News

A Public Bank for Los Angeles? City Council Puts It to the Voters.

Truth Out - Mon, 07/09/2018 - 14:45

Voters in Los Angeles will be the first in the country to weigh in on a public banking mandate, after the City Council agreed on June 29th to put a measure on the November ballot that would allow the city to form its own bank. The charter for the nation’s second-largest city currently prohibits the creation of industrial or commercial enterprises by the city without voter approval. The measure, introduced by City Council President Herb Wesson, would allow the city to create a public bank, although state and federal law hurdles would still need to be cleared.

The bank is expected to save the city millions, if not billions, of dollars in Wall Street fees and interest paid to bondholders, while injecting new money into the local economy, generating jobs and expanding the tax base. It could respond to the needs of its residents by reinvesting in low-income housing, critical infrastructure projects, and clean energy, as well as serving as a depository for the cannabis industry.

The push for a publicly-owned bank comes amid ongoing concerns involving the massive amounts of cash generated by the cannabis business, which was legalized by Proposition 64 in 2016. Wesson has said that cannabis has “kind of percolated to the top” of the public bank push, “but it’s not what’s driving” it, citing affordable housing and other key issues; and that a public bank should be pursued even if it cannot be used by the cannabis industry. However, the prospect of millions of dollars in tax revenue is an obvious draw. Los Angeles is the largest cannabis market in the state, with Mayor Eric Garcetti estimating that it would bring in $30 million in taxes for the city.

Bypassing the Fed

State Board of Equalization Member Fiona Ma, who is running for state treasurer, says California’s homegrown $8-20 billion cannabis industry is still operating mostly in cash almost 2 years after state legalization, with the majority of businesses operating in the black market without paying taxes. This is in large part because federal law denies them access to the banking system, forcing them to deal only in cash and causing logistical nightmares when paying taxes and transferring money.

Cannabis is still a forbidden Schedule 1 drug under federal law, and the Federal Reserve has refused to give a master account to banks taking cannabis cash. Without a master account, they cannot access Fedwire transfer services, essentially shutting them out of the banking business.

In a surprise move in early June, President Donald Trump announced that he “probably will end up supporting” legislation to let states set their own cannabis policy. But Ma says that while that is good news, California cannot wait on the federal government. She and State Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Los Angeles) have brought Senate Bill 930, which would allow state-chartered banks and financial institutions to apply for a special cannabis banking license to accept clients, after a rigorous process that follows regulations from the US Treasury Department. The bill cleared a major legislative hurdle on May 30th when it passed on the Senate Floor.

SB 930 focuses on California state-chartered banks, which unlike federally-chartered banks can operate under a closed loop system with private deposit insurance. As Ma explained in a May 17 article in The Sacramento Bee:

There are two types of banks – those with federal charters, and banks with California charters. Because cannabis is still considered a Schedule 1 narcotic, we cannot touch federal banking wires. We want state-chartered banks that are protected, regulated and certified under California law, and not required to be under the FDIC.

State income taxes, sales taxes, unemployment, workers’ compensation and property taxes could all be paid through a closed-loop system that takes in revenue from the cannabis industry, but is apart from the federal banking system. . . . Cannabis businesses could be part of a cashless system similar to Apple Pay, and their money would be insured by a state-licensed institution.

That is a pretty revolutionary idea – a closed-loop California banking system that is independent of the Federal Reserve and the federal system. SB 930 would bypass the Feds only for cannabis cash, and the bill strictly limits what the checks issued by these “pot banks” can be used for. But the prospects it opens up are interesting. California is now the fifth largest economy in the world, with 39 million people. It has the resources for its own cashless “CalPay” or CalCoin” system that could bypass the federal system altogether.

The Bank of North Dakota, currently the nation’s only state-owned depository bank, has been called a “mini-Fed” for that state. The Bank of North Dakota partners with local banks to make below-market loans for community purposes, including 2 percent loans for local infrastructure, while at the same time turning a tidy profit for the state. In 2017, it recorded its 14th consecutive year of record profits, with $145.3 million in net earnings and a return on the state’s investment of 17 percent. California, with more than 50 times North Dakota’s population, could use its own mini-Fed as well.

Growing Support for Public Banks

It is significant that the proposal for a closed-loop California system is not coming from academics without political clout. Fiona Ma is slated to become state treasurer, having won the primary election in June by a landslide; and the current state treasurer John Chiang has been exploring the possibility of a public bank that could take cannabis cash for over a year. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the front runner for governor, has also called for the creation of a public bank. These are not armchair theoreticians but the people who make political decisions for the state, and they have substantial popular support.

Public bank advocacy groups from cities across California have joined to form the California Public Banking Alliance, a coalition to advance legislation that would facilitate the formation of municipal banks statewide under a special state charter. A press release by Public Bank Los Angeles, one of its founding advocacy groups, notes that 15 pieces of legislation for public banks are being explored across the nation through municipal committees and state legislators, with over three dozen public banking movements building in cities and states across the country. San Francisco has created a 16-person Municipal Bank Feasibility Task Force; Seattle and Washington DC have separately earmarked $100,000 for public banking feasibility studies; and Washington State legislators have added nearly a half million dollars to their budget to produce a business plan for a public depository bank. New Jersey state legislators, with the backing of Governor Phil Murphy, have introduced a bill to form a state-owned bank; and GOP and Democratic lawmakers in Michigan have filed a bipartisan bill to create one in that state.

Cities and states are seeking ways to better leverage taxpayer dollars and reinvest them in the needs of local communities. Public banking serves that purpose, providing local determination and the opportunity for socially and environmentally responsible lending and investments. The City Council of Los Angeles is now taking it to the voters; and where California goes, the nation may well follow.

The post A Public Bank for Los Angeles? City Council Puts It to the Voters. appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

In Louisiana’s Vanishing Wetlands, a Promise of Ecotourism That Locals Say Reeks

Truth Out - Mon, 07/09/2018 - 14:40

Manchac, Louisiana, is located on a narrow strip of land between two brackish lakes, surrounded by cypress trees and abundant wildlife. About 43 miles northwest of New Orleans, Manchac’s picturesque wetlands — like the rest of Louisiana’s coast — are endangered, with their latest threat, according to some, coming from a resort-style development marketed as “ecotourism” and local economic savior.

What could be wrong with building a hotel and housing development for 2,000 people in environmentally sensitive wetlands, which by their very nature, are located in a flood zone?

“Everything,” Kim Coates, founder of “Save Our Manchac,” a concerned citizens group, told me recently. She was giving me a tour of the area where developers want to build the $90 million residential project on land controlled by Port Manchac.

Terry Jones, a principal investor and spokesperson for the proposed development, The Village at Port Manchac, refers to the project as a “nature-based community.” His description of it includes around 100 single-family homes with boat slips, between 400 and 500 cabins, condominiums and apartments, and a hotel on the land controlled by the Port. There will also be a boardwalk lined with restaurants and a sandy cove for swimming, according to a model of the development released by the developers.

Nature (and Human) Based Risk

But critics point out a range of reasons situating a large residential development at Port Manchac is not the best, or safest, idea, including burdens on community resources and threats from natural disasters. Only one road would lead in and out of the development. That road, like the one to the Port itself, could easily be closed off due to an accident at the port, a derailed train, or local flooding, which has happened more than once in the past decade.

A mock-up of the proposed housing development and resort, which potential developers call The Village at Port Manchac.A mock-up of the proposed housing development and resort, which potential developers call The Village at Port Manchac.Julie Dermansky / DeSmogEntrance to Port Manchac.Entrance to Port Manchac.Julie Dermansky / DeSmog

If the road leading to the development is closed off, potentially thousands of people who buy into the project would need to be evacuated by boat or helicopter. Both are dangerous options during storms and other extreme weather events, which are predicted to increase in Louisiana due to climate change.

Though many politicians in Louisiana, including Gov. John Bel Edwards, say they are unsure how much human activities are responsible for climate change, climate scientists are much more certain. For example, the American Meteorological Society’s 2016 “State of the Climate” report, released last year, offers the first examples of extreme weather events not possible in a preindustrial climate.

“If we agree to this, we are agreeing to putting people in harm’s way, both newcomers that would buy in, and our first responders,” Coates said. She brought me to the site of the proposed development, so I could get an idea of how hard it would be to evacuate 2,000 people if the only road in to the development became impassible. To evacuate would require an approximately 14 mile boat ride along winding bayous behind the port to reach the main road.

A sailboat damaged on a windy day tied up at a boat launch next to the fire department in Manchac.A sailboat damaged on a windy day tied up at a boat launch next to the fire department in Manchac.Julie Dermansky / DeSmog

Coates took me on that trip. Tied down near the boat launch was a sailboat damaged by strong winds passing through just a few days before. “This is a beautiful area,” Coates said, “but it is inhospitable. There are alligators, water moccasins, and mosquitoes.” Furthermore, the area is prone to tidal surges and high winds and is in a designated flood zone.

Manchac, a small unincorporated community in Tangipahoa Parish, has approximately 100 full-time residents. Most of the buildings in the swamp are fishing camps. Though they may look like houses, they are actually seasonal “fishing camps,” a term common in Louisiana’s wetlands. It is rare anyone would stay in one of the fishing camps during a storm, due to the dual threats of flooding and storm surge.

Fishing camps in Manchac near the proposed development, The Village at Port Manchac.Fishing camps in Manchac near the proposed development, The Village at Port Manchac.Julie Dermansky / DeSmog

“This is greenwashing at its worst,” Coates said. “They can’t brainwash us to think it is a green project just because they are throwing the word ‘ecotourism’ around.”

Coates is not alone in her criticism of the planned development. About 100 people, including locals and representatives from environmental groups, turned out for a June 26 meeting to discuss the proposed development project at Port Manchac. Many were already members of the Save Our Manchac coalition, which Coates started when the area was threatened by a proposed battery component manufacturing plant earlier this year.

The group was able to sway the Port to terminate a lease agreement made with Syrah Technologies, an Australian company that planned to refine graphite into a component for lithium ion batteries.

Along the 14-mile-long evacuation route those escaping a residential development at Port Manchac would need to travel by boat.Along the 14-mile-long evacuation route those escaping a residential development at Port Manchac would need to travel by boat.Julie Dermansky / DeSmog Community Voices

At the June meeting, speakers touched on issues they said match the so-called “7 sins of greenwashing” described by TerraChoice Environmental Marketing Inc. They include the sin of hidden trade-off, sin of no proof, sin of vagueness, sin of irrelevance, sin of lesser of two evils, sin of fibbing, and sin of worshipping false labels.

