Anarchism is a philosophy which, over the years, has often been seriously misunderstood, thanks largely to the efforts of its enemies. But the situation seems worse than ever today, in that even those who call themselves anarchists sometimes lack a clear understanding of what it involves. Sometimes they accept the comic-book version of anarchism presented to us by the mainstream media and so help perpetuate that parody. Sometimes they undermine the whole sense of anarchism by trying to combine it with a political philosophy with which it is entirely incompatible, such as capitalism, liberalism, postmodernism, Marxism, nationalism or the politics of “racial” identity.
By real anarchism, we mean an anarchist vision unblurred by a confusion of other ideas and influences, an anarchist point of view which is strong and coherent because it is built on the foundation stone of anarchist philosophy. Anarchism, as a political movement, is doomed to disintegrate and disappear if it fails to reconnect itself to the roots of its own world-view.
Anarchy comes from the Greek terms arkh meaning ruler and an- meaning without: it therefore means a society without rulers. An anarchist is someone who thinks we should live without rulers and who tries to push society in that direction. Note that an anarchist isn’t just someone who thinks we could possibly live without rulers, in certain circumstances and if certain conditions were met, but someone who thinks it preferable to live without rulers.
The obvious question which springs to mind is why do anarchists think it would be better to live in a society without rulers, without government? After all, most of us have been brought up to believe that a state, the rule of law and so on are necessary for our well-being and protection. There may be arguments about how much power the state should have, or how it should use that power, but there is no general question about the need for some kind of authority in charge of our society. People assume that without a government, human society would fall apart into chaos, with everyone trampling over each other in a brutal “dog-eat-dog” world. The word “anarchy” is often used in this way by non-anarchists. They talk about a fear that we could “descend into anarchy”.
From this perspective, the anarchist point of view doesn’t make any sense at all. One common conclusion is that anarchists must be hopelessly naïve to believe that it could be possible to do away with authority without disastrous consequences. Another reaction is that anarchists must be destructive-minded and violent people, who actively want society to slip into a nightmarish condition of chaos. In fact, these two depictions of anarchists are used pretty much interchangeably by our enemies, particularly in the mainstream media, depending on the needs of the moment. One day anarchists are bunch of woolly-minded idealists, completely detached from “the real world”, foolishly clinging to a childish cloud-cuckoo fantasy of stateless society. The next day they are a sinister and violent gang of sociopaths, plotting underground to wreak havoc and destroy everything that is good in society.
Behind all this misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the anarchist position lies the important question of how we regard human nature. If you believe that humans are naturally selfish, greedy and violent, then you will argue that they need the structure of a state to control them. If you believe that there is no such thing as human nature, and that we are entirely shaped by the environment in which we grow up, then you will be keen to ensure that the correct environment is provided and may well look to some kind of state to ensure this happens.
But what if you believe that humans have a natural tendency for co-operation rather than for competition, for mutual aid rather than for mutual robbery? This is the anarchist point of view, most famously set out by the Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin in his 1902 masterpiece Mutual Aid. In this case, you obviously do not believe that a state is necessary to hold society together, as this is something that happens naturally from within, because of this tendency for co-operation.
This difference between the statist and anarchist outlooks is fundamental. It is the point where anarchism diverges from all other political philosophies. So it is crucial to understand why Kropotkin, and his anarchist followers, have this particular view of human nature. Kropotkin made it quite clear in Mutual Aid, and elsewhere, that it is not just human nature he is describing. All animals show the same tendency to co-operate, simply because it makes sense. That is how species, including the human species, survive and flourish – by working together and looking out for each others’ interests. He makes it clear that this is only a tendency he is describing. There are plenty of instances of competition in nature, as well in human society. Anarchists do not suggest that a future anarchist society would never involve any conflict between individuals or groups. But the overall pattern remains one of co-operation.
This potential and natural tendency for co-operation and mutual aid is based on our belonging to the natural world, where co-operation remains intact as the general rule of life. It is a continuation of nature within humanity, the extension of the organic structure of nature into the realm of human affairs. A human society without a state can hold itself together because that is what it had evolved to do, before the modern era of hierarchies warped our ways of living.
So-called anarchist thinking in recent decades has been overly influenced by other philosophical ideas which do not share its roots. It is fashionable in some circles to reject the idea of “nature”, particularly when applied to human beings. It is wrongly seen as being some kind of restriction applied to individuals from the outside, an attempt to make them conform to someone else’s model. This hasn’t been helped by the right-wing misuse of the words “natural” and “unnatural” to describe behaviour or ways of being that are considered acceptable or unacceptable by certain groups. This has nothing to do with actual nature, which is simply the living world of which we are part.
Nature is at the heart of real anarchist thinking. The idea of a natural state of freedom that has been stolen from us by states, churches and other forms of domination underlies the whole anarchist tradition. Time and time again anarchists write of removing the constraints of the state, so that we can organise ourselves into co-operative societies where we will always have the potential to flourish.
For most people today, the existence of a state is accepted as something necessary for the general welfare of humanity. But what does the state represent for anarchists? If human society naturally functions well on its own, and then something comes along which interferes with that natural functioning, then that thing is a problem. Yes, the state is unnecessary, but it’s even worse than that. It is actually stopping us from living how we should be living. The state is a positive menace to human well-being.
Comparisons are sometimes made between anarchism and the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism. Taoism describes a natural flow to the world which can be blocked and disrupted by any attempts to control it, even well-meaning ones.
For those who see anarchy as being a natural and desirable condition of humankind, all kinds of authority are regarded as both unnatural and undesirable. This is the basis of the anarchist position. While those in power regard anarchists as wanting to turn their world upside down, anarchists regard the current world as already being upside down and want to put it back the right way again, how it’s meant to be.
Seen from the anarchist point of view (from the right way up), all the structures of our current society take on a different appearance. They are revealed as ways of keeping us enslaved and concealing from us the truth about our predicament. Here are some examples.
The state. Anarchists regard the state as an appalling imposition. A group of powerful people declare themselves to have some kind of right to authority, tell the people they need that authority, and then force people to obey them. This is unacceptable.
Property. The powerful people who run the state also claim to “own” parts of the surface of the Earth and exclude others from these areas.
The law. This is the way that all the theft and domination is justified, disguised and imposed. The law replaces the principle of “right” and “wrong” with narrow definitions of “legal” and “illegal” suiting the interests of those who run the state, possess the wealth and write the laws.
The police. They are the physical means by which the powerful people who run the state violently enforce obedience to their system.
The “nation”. The concept of a “nation” is a false one, designed to give legitimacy to the existence of states controlling particular territories. Obviously there are fluid cultural and linguistic identities across the world, which should be defended from statist imperialism and centralisation, but anarchists reject any idea that these identities are fixed or that humans can be defined by national or racial labels.
“Democracy”. To hide the reality behind their theft and domination, the powerful people behind the state have constructed an elaborate façade of so-called “democracy” to persuade the dispossessed majority that they do, in fact, have a say in the running of society. The usefulness of the illusion of “democracy” is to head off the need for constant violent repression of the public.
The main aim of the powerful people behind the state has always been to increase their own wealth and power at the expense of everyone else. They disguise this aim by describing it as “progress”, “development” or “economic growth”.
In order to boost their own wealth, the ruling class have stolen from the rest of humanity the ability to live freely off the natural fruits of the land and trapped us into a complex system of enslavement based on money. The basic idea is that you either become a slave to their system, or you starve. To encourage voluntary submission, we have been taught to think that any kind of paid employment has a positive value, whatever the work involves. The accumulation of money and possessions is likewise presented as praiseworthy in itself, and confers social status.
The increase in the wealth of the ruling class – or “economic growth” as they call it – is presented as an unchallengeable priority, justifying unending and ever-increasing exploitation of life in all its forms – human, animal and our natural environment.
Anarchists reject this rhetoric, and everything that goes along with it. We have our own set of values which have got nothing to do with the fake and self-serving “values” of the world of money.
Ethics form an important part of the anarchist vision. There is already an ethical dimension in the basic idea of a co-operative way of life founded on mutual aid. But real anarchists extend this further in seeing a sense of values which naturally goes hand in hand with the idea of a self-governing and organic anarchist society. These values provide an ethical structure for this society; they are the fabric that make it possible and hold it together on a physical level. This basic concept has been shared by many cultures in human history. It is the Chinese Tao, it is the Indian idea of dharma or cosmic order, or the indigenous South American sumak kawsay or “right way of living”.
This anarchist dharma is key to the superiority of anarchist society. As well as naturally having a tendency to co-operate, for survival and well-being, humans have a tendency to be guided by certain values which help build harmonious and sustainable societies. Respect for each other, respect for other creatures, for trees, plants and rivers. These values are commonplace amongst us but are not allowed to come to the fore and guide the direction of our societies, because of all the false structures imposed upon us.
Freeing humanity from the yoke of state control and enslavement would also free us to live according to values coming naturally to us, rather than being forced to obey the laws imposed on us by the slave-owning minority.
