speculative system that has failed spectacularly at doing its job. My new report, "Overcharged: The High Cost of High Finance," written with Juan Montecino and published by the Roosevelt Institute, describes in detail the massive costs of this failed financial system.

The evidence of overcharging is all around us. The most obvious, of course, is the catastrophic financial crisis of 2007-2008 that wiped away $16 trillion -- 24 percent of household net wealth, led to more than 5.5 million home foreclosures, and caused skyrocketing, hope-crushing unemployment rates. When the government picked up the pieces and committed more than $20 trillion of taxpayers' money to bail out the largest financial institutions, millions of Americans were left high and dry, angry and frustrated.

But the failures of our financial system don't just arrive in one big bang. They occur on a daily basis, in more mundane ways, often hidden from sight. Asset managers overcharge and underperform. Private equity (PE) general partners earn massive incomes but pay low returns to pension funds and other investors while enjoying unjustifiable tax breaks such as the carried interest exclusion. They do this while, at times, breaking companies and laying off workers for no other reason than their pursuit of short-run capital gains. Payday lenders charge upwards of 400 percent annual interest because many poor people have nowhere else to turn. Meanwhile, many of these payday lenders themselves are tied to the major Wall Street banks.

Overcharging Americans means overpaying bankers. A recent Financial Times study found that, in 2015, average annual pay for top Wall Street CEOs jumped by 10 percent to $20.7 million, twice as high as their European counterparts (who, by the way, still earn a pretty farthing). And it is not just those at the top who are overpaid. Sarah Andersen of the Institute for Policy Study showed that in 2014, total US banker bonuses were more than twice as high as the earnings of all US workers who worked full time at the minimum wage.

Overpaying finance leads to the misallocation of talent and financial resources. Many of the best- educated college graduates want to get a job on Wall Street rather than in more socially beneficial jobs as researchers, teachers, managers, or entrepreneurs. And the search for short-term opportunities to overcharge draws more and more of the nation's financial capital into financial speculation and out of more productive sectors.

How much does this overcharging cost the American people? In the first attempt to add up the tab, Juan Montecino and I did the math. In "Overcharged: The High Cost of High Finance," we divided the cost of high finance into three components:

  • Rents, or excess pay and profits going to bankers, over and above what similarly skilled and productive workers and firms in other industries would get
  • Misallocation costs, or the costs of diverting resources into high finance and away from more productive sectors of the economy
  • The costs of the great financial crisis that started in 2007–2008

We found that, between 1990 and 2005, excess profits and pay amounted to $3.6–$4.2 trillion and the misallocation of human and financial resources, which lowered US economic growth, cost the US economy between $2.6 trillion and $3.9 trillion, all in inflation-adjusted dollars. Together, these "everyday" costs of high finance amounted to between $6.3 trillion and $8.2 trillion between 1990 and 2005.

Adding conservative estimates by the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank of the expected costs of the great financial crisis (measured from 2008 to 2023), which amount to between $6.5 trillion and $14.5 trillion, we get a total cost of between $12.9 trillion and $22.7 trillion. This amounts to between $40,000 and $70,000 for every man, woman, and child in the US, or between $105,000 and $184,000 for the typical American family. Without this loss, the typical American household would have doubled its wealth at retirement.

Given this high cost, we would expect Congress to try to protect the Dodd-Frank financial regulations or even implement a new Glass-Steagall Act to break up the big banks. But instead, the Republican controlled Congress continues to push legislation to defund the regulatory agencies, gut Dodd-Frank, and deliver more profits and bonuses to the bankers. The latest example is the so-called "Financial CHOICE Act," which, by trying to repeal Dodd-Frank and roll back prior regulations, would, according to Americans For Financial Reform, "expose consumers, investors and the public to greatly heightened risk of abuse in their regular dealings with the financial system, and our economy as a whole to heightened risk of instability and crisis."

For the bankers and the politicians they pay off with campaign contributions, big rents are at stake. But for the rest of us, the costs are much, much higher. We can't afford to let Wall Street overcharge us even more.

Categories: Newswire

Scared for Their Lives

truthout - July 15, 2016 - 4:00am
Categories: Newswire

Eleven Troubling Facts About Trump's VP, Mike Pence

truthout - July 15, 2016 - 4:00am

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence speaking at a Donald Trump rally in Westfield, Indiana on July 12, 2016. (Photo: Darryl Smith / Flickr)

A lot of people anticipated that Donald Trump would choose a running mate that could help him balance out the ticket, but that does not appear to be the case. Though he won't officially announce his VP pick until Friday, multiple sources have confirmed that the presumptive Republican nominee will select Indiana Governor Mike Pence.

Choosing Pence is pretty much Trump's way of doubling down on the intolerance and far-right ideology that has characterized his campaign thus far.

Heck, fellow governors have labeled Pence a "bigot," meaning we've got an all-bigot ticket on our hands! If that's not alarming enough, here are some other reasons to panic about this choice:

1. He's Made Headlines With His "Religious Freedom" Law

When the governor signed the state's controversial "right to discriminate" bill into law, he defended it as a good thing for the state. He craftily pretended that it was not designed to discriminate LGBT people even though it was clearly meant to do just that all along.

However, corporations threatened to pull money from Indiana's economy and Pence realized his state was going to suffer big time if the law remained untouched. From there he pledged to "fix" the law to protect LGBT people.

2. He's No Fan of Gay People

Make no mistake, Pence may have backtracked, but he is no supporter of the LGBT community. Over the years as a politician, he's pushed for constitutional amendments to define marriage as between a man and a woman, he's opposed legislation that deemed violence against gay people a hate crime and he's declined to fund HIV/AIDS programs that "celebrate" a gay lifestyle.

3. He's Anti-Immigration

Trump is best known to voters as a man who wants to build a wall on the Mexican border, and Pence is no different – he previously voted to put a wall on the same border. Additionally, he has moved to end birthright citizenship to "anchor babies" and wanted to require that hospitals report undocumented patients to immigration officials.

Back in 2006 when the House and Senate were having a difficult time agreeing on immigration reform, Pence offered up a "compromise" bill that offered no amnesty to immigrants currently living in the country. That's hardly a compromise – that's a tougher stance than most conservatives take, actually.

4. He Loves Guns

Pence is a big proponent of the second amendment, even when the ideas stop making common sense. Recently, he's signed laws like one that allows people to bring guns into school parking lots and another one that deprives people of the ability to sue gun dealers that negligently (or intentionally) sell guns to felons

Pence has an A+ rating from the NRA, which is not an easy grade to receive unless you side with the NRA every time.

5. He's Needlessly Tough on Drugs

At a time when a lot of the nation began to at least consider decriminalizing marijuana, Pence went the other way on possession of cannabis. He proposed that being caught with even a tiny amount of weed should count as a felony rather than a misdemeanor, thereby ensuring a prison system overcrowded with non-violent criminals is kept intact.

6. He's Buddies With the Koch Brothers

"I've met David Koch on several occasions," Pence said. "I'm grateful to have enjoyed his support." In particular, he thanked the Koch brothers and their organization Americans for Prosperity for their "activism" in helping to reduce the income tax in Indiana and (supposedly) limiting the role of government.

7. He's Frighteningly Anti-Choice

While it may be too much to expect a pro-choice VP nominee from Trump, did he have to choose a man with such clear contempt for a woman's autonomy over her body? Indiana has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, thanks in large part to Pence's leadership on this issue.

In addition to turning the defunding of Planned Parenthood into his personal hobby, Pence promoted laws designed to humiliate women and make abortion procedures less safe. Some of his own Republican colleagues disagreed with his ideas, worried that his emphasis was on punishing women rather than actually saving fetuses.

8. He's a Tea Party "Hero"

Pence's small government, slash taxes and budgets approach to legislating has made him a favorite among Tea Party members. The Washington Post deemed him a "tea party Republican before there was a tea party."

9. He's Tried to Block Refugees

Last year, at a time when Syrian refugees were fleeing from their home country for their lives, Pence banned state agencies from bringing Syrian refugees into Indiana. "Indiana has a long tradition of opening our arms and homes to refugees from around the world, but, as governor, my first responsibility is to ensure the safety and security of all Hoosiers," he said.

Fortunately, a federal judge subsequently rejected Pence's ban for being blatantly discriminatory.

10. He's Not an Environmentalist

When Obama unveiled his Clean Power Plan in 2015, Pence was one of the scheme's most vocal critics. He put the "health of the economy" above the health of the environment, saying he needed to look out for energy companies as the state's job providers.