Ed Bodker, an environmental activist and retired Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development program manager, warned the development would destroy at least 100 acres of wetlands, further degrading the coastline along the two lakes on either side of Manchac, Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchartrain. “To build a new community in a storm surge area, it just doesn’t make any sense,” Bodker said. “It puts people and wetlands in jeopardy.”

Bodker also brought up how this project could threaten coastal restoration efforts already underway in the area. He thinks it is ill-advised for the Port to consider any project that would interfere with current endeavors to restore them.

Many at the meeting expressed frustration that the Port is considering a project that would inevitably lead to more coastal erosion when Louisiana has estimated it already needs $50 billion to fund the state’s coastal restoration master plan.

Packed house at a Save our Manchac coalition meeting at the Ponchatoula fire station on June 26.Packed house at a Save Our Manchac coalition meeting at the Ponchatoula fire station on June 26.Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBald cypress trees along a path in the Joyce Wildlife Management Area near Manchac.Bald cypress trees along a path in the Joyce Wildlife Management Area near Manchac.Julie Dermansky / DeSmog

Manchac is next to two protected wildlife management areas and is already a tourist destination. The location is popular for fishing and boating, making it a good place for potential ecotourism opportunities, but ones with a lighter, less permanent footprint on the already impermanent land. Even if The Village at Port Manchac development is never built, coastal erosion will remain a concern. Under a worst-case scenario model from the state, without restoration, the land slated for development could be underwater within 50 years.

Virgil Allen, a former Tangipahoa Parish Schools superintendent, said the school system can’t handle the large number of new students a large residential development like that would bring to the already crowded local schools.

And John Hoover, a crab fisherman, explained how nutrient runoff from the housing project could further disrupt the area crabbing industry.

George Coxen, Port Manchac’s fire chief, said his volunteer department isn’t prepared to protect a development like the one proposed. He said the developers asked him what he would need, but he can’t say exactly until he knows more about the plans. However, to start with, Coxen says he would need a new fire station to house a ladder truck. A new ladder truck alone will cost at least $1.2 million.

An Uncertain Future

Retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, founder of the Green Army, a coalition of environmental groups and concerned citizens fighting against pollution, came to support Save Our Manchac. “You don’t have an organized planning and zoning board,” Honoré said, calling it a “big scam” plaguing many of Louisiana’s rural communities. When it comes to building in flood zones, he agrees with Bodker. “Building developments in flood zones makes no sense,” Honoré said.

Margie Vicknair-Pray, spokesperson for the Delta Chapter of the Sierra Club, concurred.

“We live in a state where the developers set the rules — if there are no regulations, they do things the cheapest way they can,” she said during the meeting. Both she and Honoré encouraged everyone to remain politically active. “Politicians hear from lobbyists daily. How often do they hear from you?”

“We are so used to the abundance of seafood and being able to go out your back door, basically, and then throw a line out and catch something to eat,” Pray said at the meeting. But, “we are getting to the point where we are not going to be able to catch the seafood we are used to.”

Still, efforts by Save Our Manchac could already be affecting the trajectory of this proposed project.

Manchac’s Port Commissioners have a July 10 vote scheduled on whether to give the developers 18 months to develop feasibility studies, but that vote may be called off. Save Our Manchac found documents that question the Port Commission’s authority to permit a residential development in the area. The commission is currently reviewing the matter and may delay the vote or cancel it entirely.

A dragonfly at the Joyce Wildlife Management Area.A dragonfly at the Joyce Wildlife Management Area.Julie Dermansky / DeSmogThe landscape characteristic of Port Manchac.The landscape characteristic of Port Manchac.Julie Dermansky / DeSmog

The post In Louisiana’s Vanishing Wetlands, a Promise of Ecotourism That Locals Say Reeks appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

US White Nationalist Movement Is Attempting to Build International Allies

Truth Out - Mon, 07/09/2018 - 14:22

The last year has been a reality check for the white nationalist movement in the US after riding high through its infiltration of the Trumpian Republicans. Nonetheless, the movement is regrouping and even attempting to reach out to international allies.

An open fascist movement in the US had not seen such heights in decades. Last year’s bloody “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, for instance, was the largest white supremacist rally of its kind in the country in at least a generation. But the fallout came hard and swift as the nation refused to give the white nationalist movement a pass as its ranks grew. While the aftermath of Charlottesville hit the “alt-right” and internet-focused neo-Nazis especially hard by universally “de-platforming” them, other parts of their movement had seen their communications shut down steadily over the preceding years.

One example is the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a white nationalist organization that saw a dramatic decline after mass-murderer Dylann Roof cited the group as his prime inspiration for his attack on a historically Black church in Charleston, South Carolina. The CCC, as well as the rest of the “alt-right” with which it is allied, had built their base on conferences that allowed them to share their ideas and form an internal community.

As their movement gained steam, they began taking the next step: moving into public actions and recruitment. Ultimately, though, the backlash they received has forced them to start over, and thus, re-engage in the kinds of conferences that had served them well for years. Now, they are consolidating such efforts as a means to reclaim an aboveground white supremacist movement.

Coming Together

Over the weekend of June 15-17, the American Freedom Party and the CCC hosted a joint conference at the Montgomery Bell State Park, just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. The park has caused controversy over the past several years for hosting the far-right American Renaissance’s annual conference, a “race realist” event that brings together white nationalists to discuss pseudo-scientific topics like “racial differences in intelligence.” Because it is a state-owned public facility, officials have been less responsive to protesters asking them to cancel the event. The June conference was titled “Nationalist Solutions,” and brought together well-known figures from the US’s far right and international fascist party leaders from countries well beyond Europe.

The CCC was built in the 1980s by Gordon Lee Baum, a former organizer from the pro-segregationist White Citizens’ Councils. The councils were “above ground” community organizations that fought integration and Black voting rights, and often used economic pressure tactics like calling in mortgages or creating threatening mobs to push back on Black activism. Baum fashioned the new council organization to prop up far-right causes in the US South, focusing primarily on reviving a nostalgia and romanticism for the antebellum period and support for racial apartheid. Along with organizations like the League of the South, the CCC fostered a neo-Confederate perspective that maintains the Civil War as a “war of Northern aggression,” and argues for Southern autonomy.

Unlike other radical nationalist organizations, the CCC had a great amount of participation from Republican politicians: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee spoke at a CCC conference in 1993, former Rep. Bob Barr gave the keynote address in 1998 and former Sen. Trent Lott joined CCC events on five separate occasions. In between 2000 and 2004, 38 public officials attended a CCC event, and the organization had many local politicians and judges throughout the US South as active members. This included former Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox and former Louisiana Rep. John Rarick, as well as a 2009 appearance by Republican Mississippi State Sen. Lydia Chassaniol.

The branding of the CCC was meant to disguise its white nationalist politics, including its defenses of slavery and Jim Crow. The organization ran ads on Christian radio stations in the South saying that miscegenation was against “God’s chosen order,” and the organization’s website often refers to racial pseudo-science. Well-known white nationalists like American Renaissance’s Jared Taylor sat on the group’s board of directors, and the CCC’s newspaper, the Citizens Informer, was edited by paleoconservative-turned-fascist Sam Francis. They focused most of their content on the concept of “Black-on-white crime,” using manipulated statistics to argue that people of color have a particular genetic propensity for crime. It was this propaganda that fueled Roof’s attack in Charleston: In his manifesto, Roof noted that the CCC’s website motivated him in the attacks by presenting a desperate situation of racial conflict.

The American Freedom Party

The American Freedom Party (AFP) was formed originally as the American Third Position Party in October of 2009. “Third positionism” is a trend in fascist politics that attempts to bring in certain left-wing critiques and tactics into a larger nationalist framework, such as a criticism of global capitalism.

The California neo-Nazi skinhead gang Freedom 14 originally started what became AFP as the Golden State Party, but the gang later named white nationalist attorney and activist William Johnson as chairman. Johnson was known for being the author of the proposed Pace Amendment, which would deny citizenship to non-white people in the US.

The Party eventually changed its name to AFP when Johnson saw some traction for his talking points at Tea Party events. The AFP’s positions focused primarily on opposing immigration and affirmative action, preserving economic protectionism and were to the right of Pat Buchanan’s nationalist views. The AFP began to run presidential candidates in multiple states, including running former filmmaker Merlin Miller on an anti-immigration platform in 2012.

AFP’s board and conferences have been a “who’s who” of the racialist movement at different times, inviting well-known leaders like the Traditionalist Worker Party’s Matt Heimbach, and other various skinhead gangs and “alt-right” leaders. Much of their broader presence has been run by Jamie Kelso, who had previously worked for former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke and as the administrator for the notorious Stormfront web forum.

The June lineup of the AFP and CCC’s combined conference brought the leadership of the US’s white supremacist movement into one location — and consolidation is a major part of their strategy toward rebuilding.

American Renaissance’s Taylor addressed the crowd, high from his recent court victory securing his ability to sue Twitter for denying him his “free speech” rights. Taylor is best known for running American Renaissance since the early 1990s, focusing on dissident academics to speak on racial issues and building an “intellectual” core within his movement. James Edwards, host of the white nationalist AM talk radio show, “The Political Cesspool,” also took the stage, reflecting his own Southern nationalist perspective. Edwards is on the board of both the CCC and the AFP, and has served as a motivating voice in their movement for years.

Kevin MacDonald presented himself as one of the conference’s more bizarre figures, a person who has used his past as an academic to become a leading voice for the “alt-right.” MacDonald wrote a series of books in which he argued that Judaism is a “group evolutionary strategy” to outcompete non-Jews for resources, and that Jews do this with their “high ethnocentrism and verbal IQ,” and by destabilizing Western identity and nations. His anti-Semitism is matched by Michael Hill, the virulently racist leader of the nationalist League of the South, who also made an appearance. Fellow academic white nationalist and former AFP vice presidential candidate Virginia Abernethy was also featured. Her work on “overpopulation” as a driving force for immigration restriction has proven popular among her racist base.

Adding to the lineup was former Louisiana state legislator and Klan grand wizard Duke, a celebrity in this crowd for his years of racist and anti-Semitic activism. While Duke makes up an old guard of the movement, he has transitioned into the “alt-right” pretty well through his mastery of podcasting and social media trolling. His Saturday evening address focused on the “Jewish Question,” a slightly coded phrase for his intense anti-Semitic conspiracy theorizing. That Klan theme was extended by the inclusion of Rachel Pendergraft, a Klan organizer who is the daughter of well-known racialist pastor Thomas Robb.

Going International

As the white nationalist movement heads back to its basics, it is also refocusing on engaging international movements for nationalism, which have seen steady growth over the past several years. In much of the world, far-right and populist political parties, such as the British National Party or Golden Dawn in Greece, have been the centers of fascist activism.