People new to anarchist ideas often misunderstand the role of the individual in anarchist philosophy. The emphasis on individual freedom leads some to imagine that anarchism is little more than an extreme form of individualism, a mere libertarianism which could theoretically be coupled with liberalism or capitalism. However, this interpretation neglects the strong social aspect of anarchism, its emphasis on our innate tendency towards co-operation and mutual aid.
Anarchism rejects the idea that there is an inherent clash of interests between the individual and the community, which has to be resolved by some kind of social contract or compromise. Instead, it understands that the individual human’s sense of belonging to a wider community is a natural one, if allowed to flourish. We do not need a state (whether capitalist or communist) to artificially impose that belonging and loyalty on us – indeed, trying to do so is more likely to destroy affinity with wider society.
Because anarchists maintain that humanity has a natural tendency towards co-operation, we trust people to organise themselves, rather than wanting to force them to behave in the ways that we see fit by means of laws, police and so on. For anarchists, the idea of complete freedom for all individuals is not something to be feared, because we recognise that, in the long run, individuals will act in the interests of the communities of which, after all, they are part. For the minority who use the structures of the current system to dispossess and exploit the majority, complete freedom is indeed to be feared – as a threat to their own privileged status.
Freedom of the individual is, for anarchists, necessary for the freedom of the community. A society cannot be considered free if its members are not free. An individual cannot be considered free if they are not free to act according to their own conscience and their own values. Those values are found deep within each of us. But, since each of us is also part of the human species, these are shared human values. When we search in our hearts for what is right and wrong, just and unjust, we are searching within the collective culture, the collective thinking, of humankind.
And embedded within that collective human culture is the idea of dharma, or Tao, or natural harmony, the sense of rightness by which human society can guide itself. When that sense of rightness has been obscured by all the false representations of contemporary society, it is the role of anarchists to bring it back to the fore.
Since anarchists demand complete freedom for all individuals, it goes without saying that we also recognise a complete equality of worth in all. The labels attached to people by current society, denoting their social or “national” or “racial” status, have no meaning for anarchists, who see only fellow human beings with a right to define themselves as they see fit and to be treated with respect by others.
We know that many in society today are subject to discrimination and oppression in ways that are not always seen, or regarded as significant, by others who do not undergo the same experiences. And we know that it is important to always remain aware of this. However, anarchists do not define themselves in terms of our oppression, or accept the role of victim. We prefer to fight back, focusing not on the differences between us but on what we all have in common.
Anarchism is not a narrow dogma and emerges in many different forms. Sometimes it can embrace struggles which may not be anarchist themselves, but are wholly compatible with anarchism. Anti-fascism is a good example of this. Not all anti-fascism is necessarily anarchist, but all anarchism is necessarily anti-fascist, as fascism is entirely incompatible with anarchism. Likewise, while class struggle does not have to be specifically anarchist, class struggle is very much part of the anarchist struggle – specifically the struggle to abolish the whole economic system in which humans are ranked in “classes”.
It has become fashionable to dismiss any idea of revolution as naïve. It is argued either that it is impossible, or that it will merely lead to new forms of oppression. But for anarchists, real naïvety lies in imagining that real change can be brought about without revolution. This is not revolution in the state-communist sense of a transfer of power to a new ruling elite. Anarchism aims at nothing less than the permanent destruction of the state and all the layers of authority it uses to enslave us.
While short-term social gains are not to be sniffed at, they are always to be seen for what they are. Without the demolition of all the structures of current system (law, work, patriarchy, borders, etc.) the structure of enslavement will remain intact and will, in time, reassert control. Real anarchists refuse to abandon the call for revolution, because we know that it is our only hope. Moreover, the myth of revolution, the dream of the complete destruction of the current system, is something that can galvanise action, that can capture people’s imagination and create powerful energies. One thing is for sure, and that is nothing will ever change if we all give up believing that change is even possible.
The anarchist view of the individual comes into play again when the question of revolution comes up. For us, the freedom of the individual is always combined with the responsibility to use that freedom in the general communal interest. In times of social harmony (i.e. anarchy), this would involve protecting the dharma of a stable and happy community. But in times like ours, where the world is upside down, the responsibility lies elsewhere.
Instead, say anarchists, individuals must find within themselves the strength to fight against the oppressive system in whatever way they can. This is partly a question of asserting own individuality through our dissent from the status quo and our adherence to our own set of values. But, of course, we are also acting in the interests the wider human community – as our values demand. Any anarchist who is true to themself has no choice but to act.
This courage to destroy injustice, tyranny and domination in all its forms is sometimes mistaken for negativity. But in fact anarchism has the deeply positive aim of sweeping away an existing negativity blocking human well-being and happiness. Anarchism is the spirit of life reasserting itself against oppression.anarchismanarchycategory: Essays
Two of Prime Minister Theresa May’s special advisers met with a libertarian US think tank founded by climate science denial funder Charles Koch last winter, but Number 10 Downing Street will not say why.
The failure to disclose the details of the meetings with the Cato Institute raises questions about whether there is a loophole regarding disclosures under the Freedom of Information Act.
DeSmog UK can reveal that on February 16 special advisors Chris Brannigan and Jimmy McLoughlin attended a lunch hosted at the Cato Institute in Washington D.C. According to the think tank, trade issues were discussed.var icx_publication_id = 14813; var icx_content_id = '12419'; Click here for reuse options! Tags: The Cato InstituteTheresa MayNumber 10Prime Minister's OfficeJimmy MclaughlinRyan BourneChris Branniganbrexit climate deniers
Surgeon who exposed Clinton Foundation corruption in Haiti found dead in apartment with stab wound to the chest
Surgeon who exposed Clinton Foundation corruption in Haiti found dead in apartment with stab wound to the chest | 12 Dec 2017 | A well-known surgeon who exposed major inadequacies in medical trauma care promised to the Haitian people by the Clinton Foundation after the non-profit raised over $30 million dollars in donations following the devastating 2010 earthquake was found dead in his upscale apartment Sunday with a stab wound to the chest. Dr. Dean Lorich, 54, was found lying dead on the bathroom floor of his apartment by his 11-year-old daughter with a knife sticking out of his chest...In January of 2010, Dr. Lorich sent a detailed email to a confidant which ended up getting forwarded to Cheryl Mills who was Counselor and Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the time before being forwarded on again to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The doctor's correspondence, provided by Wikileaks, was critical of how the situation in Haiti was being handled.
'It's not over': Roy Moore refuses to concede and insists there could be recount | 13 Dec 2017 | Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore on Tuesday refused to concede the race to Democrat Doug Jones, suggesting he would wait for a recount despite preliminary results indicating he would lose the contest by an amount greater than the margin that would trigger such a process. "Realize when the vote is this close, it's not over," Moore said. "And we still got to go by the rules about this recount provision." "It's not over and it's going to take some time," he added at the end of his speech.
Major Education Victory in Philadelphia as Parents, Teachers and Activists Reclaim Control of Schools
We look at a major education victory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where parents, teachers and activists mounted a successful campaign to reclaim control of their local public school system after then-Pennsylvania Governor Mark Schweiker declared it financially distressed in 2001. Under the plan, dozens of Philadelphia public schools closed, and the city saw a spike in charter schools. Community groups responded by forming a coalition to pressure Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney to return control over the School District to local voters. Last month, Mayor Kenney heeded organizers' demands and called for the dissolution of the commission. This came as the city also elected civil rights attorney Larry Krasner as district attorney, who campaigned in part on ending the school-to-prison pipeline. We speak with Helen Gym, a longtime community activist and now a Philadelphia city councilmember, and Kendra Brooks of the "Our City, Our Schools" coalition as well as Parents United. She is the parent of two children who attend Philadelphia district schools.
Please check back later for full transcript.
Alabama Democrat Doug Jones celebrates his victory over Judge Roy Moore at the Sheraton in Birmingham, Alabama, on Tuesday, December 12, 2017. (Photo: Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call)
Almost a full year into the Age of Trump and you expect me to believe Alabama would be the place where this awful Christo-fascist nationalist inertia finally gets thrown back? Yet here we sit, 51 to 49 in the Senate and Steve Bannon temporarily stuffed back into the Mercer-funded Crackerjack box he emerged from. I know Alabama. If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere.
Alabama Democrat Doug Jones celebrates his victory over Judge Roy Moore at the Sheraton in Birmingham, Alabama, on Tuesday, December 12, 2017. (Photo: Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call)
My heart beat just like a hammer
Arms wound around you tight
While stars fell on Alabama
Last night …
-- "Stars Fell on Alabama," Frank Perkins and Mitchell Parish, 1934
Roy Moore got beat in Alabama. Roy Moore got beat by Alabama. Roy Moore got beat.
It's not that I can't believe it. The AP called it for Doug Jones, then Fox, then The New York Times, then NBC, then everyone. It happened in color and with the volume all the way up. I saw it. I just can’t believe it.
