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.

The post Donald Trump Uses Right-Wing Populism to Unite Divergent Groups appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Those Impacted by Colonialism Speak Out on the US’s Legacy of Family Separation

Truth Out - Sun, 07/08/2018 - 13:26

Those crying children, separated from their parents and detained for crossing the US border, are part of the original peoples of this continent. They symbolize all of the children that have been ripped away from their mothers’ arms since the era of colonialism.

To be sure, Donald Trump is doing what the US has always done best: destroying and dehumanizing nations and peoples; destroying lives and peddling pseudo-religious-politico providential narratives. However, this time, it is the US itself that is imploding and being slowly destroyed by a would-be dictator and a spineless and complicit Congress.

On this continent, the crisis at the border began in 1492, and there is a direct line that begins with genocide, theft of a continent, theft of bodies, souls and even identities — all of which resulted in the destruction and enslavement of many peoples and cultures in many countries.

As Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy continues to be challenged, it is worth examining the perspectives of those who have experienced similar treatment. There are powerful Indigenous voices arguing the US narrative regarding immigration is obscenely upside down.

In response to the “family separation is un-American” narrative, I reached out to many of my friends, mostly Indigenous mothers, who have a different assessment. Their voices are the ones heard below.

Since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was implemented in 1994, several thousand people who have tried to cross the US-Mexico border have been found dead. Thanks to NAFTA, millions have streamed to the US from Mexico as a result of being unable to compete with cheap, US government-subsidized agriculture. Meanwhile, nearly 100 migrants have been killed by Border Patrol agents since 2003. More so than many law enforcement agencies, these agents operate with virtually 100 percent impunity. Marla Pacheco, a Sonora Yaqui human rights activist, speaks about the recent killing of the young Maya woman, Claudia Gomez Gonzalez, by a Border Patrol agent on the Texas border: “We know that the only person who is going to be protected is the border patrol agent. The impunity will continue and their families will never know justice in this system that continues to criminalize refugees and migrants.”

The voices here, which are usually silenced and erased, may be difficult to process emotionally, precisely because that trauma, dehumanization and de-Indigenization are still with us to this day. It is what is referred to as intergenerational trauma, which these children and families are in danger of passing down to future generations. Maria Molina Vai Sevoi, a Tucson mother of six and a member of the Yoeme nation and Nahua Tlalmanalcah peoples, says: “Whether to fight in wars, work as slaves, attend boarding schools or to be adopted out, the story is the same — they take our children.” This includes forced sterilization, she adds. “They took them before they were in our wombs. My ancestors migrated north to escape persecution by the Mexican government. They sought to erase our bloodlines. [The United States also] seeks to erase our bloodlines.”

The legacy of family separation is not limited to US history; this was also policy in Canada, where the last federally supported residential school for Indigenous children didn’t close until the late 1990s. Martha Many Grey Horses, a member of the Kainai First Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy, speaks about her experiences in Canada: “I know all too well what it’s like to be forcefully separated from my parents, family, grandparents, as a child growing up on my family’s farm on the reserve – and placed into the government residential school. I find it challenging to read about the separation of these precious children from their parents and relatives. I see their images, and my tears start falling. There are moments when I wail for these little people. I see myself in them as a child. I’m one of them. I want so much to reach out physically and hug them.”

Here, Leilani Clark, a Tucsonan of African and Dine’/Santa Clara descent, offers a glimpse of two worlds: “The policies of ‘Kill the Indian, [and] Save the Man‘ very intentionally separated children far away from their families to begin the physically and emotionally violent process of forced assimilation through the Indian boarding school system, which served to ‘domesticate’ and white-wash Native youth.

The legacy of lost familial roots weigh deep within the psyche of Black people in the US, when entire families, including children, were forcibly ripped from their family members after white slave-owners purchased and sold our ancestors to different plantations throughout the Southern and Eastern regions of the US; those little Black bodies worked alongside the adults in the fields.”

Mi’Jan Celie Tho-Biaz, an oral historian and cultural worker in New Mexico, makes a similar observation: “I am the direct descendent of stolen people, living on stolen, occupied land…. The United States has a steady history of separating and dehumanizing families that began with the transatlantic slave trade, and continued through forced boarding schools with Native Americans, Japanese American internment camps, and currently is practiced through youth detention centers for marginalized young people, targeted by the school-to-prison pipeline.”

The voices of mothers are difficult to read because the topic and these memories disturb our consciences. “I think of when my sister and I crossed this illegal border. We were five and one,” says Marisa Duarte, who is Yaqui and lives in Phoenix, Arizona. “As a mother, I am beyond angry to think that this could ever happen to anyone’s kids! It is also a continuation of the US’s war on Indigenous people by ripping away and terrorizing our most sacred: our children.”

Eva Alcalde, Xicana-Dine, says, “As a mother, my heart is broken, and I am sickened by the lack of love for humanity…. There is a pure wickedness in the very thought that a government would enforce such a great atrocity. A child’s bond with their parents and their family is sacred and should not be desecrated in this way. Where is the love in the world if we do nothing to protect our children from this outright act of evil?”

There is a clear linkage between historical practices and the present. Nellie David of the Tohono O’odham Nation is an advocate for human rights. She notes: “The US government sponsored the kidnapping of young children and separating them from their Indigenous mothers as an official policy of indoctrination and assimilation. They were forced to stand for the pledge, speak English, and make way for colonial edifices in an attempt to maintain supremacy and control. In the modern era, history repeats; the United States is still using family separations as a form of psychological warfare to maintain supremacy and control.”

A similar observation is made by Alicia Nevaquaya, Choctaw/Comanche, of Oklahoma: “Separating Brown children from their parents by foreign invaders in the name of religion is nothing new to this hemisphere. It is as inappropriate now as it was then.” And she adds that the separation of children from their parents actually amounts to terrorism. “The dictionary defines ‘terrorism’ as the ‘unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims’.'”

Michael Yellowbird of the Three Affiliated Tribes (Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara), is a professor of sociology at North Dakota State University. He agrees with Tia Oros Peters (Shiwi), executive director of the Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples, that Trump’s family separation policy is an act of genocide under Article II, Section E of the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention of Genocide.

Yellowbird says: “What’s happening reminds me of two instances in history when military leaders were making Indian policy. The first was Capt. Richard Henry Pratt who said: ‘Kill the Indian, [and] Save the Man.’ Today, the president and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are repeating this history. Only this time, it’s: ‘Kill the Children, Save This Bigoted Nation’.”

Gabrielle Tayac of the Piscataway Indian Nation of Maryland wonders whether tribes can do something, and proffers one possible solution: “Many Indigenous people are outraged and are ready to help; we’ve gone through the incarceration of our kids, too. What is the practical solution right now? Can tribal people claim them? Offer asylum?”

Peters sees this issue as a test of Native sovereignty, an opportunity “to do the right thing by giving refuge – asylum to our thousands of relatives from the south who are fleeing the impacts of US ongoing settler-colonialism and imperialism in their homelands. This could help inspire other attitudes and practices of caring for one another, of responsibility, integrity, humanity and love – rather than basing our relationships or mutuality on economic benefit and capitalistic exploitation.”

Grandma Gloria Arellanes, a Tonga elder/Chicana from Southern California, makes an appeal: “I believe we are going through ‘selective racial cleansing’. The most innocent of all are the children … I wish I could curse, scream and not cry.”

The post Those Impacted by Colonialism Speak Out on the US’s Legacy of Family Separation appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

What Next for the EPA? Here's What Reagan Did

deSmog - Sun, 07/08/2018 - 13:05
Read time: 6 minsRep. Dan Kildee speaking at an EPA protest in DCBy Seema Kakade and Robert Percival, University of Maryland

Scott Pruitt’s resignation as EPA administrator caught many by surprise because President Donald Trump had repeatedly supported Pruitt’s efforts to dismantle environmental protections and the agency itself. But it is not without historical precedent.

During the first two years of President Ronald Reagan’s administration, both EPA Administrator Anne Gorsuch and Interior Secretary James Watt were forced out due to scandals. The question now is who should replace Pruitt.

Tags: Ronald ReaganU.S. Environmental Protection AgencyAnne GorsuchTrump AdministrationScott Pruitt
Categories: News

North Korea: US is making 'gangster-like' demands on denuclearisation

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Sun, 07/08/2018 - 05:30

North Korea: US is making 'gangster-like' demands on denuclearisation | 07 July 2018 | North Korea has accused the US of using "gangster-like" tactics to push it towards nuclear disarmament after a fresh round of high-level talks. It branded the US attitude at the meeting as "extremely troubling". The statement, by an unnamed foreign ministry official, gave a starkly different account from one provided by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just hours before. He had said progress was made during his two-day visit to Pyongyang.