Conferences like the AFP and CCC’s in June have served as a way of connecting the US white supremacist movement to more successful allies in other countries, and to bolster alliances that will help them build into an international fascist force.

This latest conference’s itinerary, though, included a seemingly strange organization: the Japan First Party. White nationalists often praise the racism and ethnocentrism of Japanese society, showing sympathy with the long history of Japanese nationalism tracing back to imperial Japan’s National Shinto, a racialized and nationalistic interpretation of Japan’s indigenous religious tradition. Some white supremacists often consider Japanese people higher in their racial taxonomy than other ethnicities, and justify this hierarchy with pseudo-science about intelligence. Japan First Party leader Makoto Sakurai, who spoke at the conference, is well-known for his anti-Korean and anti-Chinese racism, and white nationalists in the US believe they can build their movement by connecting with non-white racial nationalists. Since this party is Japanese, and therefore more appealing to white nationalists than Black nationalists like Louis Farrakhan, connecting with Sakurai gives them a key opportunity to build up the idea of racial nationalism broadly. American white nationalists seem to believe that if they can support the idea of nationalism for all races, it will make their own racial nationalism more palatable and less likely to gain opposition. Likewise, if non-white racial nationalists gain power, they may believe it could curb emigration to the US and confront “globalism” in terms of international trade and cultural orientation.

The conference was also joined by the European Knights Templar International, which was formed by activists from the British National Party, a fascist party that dominated the far-right in Britain for decades. Their focus, like Germany’s far-right PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) or Britain’s English Defense League, has been on demonizing Muslims and portraying refugee resettlement as an invading force bent on taking over white society. This is not the first time that European nationalist parties have attended conferences in the same network as Nationalist Solutions. Party leaders from Estonia, Britain, France and other areas across Europe regularly come out to the leading white nationalist conference, American Renaissance, to serve as a way to bridge the two movements and to provide an example of what an organized political party with nationalist impulses would look like.

Lastly, Dominic Lüthard from the Swiss Nationalist Party was also a featured speaker, a choice that shows a certain aspiration for modeling the US’s fascist movement after European political players. This shows a willingness to come together on issues of non-white (specifically Muslim) immigration, and to play on reactionary fears about “Muslim rape gangs” as a way of creating a common narrative between the two continents. With the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) child detainment policy creating a firestorm in the US, the white nationalist movement desperately needs to consolidate its narrative to continue pushing the Overton Window.

Looking to the Future

Although the conference claims it drew in a larger crowd of about 200 people, those numbers, which could be inflated, still reflect the movement’s weakness after a tumultuous year. This would be comparable to the National Policy Institute’s “alt-right” conference in 2016, which was a particular high-water mark for the movement. Organizers were publicly displaying their contingents rather than hiding behind the security of private conferences as was the case only months ago. Yet, for all the exposure they have had over the past five years, they have still wound up back where they started.

The conference’s remote location and support from state officials was effective in keeping counter-protests small. Jam City Antifa organized protests at the venue, as well as organizing a separate protest against the appearance of AFP vice presidential candidate Abernethy at Vanderbilt University.

Ultimately, though, the event’s attempt at reclaiming the presentation of academic legitimacy was necessary as a way of insulating it from the slew of “alt-right” murders and violence that have taken place, even though the groups involved included open neo-Nazis and Klan members. Likewise, the event also avoided many of the people best known with the “alt-right,” including Richard Spencer, attempting to move beyond his monopoly as a public representative of the movement.

While the white supremacists’ numbers were not tiny, the conference no longer reflects a movement that is reaching out to new recruits and building up a base in any significant way. Instead, their hyper-consolidation is simply an attempt at staying relevant and functional while facing attacks on all sides.

Conference organizers promised to bring attendees’ energy to protest a Gay Pride event in Knoxville, Tennessee, the following weekend. About a dozen protesters showed up to the Pride event, and one white nationalist, Kynan Dutton, was arrested for assault. Dutton’s attendance of the Nationalist Solutions conference cannot be confirmed, but he was a prominent member of the National Socialist Movement and caused controversy in 2013 for joining neo-Nazi Craig Cobb in his attempt to take over the town of Leith, North Dakota.

The post US White Nationalist Movement Is Attempting to Build International Allies appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Six Lies on Trade

Truth Out - Mon, 07/09/2018 - 14:19

After 500 days of Donald Trump’s presidency, it is clear that any relationship between his statements and the truth are purely coincidental. He even boasts about his lack of interest in the truth, touting the fact that he had no idea what our trade deficit was with Canada when he confronted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over our “$100 billion trade deficit.” (The actual figure is around $20 billion.)

But Donald Trump’s contempt for the truth should not cause the rest of us to become liars also. In fact, it is more important than ever that progressives ground arguments in reality.

This is especially the case with trade, where lying was standard fare long before Donald Trump entered politics. Here are six common lies which deserve major pushback any time they appear. 

1. Everyone Gains From Trade

This is not even the textbook story. The textbook tells us there are winners and losers. In the standard story, the winners gain more than the losers lose. This means that the winners could compensate the losers so that everyone is better off. In the real world, this compensation never takes place, so the losers just lose.

If this is hard to understand, suppose we arranged for 300,000 highly qualified doctors from other countries to start practicing in the United States. This influx would probably lower our doctors’ pay by around $100,000 a year each to roughly European levels. This would save us close to $100 billion annually ($700 per family) on health care costs. That’s a big gain to the rest of us, but a big loss to US doctors. That’s basically the story of trade, but the competition has been for manufacturing workers.

2. The Loss of Manufacturing Jobs Was Due to Productivity Growth, Not Trade

This is a classic economist’s sleight of hand. Manufacturing productivity typically increases at the rate of 2.0-3.0 percent annually. (It has been much slower in the last dozen years.) This is also roughly the rate of growth of demand, which means that increased demand for goods typically offset the jobs lost to productivity growth.

The data are clear. In the three decades from December 1970 to December 2000, manufacturing employment only fell by 100,000, less than 1.0 percent. By contrast, we lost more than 3.4 million manufacturing jobs from 2000 to 2007 (before the crash), which was more than 20 percent of total employment.

This was due to the explosion of the trade deficit in these years, which peaked at almost 6.0 percent of GDP in 2005 and 2006. That would be equal to $1.2 trillion annually in today’s economy. There were benefits from getting cheap imports, but it is incredibly dishonest not to acknowledge the enormous job loss associated with the expansion of the trade deficit in those years.

And of course, over the last 50 years, many more manufacturing jobs were lost to productivity than trade. This is true, but completely irrelevant.   

3. It Is Inevitable That Less-Educated Workers Lose Jobs to the Developing World

This is a great example where the classism of our elites obstructs clear thinking. It is absolutely true that there are hundreds of millions of people in the developing world who are willing to work in factories at a fraction of the wages that US manufacturing workers receive. This means that opening to trade puts downward pressure on the wages of US manufacturing workers, and less-educated workers more generally, as they either accept large pay cuts or lose their jobs.

The complication is that there are also tens of millions of very smart hard-working people in the developing world who would be happy to work in the United States as doctors, dentists, lawyers or as other highly paid professionals at a fraction of the pay of our professionals. They could train to our standards and learn English where necessary. This would drive down the salary in highly paid professions, and thereby lead to savings to consumers, but we don’t allow it. Trade deals have been about lowering the pay of less-educated workers, while highly paid professionals continue to enjoy protection from international competition.

4. Trade Deficits Don’t Cost Jobs

It is very popular among pundits to claim that trade deficits don’t cost jobs by pointing to our current 3.8 percent unemployment rate, even as the deficit is on a course to exceed $600 billion (3.0 percent of GDP) this year. While it is true that a trade deficit does not necessarily cost jobs, in a period where we are below full employment, a $100 billion increase in the trade deficit reduces demand and employment in the same way that a $100 billion reduction in investment would reduce demand and employment.

The large trade deficit in the last decade was certainly a big factor in the weak labor market recovery from the 2001 recession. We eventually filled the demand gap from the trade deficit with the demand generated by the housing bubble. This is hardly a good model for the future.

5. It Is Important That Other Countries Respect “Our” Intellectual Property

This is a line that has come up repeatedly in Trump’s trade war with China. We have been told that we have an interest in making China pay for the intellectual property of US corporations that it allegedly steals.

Okay, it is clear that Pfizer has an interest in having its drug patents respected by China, as does Microsoft with its software copyrights and patents. But what about the vast majority of us who don’t own lots of stock in these or other companies that have intellectual property claims at risk?

The standard trade theory tells us that if China and other countries have to pay less money to Pfizer and Microsoft due to patent and copyright monopolies, they have more money to spend on other items we produce. In other words, the money they pay to these companies increases the trade deficit in other areas.

We do have to support innovation, but that is a separate issue. There are far more efficient mechanisms than patent and copyright monopolies for financing innovation in the 21st century.

6. The Developing World Needed to Kill US Manufacturing to Allow People to Escape Poverty

Hundreds of millions of people in the developing world have seen huge improvements in living standards over the last three decades, especially in China. These people went from living near or below poverty levels to enjoying middle-class living standards.

This is indeed a great story, but it is not true that this rise in living standards had to come at the expense of manufacturing workers in the United States and other wealthy countries. In the 1990s, the countries of East Asia (the big success stories) had even more rapid growth than they did in the last decade. This was a period in which they were running large trade deficits, with the important exception of China, which had nearly balanced trade.

In principle, there is no reason these countries could not have continued on a path where domestic demand fueled growth and was funded by foreign investment flows. However, the East Asian financial crisis hit in 1997. The United States led the bailout organized by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and essentially required that these countries run large trade surpluses as a condition of getting aid.

The shift from running trade deficits to running trade surpluses was a requirement of the IMF, not a law of economic development. If these countries were allowed to continue to be importers of foreign investment (the standard textbook model), and sustained the 1990s growth path, they would be far richer today. In fact, countries like South Korea and Malaysia would now be richer than the United States on a per person basis.

In short, it is simply not true that the pain to factory workers, who lost their jobs in the United States, was somehow a necessary condition for hundreds of millions of people in the developing world to escape poverty. Other paths would have allowed for even more rapid growth in these countries.

Getting to a Reality-Based Trade Policy

It seems likely that Trump’s trade war will go down in flames when Trump eventually loses interest and goes back to the hunt for President Obama’s Kenyan birth certificate. His reckless actions deserve all the ridicule and contempt they have received.

However, we should not go back to a trade policy that was based on lies. We need a trade policy that is about raising the living standards of working people in the United States and the developing world, not just giving all the money to the rich. 