Jones is now the first Democrat to win a Senate race in Alabama in more than 20 years, and the first Democrat to win any statewide office in Alabama since Jim Folsom became Lt. Governor in 2006. The last Alabama Senate race that was this close was in 1986, when now-GOP Sen. Richard Shelby first won the office as a Democrat himself. In 2016, Donald Trump carried the state by 30 points.
Last night, well over a million votes were cast in a special election that Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill predicted would only see 25 percent turnout at best. Black voters came out in force, in some places exceeding 2014-level turnout by 30 points, while tens of thousands of white rural voters -- Trump and Roy Moore's core base in the state -- sat this one out. The numbers whipsawed throughout the night, with Jones making up a 50,000-vote gap in under an hour as Democratic votes from Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham’s Jefferson County came boiling in.
Moore refused to concede, of course. It looks like he wants a recount, which he will have to pay for, and his people were talking about outstanding military votes, but they all sounded like the kid with 10 fingers tasked to plug 11 holes in the dike. With 100 percent of the precincts reporting just before midnight, Jones' margin of victory was north of 20,000 votes, well past the margin for an automatic recount according to state law.
This was decisive, and as for stringing this election out like the GOP did in Minnesota in 2008, here's a pro tip: The only candidates who get away with even attempting a bum's rush like that are candidates with friends. Roy Moore has no friends where it matters. The Alabama GOP chairman has declared the race over, the secretary of state said a change in results is highly unlikely, and even Mitch McConnell was relieved by this outcome, despite the fact that it narrows his majority to a whisper. This is done.Black voters came out in force.
If you wrote this script, nobody would buy it. Almost a full year into the Age of Trump and you expect me to believe Alabama of all states would be the place where this awful Christo-fascist nationalist inertia we've been enduring finally gets thrown back? I'd have sooner bet on the Hartford Whalers to win the Stanley Cup this year, and they haven't skated since 1997. Yet here we sit, 51 to 49 in the United States Senate and Steve Bannon temporarily stuffed back into the Mercer-funded Crackerjack box he emerged from. Go Whalers.
What a filthy vat of goat vomit was this election. There was so much about it that was historically awful, but this really took the cake: After multiple women accused Moore of sexually assaulting them when they were teenagers, a pro-Trump organization called The America First Project sent a 12-year-old girl to interview Moore on the eve of the election.
The group's stated point was to demonstrate "that there is a wide range of people who support Judge Roy Moore." In reality, they were flipping the bird at Moore's accusers by showing he could be in a room with a 12-year-old girl without molesting her. Then there were the radio spots, funded by conservative super PACs, with lines like, "I heard Doug Jones would add even more Black babies to the 300,000 already being aborted this year." Yeah, it was that bad.Moore isn't some oddball outlier; he is the culmination of 40 years spent by the GOP polluting their own base with fear, nonsense and hatred.
A disgraced judge accused of serial sexual misconduct with teenagers and wreathed in the sweaty laurels of Donald Trump, Roy Moore is the avatar of many of the problems that currently haunt the Republican Party. However, Moore isn't some oddball outlier; he is the culmination of 40 years spent by the GOP polluting their own base with fear, nonsense and hatred. The fact that so many Trump base voters stayed home on Tuesday night, even in the face of Doug Jones' vivid pro-choice stance, is frankly astonishing. In the end, Moore was too much even for a party that would seemingly elect a bag of cancer cells if it had an "R" stamped on it.
The "takes" on last night's election will be coming fast and furious today, so I'll make mine short:
* If the #MeToo moment cannot be said to have won this election outright, it had as much or more to do with Jones' win as anything else. The national conversation about sexual abuse lasered in on Alabama after the Washington Post blew the lid off Moore's sordid behavior, and last night's election will stand in history as another chapter in our ongoing national reckoning.
* Jones has to run again in 2020, which means he has to start campaigning for re-election tomorrow, and he is still a senator from Alabama. Just because he won doesn't mean Alabama has suddenly become Berkeley. A less toxic candidate than Moore may very well have prevailed. In order to help his chances back home, I strongly suspect Jones will be breaking with the Democratic caucus on any number of important votes. Doug Jones is not Roy Moore, but that doesn't mean he's going to be Ted Kennedy.Note to the Democratic Party: Nothing is impossible. You won in Alabama. I hope you took notes.
* Amazing and refreshing as this victory is, the fact remains that a man repeatedly accused of child molestation came within less than two percentage points of defeating a man who successfully prosecuted the Klan members responsible for murdering four little girls at the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963. White Trump voters still turned out for Moore in numbers large enough to make it dangerously close. This, to me, is proof that high turnout actually works … and in order to beat back the forces of Trump and Moore, high turnout will have to be commonplace every election from here on out. It is also proof that despite this win, white supremacy and misogyny are very much alive in Alabama and beyond.
* While it is undeniably wonderful that a ghoul like Roy Moore has been thwarted, the Democrats are going to miss him, election-wise, in 2018. Had Moore won, every GOP candidate for the midterms would be forced to address his wilder claims, and the entire Republican Party would be painted with that brush. That might have been enough to win back the Senate majority, and maybe even flip the House. Of course, it is vastly preferable not to have Moore in the United States Senate … but he would have made a damn fine Typhoid Mary, afflicting his fellow Republicans with his own words and deeds.
* This election will have no immediate effect on the Senate, as McConnell has promised not to seat the winner until after the New Year.
* Note to the Democratic Party: Nothing is impossible. You won in Alabama. I hope you took notes.
* Finally, odds are good that many voices today will proclaim the Trump Revolution to be over. While the president has indeed been handed a stinging rebuke that he will surely handle in his usual calm and measured way, the fact remains that some 35 percent of the country still believes his tweets are all being carved onto stone tablets somewhere. A great swath of Congress is still irrationally petrified of him because of his unswerving base, and that fact alone swings some weight. The walls have closed in on Trump a bit more, to be sure, but Moore's defeat does not count as a mortal blow.The walls have closed in on Trump a bit more, to be sure, but Moore's defeat does not count as a mortal blow.
Finally, this: I am, in my own way, a son of Alabama. My father is buried there, as is his father and mother. I was a page in the Alabama state senate during Shelby's first term, and had the run of the haunted old capitol building all the way back to when my father worked for Don Siegelman in the secretary of state's office. My father was the United States attorney out of Montgomery for most of the Clinton administration, and was chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party in the grim years after the 2000 election debacle and the September 11 attacks. It was a hard hustle.
If my father wasn't already dead, Tuesday night might have killed him. For stalwart FDR Democrats like him -- and there are many in Alabama -- men like Roy Moore are an unendurable humiliation. Had he been alive to see the outcome of this vote, my dad would have howled from his porch into the Birmingham night until the wee hours, or until they finally arrested him, whichever came first. He would have been surpassingly proud of his home state last night, and deservedly so.
When I was a boy, I once saw George Wallace wheeled in to the Alabama capitol building via the back door. He looked green. Last night, the state of Alabama -- reddest of the red -- shook the green hand of Wallace off its shoulder and looked forward. If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere.
Onward.Grassroots, not-for-profit news is rare -- and Truthout's very existence depends on donations from readers. Will you help us publish more stories like this one? Make a one-time or monthly donation by clicking here.
The Federal Communications Commission is set to vote Thursday on whether to repeal the landmark net neutrality protections passed under President Obama in 2015. Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers treat web content equally and do not block or prioritize some content over others in return for payment. The move could allow internet service providers to cut speeds and jack up prices, and drew a record 22 million comments to the FCC, which critics say the agency has not fully reviewed. "We're talking about the future of media here and who has access and control and whose voices are valued, whose stories are told, whose stories are dehumanized," says Joseph Torres, senior adviser for government and external affairs for Free Press, the national media reform organization.
Please check back later for full transcript.
This article was originally published at TalkPoverty.org
How is one to tell about joy? How describe the citizens of Omelas?… I do not know the rules and laws of their society, but I suspect that they were singularly few.
One thing I know there is none of in Omelas is guilt.
-- Ursula K. Le Guin, "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"
Earlier this year, National Geographic published an article claiming to have discovered the 25 happiest cities in the United States. The measurements were based on a scale developed by Gallup, with input from Dan Buettner, who has spent decades traveling the globe in pursuit of the roots of happiness. Even with all that experience, Buettner's findings (reported in the article by George Stone) seem to overlook one glaring problem: American happiness appears to be rich and white.
The city that tops Nat Geo's list this year is Boulder, Colorado. Boulder is a small town nestled in the Rocky Mountains, known for its biking paths, clean air, and youthful population; the latter of which can be attributed to the fact that it is home to the University of Colorado Boulder (CU) and Naropa University, in addition to several specialty and trade schools. Naropa University includes the writing school that was founded by beat writers Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman. It's also where I attended grad school.
Before I moved to the city, I had farewell drinks with a friend and a schoolmate he brought along, an Asian woman who spent one short academic year at CU before bolting.
"It's the most racist place I've ever been," she told me upon learning where I would soon be moving. "Everyone there is white, and if you're not," she swiped her hand through the air as though swatting away a bug. "It was like being Asian made me an alien," she added.