Categories: News

Migrant Beheads 1-Year-Old Girl in Germany; Merkel Bans Media Reporting

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Sun, 07/08/2018 - 02:57

Migrant Beheads 1-Year-Old Girl in Germany; Merkel Bans Media Reporting | 06 July 2018 | Angela Merkel's pro-migrant government has banned German media from reporting on a crime involving a Muslim migrant who allegedly beheaded his one-year-old baby daughter on a train station platform in Hamburg. According to eyewitnesses, the 33-year-old suspect, Mourtala Madou, beheaded his one-year-old daughter in front of a horrified crowd of commuters at Jungfernstieg station on Thursday April 12, and then stabbed his German girlfriend, the mother of the child...German media has been allowed by the government to report on the murder of the mother, but Angela Merkel's government banned German media outlets from reporting on the decapitated baby.

Categories: News

Trump: Will Twitter axe NYT, WaPo in purge of 'fake' accounts?

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Sat, 07/07/2018 - 14:31

Trump: Will Twitter axe NYT, WaPo in purge of 'fake' accounts? [Excellent question!] | 07 July 2018 | President Trump on Saturday floated the idea of Twitter dumping major national news publications including The New York Times and The Washington Post as the social media platform removes "fake" accounts [and shadow-bans any accounts critical of the Deep State]. "Twitter is getting rid of fake accounts at a record pace. Will that include the Failing New York Times and propaganda machine for Amazon, the Washington Post, who constantly quote anonymous sources that, in my opinion, don't exist," Trump tweeted. "They will both be out of business in 7 years!"

Categories: News

How “Roe v. Wade” Changed the Lives of American Women

Truth Out - Sat, 07/07/2018 - 14:24

The recent announcement of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement has ignited widespread speculation about the future of Roe v. Wade. Some analysts believe that a new appointment to the Supreme Court would mean a conservative justice, particularly one who is against abortion rights, will threaten the status of the law.

The US Supreme Court granted women an essential degree of reproductive freedom on on Jan. 22, 1973, by supporting the right to terminate a pregnancy under specific conditions.

As a sociologist who studies women, work and families, I’ve closely examined how the landmark ruling affected women’s educational and occupational opportunities over the past 45 years.

Then and Now

Let’s go back to 1970, three years before the Roe decision.

In that year, the average age at first marriage for women in the US was just under 21. Twenty percent of women aged 18 to 24 were enrolled in college and about 8 percent of adult women had completed four years of college.

Childbearing was still closely tied to marriage. Those who conceived before marriage were likely to marry before the birth occurred. It wasn’t yet common for married women with young children under age 6 to be employed; about 37 percent were in the labor force. Then, as now, finding satisfactory child care was a challenge for employed mothers.

By 1980, the average age at marriage had increased to 22. One-quarter of American women age 18 to 24 were enrolled in college, up 5 percent, and 13.6 percent had completed a four-year college degree. Forty-five percent of married mothers with young children were in the labor force.

While these changes may not be directly attributable to Roe v. Wade, they occurred shortly after its passage – and they’ve continued unabated since then.

Today, roughly two generations after Roe v. Wade, women are postponing marriage, marrying for the first time at about age 27 on average. Seventeen percent over age 25 have never been married. Some estimates suggest that 25 percent of today’s young adults may never marry.

Moreover, the majority of college students are now women, and participation in the paid labor force has become an expected part of many women’s lives.

Control Over Choices

If the Roe v. Wade decision were overturned – reducing or completely eradicating women’s control over their reproductive lives – would the average age at marriage, the educational attainment level and the labor force participation of women decrease again?

These questions are also difficult to answer. But we can see the effect that teen pregnancy, for example, has on a woman’s education. Thirty percent of all teenage girls who drop out of school cite pregnancy and parenthood as key reasons. Only 40 percent of teen mothers finish high school. Fewer than 2 percent finish college by age 30.

Educational achievement, in turn, affects the lifetime income of teen mothers. Two-thirds of families started by teens are poor, and nearly 1 in 4 will depend on welfare within three years of a child’s birth. Many children will not escape this cycle of poverty. Only about two-thirds of children born to teen mothers earn a high school diploma, compared to 81 percent of their peers with older parents.

The future depends in large part on efforts at the state and federal level to protect or restrict access to contraception and abortion. Ongoing opposition to the legalization of abortion has succeeded in incrementally restricting women’s access to it. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that studies reproductive policies, between 2011 and mid-2016, state legislatures enacted 334 restrictions on abortion rights, roughly 30 percent of all abortion restrictions enacted since Roe v. Wade.

In 2017, Kentucky enacted a new law banning abortion at or after 20 weeks post-fertilization. Arkansas banned the use of a safe method of abortion, referred to as dilation and evacuation, which is often used in second-trimester procedures.

New Battles

Of course, medical abortion isn’t the only way in which women can exert control over reproduction.

Even before 1973, American women had access to a wide range of contraceptives, including the birth control pill, which came on the market in 1960. Five years later, in Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court ruled that married couples could not be denied access to contraceptives. In 1972, in Eisenstadt v. Baird, the court extended this right to unmarried persons.

In 2017, a record number of states acted to advance reproductive health rights in response to actions by the federal government. In 2017, 645 proactive bills were introduced in 49 states and the District of Columbia. Eighty-six of those were enacted and an additional 121 passed at least one committee in a state legislature.

How would the lives of American women in the last decades of the 20th century and early 21st century have unfolded if the court had made a different decision in Roe v. Wade? Would women be forced into compulsory pregnancies and denied the opportunity to make life plans that prioritized educational and employment pursuits? Would motherhood and marriage be the primary or exclusive roles of women in typical childbearing ages?

With the availability of a greater range of contraception and abortion drugs other than medical procedures available today, along with a strong demand for women’s labor in the US economy, it seems unlikely that women’s status will ever go back to where it was before 1973. But Americans shouldn’t forget the role that Roe v. Wade played in advancing the lives of women.

The Conversation

The post How “Roe v. Wade” Changed the Lives of American Women appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Al Shabaab fighters attack Somalia police HQ after twin bombings

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Sat, 07/07/2018 - 14:20

Al Shabaab fighters attack Somalia police HQ after twin bombings | 07 July 2018 | At least five people were killed and 21 wounded on Saturday when militants from Somalia's al Shabaab group set off two bombs in central Mogadishu and stormed a government building. A Reuters witness saw a heavy exchange of gunfire outside the building, which houses the security and interior ministries and is also used by police. Smoke drifted from burning vehicles following a suicide car bombing close to the presidential palace and a second blast near the security building.

Categories: News

New Zine: Starting an Anarchist Black Cross – A Guide

Anarchist News - Sat, 07/07/2018 - 14:12

The Anarchist Black Cross is an international network of anarchist groups and individuals engaged in practical solidarity with prisoners and broader anti-repression struggles that started over 100 years ago.

This zine is a resource for anyone wanting to start an Anarchist Black Cross group. It was a collective effort of people from various ABC groups across Europe. We hope you find it inspiring and useful.

Inside you can find articles and resources on:

* What is the Anarchist Black Cross and why does it exist?
* How do ABC groups organise
* What do ABC groups do
* An overview of international days of solidarity
* Top tips for fundraising
* How to keep an ABC group going
* Taking care of each other while doing ABC work
* Resources

Download a copy for reading (8mb): http://solidarity.international/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/ABC-Zine-Smal...

Download a high resolution version for printing (30mb): http://www.prisonabolition.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/ABC-Zine-Pages...

This zine is dedicated to Anna Campbell. Anna was killed by Turkish forces while fighting alongside Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) in the defence of Afrin in March 2018. Anna was a dedicated member of Bristol Anarchist Black Cross and took her commitment to solidarity and mutual aid to her grave.

Tags: prisonsolidarityanarchists facing repressionanarchist black crossanarchists in troublecategory: Prisoners
Categories: News

Emmanuel Macron’s “Extreme Centrism” Is a Threat to Democracy

Truth Out - Sat, 07/07/2018 - 14:11

French President Emmanuel Macron has been crusading to all corners of the world, receiving applause for his impassioned pleas on behalf of the postwar liberal order in the face of rising authoritarianism and nationalism.

This spring, in his address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, the new French leader compared the ongoing political divisions within Europe to a “civil war” and pledged to never “yield to any fascination for authoritarian sovereignties” — a clear reference to the ongoing democratic backslide in Hungary and Poland.