The post Six Lies on Trade appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Police raid at Zwiebelfreunde Targeting Riseup.net

Anarchist News - Mon, 07/09/2018 - 01:27

This post appeared on tails.boum.info, the official site of the Tails live USB, describing a police raid against a group, Zwiebelfreunde, that used to handle their donations. Excepts from a linked blog post by Zwiebelfreunde make clear that this raid by the German state was in connection to a call for protest against a far-right political party made by a group that relies on riseup.net's infrastructure. Therefore, we should see this as part of Germany's continued attack on anarchists and the anti-authoritarian left.

From Tails Blog

On June 20th 2018, German police searched the homes of board members of our former fiscal sponsor Zwiebelfreunde in a coordinated raid. Zwiebelfreunde (Friends of onions in German) is a non-profit organization that supports privacy and anonymity projects and operates several Tor exit nodes.

They are not accused of a crime but considered to be witnesses in a case: the operators of an anonymous website calling for protest against the far-right AfD (Alternative for Germany) party convention used an email address at Riseup, a privacy-friendly email provider to which Zwiebelfreunde facilitates donations.

During the search, computers, storage media, personal items, bank account records, and paper receipts have been confiscated. This unfortunately means that if you have donated to Tails before October 18th 2017 using our European bank account, your data is now in the hands of the German police (IBAN account number, name of account holder, amount, and date). If you donated after this date, you donated to our new fiscal sponsor CCT and not to Zwiebelfreunde.

According to Moritz Bartl, one of the board members, "there's a long history of police using that kind of data to investigate social structures; who's working where, who's involved in which projects, so we have to assume that they are looking into the social networks of people" (Source).

The raid has been strongly criticized by German media and digital rights activists as being disproportionate.

Please join us in supporting our friends at Zwiebelfreunde. We are very grateful for the support they have provided to Tails.

Read more about the case and find links to international press coverage on Zwiebelfreunde's blog.
Posted Thu 05 Jul 2018 05:00:00 PM CEST

Excepts from Zwiebelfreunde's blog post linked above

On June 20th, police raided five locations in Germany, nicely coordinated at 6:00 in the morning: The private homes of all three board members, Jens, Juris and Moritz, our registered headquarters in Dresden (a lawyer’s office), and the home of a previous board member.

The brief summary is that a German left-wing blog “Krawalltouristen” (ruckus tourists) called for protest actions around the right-wing AfD party convening in Augsburg, Germany. Law enforcement argues that this includes calls for violence.

The German police were interested in finding the authors of said blog, and deemed it appropriate to not ask for information or go after the email provider the blog happened to be using, riseup.net, but after the German entity Zwiebelfreunde.

Zwiebelfreunde has a partnership with Riseup Labs, a US non-profit, and manages donations via European wire transfers for the Riseup collective. We spend the money in collaboration with the collective on software development, travel reimbursements, and for Riseup’s Tor infrastructure.

First of all, here’s a list of things we have strong reason to believe are not affected, and can still be considered safe:

any Torservers related infrastructure: Tor relays, mail servers, web servers
any of Riseup’s infrastructure (because we have nothing to do with that)
cryptoparty.in or other cryptoparty related infrastructure
PGP keys, SSH keys, OTR keys etc

They seized most of our electronical storage equipment (disks, laptops, PCs, GnuPG Smartcards/Yubikeys), but it is safe to assume that they will not be able to break the encryption (or the smartcards). They also took our mobile phones, but even if they were to break into them, no login data or anything else affecting our infrastructure or communications is stored on those phones.

Apart from encrypted media, they had the legal right to seize documents related to our Riseup bank account starting from January 2018. They also went and got those from our bank, the GLS Gemeinschaftsbank. However, we have to keep records and receipts of all expenditures for tax reasons. These documents were “safely” kept in a secure fire-proof safe.

Despite our protests, they additionally seized all printed documents relating to our own and partner projects since the inception of the association in 2011.

This includes highly sensitive personal data of donors, identities of activists that received reimbursements or payments, and a list of our members.

If you have ever donated to Torservers, or Tails or Riseup via a European bank transaction, your data is very likely now in the hands of the German police. (IBAN account number, name of account holder, amount and date)

Tags: riseupRepressionanarchist not anarchistcategory: International
Categories: News

Rhino poachers mauled and eaten by lions in South Africa

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Sun, 07/08/2018 - 18:46

Rhino poachers mauled and eaten by lions in South Africa | 06 July 2018 | At least three poachers who broke into a rhinoceros reserve in South Africa received a brutal dose of karma when they were torn to pieces by a pride of lions. Staff at the Sibuya Game Reserve in Kenton-on-Sea, South Africa discovered the men's bloody remains on Tuesday, including dismembered limbs and a decapitated head. Several pairs of empty shoes were discovered, indicating that the lions ate the men, although staff say that more remains may be hidden in the thick bush. "The lions are our watchers and guardians and they picked the wrong pride and became a meal," reserve owner Nick Fox told the Daily Express. [Excellent idea to bring the lions aboard as security guards. Apparently, they're great workers!]

Categories: News

Talk emerges that Hillary Clinton is plotting her 2020 comeback and prepping to take on Donald Trump a second time

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Sun, 07/08/2018 - 18:29

Talk emerges that Hillary Clinton is plotting her 2020 comeback and prepping to take on Donald Trump a second time --Clinton's next scheduled public appearance is at the third annual Ozy Fest, July 21 and 22 in Central Park | 08 July 2018 | Hillary Clinton has ramped her public presence and her fundraising appeals in recent weeks, leading to speculation she's plotting her 2020 comeback and preparing for a rematch with Donald Trump. The New York Post notes that five times in the last month alone, Clinton sent e-mails touting her super PAC's role in combating Trump. ...The day after Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement, Clinton introduced a new resistance partner: Demand Justice... Demand Justice's executive director is Brian Fallon, who served as Clinton's campaign press secretary.  Clinton's next scheduled public appearance is at the third annual Ozy Fest that takes place July 21 and 22 in Central Park.

Categories: News

Woman arrested for Statue of Liberty protest is released from police custody

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Sun, 07/08/2018 - 18:07

Woman arrested for Statue of Liberty protest is released from police custody | 06 July 2018 | The woman arrested for scaling the Statue of Liberty on the Fourth of July was released from police custody Thursday. She has since been identified as immigration activist Therese Okoumou. Her climb sparked an evacuation of Liberty Island as police worked to get her to come down. For hours she sat by Lady Liberty's feet waving a T-shirt reading "rise and resist" on one side and "Trumpcare makes us sick" on the other.

Categories: News

Klamathon Fire: Sunday Update

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Sun, 07/08/2018 - 17:25

Klamathon Fire: Sunday Update --Approximately 600 homes remain threatened | 08 July 2018 | (Hornbrook, CA) As of 7:00 a.m. on Sunday July, 8, 2018 the Klamathon Fire burning in Northern California and Southern Oregon is 30,500 acres and 25 percent contained. CAL FIRE says moderate fire behavior with uphill runs and short range spotting was observed overnight with good overnight humidity recovery. Crews say the fire continues to burn moderately to the southeast and continues to spread into the Klamath National Forest... CAL FIRE says the Klamathon Fire continues to threaten the communities of Hornbrook, CA; Hilt, CA; and Colestin, OR.

Categories: News

'Tiny' Beryl becomes first hurricane of season; Caribbean islands prepare

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Sun, 07/08/2018 - 17:08

'Tiny' Beryl becomes first hurricane of season; Caribbean islands prepare | 07 July 2018 | Hurricane Beryl has strengthened quickly to become the first hurricane of the 2018 Atlantic season, though it's due to weaken before making landfall overnight Sunday in the Caribbean. The Category 1 storm on Friday night was about 890 miles east-southeast of the Lesser Antilles, the arc of Caribbean islands that extends from the US Virgin Islands to Grenada. It was moving west at 14 mph, with sustained winds of 80 mph.

Categories: News

California wildfires rage during stifling heat, prompting new evacuations

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Sun, 07/08/2018 - 16:58

California wildfires rage during stifling heat, prompting new evacuations | 08 July 2018 | Firefighters battled multiple wildfires that were wreaking havoc across California and other western states on Sunday as some blazes were brought under control while others prompted evacuations. In parts of southern California, where temperatures have topped 100 degrees, driving winds that sent one inferno through Santa Barbara County vanished in the morning, which allowed authorities to extinguish the charred ruins of about 20 structures. A mandatory evacuation was reduced and most of the 2,500 people who had fled late Friday would be able to return home.

Categories: News

Klamathon fire explodes overnight, crosses into Oregon

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Sun, 07/08/2018 - 16:54

Klamathon fire explodes overnight, crosses into Oregon | 07 July 2018 | A wildfire burning at California's border with Oregon exploded to 21,803 acres overnight, and was only 5 percent contained as of Saturday morning. The so-called Klamathon Fire killed one person Friday... The fire has also reportedly destroyed 40 structures. CAL Fire reports the fire is moving in multiple directions and there is a high potention for spread into the Klamath National Forest, Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, and Jackson County, as well as private timber lands.

Categories: News

Vehicle in northern Virginia I-66 crash had fled Secret Service in D.C.; suspect at large

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Sun, 07/08/2018 - 16:12

Vehicle in northern Virginia I-66 crash had fled Secret Service in D.C.; suspect at large | 08 July 2018 | One of the vehicles involved in a crash that shut down a section of Interstate 66 in northern Virginia on Sunday morning had fled after a Secret Service officer tried to initiate a traffic stop in Washington, D.C. The driver of the suspect vehicle fled the scene and remains at large. "Today at 4:35 am, a Secret Service Uniformed Division Officer observed a vehicle traveling in the wrong direction on I Street NW, Washington, DC," the Secret Service said in a statement tweeted by NBC Washington reporter/anchor Adam Tuss. "The Uniformed Division Officer attempted to initiate a traffic stop of the suspect vehicle; however, the vehicle failed to yield and exited onto I-66 traveling westbound in the eastbound lanes."

Categories: News

U.S. service member killed, 2 wounded in 'insider attack' in Afghanistan

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Sun, 07/08/2018 - 16:07

U.S. service member killed, 2 wounded in 'insider attack' in Afghanistan | 08 July 2018 | One American service member was killed and two others were wounded on Saturday in what the U.S.-led coalition described as an "apparent insider attack." "The wounded service members, who are in stable condition, are currently being treated," said a statement by the NATO Resolute Support Mission. The Taliban did not claim responsibility for the attack, but acknowledged it in a message on its official Telegram channel.

Categories: News

How ER Bills Can Cost as Much as $50,000 for “Trauma Response”

Truth Out - Sun, 07/08/2018 - 14:20

On the first morning of Jang Yeo Im’s vacation to San Francisco in 2016, her 8-month-old son, Park Jeong Whan, fell off the bed in the family’s hotel room and hit his head.

