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Updated: 17 min 51 sec ago

Will the Longest Shutdown in US History End in a Power Grab?

Mon, 01/14/2019 - 17:02

On Saturday, the government shutdown reached day 22 and became the longest government shutdown in US history.

Since the 1970s, government shutdowns have been a way of life in Washington, occurring every few years. The current intractable shutdown over the president’s demand for $5 billion for a border wall has been marked by repeated failed negotiations, and it’s increasingly hard to see where this could all end.

President Trump has repeatedly floated the idea of declaring a national emergency in order to circumvent normal budget processes and get the money for the wall. And in recent days, analysts have increasingly suggested that this may be the most plausible way to end the shutdown, which has forced 800,000 government employees to either stay home or work without pay.

Past shutdowns have always ended with negotiated deals. Using a declaration of emergency to end a government shutdown — regardless of whether it even worked at all — would be an unprecedented and authoritarian move that could open the door to a host of alarming future scenarios in which a president might use this power to shut down electronic communication or freeze bank accounts.

How Previous Shutdowns Have Ended

If the intractability of government shutdowns can be measured by their duration, then the next hardest one to solve before this one was the 21-day shutdown in 1995 under President Bill Clinton. That shutdown was over a host of disagreements – Republicans wanted spending and tax cuts and a balanced budget, and President Clinton wanted to defend programs like Medicare, Medicaid and education spending. After 21 days, Republicans moderated their demands for spending and tax cuts, and President Clinton proposed a new plan for a balanced budget.

The next longest shutdown in 1978, at 18 days long, was one of the earlier shutdowns of the modern era, when shutdowns became common following legislation that gave Congress more power over budgeting. This shutdown happened because President Carter objected to congressional approval for spending on an aircraft carrier and public works projects that he viewed as pork barrel spending. In the end, President Carter won, and those items were not included in the budget.

The third-longest shutdown lasted for 16 days in 2013, when congressional Republicans tried to defund the Affordable Care Act (ACA) before it took effect. President Obama naturally opposed any such legislation, and a shutdown ensued. President Obama emerged a clear winner when the final deal left the ACA intact.

If these three examples make it seem like presidents usually come out on top after government shutdowns, the truth is more complicated. Even short-term victories often turn out to be long-term failures, and when shutdowns happen over issues where both sides have deeply held moral convictions (like abortion), shutdowns tend to have no clear winner. Which one of these models best matches the current shutdown remains to be seen.

Is a Shutdown Deal Possible in 2019?

Negotiators and observers have floated a number of possible deals, ranging from splitting the difference with wall funding of $2.5 billion, a wall that’s more like a fence, border security measures like new lighting and sensors, or a broader immigration deal that would secure a path to citizenship for the much fought-over Dreamers, or recipients of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, as well as funding for a wall.

So far, none of these possibilities have gained real traction, and many have been shut down outright by either the president, the Democrats, or both.

In recent days, one of the most often-discussed ways to end the shutdown is no deal at all. The possibility that the president could try to get border wall funding through declaring a national emergency over the objections of Democrats seems a real possibility.

Is Declaring a National Emergency Legal?

As Marjorie Cohn recently forcefully argued in Truthout, “in the Appropriations Clause, the Constitution gives Congress, not the president, the power to authorize expenditures of federal funds.” If Trump declared a national emergency in order to secure funds that Congress has declined to make available, it would be an alarming abuse of power.

However, it is not entirely clear how current US courts would actually rule on the legality of declaring a national emergency, and their decision could depend on details like what specific legal authority the president’s team cites for the declaration. A lawsuit against a national emergency declaration by the president could go all the way to the Supreme Court, where it’s unclear what the final ruling could be, since some members of the Court might prefer not to set a precedent that would limit presidential power for years to come. But the possibility of a court battle while the government reopens has still been seen as a means to end the shutdown and provide a political win for the president, even if he ultimately loses in court.

Presidents declare national emergencies all the time, and there are currently 31 active national emergencies on the books. The vast majority of these implemented sanctions against foreign governments, or those the US deems terrorists or international criminals.

Many pundits viewed the president’s televised national speech describing the southern border as a “crisis” situation as laying the groundwork for national emergency declaration. The president has repeatedly (though inconsistently) claimed that he would declare a national emergency over the border fight.

This time Democrats are likely to launch an immediate lawsuit over any declaration the president makes, despite the president’s declaration that such a declaration is “100 percent” within his legal powers.

Where Would the Funds Come From?

Most reports have involved the president reallocating money from the Pentagon. That money could come from a pool of $23 billion originally budgeted for the Army Corps of Engineers for a widely varied range of construction projects. One proposal would take funds from flood control and other measures following hurricane-related flooding and wildfires in Puerto Rico, Texas and California. Another proposal would take the funds from more routine construction of facilities like air traffic control towers and ammunition storage facilities.

There is also a much smaller pool of $700 million under the military budget allocated for counter-drug efforts at the border, which could be repurposed.

This National Emergency Could Have Long-Term Consequences

Lawmakers in both major parties have warned about the precedent that a national emergency declaration could set. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio warned that, “If today, the national emergency is border security … tomorrow the national emergency might be climate change.”

While some Democrats have seemed to endorse the idea of opening such a precedent for climate change, Democratic leaders have made clear their opposition.

In an alarming analysis, Elizabeth Goitein of the Brennan Center for Justice laid out the danger of unmitigated presidential declarations of emergency. Goitein warns that US laws could, in some circumstances, allow a president to declare a national emergency that would allow him (or her) to take drastic actions like cutting off electronic communications or freezing Americans’ bank accounts, or even deploying military troops within the United States.

Such an authoritarian nightmare might seem far off, but do we really want to find out?

The Best Way Out Is No Wall

Democrats have long offered $1.6 billion toward border security measures. Meanwhile, the entire cost of the wall is estimated at closer to $25 billion. Clearly, there’s no magic in the number $5 billion. Making 800,000 government employees suffer is a cynical political move on the president’s part.

Americans are mostly against building a wall, and a majority believe that $5 billion could be put to better use. The best resolution is for the government to reopen with the $1.6 billion in border funds Democrats have offered. And the only way to get there is for congressional Republicans to say enough is enough. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell certainly won’t do that without pressure. But it may be the only option.

The post Will the Longest Shutdown in US History End in a Power Grab? appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

From Beto to Oprah, Undeclared 2020 Candidates Already Backed by Outside Groups

Mon, 01/14/2019 - 16:15

As a growing number of potential 2020 Democratic candidates weigh their chances, various PACs have appeared hoping to demonstrate grassroots support and “draft” their favored candidate into running.

Already attracting a lot of attention is unsuccessful 2018 Senate candidate and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas). A Politico report claims he is “leaning toward running for president,” and several unaffiliated PACs have been launched since November 2018 with the intention of getting O’Rourke to run.

The Draft Beto PAC, launched on Nov. 23, 2018, is headquartered in Brooklyn, New York and lists Nathan Lerner as its treasurer. Lerner is an Obama 2012 alum and executive director of the Build the Wave grassroots organization and PAC. He also co-founded the DraftBeto.org website. The Draft Beto PAC has no financial data listed as no filing deadlines have passed since it was registered with the FEC.

Another organization, The We Want Beto Unofficial Street Team 2020 PAC, also launched in 2018. Based in Eaton Rapids, Michigan, the PAC lists Christopher Hopcraft as its treasurer. Hopcraft appears to be a business owner in Michigan and the founder of The World Trade Center Oak Project, according to a Facebook account matching the name in the FEC filing. A website describes the group as an “unofficial activist group dedicated to seeing Texas Representative Robert Francis ‘Beto’ O’Rourke nominated as the contender for President by the Democratic Party.” The PAC has no financial data because no filing deadlines have passed since it was registered.

A third PAC, Draft Beto 2020, is the newest, having been launched on Jan. 2. Based in Boston, the PAC names Gemma Martin as its treasurer. Martin is also listed as the treasurer for the liberal Super PAC Alliance for a Better Rhode Island. A website affiliated with the PAC lists three team members: Lauren Pardi, a former communications manager in the US House of Representatives and for Barack Obama’s 2012 Democratic National Convention Committee; Adam Webster, a Democratic campaign consultant; and Will Herberich, a veteran Democratic campaign worker. Like the other two O’Rourke PACs, this one has no financial data listed on the FEC website since no filing deadlines have passed.