There was a moment of silence as I thought about my Cuban heritage, and whether I'd fit into the city that Nat Geo this year described as "bolstered by a sense of community, access to nature, sustainable urban development and preservation policies."
Then my friend (a white gay man, if you're wondering), said, "Oh, don't worry, you pass." Ultimately, he's right. I do "pass." My skin is olive-toned but not brown, my eyes are hazel, and my hair is a shade that in Latino communities is considered rubio,which roughly translates in English to blonde. I did not personally experience the racial alienation my drinking partner described that evening, but I saw and experienced other events that made the generous smiles, the lavish, clear-aired sunsets, and the folded yogis in the parks all seem like part of a deeply exclusionary facade.
In the short story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," author Ursula Le Guin describes a city of immense but ambiguous happiness, where "the air of morning was so clear that the snow still crowning the Eighteen Peaks burned with white-gold fire across the miles of sunlit air, under the dark blue of the sky." There, in Omelas, the people "were mature, intelligent, passionate adults whose lives were not wretched." But buried somewhere out of sight, in a small windowless room, an emaciated child sits alone. Le Guin describes its fear and decrepitude; the terrible squalor of its existence, and the feeble, hopeless waste of its mind and body. The child is always referred to as "it," because to imagine an actual human being treated this way is beyond comprehension.
But, Le Guin explains, the people of Omelas have had to make a choice. "If the child were brought up into the sunlight out of that vile place, if it were cleaned and fed and comforted, that would be a good thing, indeed; but if it were done … that would be to let guilt within the walls."
And so the Omelans reason that it is simply a matter of math. Every life in the city stays joyful and beautiful -- and the one that is not is hidden.
National Geographic writes that in the happiest places, "locals smile and laugh more often, socialize several hours a day, have access to green spaces, and feel that they are making purposeful progress toward achieving life goals."
This type of happiness, the article admits, relies upon wealth. What it doesn't mention outright, however, is that for an entire city to be dubbed "the happiest," poverty cannot play a significant factor. In Boulder's case, this is not because the social problems that cause poverty have been fixed, but because the poor have been pushed out.
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 88 percent of Boulder is single-racial white. The median single-household income is just under $60,000, and the mean a whopping $90,000. Median monthly housing costs are reported at $1,320, with the number of renters and homeowners roughly the same (in 2015, there were only about 2,000 more renters than homeowners). This should be surprising, considering the fact that Boulder houses two universities, and the average student does not own the home she lives in. While I was there, I watched a slow, quiet change take place; one that I doubt many of my mostly white and affluent grad school cohorts noticed. It was something I saw not from my vantage point as a grad student at the Jack Kerouac School, but as someone addicted to heroin, who would, while in Boulder, eventually become homeless, pregnant, and on methadone.
First, the natural food markets -- which were more available than average grocery stores -- began stocking security guards alongside their expensive, organic products. Then the city discretely installed security cameras near the Boulder Public Library, which were able to spy on Central Park -- once a favorite hangout spot for the city's small homeless population. Wayne, a local methadone patient who asked me to change his name for privacy purposes, tells me there is no longer a homeless presence at that location -- or, he says, much of anywhere in Boulder. That's not surprising, since the city passed several ordinances that essentially prohibit homelessness: They outlaw sleeping in vehicles, "aggressive begging," and public camping.
My methadone clinic used to be located just off Pearl Street, the beflowered street pictured in Nat Geo's article. A short while after I left the clinic in late 2012, it moved from Boulder to Longmont -- Boulder's poorer, browner neighbor to the north. It remains there, in a large, unattached building that stands near several bus lines but away from any downtown area. Wayne has been a client there since August of this year, previously attending the sister location in Denver. He was never a patient at the Boulder location, but works as an Uber driver and tells me over Facebook that the attitude toward addiction and poverty has shifted dramatically in Boulder over the past several years.
"The influx of new wealthy people from all over the country … has made people more judgmental and ignorant," he says.
And what of the other cities that top National Geographic's list? Number two is Watsonville, California. Although Santa Cruz County, where Watsonville is located, hosts a heavily Hispanic and Latino population, Watsonville itself is, again, mostly white -- a shift that has climbed steadily since 2010. Rent averages around the same as in Boulder. Charlottesville, Virginia, earned third-place on the measure of happiness, even after making national headlines for hosting a violent white nationalist rally. It is around 70 percent white, with a mean household income just under $90,000.
Perhaps these facts are not surprising. Perhaps we have known, all along, that money does in fact buy happiness.
When I look at the photos and blog posts from my classmates who are still in Boulder, it appears relatively unchanged. Ravishing sunsets frame wine glasses adorned by a backdrop of lush mountains. Pearl Street's clean red bricks look as pretty as I remember against the quaint boutiques that line the street. In these photos, everyone is smiling. It's envy-inducing, for sure.
But then I remember how, when I was in Boulder just a few years back, the photo of Pearl Street that heads the Nat Geo article could not have been taken without a street performer or beggar in sight. How the methadone clinic was pushed north, and along with it, I'm sure, all of those clients seeking refuge from addiction. The measure of Boulder's happiness is not only healthy eating and learning new skills, but also a practiced ignorance of those who are suffering or in need.
One thing I know there is none of in Boulder is guilt.Our journalists work tirelessly to deliver the news to you every day! Will you sign up for a monthly donation and become one of the many readers who sustain Truthout's work
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. John Cornyn speak to reporters about the Alabama Senate race during a news conference on Capitol Hill, December 12, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Al Drago / Getty Images)
After "bigotry and hatred were defeated at the polls" in Alabama on Tuesday, progressives turned their sights toward defeating the GOP's attempt to deliver a trillion-dollar tax cut to the wealthy, demanding that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) "immediately" seat newly elected Sen. Doug Jones before a final vote on the Republican tax bill.
Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), said in a statement late Tuesday that Jones's victory represents a repudiation of "the Trump-GOP agenda" and implored Republicans to "re-evaluate their support for the monstrous tax bill that will rip healthcare away from millions while raising taxes on middle class families."
"The Senate should slow the process down and allow the nation's newest senator to have a vote on this legislation that will affect the next generation," Clemente concluded. "It would be inappropriate for massive legislation rewriting the nation's tax code to be decided by a lame-duck senator who was just voted out of office."
ATF's call was echoed by several Democratic lawmakers Tuesday night -- demands that came just hours after McConnell made clear that he has no intention of seating the winner of Alabama's special election until next year.
Senate Republicans would be left with just one vote to spare in their push for massive corporate tax cuts if Jones were to be sworn in ahead of a final vote.
In a tweet late Tuesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called on McConnell to "listen to the people of Alabama and seat Doug Jones without any delay."
"Doug Jones should be seated immediately -- before we vote again on the tax bill," added Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). "Alabama voters deserve to have their voices heard in this fight."
On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will hold a press event to demand that Republicans delay a final vote on their tax bill until after Jones is seated.
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) also weighed in:
Majority Leader McConnell must not be allowed to treat Senator-Elect Doug Jones like Judge Merrick Garland. While the election must still be certified, the Senate must follow the will of the people of Alabama and seat the Senator-Elect as soon as possible. #SeatHimNow #ALSenate— Raja Krishnamoorthi (@CongressmanRaja) December 13, 2017
Moore's loss in the race to fill the seat left vacant by Attorney General Jeff Sessions was a "humiliating" blow to President Donald Trump, alt-right provocateur Steve Bannon, and the national Republican Party, which ended up backing Moore after withdrawing support early in November.
Now that a Democrat is set to fill a Senate seat Republicans once viewed as securely theirs, the GOP is likely to move even more aggressively to get their tax bill to Trump's desk as soon as possible, notes Vox's Dylan Matthews.
"The tax bill has so far relied on speed and the GOP's desperate desire for a 'win,'" Matthews writes. "That could still carry the plan through. If Republican leaders have their way, they won't wait around for Jones to become a senator or for [Maine Sen. Susan] Collins to have a change of heart. They're trying to send a tax overhaul to Trump's desk in less than a week's time. Just in case."
Ben Wikler of MoveOn.org highlighted this fact Monday morning and urged the tax bill's opponents to be prepared.
"The GOP will now focus obsessively on passing their tax scam bill before Doug Jones is sworn in," Wikler concluded. "It's up to the rest of us to focus just as obsessively on stopping them."The stories at Truthout equip ordinary people with the facts and resources to create extraordinary change. Support this vital work by making a tax-deductible donation now!
The EPA appears to be unwilling or unable to find any specific documents backing up Administrator Scott Pruitt's claim that carbon pollution is not a primary contributor to climate change. Meanwhile, President Trump just signed a defense bill declaring climate change a national security threat, contradicting his own skepticism and efforts to derail pollution controls.
Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt speaks at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, on February 25, 2017. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)
The Environmental Protection Agency has so far been unable to produce, and is now refusing to search for, any records that could back up Administrator Scott Pruitt's now-infamous television statement dismissing science identifying human-caused carbon dioxide emissions as the primary driver of climate change, according to briefs filed in a federal court on Tuesday.