His response shouldn't be that surprising, considering he previously declared, "I think the science is very mixed on the subject of global warming."

11. He's Extremely Religious

Pence was actually raised in a Catholic, apolitical household , but later became a born-again Christian after meeting his wife.

When asked to describe himself, Pence says he is "a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order." In other words, he puts his faith first, which is probably why he can't get behind any socially liberal ideas.

Pence is expected to be a big hit with evangelical voters who might be unconvinced of Trump's self-professed strong Christian faith.

Categories: Newswire

The Long Victory of Bernie Sanders

truthout - July 15, 2016 - 4:00am

Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) during a campaign event at Portsmouth High School in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, July 12, 2016. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)

"I have come here to make it as clear as possible as to why I am endorsing Hillary Clinton," said Bernie Sanders on Tuesday, "and why she must become our next president."

With that, it was over. While Sanders has not officially suspended his campaign, the deal has gone down. The success he earned on the campaign trail gave him a seat at the table when the platform was drafted, and will almost certainly get him a top speaking slot at the convention, but he has reached the end of the line. His Secret Service protection detail has been dismissed. That is about as final as it gets.

It is, at first glance, a preposterous thing in modern American politics that Bernie Sanders did so well. Here was a 74-year-old man from a tiny state with wild white hair and a voice like a bowling ball rolling down an alley in Brooklyn matched up against a true juggernaut. The Clinton campaign had all the money, all the endorsements, all the high-profile recognition one could ever ask for. Bernie had Bernie, and a message.

The television behind me is bellowing about Donald Trump and Mike Pence and Newt Gingrich and Hillary Clinton. It yells even when I turn it down, and it still shouts when I turn it off entirely. This is the campaign of The Shout, a roomful of fools and frauds and farce that beggars likeness. Donald Trump is the Republican nominee. Donald Trump is the Republican nominee. I have to keep repeating it to myself in order to make it real.

For more original Truthout election coverage, check out our election section, "Beyond the Sound Bites: Election 2016."

And then there was Bernie with a bird on his podium and a message redolent of Occupy. "This election," said Sanders on Tuesday, "is about the single mom I saw in Nevada who, with tears in her eyes, told me that she was scared to death about the future because she and her young daughter were not making it on the $10.45 cents an hour she was earning. This election is about that woman, and the millions of other workers in this country who are falling further and further behind as they try to survive on totally inadequate wages."

This was his message. Low pay, economic inequality, Wall Street crime, looming environmental catastrophe, free or affordable education; he gave the same speech by rote for more than a year because the message cannot be repeated often enough, and in doing so, Bernie Sanders inspired millions. He showed us what we can be instead of what we are, and it was balm for the soul. The most unexpected presidential candidacy in modern American history very nearly pulled it off.

That gives me hope. There are a lot of people today walking around with their heads down, and rightly so: This Trump v. Clinton contest is a perfect nightmare, made entirely for television and with all the honor and character of a hard fall down a long set of stairs. No matter who wins, we will all lose. People got invested in the Sanders candidacy in a way not seen for decades. His departure is like the tolling of a grim bell, solemn, distant and gone, leaving only a hum in the ears to remind you it was there at all.

But it happened. By God and sonny Jesus, it happened. For a time, Bernie Sanders showed us something other than fear or corporate hegemony or permanent war. He showed us our best selves with a bull-throated roar, and people listened. He reminded us that despite what we hear from the media, the struggle for justice and equality is far from over. His departure from the presidential race signals no end point in this fight; that it happened at all is proof positive that the ground is richly fertile for genuine change.

Hillary Clinton is a fully owned corporate entity with a faux-populist message drafted on the back of a cocktail napkin at a Goldman Sachs convention. Donald Trump is a punchline who speaks in befuddled half-sentences and who wouldn't know a policy position if it squatted on his face and farted up his nose. These are our alleged options now, a choice between Wall Street and reality TV.

But Bernie happened, is happening, is. Not since Robert Kennedy have we witnessed so transformative a presidential candidate. He raced down the long campaign highway that had been promised to Hillary Clinton and fell ten steps short. His success is ours; it is the scholarship of the possible, of what people sick of corporate politics can accomplish. He did not win, but stands victorious. Do not forget what he has done. Do not let your children forget.

Categories: Newswire

Economic Update: The Deepening Crisis for People of Color in the US

truthout - July 15, 2016 - 4:00am

This episode discusses Boris Johnson in the UK, Jamie Dimon in the US and the issue of stagnant incomes. We also interview Rob Robinson on the economic conditions and prospects for people of color in the US.

To see more stories like this, visit Economic Update: Your Weekly Dose of Revolutionary Economics

To listen in live on Saturdays at noon, visit WBAI's Live Stream

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Categories: Newswire

Anti-Abortion Extremists Coming to Wichita Exposed

Feminist Daily News - July 14, 2016 - 7:39pm
Anti-abortion extremists are coming to Wichita on Saturday for a week-long campaign hosted by Operation Save America. No related posts.
Categories: Newswire

How to Make the Democratic Party Platform Actually Matter

In These Times - July 14, 2016 - 10:00am

IN THE FALL OF 1967, Robert Kennedy gathered a select group of trusted advisers at Hickory Hill, his family home in McLean, Va., to discuss his disenchantment with the Vietnam War and his political future.

Among those present was historian and former White House aide Arthur Schlesinger Jr. In his 1978 biography Robert Kennedy and His Times, Schlesinger recalled what was said that evening.

Liberal activist Allard Lowenstein urged Kennedy to launch an anti-war challenge to incumbent President Lyndon B. Johnson in the upcoming Democratic primaries. Schlesinger, for his part, warned Kennedy of the political risks of disloyalty to his party and president, suggesting that the senator instead organize a campaign for a peace plank in the 1968 Democratic Party platform. Kennedy was ambivalent about running, but thought Schlesinger’s proposal a pretty weak substitute. He asked, “When was the last time millions of people rallied behind a plank?”

We are, perhaps, about to find out. On June 16, in a speech streamed to several hundred thousand supporters, Sen. Bernie Sanders did not formally concede the Democratic presidential nomination to rival Hillary Clinton, but he implied the time had come to pivot from his candidacy to platform issues. He urged his supporters to rally behind a plank, or rather, a set of planks.

“I look forward in the coming weeks,” he said, “to continue discussion between the two campaigns to make sure your voices are heard and to make sure the Democratic Party passes the most progressive platform in its history.” He pledged to transform the party into one “that has the guts to take on Wall Street ... and the other powerful special interests that dominate so much of our political and economic life.”

Soon after the June 14 Washington, D.C., primary cemented Clinton as the presumptive nominee, began sending out email appeals to its several million members soliciting funds to help “cement Bernie’s agenda into the Democratic Party platform.”

In truth, the platform fight is likely to be a relatively tame one, at least in the realm of domestic policy. Hillary Clinton can’t afford to alienate Bernie Sanders’ millions of supporters, particularly younger and first-time voters, and will seek to secure their loyalty by embracing at least some of the economic justice issues that lie at the heart of the Sanders campaign.

In late May, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) announced Sanders could choose five of the 15 members of the party’s platform drafting committee. Clinton was given six seats to fill, and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz would choose the remaining four.

“With five good members on the platform drafting committee,” Sanders told the Washington Post, “we will be in a very strong position to fight for an economy that works for all of our people, not just the 1%.”

Sanders’ choices included fellow democratic socialist Cornel West and environmental activist Bill McKibben. Clinton also picked some reliably progressive voices, including American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union official Paul Booth and former EMILY’s List director Wendy Sherman.

The recommendations of the platform drafting committee, handed down on June 25 following a two-day meeting in St. Louis, will be considered in Orlando, Fla., by the full committee, whose 187 members are apportioned between Sanders and Clinton supporters based on the results of each state’s primary or caucus. That larger committee draws up the final version that will come before the national convention in Philadelphia at the end of the month.

“We won’t get the entire Bernie agenda in the platform,” Robert Kraig, head of Citizen Action Wisconsin and a Sanders delegate to the Orlando gathering, acknowledged in a phone interview. (Full disclosure: Kraig is also a member of the In These Times Board of Directors.)

Sanders expressed his displeasure over the committee’s foot-dragging on issues like climate change, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and an explicit call to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Yet, the final recommendations of the platform drafting committee feature policy positions, like breaking up too-big-to-fail banks, that wouldn’t have been on the party’s radar without the influence of the Sanders campaign.