“I do not want to be part of a generation of sleepwalkers,” the 40-year-old president declared. “I want to belong to a generation which has made a firm decision to uphold its democracy.” He also pledged to “defend European sovereignty because we fought for it.”

A few days later, the French president was in Washington DC as President Donald Trump’s first visiting head of state. In his address to the US Congress, Macron reiterated the need to stand up for democracy and urged lawmakers to preserve and strengthen the liberal international order the US itself helped to create. “The United States is the one who invented this multilateralism,” Macron said. “You are the one now, who has to help preserve and reinvent it.”

Yet in practice, Macron’s own relationship to democracy has often contradicted his lofty rhetoric. Although 63 percent of French people think Macron has improved the image of France abroad, 58 percent are dissatisfied with his presidency — and 73 percent described him as authoritarian, according to a recent IFOP poll. And no wonder: Macron has repeatedly undermined democratic processes in France to implement his unpopular neoliberal reforms.

As a former investment banker at Rothschild, Macron envisions the transformation and revitalization of France through a Silicon-Valley-style neoliberalism, which embraces the “creative destruction” theory of Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter. And, as a graduate student of the elite National School of Administration and a former finance minister, he also envisions governance through the lens of a French technocrat, who believes in the verticality and centralization of power.

Both perspectives reflect a thin conception of representative democracy — one that puts the supposed needs of the market over popular deliberation and participation.

Extreme Centrism

In his presidential campaign book Revolution, Emmanuel Macron blames the inaction, disconnection, and elitism of traditional French political parties for the rise of extremism and democratic decline. Running as a “neither right nor left” independent, the former investment banker promised to transcend this traditional divide to modernize and transform the French political and economic system into a “startup nation” driven by innovation and a “spirit of conquest.”

His first year of presidency, however, has proven that he is neither a centrist nor an avant-garde leader, but rather an old-fashioned, right-leaning neoliberal determined to overhaul France’s hard-won social model under the guise of modernism and emancipation.

In an interview with Les Inrockuptibles, Canadian intellectual Alain Deneault describes Macron’s governing style as “extreme centrism.” If this label sounds like an oxymoron, Deneault argues that Macron’s political approach is extreme in the sense that “its policies are destructive, unfair, and imperialistic. They consist of maximizing the profits of big corporations and shareholders, and facilitating access to tax havens.” Macron’s regime is also extreme from a moral standpoint, because it uses “intimidating discourses” and is “intolerant towards anything that is not its own,” Deneault adds.

Deneault compares Macron and his party, La Republique En Marche (The Republic on the Move), to an “ideological steamroller which aims at convincing people that there is an imperious urgency — without taking the time to debate — to apply a political vision, his specifically.”

Indeed, Macron has been using his executive privileges to rule by decree and bypass parliament to speed through often unpopular reforms. Aiming to make France friendlier to the globalized business elite, he enacted “pro-business” labor laws making it easier for employers to hire and fire employees, slashed the corporate tax rate from 32 percent to 25 percent, and scrapped the longstanding impôt sur la fortune, or wealth tax, which taxed non-professional net wealth above about $1.5 million.

During a recent interview with the business magazine Forbes, Macron announced that he plans on repealing the 30 percent “exit tax” implemented in 2014 to discourage tax evasion. “People are free to invest where they want,” Macron told Forbes. He then compared the economy to a marriage: “If you are able to attract, good for you, but if not, one should be free to divorce.”

Partly in response to the Fourth Railway Package, an EU-led mission which aims to “revitalize the rail sector and make it more competitive vis-a-vis other modes of transport,” the French government pushed through major reforms of the state-owned rail operator SNCF. This controversial move has sparked fierce protests from unions, who have been fighting back with nationwide rolling strikes since March.

Chris Wallace asked the French president on Fox News Sunday if he would back down in the face of the increasing opposition. Macron firmly stated, “No chance.”

When asked why he won’t yield, Macron repeatedly uses a variation on Margaret Thatcher’s famous slogan, “There is no alternative,” which becomes in Macron’s mouth: “There is no other choice.” The slogan is slightly different, but the idea is the same. His neoliberal reforms aren’t presented as policy choices, but as an essential and natural step in the course of French history that cannot be altered.

On June 14, the French Senate overwhelmingly agreed to turn the SNCF into a joint-stock company and scrape some of the rail workers’ employment benefits. Unions fear it’s the first step toward full privatization.

New Binarism

Macron hasn’t transcended the traditional left-right dichotomy he deemed archaic. Instead, he replaced it with a new binary that divides the world between those he calls the “backward-looking conservatives” and those, like him, who are “progressives reformers who embrace modernism.” If you’re not part of the latter camp, then you will be squeezed out.

This binarism comes out frequently in his speeches. Recently he described a train station as a place where you meet “those who succeed” and “those who are nothing.” He often describes those who oppose his neoliberal reforms as “slackers and cynics.” In other speeches, he pits “the doers” against “the do-nothings,” the “rationals” versus the “ideologues,” or the “optimistic globalists” against the “reactionary populists.”

In sum, Macronism doesn’t transcend political divides, but instead redefines them as a battle between “progressive modernists” and “reactionary slackers.” Hiding behind the argument of rationalism and efficiency, Macronism seeks to “fix” the economy by cozying up to a tiny wealthy elite who has been binge-eating resources and capturing wealth at shocking rates.

Although top income shares have increased much more in the US than in France, French economist Thomas Piketty argues that France has not been exempt from rising inequality. His new study on income inequality in France shows that “between 1983 and 2015, the average income of the richest 1 percent has risen by 100 percent (above inflation), and that of the 0.1 percent richest by 150 percent, as compared with barely 25 percent for the rest of the population.”

In the meantime, at the global level, “the top 1 percent richest individuals in the world captured twice as much growth as the bottom 50 percent individuals since 1980,” according to the 2018 World Inequality report. Trickle-down economics clearly work — for the rich.

In the world of Macronism, pluralism isn’t the essence of a functioning democracy, efficiency is. In the world of Macronism, the democratic debate is reduced to a thumbs up/thumbs down activity. In the world of Macronism there is no other choice but Macronism.

The post Emmanuel Macron’s “Extreme Centrism” Is a Threat to Democracy appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Women in Asia Are Confronting Fracking in the US to Eliminate Plastic Byproducts

Truth Out - Sat, 07/07/2018 - 14:10

Heaps of plastic waste cover the shores of Manila Bay in the Philippines. Myrna Dominguez remembers when an abundance of fish inhabited its waters — locals would catch enough to feed their families and sell at the market. Today, she says, they are catching more plastic than fish.

“We’re very afraid that if this is not addressed, the bay, which 100,000 small fishers rely on, will no longer be viable for them,” Dominguez says.

In May, Dominguez and Indian labor organizer Lakshmi Narayan visited communities in the US that are affected by pollution from oil extraction and plastic production, to show the effects that these processes have on communities overseas. The “Stopping Plastic Where It Starts Tour,” organized by #Breakfreefromplastic and Earthworks, is part of a project that aims to reduce plastic consumption and production by raising awareness about the impacts of plastic production on the communities at either end of its supply chain.

Dominguez and Narayan, representing communities in Asia experiencing the effects of plastic pollution, visited places in the US experiencing the impacts of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) oil and gas production — an industry that is producing the raw materials to build plastic.

Dominguez is the policy and advocacy adviser of the Asia Pacific Network on Food Sovereignty, which campaigns to protect the rights of small food producers such as fishers and farmers, and to preserve fishing grounds and cultural lands of indigenous communities.

Narayan is the co-founder of Solid Waste and Collection Handling, a cooperative of waste-pickers in Pune, India, who collect waste throughout the city and separate it into categories for proper disposal.

Both women represent groups from Asian countries that are dealing with the effects of plastic pollution — particularly plastic that is produced and distributed by US companies.

“I’m hoping this tour will change American people’s views of how they live every day, and how it impacts poor countries like us,” Dominguez says. “If America gets a cold, the Philippines gets the flu. We’re very dependent on the US, so whatever happens here affects us too.”

The Philippines is the third largest ocean plastic polluter in the world — it also has the most persistent poverty rate in Southeast Asia. In 2017, the US was the third largest plastic exporter in the world, exporting $6.8 billion worth of plastic items.

Single-use plastic products, such as straws and other utensils — and products packaged in plastic, including toiletries and food — are produced by transnational companies and marketed to people in places like the Philippines at low costs. The plastic waste from these products ends up in landfills or marine areas like Manila Bay.

