US judge orders Iran to pay billions to families of 9/11 victims

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Thu, 05/03/2018 - 04:45

US judge orders Iran to pay billions to families of 9/11 victims | 02 May 2018 | Tehran has been ordered by a US court to pay more than $6 billion to victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, despite the fact that most of the plane hijackers were Saudi nationals, and no direct link was ever found to Iran. On Tuesday, a federal judge in New York found Iran, the country's central bank, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps liable for the deaths of more than 1,000 people in the September 11 attacks. As a consequence, District Judge George Daniels ordered Iran and its entities to pay over $6 billion in compensation to the victims' families...Tehran has yet to react to the latest ruling, but has previously dismissed such accusations as ridiculous, given the fact that none of the perpetrators were Iranian citizens, and no investigation ever found direct links to Iran.

Categories: News

Detained and Then Deported: US Human Rights Lawyers Barred From Entry Into Israel

Truth Out - Thu, 05/03/2018 - 04:00

Two US human rights lawyers were detained Sunday for 14 hours at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport before being deported back to the United States. Columbia University's Katherine Franke and Center for Constitutional Rights executive director Vincent Warren were repeatedly questioned about their associations with groups critical of Israel. They were part of a delegation of American civil rights activists heading to Israel and Palestine to learn about the human rights situation and meet with local activists. They arrived back in New York City early Monday. This comes just days after Israeli soldiers shot and killed three Palestinian protesters and wounded hundreds more on Friday, when the soldiers and snipers opened fire during the Palestinians' weekly nonviolent protest near the Gaza border. On Saturday, a fourth protester died after succumbing to his wounds. The nonviolent protests demanding the right for Palestinian refugees to return to their land began on March 30. Since then, the Israeli military has killed at least 42 Palestinians, including two journalists, and injured thousands more. For more, we speak with Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Katherine Franke, professor of law, gender and sexuality studies at Columbia University.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we turn now to Israel, where two US human rights lawyers were detained Sunday for 14 hours at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport, before being deported back to the United States. Columbia University's Katherine Franke and Center for Constitutional Rights president Vince Warren were repeatedly questioned about their associations with groups critical of Israel. They were part of a delegation of American civil rights activists heading to Israel to learn about the human rights situation and meet with local activists. They arrived back in New York City early Monday.

Earlier this year, Israel published a blacklist of 20 different organizations worldwide whose members are being banned from entering the country over their groups' support for BDS, the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel over its treatment of Palestinians. Among the groups whose members are banned from entering Israel are Jewish Voice for Peace, National Students for Justice in Palestine, the American Friends Service Committee, American Muslims for Palestine, CodePink and the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, as well as Palestinian solidarity groups in France, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Britain, Chile and South Africa.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes just days after Israeli soldiers shot and killed three Palestinian protesters and wounded hundreds more on Friday, when the soldiers and snipers opened fire during the Palestinians' weekly nonviolent protest near the Gaza border. On Saturday, a fourth protester died after succumbing to his wounds. The nonviolent protest demanding the right for Palestinian refugees to return to their land began on March 30th. Since then, the Israeli military has killed at least 42 Palestinians, including two journalists, and injured thousands more. No Israeli soldiers or civilians have been injured in the nonviolent protests. Israel's bloody crackdown has sparked international condemnation.

We're joined now by the two, I guess you could say, deportees. Vince Warren and Katherine Franke are here in our New York studio. Vince Warren, who was leading the delegation, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. And Katherine Franke is a professor of law, gender and sexuality studies at Columbia University. She's faculty director of the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project and a member of the executive committee of the Center for Palestine Studies.

We welcome you both back to Democracy Now! Vince, what happened? When did you fly into Israel?

VINCENT WARREN: We flew in Saturday evening. And we had a delegation of folks that were coming with us. And having done this before, getting into Israel --

AMY GOODMAN: You did this just a few years ago?

VINCENT WARREN: We did this first in 2016, where we actually brought legal academics and other folks that were in the legal field. This delegation was actually about black and brown thought leaders and civil rights leaders in the communities, people that had worked on Dakota Access pipeline, people that had been key in Ferguson and taken that fight to Geneva, folks that have been doing work in the South. So, we flew out on Saturday evening, and we arrived in Tel Aviv on Sunday morning. And Sunday morning, that's when we found out, as we got the delegates through, that we found out that Katherine and I had been singled out to be detained.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Katherine, you were the first to be detained and questioned. Tell us what happened.

KATHERINE FRANKE: Well, the curious thing is, is that Vince and I had already been cleared through immigration, and we were waiting on the other side for the rest of the delegates to come through. And an immigration official comes out and drags the two of us back in. And at that point, I was interrogated for over an hour by the Israeli immigration officials, where they screamed at me, "You're lying! You're here to promote BDS in Palestine." And I said, "I'm not," which is -- it's kind of ludicrous. You don't promote BDS in Palestine.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain BDS, very quickly.

KATHERINE FRANKE: The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is a movement that's grown from civil society actors in Palestine to the rest of the world as a form of action to protest the human rights violations of the -- committed by the Israeli government. So BDS takes place elsewhere, not in Palestine.

But in any event, that's not what the delegation was about. We were there to witness and testify to the kinds of human rights violations we were seeing there, not to engage in any BDS-related activity.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, they actually showed you, on a cellphone, some right-wing site about you?

KATHERINE FRANKE: They did. They did. After he said, "Aren't you here to promote BDS in Palestine?" and I said, "Absolutely not," he held up his phone, where they had googled me. And there are these right-wing trolling sites that have all sorts of false things that say I'm committed to the destruction of Israel, I'm anti-Semitic, I hate Jews, I want to kill Jews. None of that is true. And he said, "See! You're lying! You're lying to me because you're here to promote BDS in Palestine!" And I said, "I'm absolutely not here to do that. We're here as tourists" -- political tourists, to be sure, but tourists. And at that point, two other guys started yelling at me that I was a liar and that they were going to deport me and ban me permanently, for life, from entering Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: So, how long were you held for?

KATHERINE FRANKE: Fourteen hours.

AMY GOODMAN: How long were you questioned?

KATHERINE FRANKE: About an hour.

AMY GOODMAN: Of that time.


AMY GOODMAN: And did they tell you then, "We are deporting you"?

KATHERINE FRANKE: He said he was deporting me. And then, later, he came back out and said, "Well, if you tell me more about your delegation and about the other people in the delegation" -- basically give them intelligence about the other people in the delegation -- "I'll think about not deporting you." And I said, "I've told you the truth about everything." And then he started in again about how I was lying.

VINCENT WARREN: And that's actually where my interrogation picked up, because after they interrogated Katherine, they pointed to Katherine and said, "Why are you traveling with someone who's the head of the BDS movement in the United States?" which is -- you know, it's ridiculous. But then they also were asking me a lot of questions about who was on the delegation, where were they going, that sort of thing. So they were really trolling for information. And part of the thing that's important is that, in these spaces, you really shouldn't and can't give information about where the delegation is going, because we want to keep those people safe, and we want them -- and as well as the people that they're visiting with. And, you know, there are 20 or 30 different organizations, both Palestinian and Israeli, that they were looking at.

They moved us to a secure detention area. We were separated. I was taken in a van to a cell, an immigration detention cell, where I was held for about four-and-a-half hours in that cell, before Katherine and I were reunited. Interestingly enough, virtually everybody in that cell other than myself was Ukrainian and Russian. And so, my Russian is not that good, so I didn't really communicate, other than in sign language, but I communicated enough to know that some of those folks had been there for three days and didn't know when they were going to be going home. And so, my takeaway from this was, this is the type of things that people trying to immigrate into a country like Israel or the United States have to deal with all the time. And as horrible as it was to be there for a number of hours and to be questioned, we have to be mindful that in the immigration fights this is happening to people all over the place. This is not a sort of a temporary transaction. This is a real incursion, I think, into liberty and dignity, just for people who want to be able to transit and to live their lives.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of your deportation, did it get any coverage in the Israeli press at all?

VINCENT WARREN: Well, we're getting inquiries now from the Israeli press, and so I think they're interested in, I guess, hearing our side of the story. I'm sure some of them already have their side of the story. But we're starting to get inquiries into that, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: And how are you -- are you planning to challenge this deportation?

VINCENT WARREN: Well, we're looking into it, because it was -- as Katherine mentioned, it was totally untrue. It was based on all of these lies and conclusions. So, we -- I think we're looking into what we can do about that.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: It also, though, Katherine, does seem to signal the increasing desperation of the Israeli government in trying to stop the BDS movement, doesn't it, to some degree?

KATHERINE FRANKE: Well, they pride themselves as being, supposedly, the only democracy in the Middle East. But they're a democracy, supposedly, that represses free speech within Israel itself, within the West Bank, and punishes civil rights defenders or human rights defenders like ourselves, by not letting us come and witness what's going on there. That, to me, doesn't sound like a democracy.

You know, the curious thing is, as we're sitting in detention, and, actually, while I was being interrogated, the president of Columbia University walked right by us. He was leaving the country while we were in the airport. He didn't know we were there, so it's not that he shunned me in any way. But Columbia University is planning on or thinking about opening up a global center in Tel Aviv -- a center that faculty and students at Columbia University cannot visit, myself most prominently now. Part of why I was in --

AMY GOODMAN: This is Lee Bollinger, walked by?


AMY GOODMAN: Were you able to say hello to him? Did you see him?

KATHERINE FRANKE: No, I didn't see him. I heard about it afterwards, when I got home, that he was traveling through the airport the same time we were there. I would like to think that Lee would have reached out, had he known I was there.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: "That's one of my employees."

KATHERINE FRANKE: Yeah. He's a -- he's a good person.

But part of what I had planned to do while I was in Israel was visit with graduate students, both in Haifa and in Ramallah, who actually can't come to Columbia right now to work with me, because they can't get -- the one in Ramallah cannot get a permit --

AMY GOODMAN: In the West Bank.

KATHERINE FRANKE:  -- from the Israelis to visit the United States. And so, I can't work with my own graduate students because of this ban and because of the enormous travel restrictions that are placed on Palestinians.

AMY GOODMAN: So, in January, Israel published a list of 20 international groups, many of them affiliated with the BDS movement, that are banned from entering the country. Israel's Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan, whose office published the list, said that the list signaled that Israel has shifted, quote, "from defense to offense." He went on to say, "Boycott organizations need to know that Israel will act against them and will not allow [them] to enter its territory in order to harm its citizens." Professor Franke, can you respond?

KATHERINE FRANKE: Well, the curious thing is, in deciding about who they ought to let in and who they shouldn't let in and what their security interests are, the security personnel of the Israeli government have assigned to private, right-wing, unreliable trolls the job of deciding who is a security risk and who isn't. That's the folks that they googled when they held up the phone to me and said, "Look, you're committed to the destruction of the state of Israel." Right? So, it's actually a kind of hack way to be doing their own security project, by allowing these websites to decide who to admit and who not to admit. But it's quite clear that they are very worried about a peaceful mode of resistance, which is the boycott movement, and they've really ratcheted up the ways in which they're excluding people from entering.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Vince, I wanted to ask you. Interestingly, those who remember the boycott and divestment movement against the South African white minority regime, even the South African government didn't go to this kind of extreme for people who were opposed to its policies.

VINCENT WARREN: No, that's definitely true. I really cut my political teeth in college, and I was one of the leaders in my college to get the school to divest from, you know, holdings in South Africa. But you're right. I mean, the political situation was a little bit different, because there was also not only a divestment movement, but there was also -- people were not traveling to the country, at least officially, to get in. I'm sure that if they had been, that the South African government might have taken this role.

But what is interesting about Israel is that it is a fluid situation. I think it has also captured the international attention the way that South Africa has. And I think the big challenge now in the information age, which we didn't have back in 1980-something, is how do we stay in touch and support the work that's happening on the ground from a place like the United States, which would include also working, in country, with students and with activists, to make sure that, if nothing else, the actual stories get out to the international community.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, we're talking about a moment now of severe crisis, not that in recent years it hasn't been, but in Gaza. Since March 30th, this massive, nonviolent, ongoing protest at the wall between Israel and Gaza, nonviolent protesters gunned down by the Israeli military, more than 40 of them at this point, two journalists, Palestinian journalists, as we described the picture of -- showing the picture of one of them with a very clear "PRESS" sign on him, these protests continuing up through May 15th, the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel, what Palestinians call the Nakba, when they were, so many, hundreds of thousands of them, were expelled. Were you planning to go to Gaza?