A PAC has also been created with the intention of getting Democratic Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to join the race. America Drafts Garcetti, Inc has existed since January 2018. Incorporated in New Mexico, Michael Weber is listed as its chairman and treasurer. Weber ran the #DraftGarcetti campaign and a now-suspended Twitter account, which had reportedly supported Joe Biden and then Michael Bloomberg before settling on Garcetti. According to the FEC website, the PAC had raised $4,040 from five donations between Jan. 2, 2018 until March 30, 2018. The donations came from New Mexico, New York, Indiana, Utah and California. The PAC spent $3,840.00 on operating expenditures, of which the largest amount, $1,000, was spent on fundraising payroll. The PAC filed an FEC report in April 2018 and has missed all of its filing deadlines since.

Although presidential speculation has cooled about Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg as the site has been embroiled in controversy over its data sharing policies, there is still a Draft Zuckerberg 2020 PAC operating. With its address listed in Washington DC, the PAC run by a Mr. Joseph Roberts, has missed every filing deadline since it was created.

As Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) explores a formal presidential bid, a draft PAC has also formed for her. Michigan for Elizabeth Warren PAC was launched in November 2018. The treasurer of the PAC is Michael McDermott of Westland, Mich. who ran an unsuccessful Democratic primary campaign for the Michigan House of Representatives. The PAC has yet to raise any funds, but has an affiliated website.

When 2018 neared an end, some of the other more unique draft movements petered out. Two PACs, Ready for Michelle 2020 and Friends of Michelle 2020, hoping to enlist former First Lady Michelle Obama, both shuttered without raising any money. Draft Chris Murphy 2020, an effort supporting Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), also was terminated after not raising any cash and missing every filing deadline.

Until August 2018, the Draft Al Franken 2020 PAC looked to encourage former Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who resigned from the Senate in January 2018 after allegations of sexual harassment, to run. The PAC successfully raised $2,855 in 2017, only spending $393.43 on federal operating expenses, before it was terminated.

Two celebrities also saw PACs created with the intent of having them enter the 2020 race. Run The Rock 2020 hoped to draft professional wrestler and actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and National Committee To Draft Oprah Winfrey for President of the United States 2020 wanted the TV star and media figure to run. According to the website affiliated with the Oprah PAC, Cormac Flynn was the founder and national director of the committee and was listed as the treasurer of the PAC in FEC filings. Flynn had been the vice president of the League of Conservation Voters Education Fund and had worked on a variety of Democratic candidate campaigns. The website states that “the Draft Committee has voluntarily terminated out of respect for Ms. Winfrey’s statements that she does not intend to run.” The Oprah PAC saw $147.46 in contributions before being terminated in December 2018, while The Rock PAC missed its filing deadlines before shuttering in August 2018.

The post From Beto to Oprah, Undeclared 2020 Candidates Already Backed by Outside Groups appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

As Government Shutdown Drags On, IRS Continues to Aid the Rich

Mon, 01/14/2019 - 16:10

As 800,000 federal workers remain furloughed or working without pay in the longest government shutdown in US history, we look at how the Trump administration has restarted a division of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to help corporate lenders. The Washington Post reports that an appeal from the mortgage industry has resulted in hundreds of IRS staffers returning to the agency to carry out income verifications for lenders. This process earns the $1.3 trillion mortgage banking industry millions of dollars in fees. We speak with Paul Kiel, a reporter for ProPublica and contributor to the series “Gutting the IRS.” His recent piece for the series is titled “Who’s More Likely to Be Audited: A Person Making $20,000 — or $400,000?”

TRANSCRIPT

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. The partial government shutdown, now the longest in US history, has dragged into its 24th day, with still no apparent end in sight. As 800,000 federal workers remain furloughed or working without pay, with some unable to make rent or pay medical bills, we end today’s show looking at how the Trump administration has restarted a division of the Internal Revenue Service to help the corporate lenders, the mortgage industry.

The Washington Post reports an appeal from the mortgage industry has resulted in hundreds of paid IRS staffers returning to the agency to carry out income verifications for the mortgage industry. This process earns the $1.3 trillion mortgage banking industry millions of dollars in fees.

According to The Washington Post, the IRS workers were called back to work just one day after a trade association, representing credit reporting companies and high-level officials in the mortgage industry, lobbied top advisers to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Robert Broeksmit, chief executive of the Mortgage Bankers Association, wrote to Mnuchin’s senior adviser, Craig Phillips, “Could you make these guys essential?”

Unlike the 420,000 workers forced to work without pay, the 400 IRS workers called back to work are being paid, using industry user fees. Marvin Friedlander, a former senior IRS official, told The Washington Post, “It seems crazy to me that a powerful bank or lobby gets to bring their people back to do their work. How about the normal slob who can’t even pay his rent?” he asked.

For more, we’re joined by Paul Kiel, reporter for ProPublica, one of the contributors to the remarkable series “Gutting the IRS: A multiyear campaign to slash the IRS budget has left it understaffed and on the defensive. That’s been good news for tax cheats, the rich, and big corporations — but not for the poor.”

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Paul.

PAUL KIEL: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: So, first, talk about making this group of workers essential and bringing them back to serve the mortgage industry.

PAUL KIEL: Well, I mean, I think it’s important to know this is the second kind of remarkable decision the Trump administration has done to ease the pain of the shutdown. And the first was, what they originally said was that workers were coming in, and they were just going to be processing payments, to make sure that revenues come to the government, but refunds would not go out at tax time, which obviously would result in an enormous amount of pressure on Congress, when people start not getting those refunds they’re expecting to get in February. So, they made a decision that was different from all previous administrations that dealt with shutdowns, which said that, actually, we’re going to bring these workers back in tax-filing season and have them push out refunds.

And then this comes along, where the mortgage industry would like to be processing loans, and because a lot of tax transcripts are required as a way of underwriting the loans, that was stopping. And so, that’s where that pressure came to bear. And they, you know, came up with a new decision. So they’re bending rules a lot when it comes to the IRS, to change the way it’s been dealt with in the past during shutdowns.

AMY GOODMAN: So, they bring in — they make these workers not only essential, but they are paying these workers.

PAUL KIEL: Right. They found money to, I guess, make them happier workers, I guess. I don’t know.

AMY GOODMAN: And how does this benefit the mortgage industry?

PAUL KIEL: It makes sure that they can make loans, so they can make money, you know, that things don’t shut down for them, even if it’s shut down for most of the federal government.

AMY GOODMAN: And this was done at the behest of Steve Mnuchin, the treasury secretary.

PAUL KIEL: Well, his people were obviously listening to the lobbyists and made things happen.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about your research looking at the gutting of the IRS. But it doesn’t get gutted equally, or at least the effects of it are not equal.

PAUL KIEL: Right. So, this starts with the tea party Congress coming in after the 2010 midterms. And, you know, there’s a lot of strong anti-IRS sentiment on the right. And originally kind of the focus is, Obamacare has just been passed, and the IRS plays a crucial role in implementing Obamacare. So it’s seen as kind of a way to get at Obamacare, to attack Obamacare, by restraining the IRS budget. That leads to, you know, the reason for budget cuts. And then there’s a large scandal that erupts in 2013 regarding how the IRS is in — from the view of people on the right, started targeting right-leaning political nonprofits. This is the Lois Lerner scandal. And that leads to the justification for other massive cuts.

And so, starting in 2011 through 2018, the IRS budget is being really hacked out in some years and just kind of held down in other years. And the cumulative effect of that is a budget cut of over $2 billion, in today’s dollars, over that time. They lost a third of their enforcement staff. And, you know, taxpayer service has suffered, but that has actually been one area where, you know, constituents are angry, because they call the IRS, they can’t get an answer to questions, and so Republicans have kind of bumped funding a little bit in that area. But there’s other basic areas that are, you know, in a state where they’ve never been before.

AMY GOODMAN: So, some people might say, “Good, they shouldn’t have these kind of resources.” You know, there’s a whole movement that says, obviously, they want the IRS gutted, and then others who say government is absolutely essential. Who is more likely to get audited?

PAUL KIEL: Well, so, I think it’s important to note, so, one of our largest anti-poverty programs is the earned income tax credit. About $70 billion goes out; it goes to 27 million households. And that is run by the IRS. And since the ’90s, the right, the Republicans in particular, have put a lot of pressure on the IRS to audit people who receive that benefit, that comes in the form of a tax refund each year. Over a third of the audits that the IRS does are of people who receive that credit. And that’s a type of auditing that the IRS does that’s largely automated.