Plastic manufacturers are not responsible for the disposal of their products, so the burden is placed on people in the Philippines, who do not have the resources to properly dispose of all the waste, Dominguez says.

“People have realized there’s no easy, technological solution to the problem of ocean plastic waste, and the only way to stop ocean plastic is to stop plastic,” says Jennifer Krill. Krill is the executive director of Earthworks, an environmental and social justice organization dedicated to protecting communities and the environment from the impacts of mining and energy extraction.

“If we were to somehow recover all that waste from the ocean, we would still have to put it in a landfill or in an incinerator, and there would be significant environmental impacts from those solutions. The better solution would be to not make so much of it to begin with.”

That’s why Dominguez and Narayan traveled to the US, where the women visited communities affected by fracking. In the US, a fracking boom is helping fuel plastic production worldwide by providing a necessary building block of plastic: ethane. Dominguez and Narayan visited communities experiencing the impacts of fracking in Texas, Louisiana, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. They also visited Washington DC

In Texas, for example, a major fracking boom is underway. A new report by IHS Markit shows the Permian Basin in West Texas is expecting a surge in oil production — more than double by 2023 — in large part because of fracking, which has made trapped oil and gas accessible.

Fracking involves pumping water, sand, and chemicals underground to release gas and oil from rock. The shale formations used for extracting oil and gas in the US are high in ethane, which is wasted in the extraction process unless the industry has a way to bring it to market.

“Currently what we’re seeing is a major build-out of new petrochemical manufacturing in order for the industry to recover that waste ethane and convert it into plastic, most of which is also going to become waste, but along the way they’ll make a lot of money manufacturing it into plastic,” Krill says.

In 2017, the US consumed around 1.2 million barrels of ethane per day, and exported around 180,000 barrels per day to countries overseas.

Earthworks — one of the organizations that organized the tour — has recently introduced a Community Empowerment Project to provide communities near oil and gas facilities with data on methane and ethane pollution from nearby oil and gas extraction sites by using an optical gas imaging camera that makes invisible ethane — and methane — pollution from these sites visible.

Not only does methane and ethane pollution contribute to climate change, but it also causes health issues for people who live near oil and gas facilities — in the US, that’s more than 17 million people.

Residents who live near these facilities have reported experiencing respiratory problems such as asthma and coughing, eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, dizziness, trouble sleeping, and fatigue.

The organization has been taking the camera to oil and gas wells, pipelines, and compressor stations to show government regulators and companies that the methane and ethane pollution problem is real. Gas imaging videos are available on Earthworks’ YouTube channel for citizens to use as evidence when urging regulators in their states to require operators clean up the gas waste.

“It hasn’t stopped pollution — it hasn’t been as effective as we’d like it to be yet,” Krill says about the project. But she hopes it will be. “The industry likes to say ‘There’s no pollution, we’re very clean,’ and with this video evidence it’s hard to deny that there’s a serious problem with oil and gas extraction.”

On a global scale, the #Breakfreefromplastic movement, made up of 1,000 organizations worldwide, has been focused on creating “zero-waste cities” in Malaysia, India, and the Philippines — teaching communities about separating organic from inorganic waste, composting, and recycling.

Narayan, who represents the waste-pickers who collect and separate waste in Pune, India, says the process of recycling plastics into reusable materials is so expensive that the waste is often not recyclable at all.

#Breakfreefromplastic also focuses on making the public aware of their consumption habits in hopes of reducing the use of one-use plastic products, and pushing for “corporate accountability,” says Jed Alegado, the Asia Pacific communications officer for #Breakfreefromplastic.

“Corporations that have the money to come up with these products should invest in more sustainable and ecological distribution systems for their products,” Alegado says. “They shouldn’t pass the burden to consumers and governments for the plastic waste they are creating.”

Growing up in the Philippines, Dominguez recalls using coconut shells as plates, and eating food with her bare hands — before large companies had convinced the world that plastic products are a necessity, she says.

Dominguez is optimistic that change can occur by educating and inspiring people to reduce their use of plastic products and become vocal about how the government handles waste.

“If we are going to stop plastic we need to stop plastic where it starts,” Krill says. “We can’t let greed get in the way of common sense and sustainability.”

The post Women in Asia Are Confronting Fracking in the US to Eliminate Plastic Byproducts appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Nigel Farage leads critics condemning huge 'Trump baby' blimp that will soar over London while the President visits UK

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Sat, 07/07/2018 - 13:45

'The biggest insult to a sitting US president ever': Nigel Farage leads critics condemning huge 'Trump baby' blimp that will soar over London while the President visits UK | 06 July 2018 | Nigel Farage has claimed anti-Trump protestors' plans to fly a blimp portraying Donald Trump as a big baby is the 'biggest insult to a sitting US president ever'. Mr Farage aimed his criticism at London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who granted permission for the 20ft inflatable to fly above Parliament Square Gardens on July 13. The former UKIP leader weighed in on the debate on Thursday, saying allowing the blimp to fly during Trump's visit was 'a step too far' and 'ridiculous'.

Categories: News

Black Athletes Have Been Involved in the Political Struggle From the Beginning

Truth Out - Sat, 07/07/2018 - 13:39
Janine Jackson interviewed Howard Bryant about African-American athletes and activism for the June 15, 2018, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

Janine Jackson: When Colin Kaepernick wanted to join thousands of other Americans in expressing his outrage and sorrow at the killing of black people by police, the San Francisco 49er spoke with — among others — Nate Boyer, another football player for the Seattle Seahawks, who was a Green Beret. Boyer suggested that rather than sit out the national anthem, Kaepernick take a knee — the way, he said, soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave, as a way to express dissent without disrespect for the military or veterans.

That critics, including in the press, would describe Kaepernick’s gesture as a refusal to stand, an insolent refusal to act rather than an action consciously chosen, is telling; much as many people still believe Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus because her feet were tired. Like Parks, Kaepernick is in fact engaged in thoughtful, political action — in his case, the particular expression of political action that African-American athletes have engaged for decades, known informally as “the Heritage.”

That history and its meaning in the present moment is the subject of a new book, The Heritage: Black Athletes, a Divided America and the Politics of Patriotism, out now from Beacon Press. Our next guest is its author. Howard Bryant is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine, and sports correspondent for NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday. He’s also author of, among other titles, Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston and The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron. He joins us now by phone from Massachusetts. Welcome to CounterSpin, Howard Bryant.

Howard Bryant: Thank you, Janine. How are you?

I’m well, thanks. Well, I appreciate the way that the book enmeshes sports history in social history: Three days after Michael Jordan’s NBA debut in 1984 was the day the NYPD killed Eleanor Bumpurs, a 66-year-old black woman with mental illness, for instance. Generally, the media separate sports, literally and figuratively, from everything else that’s happening. It’s an escape, it’s a different world, and — key to the story you tell — sports, Americans tell themselves, is a meritocracy: We may have racial injustice in society, but by golly, on the field all that matters is, Can you run, or throw, or hit?

This idea that the job of the black athlete is, in some ways, to advertise US equality, that’s there from the beginning of the history of the Heritage, isn’t it?

It sure has been. And I think one of the things that’s been really interesting in trying to figure out how to tell this type of story — because there’s so much to it — is, where do you start and how do you put this together? And for me, the genesis of this had been this revival of this Heritage. If you’re of a certain age, you remember Muhammad Ali, and you remember the memories, of course, of Jackie Robinson, and you remember Bill Russell and all of these athletes, John Carlos, Tommie Smith, in the ’68 Olympics; you remember these players being very prominent, and you remember them being advocates for African-Americans.

If you’re of a different generation, if you were, say, born in the ’80s or even the ’90s, this revival — the appearance of athletes taking a political stance, being involved in their community, being involved in social issues on a national level — is completely foreign, because you grew up with the Michael Jordans and Tiger Woods being the model. So for me, what I thought was interesting and important was to remind people that the black athlete has been involved in the political struggle from the beginning, and that these players have had a very special place in American history.

The argument that I make in the book is that the black athlete is the most important and most influential and most visible black employee in the 20th century, because they’re the ones who were allowed to integrate the society, whether it was the military, whether it was education, whether it was swimming pools, it was the ball players who came first. And because of that, they’ve had a responsibility to stand up and to advocate. So we recognize it when they’re not there, and we remember them when they are.

And with that comes this bind, this visibility as a real representation of integration, and yet still being a black American. And in terms of the history and the beginning, I think a lot of folks would be very, very surprised to hear that it starts with Paul Robeson.