VINCENT WARREN: No, we were not planning to go to Gaza, and mostly because you can't get into Gaza, number one. Number two, that these -- the delegation were people that had not been to the region before, mostly, and so we were looking primarily to have them interact with folks in Israel and in the West Bank, but outside of Gaza.

But I will say that it is an absolute crisis that's going on. And even -- even in places like the West Bank and in parts of Jerusalem, which doesn't even approach the horror that's happening in Gaza, it is an extraordinary situation. This would have been my second time going. And I have to say, the first time that I went, I was expecting really bad things, but I was not prepared -- I was not prepared for the level of structural targeting and racial profiling that is happening in that region. It is mind-boggling. And that's why we were trying to bring people to the delegation, because people need to see this for themselves. They can't read about it on Facebook. They can't look at these websites that are characterizing it. They have to see for themselves.

AMY GOODMAN: And certainly, it's astounding the lack of coverage of what's happening in Gaza right now by the corporate media here in the United States.

KATHERINE FRANKE: It is astounding, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there. Vince Warren, head of the Center for Constitutional Rights; Katherine Franke, professor at Columbia University, law professor. That does it for our show. Both deported from Israel this weekend.

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Categories: News

Puerto Rico Needs Help: Unelected Fiscal Board Pushes Austerity as Island Continues Slow Recovery

Truth Out - Thu, 05/03/2018 - 04:00

It's been almost eight months since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, and at least 30,000 homes in Puerto Rico still lack power. As anti-austerity protests hit San Juan, we speak to Giovanni Roberto, director of the Center for Political Development in Puerto Rico.


AMY GOODMAN: Well, from those streets to our New York studio, we're joined by Giovanni Roberto. He's director of the Center for Political Development in Puerto Rico, an umbrella organization that sets up community kitchens after Hurricane Maria and now has 10 mutual aid centers throughout the island. He's on tour now to raise awareness and meet with members of the Puerto Rican diaspora.

Giovanni, welcome to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: It's great to have you with us.

GIOVANNI ROBERTO: Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: It must be very odd for you to be here in New York when this mass protest took place in Puerto Rico.


AMY GOODMAN: But explain what you're confronting now. I mean, we're talking Hurricane Maria more than six months ago, but you had another mass blackout in Puerto Rico just in the last weeks.

GIOVANNI ROBERTO: Yeah, exactly. And we are probably facing the new season of hurricanes, so we have an unstable situation in Puerto Rico, as you say, a lot of people still without energy and basic needs. So, from part of the mutual aid center, we are trying to get ready our centers, to be solar panels, to have water, to get ready, because what we see now is that the crisis is going to increase. What the board is doing is going to increase the crisis. And Maria gave us a glimpse of what is going to look like Puerto Rico in the next few years.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, when you mentioned what the board is doing, there's been very little attention here in the US media about the oversight control board. There was more attention to the impact of the hurricane. But the board now is facing the fact that even the governor of Puerto Rico and most of the Legislature now is in open rebellion against its demands. Could you talk about that? Because the governor, Ricky Rosselló, originally was supportive of the board coming in, but now he's saying, "You're acting illegally. I'm opposed to the pension cuts." Could you talk about that?

GIOVANNI ROBERTO: Yeah. Well, that's what he said. But, actually, what he's doing is not different from what the board is doing. Because they know that the people are in need, and the politicians need, you know, some support by the people. But when you see the actual act that they're sending to the Congress or to the local representatives, they're sending really similar kind of law. So, what we are expecting -- you know, the privatization of schools, the privatization of the energy and the cutting in labor rights -- are going to put people in more need. So that's why we are here in the United States, making people here aware of what's happening in Puerto Rico, you know, because international press disappeared now from Puerto Rico, but people are still in need a lot there.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about the -- what about the austerity measures that are being implemented? How many schools now have been closed again, after several hundred were closed previously?

GIOVANNI ROBERTO: Yeah. We have to remember that Puerto Rico has been in a recession, a crisis, since 2006. So, these austerity measures have been being implemented in Puerto Rico for the last 10 years to 12. In the last five years, more than 500 schools have been shut down. This year, they're trying to shut down 283 schools. They're saying that it's because there is a depopulation of the island, but if you shut down most of the schools, mainly elementary schools, you're pushing people out of Puerto Rico. So that's the main reason. You know, people are being pushed out of Puerto Rico because of the austerity measures. And they have already cut the pensions of teachers and other workers, public workers, in Puerto Rico. So they're pushing people to poverty.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about this latest news of a number of unions in Puerto Rico and other groups suing the federal control board over the US territory's finances? They are saying that it should be declared unconstitutional, this coming after the board approved these fiscal plans with new austerity measures that the governor has refused to implement?

GIOVANNI ROBERTO: Yeah, because the retired people have rights. You know, they worked their whole life, 30 years or plus, because they were expecting to retire and to have, you know, rights. So, they're changing that. It's a contract between workers and the government, and that contract, they cannot change it. You know, it's illegal. It's unconstitutional. And I hope the courts can attend the case.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about the resistance? Obviously, after -- especially after Hurricane Maria, there was the development of all of these grassroots efforts of people helping themselves. Could you talk your organization's work with these mutual groups at the neighborhood and local level?

GIOVANNI ROBERTO: Yeah. Even before Maria, we had Irma, too. And people know from the reaction and from what the government has abandoned the people, that there's no other way to get out of the crisis but to act ourselves.

AMY GOODMAN: Hurricane Irma devastated Puerto Rico, as well?

GIOVANNI ROBERTO: Yeah, devastated a part. It actually awake -- it awake a lot of the people. It didn't devastate the island, but we were more ready. Because of Irma, we were more ready to Maria. So, across the island, you know, thousands of people were acting by themselves, organizing community. We, in Caguas, we started a mutual aid center, and we started a discussion with other activists throughout the island that we should do organizing on a grassroots level with the mutual aid principles and philosophy of helping the people, but also ask people to help themselves. We don't want to do charity, because we know charity transmits passive attitude in people. A lot of the government, what they do is, you know, they throw food for a week, and then they disappear. We want a long-term change in Puerto Rico, so we need long-term organizations in Puerto Rico, too.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, the only blackout in world history bigger than Puerto Rico's is the one that came after Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines in 2013. About 6.1 billion hours of power were lost after that massive storm. And, Juan, you just gave a major speech on Puerto Rico and follow this very closely. We're talking about so many months, well over half a year. What do you think is most important to understand about what's happened in Puerto Rico right now and how the island is going to come out of this? We just had this hour discussion on the Bitcoin industry moving in.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I mean, to me, the key thing to understand is not only that Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States, but it is now a colony for which the United States has no interest in. It can't make money out of the colony the way it used to. I mean, it can still make finances, financial money, Wall Street money, Bitcoin money, but it's no longer the cheap labor resource it used to be. It's no longer the extractive industry that it used to be. And it's no longer the military bastion that the United States needed during the Cold War. So you have a situation where you've got this strange situation of you're holding a colony, you really don't want the colony, but you don't know what to do with it. And that's, I think, the problem that Congress is facing, and then, of course, that the Puerto Rican people have to deal with the fact that they're still a US territory, but they're not being treated anywhere near how other US citizens are. And that's the big dilemma of how to move forward. And you don't want the people of the island to determine their own destiny, but you also don't want to assume responsibility for holding it captive.

AMY GOODMAN: And I assume Trump doesn't want the massive number, the hundreds of thousands, of Puerto Ricans moving from the island, where they can't vote for president, to moving to the continental United States, where they can -- for example, in Florida -- changing the demographics of places like Florida, because they would most likely vote Democrat.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I'm interested, Giovanni, where you think things go from here, because for a while there wasn't a sign of massive resistance to what was going on. Now, with this May Day protest and others, you're beginning to see people getting their second breath and beginning to organize again. Where do you think it goes from here?

GIOVANNI ROBERTO: Yeah, I think we are going to see in the next week a couple of struggles, especially in teachers. They are going to face, and they are going to strike against, the privatization of schools. And I think that might help to increase confidence in people. You know, after the traumatic situation like the disaster after Maria, it was hard to talk to people about struggling, about striking, about protesting. But now that things have passed, and months and months after Maria we see the situation in the same level, I think more people are going to be willing to protest and to be out there striking and other things.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, talking about determining the politics of the continental United States, the conservative Republican governor of Florida, where so many hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans are going, has just said he supports making Puerto Rico the nation's 51st state. He said the United States should "respect the will of the people of Puerto Rico." It sounds like he understands they're going to be voting in the next election, where, I believe, he's running for Senate. Is that right?

GIOVANNI ROBERTO: There's a lot of politicians in the US paying attention now to Puerto Rico. I think Cuomo was in Puerto Rico within the last weekend.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I think it's his third or fourth trip that he's made there, yes.

GIOVANNI ROBERTO: Yeah. So, they're paying attention to the Puerto Ricans now. And they don't want the people to be in Puerto Rico, but they want Puerto Rico for them. They want the place, the land.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we'll continue to cover this issue, of course. Giovanni, you mentioned teachers, and we're going to move on to what's happening with teachers in Arizona right now, tens of thousands continuing to protest. Giovanni Roberto is director of the Center for Political Development in Puerto Rico, an umbrella organization that set up community kitchens after Hurricane Maria and now has 10 mutual aid centers throughout the island, on tour now to raise awareness and meet with members of the Puerto Rican diaspora. When we were just recently in Puerto Rico, one of the things we saw in the midst of the devastation is that the mutual aid groups, even -- well, much more so than FEMA, were the ones that were there for the people, that people were depending on.

GIOVANNI ROBERTO: Yeah, and depending on people's support from the States, from the diaspora, which is really important for us, people-to-people support.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Giovanni, thanks so much.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, teachers strike in Arizona. Stay with us.

Categories: News

Fox and Friends

Truth Out - Thu, 05/03/2018 - 04:00
Categories: News

Economic Adviser to the Sanders 2016 Campaign Debunks Budget Deficit Myths

Truth Out - Thu, 05/03/2018 - 04:00
Nonprofit, independent news outlets like Truthout are critical to countering the mainstream media narrative. Help get the real stories out by supporting Truthout with a tax-deductible donation.

"Left Out," a podcast produced by Paul Sliker, Dante Dallavalle and Michael Palmieri, creates in-depth conversations with the most interesting political thinkers, heterodox economists and organizers on the Left. Follow "Left Out" on Twitter: @leftoutpodcast

Stephanie Kelton is a leading American economist and a professor of public policy and Economics at Stony Brook University. Kelton was chief economist on the US Senate Budget Committee and economic adviser to the Bernie Sanders 2016 presidential campaign. She's most known for being a pioneer of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT).

In this episode, Professor Kelton debunks budget deficit and government spending myths, and explains why understanding how our monetary system works is crucial to making the political and economic case for important programs like universal health care, free public higher education, infrastructure investment, and more.

We also explore some current economic issues, including how we might be able to cancel all public and private student debt in the US, and lastly the role and challenges of women in economics.

Categories: News

UN Chief Implores Trump to Maintain "Important Diplomatic Victory" and Stay in Iran Nuclear Deal

Truth Out - Thu, 05/03/2018 - 04:00

 LW / TO)UN secretary general António Guterres speaks at the 64th executive committee meeting of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on September 30, 2013, in Geneva, Switzerland. (Photo: UNHCR Photo Unit; Edited: LW / TO)

The United Nations secretary general added his voice on Thursday to the international call urging President Donald Trump to maintain the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, days before the president is expected to announce his decision on the agreement.

"I believe the [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)] was an important diplomatic victory and I think it will be important to preserve it, but I also believe there are areas in which it will be very important to have a meaningful dialogue because I see the region in a very dangerous position," António Guterres told BBC Radio 4.

Guterres added that the risks of a confrontation between Israel and Iran are real, and said, "We need to do everything to avoid those risks."