President Trump chose Pruitt to run the EPA because the former Oklahoma attorney general had teamed up with the fossil fuel industry to challenge environmental regulations, including President Obama's landmark plan to cap climate-warming emissions from power plants. On March 9, just weeks after the Senate approved his nomination on a vote that closely followed party lines, Pruitt claimed there was "tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact" that carbon pollution has on climate during an interview on CNBC's "Squawk Box."
"I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there's tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it's a primary contributor to the global warming that we see," Pruitt said.
Shortly after his television appearance, a watchdog group representing employees at the EPA as well as other federal conservation agencies requested under the Freedom of Information Act that the EPA produce the agency records Pruitt had relied on to make his statement. The group also asked the EPA if it has any scientific studies, reports or guidance materials suggesting that human activity is not the largest factor driving climate change.
The EPA was able to provide "large amounts of archived material" on climate change that had been removed from the agency's website after Trump took office, but none of it backed up Pruitt's claims, according to a statement from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Instead, the materials "underscored the major role human activity plays in driving climate change."
"If Mr. Pruitt does indeed possess facts on climate change that are different from those previously displayed on EPA webpages, he should share them with the public before spending our money to stage a debate," said PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein.
The agency Pruitt now leads spent years gathering evidence linking carbon pollution from fossil fuels to climate change as part of the effort to meet international climate obligations and establish the regulations he wants to dismantle. By the time Pruitt took office, the government's lead environmental agency had already reached the same conclusion that the vast majority of climate scientists and world governments had reached: that carbon dioxide was the main greenhouse gas disrupting climates.
Much of that information has since been scrubbed from the EPA's website, and Pruitt is leading a charge to repeal Obama's Clean Power Plan for reducing carbon emissions in the United States.
PEER claims the EPA initially agreed to search for records to satisfy the group's request but failed to produce anything by the legal deadline, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court earlier this year. The EPA is now defending itself, arguing that PEER is "laying a trap" by asking officials to respond to an unnecessarily broad policy question rather than simply produce documents.
The Freedom of Information Act, the EPA argues, does not require the agency to take a "policy position" or spend endless hours digging through climate research in order to find evidence to support Pruitt's claims, according to a brief filed in a federal district court on Tuesday.
PEER says the EPA initially told the court it was prepared to search for any supporting documents compiled by Pruitt or members of his staff before the CNBC interview, but now objects to the request altogether.
"Our lawsuit is neither a trap nor a fishing expedition but a rather straightforward attempt to get Mr. Pruitt to identify where is the alternative science he keeps citing," stated Dinerstein, in a statement. "We presume that Administrator Pruitt must have had some factual basis for his public statements and we merely seek to see what it is."
The court could side with the EPA and decide that the request is a media stunt and throw out the lawsuit, but PEER appears to already have made its point: Scott Pruitt's climate denial is completely at odds with the prior work of his own agency, and he probably does not have a lot of scientific evidence to back up his positions on the subject.
The EPA is not the only government agency that has recognized the link between carbon pollution and the threat of climate disruption. President Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accord and has called climate science into question, but his own military has long seen climate change as a national security threat.
On Tuesday, Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which calls climate change "a direct threat to the national security" that is "impacting stability" in areas of the world where US armed forces are operating or could be pulled into in the future. The legislation also requires that the Pentagon prepare a report on how climate change will impact military installations over the next 20 years.
The bill Trump signed into law is long -- it outlines funding for the entire military, as well as a number of policy items -- but critics are still wondering how the president missed a section that flies in the face of his own climate skepticism.
"The reality is that climate change couldn't care less about political party affiliation, which is why legislators on both sides of the aisle -- especially those on the frontlines of climate change impacts -- fought to retain this language in the final bill," said Angela Ledford Anderson, director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, in a statement.Truthout readers like you made this story possible. Show your support for independent news: Make a tax-deductible donation today!
The Federal Communications Commission is enacting some of the most devastating aspects of Trump's agenda with unprecedented fervor, and often with little media scrutiny. While the net neutrality debate has put some light on the agency, it is just one of many aggressive attacks on press freedom by Chairman Ajit Pai whose ideology, like Trump's, lacks subtlety and nuance.
Protestors supporting net neutrality protest against a plan by Federal Communications Commission head Ajit Pai, during a protest outside a Verizon store on December 7, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo: ROBYN BECK / AFP / Getty Images)Want to see more coverage of the issues that matter? Make a donation to Truthout to ensure that we can publish more original stories like this one.
On Tuesday, November 21, media advocates were incredibly busy. Just as they were packing up and logging out for the coming Thanksgiving holiday, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman and former Verizon attorney Ajit Pai released his plans to decimate net neutrality, which will be voted on Thursday, December 14. Advocates and the public rightly decried the fact that Pai tried to lessen the blowback from this aggressive and unpopular action by releasing the plan at that particular time.
Yet, choosing this timing was not even Pai's most slimy, deceptive act that day. Also on November 21 -- while media advocates were trying to respond to Pai's plans to hand the internet to cable and telecom companies -- he released an equally worrying statement on the FCC's website about "reviewing" ownership restrictions for corporate media giants.
The word "review" is a little misleading. In reality, the statement "seeks to allow even greater media consolidation. Ignoring federal law...," said FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat.
This is a frightening proposition, given that, thanks in large part to Bill Clinton's Telecommunications Act of 1996, the ownership rules are already so relaxed that about 90 percent of the country's major media companies are owned by six corporations. Further consolidation poses an existential threat to the capacity of media to serve a civic function (as opposed to simply a source of profit). However, the consolidation statement received little attention -- a reality that holds true for most of the numerous and consequential actions taken by Pai this year. With the exception of net neutrality, which itself received much less coverage than it warranted, FCC actions tend to be ignored by almost all media but the business press.The public faces the frightening combination of Pai's radical, free-market absolutism and Trump's authoritarian impulses and deep contempt for the media.
"The whole country was trying to get their heads around the net neutrality plans and nobody, not the media -- not even me, really -- had much time to focus on [Pai's] effort to tee up what little remaining limits we have on ownership," said Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press, a media advocacy group that often battles with the FCC in and out of court. "It is a sort of blitzkrieg approach where they are trying to get everything done as fast as possible."
This approach is reminiscent of the phenomenon described in Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine, which observes how elites engaged "rapid-fire corporate reengineering of societies still reeling from shock" to implement neoliberal policies at break-neck pace. In this case, the shock is the election of Donald Trump. Now, as Aaron notes, "Pai [is] relishing the opportunity to burn it all down and defang the agency."
In less than a year in office, Pai has not only launched an assault on the internet, he has also started gutting numerous ownership caps and attacked polices that help the poor get access to the internet. He also ended the FCC's advocacy in court to eliminate the cruel price gouging for prison phone calls. Pai's FCC has been about as "productive" (or destructive) as any arm of the Trump presidency.
He is just getting started. The public faces the frightening combination of Pai's radical, free-market absolutism and Trump's authoritarian impulses and deep contempt for the media. "Our communications ecosystem has never been so threatened as it is right now," said Michael Copps, former acting chairman and longtime commissioner at the FCC, in an interview with Truthout.A Year in the Life of (Ajit) Pai
While the net neutrality and media ownership plans announced in November alert us to threats we face in the future, Pai has already made significant and devastating changes to US media and telecom policy over the course of less than a year. He has done this with ease, given that the two other Republicans on the five-person Commission vote lockstep with the chairman on virtually every issue.
In the statement on media ownership, Pai cites something called the UHF discount (details of which can be read here). This refers to an egregious vote by Pai's majority on the commission to reinstate a loophole that basically allowed Sinclair Broadcasting to purchase Tribune Media for $3.9 billion, creating what Bloomberg called a "TV goliath." Without reinstating this archaic loophole, the purchase would've been illegal. Media companies aren't allowed to reach more than 39 percent of the country, but now Sinclair ("Trump TV," as Mother Jones called it) can reach around 70 percent of the country with its local broadcasts.
This decision is all the more disturbing since Politico reported in December that Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner said, "Trump's campaign struck a deal with Sinclair during the campaign to try and secure better coverage." The deal, Politico reported, was that Sinclair would give Trump more (uncritical) coverage in exchange for "access to Trump.""Compared to the Bush administration, the pace of radical change is unmatched in breadth and scope."
Now, Pai is citing the reinstatement of the loophole as a justification for him to engage in even more consolidation, although the legality of this is challenged, including by Democratic leaders in Congress. Free Press, Common Cause (where Copps works as a special adviser) and others are likely to take the FCC to court over these issues.
In a November vote, Pai also got rid of important cross-ownership rules -- regulations that keep one company from owning media in various forms (radio, newspaper, television) in one market. Such rules discourage monopoly and allow for more diversity of voices. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, said of the vote, "The FCC sets its most basic values on fire. They are gone."