Absolutely, it starts with Paul Robeson, and of course people don’t realize that he played in the National Football League. He played football before he was the great baritone, before he was the great singer and the great actor and the great activist. And one of the only reasons that he left professional football was because the National Football League was integrated, and then it chose segregation until 1946.

So when he played in 1921 and 1922, football was integrated, and then by 1923, no blacks were allowed to play in the NFL for another quarter century.

It wasn’t just Robeson to me that I gravitated toward when tracing this Heritage, it was also the fact that the African-American athletes’ political roots did not start with black issues. It started with Jewish issues. It started with World War II. It started with American athletes being asked to defend America against Nazism, and Jewish athletes asking for solidarity against the Berlin Olympics in 1936, and also, of course, asking Jackie Robinson to denounce Paul Robeson in 1949, in support of America during the Cold War.

So it wasn’t until much later, it wasn’t until you had Robinson in that testimony, receiving all of the attention for his denouncing Paul Robeson, but also inside of that testimony, he talked about inequality and police brutality and mistreatment of African-Americans and fairness, and all of these things that would become the foundations of this Heritage. It started with Robinson, but not along racial lines to begin with; it started with defending America.

I find Robinson’s HUAC testimony to be maybe the most moving part of the book, and such a clear — first of all, a thing that’s so misremembered.

Completely. We chose to emphasize the parts that made America feel good. Which was, “See, Jackie Robinson is a real American, because he denounced Paul Robeson, the bad Negro Communist.” I don’t even think we misremembered everything; we just chose to ignore it. And when I started to read that testimony, when I was doing the research, I was wondering, “Did I know this?” I think I kind of knew this, but maybe I really didn’t, either.

Right.

And that’s what we do. We decide to omit. One of the great favorite colleagues and the great writer David Maraniss once said to me that, “History writes people out of the story, and it’s our job to write them back in,” and I think that Robinson testimony is something that needed to be written back in.

Absolutely.

Well, history’s moving along, and owners and teams are aware that integration is happening, but I like how you note that this idea that became popular, and still holds sway, that, “Oh, they’re only looking for the best players,” that that was fiction, always. And there’s this note that Earl Wilson, when Earl Wilson was signed to the Boston Red Sox, the scouting report described him as a “well-mannered colored boy, not too black, pleasant to talk to.”

So you have this story of integration. But then, black athletes are making money — and some of them are making a tremendous amount of money — and so that gives them a bigger megaphone, and at the same time, more calls not to use it.

For caution, absolutely, and I think that’s this tension that the black athlete has that even other black entertainers don’t have. Why are we now talking about Oprah Winfrey as a potential presidential candidate? Because she has money. We talk about Mark Cuban as a presidential candidate or Donald Trump as president or Michael Bloomberg as the mayor of New York, because they were all rich. When it comes to the black athlete, though, what we want from them in exchange for the money is silence.

We don’t want to hear from them. We want them to be quiet. We want them to shut up and play, or shut up and dribble, and this is the one area where money is not affording you a bigger voice. And that goes back to this very interesting relationship that we tend to have with our sports figures. That there’s an ownership to them, that they don’t necessarily get to be citizens. Their job is to entertain us.

And I think that’s one of the areas where this Heritage has become so polarizing in a lot of ways, is this feeling of ownership is now colliding with the fact that you have this new generation of black athletes — post–Trayvon Martin, post-Ferguson, post–Eric Garner and Sandra Bland — who are now citizens, especially thanks to the prevalence of social media. They’re watching these viral videos, just like the rest of us are, on YouTube, and they’re looking at this dashcam footage.

And one of the things that one of the players, Tavon Austin, had said, who played for the St. Louis Rams, when he came out in 2014 with the “hands up don’t shoot gesture” before a game, was:

It’s hard for me to go back to my community knowing that this is going on, knowing that I’ve got a platform, and all my friends and family are looking at me, going, “People listen to you and you’re not saying anything.”

That’s the Heritage.

One of the things that happens in between the ’60s, obviously and the present moment, a big thing that happens is September 11, 2001.

Absolutely. 9/11 is the key to me, and once again, we talk about generations. If you are of a certain generation, if you’re from my generation (I was born in 1968), if you are of my generation, you were shaped by the Cold War. The Olympics were charged, obviously, because of the United States and the USSR. Everything was Cold War–based, whether it was an arms race, whether it was sports, no matter what it was, you were shaped along the framework of the United States and the Russians.

If you were born in 1985 or 1990, you were 10 or 11 years old, or 15–16 years old, on September 11. So therefore, the packaging of sports, this is what you know, this is all you know. If you’re my son, who was born in 2004, this is how he sees the society being sold, packaged through flags and flyovers and soldiers and nationalism and support of the troops, and the conflation of police with military.

And so now when you watch a sporting event, on the one hand, you see flags and you see police singing the national anthem, and you see camera shots of all of this law enforcement, and you have dozens of law enforcement appreciation nights at the ballpark. And at the same time, you have LeBron James talkingabout police brutality, and Carmelo Anthony walking arm-in-arm with his fellow Baltimore natives after Freddie Gray was killed. And so you’ve got this collision between post-9/11 packaging and selling of sports at the ballpark, and the post-Ferguson black athlete, and that’s really at its core what this book is about.

And when we talk about selling, as you make clear in the book, immediately post–September 11, a lot of it really was selling, it really was the Defense Department using these sporting events to recruit.

Absolutely. One hundred percent. I had a conversation with a three-star general, Russel Honoré, who was tremendous in trying to get the clean-up and the restoration after Hurricane Katrina back on track after all of that disaster.

And the general and I had a very long conversation about this, about the Pentagon using sports as a recruiting tool, and the sports leagues themselves charging the National Guards and the Department of Defense to put on these inauthentic displays of patriotism — whether it was the surprise homecomings or the flags or the singing of “God Bless America” — that all of these different acts were being charged as services by the sports teams to the National Guards across the country, and they didn’t tell anybody. It was a deception. It wasn’t until John McCain and Jeff Flake, the two Arizona Republican senators, came out with their report talking about how inauthentic and what a deception this was, that taxpayer dollars were being used for these sort of phony displays.

And I asked the general, and I said, “Well, you know, maybe I just want my 12-year-old to be a kid. Maybe when he goes to a Red Sox game, I just want him to enjoy the game and that’s it. I don’t want him to be surreptitiously recruited by the Army.”

General Honoré said, “Well, that’s too bad. I tell the parents, hold on to those little SOBs as long as you can, because we need them to man the force. And maybe there’s going to be some kid who goes to a Dallas Cowboys game and looks up and sees an F-14 flying over before the game, that’s going to motivate him to join the service.” That’s where we are right now.

And so one of the interesting reactions that I’ve gotten from this has been twofold. One is, “Well, yeah, the Army should do this, this is what we need to do, this is where we are.” Another response has been, “Well, OK, paid patriotism is a deception. There’s no question about that, that it’s not organic. We know that, that these teams are taking money, but it’s a harmless deception, because it’s for the right reasons.” And I find that to be so incongruous; if it’s for the right reasons, if it’s supposed to be noble, then why are we deceiving the public? It’s a really interesting place we’re in right now.

And who is getting to decide that that is the right reason?

And who gets to decide, and that’s the other thing I very much enjoyed in the book, especially in the middle chapters. The original title of this book was War Games, it was not The Heritage; it was War Games. I think the subtitle was The Players, The Flag and Protest in a Militarized America. That was the original title, but as we started to go back, I began to realize, I didn’t want to assume how much of this Heritage people knew. I realized that I had to keep it to the ballplayers, and I put the war games section of the book in the middle.

And one of the things that I really enjoyed about this section was talking to veterans and hearing veterans say, “We don’t want to be treated as props.” And chapter 7 of the book is titled “Props,” where veterans talk about not wanting to be used by these sports teams to sell camo jerseys and to sell their sports teams and to make billionaires even richer. The players themselves, some of them have issues with it, but the veterans are the ones who to me are really the conscience of those sections, because they know better. They don’t want to be used by these billion-dollar sports teams to sell a product.

Well, yes, this is social history. I hope folks won’t pick it up looking for play-by-plays.

There’s no play-by-play in this book.

But then, as you’ve said, there is this conflation that happens, of the military with the police, and that brings us to today. But then this funny idea that folks like Kaepernick, that folks who take a knee, that when LeBron wears an “I Can’t Breathe” shirt, that that is introducing politics into sports.

That’s right. And that is a very interesting dance that people have negotiated with themselves. That when you see Colin Kaepernick…. In fact, ESPN hired a focus group with the Republican pollster Frank Luntz, and Luntz went and asked these people in this focus group, because the ratings went down dramatically when there were images of Colin Kaepernick on the field, and he would ask them why was the reaction to Kaepernick so visceral and so strong, and their reaction was, “Well, we don’t want politics in our sports.”