The secretary general's statement comes after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed directly to Trump, in a televised presentation and an appearance on Fox & Friends, to pull out of the deal, in which Iran agreed to permit regular inspections of its nuclear sites in exchange for loosened sanctions.

Trump has claimed the deal is a "major embarrassment" to the US despite widespread agreement among global leaders and arms control experts that the deal offers the best chance to restrain Iran's nuclear activities and to work towards friendly international relations with the country.

International investigators have repeatedly declared that Iran has been in compliance with the agreement since it was reached three years ago and Iran has stated repeatedly -- both before the deal was signed and currently -- that it has no intentions of desire to have a nuclear weapons program.

"If one day there is a better agreement to replace it it's fine, but we should not scrap it unless we have a good alternative," Guterres said.

As Trump's May 12 deadline for deciding whether to scrap the deal approaches, his negative view of the JCPOA has left him alienated in the US as well as in the international community. A Morning Consult poll released on Wednesday found that 56 percent of respondents support staying in the deal.

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Categories: News

Rudy Giuliani Contradicts Trump and Says the President Funded the Stormy Daniels Hush Money Payment

Truth Out - Thu, 05/03/2018 - 04:00

In a stunning departure from President Donald Trump's own account, Rudy Giuliani, acting as the president's lawyer, said that Trump himself financed the $130,000 hush money payment to Stephanie Clifford (known as Stormy Daniels) to keep quiet about an alleged affair.

Trump has previously denied having any knowledge of this payment, and his lawyer Michael Cohen has said he paid the money out of his own funds. Giuliani's contradictory remarks came Wednesday night in conversation with Fox News' Sean Hannity.

The payment has been reported to be a subject of a federal investigation of Cohen. Some have argued that the payment was a campaign finance violation.

Guiliani said, "That money was not campaign money. Sorry -- I'm giving you a fact now that you don't know. It's not campaign money! No campaign finance violation."

"They funneled it through the law firm," Hannity said.

"Funnelled it through the law firm, and the president repaid it," Guiliani said.

"Oh," Hannity said. "I didn't know -- he did?"

While Fox News appeared to try to play down the information, the other news networks and news outlets immediately began reporting the revelation.

“I am stunned and speechless," Michael Avenatti, Clifford's lawyer, said to CNN reporter MJ Lee. "If this is accurate, the American people have been lied to and deceived for months. And justice must be served.”

MSNBC host and legal analyst Ari Melber tweeted: "This is big news considering Trump had claimed not to know about it, then threw Cohen under the bus about it, now his lead Russia lawyer is publicly claiming Trump was behind the Stormy payment?"

Watch the clip below:

? Giuliani says Trump repaid Cohen the $130,000 used as hush money for Stormy Daniels

— Jon Passantino (@passantino) May 3, 2018 With everything going on in the White House, the media must maintain relentless pressure on the Trump administration. Can you support Truthout in this endeavor? Click here to donate.
Categories: News

War and the Imperial Presidency: Congress Offers a Bipartisan Blank Check to Donald Trump

Truth Out - Thu, 05/03/2018 - 04:00

 The US Army)UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters fly over armored vehicles that have been loaded onto trucks for transport on February 9, 2018, at the Kuwait Naval Base. (Photo: The US Army)

It may be too late. The president of the United States is now a veritable autocrat in the realm of foreign policy. He has been since at least 1945, when the last congressionally declared war finally ended. Wars in Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen (among other places) were all waged via executive fiat or feeble, open-ended congressional authorizations for the use of military force, aka AUMFs. So it has been with increasing intensity for 73 years and so, most likely, it will remain.

Along with many others, this military officer has repeatedly decried the no-longer-new normal of congressional acquiescence to presidential power to no avail. When, in September 2017, Republican Senator Rand Paul sought to repeal (and replace within six months) the existing 2001 AUMF, which had authorized the president to use force against the perpetrators and enablers of the 9/11 attacks, he could barely muster 35 votes. Given that any president, Republican or Democrat, would veto such a curtailment of the essentially unlimited executive prerogative to make war, that's still some 32 votes short of a Senate override. In hopelessly divided Washington, that's the definition of impossibility.

Fear not, two brave "centrist" senators, Republican Bob Corker and Democrat Tim Kaine, are riding to the rescue. Their recently announced bill to repeal and replace the existing AUMF promises to right seven decades of wrong and "establish rigorous congressional oversight," "improve transparency," and ensure "regular congressional review and debate."

In reality, it would do none of those things. Though Senator Kaine gave a resounding speech in which he admitted that "for too long Congress has given presidents a blank check to wage war," his bill would not stanch that power. Were it ever to pass, it would prove to be just another blank check for the war-making acts of Donald Trump and his successors.

Though there have certainly been many critiques of their piece of legislation, most miss the larger point: the Corker-Kaine bill would put a final congressional stamp of approval on the inversion of the war-making process that, over the last three-quarters of a century, has become a de facto constitutional reality. The men who wrote the Constitution meant to make the declaration of war a supremely difficult act, since both houses of Congress needed to agree and, in case of presidential disagreement, to be able to muster a supermajority to override a veto.

The Corker-Kaine bill would institutionalize the inverse of that. It would essentially rubber stamp the president's authority, for instance, to continue the ongoing shooting wars in at least seven countries where the US is currently dropping bombs or firing off other munitions. Worse yet, it provides a mechanism for the president to declare nearly any future group an "associated force" or "successor force" linked to one of America's current foes and so ensure that Washington's nearly 17-year-old set of forever wars can go on into eternity without further congressional approval.

By transferring the invocation of war powers to the executive branch, Congress would, in fact, make it even more difficult to stop a hawkish president from deploying US soldiers ever more expansively. In other words, the onus for war would then be officially shifted from a president needing to make a case to a skeptical Congress to an unfettered executive sanctioned to wage expansive warfare as he and his advisers or "his" generals please.

How to Make War on Any Group, Any Time

Should the Corker-Kaine bill miraculously pass, it would not stop even one of the present ongoing US conflicts in the Greater Middle East or Africa. Instead, it would belatedly put a congressional stamp of approval on a worldwide counter-terror campaign which isn't working, while politely requesting that the president ask nicely before adding new enemies to a list of "associated" or "successor" forces; that is, groups that are usually Arab and nominally Muslim and essentially have little or no connection to the 9/11 attacks that produced the 2001 AUMF.

So let's take a look at just some of the forces that would be preemptively authorized to receive new American bombs and missiles, Special Operations forces raids, or whatever else the president chose under the proposed legislation, while raising a question rarely asked: Are these groups actually threats to the homeland or worthy of such American military efforts?

Al-Qaeda (AQ) proper naturally makes the list. Then, of course, there's the Afghan Taliban, which once upon a time sheltered AQ. As nearly 17 years of effort have shown, however, they are militarily unbeatable in a war in their own homeland that is never going well for Washington. In addition, there are no significant al-Qaeda forces left in Afghanistan for the Taliban to potentially shelter. AQ long ago dispersed across the region. The age of plots drawn up in the caves of the Hindu-Kush is long over. In addition, the focus of the Taliban remains (as it always was) highly local. I fought those guys for 12 months and, let me tell you, we never found any transnational fighters or al-Qaeda vets. The vast majority of the enemies Washington mislabels as "Taliban" are poor, illiterate, unemployed farm boys interested, at best, in local power struggles and drug running. They rarely know what's happening just one valley over, let alone in Milwaukee.

Then there's al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a particularly vicious AQ franchise in Yemen. These are genuine bad actors and, for a while during the Obama administration, were considered the top terror threat to the US Still, that's not who the American military actually fights in Yemen most of the time. US Air Force fuelers provide in-flight service, US analysts provide updated targeting intelligence, and US megacorporations sell guided bombs to the Saudis, who mostly bomb Shia Houthi rebels (and often civilians) unaffiliated with -- in fact, opposed to -- AQAP. Worse still, the US-backed campaign against the Houthis actually empowers AQAP by sowing chaos and creating vast ungoverned spaces for it to move into. The Houthis aren't on the Corker-Kaine list yet, but no doubt (amid increasing military tensions with Iran) Mr. Trump would have little trouble adding them as "associated forces." Are they brown? Yes. Do they worship Allah? Sure. Throw 'em on the list.

Al-Shabaab in Somalia is also included. Its nasty militiamen do make life miserable in Somalia and have occasionally called for attacks on US targets. There's no evidence, however, that US military operations there have ever stabilized the region or improved long-term security. Meanwhile, al-Shabaab tries to radicalize young Somali-American youth in immigrant communities like cities like Minneapolis. Their main gripe: the US military presence and drone strikes in East Africa. And on and on the cycle goes.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM), which operates in North Africa, is another "associated force" that's taken on the AQ moniker, though with a distinctly local flavor. AQIM operates in several countries. Does the Corker-Kaine bill then imply that the US military may conduct strikes and raids anywhere in North Africa? Odds are that it does. Again, though AQIM is violent and problematic for local African security forces, they've never successfully attacked the United States. As professor and Africa expert Nathaniel Powell has shown, more often than not US military operations in the Maghreb or the Sahel (just south of the Sahara desert) tend only to exacerbate existing conditions, motivate yet more Islamists, and tangle Washington up in what are essentially local problems and grievances.

Finally, there's al-Qaeda in Syria, as the bill labels them. This is the crew that used to be known as the al-Nusra Front. The Islamic State, or ISIS, eventually brokeoff from AQ and has even fought al-Nusra Front militants on occasion. No doubt, US interests are never served when any al-Qaeda franchise gains power and influence. Still, there's little evidence that the former al-Nusra Front, which is losing the civil war inside Syria, has either the staying power or capacity to attack the US homeland.

Add in this: the US military in Syria has rarely attacked al-Nusra, focusing instead on ISIS or occasional strikes at the regime of Syrian autocrat Bashar al-Assad. In addition, in the past, America's Saudi allies have supported and funded this and other radical Islamist groups and some US aid has even inadvertently fallen into the hands of al-Nusra Front fighters in the mess that passes for the Syrian civil war.

And don't let me get started on those "successor forces" -- think ISIS and its brands around the world -- a term so vague as to ensure that any Islamist organization or country, including Iran, could, by a stretch of the imagination, be defined as a target of the US military.

Lumping these various groups under the umbrella of "associated" or "successor" forces ignores the agency and specificity of each of them and so provides any president with a blank check to fight anyone he deems loosely Islamist the world over. And if he cares to, he can just add any new gang he chooses onto the list and dare the Senate to muster 67 votes to stop him.

Consider it a remarkable formula for forever war.

The Dangerous Evolution of Article II of the Constitution

When you get right down to it, all the debate over AUMFs is little more than a charade. It hardly matters whether Congress ever updates that post-9/11 document. When, for instance, President Trump recently sent missiles soaring against the Assad regime in response to an alleged chemical attack on a suburb of Damascus, neither he nor his advisers even bothered to suggest that the strike fell under that AUMF. Instead, they simply claimed that Trump was exercising his presidential prerogative under Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, which makes him commander-in-chief.

In such moments, right-wing presidents and their advisers have no compunctions about turning the standard liberal argument about the Constitution on its head -- that it's a "living document" subject to the exigencies of changing times. Of course, it's not exactly an obscure fact of history that the framers of that document never meant to grant the chief executive unilateral authority to start new conflicts -- and "strictly constructionist" conservatives know it. The Founders were terrified of standing armies and imperial overreach. After all, when they wrote the document they'd only recently brought their own revolt against imperial England and its vaunted army of redcoats to a successful conclusion. So, to construe the Constitution's commander-in-chief clause, which gave the president the authority to oversee the generals in an ongoing war, as letting him declare wars or even expand them qualifies as absurd. Nonetheless, that's just what recent presidents have claimed.

What they like to say is that times have changed, that warfare is now too swift for an eighteenth-century recipe involving Congress, and that, in such abbreviated circumstances, presidents need the authority to apply military force at will on a global scale. The thing is, Congress has already recognized this potential reality and codified it into law in the 1973 War Powers Act. This fairly sensible, though generally ignored, piece of legislation requires the president to notify Congress within 48 hours of a military deployment and remove the troops after 60 days unless legislation officially sanctions the escalation. Presidents tend to be meticulous about the first requirement and then -- like Congress itself -- pay no attention to the second.