Media ownership is not the only way Pai has hurt democracy and punished the public. The FCC recently scaled back Lifeline -- a "program that helps about 12.5 million low-income people pay for internet or phone access," according to a report from the Association of Health Care Journalists. The report noted that the move could "exacerbate disparities in health care," since the internet is increasingly being used to improve patients' health. The Lifeline scale-back demonstrates the wide-ranging consequences of FCC actions.
Other policies that Pai has impacted are not merely corporatist, but just plain cruel. When he started his tenure, the FCC had passed regulations that, as Truthout previously documented, limited a gross injustice towards prisoners and their families. Companies were charging absurd prices for phone calls between prisoners and their loved ones -- as high as $10 a minute. "For the people that rely on a $5.25 paycheck once a month, it comes down to soap, or a call to their family, which really isn't right," one federal prisoner told Truthout in February.
The matter was making its way through court, with the FCC supporting caps on prison phone rates to rein in greedy phone corporations. Pai's opposition to the plan, however, led to the FCC abandoning the case after Trump was elected. The courts dismissed the case, citing the FCC's change of position as a reason. Commissioner Clyburn called it the worst "regulatory injustice [she had] seen in 18 years" at the FCC.
Aaron said he recalls attending a hearing where parents, grandparents and other family members -- who were paying hundreds of dollars a week as a result of the problem -- to testify about the injustice in front of Pai and the other commissioners. "I was struck at how Pai could sit right there in front of all these victims, look at them in the face, and make a procedural argument against the policy," Aaron said.Unmatched "Radical Change" at the FCC
Not long before Pai posted his plans about media ownership and net neutrality, another telling document was shared on the FCC website: Pai's speech at the right-wing libertarian Cato Institute's policy conference in New York City. (He also has spoken at conferences for other libertarian bastions, such as Reason Foundation and the Heritage Foundation, in New York.) "I must admit that I had no idea the Big Apple had become such a hotbed of libertarian activity. Has anyone notified the city government?" Pai joked.Pai heads arguably the most aggressive wing of the administration, and inarguably the most politicized FCC in the commission's 80-year existence.
This is just an anecdote, but it tells us something unique about Ajit Pai from past FCC chairs, including Republican ones. "You don't see him doing the National Press Club or more traditional events like that. He doesn't run in those circles. For him, it is FreedomWorks, Cato, Heritage and those kind of ideological organizations," Aaron said. "This is unique from past Republican chairs."
Advocates argue that while the FCC has long made controversial decisions, often to the benefit of certain industries, Pai's strict adherence to ideology is something new on the commission. "There is usually some level of independence and restraint from the chair. Chairman [Kevin] Martin and Chairman [Michael] Powell had their flaws -- as did Obama's appointees -- but it is much different with Pai," said Aaron.
Copps, who served with Pai as a commissioner, emphasizes how today's chair differs from those in the past GOP. "All the recent GOP-led FCCs were enthralled with Adam Smith economics, but with Pai, it's ideology and it's just plain over the top. No subtlety, no nuance," he said. "Additionally, the special interests are even more in the saddle in 2017 than they were earlier."
To underscore how uniquely partisan Pai is, it is worth looking at how divided Congress was on his appointment compared with past FCC chairs. The previous six FCC chairmen, spanning both parties, had been confirmed with unanimous votes -- even Tom Wheeler, who implemented the net neutrality protections currently under attack. Pai, on the other hand, was opposed by all but four Democrats, all of whom are hearing about it from progressive organizations.
This shift reflects the extent of the threat Pai poses. Like Republicans, most Democrats receive donations from companies and lobbies that will benefit from Pai's attack on regulations and ownership caps. Two of the four top recipients of telecom donations, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, are Democrats, and overall, the GOP's edge in donations is in line with its majority in Congress. Cable news giants like Comcast gave more to Democrats than to Republicans in the 2016 cycle, notably to Hillary Clinton, who was backed heavily by Big Media. Yet, despite these donations and all the lobbying done by these industries, Senate Democrats overwhelmingly opposed a Pai-led FCC. Pai is such an ideological crusader that even a normally timorous Democratic Senate Caucus, poised on the receiving end of generous donations from Big Media and Telecom, fears the devastation Pai can cause to communications.
Harold Feld, a senior vice president at the consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, also notes that in past administrations, there was less partisan uniformity among the commissioners.
"It used to be FCC commissioners were more independently minded. You couldn't assume you had the votes of other commissioners in the same party. You had to make deals ... it was less predictable," he said. "The way it is now is quite different. Compared to the [George W.] Bush administration, the pace of radical change is unmatched in breadth and scope."Pai's Mask Comes Off
Until Pai's efforts to destroy net neutrality became a short-term reality, most people, and most of the political media, paid little attention to him. The FCC chairman is known for an affable demeanor and boyish grin -- "the kind of guy you'd want to have a beer with," according to Gigi Sohn of the Verge. He takes to social media with musings on popular culture, sports, beer and his ridiculous, oversized coffee mug (a radical departure from the tweets his boss makes on a regular basis).
He made a cringe-worthy comedy video where he answers "mean tweets" on YouTube -- acting like a good sport, yet characterizing his opponents in the worst possible light by cherry-picking the least persuasive, most offensive arguments. He participates in "no fewer than three fantasy football leagues," according to an official statement. In at least one other official FCC statement, he quotes from The Big Lebowski (something he does with frequency), writing, "Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man," and even footnoted it as such: "The Dude, The Big Lebowski (Polygram Filmed Entertainment 1998)."
All of these quirks aside, since his assault on net neutrality protections became of immediate concern, as Mike Ludwig reported last month, the mask is coming off: Pai is viewed by media advocates as one of the most dangerous figures in a Trump White House -- a telling statement, given how many of Trump's people are hiding deep in the shadows of scandal. "Pai's FCC is a farce and a tragedy and it is going on at one of the most powerful, most destructive and most inadequately covered government agencies," Copps said.
Pai heads arguably the most aggressive wing of the administration, and inarguably the most politicized FCC in the commission's 80-year existence. Moreover, he does so at a time with immensely high stakes: The future of the internet is being shaped, increasingly large "mega mergers" are on the docket, and as noted above, all of this is happening in service to a president with nothing but derision for the press. "They are getting along famously," Feld said of Pai and Trump, noting their common usage of social media to sell policy proposals.
Pai's attempt to destroy internet freedom, however, does have one silver lining: It has woken people up to the danger of his agenda, as well as the importance of media policy and of monitoring the FCC closely. The support for net neutrality in public comments in recent months has been overwhelming, and while Pai seems poised to ignore them, they do not go to waste.
"Those comments are helpful in litigation," Aaron said. "The FCC chair is obligated to use evidence to make changes. He must defend the logic.... I think we [have] better than a coin flip's chance in court to overrule net neutrality rollbacks."
There is also mounting evidence that bots were deployed to use identity theft to make fake comments supporting Pai's agenda. One FCC commissioner, 28 senators and the New York Attorney General's office are asking Pai to delay the vote for an investigation, though he has predictably refused to heed their call.Media Policy as an Election Issue
A year of the Pai/Trump agenda has been scary and dangerous. However, just as the GOP's regressive Trumpcare plans helped energize a movement for Medicare for All, Pai's undemocratic agenda is not sitting well with the US public. Many experts predict that media policy, and specifically broadband policy, will be a big election issue, in both the general election and the primaries.
Referencing the four Democrats who voted to confirm Pai, the group Fight for the Future, a coalition of media and consumer groups, "announced that they will target these lawmakers in their districts with crowdfunded billboards informing constituents of their Senator's controversial vote."
The Democrats in question are Jon Tester (Montana), Claire McCaskill (Missouri), Gary Peters (Michigan) and Joe Manchin (West Virginia). "A vote for Pai was a vote to end net neutrality protections," the group said. Voters and organizers will pay especially close attention to politicians getting the most donations from Big Media.
It is also true that net neutrality is supported by a majority of both Republicans and Democrats, which could make the issue more appealing for some politicians. As Feld notes: "If there is one thing that unites the left and right, it is their hatred of the cable company."
Many of the people behind bars in central Appalachia are not locals. That means most families can't afford to travel for visitation hours or the long-distance calls on credit, leaving those serving time in the region far from home with few resources to stay connected. "Calls From Home" works to fill that gap, providing a lifeline for the people behind bars.
(Photo: Welcomia / Getty Images)
The call comes in clear. A woman on the line tells her loved one she's consulted with officials, and he should be allowed to light an electric menorah for Hanukkah. It's an issue of freedom of religion, she says, so they have to let him do it.
It's a one-way conversation, though. Her partner is not on the other end of the line. He's one of thousands of men and women locked up in one of the many federal and state prisons and regional detention centers in central Appalachia. The caller left this message to be played over the radio on WMMT-FM out of Whitesburg, Kentucky, in the hopes her loved one would be listening from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday.
The target of her call would be just one of hundreds who tune in to the station's "Calls From Home" program every Monday night hoping for news or greetings from family and friends, who reach across the miles through their phone lines to provide the inmates with some sense of normalcy in an otherwise completely abnormal situation.