The difference this bounty of bracingly progressive planks will make in the election to come, and, more importantly, in the policies adopted by the incoming Clinton administration (barring an increasingly unlikely Trump victory), is less clear.

Kraig concedes that “platforms usually don’t matter,” but thinks that this time will be different.

“Bernie has already had an impact on Hillary’s campaign promises, moving her leftward on a number of issues,” he says. “The platform itself is being hammered out very publicly, which means its supporters will have a lot of leverage down the road in holding a Clinton administration accountable.” He believes that if progressive Democrats inspired by Sanders remain mobilized past the November election, they will have the clout needed to ensure that President Hillary Clinton fulfills her promises.

To determine whether that’s the case—and what kind of strategies can get us there—a look back at Democratic Party history is instructive.


In retrospect, Robert Kennedy may have been too dismissive of the value of the planks debated and adopted at party conventions. There have been times in U.S. history when they made a significant difference, not necessarily in determining who would win the general election, but on influencing the future direction of national party politics. In 1896, the Democratic Party adopted a populist-inspired plank calling for the free coinage of silver, an inflationary measure benefiting debt-ridden farmers but anathema to banking and industrial interests. Democratic nominee William Jennings Bryan campaigned on the free silver platform (“You shall not crucify mankind on a cross of gold”) and went down to defeat in the general election that followed. But the 1896 campaign proved a first step in the Democratic Party’s subsequent transformation from the party of states’ rights to the party of the welfare and regulatory state. In 1948, the Democrats’ adoption of a civil rights plank (reluctantly supported by incumbent Harry Truman) had the negative effect of prompting a convention walkout by “Dixiecrat” delegates from the Deep South, but also proved the following November that Democrats could retain the White House without the electoral votes of Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina—a salutary lesson in terms of the future of civil rights legislation. 

One of the last times that the Left played a significant role in shaping the Democratic Party platform was in a largely forgotten episode during the 1976 convention—and in that earlier history lies a complicated and cautionary tale.

The 1968 and 1972 presidential races, famous political disasters for the Democrats, set the stage. Robert Kennedy was assassinated before he reached the 1968 nominating convention in Chicago, Eugene McCarthy’s campaign stalled out, there was violence in the streets and tumult on the convention floor, and, at the behind-the-scenes insistence of Lyndon Johnson, the peace plank that anti-war liberals brought to the convention floor was voted down. The plank’s defeat, in the eyes of some knowledgeable Democratic insiders, helped guarantee the victory of Republican candidate Richard Nixon over Humphrey in November, both by reinforcing the impression that the Democrats had no idea how to end the fighting in Vietnam, and by showing Humphrey as nothing but a puppet of Johnson.

Far from banding together in 1972, the Democrats were, if anything, even more divided. Humphrey caricatured primary rival George McGovern as the candidate of “acid, abortion and amnesty.” As in 1968, the all-too-visible display of party disunity allowed Republicans to portray their opponents as incapable of governing themselves, never mind the country, and Nixon won in a landslide.


The Watergate scandal, Nixon’s resignation and a wave of victories in the 1974 midterm elections revived Democrats’ hopes for 1976. In a vigorously contested primary season, with Sen. Scoop Jackson (Wash.) on the right and Rep. Morris Udall (Ariz.) on the left, former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter charted a middle path to the nomination. Beneath the surface, relations among Democrats remained fractious as usual, but Carter knew that he needed to project an image of party harmony to dispel lingering memories of 1968 and 1972.

To that end, the Carter camp agreed to accept a party platform written largely along lines drawn by liberals and labor. Influential in that effort was a newly created advocacy group called Democracy ’76, a kind of pre-internet, determined to influence the balance of power within the Democratic Party. The group was created at the initiative of Michael Harrington’s Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC), itself founded three years earlier in 1973 after the old Socialist Party met a sadly ironic demise when it was, in essence, captured by a pro-Nixon faction. Harrington and DSOC activists Jack Clark and Marjorie Phyfe devised a plan to “build a programmatic tendency of the democratic Left in the Democratic Party” in a coalition effort to shape the 1976 platform. Democracy ’76 attracted the financial and organizational support of progressive unions like AFSCME and the United Auto Workers (UAW), allowing it to hire staff and open a Washington office, and, as Harrington later wrote in his 1988 memoir, The Long-Distance Runner, giving DSOC the wherewithal “to play a role quite out of proportion to our very modest numbers.” At the time, DSOC had only about 3,000 members.

Harrington testified before the convention’s resolutions committee on behalf of Democracy ’76 and was well satisfied with the results, writing shortly afterward that the 1976 platform was “probably the most liberal in the history of the Democratic Party.” Since the early 1960s, when his book The Other America: Poverty in the United States helped spark the War on Poverty, Harrington had been pushing Democrats to establish massive jobs programs along the line of the New Deal’s public works projects. The Johnson administration, determined to fight its “unconditional” war on poverty on the cheap, and increasingly preoccupied with Vietnam, turned a deaf ear to Harrington’s economic strategy. But front and center in the new platform was the promise of federally guaranteed full employment.

“Jobs are the solution to poverty, hunger and other basic needs of workers and their families,” the first plank proclaimed. “Jobs enable a person to translate legal rights of equality into reality.” The platform also included pledges that the next Democratic administration would support legislation to make it easier for workers to join unions, make the tax code more progressive and institute national health insurance.

With Carter’s victory in November, Democracy ’76’s strategy seemed one of the great (and rare) success stories of the American Left in recent memory.


But having, in effect, outsourced the writing of the 1976 platform to the Left, would Carter abide by its pledges once in office? As political scientist Sam Rosenthal writes in a forthcoming history of liberal activism in the 1970s, “Ultimately, the outcome of the convention consisted of a full-throated liberal party platform and a nominee whose commitment to either the platform or the activist ranks of his own party was highly questionable.”

The political honeymoon proved short-lived. Within months of taking office, it became clear that job creation took a distinct second place in Carter’s list of legislative priorities as he increasingly embraced policies of economic austerity intended to tame inflation. The pledges to promote labor law reform, tax reform and national health insurance were similarly consigned by the Carterites to the dustbin. On the first anniversary of Carter’s victory, in November 1977, Harrington’s Democracy ’76, now renamed Democratic Agenda, staged a candlelight march on Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington to “make sure that President Carter … keep the promises contained in the 1976 Democratic platform.”

Carter was unmoved, but his administration kept a wary eye on Democratic Agenda. In December 1978, Democrats were scheduled to hold a midterm convention in Memphis to discuss policy issues. (The first midterm convention was held in Kansas City in 1974, a concession from the party establishment to liberal activists.) As early as May 1977, White House staffers warned Carter that the following year’s conference “can very easily be used by certain elements … to embarrass the president and the administration.”

In the weeks leading up to the midterm convention, Democratic Agenda contacted delegates across the country, seeking endorsements for a series of resolutions that, taken together, amounted to a repudiation of the Carter administration’s austerity policies. The DNC had set a high bar to bring the resolutions to the floor. They needed to be endorsed by a quarter of the 1,600 delegates, with the supporting petitions delivered to DNC headquarters three days in advance of the meeting. But the Agenda’s staff and volunteers managed to reach the magic number to get four of their resolutions on the agenda, including one calling for national health insurance.

Both sides mobilized for an all-out fight. The Carter camp deployed its most talented operatives, including a young lawyer named Hillary Rodham, wife of the newly elected Democratic governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton, who served as a Carter floor whip. Both sides understood that what was ultimately under debate was who would head the Democratic ticket in 1980: Carter or Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy.

At a gathering of Democratic Agenda supporters in Memphis before the convention kicked off, Harrington declared, “The road to victory in 1980 lies in implementing the 1976 platform.” Many delegates to the convention sported “Ted Kennedy for President” buttons.

Kennedy had yet to avow an open challenge to Carter’s renomination in 1980, and administration operatives were eager to dispel any hint that they were concerned by that prospect. Thus there was an element of political calculation when Carter’s press secretary Jody Powell told reporters, “The dispute which appears to be on the horizon in Memphis is not between the President and Sen. Kennedy, but between the administration and the Democratic Agenda.” Still, that a three-year-old Left advocacy group was being named by the spokesman for the president of the United States as its chief opponent at the convention was definitely an example of a rag-tag band of democratic socialists punching above their weight.