Obviously, Bashar al-Assad's regime had nothing to do with 9/11 and so falls under no imaginable interpretation of that 2001 AUMF. Therefore, President Trump has on his own essentially launched a new conflict, with a new enemy, in western Syria. He's "notified" Congress of the latest missile strikes, of course, and that's that.

Salvation Will Not Come From the "Bipartisan" Center

Early indications are that the Corker-Kaine bill is unlikely to pass the Senate (no less the House) and, if it did, wouldn't have a hope in hell of outlasting a presidential veto. You know that the system is broken, possibly beyond repair, when the secretary of defense -- one "Mad Dog" Mattis -- is reportedly the only figure around Donald Trump to have argued for getting a congressional stamp of approval before launching those missiles against the Assad regime. Think of it this way: a retired general, the official top dog of destruction in this administration, was overruled by the civilian leadership in the White House when it came to an act of imperial war-making.

In other words, we're through the looking glass, folks!

As a thought experiment: What would it actually take for a supermajority of both houses of Congress to curtail a president's unilateral war-making power? Liberals might have thought that the election of a boorish, uninformed executive would embolden moderates on both sides of the aisle to reclaim some authority over the lives and deaths of America's soldiers. It didn't, nor did such passivity start with Donald Trump. Mainstream liberals certainly treated the presidency of George W. Bush as if it were the worst disaster since Richard Nixon, Watergate, and Vietnam. Even so, they never had the guts to cut off funds for the obvious, ongoing folly in Iraq. Mostly, in fact, they first voted for a resolution supporting that invasion and then heckled pointlessly from the sidelines as Bush waged a dubiously legal, unwinnable war to his heart's content.

Conservatives absolutely hated Obama. They questioned his very legitimacy and even his citizenship (as did Citizen Trump, of course) -- or at least stayed conveniently silent while the far right of the GOP caucus did so. Still, Republicans then essentially did nothing to curtail his unilateral decision to expand drone attacks to a kind of frenzy across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa and oversee a special operations bonanza. Rarely, for example, in the bazillion hearings the Republicans sponsored on the deaths of an American ambassador and others in Benghazi, Libya, did anyone call for a serious reappraisal of executive war-making authority.

Despite the paltry Corker-Kaine bill, expect no respite or salvation from Congress, which is, in truth, at the heart of the problem. To move the needle on war-making would take grassroots pressure similar to that applied by the Vietnam-era antiwar movement. But such a movement looks highly unlikely with the draft long gone, few citizens engaged in foreign policy issues, and even fewer seeming to notice that this country has now been involved in still-spreading wars for almost 17 years.

To recapture military authority from an imperial president and inject sanity into the system, "We the People" would have to break out the pink pussy caps, gather the young and their social media skills -- Parkland-style -- and bring the sort of energy now going into domestic crises to issues of war and peace. Suffice it to say, I'm not hopeful.

Whether noticed or not, whether attended to or not, there is, however, a grave question before the American people: Is the United States to remain a democracy (of sorts) within its borders, but a war-making empire beyond its shores? Certainly, it's most of the way to such a state already with its "all volunteer" imperial military and unrestrained war presidency.

Just about everything is in place for an (elected) executive emperor to move his imperial chess pieces wherever he pleases. Nothing in the Corker-Kaine cop-out of a bill can or will change that. In truth, it doesn't even pretend to.

When it comes to war, the president reigns supreme -- and so, it seems, he shall remain.

Hail, Caesar!

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Categories: News

How the Central Banks May Bring About Another Economic Implosion

Truth Out - Thu, 05/03/2018 - 04:00

"Conjured money" issued by central banks is one of the strategies at the heart of the vulnerability of the banking system and ultimately led to the US financial crisis in 2007-2008. In this excerpt of Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World, Nomi Prins explains how this method of injecting capital into the system has far-reaching consequences.

 LW / TO)(Photo: Pedrik; Edited: LW / TO)

Can the bank collapse of 2008 occur again in the near future? Nomi Prins, author of Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World, emphatically believes "yes." Get the book from Truthout. Click here.

"Conjured money" issued by central banks is one of the strategies at the heart of the vulnerability of the banking system. Nomi Prins explains in this excerpt from Collusion.

It is not the responsibility of the Federal Reserve -- nor would it be appropriate -- to protect lenders and investors from the consequences of their decisions.

— Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve chairman, 2007

The 2007-2008 US financial crisis was the consequence of a loosely regulated banking system in which power was concentrated in the hands of too limited a cast of speculators. Since the crisis, G7 central banks have pumped money into private banks through an unconventional monetary policy process called quantitative easing (QE). QE is an overtly complex term that entails a central bank manufacturing electronic money and then injecting it into banks and financial markets in return for purchasing bonds or securities (or stocks). The result of this maneuver is to lift the money supply within the financial system, reduce interest rates (or the cost of borrowing money, disproportionally in favor of the bigger banks and corporations), and boost the value of those securities. The whole codependent cycle is what I call a "conjured-​money" scheme, wherein the cost of money is rendered abnormally cheap.

Speculation raged in the wake of this abundant cheap capital much as a global casino would be abuzz if everyone gambled using someone else's money. Yet bank lending did not grow, nor did wages or prosperity, for most of the world's population. Instead, central bankers created asset bubbles through their artificial stimulation of banks and markets. When these bubbles pop, the fragile financial system and economic world underlying them could be thrown into an economic depression. That's why central banks are so desperate to collude.

Enabling certain banks to become "too big to fail" was the catastrophic mistake of the very body supposed to keep this from happening, the Federal Reserve. The Fed happens to be the arbiter of bank mergers -- and it has never seen a merger it didn't like. Legislation to deter "too big to fail" had been in existence since 1933. In the wake of the Great Crash of 1929, a popular bipartisan act called the Glass-​Steagall Act restricted banks from using federally insured customer deposits as collateral for large-​scale speculation and asset creation. Banks that were engaged in both of these types of practices, or commercial banking and investment banking, were required to pick a side. Either service deposits and loans, or create securities and merge companies and speculate. By virtue of having to choose, they became smaller. Big bank bailouts became unnecessary. But that act was repealed in 1999 under President Clinton. As a result, banks went on a buying spree. The larger ones gobbled up the smaller ones. Along the way, their size and loose regulations gave them the confidence and impetus to engage in riskier practices. Ultimately, they became so big and complex that they could create toxic assets and provide financing to their customers to buy them, all at once.

That's how the subprime mortgage problem became a decade-​long financial crisis that required multiple central banks to contain it. Big banks could buy up mortgages, turn them into more complex securities, and either sell them to global customers, including pension funds, localities, and insurance companies, or lend substantive money to investment banks and hedge funds that engaged in trading these securities. The Fed allowed all of this to happen.

Massive leveraging (or betting with huge sums of borrowed money) within the securities those big banks created and sold exacerbated the risk to which they exposed the world. Eight years after the crisis began, the Big Six US banks -- JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley -- collectively held 43 percent more deposits, 84 percent more assets, and triple the amount of cash they held before. The Fed has allowed the biggest banks on Wall Street to essentially double the risk that devastated the system in 2008.

But in the banks' moment of peril, the Fed unleashed a global policy of injecting fabricated money into the worldwide financial system. This flood of cheap money resulted in the subsequent issuance of trillions of dollars of debt, pushing the global level of debt to $325 trillion, more than three times global GDP.1 By mid-​2017, the total assets held by the G3 central banks -- the US Fed, the European Central Bank (ECB), and the Bank of Japan (BOJ) -- through conjured-​money QE programs had hit more than $13.5 trillion. The figure was equivalent to 17 percent of currency-​adjusted global GDP.

To garner support for their multi-​trillion-​dollar QE strategies, the G3 central bank leaders peddled the notion that they were helping the general economy. That couldn't have been further from the truth. There was no direct channel, no law, no requirement to divert the Fed's cheap money into helping real people. This was because borrowing and subsequent investing in the real economy required funds from private banks, and not from central banks directly. That's how the monetary system was set up. And private banks were under no obligation to do anything with this cheap money they didn't want to do.

Truthout Progressive Pick  How Central Bankers Rigged the World

Can the bank collapse of 2008 occur again in the near future?

Click here now to get the book!

 Central bank money crafters realized early on that simply adjusting benchmark interest rates in their countries was no longer effective without quantitative easing. They had to wax unconventional with monetary policy. And then they had to collude to spread their programs globally. They concocted and plowed cash into their respective banking systems.

Specifically, the largest private banks, including JPMorgan Chase, Deutsche Bank, and HSBC, that inhaled this cheap money were not required to increase their lending to the Main Street economy as a condition of the availability of that money. Instead, the banks hoarded the cash. US banks colluded with the Fed to get that cash by stashing their bonds as "excess reserves" (more reserves for emergencies than regulations required) on the Fed's books. And, because of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, they received 0.25 percent interest per year from the Fed on those reserves, too. Wall Street used its easy access to cheap money to increase speculation in derivatives and other complex securities. They used it to buy back their own shares, thus effectively manipulating their own stock -- in broad daylight and with explicit approval from the Fed. In turn these banks dialed back their lending to small and midsized businesses, which hampered their growth potential.

The danger with having a system rely on so much conjured capital is that when central bankers stop manifesting it, it could go into shock; markets could plunge, credit seize, and a new crisis emerge. That's why central banks are walking the tightrope between altering their policies and doing nothing to alter them, thereby continuing them by default, with no exit plan.

Copyright (2018) by Nomi Prins. Not be republished with permission of the publisher, Nation Books, an imprint of the Hachette Book Group.

Categories: News

The US Health Care Crisis: Corporate Masters Cannot Solve Public Problems

Truth Out - Thu, 05/03/2018 - 04:00

Following news that Amazon was teaming up with Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan to build a new health care system "free from profit-making incentives and constraints," Ben Palmquist from the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative and Dr. Steffie Woolhandler from Physicians for a National Health Program discuss why capitalists can't fix US health care.

 Pushing the Boundaries of Knowledge,' on May 18, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong / Getty Images)Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO and owner of The Washington Post, speaks during "Transformers: Pushing the Boundaries of Knowledge," on May 18, 2016, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong / Getty Images)

This January, Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett and Jamie Dimon announced they were partnering together to form a new health care entity. The executives from Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan -- three experts when it comes to making profits -- claimed that this entity would be "free from profit-making incentives and constraints."

Meanwhile, Congress embroils itself further in the partisan health care quagmire, and Bernie Sanders's Medicare for All bill is nowhere near becoming law -- it seems that monopoly businesses might offer an alternative. But should we really be looking to corporate masters for a solution to public problems?

In this interview, Ben Palmquist and Dr. Steffie Woolhandler unpack all this and more. Ben is the campaign director for NESRI's "Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign" and Dr. Woolhandler is a spokesperson for Physicians for a National Health Program, who have long advocated for universal health care.

Laura Flanders: US health care is still in crisis. Over 30 million Americans remain uninsured, and even more of us are sickened by sky-high insurance costs. We've got a lot to unpack here. Let's just start with the top facts. Still in crisis, right?

Steffie Woolhandler: Absolutely. We have very high health care costs. They're going up rapidly again. We've got 30 million uninsured, and another 20 million who have insurance but still can't afford care, so quite a crisis.

Still a crisis. The Republicans still out to kill the Affordable Care Act, or have they given up?

Ben Palmquist: They're still going after things. It's week by week now to see what they're going to do next.

The Sanders bill has more support, but got a long way to go.

Woolhandler: It's got support by a third of all the Democrats in the Senate, including every major presidential contender among the Senators. It's got support of half of the Democratic caucus in the House. More importantly, it's got tremendous support with the electorate, with polls showing two-thirds of Americans now endorsing the idea. I think that's an idea with legs. We're not going to see anything happen until we have some different people in Congress and probably in the White House, but that could be very soon, if we're lucky.

Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett -- these are people who a lot of people think, "They've made all this money. They've made these big companies. Maybe they can solve our health care crisis." What do you think?