There was no blood, but the baby was inconsolable. Jang and her husband worried he might have an injury they couldn’t see, so they called 911, and an ambulance took the family — tourists from South Korea — to Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH).

The doctors at the hospital quickly determined that baby Jeong Whan was fine — just a little bruising on his nose and forehead. He took a short nap in his mother’s arms, drank some infant formula and was discharged a few hours later with a clean bill of health. The family continued their vacation, and the incident was quickly forgotten.

Two years later, the bill finally arrived at their home: They owed the hospital $18,836 for a visit lasting three hours and 22 minutes, the bulk of which was for a mysterious fee for $15,666 labeled “trauma activation,” also known as “a trauma response fee.”

A photo of Park Jeong Whan at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital after his admission shows bruise marks on the forehead and nose from his fall.

“It’s a huge amount of money for my family,” said Jang, whose family had travel insurance that would cover only $5,000. “If my baby got special treatment, OK. That would be OK. But he didn’t. So why should I have to pay the bill? They did nothing for my son.”

American hospital bills are today littered with multiplying fees, many of which don’t even exist in other countries: fees for blood draws, fees for checking the blood oxygen level with a skin probe, fees for putting on a cast, minute-by-minute fees for lying in the recovery room.

But perhaps the pinnacle is the “trauma fee,” in part because it often runs more than $10,000 and in part because it seems to be applied so arbitrarily.

A trauma fee is the price a trauma center charges when it activates and assembles a team of medical professionals that can meet a patient with potentially serious injuries in the ER. It is billed on top of the hospital’s emergency room physician charge and procedures, equipment and facility fees.

Emergency room bills collected by Vox and Kaiser Health News show that trauma fees are expensive and vary widely from one hospital to another.

Charges ranged from $1,112 at a hospital in Missouri to $50,659 at a hospital in California, according to Medliminal, a company that helps insurers and employers around the country identify medical billing errors.

“It’s like the Wild West. Any trauma center can decide what their activation fee is,” says Dr. Renee Hsia, director of health policy studies in the emergency medicine department at the University of California-San Francisco.

Hsia is also an emergency medicine doctor at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, but was not involved in the care of the patients discussed in the story — and spoke about the fees generally.

Comprehensive data from the Health Care Cost Institute shows that the average price that health insurers paid hospitals for trauma response (which is often lower than what the hospital charges) was $3,968 in 2016. But hospitals in the lowest 10 percent of prices received an average of $725 — while hospitals in the most expensive 10 percent were paid $13,525.

Data from Amino, a health cost transparency company, shows the same trend. On average, Medicare pays just $957.50 for the fee.

According to Medicare guidelines, the fee can be charged only when the patient receives at least 30 minutes of critical care provided by a trauma team — but hospitals do not appear to be following that rule when billing non-Medicare patients.

At the turn of the century such fees didn’t even exist.

But today many insurers willingly pay them, albeit at negotiated rates for hospitals in their networks. Six insurers and industry groups declined to discuss the fees, and a spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry trade group, said, “We have not seen any concerning trends surrounding trauma center fees.”

Trauma centers argue that these fees are necessary to train and maintain a full roster of trauma doctors, from surgeons to anesthesiologists, on-call and able to respond to medical emergencies at all times.

SFGH spokesman Brent Andrew defended the hospital’s fee of over $15,000 even though the baby didn’t require those services.

”We are the trauma center for a very large, very densely populated area. We deal with so many traumas in this city — car accidents, mass shootings, multiple vehicle collisions,” said Andrew. “It’s expensive to prepare for that.”

At What Cost Trauma?

Experts who’ve studied trauma fees say that at some hospitals there’s little rationale behind how hospitals calculate the charge and when the fee is billed. But, of course, those decisions have tremendous financial implications.

After Alexa Sulvetta, a 30-year-old nurse, broke her ankle while rock climbing at a San Francisco gym in January, she faced an out-of-pocket bill of $31,250 bill.

An ambulance also brought Sulvetta to Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, where, she recalled, “my foot was twisted sideways. I had been given morphine in the ambulance.”

Sulvetta was evaluated by an emergency medicine doctor and sent for emergency surgery. She was discharged the next day.

Alexa Sulvetta and her husband, Ben Verley, at their home in Oakland, Calif.

SFGH also charged Sulvetta a $15,666 trauma response fee, a hefty chunk of her $113,338 bill. Her insurance decided that the hospital fees for the one-day stay were too high, and — after negotiations — agreed to pay only a charge it deemed reasonable. The hospital then went after Sulvetta for $31,250.

“My husband and I were starting to think about buying a house, but we keep putting that off because we might need to use our life savings to pay this bill,” she said.

SFGH spokesman Andrew, meanwhile, said that the hospital is justified in pursuing the bill. “It’s fairly typical for us to pursue patients when there are unpaid balances,” he said. “This is not an uncommon thing.”

“I Feel Like I Created a Monster”

Trauma response fees were first approved by the National Uniform Billing Committee in January 2002, following a push by a national consulting firm specializing in trauma care. The high costs of staffing a trauma team available at all hours, the firm argued, threatened to shut down trauma centers across the country.

Trauma centers require special certification to provide emergency care for patients suffering very serious injuries above and beyond a regular emergency department.

“We were keeping an ongoing list of trauma centers that were closing all over the country,” said Connie Potter, who was executive director of the firm that succeeded in getting the fee approved. She now consults with hospital trauma centers on how to bill appropriately.

Trauma teams are activated by medics in the field, who radio the hospital to announce they are arriving with a trauma patient. The physician or nurse who receives the call then decides whether a full or partial trauma team is needed, which results in different fees. Potter said that person can also activate the trauma team based on the consultation with the EMTs.

But reports from the field are often fragmentary and there is much discretion in when to alert the trauma team.

An alert means paging a wide range of medical staff to stand at the ready, which may include a trauma surgeon, who may not be in the hospital.

Potter said if the patient arrives and does not require at least 30 minutes of critical care, the trauma center is supposed to downgrade the fee to a regular emergency room visit and bill at a lower rate, but many do not do so.

Hospitals were supposed to come up with the fee for this service by looking at the actual costs of activating the trauma team, and then dividing it over the amount that their patients are likely to pay. Hospitals that see a lot of uninsured and Medicaid patients might charge more to patients with private insurance to make up for possible losses.

But soon, Potter said, some hospitals began abusing the fee by charging an exorbitant amount that seemed to be based on the whims of executives rather than actual costs.

“To a degree, I feel like I created a monster,” Potter said. “Some hospitals are turning this into a cash cow on the backs of patients.”

The $15,666 is San Francisco General’s low-level trauma response fee. The high-level response fee in which the trauma surgeon is called into action is $30,206. The hospital would not provide a breakdown of how these fees are calculated.

Unfortunately, outside of Medicare and state hospitals, regulators have little sway over how much is charged. And at public hospitals, such fees may be a way to balance government budgets. At SFGH, the $30,206 higher-level trauma response fee, which increased by about $2,000 last year, was approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

An Ibuprofen, Two Medical Staples — and a $26,998 Bill

Some patients question whether their particular cases ought to include a trauma fee at all — and experts think they’re right to do so.

Sam Hausen, 28, was charged a $22,550 trauma response fee for his visit to Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa, Calif., in January.

An ambulance brought him to the Level 3 trauma center after a minor motorcycle accident, when he took a turn too quickly and fell from his bike. Records show that he was alert with normal vital signs during the 4-mile ambulance ride, and that the ambulance staff alerted the hospital that the incoming patient had traumatic injuries.

He was at the hospital for only about half an hour for a minor cut on his head, and he didn’t even need X-rays, CAT scans or a blood test.

Sam Hausen was charged a $22,550 trauma response fee for his visit to Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa, Calif., after a motorcycle accident.

“The only things I got were ibuprofen, two staples and a saline injection. Those were the only services rendered. I was conscious and lucid for the whole thing,” said Hausen.

But because the ambulance medics called for a trauma team, the total for the visit came to $26,998 — and the vast majority of that was the $22,550 trauma response fee.

Queen of the Valley Medical Center defended the charge. “Trauma team activation does not mean every patient will consult with and/or be cared for by a trauma surgeon,” spokeswoman Vanessa deGier said over email. “The activation engages a team of medical professionals. Which professional assesses and cares for a trauma patient depends on the needs and injury/illness of the patient.”

Guidelines for trauma activation are written broadly on purpose, in order to make sure they don’t miss any emergencies that could otherwise kill patients, said Dr. Daniel Margulies, a trauma surgeon at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles and chair of the American College of Surgeons committee on trauma center verification and review. Internal injuries, for example, can be difficult to diagnose at the scene of an accident.

“If you had someone who needed a trauma team and didn’t get called, they could die,” he said.

Medics err on the side of caution when calling in trauma patients to avoid missing a true emergency. To that end, the American College of Surgeons says it is acceptable to “overtriage,” summoning the trauma team for 25-35 percent of patients who don’t end up needing it.

But that logic leaves health consumers like Jang, Sulvetta and Hausen with tens of thousands in potential debt for care they didn’t ask for or need, care that is ordered out of an abundance of caution — a judgment call by an ambulance worker, a triage nurse or a physician — based on scant information received over a phone.

Jeong Whan had fallen 3 feet from a hotel bed onto a carpeted floor when his nervous parents summoned an ambulance. By the time the EMTs arrived, Jeong Whan was “crawling on the bed, not appearing to be in any distress,” according to the ambulance records. The EMTs called SFGH and, after a consultation with a physician, transported Jeong Whan as a trauma patient, likely because of the baby’s young age.

At the hospital, Jeong Whan was evaluated briefly by a triage nurse and sent to an emergency department resuscitation bay.

Jang recalls being greeted by nine or 10 providers at the hospital, but the baby’s medical records from the visit do not mention a trauma team being present, according to Teresa Brown of Medliminal, who reviewed the case.

Jeong Whan was discharged with a clean bill of health after staying at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital for a couple of hours. Jang Yeo Im claims that he didn’t receive any medical treatment at the hospital and she put the Band-Aid on her son’s nose herself.

The baby appeared to have no signs of major injury, and no critical care was required. Five minutes later, the family was transferred to an exam room for observation before being released a few hours later. Brown said she would dispute the $15,666 trauma response fee because the family does not appear to have received 30 minutes of critical care from a trauma team.

Jang currently has a patient advocate working on her behalf to try to negotiate the bill with the hospital. She said she fears that the pending medical debt could prevent her from getting a visa to visit New York and Chicago, which she hopes to do in the next few years.

She said her experience with the U.S. health care system and its fees has been shocking. “I like the USA. There are many things to see when traveling,” she said. “But the health care system in USA was very bad.”