And so, what we were able to show in our piece is that audits of the rich, audits of corporations have come down much more quickly than audits of people who are receiving this credit. And these are people, you know, households that tend to have income under $20,000 a year. It’s a program that lifts about, you know, millions of children out of poverty every year. And the computers can still pump out those audit letters. And so, that area of auditing has fallen much less precipitously.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let me go to a graphic from your article —

PAUL KIEL: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: — on earned income tax credit recipients. It shows that since 2011, audit rates for the wealthy have dropped more steeply than for the earned income tax credit recipients. For example, for taxpayers earning between $200,000 and $500,000 a year, audit rates dropped by 74 percent, but for earned income tax credit recipients who have a median annual income under $20,000, audits dropped by just 36 percent.

PAUL KIEL: Right, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re more likely to be audited if you’re making less than $20,000 or $40,000 a year than if you make a million dollars?

PAUL KIEL: Right. So, it’s kind of what the IRS has said, as well: We were prioritizing these people at the bottom, and we were prioritizing people at the very tippy top, which is people who earned over $10 million a year. But what that means is that, you know, audits of the affluent have plummeted far more, so that there’s basically no balance anymore, where you have — you have to get up to a million dollars a year before you see the same audit rates as people at the very bottom of the income scale.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what has happened to people at the top of the income scale?

PAUL KIEL: Well, they’re not getting audited. So, you know, that’s what happens. They don’t —

AMY GOODMAN: And corporations.

PAUL KIEL: And corporations. I mean, the large corporations of the country used to be audited every year. That’s happening less and less. So, the Microsofts, the Googles and all those, they might still be audited, but very large corporations are no longer audited everywhere they used to be.

AMY GOODMAN: And what’s going to be the effect of the government shutdown, overall, on people paying taxes this year?

PAUL KIEL: Well, that remains to be seen whether the IRS can somehow make the filing season work in a way that — and gets people’s refunds out on time. I mean, an enormous — tens of millions of people rely on these refunds being on time. Right now, they are contemplating bringing workers back, after not receiving a paycheck for five weeks, and coming in to process refunds to make sure that everyone gets their refund on time. That remains to be seen how that’s going to work out. That’s something that has never been done before.

AMY GOODMAN: And what were you most surprised by in the series you did?

PAUL KIEL: Well, I would say that some of the most basic things the IRS is not able to do because of the funding drop-off. Like one area is people who do not file any tax return at all. It’s kind of hard for the IRS to find those people and to tell them, you know, that you owe this money and to track them down and make them pay. And so they basically just stopped doing it. So, if you don’t file taxes, it’s — so they’re not opening those investigations. They’re saying, “Well, we don’t have people to do what we need to do, so let’s make sure that we’re cashing the checks people are sending in. Other things that take more resources to do, that take a lot of time, we just don’t have the people to do it, so we’re not going to do it.”

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us, Paul Kiel, reporter for ProPublica, where he covers business and the economy, a contributor to the recent series headlined “Gutting the IRS: Who Wins When a Crucial Agency Is Defunded.” The subtitle, “A multiyear campaign to slash the IRS budget has left it understaffed and on the defensive. That’s been good news for tax cheats, the rich, and big corporations — but not for the poor.”

The post As Government Shutdown Drags On, IRS Continues to Aid the Rich appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Florida Pardons Men Falsely Accused in Jim Crow-Era Rape Case in 1949

Mon, 01/14/2019 - 16:04

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has granted posthumous pardons to four young African American men accused of raping a white woman near Groveland, Florida, in 1949. Two men were brutally murdered as a result of the false accusations. The case is now seen as a racially charged miscarriage of justice emblematic of the Jim Crow south. The story of the “Groveland Four,” now 70 years old, has continued to haunt the state of Florida. We speak with Gilbert King, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America, and Carol Greenlee, daughter of Charles Greenlee, one of the Groveland Four.

TRANSCRIPT

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

AMY GOODMAN: On Friday, Florida’s governor, the Republican Ron DeSantis, granted posthumous pardons to four young African-American men accused of raping a white woman near Groveland, Florida, 70 years ago. The case is now seen as a racially charged miscarriage of justice emblematic of the Jim Crow South. The men, known as the Groveland Four, were falsely accused of raping Norma Padgett, a 17-year-old teenager who was white, in 1949.

Before going to trial, one of the men, Ernest Thomas, was murdered by a mob of a thousand men, led by the local sheriff, Willis McCall. He was killed in a hail of gunfire. The other three men were tortured in jail until two of them gave false confessions.

Charles Greenlee was sentenced to life. Walter Irvin and Samuel Shepherd were condemned to death. When Irvin and Shepherd appealed their conviction, they were represented by Thurgood Marshall of the NAACP, who would later become the first African-American Supreme Court justice. But in 1951, Samuel Shepherd was shot and killed by the same Sheriff, Willis McCall. Walter Irvin was also shot by the sheriff and his deputy but survived. Irvin eventually died in 1968, two years after being paroled. Charles Greenlee lived until 2012.

But the story of the Groveland Four has continued to haunt the state of Florida. This is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaking on Friday.

GOV. RON DESANTIS: Today we have taken action to pardon the Groveland Four. While this act cannot right the wrongs done to them many years ago, I hope that it will bring peace to their families and to their communities. I am confident that the people of Florida would not want this injustice to happen again.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we’re joined right now by two guests. Gilbert King is the author of Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America. The book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2013. King is also the author of Beneath a Ruthless Sun: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found. And in Nashville, Tennessee, we’re joined by Carol Greenlee, daughter of Charles Greenlee, one of the Groveland Four.

Gilbert King, Carol Greenlee, welcome to Democracy Now! Carol, if you could begin by talking about the significance of Governor DeSantis’s pardon of your father, Charles Greenlee?

CAROL GREENLEE: Well, thank you for having me this morning.

Governor DeSantis’ decision was very, very significant to my family. Even though my father passed in 2012, it still lingered shame, a cloud over my family, that he was convicted of this horrific crime. My nieces, my nephews, my brothers, my son all carried this cloud over them. It has lifted that cloud from being carried by innocent children, innocent family members. And I feel that a chain has been broken. It felt like the door of justice swung open and the nightmare ended, of torture, waking up at night to the pain of what had happened to my father. So it was very significant. It relieved a lot of pain. And it closed the door of injustice to my family.

AMY GOODMAN: Gilbert King, you wrote this Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Devil in the Grove, about the Groveland Four. Can you talk about what happened 70 years ago?

GILBERT KING: Right. Seventy years ago, there was just a grave miscarriage of justice that took place. Accusations of sexual assault by a white woman in the Jim Crow South carried explosive consequences. And it was used by law enforcement at the time, in the South, to brutalize and control black people. And so, the slightest accusations would lead down this road of, within months, you’d see the defendants going to the electric chair. And that was going to be the situation in this particular case.

As soon as Norma Padgett made these accusations, within hours after those accusations, the Ku Klux Klan rolled into Groveland and started burning down black homes, chasing hundreds of people from their lives in Groveland. All of a sudden, you saw a manhunt. One suspected — one of the members of the Groveland Four, who was not even in the area, was chased up into the swamp. A crowd of like a thousand men surrounded him and basically riddled his body with bullets. There was no way they were going to bring him back alive. And so now you’re down to the Groveland Three. They arrest three men —

AMY GOODMAN: And you’re talking about the sheriff himself?

GILBERT KING: The same sheriff. He was in charge of the posse. And it was not seen as a law enforcement operation; it was more like a hunting operation. They knew he was up in the swamps, and they were not going to bring him back alive. And so, that’s how this whole case started.

It was just sort of a housekeeping of African Americans that were deemed as troublemakers. Walter Irvin and Samuel Shepherd were seen as troublemakers because they served in the military, and they continued to wear their military uniforms as a reminder to the people of the South that they fought and were willing to die for this country.

AMY GOODMAN: This is World War II.

GILBERT KING: Right. And this was seen as a very provocative act. It was seen as an uppity thing to do that, to remind the community in the Jim Crow South that, you know, you wanted better treatment. And so, what a lot of people don’t realize, in 1946, there was a wave of soldier lynchings across the South. African Americans were being lynched in their uniforms as sort of a reminder, saying, “You might have gotten more freedoms in Europe, but you’re back in the South.”

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, they served in segregated units in World War II.

GILBERT KING: Exactly. And so —

AMY GOODMAN: Known to have liberated a number of concentration camp survivors in their camps.

GILBERT KING: Right, and fought — many of them were war heroes. And so, but it was still being forced back into this second-class citizenship when they returned. And, you know, lynching was still a problem after World War II. And so, this was a way of housekeeping. And you had a very law-and-order-minded sheriff, who was very, very consistent, working with the orange grove owners, that he was going to control labor in this part of Central Florida. And by controlling labor, he often had to put his foot down on the neck of certain African Americans that he deemed as troublemakers.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, talk about what happened to Carol Greenlee’s father, Charles.