Palmquist: These are not health care companies. These are employers, and they are profit-driven. What they're looking to do is cut their costs that they're spending on their employees' health insurance. This does nothing to address the health care needs of the 50 million people who are being denied care. It does nothing to address the corporate profiteering that's driving hospitals and drug companies and insurance companies to inflate health care costs. It's really missing the point.

Physicians for National Healthcare actually wrote a letter to these guys. What did you say?

Woolhandler: We said, "If you want to fix the health care system, go for a simple, single-payer system, and an expanded and improved Medicare for All." I think we've seen business, including very big business, trying to involve themselves in controlling health care costs many times over the past few decades. They occasionally can get a little lower price for their own corporations, but they've never had a durable impact on the health care crisis in this country.

How would you define their interest? Is it fair to say they might have reason enough to try to figure this out?

Woolhandler: Let's look at Jeff Bezos, who owns a lot of Amazon. It's in his interest to lower the health care costs for his workers, but frankly, it's in his business interest to see those costs go up for everybody else's workers. If he gets cheap health care and has lower labor costs, and other people have expensive health care and higher labor costs, that's a competitive advantage for Amazon. Yes, he has every interest in lowering the prices he has to pay, but no interest whatsoever in lowering health care costs overall, because that would help his competitors just as much as it helps him.

Palmquist: It doesn't seem like they're actually going to have their own hospitals or their own delivery system. What they're really trying to do is establish market power so that they can bargain with possibly insurance companies, possibly directly with drug companies or others, to really just bargain down those costs. They may introduce some technical things to cut out some of the middlemen involved, but fundamentally, neither of those models are able to offer a guarantee of health care to everybody. Private companies are simply unable to do that.

Woolhandler: Decades ago, many decades ago, there were companies that went out and set up their own hospitals and clinics. Actually, Kaiser grew out of that. Kaiser Steel set up hospitals for their own dam workers that were building dams out West, but that has not occurred in any recent decades. Recently, the role of business has just been to try to step in and use their buying power. I think we're more likely to see that. I guess the insurance industry has reacted and thinks, "Maybe these guys will come and demand that we lower our prices, cut some of our profits."

You can see why people are desperate for some kind of deus ex machina, maybe deus ex Wall Street, to come and save us. Where do we stand when it comes to the kind of change that both of you advocate for that's rights-based, that's more forward-looking to an economy where people are less permanently employed? Where are we in making the shift that's obviously going to be needed for a new economy and a new era?

Woolhandler: The thing we've got going for us now that we haven't had for a while is a majority of the American people endorsing the idea of an expanded Medicare for All program. Moving to Medicare for All means developing a political movement. That's going to mean the electorate organizing. It's going to mean physicians organizing, as we do in Physicians for a National Health Program, nurses organizing, as they do their unions. It's going to require people who see the need for the single-payer program.

Palmquist: We are in this extraordinary moment where energy is bubbling up all over. People are pushing for universal, publicly financed, single-payer in Washington [State], but also in a bunch of states. It's up to all of us now to really stand up and hold elected officials accountable, and also to hold private actors accountable. We need to be holding hospital companies and drug companies and insurance companies accountable. When they're not delivering care to people, we need to be demonstrating, getting out there, writing letters to the editor and speaking up.

Where are you most excited? There [were] some interesting results in the elections of last November that pushed this issue forward. There are some models out there in different parts of the states. Who wants to take a whack at that?

Woolhandler: I think we're going to need a national movement. The state movements are great for people who are in states where they have a lot of momentum for single-payer. But we are going to need a national movement. We've got some people who are real leaders at this point, recognized leaders, the way Sanders has become recognized, the way Keith Ellison has become recognized, who are out there saying, "Now's the time to push these single-payer ideas." People were taking a "wait and see" attitude toward Obamacare. Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act have played themselves out. We've covered half of the uninsured, but we've left half uninsured, and people are still pretty unhappy about their private coverage, even people with coverage.

Every day in our own practices, physicians see people who have disabling conditions that could have been prevented by early attention to diabetes or hypertension. We see people who come in and we need to get them specialty care, and we can't get it, because they don't have the right insurance. As we try to take care of patients, we're finding we really can't do it. We found that the Affordable Care Act, whatever its strengths, did not get us where we need to be in terms of universal health care.

Palmquist: Healthy California and the Campaign for New York Health have both passed a bill for universal health care through one of their state houses. Those campaigns are going strong. People in Maine just went around their reactionary governor and passed a Medicaid expansion in November. Then there's all sorts of local efforts to protect community clinics and hospitals. What's really important is keeping our eyes on the long-term goal of really guaranteeing health care as a human right and a public good for everyone.

You co-authored a piece in Jacobin that is totally dedicated to the question of health care, raising concerns or anticipating problems if the Medicare for All proposal isn't implemented in a certain way. The biggest one being you really can't have two parallel systems, private and public. Is there any way around that?

Woolhandler: I think we need a single system with everybody in, nobody out. That's what they have in Canada. You're in the system, and the richest person and the poorest person in the country have the same type of health insurance. Illness doesn't care how much money you make. Illness can strike if you're rich or you're poor.

So Jamie, Jeff, Warren, come on over. What do you think are the chances?

Palmquist: I'm not holding my breath.

Woolhandler: Yeah.

I guess me neither. What can other people do if they want to try to get involved?

Woolhandler: People should look at the website of Physicians for a National Health Program. Full membership open to any health professional. There's also lots of links to the community groups and coalitions that we work with. Certainly National Nurses United has websites that help people plug in, Progressive Democrats of America, and people should find local groups that are working on this issue, and show up.

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Categories: News

Social Security Protests in Nicaragua

Truth Out - Thu, 05/03/2018 - 04:00
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For more than a week, Nicaragua was convulsed in protests that were met with heavy-handed repression that has reportedly left at least 30 dead. Tear gas. Rubber bullets. Live ammunition. Barricades and burning buildings. Daniel Ortega, the revolutionary Sandinista leader -- and president for the past 11 years -- "is suddenly facing a revolution of his own," The New York Times reported. 

"The Nicaragua of a week ago no longer exists," José Adán Aguerri said to The Times. "The break was really with the [Ortega government's] social security [reforms]," Aguerri later told The Washington Post. Aguerri is the head of COSEP, "the country's main business organization, which organized one of the biggest protest marches," The Post reported.

Based on much of the media coverage so far, it would be fair to think that this "revolutionary" leader has opted to cut pensions -- screwing the very base that has kept him in power -- and providing the impetus for a broad movement to oust him. But missing from almost all of the international news analysis has been salient information on what those reforms actually are -- and perhaps more importantly, what sort of alternative reforms are actually being proposed by many of those, like COSEP, now criticizing the government.

Nicaragua's social security system, INSS, is facing a budget shortfall -- that much is true. The IMF said last year that the institution was broke, and called for urgent reforms. The shortfall is actually running at about $75 million a year, or about 0.5 percentage points of GDP. A potential problem? Yes, but far from the calamitous situation that it has been described as.

To address the situation, the Nicaraguan government, together with COSEP, have been at the negotiation table for years. But earlier this month, COSEP backed away from the table, refusing to discuss the issue unless it was linked to a broader fiscal reform plan. The government responded by publishing its proposed INSS reforms, without an agreement, on April 16. That a unilateral action, in a highly charged atmosphere, would elicit a backlash is hardly surprising. But the specifics of the reforms being negotiated might be.

The IMF has recommended slashing benefits by as much as 20 percent, gradually raising the retirement age from 60 to 63 (or even 65), and indexing benefits at a lower level, among other tweaks. COSEP, the group that organized "one of the biggest protest marches," has largely supported these cuts. Presumably, ordinary Nicaraguan workers would greet such reforms with much less enthusiasm.

And here's what the government proposed: raising employer and employee contributions to the INSS system over the next few years by 3.5 percentage points and 0.75 percentage points, respectively, and a 5 percent cut to pensions. Yes, benefits would be cut, but by far lower amounts than what the IMF and COSEP have been proposing.

Though largely seen as an ally of Ortega, COSEP reacted to the government's unilateral move, and the increase in employer contributions to the INSS, by calling for protests. Some civil society organizations (including some that receive US government fundingcriticized the reforms as bad for workers, but are using the same pro-business talking points to do so. Many of those same organizations have actually supported deeper benefit cuts, like those backed by COSEP and the IMF.

Either way, the actual INSS reforms are now moot. Ortega withdrew them this past Sunday. Jaime Wheelock, a former member of the Sandinista inner circle who has more recently been critical of Ortega -- including over the past week -- told The New York Times: "One good thing about Daniel is that if he's not right, he'll back down." Classic authoritarianism.

Backed by the Catholic Church, a new dialogue is planned and COSEP and the government appear willing to return to the table to negotiate over INSS reforms -- and now, more than likely, a panoply of other issues. Though after the last week, it's likely that whatever comes out of that negotiation next will end up being worse for Nicaragua's pensioners than Ortega's original reforms. At least the IMF and the private sector will be pleased.

Of course, that hasn't ended the conflict, at least not yet -- because this was never just about social security, and it has since transformed into a challenge to the very legitimacy of the Ortega administration. It's largely university students at the forefront of the current phase of protests, not the hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans that currently receive pension benefits -- some of whom had, at least initially, participated in protests. The US government, has, over the last few years, put millions of dollars into civil society and youth organizations -- many of which have been involved in the current conflict. But that doesn't exonerate the government and its repressive response, or discredit the protesters and their frustrations with the Ortega administration.

Rather than reforms to social security, what appears to have given life to the incipient protest movement was the overreaction of state security forces. Local human rights organizations report that at least 38 (and up to 63) people have been killed in the last week, including two police officers and at least one journalist who was shot in the head while filming live on Facebook. There have been reports of arbitrary arrests, with beatings doled out behind prison walls. In addition, independent (and often opposition-aligned) news feeds were cut at the height of the tensions. Though little information is currently available about the circumstances surrounding the deaths, it is clear that, as the UN has urged, an independent and in-depth investigation is necessary.

After releasing many of the jailed protesters, allowing independent news feeds back on the air, and withdrawing the social security reforms, even some of the hard-line student groups appear willing to join the church-backed negotiations now -- though many are still advocating for Ortega's resignation, and have pledged to continue the protests. Over the last few days, those protests have reportedly occurred without major incident.  

As so frequently happens when protests escalate, it was the response of the government that spurred a broader popular backlash rather than Ortega's initial action. He only provoked protesters further by resorting to the same half-baked talking points of his Central American neighbor, Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández, who has faced his own protest movement since his controversial reelection late last year. Hernández consistently refers to the country's youth who have taken to the streets en masse as "gang-bangers," "terrorists," and "infiltrators." Ortega has done the same. "That just made us even more indignant," Enma Gutiérrez, a Nicaraguan youth organizer, said to The Times.

But compared to Honduras, state security forces in Nicaragua have largely had a good reputation. As opposed to Central America's Northern Triangle countries, Nicaragua's crime rates are relatively low. And unlike their counterparts in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras -- allegations of extrajudicial killings at the hands of military and police units in Nicaragua have been few and far between. Until the last week, at least.

Still, though scant international attention has been given to the continuing human rights crisis in neighboring Honduras, the protests in Nicaragua have received widespread coverage -- and condemnation. The US withheld any criticism of the role of Honduran state security forces in extrajudicial killings from its annual human rights report, but has strongly condemned the Nicaraguan government and withdrawn families of diplomatic staff -- something they didn't do when the Honduran government declared martial law and deployed the military and live ammunition to repress protests late last year.

While few would argue that Ortega hasn't overseen a consolidation of political and economic power, the reality is that Ortega also remains perhaps the most popular leader in Central America, according to recent polling. Earlier this year, 54 percent of Nicaraguans approved of Ortega's leadership, according to Gallup  -- though the director of the firm cautioned that he felt many Nicaraguans were hesitant to express their true feelings.

But it wouldn't be hard to see why Ortega has been able to maintain at least near-majority support, despite anger at his consolidation of power. Nicaragua emerged from its civil war as one of the poorest and most unequal societies in the hemisphere, but that is changing. Throughout his 11 years in the presidency, Ortega has overseen a dramatic economic turnaround. And far from the "Marxist revolutionary" that sent Reaganites into fits in the '80s, and spooked the markets in the aughts, Ortega has worked closely with the local private sector and with international lenders like the International Monetary Fund.