This story was produced in collaboration with Vox, which is collecting emergency room bills as part of a year-long project focused on American health care prices.

The post How ER Bills Can Cost as Much as $50,000 for “Trauma Response” appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Trump’s EPA Suppressing Cancer-Causing Chemical Study

Truth Out - Sun, 07/08/2018 - 14:15

New reporting in Politico puts the spotlight on continued themes of the Trump administration: suppression of science, threats to public health, and carrying out the bidding of industry. The issue laid out involves alleged political interference at the Environmental Protection Agency, and while the agency’s current administrator, scandal-riddled Scott Pruitt, is now on his way out the door, the reins now head to number two Andrew Wheeler, who offers little reason to believe the burying of a key report will soon end.

As Politico‘s Annie Snider reported, Trump appointees at the agency are blocking the release of an assessment on formaldehyde produced by the EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS). A draft assessment already completed confirms research linking the common chemical to leukemia, nose and throat cancer, and other adverse health effects.

“They’re stonewalling every step of the way,” an anonymous current official at EPA told Politico.

Because the political aides are suppressing the assessment, they’re preventing it from moving on to required review by the National Academies of Sciences (NAS), an independent panel of top researchers—even though the EPA has already shelled out $500,000 to pay for that review. Why wouldn’t it send off the assessment to NAS? “You don’t want the answer,” an anonymous former EPA official told Politico.

According to internal documents seen by the publication, a chemical industry group urged the EPA to bury the findings. In a Jan. 26 letter to top EPA officials, Kimberly Wise White, who leads the American Chemistry Council’s Formaldehyde Panel, wrote, “As stated in our meeting, a premature release of a draft assessment … will cause irreparable harm to the companies represented by the panel and to the many companies and jobs that depend on the broad use of the chemical.”

“The new assessment,” as Snider reported, “would give greater weight to warnings about the chemical’s risks and could lead to stricter regulations from the EPA or class-action lawsuits targeting its manufacturers, as frequently occurs after these types of studies are released.”

EPA spokeswoman Kelsi Daniell brushed off the assertion that the assessment was being suppressed, telling Politico that the agency “continues to discuss this assessment with our agency program partners and have no further updates to provide at this time.” But that runs counter to Pruitt’s testimony in January before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, when he told Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) that his understanding was that the report was ready for public review and did, in fact, link formaldehyde to leukemia and other cancers.

However, several months after that hearing Markey and other members of that committee—Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.)—sent a letter to Pruitt in May asking him to explain why the assessment had still not been released. They also pointed a finger at two of the same alleged culprits behind the suppression as named in the Politico reporting: EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson and Nancy Beck, deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. Beck, as Politico reported, “criticized the IRIS program in her previous job as a top chemical industry expert.”

In addition to those appointeses, the senators also say they believe the American Chemistry Council “as well as interested corporations such a Exxon Mobil have been pressuring EPA not to release the assessment for public comment as drafted.”

As for Wheeler, Politico noted that he “was staff director for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in 2004, when his boss, then-Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), sought to delay an earlier iteration of the formaldehyde assessment.” As ProPublica previously reported, that stalling occurred “even though preliminary findings from a National Cancer Institute study had already linked formaldehyde to leukemia. Inhofe insisted that the EPA wait for a more ‘robust set of findings’ from the institute.” Those “robust findings,” released 5 years later, however, merely backed up the earlier findings.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), for her part, warned in a tweet Friday that Wheeler is “just as dirty” as Pruitt, and “is a former coal lobbyist who will work to poison the agency—and the environment he’s supposed to protect— from the inside.”

The post Trump’s EPA Suppressing Cancer-Causing Chemical Study appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Even With SNAP Benefits, Some Low-Income Americans Lack Nutritious Food

Truth Out - Sun, 07/08/2018 - 13:57

While researching how hard it is for low-income Americans to eat healthy on tight budgets, I’ve often found a mismatch between what people want to eat and the diet they can afford to follow. This made me wonder what eating right costs and how much of this tab gets covered by the largest federal nutrition program, commonly known as SNAP or food stamps.

To find out, I teamed up with Kranti Mulik, an agricultural economist.

MyPlate and SNAP

We based our nutrition assumptions on MyPlate, the federal government’s dietary guidelines, which account for differences according to age and gender. The guidelines spell out what you should eat from five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy and protein – including meat, beans, eggs, tofu and other soy-based products, nuts and seeds.

SNAP benefits also vary, based on household income and how many eligible people live in a given household.

These modest benefits, which average about US$1.40 per meal, reduce the number of people who would otherwise go hungry at the end of each month by nearly 30 percent, according to Urban Institute economist Caroline Ratcliffe.

Meal Accounting

Conversations around healthy eating often leave out cooking time. But to estimate the monthly shortfall for people living in economic hardship who get SNAP benefits, we took into account not just grocery prices and SNAP benefits but the effort eating home-prepared meals requires.

This includes traveling to stores and shopping for ingredients, as well as prepping, cooking and serving meals and cleaning up afterwards. To estimate this value, economists have used the average U.S. hourly wage rate, multiplying it by the time it takes to prepare meals. They find that labor is worth 40 percent of what Americans spend on food that they eat at home.

For people who rely on SNAP benefits, the labor costs can be daunting. They may not live close to supermarkets or any stores that sell produce. They might not own cars and lack access to transit, and they might lack the basic cooking equipment needed to prepare meals.

The government does not officially bill SNAP as covering everything that beneficiaries spend on food – that’s why the word supplemental is part of the program’s name. In 2016, however, it estimated that Americans could afford to feed a family of four a healthy diet for as little as $588 a month – less than the $649 that a family of four can get at most in SNAP benefits. Remember, this amount excludes the labor of preparing meals.

We calculate that it would take about $1,100 per month, including labor, to keep food on this hypothetical family’s table. According to our calculations, SNAP covers about half – between 43 and 60 percent – of what following a MyPlate diet costs after taking into account the labor required for meal preparation.

For households that purchase only fresh produce, grains, dairy and meat, this shortfall is much bigger than for those buying canned, frozen fruits and vegetables. Serving a meal of freshly steamed broccoli, whole-wheat pasta and roast chicken costs more than heating up canned diced tomatoes and red beans to eat with white rice.

Besides, many breadwinners who have to stretch their food dollars work multiple jobs or have other constraints on their time. For them, every hour spent on meal preparation can amount to an hour’s worth of pay lost.

$600 More per Month

Based on our model, we found that a family of four with two adults and two teens or tweens would need to spend more than $600 per month in addition to their SNAP benefits, if they ate only fresh produce, grains, meat and dairy.

That same household would need to spend almost $500 more than the maximum SNAP benefits if they ate a vegetarian diet with a mix of fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables – and derived their protein from tofu and other soy-based products, beans, eggs, nuts and seeds.

The ConversationEven excluding the labor it takes to put food on the table, that family would need to spend at least $200 monthly on top of its members’ SNAP benefits to consume a healthy diet.

The post Even With SNAP Benefits, Some Low-Income Americans Lack Nutritious Food appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

How Can Environmental Groups Diversify?

Truth Out - Sun, 07/08/2018 - 13:44

May 15, 2018 — Eddie Love was the lone African American in a cohort of 90 wildlife management students at Auburn University and one of the three people of color at his U.S. Forest Service internship in the western Great Plains region of the U.S. Still, he was surprised by the lack of diversity in the marine non-governmental organization community when he accepted a Roger Arliner Young (RAY) Marine Conservation Diversity Fellowship, part of a program designed to attract people of color to work on ocean issues.

Concerned that colleagues might not appreciate his background, culture or upbringing, he was pleasantly surprised that co-workers at two of the conservation non-profits behind the fellowship, Ocean Conservancy and Rare, welcomed him with open arms. They were more eager to address race and other inequities than he had anticipated. Following the fellowship, Love accepted a job to work on initiatives aiming at protecting marine mammals as well as efforts to increase diversity, equity and inclusion­ at the Ocean Foundation. He says he surprised himself by ending up in the marine field. “It never would have crossed my mind,” he says.

Ocean Foundation program associate Eddie Love is one of relatively few people of color who staff U.S. environmental organizations.Ocean Foundation program associate Eddie Love is one of relatively few people of color who staff U.S. environmental organizations.Courtesy of Marja Diaz / Ocean Conservancy

And that’s the problem: There are still relatively few connections between communities of color and the environmental sector. The ongoing lack of ethnic diversity on environmental organization boards and staff suggests that, overall, talk of increasing diversity has not turned into widespread action. There are signs, however, that some organizations are taking fundamental steps to seek out people with valuable, yet underrepresented perspectives and skills — and ensure a welcoming environment once they arrive.

Serious Disconnect

The lack of diversity in U.S. environmental non-profit organizations has been well chronicled in recent years. A 2014 study of 191 U.S. conservation and preservation organizations, 74 government environmental agencies and 28 environmental grant-making foundations found that ethnic minorities do not exceed 16 percent of board members and or staff of environmental organizations. In January 2018, study author Dorceta Taylor, director of diversity, equity and inclusion at University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability, released another report of 2,057 U.S. environmental nonprofit organizations, analyzing voluntary diversity data between 2014 and 2016. She found that 3.9 percent of organizations reveal their data on racial diversity; on average, 80 percent of their board members and 85 percent of their staff were white.

A number of organizations are diversifying their ranks in the wake of the reports. Asian American Rhea Suh became president of the Natural Resources Defense Council in 2014. Also in 2014, the Environmental Defense Fund created a 64-page diversity strategy. In 2015, Audubon created a statement outlining the organization’s diversity goals, and last year hired pioneering environmental justice lawyer Deeohn Ferris as vice president for equity, diversity and inclusion

Other environmental funding organizations and non-profits, however, are less forthcoming. The Pew Charitable Trusts and Conservation International, for example, do not share their diversity data and did not respond to repeated interview requests for this story. [Editor’s note: After publication, Conservation International contacted Ensia to explain that interview requests were misrouted. A representative told Ensia that 35 percent of Conservation International’s U.S. staff members — including CEO M. Sanjayan — are minorities, and the organization is a partner in EcologyPlus, an effort to connect diverse college students and early-career scientists with ecology careers.]

“It’s a good news, bad news situation,” says Taylor. “There is greater recognition that there’s a problem, but we are nowhere near where we should be in terms of hiring people of color.”

Mustafa Ali, senior vice president of climate, environmental justice and community revitalization with the Hip Hop Caucus, a national non-profit that encourages civic engagement, agrees.

“Numbers don’t lie,” he says. “There is a serious disconnect between the changing demographics in our country and the lack of diverse leadership and staffing at organizations that protect our health and the environment.”