GILBERT KING: Well, Carol Greenlee’s father Charles had come into Groveland expecting to be working as a picker and in the citrus business. And he arrived in Groveland. He didn’t quite have a place to stay, so he slept his first night in the train station in Groveland. And he was picked up for loitering, around midnight, and taken into custody.

He was actually documented in police custody for loitering at the same exact time that Norma Padgett said that she was sexually assaulted by four men. He had an airtight alibi. But when it came to prosecution, all you needed was a state attorney to just ignore all that evidence and convince 12 white jurors that Charles Greenlee was one of the men who was involved in this. He had never met Norma Padgett before, but he got swept into this, too.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, the sheriff was involved in the murder of two of the four men.

GILBERT KING: He was, right. And actually, he should have been involved in a third murder. Walter Irvin, against all odds, survived that shooting on the side of the road in 1951 by playing dead. He was handcuffed. This was after the Supreme Court had overturned the verdict in the first trial. And then Sheriff Willis McCall said, “Fine, I have an idea. I’ll go up and pick up the prisoners and bring them back for the retrial.”

And he put them in the car, handcuffed them and started driving back to the courthouse. And then he made a little detour down a dirt road, and then he opened fire on two of the Groveland boys, who were handcuffed, couldn’t go anywhere. Sam Shepherd was killed instantly. But Walter Irvin, handcuffed to his best friend — couldn’t run — he was shot two times. And he’s laying there in the ditch pretending to be dead, while he hears the sheriff get on the radio saying, “I got rid of them. Get back here,” calling his deputy back to the scene.

AMY GOODMAN: I waned to turn to Henrietta Irvin, the sister of Walter Lee Irvin, one of the Groveland Four, appearing in the documentary The Groveland Four. Here she explains Walter’s account of what happened the night he and Sam Shepherd were shot in 1951 by Sheriff Willis McCall and a deputy.

HENRIETTA IRVIN: When he opened the door for Sam, as Sam turned to get out of the car, Walter, he said, he shot him right in his forehead. Just like that. He said he shot him so fast, and he felt his weight moving, until he knew that Sam was dead, he said. But by that time, he had done shot him also. And he said he remembered hearing him say, “Come on back. I have killed the son of a [bleep].” He said, well, when Mr. Yates got back and he was shining his light on him, he kicked Sam, and he shined the light on him and said, “But this — is not dead.” And he said he pulled out his gun, and he aimed right at his head. And it went in the neck. And he said, that time, he was out. He tried to pretend like he was dead so that they wouldn’t, you know, kill him. But he still was alive.

AMY GOODMAN: Wow. So, that’s Henrietta Irvin, the sister of Walter Lee Irvin, shot by the sheriff, and then the deputy comes back, says he’s still alive, and shoots him again —

GILBERT KING: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: — as he lay in the ditch.

GILBERT KING: Right. And what’s amazing, if Walter Irvin had died right there, that would have been the end of this story. I would not have written this book. Nobody would know about this case, because now it became the word of law enforcement. But because Walter Irvin survived, he told the story of how he received that last bullet. And so, when he said that he was shot at near point-blank range and that bullet went right through his neck, the FBI went back to the scene of the crime. They found the blood spot where Walter Irvin was laying, and they dug under that blood spot, and they found that a .38-caliber bullet that matched a Smith & Wesson gun. So now the FBI had pure proof of cold-blooded murder.

I think probably the most disturbing part of this entire story was that that entire investigation was quashed, by the FBI. The FBI recommended that the sheriff and the deputy be prosecuted, and it was quashed by the US attorney. And so, when I filed a Freedom of Information Act request 60 years later, I was the first person to see that report, the forensic report. Thurgood Marshall and his lawyers never knew about it.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to the comments of Norma Padgett. Norma Padgett is the — well, now she’s 86 years old. She testified in front of the Florida Clemency Board on Friday. This is the first time she has spoken publicly since 1952.

NORMA TYSON PADGETT UPSHAW: My name is Norma Tyson Padgett Upshaw, and I am the victim of that night. And I’ll tell you now that it’s on my mind; it’s been on my mind for about 70 years. I was 17 years old, and this never left my mind. And I can tell you, from the — from the time it started until today — if it was last night, I could carry you on that route that I went that night. And I’ll tell you this: If you had a gun held to your head and told you if you scream and didn’t do what they said, that they’d blow your brains out, so what would you do? And if you had a daughter, and if you — and a mother and a wife and a sister or a niece, would you give them pardon? No, I don’t think you would. I really don’t. And every time it comes up, I just quiver on the inside.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Norma Padgett, now 86 years old, testifying in front of the Florida Clemency Board. Carol Greenlee, your response to what Norma Padgett said?

CAROL GREENLEE: My response was that this is a free country, is freedom of speech. And I just felt numb at the time. I believe that she said what she felt. And it didn’t change my mind at all, after years of reading the testimonies and the investigation reports and the books that have been written by individuals digging out the truth. So, it really didn’t cause me any ill will against Mrs. Padgett.

AMY GOODMAN: Gilbert King —

CAROL GREENLEE: It just —

AMY GOODMAN: What do we know about what happened to Norma Padgett?

GILBERT KING: Well, one of the interesting things that happened is that Norma Padgett was out — she had already separated from her husband. She was 17 years old. And there were rumors around town that he was already beating her and that the family sort of forced a separation. So, in the summer of 1949, they got back together one night and went out drinking and dancing.

And we don’t know exactly what happened on the side of that road that night, but we do know that two men, Walter Irvin and Sam Shepherd, came by and helped them with a broken car on the side of the road. And at one point, Willie Padgett, Norma’s husband, made a racial remark about these African Americans, because Norma had offered them a drink of whiskey. And he made a racial remark, and Sam Shepherd sort of fought with them, and then they drove off.

To sort of put a story in place, Willie Padgett said, “There were four of them that beat me up, and then they abducted and raped my wife.” And they started this whole story. And that was what led to the whole reaction in the community.

AMY GOODMAN: It was believed it was her husband that beat her?

GILBERT KING: Yeah, that was what — the defense certainly believed that, that the story was put in place by the husband. He was the first one to start it, and said, “Norma, you’ve got to say that four black men did this, and they took you away.”

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion with Gilbert King, author of Devil in the Grove, and Carol Greenlee, daughter of Charles Greenlee, one of the Groveland Four, who were just posthumously pardoned by the Florida governor on Friday. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Freedom Highway” by Rhiannon Giddens. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

On Friday, Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis granted posthumous pardons to four young African-American men accused of raping a white woman near Groveland, Florida, in 1949, 70 years ago, the case now seen as a racist miscarriage of justice emblematic of the Jim Crow South.

This is Henrietta Irvin, a sister of Walter Irvin, one of the Groveland Four. She spoke to the Orlando Sentinel about visiting her brother on death row.

HENRIETTA IRVIN: I remember going to Rayford the night, the Sunday before he was supposed to be electrocuted. That was terrible. His head was shaved. And they were talking to us about what was going to happen. And we needed to be to Rayford to pick his body up, or, otherwise, they would just bury him in a grave. But it didn’t work like that.

AMY GOODMAN: Again, that was Walter Irvin’s sister. Walter Irvin received a last-minute stay that saved his life. He was later paroled in 1968.

Still with us, Gilbert King, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America. And in Nashville, Tennessee, we’re joined by Carol Greenlee, the daughter of Charles Greenlee, one of the Groveland Four.

Carol, can you talk about your life, what it meant that your father was imprisoned for — what? He was in prison for about 10 years?

CAROL GREENLEE: Yes, he was in prison in Rayford, Florida, for 10 years. I can remember the first time seeing him. I was about 3 years old when my mother would take me to the prison, on a Sunday, for visits. And the time — the last time that I saw my father in prison, I was about 3. And he said to my mother not to bring me back anymore, because it was just too hard.

As a 3-year-old child, I can remember thinking, you know, “What did I do wrong? And am I the reason for my father to be here?” The guilt that plagued me for years throughout my young life, it was hard. It was the shame in — when conversations with your peers centered around activities that they’ve done with their families, including their father, I found myself politely leaving the area, leaving the room, so that I wouldn’t have to talk about it. So, it was a time of hard, hard, painful excuses for me and trying to understand why this happened.

But all during this time, my father would send me gifts wrapped in brown paper bags, if you will, a card on birthdays, a card on a holiday, he seems to have gathered from in the prison. I remember one of the last things he sent me was a jewelry box made of match stem — burnt match stems, that I have today.