Democratic Agenda got its four resolutions to the floor. All were voted down, but the midterm convention was far from a Carter triumph. The president’s own speech to the gathering received a tepid response. That was not the case when Kennedy addressed the gathering on its final day. “The Party that tore itself apart over Vietnam in the 1960s,” he declared, prompting a standing ovation, “cannot afford to tear itself apart today over basic cuts in social programs.” New York Times reporter Hedrick Smith suggested that “the fact that nearly 40 percent of the party’s activists were willing to go on record against Mr. Carter … was firm indication of the schism that has developed between the White House and the liberal wing of the party.” And according to the Congressional Quarterly, “At the Memphis gathering, there is no doubt that the Left was the dominant force.”

Kennedy finally decided to challenge Carter, and for most of 1979 ran ahead of the president in public opinion polls. But Kennedy’s own weaknesses as a candidate and Carter’s “Rose Garden” strategy during the Iran hostage crisis secured his renomination. In the end, of course, Ronald Reagan was swept into the White House in 1980, with many of Kennedy’s blue-collar primary voters, determined to oust Carter from the White House one way or the other, casting their ballots for the Republican candidate.

In the aftermath of this debacle, the Democratic establishment saw to it that Democratic Agenda never had another chance comparable to the Memphis gathering to influence party debate. The DNC restricted attendance at the 1982 midterm conference in Philadelphia to party appointees and officials and thereafter abolished the midterm meetings altogether. Democratic Agenda, so formidable a force in 1977-1978, crumbled in the early 1980s without a trace. Democratic Socialists of America, founded as DSOC’s successor in 1982, continued to follow the Harrington strategy of being “the left-wing of the possible,” backing progressive Democratic candidates.


Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition in 1988 was another attempt to bring a Left agenda to the fore in a presidential campaign. Jackson won primaries or caucuses in 13 states, including Michigan, campaigning on themes of racial and economic justice that in some ways anticipated both the Obama and Sanders campaigns. But despite this electoral success, the Rainbow Coalition ended up functioning as a vanity vehicle for Jackson, doomed to wither away after a brief moment of influence.

The history of Democratic Agenda’s fizzling in the 1980s does not suggest that history will necessarily repeat itself, and that any influence Sanders delegates bring to bear on writing this year’s Democratic platform is wasted effort. Forty years separate 1976 and 2016, and political history is not an endless loop. The Democratic Party has changed in many ways over the intervening decades, with labor far less important as a constituency, but people of color, women and young people far more so. Carter easily secured the presidential nomination in 1976 by defeating a collection of fairly standard conservative and liberal Democratic rivals. Hillary Clinton had to work a lot harder to defeat a rival who was anything but standard-issue politically: a self-identified democratic socialist.

Carter came into office following eight years of Democratic exile from the White House, and believed he could secure his re-election and political legacy by backing away from his party’s liberal heritage. Hillary would succeed a twice-elected Democratic president with a solid record of progressive achievement. Whatever her inclinations in domestic policy may be, political logic will likely push her in a more progressive direction—certainly in the fall election, and likely beyond.

Conservative triumphs over the past four decades have been policy rather than candidate-driven. George H.W. Bush was not a true believer in Reaganite supply-side fantasies (which he famously denounced in the 1980 primary season as “voodoo economics”). But by the time he came into the Oval Office he knew better than to challenge his own party’s orthodoxy on such questions (“Read my lips…”) The rigidity and unreality of the dogmas favored by policy-driven conservatism would be a poor model for the Democratic Left to emulate. But the organizational drive of movement conservatives to make their ideas count, to make their policy preferences felt—year in and year out, within the Republican party, and at every level of government—is a model worth considering.

The events of the 1970s are a cautionary tale about overestimating the importance of platform planks. That doesn’t mean that the planks now being debated by Democrats are unimportant. Some will become law and policy in the years to come.

I can’t speak for a long-departed Michael Harrington, but my gut feeling is that were he around today, even after the bruising experience with Jimmy Carter, he’d say it’s worth giving Hillary a chance to prove her fidelity to the party platform adopted by the Democrats in Philly. Harrington liked to quote Martin Luther King, Jr. (who was in turn quoting 19th century abolitionist Theodore Parker), to the effect that “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” It will be interesting to see just how that arc bends in the coming Clinton years, and important to respond accordingly.

Categories: Newswire

Time to Rein in the Robber Barons Again

truthout - July 14, 2016 - 4:00am

(Photo: Philip Taylor; Edited: LW / TO)

I'm going to let you on a little secret about many of the CEOs of the US' largest companies: The biggest decision that they make these days, is how best to divvy up the wealth that they've stolen from US working families and middle class.

Seriously, according to research by Lawrence Mishel and Jessica Schieder at the Economic Policy Institute, CEOs in the US' largest firms are raking in an average of $15.5 million in compensation.

That's an average compensation of 276 times the annual average pay of the typical worker!

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

And that's DOWN from 2014, when the average CEO of the US' largest firms earned 302 times the average pay of a typical US worker.

But don't feel too bad for the poor CEOs who are only earning $15.5 million as opposed to the $16.3 million they earned in 2014, because their earnings are still up over 46 percent since President Obama took office.

The fact is, CEO compensation only appears to be down because so much of their compensation comes in the form of stock options, which means that the market slowdown in 2015 is really the only reason that it looks like CEOs earned relatively less than they did in 2014.

Despite the market downturn and the decrease in top-CEO pay in 2015, the average compensation for a CEO of one of the US' largest firms is still up over 940 percent since 1978, back when CEOs "only" earned about $1.5 million per year, roughly 30 times more than the average worker.

In Mishel and Schieder's analysis, they point out that most major CEO's simply extract wealth from the economy without adding to the economy in any truly productive manner.

They write that, "We have argued that high CEO pay reflects rents -- concessions CEOs can draw from the economy not by virtue of their contribution to economic output but by virtue of their position. Consequently, CEO pay could be reduced and the economy would not suffer any loss of output."

And that tells us something very important, and very troubling: Right now we're living in another gilded age, and the CEOs of the largest US corporations are nothing but 21st century robber barons.

While CEO pay has increased by over 940 percent since 1978, average worker pay has only increased by 10.3 percent, meaning that while top CEOs have seen their earnings go up by $15 MILLION a year since 1978, average workers are only earning about $5,000 a year more on average.

It wasn't always this way, as you can see in this graph, CEO pay didn't start tracking to the stock market until the early 1980s.

As economist JW Mason points out, one major reason for the change was the "shareholder revolution" in the early 1980s, when incentives under the Reagan administration made it so that companies became more interested in buying back their own stock from the public than they were in investing in new projects or hiring US workers.

That turn towards stock buybacks and away from reinvestment in making companies grow disconnected stock value and dividend payouts from real economic output, and priced out smaller investors while concentrating wealth and voting power into the hands of a few economic elite who serve as corporate executives and board members.

But up until 1993, the top CEOs still "only" made between 50 times and 90 times what a typical worker would make.

Then, Bill Clinton and Congress passed a law placing a $1 million cap on how much a company can deduct for executive pay as a business expense.

And that sounds like a good plan, because it places a hard limit on how much a firm can pay out to its executives before taking on giant tax burdens.

But there was a huge exception written into the law that made the stock buyback situation even worse.

Under that law, compensation that's based on a company's "performance" is exempt from that $1 million limit, and since a company's stock market value is supposed to be a measure of economic performance, companies started simply paying their executives in stock shares and options.

But remember, stock options don't actually reflect a firm's performance anymore, because ever since the "shareholder revolution" in the 1980s, firms have been artificially inflating their stock value by buying back their own stock from the public to decrease the number of available shares and thus artificially drive up the price of the stock.

The nation's 1% has been making a killing from artificially inflated stock prices for nearly four decades, and that concentration of wealth and power has come at the direct expense of the US working and middle class.

Between 1948 and 1973, productivity and wages tracked very closely, productivity increased by 96.7 percent and wages went up 91.3 percent.

But between 1973 and 2013 (that's the same time period when stock buybacks effectively de-linked stock value from economic output), worker productivity increased by 74.4 percent, and wages only increased by 9.2 percent.

And that's been really harmful to our economy, because it's a basic economic fact that the wages of average workers, the people who actually buy stuff, are what drive real economic growth.

It's no coincidence that as stock prices grew since 1979, the top 1% of earners in the US saw their wages increase by 138 percent, while the entire bottom 90 percent of US earners only saw their wages increase by 15 percent.

Because the top 1%, and especially the CEOs and board members of the largest firms in the US, are nothing but a new generation of robber barons.