And then Luntz said to the focus group, “Well, that’s a little disingenuous, isn’t it? Because the ratings went very high when we showed you flags and we showed you soldiers and you saw jets and things at the ballpark.” And the reaction from the focus group was, “Well, that’s not politics; that’s patriotism.” So the sports fan has made a negotiation; they’ve actually partitioned politics from patriotism, and they believe this, even though I don’t think there’s anything more political than a country’s flag.

I guess as a critic I do lay some of this at media’s feet. I always remember a quote from USA Today, which I wish I had in front of me, but it was about people demonstrating about trade agreements. And they said that these agreements, although they haven’t interested “the public,” they’ve galvanized “activists” around the world. And I loved that sort of linguistic sleight-of-hand that, as the public, fine, you can have an opinion, but once you get together with others, once you go out into the street, once you demonstrate an opinion, well, you’re an activist.

You’re still a citizen. You’re still the public. It’s the same thing.

I want to highlight how many stories in the book are not Colin Kaepernick. There’s Toni Smith-Thompson, the college basketball player who turned her back on the anthem in 2002; there’s the Detroit Piston, whose name is escaping me, who went on a hunger strike in ‘93.

Olden Polynice.

Olden Polynice, exactly. But in a way, The Heritage is about, the bigger the spotlight, in a way, on the athlete, and what do they do with it? So now we’re in 2018. The NFL’s response to Kaep versus Trump is to say, you have to stand for the anthem or stay in the locker room or otherwise you’re fined, and the Eagles are disinvited to the White House, where they weren’t going anyway. It’s not that we haven’t come forward, or that things haven’t changed, but so much of the push and pull feels very familiar.

It does. I think the tension in the book, to me, has always been “black body over black brain.” This tension in and of itself is, in a lot of ways, the book. Because the reason why we still look to these athletes is because the black brain is not being respected and being exploited and being encouraged nearly as much as the black body. We still look to these athletes and we still look to these entertainers and we still look to these singers and everyone, even at a time when this entire notion of a Heritage, and this entire notion of athletics, was supposed to open the door to education, and to open the door to these other pursuits.

So you didn’t have to look at a Jackie Robinson as your leader. You could look at a doctor, a lawyer, a senator, the same way you do with other races. At a time when you’re looking at these athletes, who are making incredible amounts of money, more than they ever have, but at the same time, they’re coming out of college less and less and less educated. So that tension leaves you with the players still; we still look to LeBron James to be the peacemaker, and we look to Dwyane Wade, and we look to these players to, now, because they’re so tied with these mega-corporations, we look to them to sort of be the bridge between black and white, which is very different than the Muhammad Ali days, where they were straight advocates for African-Americans.

So at the same time when you have “shut up and dribble,” you have player prominence becoming greater and greater and greater, and you just wonder if that time is going to come when the player recedes and then the intellectual, the black intellectual, can take over, where I think they always should have been in the first place.

Let me ask you what kind of reaction you’re getting. I think you’re pretty early in taking this book around, but what kind of reaction do you expect to get, and what sorts of conversations are you looking to spur here?

The reaction that I get has been very similar to the reactions that I always tend to get when I do these projects. One is there’s the immediate shouting: “Oh, well, you’re attacking the police,” and “Oh, this is going to be controversial,” and “Oh, you’re never going to work again, and no one’s going to take an interest in this.” That’s always the initial reaction.

And then the book comes out and then people start reading, and then we start discussing. We start discussing how we feel about patriotism. We start discussing the president essentially trying to deny citizenship of Americans for protesting. We discuss how we feel about our civil liberties being attacked, or essentially turning sporting events into nationalistic pep rallies.

And now all of a sudden, you get a different response, and that response is, you’ve got good-thinking citizens of all stripes, and they’re saying, “It’s about time. It’s about time we actually talk about this.” And so that’s always been the rewarding thing, and I think to me, the conversations that I always try to spur when I do any project, is to think about who we are and to think about where we are in this country, and to always consider the accountability factor of the people who are pulling the strings here. The power of the corporation, whether it’s a sports league or whether it’s the military and the Department of Defense, that the power that these institutions have, is steering us in ways, and we’re not even paying attention.

The one thing, Janine, that I’ve been fascinated and somewhat disappointed about, but also encouraged, because maybe we can think about these things more, is the number of people, almost 20 years post-9/11, who devour sports and see the flag at the 50-yard line, and they see the Law Enforcement Appreciation Days, and they know the paid patriotism story, that this was a deception. But then when it all gets put together, they say, “I never thought of it that way.” So hopefully, we’ll do a little bit more thinking, and we’ll see what some of these institutions are doing to us, and how they’re trying to manipulate us.

We’ve been speaking with Howard Bryant. The new book is The Heritage: Black Athletes, a Divided America and the Politics of Patriotism. It’s out now from Beacon Press. Howard Bryant, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

Oh, my pleasure. Thank you.

The post Black Athletes Have Been Involved in the Political Struggle From the Beginning appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Two Weeks After “Ending” Family Separation, Parents Still Can’t Contact Their Children

Truth Out - Sat, 07/07/2018 - 13:39

Los Fresnos, Texas — Calling from an unreliable phone at the Port Isabel Detention Center, her voice sounds muffled, and far away. To be understood, she needs to keep repeating herself. For her to hear the person calling, they need to yell.

Blanca wishes more than anything else that it was her two daughters, ages 6 and 14, on the other end of the line. But she hasn’t spoken to them since they were separated at the border, after a long journey from Honduras. It’s been almost three weeks.

To arrange calls at the facility run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, parents need to fill out a request form. Blanca says she has submitted five.

“This is maddening,” she said. “The officials, they don’t say anything.”

As President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, which separated more than 2,500 children from their parents at the border in May and June, stretches into its third month, the administration has to contend with some impending deadlines, set by a judge last week after the American Civil Liberties Union sued. By July 10, children under 5 must be reunited with their parents. By July 26, all families must be together. By Friday, officials must arrange phone calls between all parents and children.

But a week after Department of Homeland Security officials called their process to reunify families “well-coordinated,” many parents at Port Isabel — the primary facility housing separated parents — don’t know where their children are and some still haven’t been able to reach their kids, according to three detainees interviewed by ProPublica, along with two family members of parents inside and five lawyers granted broader access to the facility, who say they have interviewed more than 200 separated parents and guardians. ProPublica is not including the detainees’ last names at their request; their immigration cases are still pending.

“I just want to tell my son I love him,” sobbed Arely, a mother from El Salvador, during a phone call with a reporter. She, too, had been in detention almost three weeks without a call.

ICE did not immediately respond to questions posed Friday about parents not being able to speak with their children, and being in the dark about their whereabouts. It did not respond to additional questions posed Sunday about how many separated parents are being held at Port Isabel, how many have been able to speak with their kids, and whether any have been released on bond.

The parents wait in a detention center where the telephones barely work, there’s no internet, and officers shut off the TV news when the topic turns to immigration, the detainees said. Phone conversations are guarded — detainees know calls are recorded. Rumors are what’s left. There was one about detention officers urging people to sign deportation papers as the quickest way to see their kids again. It’s made detainees wary about signing any piece of paper, even when it comes from lawyers offering to help connect them with their kids, said Sophia Gregg, an immigration lawyer at Legal Aid Justice.

When she and a group of lawyers came from Washington, D.C., to conduct outreach interviews with the parents two weeks ago, many parents overcame their distrust enough to pass them letters, in hopes that the lawyers would find their children and deliver the messages. ProPublica reviewed a portion of the letters.

In one, a father tries to reassure his daughter. Don’t worry, because I am with you. I want to ask you to eat well, and if you eat well, then I will be happy.

In another, a mother apologizes to her daughter, for putting you in this situation that is so difficult … I just pray to God that you are well, because I am suffering a lot for you. I want this nightmare to end already, my love.

No one outside DHS knows for sure how many separated parents are inside Port Isabel. Unlike some other immigrant detention facilities, this one does not make detainee information public, so the lawyers say it has taken extra work to reach parents. The lawyers who visited two weeks ago started with a small list of parents whose names they knew. Word of mouth within the dorms brought out more who previously had no contact with lawyers and no family members on the outside to help them.

The lawyers say they now have a list of more than 200 separated parents from Port Isabel. They hope a new database launched by the Vera Institute and New America will help reconnect the families.