It was a time that I felt that I had been doing time with my father, because I could not express what I thought that I needed to in terms of activities or going different places with my father. So, I spent those 10 years also locked up in prison within myself, a sense of shame, guilt, that I was responsible, because I was the one that he actually went to Groveland seeking a job. I was the unborn child at that time that he was trying to find a job to take care of. So I carried that as my burden of guilt.

AMY GOODMAN: Gilbert King, I wanted to ask you — there is a lot of attention on the US Supreme Court today. You’ve written extensively also about the Supreme Court. But, you know, the subtitle of your book Devil in the Grove, Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New [America]. This is before Thurgood Marshall became the first African-American Supreme Court justice. Talk about his taking on this case and how dangerous it was.

GILBERT KING: Oh, it was extraordinarily dangerous. I mean, when I first came across this case, I found these letters from the young lawyers in Florida, and they were basically imploring Thurgood Marshall to send help — they needed the FBI, they needed protection — that Florida was the most dangerous place they’d ever come across as lawyers. And I remember thinking, “What is happening in Florida?” And that’s how I learned about this case. It was a deadly case. They had to move the lawyers and Thurgood Marshall around from house to house each night, because the Klan was after them. They were threatening them. They were chasing them after court dates. And so, it was a very dangerous place for young black lawyers to be practicing law.

I think one of the things that was most striking to me, and it really started in the beginning of the trial, when you had Norma Padgett, 70 years ago, showed up in courtroom, and she stood up in the witness box, and she identified three of the Groveland boys as her attackers. And the lawyers and the press that were watching this, they basically said, “This trial is now over.” That was enough. You didn’t need any more evidence. It was the word of this young white woman accusing black men of rape, that was going to lead to the electric chair. And the power of those words, I thought, was so significant to Marshall, because even he knew it was over.

Seventy years later, Norma Padgett came into the hearing room in Tallahassee to testify before the clemency board. She had not spoken to anyone publicly in 70 years. And I think it was interesting to see what had happened in those 70 years. Her words were no longer enough to ensure that these men were going to die for that accusation. Now it became evidence-based. And I think that’s what you saw.

The clemency board now had their hands on all of this evidence, evidence that was hidden from the defense at the time, the medical report in this particular case. A doctor examined Norma Padgett hours after this alleged attack and found no evidence of any kind of attack. What did the defense — what did the prosecutor do in this case? They hid that witness. When Thurgood Marshall and his lawyers tried to subpoena that medical report, it was quashed. And the US attorney said, “That’s a private matter between a woman and her doctor.” This was evidence that was possibly exculpatory, and it was all hidden. The amount of perjury that existed and prosecutorial misconduct, it was a different criminal justice world.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, talk about what you found in writing Devil in the Grove. By the way, how many publishers turned down the publication of this book before you got one who would take it?

GILBERT KING: Yeah, this was rejected 38 times by publishers. And —

AMY GOODMAN: So, you got a publisher. And then, even when it was published, you got a message from them soon after, saying they’re going to remainder it, because no one’s interested.

GILBERT KING: Right. It was just one of those things. I think, at that time, in 2012, people weren’t really into these kind of justice stories. And it didn’t really get a lot of attention, didn’t get a lot of reviews. And —

AMY GOODMAN: And the day after you got that call from the publisher that they were going to remainder your book?

GILBERT KING: Got the Pulitzer Prize. So it was a totally different book all of a sudden, one day later. And now people were paying attention.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about what you uncovered, what you were able to find.

GILBERT KING: Well, I think the main thing that I was able to uncover was that I got my hands on the unredacted FBI reports. And so, those were significant because you had law enforcement agents admitting to torturing the Groveland boys in the basement, even though their official statement said that they “must have gotten in a fight before I arrested them.” You had constant law enforcement saying — believing they were going off the record to the FBI, and saying that there’s no — that this did not happen and that these witnesses are lying. And I just found a ton of perjury. Even Norma Padgett’s own statements that she made to the FBI did not match the testimony that she gave in the trial. So, that was changed in order to present this prosecutorial narrative. So there was just perjury, falsification of evidence. The police went about and made fake footprints in the soil to put these men in there, and that was documented by an FBI expert. But all of this evidence was ignored, because the prosecutor was on a first-name basis with 12 white jurors.

AMY GOODMAN: The role of Mabel Norris Reese? You write about her in Devil in the Grove, but also your new book, Beneath a Ruthless Sun: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found.

GILBERT KING: Right. Well, I think it was really important to see how this case was covered. And Mabel Norris Reese was one of the reporters who was writing about this Groveland case. And ultimately, when the Supreme Court overturned the decision in Lake County, they pointed to the bias in the press. And Mabel was one of them. And she later admitted that she deserved to be stepped on, because she was taking the sheriff’s word for everything. And after the shooting on the side of the road, she had a real change of heart, and she was determined to report on this sheriff and the injustices.

AMY GOODMAN: You mean the sheriff murdering one and critically wounding the other —

GILBERT KING: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: — of the Groveland Four.

GILBERT KING: Right. I think that’s when Mabel really knew that this was really a really bad sheriff. And so she started writing about him constantly. And years later, they burned down her home. They burned a cross. They defaced her office, poisoned her dog. Ultimately, they ran her out of town because she was reporting on these kind of stories.

And my latest book is 10 years later, after Groveland. There was another explosive rape case that reaches the US Supreme Court. And sure enough, Willis McCall is in charge of the investigation. And it’s only Mabel Norris Reese, the only one who will write about it.

AMY GOODMAN: And Thurgood Marshall went from investigating the case — was he on the Supreme Court at the time that it was considered?

GILBERT KING: He was. And it’s interesting, because at some point, in Beneath a Ruthless Sun, when this story reaches — when this case reaches the US Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall is on there, and he knows all about Lake County and Willis McCall. And so they send an order to show cause, back to Lake County, explaining why they’re holding this young man in an asylum.

AMY GOODMAN: Not to confuse the two, but in Beneath a Ruthless Sun, the young man you’re talking about was a white mentally disabled man.

GILBERT KING: Right. And that’s really the strange twist in this, because it involved a wealthier family this time. It was an actual, real rape in this particular case. But because it was seen as so impolite, the prosecutor got together with the sheriff and the judge, and they decided to switch the race of the defendant, so that the victim’s husband would not bear the shame of having been assaulted by an African American. And so they framed a white man of rape at the time.

AMY GOODMAN: So, going back to this case, a pardon isn’t total exoneration. Can you explain that, Gilbert King? And what is — is there any further developments? Will these men ever be fully exonerated?

GILBERT KING: Yeah, they will. And the reason — a pardon sort of encompasses all of it. It’s a recognition that there was a miscarriage of justice. And the reason it was done was because two of the men of the Groveland Four were never convicted in a court. Ernest Thomas never stood trial; he was gunned down by the posse. And Sam Shepherd was gunned down on the evening of the retrial, so, technically, his conviction was thrown out. This was a way for the clemency board to acknowledge all four Groveland boys, pardon them.

Right now the FDLE, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, is working with the Attorney General’s Office. I’m working with them, too, getting together all these files and reports. And the very next step is going to be a complete exoneration. And that just takes a little bit longer to write that report.

AMY GOODMAN: Carol Greenlee, if your father were alive today — he died back in 2012 — what would you say to him? And what would this total exoneration mean to you?

CAROL GREENLEE: It would mean — it would mean everything, in terms of how our family view Florida, how our family really view the criminal justice system in this United States. It restores faith and hope, that even though it took 70 years, it’s here. It’s finally happened. And the same system that tortured him, that put him in prison for what they did not do, is the same system that will exonerate him. So, yes, you have to maintain hope. And this is the greatest country in the world.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, what does the story of what happened to your father say to you about the criminal justice system today, looking at what you see today when it comes to criminal justice and African Americans?

CAROL GREENLEE: That things have changed, but we still have a long way to go. And it is, the laws, the rule of law on the books are good, but we, as people, have to enforce them in the right way. I’m pretty sure that back in 1949 the law was to make sure that everybody had a fair trial. It wasn’t the law; it was the people that was administering the law. And we still have that today. But thank God things are changing. We have the ability for people to stand up and be bold and tell the truth. Governor DeSantis and all of the elected officials in Florida felt that, have done that. They used the law to rectify a wrong, and I’m thankful for that.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Gilbert King, finally, as we look at the health of Ruth Bader Ginsburg — by the way, the announcement Friday that she is cancer-free, she is just recuperating, and even as the court continues to hear oral arguments, she is looking at the transcripts and being a part of the decision-making, expected back in February. The legacy of Thurgood Marshall on the court? And Ruth Bader Ginsburg, her significance?