"Ideally, there wouldn't have to be all these other ears listening to their messages," WMMT General Manager Elizabeth Sanders says. "Ideally, you wouldn't even need this show. But, it's definitely some more connective tissue than what exists."
Many of the people behind bars in central Appalachia are not locals. Most of them are hundreds of miles from home, transported from faraway cities such as Chicago, New York, and Richmond, Virginia. That means most families can't afford to travel for visitation hours. And since the men must pay for long-distance calls on credit, phoning home often is cost-prohibitive, leaving those serving time in the region far from home with few resources to stay connected.
"Calls From Home" works to fill that gap, providing a lifeline for the people behind bars, most of whom are serving time for minor crimes and one day expect to return home. Every Monday, volunteer DJs play hip hop from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., broadcasting their toll-free number throughout the show. During the hip hop show, phone operators take calls from family members. Those dozens of calls -- so many the phone rings continually during the hip-hop show -- are recorded, and from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., they are played back, one after the other, over the airwaves for the people sitting in the 11 prisons and facilities within WMMT's broadcast range.
"It's our responsibility in terms of communication to do what we can," Sanders says. "The folks who are locked up here are also a part of our community. They're the least visible parts of our community, for sure, but they are here, and I see that as part of our responsibly as a radio station."
WMMT's license is held by Appalshop, a nonprofit media and arts organization dedicated to amplifying the voices of Appalachian people through various initiatives. The station plays mostly original programming, ranging from music to news and public affairs shows. Phone operators and DJs are all volunteers. They don't make this show happen every week because they receive benefits themselves; they do it because they know it's the right thing to do, and because they consider the people who are locked up to be neighbors and community members who deserve to be heard and paid attention to.
"It's nothing noble; it's just common decency and what we should be doing as neighbors and as a community who supports one another," says Tanya Turner, who is a regular DJ on the "Hip Hop From the Hilltop" show. "These people are a part of our community as much as anyone else."
Turner says "Calls From Home" is a response to the almost exponentially growing crisis that has caused massive prison expansion in central Appalachia in recent decades. Five federal prisons and correctional institutions are in the region, and a new $444 million federal prison has been proposed by US Rep. Hal Rogers, who represents the 5th Congressional District of eastern Kentucky. It all makes central Appalachia one of the most concentrated regions of new prison growth, and one of the top 20 regions for prison population. Kentucky and Virginia, where many of the prisons within WMMT's range are located, rank 11th and 12th for state imprisonment rates, according to The Sentencing Project.
"These are very political decisions that these prisons end up here, and they're able to sell them to us with the jobs narrative, even though the jobs never come to fruition," Turner says. "Probably the biggest thing is that we don't learn from our mistakes, and every prison in the region is a mistake that we never learn from."
"This show is really about being a mirror and a lens into a different face of our community," Turner says. "It is true community involvement with a part of our community that is woefully underserved, and it's really challenging our community's ideas and the lies we have been fed about who is locked up in the prison industrial complex, because it's sons, and grandsons, dads and brothers."
"Calls From Home" has spurred difficult conversations in the community that have helped locals better empathize with the people behind bars. One example is from the show's early years, when a long-time WMMT programmer called the station during the show to complain that the station should not be providing this outlet to inmates. Turner said before the broadcast was over, the programmer had called back to thank them for doing it, because what they were doing was truly beautiful.
The show developed a popular education curriculum several years ago that captured the stories of all people touched by prison expansion in the region, including formerly incarcerated people, drug addiction counselors, former corrections officers and people who initially supported prison construction in their communities but later changed their minds after the prisons opened.
Sanders said the curriculum project was presented throughout the region at colleges, events and churches. A woman talked with Sanders after one session at a church in Hazard, Kentucky, and said she hadn't realized until participating in this project how much she'd been affected at home by her father's experiences of working in the prison.
"We all maybe don't think we're connected to these systems that are at play," Sanders says. "But it usually ends up that we are."
As long as the prisons stay open, WMMT will be taking calls, sending out over the airwaves report-card updates, love from mothers, and reminders that these brothers, sons and fathers will someday again be free.It only takes a moment to contribute your support for courageous reporting and bold storytelling. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout today.
This article was originally published on TalkPoverty.org.
I grew up in Los Angeles and Seattle, but my siblings used to warn me not to reveal that we were from Mexico. They were afraid that we would be persecuted, deported, and separated from one another, so they made sure I knew about the possible repercussions of being undocumented. But that doesn't mean I fully understood it -- I couldn't really comprehend the extent to which it would impact our lives practically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
I learned what it meant, piece by piece. It meant that my uncle couldn't volunteer as a chaperone for an elementary school field trip, because a routine background check might give Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) information it could use to deport him. It meant that when my fifth-grade teacher taught us about Social Security, I learned that our family didn't have it. It meant introducing myself as "Caesar" rather than "Cesar," and telling people I was born in Los Angeles. It meant working for a construction company that used my immigration status as leverage to pay me less, and demand that I work more.
One experience after another reminded me that our family could not expect safety or support in this country. We were not citizens, so we had no rights.
Nevertheless, my mother took it upon herself to ensure that we had what we needed. She'd work long hours cleaning houses, and sought out any resources she could find to provide us with school supplies, health services, and food. She could not always show physical love, because she was often absent, living out her love through the sacrifices that she made for us.
Like hundreds of thousands of other undocumented mothers, my mother came to the United States from Mexico in search of a better life for herself and her children. She didn't come to this country to engage in sabotage, terrorism, or criminal activities. She was running from domestic violence, finally fed up with false promises of change. To survive, she left behind everything that she had ever known.
To survive, she left behind everything that she had ever known.
My mother had hope and resilience, stemming from a faith in God that the way things were could not possibly be the way things were meant to be. It's what led her to make the dangerous trek into the United States. It's what kept her going even when she and my brother got separated from me and my sister in a sudden sprint past the alambrado. It's how she found the strength to swim out of sinking mud near the California border. It's how she stayed calm when my brother pleaded for her to carry him, when she knew it would make them both drown. It's how she urged him on, yelling "Tu puedes!" until they both reached the shore.
She walked for seven hours that night, without knowing the dangerous terrain or where they were heading. Eventually they came to a street with a few houses, and my mother picked one to knock on. A tall man answered, and -- seeing how muddy and weary they were -- he took them inside and gave them refuge for the night. The next morning, he fed them and let my mother use the phone to call my uncle and the coyote. Later that day, they reunited with me and my sister.
Before we could reach Santa Ana to meet up with my uncle, ICE detained our family and sent us back to Tijuana. But my mother tried again, and we finally made it to Santa Ana in 1994.
My mother has expected that I show the same effort and make the same sacrifices that come with seeking a better life. She was not going to let me take a year off between high school and college. I went to Texas Wesleyan University to study criminal justice, despite not knowing how we would pay for it -- most scholarships require citizenship, so I was instantly disqualified.
I graduated in 2013, but even with DACA -- which helped me work while I was an undergrad -- I could not follow my desired career path. I wanted to serve as a police officer for my community -- I wanted to be a homicide detective, and perhaps work for the FBI. I was denied all those possibilities. Instead, I worked for a few months in Loss Prevention for a Trader Joe's warehouse through a temp agency.
At the same time, I was volunteering at the church I attended. Through that work, I realized that there were other ways of serving my community that many institutions in the United States were denying me. I applied to the Boston University School of Theology. I was accepted and received a full-tuition scholarship for the three-year Master of Divinity program. I graduated in May 2017, and now I serve my community in Washington state with the United Methodist Church -- the same church that helped me apply for DACA half a decade ago.
The actions and rhetoric of the Trump administration have demonstrated that programs like DACA are not enough. There is no assurance against persecution; only the temporary illusion of safety with minimal benefits for our families and our communities.
We are more than currency. We are human beings.
In the wake of Trump's decision to end DACA, some legislators have reintroduced the DREAM Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for people like me who came to this country as children. Legislation like this must be passed if the United States wishes to fight for freedom, liberty, and justice for all. There are already plentiful economic benefits for the United States -- we pay taxes and boost profits, and private businesses still find ways to exploit undocumented workers for their benefit.
But we are more than currency. We are human beings. Even the DREAM Act promises too little for too small a group. It excludes people like my mother and uncle because arbitrary and racist laws have made immigration an illegal act. We must do more.Support from readers keeps Truthout 100 percent independent. If you like what you're reading, make a donation!
The new documentary Happening: A Clean Energy Revolution, brings good news for anyone who's been crushed by the recent stream of headlines on climate change. Director Jamie Redford takes us on a journey to discover the green energy revolution that's taking place in towns, cities and states across the country while underscoring issues of human resilience and social justice.
We visit places like Georgetown, Texas where the colorful Republican mayor, a self-avowed “right-wing conservative,” is leading the charge on the green revolution. Georgetown is one of the first towns in the US to run on 100-percent renewable energy. We visit an Apple facility and learn that every Apple store in America is powered by renewable energy. That should give some comfort to iPhone-addicted shoppers this season.