Since 2006, Nicaragua's per-capita GDP has increased by 38 percent -- more than in Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, or Honduras. Inequality too is lower in Nicaragua than any of those other countries, save El Salvador. Poverty has been cut nearly in half, according to World Bank data, from 48 percent to 25 percent. That brings Nicaragua far closer to Costa Rica (20 percent), than Honduras (over 60 percent).

Ortega's alliance with the private sector -- and a legacy of lingering conflicts between factions of Sandinistas -- has always been a source of tension and discord among Nicaragua's left. But many of those groups supporting the protests today would prefer to see a more draconian reform to social security, more in line with what the IMF has recommended. That's not very revolutionary either.

In the meantime, it's little surprise that the protests have garnered so much media attention. Unlike the US-allied strongman in Honduras, Ortega has been a public enemy of the United States for forty years, and remains in the crosshairs of Trump's hawkish foreign policy team and many US lawmakers. For months, there has been movement in the US Congress to pass the NICA Act, a piece of legislation designed to inflict economic hardship on the people of Nicaragua by having the US vote against multilateral development loans. Already, opportunistic voices are using the protests to encourage the bill's approval.

There are plenty of reasons to criticize the Ortega administration, particularly following deadly repression by state security forces over the past week. And there is no doubt that student protesters, or anyone willing to take to the streets to have their voices heard, should be allowed to do so peacefully. But conflating all of the world's grievances with Ortega, without further analysis of the issues or motivations, into one movement -- a movement destined to overthrow a "dictatorship" -- doesn't do anybody any favors. Except maybe for those who would like to see a more neoliberal economic reform agenda imposed on the Nicaraguan people.

Categories: News

A Jailbreak of the Imagination: Seeing Prisons for What They Are and Demanding Transformation

Truth Out - Thu, 05/03/2018 - 04:00

 Aaron007 / Getty Images)(Photo: Aaron007 / Getty Images)

The US prison system is designed to crush people every day, with only a small section of society laboring to help prisoners save themselves from being ground under. Whether it's war, climate change or the prison industrial complex, we have been conditioned to simply look away from profound harms. It's time to look hard at how this overall system came to be, who profits, how it functions, and why.

 Aaron007 / Getty Images)(Photo: Aaron007 / Getty Images)

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This story is the ninth in Truthout's "Visions of 2018" series, in which activist leaders answer the question: "What would you like to see created, built, imagined or begun this year?" Each piece will focus on a bold idea for transformation, to give us fuel as the year moves forward.

Our current historical moment demands a radical re-imagining of how we address various harms. The levers of power are currently in the hands of an administration that is openly hostile to the most marginalized in our society (Black people, Native people, the poor, LGBTQ people, immigrant communities and more). While we protect ourselves from their consistent and regular blows, we must also fight for a vision of the world we want to inhabit. For us, that's a world where people like Tiffany Rusher, who began a five-year sentence at Logan Correctional Center in Broadwell Township, Illinois, in 2013, are not tortured to death in the name of "safety." Our vision insists on the abolition of the prison industrial complex as a critical pillar of the creation of a new society.

Imprisoned on charges related to sex work, Tiffany Rusher was eventually placed in solitary confinement for getting into a physical struggle with one of her cellmates. During her time in solitary confinement, Rusher's mental health began to deteriorate, initiating a cycle of self-harm. After a series of suicide attempts and periods of solitary confinement, Rusher was placed on "crisis watch" for a period of eight months. According to Rusher's lawyer, Alan Mills, being on "crisis watch" meant being stripped of all clothing and belongings, and placed in a bare cell with only a "suicide smock" (a single piece of thick woven nylon, too stiff to fold, with holes for one's head and arms). During this time, Rusher was monitored through a plexiglass wall, with the lights on, 24 hours a day. Rather than receiving mental health care, Rusher was kept naked, except for her rigid smock, in an empty cell. She was given strict, dehumanizing instructions about how to wipe herself and manage her menstrual hygiene, which included a requirement that her hands be visible to the guard watching her at all times. In order to read, Rusher had to persuade a prison guard to hold an open book against the glass of her cell, and turn each page as she finished reading it.

As time wore on, Rusher asked her attorney: Who in her situation wouldn't want to kill themselves?

At the end of her sentence, Rusher was finally transferred to a mental health facility. Rusher, who disclosed to her doctors that she had experienced child sexual abuse, had received dozens of diagnoses over the years, including schizoaffective disorder, but nonetheless made great strides while in treatment. Eight months into her in-patient care, however, Rusher got into an altercation with another patient. Rather than treating the episode as a symptom of her mental health problems, she was sent back to jail, where the cycle of carceral violence continued.

Restoring our awareness of the humanity of prisoners is a crucial step toward undoing the harms of mass incarceration.

Sangamon County jail returned Rusher to solitary confinement, where she remained for three months before being found unresponsive with a ripped piece of a towel around her neck. Rusher died 12 days later when the hospital removed her from life support. In the words of Rusher's attorney, Alan Mills, "First they tortured her, then they killed her."

At the time of her death, Tiffany Rusher was 27 years old.

Sadly, what Rusher endured was not exceptional. The US prison system is designed to crush people like Tiffany Rusher every day, with only a small section of society laboring to help prisoners save themselves from being ground under. In Rusher's case, the attorneys and staff of Uptown People's Law Center, in Chicago, were her defenders, but in the end, the wounds inflicted by the system were too deep, and the cycle of carceral violence was simply too entrenched to interrupt. Rusher, now a statistic to the world at large and a court filing to those her attorneys would hold accountable for her death, was refused any recognition of her humanity while incarcerated. But Rusher was not a number. She was a human being, and restoring our awareness of the humanity of prisoners is a crucial step toward undoing the harms of mass incarceration.

After Rusher's death, her mother, Kelli Andrews, said in a statement, "Tiffany was a beautiful soul with hopes for her future. She was looking forward to coming home to be with her family. We miss her every day."

As prison abolitionists, grassroots organizers and practitioners of transformative justice, our vision for 2018 is one of clear-eyed awareness and discussion of the horrors of the prison system -- and the action that awareness demands. As a society, we have long turned away from any social concern that overwhelms us. Whether it's war, climate change or the prison industrial complex, Americans have been conditioned to simply look away from profound harms. Years of this practice have now left us with endless wars, dying oceans and millions of people in bondage and oppressively policed. It is time for a thorough, unflinching examination of what our society has wrought, and what we have become. It is time to envision and create alternatives to the hellish conditions our society has brought into being.

The Illusion of a New Idea

Outspoken opponents of abolishing the prison industrial complex typically portray abolitionists as politically inactive academics who spout impossible ideas. None of this could be further from the truth. Abolitionists come from all backgrounds, and most are politically active. From bail reform to strategic electoral interventions and mutual aid, prison abolitionists are steadily at work in our communities, employing tactics of harm reduction, lobbying for and against legislation, defending the rights of prisoners in solidarity with those organizing for themselves on the inside and working to forward a vision of social transformation. As a political framework, abolition has gained significant ground in recent years, with groups like the National Lawyers Guild adopting the philosophy in their work. A growing number of grassroots abolitionist organizers have co-organized nationally recognized campaigns such as the #ByeAnita effort in Chicago, which helped to successfully remove former State's Attorney Anita Alvarez from office. Abolitionist organizers also helped lead efforts to win reparations for survivors of torture that occurred under the now infamous police commander Jon Burge in Chicago -- a city that has, over the past two decades, become a hub of abolitionist organizing. Abolition is a practical organizing strategy.

Whether it's war, climate change or the prison industrial complex, Americans have been conditioned to simply look away from profound harms.

And yet, when we speak about the abolition of the prison industrial complex, many react as though the idea is alien and unthinkable -- as if, to them, prisons, policing and surveillance are part of a natural order that simply cannot be undone. In truth, the prison system did not see its most massive population surge until the 1980s, when deindustrialization created the need for dungeon economies to replace lost jobs, and a backlash against the Civil Rights Movement and other social gains by Black people propelled heightened efforts at social control.

As a society, we have been taught to embrace social control, which is often enforced by people with guns, because we have been taught to fear each other, and to acquiesce to authority. We live in a culture that celebrates criminalization, cops and prisons. Abusive, torturous police become sympathetic television characters whose harms the public can understand or even sympathize with. But when a civilian has committed an egregious harm, the national solace we are taught to seek is to see them suffer. They must be thrown in a cage, and once they are, justice is considered to be done, and we can all move on with our lives without ever asking questions like: Why did this happen? Why does it keep happening? And is there something we could change that would make this tragedy unthinkable in the first place?

Like any enterprise that was born of a manufactured demand, prisons perpetuate themselves, and that requires the maintenance of conditions that foster crime. From 1978 to 2014, the US prison population rose 408 percent, largely filling its cages with those denied access to education, employment and human services. About 70 percent of prisoners in California are former foster care youth. And given that the system is actually geared toward recidivism, there can be no argument that the prison system supports either public safety or the public good. Our failure to build a culture of care that nurtures human growth and potential, rather than incubating desperation, ensures that more "criminals" will be created, and subsequently punished, to the great benefit of those who profit from industries associated with incarceration. Prison is simply a bad and ineffective way to address violence and crime.

Clapping for Incarceration

Even those who acknowledge that mass incarceration in the US is nightmarish and unjust often feel compelled to applaud when the system ensnares someone whose harms disgust us. When Martin Shkreli, a former hedge fund manager, was sentenced to serve seven years for securities fraud, memes and laughter abounded. Shkreli, who famously engaged in pharmaceutical price-gauging, raising the price of the drug Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 per pill, was once characterized as the "most hated man in America," making him an ideal poster child for the carceral state. But like most ideas that allow us to avert our eyes and ignore the larger system, this notion is full of holes. For one, Shkreli was not being punished for forcing AIDS patients to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for a lifesaving medication, because rich people simply are not punished for practicing capitalism in the United States. As long as their money-changing kills according to the rules of the free market, they see no penalty. Shkreli was punished for securities fraud. In short, he played Monopoly with the filthy rich and broke the rules. And yet, because he also harmed everyday people, this moment is held up as one where the system worked, because someone we feel contempt for was punished.

The system will occasionally offer such kernels, but they don't add up to justice. No reform is being forced upon the pharmaceutical industry in the wake of Shkreli's harms, and the executives who are driving up prices on insulin and other life-saving medications are not faced with jail time (if this is our marker of justice). Our society's practice of "justice" is not concerned with creating just conditions, and our system of punishment does not penalize the powerful for crushing those with less power. The rich getting richer while others are ground under is part of the "just" order of our society. There are no solutions offered by the system, only the occasional display of suffering or civil death to satisfy the masses.

Given these conditions, we must understand that, by applauding carceral violence, we are also applauding an established and grotesque failure on the part of western civilization.

Stories like Tiffany Rusher's are buried under headlines about people like Shkreli and serial rapist Larry Nassar -- stories that reassure the public that retribution is necessary and that sate a popular desire for vengeance in the face of tragedy and harm. American crime stories are not stories of good versus evil, because the system is not, and has never been, good or heroic, and criminal harms are usually much more complex than we would care to acknowledge. The crimes for which Tiffany Rusher was convicted involved sex with a minor, but why was Rusher in sexual proximity to a minor in the first place?

Prison is simply a bad and ineffective way to address violence and crime.

According to Rusher, she was doing survival sex work when she was solicited to provide sexual services at a party. As it turned out, the young man a relative wanted to purchase sexual favors for was underage. Rusher was 21. When the young man's mother learned about the party, she was incensed and filed a police report. And just like that, Rusher became a sex offender in the eyes of the law. However different her experiences may have been from those who are typically characterized as "predators," Rusher was ensnared by a damning and unyielding brand of criminalization.

Cases like Rusher's call on us both to acknowledge the harms our system has inflicted and to create the kind of social and economic conditions in which a young woman would never be presented with the choices that Rusher faced.