GILBERT KING: Right. Well, I think it’s an extremely worrisome way to look at what’s happening in America. You know, if we go back to Brown v. Board of Education, Thurgood Marshall’s great desegregation of the schools case —

AMY GOODMAN: And that case, 1955, was six years after the Groveland case.

GILBERT KING: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: Actually, just a few years after, because it took a few years to go to court.

GILBERT KING: Exactly. And what a lot of people don’t realize is, Brown v. Board was funded on the back of this criminal case. All of the money that was raised for the Groveland case got pushed right over into Brown v. Board, which enabled them to put together this phenomenal civil rights document to bring that case forward.

But I think what a lot of people don’t realize is, after Brown v. Board, which was the, you know, landmark civil rights decision in all of the Supreme Court in the 20th century, the country took a step backwards, and you started to see more racial violence and tension. You saw the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan. You saw the White Citizens’ Councils popping up — 300,000 members in 11 states. Race relations went backwards after that.

And I think that’s a pattern that you see in history. You could look at it and say, you know, African-American President Barack Obama serves eight years, wins those elections quite comfortably, and there is something of a backlash that you see, a reaction to that. But I like to think it’s like it’s two steps forward, one step back, and it’s a cycle that will always repeat itself in history. But, you know, as Martin Luther King said about the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice, I think that’s ultimately where you get. It’s always moving forward.

And, you know, the situation with the Supreme Court makeup, it’s concerning. When you have an attorney general who comes in, and appointed by a president who is really not known for his civil rights point of view, it’s definitely concerning. But I do have hope for the future.

AMY GOODMAN: Gilbert King, author of Devil in the Grove — this is the story of the Groveland Four — Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America. His latest book, Beneath a Ruthless Sun: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found. And thanks so much to Carol Greenlee, daughter of Charles Greenlee, one of the Groveland Four, again, pardoned by Florida’s governor on Friday.

This is Democracy Now! As the government shutdown continues, we look at the IRS, what it is and isn’t doing, and its history, how it’s been gutted over the last decade. Stay with us.

The post Florida Pardons Men Falsely Accused in Jim Crow-Era Rape Case in 1949 appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Where Abortion Fights Will Play Out in 2019

Mon, 01/14/2019 - 15:56

With Democrats now in control of the US House of Representatives, it might appear that the fight over abortion rights has become a standoff.

After all, abortion-rights supporters within the Democratic caucus will be in a position to block the kind of curbs that Republicans advanced over the past two years when they had control of Congress.

But those on both sides of the debate insist that won’t be the case.

Despite the Republicans’ loss of the House, anti-abortion forces gained one of their most sought-after victories in decades with the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Now, with a stronger possibility of a 5-4 majority in favor of more restrictions on abortion, anti-abortion groups are eager to get test cases to the high court.

And that is just the beginning.

“Our agenda is very focused on the executive branch, the coming election, and the courts,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List. She said the new judges nominated to lower federal courts by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the Senate reflect “a legacy win.”

The Republican majority in the US Senate is expected to continue to fill the lower federal courts with judges who have been vetted by anti-abortion groups.

Abortion-rights supporters think they, too, can make strides in 2019.

“We expect 25 states to push policies that will expand or protect abortion access,” said Dr. Leana Wen, who took over as president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in November. If the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade is eventually overturned, states will decide whether abortion will be legal, and under what circumstances.

Here are four venues where the debate over reproductive health services for women will play out in 2019:

Congress

The Republican-controlled Congress proved unable in 2017 or 2018 to realize one of the anti-abortion movement’s biggest goals: evicting Planned Parenthood from Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for people who have low incomes. Abortion opponents don’t want Planned Parenthood to get federal funds because, in many states, it functions as an abortion provider (albeit with non-federal resources).

Though Republicans have a slightly larger majority in the new Senate, that majority will still be well short of the 60 votes needed to block any Democratic filibuster.

Because Democrats generally support Planned Parenthood, the power shift in the House makes the chances for defunding the organization even slimmer, much to the dismay of abortion opponents.

“We’re pretty disappointed that, despite having a Republican Congress for two years, Planned Parenthood wasn’t defunded,” said Kristan Hawkins of the anti-abortion group Students for Life of America. “This was one of President Trump’s promises to the pro-life community, and he should have demanded it,” she added.

Another likely area of dispute will be the future of various anti-abortion restrictions that are routinely part of annual spending bills. These include the so-called Hyde Amendment, which bans most federal abortion funding in Medicaid and other health programs in the Department of Health and Human Services. Also disputed: restrictions on grants to international groups that support abortion rights, and limits on abortion in federal prisons and in the military.

However, now that they have a substantial majority in the House, “Democrats are on stronger grounds to demand and expect clean appropriations bills,” without many of those riders, said Wen of Planned Parenthood. While Senate Republicans are likely to eventually add those restrictions back, “they will have to go through the amendment process,” she said. And that could bring added attention to the issues.

With control of House committees, Democrats can also set agendas, hold hearings and call witnesses to talk about issues they want to promote.

“Even if the bills don’t come to fruition, putting these bills in the spotlight, forcing lawmakers to go on the record — that has value,” said Wen.

The Trump Administration

While Congress is unlikely to agree on reproductive health legislation in the coming two years, the Trump administration is still pursuing an aggressive anti-abortion agenda — using its power of regulation.

A final rule is expected any day that would cut off a significant part of Planned Parenthood’s federal funding — not from Medicaid but from the Title X Family Planning Program. Planned Parenthood annually provides family planning and other health services that don’t involve abortion to about 40 percent of the program’s 4 million patients.

The administration proposal, unveiled last May, would effectively require Planned Parenthood to physically separate facilities that perform abortions from those that provide federally funded services, and would bar abortion referrals for women who have unintended pregnancies. Planned Parenthood has said it is likely to sue over the new rules when they are finalized. The Supreme Court upheld in 1991 a similar set of restrictions that were never implemented.

Abortion opponents are also pressing to end federal funding for any research that uses tissue from aborted fetuses — a type of research that was authorized by Congress in the early 1990s.

“It’s very important we get to a point of banning” fetal tissue research “and pursuing aggressively ethical alternatives,” said Dannenfelser.

State Capitols

Abortion opponents having pushed through more than 400 separate abortion restrictions on the state level since 2010, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights think tank. In 2018 alone, according to Guttmacher, 15 states adopted 27 new limits on abortion and family planning.

“Absolutely some [of these are] an exercise in what they can get to go up to the Supreme Court,” said Destiny Lopez, co-director of the abortion-rights group All* Above All. “Sort of ‘Let’s throw spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks.’”

But 2018 also marked a turning point. It was the first time in years that the number of state actions supporting abortion rights outnumbered the restrictions. For example, Massachusetts approved a measure to repeal a pre-Roe ban on abortion that would take effect if Roe were overturned. Washington state passed a law to require abortion coverage in insurance plans that offer maternity coverage.

The Federal Courts

The fate of all these policies will be decided eventually by the courts.

In fact, several state-level restrictions are already in the pipeline to the Supreme Court and could serve as a vehicle to curtail or overturn Roe v. Wade.

Among the state laws closest to triggering such a review is an Indiana law banning abortion for gender selection or genetic flaws, among other things. Also awaiting final legal say is an Alabama law banning the most common second-trimester abortion method — dilation and evacuation.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente. KHN’s coverage of women’s health care issues is supported in part by The David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

The post Where Abortion Fights Will Play Out in 2019 appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Healthy Food Just Got a Big Boost in the New Farm Bill

Mon, 01/14/2019 - 15:33

Fresh fruits and vegetables just got a whole lot more affordable for people who use SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program formerly known as food stamps. The 2018 Farm Bill passed both houses of Congress with bipartisan support and was signed into law Dec. 20 by President Trump — although SNAP’s funding beyond February depends on Congress and the president enacting a new budget and ending the government shutdown. If that happens, the new law allocates $250 million over five years to healthy food incentive programs, such as Double Up Food Bucks.

According to Oran Hesterman of the nonprofit Fair Food Network, which launched the Double Up program in five Detroit farmers markets in 2009, the simplicity and benefits of the program have helped it spread rapidly. It works like this: When someone spends SNAP money on fruits and vegetables, the program matches the purchase, so $10 of SNAP money buys $20 worth of fresh produce. The buyer, farmers, and local economy all benefit.

The program had a breakthrough in the 2014 Farm Bill, which allocated $100 million for healthy food incentive programs. Those programs can now be found nationwide, with the Double Up model in place in 26 states.