Redford examines how cutting-edge technology, coupled with innovative investments and political will, can have a positive impact despite a White House that denies human-made climate change. From boardrooms to town halls -- and even the US Navy -- people of all political stripes are finding ways to go green because it's simply a better, more cost-efficient way to live.
We talked with Redford in this interview, which has been edited for length and clarity.
Titi Yu: So I read somewhere that you describe yourself as the reluctant star. Why were you a reluctant star?
Jamie Redford: That's because I haven't done a performance like this since the eighth grade when my wig fell off. So… [laughs]
Well I thought it was very effective to have you in the film.
I just decided to open up my own process of discovery. I decided to take everyone along on the ride. I think there is an inherent resistance to the topic of clean energy and renewable energy. It sounds kind of boring. I thought, well, maybe this might make it a little interesting. Also, I didn't major in science or technology so I thought if I can understand this, so can everyone else.
You started the journey in your own home. You tracked your own power line to an ugly power plant that was across the bay from a wind farm. I thought it really brought it home how we all have a stake in this green energy revolution and there are many things we can all do, starting with ourselves.
My goal in making Happening was to show this profound economic and cultural revolution that's starting to unfold. It's going to change the way we move ourselves around and the way we power our homes. It's just starting to happen.
If you think of this as a Hollywood disaster movie and if you believe in the science of climate change, as I do, this is equivalent of an asteroid coming toward the planet and then, “Oh my God, what are we going to do?” Clean energy is, if not the most important thing, certainly one of the top things we can do to keep the quality of life expectable for humans on the planet. How can something be so important and people know so little about it? So I was just trying to create that baseline story that becomes the 101 for everybody.
There is a conservative green movement happening. You featured two very interesting people, Dale Ross, the mayor of Georgetown, Texas, and Debbie Dooley of Conservatives for Energy Freedom. Can you tell us a bit more about them?
One exciting fact that I found out early on is that the combination of better, more efficient technology -- via wind, solar and biomass -- has brought down the costs of green energy dramatically. As a result, you can win the economic argument with renewables. I thought that was incredible. What an opportunity to try and bridge the partisan divide because traditionally, the economic argument has rested more with conservatives. I think all things being equal, and we know this from polls, something like two-thirds of all Americans want clean energy. I also felt it was important in terms of the message to show that we don't have to let partisan divide, certainly the divide in place right now in Washington DC, hold our energy policy hostage. That doesn't have to stop us from making progress. Nevada is a good example, as the Republican governor there signed nine of the 11 green-energy bills.
It seems that so much of the hope for sensible energy policy happens on the local level.
I live in Marin County, outside of San Francisco. A decade ago, a bunch of citizens decided they wanted to create a public utility and purchased electricity on behalf of our citizens. They went up against Pacific Gas and Electric and they won. They have been ramping up and supplying anywhere from 50 percent renewable to 100 percent renewables. Now it's grown to be a community collective that includes 23 municipalities in California. So it's exploding. I think you are going to see that happening more and more. That's good right now, because you're not going to see a lot of enlightened leadership coming out of DC, at least not in the foreseeable future.
Why is your film important now?
Our fossil-fuel industry continues to enjoy billions of dollars in subsidies. We can do a lot to speed things up in terms of green energy. We want to think about how to have a better planet. It's not just an if, it's a when. If we just treated clean energy the way we treat the oil and gas industry, we might go back to being leaders. But right now, we are being left in the dust by India and China.
So what can people do after watching your film?
You can go to the website happeningthemovie.com, and there is a list of things you can do. Even if you live in an apartment, you can get your apartment together to start a community aggregate choice program. You can get everybody together to invest in a solar farm. It's happening more and more and more states are allowing this thing called community choice aggregate that is sort of like a co-op. Even in urban areas there are great ways to pull your resources to buy green power.
The Republican tax bill stands to harm many US communities, but disabled people could particularly struggle thanks to a combination of cuts to vital services and the elimination of key deductions.
And the tax plan won't just affect disabled people, who are already more likely to live in poverty than nondisabled people. It could also hit the families of disabled dependents hard, along with older adults, many of whom benefit from the same programs used by disabled people.
Understanding the harmful elements of this bill will help you better advocate for yourself and the people you care about when you contact your legislators.The Cruelest Cuts
Republicans are fond of saying that they won't cut Medicare and Social Security, two programs historically associated with older adults in the United States -- a formidable voting block. Some have also indicated that they won't touch Medicaid, either. And while this bill might not technically do that, the tax plan's structure almost assures that it will happen.
Confused? Here's how this works: In the United States, if legislation contributes to the national debt -- increases the deficit -- it must include offsets to address the problem. These can be achieved by raising revenue or cutting expenses. This bill contains what are known as “triggers” that would automatically cut some government programs to offset the expense of giving the rich a tax cut.
The bill would likely include cuts to Medicaid funding, along with financial resources used to provide vocational supports, education assistance and other programs that help disabled people live independently and reach their full potential.
As for Medicare, the program Republicans swear is off limits? It could see $25 billion in automatic cuts in 2018. Social Security? Also slated to take a hit, because this bill drives up the deficit so much.Deducting Disability
Being disabled can get expensive. Under the current tax framework, out-of-pocket medical expenses can be deducted from people's taxes if those expenses exceed 10 percent of their income. Nearly nine million families took advantage of this deduction in 2015. And without this option, ruinous medical expenses could be exacerbated. Loss of deductions for child care, adoption and student loans will also hurt the disability community, making it more difficult to engage fully with their communities.
And it's not just individuals who suffer. Businesses that have to invest in accessibility improvements can deduct those costs from their taxes, which creates an incentive for Americans with Disabilities Act compliance -- and makes it possible for businesses running on a slim margin. Republicans want to eliminate that option, while at the same time attacking the ADA with legislation that would make it harder for disabled people to request and receive accommodations.
The bill has another kicker: the elimination of the tax penalty for not having insurance, which functionally undoes the controversial individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act.
Starting in 2019, people who don't have health insurance won't be dinged for it on their tax bills, and this could set off a cascade effect that would lead to millions of uninsured people and a radical premium increase as insurance companies try to catch up. Disabled people who aren't eligible for Medicaid and don't get employer health insurance could be vulnerable to dramatic cuts in coverage or losing their coverage altogether because they can't afford it.
The bottom line: Republicans say this bill will grow the economy and support the middle class. However, the government's own analysis shows that it will push the deficit up by an estimated one trillion dollars, thanks to the slashes to tax rates for corporations and the rich, who already don't pay their legally mandated share. Meanwhile, 87 million families will see tax hikes under the bill.If you're a fan of real journalism, now's the time to strengthen Truthout's mission. Help us keep publishing stories that expose government and corporate wrongdoing: Make a donation right now!
Alabama Senate election: Doug Jones defeats Roy Moore, Fox News projects | 12 Dec 2017 | Democrat Doug Jones has pulled off a major upset in Alabama by defeating Republican Roy Moore in Tuesday’s special election, Fox News has projected, becoming the first Democrat to win election to the Senate from the deeply conservative state in 25 years. The dramatic Democratic upset in deep red Alabama cuts the GOP’s Senate majority from 52 to 51, further dimming Republican hopes of enacting major legislation backed by President Trump. With 91 percent of precincts reporting, Jones was ahead of Moore 49.6 to 48.8 percent.
Alabama Supreme Court Okays Destruction of Digital Voting Records | 12 Dec 2017 | Alabama's special election [sic] for Jeff Sessions's vacated Senate seat is underway today, but state courts are still battling over whether or not digital records from the vote should be preserved in case of a recount or a hack. On Monday, a judge ordered local election officials to save digital images of ballots, AL.com reports. However, his decision was quickly reversed by the Alabama Supreme Court, which stayed his order Monday evening.
In texts, FBI agents on Mueller's Russia probe team called Trump an 'idiot' and 'loathsome human' among other insults
In texts, FBI agents on Mueller's Russia probe team called Trump an 'idiot' and 'loathsome human' among other insults | 12 Dec 2017 | Two FBI agents assigned to the investigation into alleged collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia exchanged text messages referring to the future president as an "idiot," according to copies of messages turned over to Congress Tuesday night by the Justice Department. Special Counsel Robert Mueller removed one of the agents, Peter Strzok, from the Russia probe "immediately" after learning of the texts in late July, the department said in a letter to lawmakers. The other agent, Lisa Page, had already ended her assignment to Mueller's office.
'US govt equates American people to enemy when it hides troops' whereabouts' - Ron Paul | 12 Dec 2017 | The Pentagon listing the location of some 44,000 military personnel as "unknown," while citing secrecy reasons to protect them from the "enemy," effectively means that the US public falls into that category, former US Congressman Ron Paul told RT. Lack of accountability on the whereabouts of the US troops was not very surprising, Paul believes, as it had become a "routine thing" over the past years...Apart from the Constitution, there's the War Powers Resolution, adopted after the Vietnam War clearly states that the US government "must report where the troops are," Paul added. Despite that, the locations of some 44,000 of troops were simply reported as "unknown."