Systemic Change

Diversifying environmental non-profits takes time, patience and, most importantly, thoughtful, sustained action. In 2017, The Wilderness Society reported that people of color held 4 percent of its senior staff positions, 14 percent of all staff positions, and 10 percent of its board positions. Society president Jamie Williams realized the organization needed to make systemic changes to the board, staffing and partnership efforts to better achieve its mission of protecting public lands.

The first step, he says, was to be more representative of the communities they aim to serve — and that required outreach. Throughout the organization — from adjusting its mission to include the needs of underserved communities to addressing unconscious bias in hiring practices — the society is working to embed equity and inclusivity into everything it does, he says. “We learned we need to be intentional about change, not just well-intended,” says Williams.

Broadening the organization’s focus beyond protecting the biggest, wildest places, the Wilderness Society launched an Urban to Wild initiative to protect outdoor recreational areas close to and within cities and increase public transportation from cities to these areas — making it easier for city dwellers, including people of color, to access the outdoors. In addition, the society is working to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of the staff, in part by establishing paid internships. One-third of the 15 people hired in the past year have been people of color.

“We know we still have a lot of work to do,” says Williams, “but [these efforts] will make us a much stronger, dynamic organization over the long run.”

Queta González helps organizations develop strategies to increase equity, diversity and inclusion in her role as director of Center for Diversity & the Environment in Portland, Oregon. She says organizations that successfully attract and retain diverse staff and develop cross-cultural relationships are clear about their goals, transparent, accept feedback, and are authentic.

“If you don’t do it authentically,” says González, “just don’t do it.”

Inauthentic gestures — for example, promoting diverse faces on an organization’s website without concomitant shifts in outreach or recruitment — are a common misstep. Another is focusing too much on increasing the number of people of color hired, instead of investigating why the numbers are so low and addressing the root causes, says Charles “Chas” Lopez, vice president for diversity and inclusion at Earthjustice, a San Francisco–based environmental law nonprofit.

Mary Scoonover, executive vice president of the California-based conservation non-profit Resources Legacy Fund, says her organization has, since inception, focused on broadening, ethnically and economically, the groups and leaders who advocate for conservation. But they decided 10 years ago they needed to do more to diversify their board and staff.

A 2014 study showed that racial diversity in U.S. conservation and preservation organizations tends to be lowest on boards and highest among relatively new employees and interns.A 2014 study showed that racial diversity in U.S. conservation and preservation organizations tends to be lowest on boards and highest among relatively new employees and interns.Source: Taylor, D.E. The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations; Chart by Sean Quinn

The organization found it challenging to recruit ethnically diverse, younger staff to suburban Sacramento, where the organization was originally based. So it made a big move — opening an office in Los Angeles and expanding their presence in San Francisco, in part, to help attract high-caliber candidates from diverse backgrounds.

The organization has also spent time reaching out to local schools and colleges, championing conservation as a career choice. And it created a new category of entry-level managers to offer employees the experience necessary to become leaders of tomorrow. Five years ago, the group’s seven-member board had no people of color. Now, the 11-member board has three people of color. The percent of people of color on staff has gone up from 9 percent to 26 percent since 2015.

“We’re slowly increasing our diversity,” Scoonover says, but admits, “we have more progress to make.” To continue to build a broader, more diverse coalition, the Resources Legacy Fund is looking for synergies between its own mission and a community’s priorities — for example, connecting its concern about air quality with diverse farmworkers’ concern about pesticide drift.

Building Relationships

Despite the increasing number of fellowship, internship and training opportunities to provide people of color with pathways to gain skills and experience in environmental fields, organizations continue to lament a lack of diverse applicants.

Taylor says that type of rhetoric is used to absolve organizations of a responsibility to search out or nurture talent. She is involved in two fellowships for college students of color to gain experience in university research labs and non-profit organizations — yet her program staff receives only a modest number of job advertisements from environmental organizations.

“Environmental jobs are advertised and accepted through established networks,” says Taylor, adding “if you are not connected, you won’t hear about or get those jobs.”

To help build those connections, Taylor organized a New Horizons in Conservation Conference in Washington, D.C., in April 2018. Over 220 participants — mostly students of color — attended with resumes in hand to mingle with representatives of non-profits. This September, the sixth annual HBCU Climate Conference, which brings together Historically Black College and Universities staff, faculty and students, will take place in New Orleans and expects 400 attendees. Over 30 percent of past attendees have gone on to pursue careers in environmental fields, says conference organizer Beverly Wright.

“I want to dispel the myth that there are not diverse young people out there interested in this work,” says Angelou Ezeilo, CEO and founder of Greening Youth Foundation in Atlanta, Georgia. Her organization has trained over 5,000 underserved, underrepresented young adults, ages 16­–25, in environmental stewardship — ranging from conservation to urban agriculture to landscape management.

Ezeilo estimates only 15 to 17 percent of her trainees have secured long-term employment in environmental organizations. But she also notes that she measures success not by employment, but by the number of people she exposes to environmental fields — trainees who now see things through a lens of sustainability even if they wind up in other professions. Still, “there have to be employers ready to hire them,” she says.

Changing Culture

Changing an organization’s culture takes time and deliberate action. When you commit to do this, you have to go all in, says Center for Diversity & the Environment’s González. “I see a lot of organizations put a toe in the water and try to recruit for diversity but do nothing to create an inclusive environment,” she says. If new hires walk into a space where they don’t feel welcome, the situation is set up for failure, she says.

The Ocean Foundation’s Love agrees that retaining diverse staff will be the key to success. “How do groups plan to keep diverse staff, and create an environment that seeks to understand diverse backgrounds and communicate effectively?” he asks.

To that end, González says one of the most important thing an organization can do is center its actions around the answer to one question: Why does diversity matter to us?

“Organizations need to see diversity as a great opportunity,” she says. “If it’s drudgery or scary, it will fail.”

Ali offers one answer: “If we truly want to win on climate and the environment, that means all voices must help drive the process.” View Ensia homepage

SaveSaveSaveSave

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Categories: News

Toys “R” Us Workers Take on Private Equity Vultures

Truth Out - Sun, 07/08/2018 - 13:40

It was once the biggest toy company in the world. But Toys ‘R’ Us  turned off the lights in its remaining stores for the last time last Friday, becoming the most recent casualty of Wall Street greed.

As Toys ‘R’ Us first began its descent into bankruptcy and liquidation, it was seen as another point on the “retail apocalypse” continuum, with many in the media blaming e-commerce and changing shopping habits for store bankruptcies around the country. But the narrative is shifting to place the blame on the private equity firms that purchased the company with a leveraged buyout in 2005, only to saddle it with billions of dollars in debt.

That shift is due in no small part to the biggest victims of the buyout — the more than 30,000 Toys ‘R’ Us employees now out of a job. Those workers aren’t letting the store close without a fight for fair severance, and consequences for the Wall Street firms that turned a profit while leaving them in financial insecurity.

The private equity companies KKR and Bain Capital and real estate firm Vornado were able to eke $470 million in fees out of the debt-ridden toy store after acquiring it in 2005. Top execs even won approval to hand out millions in bonuses last year while in the midst of bankruptcy proceedings, arguing to the court that the chain “rewards team members at all levels of the company.”

Tell that to the workers, many of whom spent decades at the toy store, who received far less. Store employees were shocked to learn they wouldn’t receive severance upon losing their jobs, and the hefty exec bonuses were salt in the wound. In the weeks preceding the chain’s closing, employees mobilized to demand fair severance pay and decry the corporate greed that left them unemployed.

Tens of thousands of people signed petitions calling on Toys ‘R’ Us owners to pay workers out of the sizeable private equity profits. Workers gathered in Bain Capital’s New York City lobby, creating a mock graveyard to mourn the toy store “killed by Wall Street greed.” They protested at the private equity firms that owned the company, outside the home of former CEO David Brandon, and within their local stores.

Toys R Us is closing forever, but the company didn’t have to go bankrupt. This is the THIRD LARGEST bankruptcy in our country’s history and it was caused by Wall Street greed. Watch workers fight back to demand severance pay #RiseUpRetail #ToysRUs pic.twitter.com/HgQR7fPNf0

— Rise Up Retail (@riseupretail) June 21, 2018

The store’s former employees are also doing their best to deal a blow where it would hurt most — the profits of the private equity firms that took Toys ‘R’ Us down. Workers and labor advocates have been encouraging public pension boards across the country to divest their funds from private equity firms that played a role in the toy store’s demise.

The California pension board heard from Nadia Romo, a store manager in Ventura who worked at the company alongside her fiance and step-son. The combined loss of income meant the family had to try to downsize their home in order to cover her newborn daughter’s medical insurance. She’d heard similar stories from Toys ‘R’ Us workers around the country facing everything from cancer to miscarriages, all while dealing with the loss of their jobs.

“KKR, Bain Capital, and Vornado never put their hearts into a 70-year old company to grow with a great good investments in return,” Romo said. “They just took advantage of investors like you and took advantage of hard workers like us.”

Romo was joined by other Toys ‘R’ Us employees, including Sandra Lopez, a manager who worked her way up from a part-time position over the course of 22 years. Lopez told the board that she’d missed countless family events while working at the store as a single mother. “Our work in retail has value for the families we help at the stores, and our families at home. We can’t let Wall Street and we can’t let Bain and KKR take it all away,” Lopez said.

“Please, I’m asking you to do your homework and make sure you’re not investing in companies that are all about corporate greed instead of workers’ needs.”

The post Toys “R” Us Workers Take on Private Equity Vultures appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Donald Trump Uses Right-Wing Populism to Unite Divergent Groups

Truth Out - Sun, 07/08/2018 - 13:29

No, the right wing is not a monolithic force. One of the key points Matthew N. Lyons details in his book Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire is that the right wing is composed of groups with different historical roots. Trump, Lyons argues in this interview, is a right-wing populist.

Mark Karlin: Why is it important to break the far right in the United States into distinctive components?

Matthew K. Lyons: Because different branches of the far right represent different types of threats. They have different social bases, target different scapegoats, pursue different strategies, and have different strengths and weaknesses. Understanding these differences helps us fight them more effectively.

For purposes of analysis in Insurgent Supremacists, I define the US far right as encompassing those political forces that (a) regard human inequality as natural, desirable or inevitable; and (b) reject the legitimacy of the existing political system. That cuts across a lot of political divides. Many far rightists put race at the center of their program, but others focus more on religious doctrine, or gender or a more generic form of elitism. Some far rightists advocate paramilitary organizing while others focus on electoral activism, or building community institutions, or a “metapolitical” transformation of cultural norms and assumptions. Some sections of the far right are working-class oriented while others have a base that’s predominantly middle class or professional. Some recruit whole families while others are only interested in men.