Hesterman has been a major force guiding the growth of these programs. In 2009, he left his job as a program officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to found the Fair Food Network and has served as its chief executive ever since.

Fran Korten: You have been an advocate of the Double Up Food Bucks program for almost a decade. How did you start up the program?

Oran Hesterman: When I left the Kellogg Foundation and started Fair Food Network in 2009, I thought to myself, What is the best program we can put on the ground to demonstrate how the food system can operate in a way that can generate multiple wins? Rather than solving one specific problem, let’s see if we can demonstrate how to address several issues at once.

So how did you come up with the idea of the Double Up program?

When I was at the Kellogg Foundation, we partnered with the Ford Foundation on a small grant to try to get farmers markets into more low-income neighborhoods. We knew that if you’re going to attract farmers to these neighborhoods, you have to figure out how to get the shoppers of that neighborhood to come and buy. And since in a low-income neighborhood a lot of people use SNAP, you’ve got to figure out how to both accept SNAP benefits as a tender for the farmers and how to attract those shoppers to use them at the farmers market. This idea of saying, “come spend a dollar of your SNAP money at the farmers market and we’ll give you an extra dollar value in produce,” that was really intriguing. The person who brought the idea to me at the Kellogg Foundation was Gus Schumacher, a former undersecretary of Agriculture. We decided to try it out in Takoma Park, Maryland. Gus died very suddenly last year, and now in the 2018 Farm Bill, Congress renamed the program the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive program.

So why did you start the program in Detroit?

We’re located right next to Detroit, which has been considered one of the worst food deserts in the country and where approximately 40 percent of the population receives SNAP benefits. So the SNAP program is a big part of the local food economy. Detroit also has the Eastern Market, one of the most thriving inner-city farmers markets in the country. On a market Saturday, they will attract 35,000 to 45,000 people. It’s probably the most racially and socioeconomically diverse place you’re going to find in the city of Detroit. So we went to the president of Eastern Market Corporation, Dan Carmody. We said, “Dan, if we could raise the money to do this kind of incentive program at Eastern Market, are you up for this experiment?” He said, “Sure, let’s try it.”

The same dollar helps families stretch their food budget in a much healthier direction and helps farmers earn more money.

So how did it go?

It worked really well. What’s so valuable about this program is that the same dollar helps families stretch their food budget in a much healthier direction and helps farmers earn more money. And we know that beginning farmers — younger farmers — benefit more from this particular program than farmers in general, because they are more likely to sell their produce direct to the customer, such as at a farmers market.

Now that the program has grown into a national effort with the backing of the federal government, how do you see the benefit of the program’s inclusion in this latest Farm Bill?

The 2018 bill is significant because of the amount of funds it allocates — it goes from $100 million in the 2014 bill to $250 million in the new bill. This makes support for healthy food incentives a permanent part of future farm bills or what’s called “baseline.” Our experience is that once a provision makes it into the Farm Bill as baseline, funding levels might shift over time, but the actual program doesn’t disappear. And if there’s a continuing resolution just to keep the government going, the funding for this particular program will stay intact.

What challenges does this expansion bring?

Every one of the dollars allocated in the Farm Bill has to be matched by nonfederal dollars. So what looks like a $250 million program in the new bill is actually a $500 million program. Over the years, we’ve seen those matching dollars come from private philanthropy and more recently also from state and local governments. In addition, the USDA allows an in-kind match. So if there are volunteers at a farmers market who are implementing the program, and you are able to codify the hours and their value, USDA will allow you to use those in-kind contributions as part of your match.

Given the new expansion, will it be possible to raise the matching funds?

I sure hope so! You can be assured that Fair Food Network will be doing our part to make sure that those funds are utilized well. While it will be a challenge to raise those matching dollars, I think part of the strength of this program from the start has been this public-private partnership.

These healthy food incentive programs now exist in every state.

When there is so much acrimony in Congress, how did this program attract bipartisan support?

These healthy food incentive programs now exist in every state. So representatives in the House and the Senate hear from their constituents all around the country about the program. For example, one of the largest Double Up programs outside of Michigan is in Kansas. US Sen. Pat Roberts, who is chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, is from Kansas. He was able to see this operating in his home state and supported the provision in the Farm Bill.

Another reason we’ve had such broad support is that people from so many different perspectives find a home in these healthy food incentive programs: people who are concerned about public health; those concerned about hunger; those concerned about supporting local farmers and local agriculture. Some of the strongest support this time came from the grocery industry, which is a crucial partner.

How has expanding Double Up from farmers markets to retail grocery stores affected the program?

It opens up more opportunities for families who are participating in the SNAP program to use Double Up in many more places. Where farmers markets may be open one or two days a week, Double Up can be used at a grocery store seven days a week. So it is bringing that ability to shift to a healthier diet closer to the families that can most benefit from the program. Since the program gives preference to locally and regionally produced food, it creates a greater variety of marketing outlets for those farmers. They can market what they’re growing direct to customers at farmers markets and farm stands or they can sell wholesale to the grocers.

President Trump is pressing to Department of Agriculture to enact rules that put in work requirements to receive SNAP benefits. How will that affect the program?

The work requirements did not make it into the Farm Bill. Congress did not approve that. What’s happening is USDA is coming out with a ruling that will make it harder for states to receive a waiver for adults to get SNAP benefits who don’t have dependents at home and who are not working. Ultimately programs like Double Up rely on a strong SNAP program. They really go hand in hand. So we want to make sure that those who are eligible have an opportunity to enroll in the SNAP program and to benefit from programs like Double Up.

You started the Double Up program in 2009 and now healthy food incentive programs have grown nationwide. How do you assess the success?

If you look at the overall $867 billion in the Farm Bill’s 10-year budget, close to 80 percent — 80 cents of every federal dollar we spend on the food and agriculture system — is going to SNAP. So if you want to make the food system healthier for low-income families and better support local farmers plus keep that money in the local economy, there’s no better way to do it than to help redirect SNAP dollars. It is the largest lever we have in our federal system. We’re spending more than $70 billion a year on SNAP. Imagine if we could redirect 10 percent of that money into healthier eating and support for local farmers and the local economy. That’s $7 billion a year. What if we could just do 1 percent? That would be $700 million a year.

So the $250 million over five years in the new bill is a great step. And it’s actually $500 million when you count the match. But it’s still a baby step. How do we redirect $1 billion, $2 billion, $5 billion of this money that we are spending as a nation and focus it on healthier eating and support for local farmers and strong local food economies? If you do this over time, it will improve the lives of families across the nation for generations to come. This in turn will impact health care costs, as more fruits and vegetables in the diet is the No. 1 agreed-upon dietary shift that improves health. So you can either pay the farmer now or pay the doctor later. We know that when we incentivize families to bring their SNAP dollars to purchase healthier food for their kids, they’ll do it. It’s amazing that what started as small pilot is today in all 50 states and established as a permanent part of future farm bills. I could not be more pleased.

The post Healthy Food Just Got a Big Boost in the New Farm Bill appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

How Not to Build a “Great, Great Wall”: A Timeline of Border Fortification

Mon, 01/14/2019 - 15:29

The point was less to actually build “the wall” than to constantly announce the building of the wall. “We started building our wall. I’m so proud of it,” Donald Trump tweeted. “What a thing of beauty.”

In fact, no wall, or certainly not the “big, fat, beautiful” one promised by Trump, is being built. True, miles of some kind of barrier — barbed wire, chain-link and steel-slat fencing, corrugated panels, and, yes, even lengths of what can only be described as concrete wall — have gone up along the US-Mexico border, starting at least as far back as the administration of President William Taft, early in the last century. Trump has claimed repairs and expansions of these barriers as proof that he is fulfilling his signature campaign promise. Plaques have already been bolted onto upgrades in existing fencing, crediting him with work started and funded by previous administrations.

And yet Trump’s phantasmagorical wall, whether it ever materializes or not, has become a central artifact in American politics. Think of his promise of a more than 1,000-mile-long, 30-foot-high ribbon of concrete and steel running along the southern border of the United States as America’s new myth. It is a monument to the final closing of the frontier, a symbol of a nation that used to believe it had escaped history, but now finds itself trapped by history, and of a people who used to believe they were captains of the future, but now are prisoners of the past.

From Open to Closed Borders

Prior to World War I, the border — established in the late 1840s and early 1850s after the US military invaded Mexico and took a significant part of that country’s territory — was relatively unpoliced. As historian Mae Ngai has pointed out, before World War I the United States “had virtually open borders” in every sense of the term. The only exception: laws that explicitly excluded Chinese migrants. “You didn’t need a passport,” says Ngai. “You didn’t need a visa. There was no such thing as a green card. If you showed up at Ellis Island, walked without a limp, had money in your pocket, and passed a very simple [IQ] test in your own language, you were admitted.”