"Dangerous People"

When confronted with statistics about how unevenly criminal penalties are applied in the United States, or with historical evidence that policing and incarceration have always been grounded in anti-Blackness, Native erasure and protection of property, most leftists will decry the system and agree that change is long overdue. But such admissions are usually followed by an insistence that we cannot simply uproot the system, because we don't have polished, universalized, fully formed solutions to address the dangers some individuals, often characterized as "predators," may pose to our communities. But the idea of "predators" and "dangerous people" is complicated by the conditions our society enforces -- social and economic conditions that we know generate crime and despair. Communities whose needs are met are not rife with crimes of desperation, whereas struggling communities are; and people from communities that are highly criminalized by our racist system are far more likely to be thrust into the carceral system.

Politicians routinely feign ignorance with regard to these dynamics, presenting "tough-on-crime" agendas that would enhance prison sentences and widen the school-to-prison pipeline as a solution to the harms society generates. Because if politicians acknowledged that most criminalized harms are rooted in social and economic inequities, they would be expected to address those inequities, which most refuse to do. In the United States, the political careers of elected officials are largely funded by those who directly benefit from the inequities of our society, and those funders would likely abandon their pet officials if they pursued anything resembling economic justice.

The carceral system has always used sensationalized cases and the specter of unthinkable harm to create new mechanisms of disposability. Those mechanisms are what feed bodies to hungry dungeon economies while we are distracted by our own fears of "bad people" and what they might do if they aren't contained. Of course, a system that never addresses the "why" behind a harm never actually contains the harm itself. Cages confine people, not the conditions that facilitated their harms or the mentalities that perpetuate violence. Yet, for some reason, even people who are well versed in the dynamics of the system often believe "Law and Order" moments are possible, when, just for a moment, an instrument of state violence can be made good.

What is, so to speak, the object of abolition? Not so much the abolition of prisons but the abolition of a society that could have prisons.

When we look past the sensationalism of major headlines, and examine the actual dynamics of mass incarceration, it becomes increasingly impossible to justify this perspective. While some offer calls for reform, such calls ignore the reality that an institution grounded in the commodification of human beings, through torture and the deprivation of their liberty, cannot be made good. The logic of using policing, punishment, and prison has not proven to address the systemic causes of violence. It is in this climate that we argue that abolition of the prison industrial complex is the most moral political posture available to us. Because the deconstruction of the American system of mass incarceration is possible, and it is time.

What does transformation look like?

In their essay on "The University and the Undercommons," writers and scholars Fred Moten and Stefano Harney underscore why abolition is important as a political framework and organizing strategy: "What is, so to speak, the object of abolition? Not so much the abolition of prisons but the abolition of a society that could have prisons, that could have slavery, that could have the wage, and therefore not abolition as the elimination of anything but abolition as the founding of a new society."

Our vision for 2018 is a state of unrestrained imagination. When dealing with oppressive systems, cynicism is a begrudging allegiance, extracted from people whose minds could otherwise open new doors, make new demands and conjure visions of what a better world could look like. Questions like, "what about the really dangerous people?" are not questions a prison abolitionist must answer in order to insist the prison industrial complex must be undone. These are questions we must collectively answer, even as we trouble the very notion of "dangerousness." The inability to offer a neatly packaged and easily digestible solution does not preclude offering critique or analysis of the ills of our current system.

We live in a society that has been locked into a false sense of inevitability. It's time to look hard at how this system came to be, who profits, how it functions, and why -- and it's time to imagine what it would look like to see justice done without relying on punishment and the barbarity of carceral systems. As writer and educator Erica Meiners suggests: "Liberation under oppression is unthinkable by design." It's time for a jailbreak of the imagination in order to make the impossible possible.

Categories: News

6 officers injured after large explosion in North Haven, CT

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Thu, 05/03/2018 - 03:54

6 officers injured after large explosion in North Haven, CT | 02 May 2018 | Quinnipiac Avenue in North Haven is closed at this time following an explosion at a home on Quinnipiac Avenue. According to the North Haven First Selectman Mike Freda, 6 officers were injured in the explosion. He said he know that at least 4 of the officers were North Haven officers. There is no word on what caused the explosion at the barn. Connecticut State Police are on the scene to assist North Haven Police.

Categories: News

Explosion rocks Connecticut neighborhood; multiple officers injured

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Thu, 05/03/2018 - 03:30

Explosion rocks Connecticut neighborhood; multiple officers injured | 02 May 2018 | Authorities are investigating an explosion in North Haven, Connecticut, according to a law enforcement official. Multiple people were injured, according to CBS affiliate WFSB-TV. A large fire also broke out. The North Haven police department was investigating a domestic violence incident around 7 p.m. local time, according to a statement to CBS News. This led to a barricaded individual where SWAT was called in. There was a large explosion during the investigation that prompted street closures.

Categories: News

3 Shut Downs, 2 Days: Continued Resistance to the Bayou Bridge Pipeline

It's Goin Down - Thu, 05/03/2018 - 02:36

The post 3 Shut Downs, 2 Days: Continued Resistance to the Bayou Bridge Pipeline appeared first on It's Going Down.

Resistance to the Bayou Bridge pipeline continues, as actions delay construction on the Bayou Bridge pipeline in Louisiana.

ST. MARTINVILLE, LA- In the early afternoon of May 1st, over a dozen water protectors from the L’eau est La Vie resistance camp shut down construction at two different sites of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in the Atchafalaya Basin. A prayerful ceremony was held in both sites where construction was shut down to honor Puddles, the camp cat and four legged water protector who recently passed away.

The water protectors held work off from happening and stayed in ceremony for several hours at the second location until all of the workers left the site and went home.

The Atchafalaya Basin is the biggest swamp and wetland in the country and contains many of the 700 waterways that the Bayou Bridge Pipeline will cross if completed. Shocking wildlife habitat destruction including the demolition of dozens of old growth cypress trees over 500 years old was found as the water protectors walked the pipeline easement to keep the machines stopped.

Most of the contracted Sunland workers were non-violent and engaged in conversation with the water protectors. However, one worker became aggressive and hit one of the water protectors with his truck. The water protector was not seriously injured. Later that night, the group of water protectors were found and harassed by local sheriffs at a restaurant miles away.

The next day, on the morning of May 2nd, a group of water protectors from the L’eau Est La Vie Resistance Camp stopped 12 welding trucks with 40+ workers from welding pipe together for the entire morning. Once Jefferson Davis Parish sheriffs came to the site, the water protectors were cited with misdemeanor criminal trespassing charges and released. A journalist also received the same citation.

“A lot of these cops are making good money moonlighting as private security for the Bayou Bridge Pipeline so it’s not surprising that they would cite water protectors for trespassing and not even question or detain a worker after he hit me with his truck,” said one of the water protectors.

#NoBBP #StopETP #NoBayouBridgePipeline

Categories: News

Seattle, WA: Vehicle Plows Through Rowdy Wendy’s May Day Picket

It's Goin Down - Wed, 05/02/2018 - 21:45

The post Seattle, WA: Vehicle Plows Through Rowdy Wendy’s May Day Picket appeared first on It's Going Down.

The following report comes from the Seattle General Defense Committee (GDC) of the IWW.

The Greater Seattle IWW General Defense Committee held a strong picket line at the Wendy’s on Rainier Avenue in South Seattle for Decentralized May Day. This action was in solidarity with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers boycott of the chain. Wendy’s is the only major fast food chain not to sign an agreement to refrain from buying tomatoes from growers with severe sexual assault and labor issues in their fields. At the same time, the Seattle IWW General Membership Branch was hosting a boycott at the Wendy’s on Lake City Way in North Seattle.

We had about 40 different people come through the action and held a spirited and vibrant presence for almost two hours. In that time we emptied the restaurant entirely and turned dozens of customers away. The vast majority of attempted patrons, as well as most bystanders and employees, were strongly sympathetic to the struggle. At the end of the action we all felt that it was an empowering display of direct-action and solidarity.

At around 7:30 PM one angry driver decided that running over people to get a burger was how they wanted to spend their night. With just enough hesitation to show that their decision was intentional, they sped into our picket line pushing several people onto the hood. Immediately following this another car decided to follow and attempted to run over two other people. Fortunately the injuries were not too severe, but the victims needed treatment from our medics on hand.

Unsurprisingly, the police (numbering four at the time but later increasing to several dozen) did nothing, and even implied the drivers may attempt to come after activists in civil court. In the face of this, though, all of us had the victims’ backs. It says a lot about the strength of our solidarity with one another that just about everyone on hand moved in the way of the vehicles to prevent them from simply hitting and running.

All in all, despite the attempts at murder, the action was a success. We hope this sends a message to Wendy’s as to the severity of the situation. These actions won’t stop until they make the right choice.

Categories: News

Olympia, WA: Demonstration Takes Place Outside of Mayor’s Home

It's Goin Down - Wed, 05/02/2018 - 21:32

The post Olympia, WA: Demonstration Takes Place Outside of Mayor’s Home appeared first on It's Going Down.

This following report back was originally published on Puget Sound Anarchists.

Today on May 1st at 7pm about 30 of us gathered outside the home of the Mayor of Olympia, Cheryl Selby, in the South Capitol Neighborhood dressed in colorful attire. We unfurled a banner reading “Fuck Your Yuppie Bullshit” and began chanting, “Fuck Your Yuppie Bullshit” and other slogans into megaphones and placing fliers on cars in the neighborhood.

Cheryl’s door has semi-transparent glass in it and we could see that she came to the door to see what the commotion was. When the crowd erupted in a chorus of “booooooooo…. Fuck You!” she could be seen grabbing her phone and presumably calling the police. After roughly five minutes of this we decided that due to the intense police presence all over town we should not stay too long and dispersed just as police began to arrive in the area. The first police vehicles to arrive were unmarked minivans that must have been rented special for May Day because they did not have tax exempt license plates like most government owned vehicles do. Pigs in full riot gear carrying pepper-ball guns piled out of the minivans and began awkwardly trying to run after protestors. The crowd dispersed without any arrests or injuries, though police including dozens of bike cops, followed and harassed many in the area.

The authors of this report back can only speak for ourselves, but we gathered there to celebrate May Day and to bring attention to the ways that the city prioritizes wealthy business owners and screws over everyone else. But also, we took this action to say, “Fuck You,” to the mayor where she lives. Mayor Cheryl Selby maintains a progressive veneer to gloss over the fact that all she really cares about is protecting her class interests: that of the other yuppies.

This year the city of Olympia pulled out all the stops [4 jurisdictions of police and even a plane circling overhead were involved) to prevent any kind of protest from occurring on May Day but we managed to take action in broad daylight right on their doorstep. They claimed in their press release that they would not interfere with protests so long as they were nonviolent. But this action was by most definitions of the term, “nonviolent,” and the police still showed up in overwhelming force to repress it. Perhaps what they meant was, “we will allow protests so long as they remain irrelevant and far away from us.” The people like Cheryl Selby who control our lives and administer the environmental destruction all around us have names and addresses. They are not faceless robots and they should be made to answer for the harm they inflict upon their subjects.

The Text From the Flier: Eat your pheasant, drink you wine. Your days are numbered bourgeois swine.

Mayor Cheryl Selby pays lip service to the houseless community, yet acted as a decision maker in defunding the InterFaith Works Warming Center in downtown Olympia. She has stated that “We strongly believe that Olympia must do its part in the fight against climate change,” but refused to take a public stance against the Port of Olympia’s shipping of fracking proppants. Selby is a sleazy politician and business owner who claims to care about members of her community, but the only real stance she has taken is her pro-business agenda. This is the dark underbelly of progressivism.

Cheryl Selby, as mayor of so-called Olympia, is supposed to represent a population of over 50,000 people. Our highly varying and individual opinions, needs, and desires cannot be represented.

The fate of our home should not be at the mercy of someone in power who is completely removed from the every day experiences of the rest of us. This is why we cannot accept any politician; because they inherently seek to control us, speak for us, and thus rob us of our autonomy.

This neighborhood exists on Nisqually/Squaxin land. Thirty-percent of houses in Olympia’s Capitol neighborhood are owned by lobbyists and corporations. This neighborhood is the home of the political class that has for centuries, since the genocidal reign of Isaac Stevens, continued to thrive off the subjugation of other people and the land.