Modern CEOs of most of the US' largest firms don't create anything, many don't even steer their companies to become more economically productive.

They simply siphon wealth from the US working and middle class, from average investors, and from the US economy as a whole.

The biggest decision these modern robber barons make, is how best to divvy up that stolen wealth among themselves.

And it's time to rein them in.

We need to raise the highest marginal income tax rates to where they were before the insane policies of Reagan's trickle-up economics, and we need to end corporate tax subsidies and close corporate tax loopholes that let companies evade US taxes and stash their earnings overseas.

It would be a good thing for the US economy to set higher corporate tax rates for companies that pay their executives hundreds of times more than their average workers.

We need to make it so that a company's shareholders vote on how top executives are compensated, instead of allowing the old boys club of corporate executives and board members to choose their own compensation.

It's time to make the US economy work for everyone, and to take real action to reign in these robber barons and the obscene level of income inequality they've created in this country.

Categories: Newswire

The Icelandic Pirate Party and the Search for a New Democracy

truthout - July 14, 2016 - 4:00am

Inside a modernist warehouse alongside the ocean in Reykjavík, Iceland's capital city, four men sit around a table discussing the country's drug policies. A skull-and-crossbones flag adorns the wall and a cheap blow-up sword hangs over one door frame. Though they aren't wearing eyepatches or hunting for treasure, these Icelanders call themselves Pirates, and they are drafting policy for a new, insurgent political party, the Pirate Party.

Started as a Swedish movement in 2006, the Pirate Party advocated for copyright reform and freedom of access to information. It championed whistleblowers and defended WikiLeaks. After expanding its platform to include civil liberties and direct democracy, the party grew: it now boasts chapters in approximately 60 countries.

Although the Pirate movement only spread to Iceland in 2012, the Icelandic Pirate Party is the most successful branch: it was the first to gain representatives in a national parliament. In 2013, with 5.1 percent of the vote, the Pirates took three seats in Iceland's legislature. And despite its small numbers in parliament, the party spearheaded a repeal of Iceland's 1940 blasphemy law -- a substantial victory for free-speech advocates.

To see more stories like this, visit Moyers & Company at Truthout.

Over the past year, the Pirates have steadily risen in the polls, regularly netting one-third of the support -- a significant plurality in a country with six political parties represented in the parliament. If their support holds, the Pirates could push the center-right coalition out of office in the fall elections.

"The Pirate Party is successful because we have actually proven ourselves to be human," says Ásta Helgadóttir, 26, one of the Pirate Party's representatives in parliament. "We are not trying to be politicians."

Iceland's Pirates are not alone. Disaffected citizens on both sides of the Atlantic and both sides of the ideological divide -- from the Tea Partiers to the Feel-the-Berners, from the Leavers of Britain to Spain's Podemos and Nuit Debout in France -- have promoted insurgent campaigns, attempting to reinvigorate democracy and bring representation into the 21st century.

The manner in which these political movements choose to build trust, says Helgadóttir, is critical.

"You can [build trust] with authority, with ultra-nationalism, the way that Poland and Turkey are going right now," she says. "You tell people, 'I have control, everything is going very well. So you should trust me.'" Or, she continues, you provide "a democratic alternative."

By utilizing the internet to crowdsource policy, the Pirates have chosen the latter path: members can submit proposals for a partywide vote. Such open-ended collaboration has even allowed for ideological diversity within the party, eschewing the traditional left-right divide.

"Almost everyone [in the Party] believes different things than me," says Ólafur Torfi Yngvason, who attended his first Pirate meeting in July. "That's the whole point of the Pirate Party. They're not trying to be anywhere on the political axis; they're a collection of people."

The notion that a party could transcend political infighting has captured the attention of many Icelanders, who have an understandable distrust of the political establishment. In 2008, Iceland's banks -- which had ballooned under reckless speculation, foreign-currency borrowing, and absent regulations -- collapsed, leaving the economy in shambles. Public confidence in the political system plummeted. Suddenly, corruption was real and prevalent.

Then, in April, the Panama Papers implicated Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson for funneling personal finances into offshore accounts. Gunnlaugsson failed to disclose such expenditures to parliament, an illegal act under Icelandic law.

Icelanders took to the streets in the nation's largest-ever protests and forced Gunnlaugsson to resign, though his Progressive Party stayed in power. Following the scandal, the Pirates were polling as high as 43 percent, whereas the Progressives found themselves at 6.5 percent.

Interestingly, the traditional center-left parties have not benefited from the decline of the conservative government. Yngvason says that's because Iceland's leftist parties proved to be incompetent during the four years they held power after Iceland's 2008 financial crash -- the only period a left-wing majority controlled parliament during Iceland's 72 years of independence.

The Social Democrats and Left-Green governing coalition proceeded to lose the 2013 elections to the still-maligned conservative parties after failing to pass meaningful reform during their time in office, and alienating Icelanders by kowtowing to the IMF's bailout demands.

"The leftist parties were always a part of the game," Helgadóttir, the young Pirate MP, charges.

The Pirates believe that democratic systems based on centuries-old power structures are increasingly unable to meet the demands of today's generation.

Iceland's democratic structures were inherited from the Danish monarchy, Helgadóttir notes. "We still have the same power structures that we had in the 17th century," she says. "[Our government] was not built on democracy; it was built on the idea of an authoritarian king."

For Iceland's Pirates, updating democracy means expanding transparency and giving citizens a greater foothold in policymaking, allowing them to take power back from the political class.

Whether other countries choose to follow in Iceland's footsteps is still an open question.

The US had a revolution to free itself of a monarchy, but now appears to be tilting towards oligarchy. With the expanded role of big money in politics, American political parties have seen their influence wane and voter alienation rise. Could the Democrats and Republicans get their mojo back by becoming more open and attentive to public input -- a change that by definition would mean becoming less attentive to monied special interests?

At minimum, for the US, where voter participation is generally low (a situation exacerbated by recent laws that limit voting rights in some states), it's worth considering the Iceland Pirates' view about what a more representative democracy entails.

"Democracy is much more than voting," says Helgadóttir. "It's a means of thinking, a tool. It's a utopian goal: there's no such thing as a perfect democracy. It's something we have to build upon." 

Categories: Newswire

House Holds Hearing on Anti-LGBTQ Bill despite Widespread Criticism

Feminist Daily News - July 13, 2016 - 9:33pm
Exactly one month after the massacre at Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where a gunman claimed the lives of 49 people and wounded 53 others, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on a piece of anti-LGBTQ legislation known as the First Amendment Defense Act. Related posts:
  1. House to Hold Hearing on Anti-LGBTQ Bill One Month After Orlando Shooting
  2. House Investigation of Abortion Providers Set to Exceed $1 Million
Categories: Newswire

Blair to Bush on Day After 9/11: “Co-opt” Sympathy for the U.S. to Support Military Action

In These Times - July 13, 2016 - 6:16pm

“The report should lay to rest allegations of bad faith, lies or deceit.” So said former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a July 6 statement in response to the release of the long-awaited Chilcot Report—a 2.6 million-word examination, based on dozens of interviews and hundreds of classified documents, of the UK’s decision to join the Iraq War.

“I did not mislead this country. I made the decision in good faith on the information I had at the time,” Blair insisted.

Blair is right that the report has, in one way, vindicated him: It should put to rest the long-held view that Blair conspired to pull his country into a reckless war with intelligence he knew to be false—he appears to have truly believed that Saddam Hussein had WMDs.

He is wrong, however, to insist the report exonerates him completely. An examination of dozens of declassified letters, memos, notes and papers released along with the report demonstrate that despite the popular image of a scheming Bush taking Blair along for the ride, Blair and his government were just as eager to manipulate the world to achieve their desired goal: the removal of Hussein from power.

The documents also give a first-hand look at the more cautious Blair government’s gradual loss of control over events as the Bush administration pushed them into a full-scale invasion of Iraq—international approval be damned.

September 12, 2001

A note Blair sent to Bush one day after the September 11 attacks set the tone for everything to come, immediately adopting the viewpoint that many neoconservatives like Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz would also take: that of terrorism as a unique and unprecedented menace—and an excuse for pursuing other geopolitical goals.

“We need to construct an agenda that puts onto a new footing action against this new evil,” he wrote to Bush on September 12, 2001. He would reiterate this in a note to Bush two years later. “The more I reflect on it, the more [terrorism], together with WMD, constitutes an entirely new phenomenon of threat.”           