Matthew N. Lyons.Matthew N. Lyons.PM Press

It’s not just the differences and divisions within the far right that are important, but also the interactions and creative tensions between different factions. Every far-right upsurge in the US over the past 40 years has been powered by different rightist currents coming together. In the 1980s, the convergence between Klan and Nazi forces — which had distrusted each other for half a century — gave us the modern white nationalist movement. In the 1990s, the explosion of Patriot/militia groups was fueled by a new mix of white nationalism, Christian Reconstructionism, John Birch-style conspiracism and gun rights ideology. Over the past decade, the rise of the “alt-right” has followed the same dynamic.

Where does the “alt-right” fit in?

The “alt-right” is the newest major far right current to emerge in the United States. It started to cohere around 2010, when Richard Spencer founded the online journal AlternativeRight.com to foster intellectual debate and discussion among right-wing critics of mainstream conservatism. A lot of different ideological ingredients have gone into the mix, but some of the most notable ones have been paleoconservatism (a dissident branch of US conservatism that has advocated economic nationalism and white Christian cultural dominance and opposed most US military interventions abroad), the European New Right (a high-brow initiative to rework fascist ideology that started in France in the late 1960s) and the manosphere (an online anti-feminist subculture that has fostered some of the most virulent misogyny, in both theory and practice). White nationalism has always been a dominant force in the “alt-right,” and at this point, those “alt-rightists” who didn’t embrace white nationalism have apparently all left the movement. Both Nazi and non-Nazi versions of white nationalism are represented.

A key feature that sets the “alt-right” apart from earlier far-right movements is its emphasis on web culture, social media and the use of memes. Neo-Nazis have pioneered in the use of computer networks and information technology since the 1980s, but the “alt-right” started out by developing a major online presence and only later started to form member organizations and hold physical rallies. “Alt-rightists” got very skilled at using political irony and mounting meme campaigns, such as the #cuckservative campaign in 2016, which significantly helped Donald Trump in the presidential primaries by attacking his main Republican competitors. Borrowing a tactic from the manosphere’s Gamergate campaign, “alt-rightists” also barraged political opponents with vicious online harassment, such as flooding their inboxes with rape and death threats.

The “alt-right” has suffered a series of setbacks over the past year, through a combination of internal failings and external pressures, and it’s a lot weaker and more isolated than it was when Trump was elected. But it’s had a lasting impact, not only by helping to put Trump in the White House, but also by fueling supremacist violence and injecting supremacist ideology into mainstream discourse. And even if the “alt-right” itself never recovers, it’s likely that sooner or later we’ll see a resurgence of another far-right movement that builds on its example, promoting similar ideas in different form.

Why do you think there are so many different perceptions of fascism?

To some extent, it’s because fascists have never developed an agreed-upon body of political theory the way Marxists, anarchists, liberals and even conservatives have done. Mussolini declared that fascists were more concerned with action than with doctrine, which has misled some critics into thinking that fascism doesn’t stand for anything except grabbing power and brutalizing people. But opponents also perceive fascism differently because of their different starting points, different ways of understanding the world. Is fascism fundamentally an expression of “hate,” a mass psychology of exclusion? Is it an outgrowth of capitalism, or even a “stage” of capitalism in decline, as many Marxists have claimed? Or is it, as some conservatives have argued, essentially “big government” run amok?

People on both the left and the right have often used “fascism” more as a political epithet, a way to denounce your opponents, than a term of analysis. There’s a long tradition of liberals and leftists denouncing every repressive move by right-wing politicians as “fascist,” from Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunts to George W. Bush’s “war on terror” to Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies. To me, all of these are actually examples of authoritarian conservatism, which is a top-down impulse to defend the established order and ruling-class interests. I see fascism as an outgrowth of an organized mass movement that wants to sweep away established institutions and impose a new kind of supremacist order. Fascism may cut a deal with established elites, but is at root an autonomous force with its own agenda, not a ruling-class puppet. Contrary to popular usage, fascists are not the only ones who impose dictatorships, and they are not the only ones who carry out genocide.

Are many far right groups populist in nature?

Yes, in the United States, pretty much all of them are populist to one degree or another. I follow political scientist Margaret Canovan’s approach in defining populism as an effort to rally “the people” around some form of anti-elitism. There are a lot of different versions of populism, some of which have positive elements. But right-wing populism, as Chip Berlet and I and others have argued, is a subcategory in which anti-elitism is combined with a drive to bolster the oppression, exclusion or annihilation of one or more oppressed or marginalized groups. In addition, the anti-elitism that right-wing populists promote is distorted, in that it diverts people’s anger away from the actual systems of power (such as capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy) onto a scapegoat (such as “globalist elites,” or “liberal intellectuals” or “Jewish bankers”).

There have been many right-wing populist movements in US history, but most of them have been system loyal, in the sense that they have not really called the established political order into question. The far right of recent decades is part of a larger right-wing populist upsurge, which regards the limited gains made by oppressed social groups since the 1960s as the result of a plot by “sinister elites” to undermine Western civilization. There are different versions of this narrative — some racial, some religious, some economic, and so on. System-loyal right-wing populists essentially argue that the sinister elites can be put in their place through reforming the existing system, while far rightists believe that the system is beyond repair and a political revolution is needed — a revolution of the right, an insurgency to impose a new supremacist order.

What are the relationships between national security forces, law enforcement and the paramilitary right?

This is a complex story and delving into it is one of the elements that sets Insurgent Supremacists apart from most books about the US far right. There’s a long history of federal agencies colluding with — or actively sponsoring — right-wing violence against people of color, organized labor and the left. For example, in the early 1970s, federal agencies sponsored right-wing organizations in the Chicago area and southern California that carried out break-ins, physical attacks and assassination attempts against leftists. In 1979, an FBI informer and an agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms both helped plan an operation in which neo-Nazi and Klan groups murdered five members and supporters of the Communist Workers Party in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Candidate Trump got more help from far rightists than any other major presidential candidate in living memory.

But when right-wing paramilitaries have turned against the state, federal agencies have cracked down hard on them. In the 1980s, security forces smashed The Order, a neo-Nazi group that had issued a declaration of war against the “Zionist Occupation Government” in Washington, and rounded up members of half a dozen other armed fascist organizations. In the 1990s, the FBI created a phony neo-Nazi organization called the Veterans Aryan Movement to help it gather intelligence about genuine far-right groups — a classic counterinsurgency tactic. The federal government has also sometimes used far-right violence as a useful scapegoat to justify increases in state repression. For example, the Clinton administration used the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing to help push through the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which civil liberties advocates have excoriated. Yet in recent years, federal security forces’ responses to the paramilitary right have been largely reactive, inconsistent and even passive. At the Bundy Ranch confrontation in 2014, federal officers backed down when confronted by armed Patriot movement activists pointing guns at them, and the government waited almost two years before bringing any charges for the incident.

This kind of cautious response partly reflects pressure from conservatives, but it may also point to awareness that federal government efforts to control the paramilitary right have sometimes backfired — spectacularly. In the 1960s, FBI infiltration of Ku Klux Klan groups (carried out not to end racist violence, but to bring to heel a heavily armed network operating outside government control) significantly weakened the Klan in the short term, but it massively discredited the Bureau in the eyes of white supremacists, and helped push many of them to embrace revolutionary, far-right politics. The 1992 assault on the home of white supremacist Randy Weaver — in which federal agents shot to death Weaver’s teenage son and gunned down his wife while she was holding their baby — helped spark the rise of the Patriot movement as a reaction against fears of government tyranny.

Federal security forces do their job clumsily at times and skillfully at others, are subject to a variety of internal biases and external pressures, and have to contend with shifting political circumstances. Fundamentally, however, their purpose is to protect ruling-class power. Broadly speaking, paramilitary rightists serve that purpose when they defend the existing order, and clash with that purpose when they seek to overthrow it.

How does Trump fit in with the history of insurgent supremacists in the United States?

I see Donald Trump as a right-wing populist who is system loyal, but whose rise is symbiotically connected to the far right. Trump has skillfully appealed to the double-edged sense of grievance that many Americans feel — a fear that their traditional privileges have been or are being eroded, coupled with an anger and resentment at economic, political and cultural elites above them. Many successful US politicians have done this, but few of them have opposed the political establishment as squarely as Trump did, and few of them have leaned on far-right support the way he has. Candidate Trump got more help from far rightists, especially the “alt-right,” than any other major presidential candidate in living memory. And in turn, his campaign helped “alt-rightists” gain visibility, media access and a degree of legitimation they would never have had otherwise. Several of the advisers Trump picked for his administration echoed the “alt-right” to varying degrees. Some of them (such as Steve Bannon) have left, but others (such as Stephen Miller) are still there.

Most “alt-rightists” supported Trump’s candidacy because of his anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant positions, because he repudiated standard taboos (for example, advocating torture, calling for violence against political opponents and bragging about sexual assault) and because he made establishment conservatives look like fools. In the early days, long before anybody thought he could win, “alt-rightists” saw him as somebody who could destroy the Republican Party. Their view of Trump was essentially: He is not one of us, but he is useful to our cause, because he can buy us time and open up more space for us to get our message out. Since the inauguration, “alt-rightists” have applauded some of Trump’s moves, but they’ve also been frustrated and alienated by some of his actions (such as his missile strikes against Syria) and what they see as his capitulation to the conservative establishment on many issues.

As many “alt-rightists” have understood clearly from the beginning, Donald Trump is not a far rightist. His policies are racist but not white nationalist (because he doesn’t advocate a white ethno-state and the mass expulsion of people of color) and authoritarian but not fascist (because he wants to suppress opponents but doesn’t aim to impose one totalitarian ideology on all spheres of society). Also, unlike fascists, he did not build an independent organization, but instead cobbled together an elite coalition of “America First” nationalists and mainstream conservatives, and over time the latter have mostly come out on top. Despite some inconsistent steps away from the establishment line on free trade and foreign policy, Trump’s main impact has been to intensify conventional conservative policies, such as deregulating industry, making the tax system even more regressive and making life even harder for undocumented immigrants.

To be clear, Trump isn’t just more of the same. He builds on his predecessors (Republican and Democrat), but he is qualitatively worse than them. Trump is accelerating the decline of the United States’ liberal-pluralist system (often mislabeled “democracy”), and his rise has helped to mobilize popular forces that have the potential to turn toward more insurgent forms of right-wing politics. In this situation, it’s important for leftists to join with others in opposing the growth of repression, demonization and supremacist violence. At the same time, it’s also important for us to strengthen and amplify our own critiques of the established order, our own visions of radical change — and not let far rightists present themselves as the only real opposition force.

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