Categories: News

Anarchist Zines & Pamphlets Published in April

Anarchist News - Wed, 05/02/2018 - 20:22

via Sprout Distro

The following anarchist zines and pamphlets were published over the last month or so. As always, we favor casting a wide net in these posts which means there are frequently things we don’t agree with included in these round-ups. Outside of actual face-to-face conversations, we favor the idea of different anarchist ideas coming into contact with each other via a robust print-based discussion. Perhaps it is a personal bias, but it seems preferable to the heavily Internet-based state of contemporary anarchist discourse.

If you have suggestions for stuff to include next month, get in touch. You can find previous monthly round-up posts here.

April Zines & Pamphlets Avalanche #13

avalanche #13 coverThis is the final issue of Avalanche, a journal of international anarchist correspondence. The people working on the publication have decided to retire the effort citing a lack of contributions as well as a general lack of anarchist projects. The authors admit that their original goals may have been a bit too ambitious, but its worth recounting them because they are worth aspiring to with similar projects:

“The international correspondence contained in Avalanche was imagined to contribute to several dynamics; between anarchists across borders to have common reference points to facilitate a discussion that sharpens perspectives and deepens affinity, to transmit experiences in a less fragmented way (more coherent than the echoes of actions and repression) so that they become a shared history and a resource to take inspiration from, to motivate other anarchists to explore a project of direct action and self-organizing, to invite those who don’t have an inclination to communicate about their projects and experiences to reflect and share.”

This final issue has a long essay on an insurrectionary struggle against prisons in Basslergut, Switzerland, a critique of so-called “smart cities” from Germany, and an interview on the situation in Tunisia.

Download the PDF

Anathema – April 2018

anathema zine coverThis is the latest issue of Anathema, “an anarchist periodical from the occupied Lenape territory known as Philadelphia.” This issue features the usual round-up of recent actions in Philadelphia, a recounting of what happened on past May Days in Philadelphia, and a call for actions this year. Along with this there is a longer article titled “On Action, Individualism, and other Anarchist Materialisms” that responds to the criticism that anarchists just want to take action for the sake of action. It offers some interesting lines of thought, especially regarding the difference between insurrectionary anarchism and communization theory. The other front page article is titled “Science, the New Mobility” which is a critique of the technological world and a reminder that “civilization is always more work.”

Download the PDF

June 11: International Day of Solidarity with All Long-Term Anarchist Prisoners

june 11 zine coverThis is a zine version of the annual June 11 call for actions and solidarity with long-term anarchist prisoners held each year since 2004 . The call is an annual reflection on the day in which folks working on the project think through the previous year’s efforts and offer some thoughts and renew the call for solidarity. An excerpt from the call raises some important questions:

This year we invite you to explore and ponder with us how maintaining support for long-term prisoners depends directly on sustaining the movements and struggles we all remain part of. How can we expect to continue through decades of support as movements, groups, and people come and go, burn out, and get caught in the exhausting ebbs and flows of struggle? Going deeper, what can we learn from long-term prisoners and their legacies of solidarity? How can we sustain and improve the health of our movements, and in turn strengthen that support?

Download the Screen Reading or Printable PDF

Consent Based Politics

consent based politics coverThis heavily foot-noted zine (35 in 3 pages) presents an argument in favor of what the author calls “consent-based politics”. In the presence of a “power” that does not listen, this zine is a call for a return to the “…interpersonal base from which we might, by way of consent and our own volition, build structures to elevate and express our rich diversity – not oppressing and silencing in service of a fixed, ‘winner takes all’ worldview, but one that engages an expansive fluidity, embedding us all in infinite play.” It draws heavily on the works of Paulo Freire and David Graeber. The essay calls for a broad decentralization of power and for people to have more say over their lives.

Download the PDF

Anarchist Manifesto Ireland

anarchist manifesto ireland coverThis is a manifesto of a group out of Ireland that meets regularly to talk and engage in their politics of “libertarian socialism”. The zine was produced as a response to their frustrations over armchair theorists who are content to just “sit in their gardens and talk” rather than actually doing something. In response, this group offers the vision of a commune as a local expression of their politics with federations as a higher level expression. Alongside this, they present what can best be describe as 12 “policy recommendations” advocating for things like leaving the European Union, regulated multinationals, increasing taxes, and public ownership of major companies. It’s similar to the kind of broad utopian blueprints for society that were often en vogue during the classical anarchist movement (see Rudolf Rocker’s Anarcho-Syndicalism: Theory and Practice) as an example. Of course those tended to be connected to broad class-based movements, it’s hard to know what kind of roots this effort has.

Download the PDF

Nega-Zine #1

nega-zine coverThis is the first issue of “Nega-Zine” a newer journal by anarchists published by Elephant Editions. This issue features a lengthy discussion and examination of contemporary technology, specifically focusing on how technological systems tend to reduce people’s critical and cognitive capacities. There are several contributions that deal with technology and its role in the world. A line from the introduction outlines why this is an important focus:

“It should be clear that these questions are not being taken up for the love of discussion but to give one more weapon to individuals who want to attack. It is a question of acutening one’s vision in order to identify an enemy which often passes off as invisible, in fact which has in its invisibility its main point of strength.”

The publication advocates for affinity and informal organization, with the goal of attempting to understand “where and in what form does the enemy manifest itself today.”

Download the PDF

The Invisible Ground

the invisible ground zine coverSub-titled “honoring each others security needs as an act of solidarity and liberation”, this short zine is a discussion of security culture that argues that respect for the security needs of our comrades is an essential aspect of any movement for liberation. It identifies what the authors call “the invisible ground” to name a problem that is present in many different spaces, namely that there some kind of clear line between “under-” and “above-” ground activities. Instead the authors argue that there is a constantly shifting terrain in which the state is constantly shifting the boundaries, largely in response to what is effective at any given moment. The state will always act to protect its interests and will shift the legality of various actions in an effort to repress movements. Consequently, the zine argues that it is always important to organize with good security culture to protect everyone involved.

Download the PDF

PHL 2017

PHL 2017 zine coverThis is a photo-heavy documentation of actions that happened in Philadelphia during 2017. The intro explains the goals of the project:

It’s been a year since Donald Trump took office, and Philly has been stepping it up. Let’s take a minute to celebrate all the determination, courage, and endurance of all the rebels who’ve poured sand in the gears of the system that makes his presidency possible. This is a timeline of some of the anarchic activity that’s happened over the last year. Let’s look back to learn from our mistakes, and continue to build our strength against everything that brings oppression into the world.

Worth checking out for inspiration!

Download the PDF

Tags: Sprout distrozinespamphletscategory: Projects
Categories: News

Queer Ghosts Haunt Seattle May Day: A Reportback Regarding Some Autonomous Anarchist Actions

Anarchist News - Wed, 05/02/2018 - 20:16

via pudget sound anarchists

Submitted anonymously

Dedicated to our dead friends. Your heart has stopped beating, but you pulse through us everyday.

This May Day we decided to heed the call for a decentralized May Day, though important steps surrounding entry nodes need to be taken if we are really not going to end the tradition of big marches, this seems like a very lovely tactical push. Of course it is not enough to decentralize. There are countless other tactical considerations like speed, opacity, and so on, but it is a wonderful effort.

Our particular autonomous decentralized May Day started precisely around 1am. Inspired the by the spirit of Bash Back! we took to Capitol Hill to hunt for bigots and street harrassers cause we are tired of feeling unsafe in the streets and decided to make Capitol Hill unsafe for those toxic to us women, femmes, transfolk, and queers. One such tactic was having one of our “not passing” trans comrades walk around until someone made a bigoted comment then like crows on a dropped bagel we swarmed and lightly beat or humiliated said bigot with fists, glitter, and/or pig’s blood. Another tactic was to have someone who was to have one of our comrades who would be read as a women just walk around and exist in a skirt and once someone made a sexist or objectifying comment those of us who had fallen back disguised as normies would then confront the person and if they started pulling some really vile shit try and send em to the hospital. Fighting isn’t always fun. Struggle is not always glamorous, but for us, tonight, it certainly was.

After it became time for day-shift wage-labourers to go to work we headed down town to sort of wander around and engage in the everyday in a non-specatcular way. We saw some workers cleaning a Starbucks window, which by the way had a camera facing it lol, and cracked the joke, “Why are you wasting your time cleaning that when it’s just going to get smashed later today.” And everyone around had a good chuckle. We also passed construction workers wishing each other a happy May Day and joined in quickly immediately greeted with warm laughter and embrace. There was also hellllla cops everywhere especially around West Lake which was also funny to us and we spotted a person pan-handling that looked like a cop we knew and he seemed very very anxious when we got near him, but we left it at that. Glad to see people feeling joyous and rebellious. Glad to see cops and bosses shaking in their boots.

Now as the big march downtown that’s usually chill, but run by those macho respectability politics losers, gets started we are winding down for bed.

Have a desirable and autonomous May Day.

Yours in spirit,
Union of Lumpen and Night-Shift Workers Cell of the Informal Anarchist Network

Tags: seattlemay dayqueercategory: Actions
Categories: News

The Cops Ain’t Shit, Slaps Everywhere, and Expropriated BikeShare Bikes: More Autonomous Action in Seattle

Anarchist News - Wed, 05/02/2018 - 20:11

via pudget sound anarchists

Submitted Anonymously

Insurgent tidings from occupied Duwamish territory!

We would like to announce that our informal crew around the size of a hunting party or fire-squad went on a stroll of sorts that was accompanied by vandalism and harassment of the authorities. We wanted to shake our chains as Red Rosa would have put it and see what we could get away with. We have been putting up stickers, fliers, tags, tearing down developement signs, etc since we were little-uns so tonight we thought we’d put those skills to the use.

We started mobbing around the Ave putting up stickers harassing reactionaries of all stripes. Even flipping off and jeering at cops when they were in small enough groups cause we figured we could out run them and they would be hesitant to make a move on a larger group. Eventually there was a cop helicopter in the sky, but it never seemed to see us in a way we could tell and there was no escalation in police presence so we figured we’d keep on our merry way, but split into twos. Twos a company threes a crowd and the cops were largely in twos and they usually hate a fair fight.

At this point we’d like to say don’t try this at home. We’ve got a good sense of how to push shit and were intentionally crossing that line to see where the real limit to what we could do without extreme repression was. We were also in rando-bloc meaning we were dressed as to conceal our identities while also passing as random everyday people that would normally be mulling around. We also took careful measures to change outfits so we looked different before our actions, during our actions, and after our actions as to further elude the authorities.

After feeling like we blew up the spot a bit in the U-District. Which is to say after we drew some more significant police attention we left and headed around other areas of the city with a new mission. Our new mission was to liberate and sabotage as many bike share bike as possible. Now you may be thinking, ‘hold up isn’t having more bikes everywhere a good thing especially if there cheap?’ To answer this let’s look at a few other examples of Bike sharing.

In Amsterdam’s bike share program the bike are free. This means all classes of people can use them. In Amsterdam these bike were inpart brought into being by anarchists and was apart of reducing harm done by cars and reclaiming the city. If we look at these new capitalist bike shares we can see this is a capitalist co-optation of this model. They pay their workers shit. They overcharge. You have to have a smartphone. In China they waited till they hada monopoly than jacked up the prices. And they really only care about the money. These people aren’t interested in fighting subjugation they want more subjugation. Subjugation under them. And so we fought back, just as the youths in France have and just like are anarchist forerunners have.

We took angle grinders to the contraptions that subjugate these bikes to the market. We painted as many as we could black, honeslty this was the hardest part. In the later hours we resorted to just chucking the bikes into the water or onto train tracks.

With all this we still think big black blocs aren’t dead. Just don’t have them at fucking Westlake.

You couldn’t stop us. Even if you catch us you couldn’t stop us. And high on revolt we think you won’t catch us.


Make May Day everyday. Build nodes. Plant the seeds of insurgent commune against the state and capital. Find each other. Build our infrastructure. Break their infrastructure. Perpetuate ethical social ruptures. Shatter the lie of social peace.

Anarchy lives.

Radical salutations,
some anarchists

Tags: seattlemay daydirect actionsome anarchistsbike sharescategory: Actions
Categories: News