Along with identifying the terrorist groups involved, Blair insisted in the September 12 letter that the U.K. and United States “need to review urgently the laws that in a democratic society they abuse.” This would impact domestic laws and international agreements, he acknowledged, but “for years, the West has pussyfooted around with these issues. These groups don’t play by liberal rules and we can’t either.”

“Some of this will require action that some will baulk at,” he wrote. “But we are better to act now and explain and justify our actions than let the day be put off until some further, perhaps even worse catastrophe occurs.” [Emphasis in original]

It’s hard not to see in these tough-talking words a preview of some of the most ugly and shameful episodes of the course subsequently taken by Blair and Bush, from the blunder of the Iraq War and the desecration of civil liberties at home to the use of torture, black sites and rendition.

Blair went on to suggest that the sorrow engendered by September 11 should be leveraged in support of this goal.

“It is now that the world is in a state of shock; now that it feels maximum sympathy for the US; now that it can be co-opted most easily,” he wrote. “Locking in the international community sooner rather than later is therefore critical.”

Co-opting the world

As the documents show, this was more or less the course Blair set himself on in the months and years to come: attempting to gradually push—or “co-opt,” in his words— the international community toward supporting U.S.-U.K. military action first against Afghanistan and then against “terrorism in all its forms,” as he put it in one letter—including Hussein’s Iraq.

In that letter to Bush, dated one month after the World Trade Center attacks, on October 11, 2001, Blair appears to respond to the Bush administration’s early rumblings about going to war in Iraq.

“There is a real willingness in the Middle East to get Saddam out but a total opposition to mixing this up with the current [Afghanistan] operation,” Blair wrote. “I have no doubt we need to deal with Saddam. But if we hit Iraq now, we would lose the Arab world, Russia, probably half the EU.”

However, Blair assured Bush that Hussein would not be taken off the agenda.

“I am sure we can devise a strategy for Saddam deliverable at a later date,” he wrote. “We just don’t need it debated too freely in public until we know what exactly we want to do; and how we can do it.”

Nine months before he now infamously told Bush, “I am with you, whatever,” this appears to be the earliest signal sent by Blair that the two men were irreversibly bound together on the same, ultimately doomed course: removing Saddam Hussein from power. But Blair, mindful of public opinion at home and (more so than Bush) sensitive to the reaction of the international community, needed to find the right strategy to finesse the U.K.’s entry to war.

How do you solve a problem like Saddam?

Blair’s eventual strategy appeared to have been influenced by communications from his advisers, who were uneasily eyeing the movements of a Bush administration set on war.

As early as November 15, 2001, Blair’s Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell sent him a memo warning that following success (as it was then viewed) in Afghanistan, the U.S. Right would push to bomb Iraq and Somalia. Blair could suggest, he advised, that the Bush administration’s success be leveraged to achieve its aims more subtly, such as by backing Iraq’s internal opposition and pressuring Syria and Iran to crack down on terrorists “with the unstated threat that [they] risk becoming the next target for military action if they do not co-operate.”

Should the U.S. pursue military action, wrote one U.K. official on December 3, “That would confront us with an unwelcome dilemma: support unlawful and widely unpopular action or distance ourselves from a key US policy.”

On November 30, Blair told the Guardian that he would need “incontrovertible evidence” of Iraqi complicity in the World Trade Center attacks before he could endorse a campaign on Baghdad.

A note from Powell to Blair, filed between November 30 and December 3, further developed the government’s strategy, laying out a plan to, among other objectives, end support for terrorism and effect the “removal of Saddam by a new, more moderate regime.” This goal was private: “If asked,” Powell wrote, “say regime change would be desirable, but not our formal objective for the moment.”

As a tool to get international support, Powell suggested making a demand of Hussein he was unlikely to meet: the return of UN weapons inspectors.

At this point, UN weapons inspectors had not been in Iraq for three years. The inspections regime had originally been set up following the first Gulf War by the UN, which had called for the elimination of Iraq’s WMDs. Between 1991 and 1998, UN inspectors found and destroyed hundreds of tons of biological and chemical weapons, before being banished by Hussein, who had always chafed under the inspection regime.

Now, both the United States and the U.K. suspected Hussein of secretly holding WMDs, which he denied. Both nations, the documents make clear, saw weapons inspection as a means to an end—as Powell’s November 15 memo put it, “our over-riding objective is the removal of Saddam, not the insertion of arms inspectors.”

As outlined by Powell in his November 30-December 3 note, the plan would be to threaten unspecified “action” if Hussein did not cooperate with the inspections. A military plan consisting of a Western-backed coup would then be put into place. 

But if Hussein "does allow in the inspectors," Powell wrote, the U.K. would “need to find a new demand to justify military action.”

Don’t ‘frighten the horses’

The strategies put forward in these internal Blair administration communications—avoiding all-out military involvement, encouraging and supporting a coup or uprising by opposition groups and using weapons inspectors to justify moving against Saddam—would soon pop up in Blair’s communications with Bush.

As the Chilcot Report revealed, Blair had spoken to Bush over the phone on December 3, telling him “it would be excellent to get rid of Saddam. But there needed to be a clever strategy for doing this.”

A day later, Blair appeared to outline just such a “clever strategy.”

In a note for Bush dated December 4, 2001, Blair acknowledged that Iraq’s “WMD capability” made it a threat, as the Bush administration was at this point publicly arguing.

“But any link to 11 September and AQ is at best very tenuous,” he warned; “and at present international opinion would be reluctant, outside the US/UK, to support immediate military action though, for sure, people want to be rid of Saddam.

“So we need a strategy for regime change that builds over time,” Blair explained.

What Blair proposed was to subtly poke at Saddam with covert action and artful threats in the hope of destabilizing his regime. The two countries would draw attention to his breach of UN resolutions, he explained, while saying “regime change is ‘desirable’ (though not yet setting it as a military objective)”—almost verbatim what Powell advised Blair in his November 30-December 3 memo. 

Blair, like Powell, then proposed demanding that weapons inspectors be allowed back in Iraq, “and without specifying that we will take military action if the demand is not met, we let it be clearly seen that nothing is ruled out.”

Blair also proposed leaning on Syria to cut off the flow of oil to Iraq, supporting opposition groups with intelligence and covert operations, and, “when the rebellion finally occurs,” providing military air support.

Blair’s strategy, he explained, would “build this over time until we get to the point where military action could be taken if necessary,” but wouldn’t “frighten the horses” in the form of Russia, the EU and Arab states, whom they needed for support.

The note is in many ways a microcosm of the two governments’ approaches to Iraq. The Bush administration was becoming increasingly eager to invade Iraq without first securing either proof that Hussein had WMDs or authorization from the UN—which would make the war illegal under international law. Blair was not opposed to toppling Saddam; in fact he was all for it. But he was concerned (correctly, it turned out) that doing so unilaterally, hastily and, most importantly, illegally would backfire on the two nations, or even make it impossible for Blair to secure popular and parliamentary support for any action. As he told Bush in a later note: “[Public] opinion in the US is quite simply on a different planet from opinion here, in Europe or in the Arab world.”

Setting the stage

The strategy outlined by Blair to Bush remained more or less constant over the next year and a half, and his government turned to the problem of obtaining international support while hiding its true objective: overthrowing Hussein.

At the same time, the U.K. government’s hopes for a less heavy-handed approach to regime change suffered serious blows. The UK Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) and the Cabinet Office ‘Options Paper’ each concluded by March 2002 that a large-scale ground invasion was the only way to topple Hussein, according to the Chilcot Report. On July 4, the JIC decided that “only massive military force” would get the job done.

Blair’s foreign policy advisor David Manning sent him a memo in February 2002 suggesting that weapons inspections might goad Saddam into making an error that could be used as an opening to launch military action. Manning noted that granting UN inspectors extra time to do their job would “give Saddam 4 more weeks to make a mistake,” if he reacted badly to UN demands and gave the image of non-compliance.

Jack Straw, then Home Secretary (a cabinet position responsible for everything from immigration to national security), also saw the inspectors as a means, not an end. In one memo dated March 25, 2002, Straw wrote that “unfettered readmission of weapons inspectors is essential, in terms of public explanation, and in terms of legal sanction for any subsequent military action.”

He went on to write that while regime change could not legally be used as the goal of military action, that didn’t mean it was off the table. Instead, the United States and UK could simply make it “part of the strategy by which we have to achieve our ends—that of the elimination of Iraq’s WMD capacity.”