When the lawyers first began reaching out to parents about three weeks ago, some told them they had been kept apart from their kids for days, others for close to a month. “ICE never came and talked to them and even asked if they were separated from their child,” said Jodi Goodwin, a local immigration lawyer. “Literally, there was zero communication at all.”

In conversations with the lawyers, parents weighed the decisions they’d have to make: Continue an asylum claim or choose deportation, hoping the US government would stand by its word to reunite them with their children? If they lost their asylum claims, would they ask their children to give up theirs, too, or try to place them with family members in the US? Some worried that their children were too young or did not know enough to accurately describe the danger in their home countries, especially after their parents had done their best to shield them from it. Such details are crucial to winning asylum cases.

Natasha Quiroga, an education civil rights lawyer who flew in from Washington to volunteer, said the stories flowed together: The mom concerned about her 7-year-old who is deaf and mute; the dad who had just signed his deportation orders, hoping it meant he would be reunified with his 4-year-old; the father who had no idea where his daughter was, and wanted to write a letter to her, but did not know how to write. Quiroga wrote the letter for him, transcribing as he repeated the same sentence over and over, telling her how much he loves her and how much he hopes to see her soon.

Such opportunities for contact with outsiders are rare at Port Isabel. The facility is tucked away down remote rural roads on Texas’ southeastern tip, making it difficult for lawyers to maintain a consistent presence.

Trying to coordinate speaking with a detainee from outside is also difficult. ProPublica was able to arrange calls with three detained parents with the help of lawyers and a family member who contacted ProPublica about a relative’s case. People on the outside can call and leave messages asking a detainee to call them back, but cannot call a detainee directly. So parents call outsiders back at unexpected times. You must be available to pick up and sometimes have your credit card handy to pay for the call, or else lose the chance. Once on the line, their phones sometimes break up and lose service unexpectedly.

For those inside Port Isabel, access to information is limited, detainees said. After their plight became national news, detainees say televisions began to show only telenovelas and English programming. Parents said they weren’t aware of the court order on reunification until they heard from lawyers. Jenn Elzea, a spokesperson for ICE, said that only some televisions in the facility are controlled by detention staff. “They do have access, in theory, to television throughout the facility,” she said. ICE Detention standard guidelines say, “All television viewing schedules shall be subject to the facility administrator’s approval.”

Goodwin, one of the lawyers, said ICE confiscated letters addressed to detainees by reporters, and pulled three intended recipients out of their dorms to ask, “Why does this person have your name? Where did they get your information?”

ICE did not immediately respond to questions about this posed on Sunday.

Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada toured the facility last week and offered their assessments. “It’s clear … They’re not running a reunification process here,” Warren said. In response, ICE promised to set up phone calls for every separated parent to speak to their children, lawyers said. ICE has also clarified that physical reunifications will not be taking place at Port Isabel, a detention center where children are not allowed to be held. “We are reuniting people via communication,” said Elzea.

And so, this past week, a trickle of officially coordinated phone calls slowly began. Parents were called one by one to small visitation rooms to hear their children’s voices for a few minutes.

“An officer would dial the number, make sure the Office of Refugee Resettlement employee was on the other line, and bring the parent to take the call,” said Ruby Powers, an immigration attorney based out of Houston who volunteered at Port Isabel this week. “You could just see tears of joy,” she said. “You can tell from a parent who has talked to a child and one who hasn’t … The parent who has, has a lot more peace.”

Some parents were so overcome with emotion during the brief calls, it didn’t cross their minds to ask their children where exactly they were, Quiroga said. Before they knew it, time was up.

Some calls were difficult for other reasons.

One mother told Goodwin her 6-year-old didn’t want to talk to her on the phone “porque me abandonaste, mamá” — because you abandoned me, mommy.

And Daisy, a 21-year-old separated from her 12-year-old brother, hung up feeling unsettled after a vague conversation, she told ProPublica. Normally hyperactive, he answered her in monosyllables.

“How are you?” Daisy asked. Good, he said.

“How’s it going?” Fine.

“Are you eating well?” Yes.

“Are you having any fun there?” Yeah.

She said she brought her brother to the US border from Honduras after their mother died. Their father was violent, she said, and she felt she was the only person looking out for him. Lawyers said they are worried the two may face even more roadblocks in trying to reunite, as Daisy is a sibling, not a mother.

“When I spoke with him, it’s not like when you have them near — I don’t know the truth,” Daisy said. “He says he is fine, but I won’t really know until I see him. Then I’ll know that he is well.”

Even when family members do connect, it’s far from clear what happens next in the hastily created reunification process.

The Department of Homeland Security appears to present deportation as the only path to reunification. The department’s zero tolerance fact sheet says “a parent who is ordered removed from the US may request that his or her minor child accompany them,” but says nothing about reunifying families during the immigration process and beyond. (Reporters have also documented cases of parents who were deported without their children, before the fact sheet was released.)

For those who hold out hope that they will be able to receive asylum protection in the US, this weekend brought a glimpse of what reunification might look like when a mother was releasedSaturday from a detention center in Arizona, after she passed the first step of her asylum claim.

Supporters helped her pay a $7,500 bond with a crowdfunding campaign and drove her to New York, where her three children — 6, 9, and 11 — had been placed in foster homes. She’ll be able to visit them as much as she wants from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but she can’t take custody of them while her asylum case is pending, The New York Times reported. A relative in North Carolina has applied to sponsor the children, but the mother probably won’t be able to live with them, because every adult in a sponsor’s home must be legally vetted.

At Port Isabel, lawyers say they know of no parents who have been released on bond into the US.

So Blanca waits, straining to hear what she can on her unreliable lifeline to the outside world. She said her sister-in-law told her that her daughters are now in a New York foster home. But a social worker told her sister-in-law the location is undisclosed, to protect the caregiver’s privacy.

Jess Ramirez contributed to this report.

The post Two Weeks After “Ending” Family Separation, Parents Still Can’t Contact Their Children appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

What Can We Expect From Trump on Morocco’s Occupation of Western Sahara?

Truth Out - Sat, 07/07/2018 - 13:36

President Trump appears to be looking the other way from Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara in the pursuit of World Cup politics.

The Associated Press recently reported that, “The 2026 World Cup contest has been engulfed in intrigue bout whether Donald Trump’s rhetoric on immigration and foreign policy will cost North America votes. What’s barely talked about is the impact of a territorial conflict that is impeding Morocco’s bid.”

More plainly, this “territorial conflict” is barely being talked about, period.

President Obama, and now, a depleted US media, have essentially ignored Western Sahara’s brutal occupation by the Moroccan monarchy. Trump, however, could have a more moderate stance in this part of the world. But the administration’s domestic and foreign policies continue to appease a Republican Party and conservative base pushing a nativist and a “fly-by-night” policy orientation.

In this interview, Stephen Zunes, a professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, breaks down the Moroccan occupation and the prospects for moderation in this ongoing flashpoint.

Daniel Falcone: Can you provide a brief history of the Western Sahara?

Stephen Zunes: Western Sahara is a sparsely populated territory about the size of Colorado, located on the Atlantic coast in northwestern Africa, just south of Morocco. Traditionally inhabited by nomadic Arab tribes — collectively known as Sahrawis and famous for their long history of resistance to outside domination — the territory was occupied by Spain from the late 1800s through the mid-1970s.

With Spain holding onto the territory well over a decade after most African countries had achieved their freedom from European colonialism, the nationalist Polisario Front launched an armed independence struggle against Spain in 1973. This — along with pressure from the United Nations — eventually forced Madrid to promise the people of what was then still known as the “Spanish Sahara” a referendum on the fate of the territory by the end of 1975.

The International Court of Justice heard irredentist claims by Morocco and Mauritania, and ruled in October of 1975 that — despite pledges of fealty to the Moroccan sultan back in the 19th century by some tribal leaders bordering the territory, and close ethnic ties between some Sahrawi and Mauritanian tribes — the right of self-determination for the Sahrawis was paramount. A special visiting mission from the United Nations engaged in an investigation of the situation in the territory that same year, and reported that the vast majority of Sahrawis supported independence under the leadership of the Polisario, not integration with Morocco or Mauritania.

With Morocco threatening war with Spain, distracted by the imminent death of longtime dictator Francisco Franco, [the Spanish government] began receiving increasing pressure from the United States, which wanted to back its Moroccan ally, King Hassan II, and did not want to see the leftist Polisario come to power. As a result, Spain reneged on its promise of self-determination, and instead agreed in November 1975 to allow for Moroccan administration of the northern two-thirds of the Western Sahara and for Mauritanian administration of the southern third.