In public, and in the face of criticism from antiwar advocates, Blair struck a more cautionary note. “We will proceed as we did after September 11, in a calm, measured, sensible, firm way,” he said on April 7. “If necessary,” he continued, “the action should be military, and again, if necessary and justified, it should involve regime change.”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here,” he assured reporters a day later. “We are still in the position of identifying the problem and laying down conditions for Saddam.” “No decisions have been taken,” he insisted two days after that, as he would well into July.

On September 6, 2002, Manning related to Blair how he had told Condolezza Rice that the draft United Nations Security Council Resolution the United States would put forward on WMDs and weapons inspections “must not be a transparent device to justify military action,” and must not “be easily dismissed as a transparent pretext for immediate military action.” Days later, in a memo sent exactly one year after September 11, he outlined how an “intrusive inspection regime” would be “an indispensible part of the strategy” to move to regime change.

“Saddam would either refuse to let the inspectors back, or he wouldn’t let them in but almost certainly obstruct their operations,” he wrote. “We should then be in a very strong position to insist on action.”

As Manning made clear, gaining support from the UN was entirely a matter of optics. “If and when it became clear that Saddam had yet again violated the will of the UN and the international community, there was a real chance that we could build wide support for further action,” while Washington moving unilaterally would turn the international community against them. “Securing wide support would be a great prize, one that you believed was in reach,” he wrote. “We must not throw away the opportunity.”

Yet subsequent events began to hinder this plan. Contrary to predictions, Hussein neither refused to allow inspectors to come in nor obstructed their work. On September 16, Iraq allowed them to return unconditionally to the country. On November 8, the UN passed a resolution put forward by the U.K. and the United States requiring Hussein to reinstate weapons inspectors. Hussein accepted. Over the next few months, the inspectors would fail to find what they termed a “smoking gun” that would justify war.

From here on, the debate between the U.K. and the Bush administration was around getting a second UN resolution, one that explicitly authorized the use of force. With Saddam complying with inspections, and inspectors not finding anything, the U.K. would need such a resolution to make any military action legal. It would also be important for winning public opinion.

In January 3, 2003, Straw cautioned Blair that “going to war without a publicly convincing trigger”—meaning evidence of WMDs—“and without a second [UN Security Council Resolution]” would hurt Bush politically and “be acutely difficult for us.” In another, later memo, Straw noted that “getting Parliamentary approval for UK military action will be difficult if there is no second [UN] resolution.”

Blair himself made a similar point to Bush. In an undated note, he explained that taking the UN out of the equation meant losing the high ground. “We have invested huge capital in [the UN route] and it has given everyone … a big comfort blanket,” he explained. “Take it away and this is about US power, naked and in their face.”

An impatient ally

Unfortunately for Blair and his staff, the enthusiasm for either a less overt form of regime change or one with international and UN support was not shared by the Bush administration. This was likely the opposite of what Blair expected, having been told by Manning in March 2002 that, based on Manning’s conversations with Condolezza Rice, Bush strongly valued Blair’s advice. “Bush wants to hear your views on Iraq before taking decisions,” Manning wrote. “This gives you real influence.”

UK officials complained often about the United States’ eagerness for war and disregarding of legal niceties. In a handwritten letter to Blair in October 2002, Jack Straw (now holding the post of Foreign Secretary) talked about the “dangerous arguments” within the Bush administration. “You asked me … if [Colin] Powell was ‘winning’,” reads the letter. “He’s fighting for [a UN approach] certainly, and I think he should win in the end. But you—TB—are critical in this.” He warned that “the non-UN approach being pushed by Cheney et al would be a catastrophe."

In a September 10, 2002 memo, David Manning related to Blair that Condolezza Rice thought giving weapons inspectors more time “risked running well into next year before we could clear the decks for military action.” Manning had earlier advocated buying time, suggesting it would increase the chances of Hussein making a mistake. Rice’s take suggests the degree to which the Bush administration saw the UN inspections as merely a formality.

Still, U.K. officials were hopeful the Bush administration would see the light. A day later, after a meeting with Rice, Manning was keeping his “fingers crossed” that Bush would look for UN backing. A month after that, Manning was celebrating that Rice seemed to be open to deposing Saddam through a coup, rather than direct military action. “Perhaps, even in the White House, there is now a faint sense of disquiet about what a military campaign against Iraq, and its subsequent occupation, would involve,” he wrote.

But it wasn’t to be. Two months later, in December, Manning told Blair that “Condi made no effort to hide the fact that the Administration would now be looking to build the case for early military action against Saddam (probably mid/late February as we suspected). … Condi’s impatience for action was much more obvious than her commitment to sustain international backing.”

Rushing to an ill-planned war

To British eyes, the Bush administration’s rush to war had deeper consequences. In July 2002, Straw complained there was “no strategic concept for the military plan and, in particular, no thought apparently given to ‘day after’ scenarios.” (Even so, Straw noted that the U.K. will “want to support them” if the United States went to war in Iraq).

Five months later, not much had changed  “The Americans are in a hurry; perhaps too much of one,” Manning wrote to Blair on January 3, 2003. “This colors their approach to [the UN’s inspections regime] and makes them impatient. But it may also be affecting their approach to military planning.” As an example, he gave Turkey’s decision to deny U.S. forces transit through its borders. While a couple of months before the administration had claimed this was critical to its success, they now said it was merely “optional”.

There were also “big political and military assumptions” involved in the U.S. strategy, Manning wrote. “Too much looks like hurried improvisations, half thought out strategy, with fingers crossed that Saddam will collapse in short order when the Marines go in.” Bush was “in danger of being driven by his own tempo of military build-up,” along with his insistence that military action be ready by February 15, 2003.

Also in January 2003, Blair sent Bush two different notes pointing out that no post-Saddam plan had been worked out—only two months before the war began, and one month before Bush’s original goal of a February strike. (And still, as late as February, Blair told the press: “We do not want war. No one wants war.”)

In February of that year, Blair’s Secretary of State Clare Short warned him that U.S. plans for humanitarian assistance “rely on naïve assumptions that there will be no major problems and that conflict will be swift.” A month later, 15 days before the start of the war, she reiterated this, warning that “the US and the international humanitarian community are not properly prepared to deal with the immediate humanitarian issues,” and that it was making “over-optimistic assumptions about the level of UN and NGO cooperation” it would receive.

The concern about a lack of planning turned out to be justified. As Paul Bremer, who led the occupation, has acknowledged in the wake of the Chilcot Report, the UK-U.S. coalition had less than half of the necessary number of post-invasion troops on the ground. This helped create the resulting chaos, according to Bremer, which included widespread looting of Iraq’s priceless cultural treasures. 

Eyes on the prize

Ultimately, despite the U.K.’s insistence on not moving unilaterally—and despite accurately gauging the consequences of doing so—Blair took the U.K. into Iraq without UN approval and with most of the Western world lined up against him. Despite his initial “clever strategy,” he found it difficult to “co-opt” sympathetic countries and secure their support for an unpopular war.

Blair’s anger at the international community for this perceived betrayal comes out in the documents. Those against the war were “those always opposed and the usual anti-American lobby,” he wrote in August 2002.

“I find it repellent that people can take to the streets even now to protest at what is happening in Iraq, whose people we are trying to help escape dictatorship,” he wrote to Bush in 2004; “but not a single banner or placard proclaims what is happening in North Korea.”

“The problem is that a ludicrous and distorted view of the U.S. is clouding the enormous attraction of the fundamental goal,” he griped on March 26, 2003, six days into the war, citing one mystery European leader who compared Donald Rumsfeld to Osama bin Laden and another who said it would be deplorable to see the U.S. system of government in Arab countries. And this wasn’t limited to Europe, he wrote. “We have to ask how, when we put real pressure on Mexico and Chile, they didn’t come along,” as well as Russia and Turkey. Blair chalked it up to anti-Americanism; he didn’t consider the fact that if most of global opinion was standing against his war, it may have been a warning sign to turn back.

By this point, however, Blair appeared to have drunk deeply from the neocon Kool-Aid. He compared global opposition to the Iraq War to the paralysis of European countries in the 1930s, hesitant to stand up to Hitler. In the same March 2003 memo, he wrote what were practically excerpts of Bush’s own speeches. “More freedom in the world means more security … The terrorists and rogue states … come together in hatred of our values … They don’t hate the US by accident. They hate it for what it stands for. …

“Our fundamental goal is to spread our values of freedom, democracy, tolerance and the rule of law,” he continued, ironically, given the war’s ultimate avoidance of legal sanction; “but we need a broad-based agenda capable of unifying the world, to get it. That’s why, though Iraq’s WMD is the immediate justification for action, ridding Iraq of Saddam is the real prize.”