As Moroccan forces moved into Western Sahara, nearly half of the population fled into neighboring Algeria, where they and their descendants remain in refugee camps to this day. Morocco and Mauritania rejected a series of unanimous United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for the withdrawal of foreign forces and recognition of the Sahrawis’ right of self-determination. The United States and France, meanwhile, despite voting in favor of these resolutions, blocked the United Nations from enforcing them. At the same time, the Polisario — which had been driven from the more heavily populated northern and western parts of the country — declared independence as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).

Thanks in part to the Algerians providing significant amounts of military equipment and economic support, Polisario guerrillas fought successfully against both occupying armies and defeated Mauritania by 1979, making them agree to turn their third of Western Sahara over to the Polisario. However, the Moroccans then annexed the remaining southern part of the country.

The Polisario then focused their armed struggle against Morocco, and by 1982 had liberated nearly 85 percent of their country. Over the next four years, however, the tide of the war turned in Morocco’s favor thanks to the United States and France dramatically increasing their support for the Moroccan war effort, with US forces providing important training for the Moroccan army in counter-insurgency tactics. In addition, the Americans and French helped Morocco construct a … “wall,” primarily consisting of two heavily fortified parallel sand berms, which eventually shut off more than three-quarters of Western Sahara — including virtually all of the territory’s major towns and natural resources — from the Polisario.

Meanwhile, the Moroccan government, through generous housing subsidies and other benefits, successfully encouraged thousands of Moroccan settlers — some of whom were from southern Morocco and of ethnic Sahrawi background — to immigrate to Western Sahara. By the early 1990s, these Moroccan settlers outnumbered the remaining Indigenous Sahrawis by a ratio of more than two-to-one.

While rarely able to penetrate into Moroccan-controlled territory, the Polisario continued regular assaults against Moroccan occupation forces stationed along the wall until 1991, when the United Nations ordered a cease-fire to be monitored by a … peacekeeping force known as the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara. The agreement included provisions for the return of Sahrawi refugees to Western Sahara followed by a United Nations-supervised referendum on the fate of the territory, which would allow Sahrawis native to Western Sahara to vote either for independence or for integration with Morocco.

Neither the repatriation nor the referendum took place, however, due to the Moroccan insistence on stacking the voter rolls with Moroccan settlers and other Moroccan citizens whom [the Moroccan government] claimed had tribal links to the Western Sahara.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan enlisted former US Secretary of State James Baker as his special representative to help resolve the impasse. Morocco, however, continued to ignore repeated demands from the United Nations that it cooperate with the referendum process, and French and US threats of a veto prevented the Security Council from enforcing its mandate.

How would you describe the media coverage of the occupation by the US press?

Largely non-existent. When there is coverage, the Polisario Front and the movement within the occupied territory is often referred to as “secessionist” or “separatist” — a term normally used for nationalist movements within a country’s internationally recognized borders, which Western Sahara is not. Similarly, Western Sahara is often referred to as being a “disputed” territory, as if it were a boundary issue in which both parties have legitimate claims.

This comes despite the fact [that] the United Nations still formally recognizes Western Sahara as a non-self-governing territory, making it Africa’s last colony, and the UN General Assembly refers to it as an occupied territory. In addition, the SADR has been recognized as an independent country by more than 80 governments and [the SADR] has been a full member state of the African Union since 1984.

During the Cold War, the Polisario was inaccurately referred to as “Marxist” and, more recently, there have been articles repeating absurd and often contradictory Moroccan claims of Polisario links to al-Qaeda, Iran, ISIS and other extremists. This comes despite the fact that the Sahrawis, while devout Muslims, practice a relatively liberal interpretation of the faith: Women are in prominent positions of leadership, and they have never engaged in “terrorism” — even during the armed struggle.

The mainstream media [have] always had a hard time accepting the idea that a nationalist movement opposed by the United States — particularly a Muslim and Arab struggle — can be largely democratic, secular and nonviolent.

Obama seemed to drastically ignore Morocco’s illegal occupation. Has Trump helped to intensify the humanitarian crisis in the region?

To Obama’s credit, he did back away somewhat from the openly pro-Moroccan policies of the Reagan, Clinton and Bush administrations to a more neutral stance; fought off bipartisan efforts in Congress to effectively legitimize the Moroccan occupation; and pushed Morocco to improve the human rights situation. His intervention likely saved the life of Aminatou Haidar, the Sahrawi woman who led the nonviolent self-determination struggle in the face of repeated arrests, imprisonment and torture. However, he did little to pressure the Moroccan regime to end the occupation and allow for self-determination.

Trump’s policies have been unclear. His State Department has issued some statements which appear to recognize Moroccan sovereignty, but his new National Security Adviser John Bolton — despite his extreme views on many issues — served for a time on a United Nations team focused on Western Sahara, and has a strong distaste for the Moroccans and their policies, so he may influence Trump to take a more moderate stance.

Can you talk about how the US two-party system reinforces the Moroccan monarchy and neoliberal agenda?

Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have supported Morocco, often depicted as a “moderate” Arab country (in terms of supporting US foreign policy goals and welcoming a neoliberal model of development). The Moroccan regime has been rewarded with generous foreign aid, a free trade agreement and major non-NATO ally status. Both George W. Bush as president and Hillary Clinton as secretary of state repeatedly showered praise on the autocratic Moroccan monarch Mohammed VI, not only ignoring the occupation, but largely dismissing the regime’s human rights abuses, corruption, and the gross inequality and lack of many basic services its policies have inflicted on the Moroccan people.

The Clinton Foundation welcomed the offer by Office Cherifien des Phosphates, a regime-owned mining company illegally exploiting phosphate reserves in the occupied Western Sahara, to be the primary donor to the 2015 Clinton Global Initiative conference in Marrakech. A series of resolutions and Dear Colleague letters supported by a broad bipartisan majority of Congress have endorsed Morocco’s proposal for recognition of the annexation of Western Sahara in exchange for a vague and limited “autonomy” plan.

There are a handful of members of Congress who have challenged US support for the occupation and called for genuine self-determination for Western Sahara. Ironically, they not only include prominent liberals like Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), but such conservatives as Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pennsylvania) and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma).

Do you see any political solutions or institutional measures that can be taken to improve the situation?

As happened during the 1980s in both South Africa and the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, the locus of the Western Sahara freedom struggle has shifted from the military and diplomatic initiatives of an exiled armed movement to a largely unarmed popular resistance from within.

Young activists in the occupied territory and even in Sahrawi-populated parts of southern Morocco have confronted Moroccan troops in street demonstrations and other forms of nonviolent action, despite the risk of shootings, mass arrests and torture. Sahrawis from different sectors of society have engaged in protests, strikes, cultural celebrations, and other forms of civil resistance focused on such issues as educational policy, human rights, the release of political prisoners and the right to self-determination. They also raised the cost of occupation for the Moroccan government and increased the visibility of the Sahrawi cause. Indeed, perhaps most significantly, civil resistance helped to build support for the Sahrawi movement among international NGOs, solidarity groups and even sympathetic Moroccans.

Morocco has been able to persist in flouting its international legal obligations toward Western Sahara largely because France and the United States have continued to arm Moroccan occupation forces and block the enforcement of resolutions in the UN Security Council demanding that Morocco allow for self-determination or even simply allow human rights monitoring in the occupied country.

It is unfortunate, therefore, that there has been so little attention given to US support for the Moroccan occupation, even by peace and human rights activists. In Europe, there is a small but growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign focusing on Western Sahara, but not much activity on this side of the Atlantic, despite the critical role the United States has played over the decades. Many of the same issues — such as self-determination, human rights, international law, the illegitimacy of colonizing occupied territory, justice for refugees, etc. — which are at stake in regard to the Israeli occupation also apply to the Moroccan occupation, and the Sahrawis deserve our support as much as the Palestinians. Indeed, including Morocco in BDS calls currently targeting just Israel would actually strengthen solidarity efforts with Palestine, since it would challenge the notion that Israel was being unfairly singled out.

At least as important as the ongoing nonviolent resistance by Sahrawis is the potential of nonviolent action by the citizens of France, the United States and other countries that enable Morocco to maintain its occupation. Such campaigns played a major role in forcing Australia, Great Britain and the United States to end their support for Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor, finally enabling the former Portuguese colony to become free.

The only realistic hope to end the occupation of Western Sahara, resolve the conflict and save the vitally important post-World War II principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter — which forbid any country from expanding its territory through military force — may be a similar campaign by global civil society.

The post What Can We Expect From Trump on Morocco’s Occupation of Western Sahara? appeared first on Truthout.

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