In less than two years, Blair’s perspective had morphed from believing that Hussein had to be taken out in response to the threat of terrorism and WMDs to seeing WMDs as the pretext for the more important goal of taking Hussein out. And as the March 2003 memo made clear, by this point the purpose of removing Hussein was not just to guarantee global security—it was part of a larger vision of remaking the global order.  

“Acting stupidly”

The trove of declassified documents released along with the Chilcot Report show that Tony Blair was far from merely George Bush’s “poodle,” as he has long been viewed. In fact, such a conclusion lets Blair off the hook.

Instead, as his September 12, 2001 memo to Bush shows, he was a leader who instantly embraced and even advanced the core premises of the war on terror, perhaps even earlier than Bush. And as his subsequent scheming to depose Hussein demonstrates, he was intimately involved in laying the plans that would culminate in the disastrous war in Iraq while misleading the public about his true intentions.

Unfortunately for Blair, as he soon found out, enabling the Bush administration’s worst tendencies ultimately backfired on him and his government. Bush did not share Blair’s hopes for international consensus, and the declassified documents paint the image of a man watching events over which he believed he had mastery slowly spiral out of his control.

He and Bush, both blinded by their post-9/11 zeal to defeat what they viewed as an epochal evil, headed down a path that has ultimately led to the destabilization of not just one region, but what appears to be much of the world. Perhaps the words Blair himself reserved for reluctant European powers sum it up best: “Rational people are behaving very stupidly.”

Categories: Newswire

Many Pro-Bernie Groups Don’t Want Trump But Still Don’t Trust Clinton. Here’s Their Plan.

In These Times - July 13, 2016 - 4:46pm

More than 14 months after launching his bid for president, Bernie Sanders formally endorsed Hillary Clinton at an event in Portsmouth, N.H. on July 12.

As the dust settles, the organizations and movements who helped drive his campaign to victory in 22 states are planning their next steps and pondering how they can continue the fight through the general election. Many major progressive organizations that broke ranks with the Democratic establishment to endorse Sanders during the primaries, such as the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) and the Communications Workers of America (CWA), have chosen to unite around Clinton in the general election. Others, including the grassroots volunteer group People for Bernie and the fiercely independent union National Nurses United, are forging their own path.

“We endorsed Bernie Sanders because we thought he was the right person at the right time to lead our country,” says Rafael Navar, national political director for CWA. “But he’s not going to be the nominee. He didn’t win, so our focus is making sure the Democratic nominee is the next person in the White House and definitely stopping Trump, who supports anti-union policies and thinks wages are too high.”

CWA volunteers will knock on doors, make calls and raise money to help Clinton win the general election, joining forces with the AFL-CIO and other labor groups that backed Clinton during the primaries.

Other Bernie backers, however, remain skeptical of Clinton’s commitment to a progressive agenda and are setting their sights beyond the general election. People for Bernie, a grassroots organization that helped recruit volunteers and organized marches in support of Sanders’ campaign, released a statement after Sanders’ announcement declining to endorse Clinton, instead calling for supporters to focus on building grassroots power on the local, regional and national levels:

When we face the reality of a new status quo — Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Party’s nominee — there is a strong temptation to yield to the demands of the nominee. That is past practice. But this is no ordinary campaign. We are not a Bernie Sanders fan club. The timeline of a movement is far longer than an election cycle. We will engage in a diversity of tactics in which voting is just the bare minimum. We will take the streets, occupy the voting booth and de-center the Democratic Party establishment — forever. 

Still, People for Bernie will be active in the general election, using the opportunity to advocate for abolishing the electoral college and working to boost turnout among left-wing voters in swing states like Florida and Ohio, according to Winnie Wong, a former Occupy activist who co-founded People for Bernie last spring.

“We’re going to watch what happens in the general election very closely,” Wong says. “We take the line that Cornel West, our brother, a democratic socialist, is taking, which is that we know the difference between electing a neoliberal and a neofascist. There’s a big difference between a neoliberal and a neofascist. We understand what those differences are.”

But the bulk of People for Bernie’s efforts, Wong says, will be devoted to advocating for policies like single-payer health care and debt-free college that formed the core of Sanders’ platform—by holding Clinton accountable to the commitments she made during negotiations over the Democratic platform and pushing her to the left on issues where she and grassroots activists remain divided.

“We want to make sure the issues that have dominated the course of this political movement, the Bernie issues, are still front and center in everyone’s thoughts,” Wong says. “We want to make sure we have debt-free college, that we push towards single-payer healthcare. We want to hold Hillary Clinton responsible on a $15 minimum wage. We want to make sure there’s a national ban on fracking. It’s really about making sure we hold the nominee accountable.”

Navar says that CWA shares People for Bernie’s commitment to keeping Clinton focused on a progressive agenda, though the union’s primary concern is making sure she wins the election first. Navar notes that CWA and other groups on the Left have learned from their experience with the Obama administration.

“I never have faith in any individual candidate—I have faith in our members and our ability to push policy and push victories on the ground,” Navar says. “In 2008, folks were wary about pressuring Obama on issues where he wasn’t moving forward in the way he had promised as a candidate. If Clinton wins the presidency, we’re going to have a moment that’s very distinct from when Obama won. You have this moment of awakening and a growth in organizing that is going to lead to an opening for us to drive from day one to push our issues with Secretary Clinton. It’s going to be easier to bring folks to get involved to drive campaigns around our issues.”

Navar points to the compromises reached between Clinton and Sanders delegates during the Democratic platform drafting process as evidence that the Left has gained power. On the issue of debt-free college education, Sanders and Clinton reached a deal to make public colleges and universities tuition-free for families making less than $125,000 a year, a proposal which goes far beyond Clinton’s position during the primaries, when she called for reductions in interest rates on student loans but argued against making college tuition-free. Delegates to the platform drafting committee also approved compromise proposals supporting a public option for health insurance and the opportunity for workers over the age of 55 to buy into Medicare.

“In issue after issue, Bernie has pushed the needle in our direction. That creates the space for us to get some policy victories and move forward,” Navar says.

Not everyone is satisfied with the new Democratic platform, however. Deborah Burger, co-president of National Nurses United, which contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars and hundreds of volunteers to Sanders’ campaign, argues that the platform fails to address the root causes of economic and social inequality in the United States.

“It would take an idiot to say they aren’t positive steps,” Burger says. “But it’s frustrating that we’re constantly being told to lower our expectations. And we’re not even having this fight with the Republican Party. This is just inside the Democratic Party. That’s the kind of fight you have with Republicans—it’s not the fight you expect within your own party. That’s probably the most frustrating part.”

Despite their disagreements over the best ways to move their agendas forward, all three groups agree that the Left is in a better position than where it was when Sanders began his campaign last May.

“There is a real hunger for radical politics and change in this country,” Navar says. “I was one of the first people arguing that this was Bernie’s moment, that Bernie would be relevant, but I was blown away by the reception.”

Both NNU and People for Bernie hope to channel this momentum to elect democratic socialists at every level of the political system. People for Bernie has begun recruiting women, people of color and millennials to run in state and local elections. Wong herself may throw her hat in the ring.

“I think it bodes very well for younger people who are thinking of running, especially if they’re given the right toolkits and the support they need to make it happen. We’re really focused on building socialist power, and now is the time,” say Wong. “Most people don’t realize there are many thousands of jobs you could run for. And these jobs would certainly be better paying than the $15 an hour you’d make at Starbucks.”

Most important of all, however, are the alliances that all three groups have built during the 2016 primary election. They joined together in June at the People’s Summit in Chicago, which was hosted by NNU, along with wide range of groups pushing for progressive change, from environmentalists like to racial justice activists like the Million Hoodies Movement for Justice to political organizations like Democratic Socialists of America.

“What’s different about this election cycle and what Bernie Sanders highlighted is the fact that there’s more support than ever for real change. All of the groups we’ve been working with on various issues have been coming together to say it’s not enough to just work on our silo of issues,” Burger says. “We had no illusions that this wasn’t a long shot, and we did better than we ever imagined we could do. The takeaway lesson is: Don’t lower your expectations. Don’t go into the fight bargaining for less.”

Categories: Newswire

The National Reasonable Association

truthout - July 13, 2016 - 4:00am
Categories: Newswire
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