A similar openness existed at the border with Mexico. “There is no line to indicate the international boundary,” reported Motor Age, a magazine devoted to promoting automobile tourism, in 1909. The only indication that you had crossed into a new country, heading south, was the way a well-graded road turned into a “rambling cross-country trail, full of chuck-holes and dust.”

The next year, the State Department made plans to roll “great coils of barbed wire… in a straight line over the plain” across the open borderland range where Texans and Mexicans ran their cattle. The hope was to build “the finest barbed-wire boundary line in the history of the world.” Not, though, to keep out people, as the border wasn’t yet an obstacle for the Mexican migrant workers who traveled back and forth, daily or seasonally, to work in homes, factories, and fields in the United States. That barbed-wire barrier was meant to quarantine tick-infested longhorn cattle. Both Washington and Mexico City hoped that such a fence would help contain “Texas Fever,” a parasitic disease decimating herds of cattle on both sides of the border and leading to a rapid rise in the cost of beef.

As far as I can tell, the first use of the word “wall” to describe an effort to close off the border came with the tumultuous Mexican Revolution. “American troops,” announced the Department of War in March 1911 during Taft’s presidency, “have been sent to form a solid military wall along the Rio Grande.” Yes, Donald Trump was not the first to deploy the US Army to the border. Twenty thousand soldiers, a large percentage of that military at the time, along with thousands of state militia volunteers, were dispatched to stop the movement of arms and men not out of, but into Mexico, in an effort to cut off supplies to revolutionary forces. Such a “wall” would “prove an object lesson to the world,” claimed the Department of War. The point: to reassure European investors in Mexico that the US had the situation south of the border under control. “The revolution in the republic to the south must end” was the lesson that the soldiers were dispatched to teach.

The revolution, however, raged on and borderland oil companies like Texaco began building their own private border walls to protect their holdings. Then, in April 1917, the month the United States entered World War I, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law a set of sweeping constraints on immigration generally, including literacy tests, entrance taxes, and quota restrictions. From that point on, the border sharpened — literally, as lengths of barbed wire were stretched ever further on either side of port-of-entry customs houses.

What follows is a chronology of both the physical fortification of the US-Mexico boundary and the psychic investment in such a fortification — the fantasy, chased by both Democrats and Republicans for more than half a century, that with enough funds, technology, cement, steel, razor ribbon, barbed wire, and personnel, the border could be sealed.This timeline illustrates how some of the most outward-looking presidents, men who insisted that the prosperity of the nation was inseparable from the prosperity of the world, also presided over the erection of a deadly run of border barriers, be they called fences or walls, that would come to separate the United States from Mexico.

A Chronology

1945: The first significant physical barrier, a chain-link fence about five miles long and 10 feet high, went up along the Mexican border near Calexico, California. Its posts and wire mesh were recycled from California’s Crystal City Internment Camp, which had been used during World War II to hold Japanese-Americans.

1968: Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy” famously played to the resentments of white southern Democrats who opposed civil rights. As it turned out, though, the president had another southern strategy in mind as well, a “border strategy.” As historian Patrick Timmons has written, running for president in 1968, Nixon promised to get tough on illegal drugs from Mexico — the “marijuana problem,” he called it. Shortly after winning the White House, he launched “Operation Intercept,” a brief but prophetic military-style, highly theatrical crackdown along the border. That operation created three weeks of chaos, described by National Security Archive analyst Kate Doyle as an “unprecedented slow-down of all plane, truck, car and foot traffic — legitimate or not — flowing from Mexico into the southern United States.” That it would be run by two right-wing figures, G. Gordon Liddy and Joe Arpaio, should be a reminder of the continuities between the Nixon era and the kind of demagoguery that now rules the country. Arpaio would become the racist sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, who gratuitously imposed humiliating, brutal, and often deadly conditions on his overwhelmingly Latino prisoners. He would also become an early supporter of Donald Trump and would receive the first pardon of Trump’s presidency after a judge found him in criminal contempt in a racial-profiling case. Liddy, of course, went on to run Nixon’s “Plumbers,” the burglars who infamously broke into the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters at the Watergate Hotel, precipitating the president’s downfall. In his 1996 memoir, Liddy said Operation Intercept primarily wasn’t about stopping the flow of pot. Instead, its “true purpose” was “an exercise in international extortion, pure, simple, and effective, designed to bend Mexico to our will” — to force that country to be more cooperative on a range of policies.

1973-1977: The United States had just lost a war in Vietnam largely because it proved impossible to control a border dividing the two parts of that country. In fact, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, desperate to keep North Vietnamese forces from infiltrating South Vietnam, had spent more than $500 million on 200,000 spools of barbed wire and five million fence posts, intending to build a “barrier” — dubbed the “McNamara Line” — running from the South China Sea to Laos. That line failed dismally. The first bulldozed six-mile strip quickly became overgrown with jungle, while its wooden watch towers were, the New York Times reported, “promptly burned down.” It was as that war ended that, for the first time, rightwing activists began to call for a “wall” to be built along the US-Mexico border.

Biologist Garrett Hardin, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, was typical. In “Population and Immigration: Compassion or Responsibility?,” an essay in the Ecologist, he wrote: “We might build a wall, literally.” Hardin was an early exponent of what today is called “race realism,” which holds that, in a world of limited resources and declining white birth rates, borders must be “hardened.”

During these years, southern border conflicts were especially acute in California, where Ronald Reagan was then governor. As San Diego’s sprawl began to push against agricultural fields where migrant workers from Mexico toiled, racist attacks on them increased. Vigilantes drove around the back roads of the greater San Diego area shooting at Mexicans from the flatbeds of their pickup trucks. Dozens of bodies were found in shallow graves.

Such anti-migrant violence was fueled, in part, by angry Vietnam veterans who began to carry out what they called “beaner raids” to break up migrant camps. Snipers also took aim at Mexicans crossing the border. Led by the 27-year-old David Duke, the Ku Klux Klan set up a “border watch” in 1977 at the San Ysidro point of entry and received significant support from local Border Patrol agents. Other KKK groups soon set up similar patrols in south Texas, placing leaflets stamped with skulls and crossbones on the doorsteps of Latino residents. Around this time, in the swampy Tijuana estuary, an area that border vigilantes began calling “Little ‘Nam,” US border agents reported finding pitfall traps modeled on the punji traps the Vietnamese had set for American soldiers.

1979: President Jimmy Carter’s administration offered a plan to build a fence along heavily trafficked stretches of the border, but scuttled the idea as the 1980 presidential election approached.

1980-1984: “You don’t build a nine-foot fence along the border between two friendly nations,” Ronald Reagan said on a presidential campaign swing through Texas in September 1980. By taking a swipe at the Carter administration’s plans, he was making a play for that state’s Latino vote, 87% of which had gone to Carter four years earlier. “You document the undocumented workers and let them come in here with a visa,” Reagan said, and let them stay “for whatever length of time they want to stay.”

Then, four years later, President Reagan shifted gears. “Our borders are out of control,” he insisted in October 1984. As he ran for reelection, his administration started pushing the idea that the border could indeed be “sealed” and that the deployment of “high tech” equipment — infrared scopes, spotter planes, night-vision goggles — might provide just such effective control. “New stuff,” claimed a Border Patrol official, though some of the ground sensors being set out along that border were leftovers from Vietnam. In his second term, Reagan did get an immigration reform bill passed that helped more than two million undocumented residents obtain citizenship. But his administration, looking to appease a growing caucus of nativists in the Republican Party, also launched Operation Jobs, sending federal agents into workplaces to round up and deport undocumented workers. In 1984, the Border Patrol saw the largest staff increase in its 60-year history.

1989: In March 1989, a few months before the Berlin Wall fell, the new administration of President George H. W. Bush proposed building a 14-foot-wide, 5-foot-deep border trench south of San Diego. Some likened it to a “moat,” since it would be filled with run-off rainwater. “The only thing they haven’t tried is mining the area,” quipped Robert Martinez, the director of San Diego’s American Friends Service Committee. Opponents called it an “inverted Berlin Wall,” while the White House claimed that the trench would solve both drainage and immigration problems. The idea was shelved.

1992: Richard Nixon’s former speechwriter Patrick Buchanan provided an unexpectedly strong challenge to a sitting president for the Republican nomination, calling, among other things, for a wall or a ditch — a “Buchanan trench,” as he put it — along the US-Mexico border and for the Constitution to be amended so that migrant children born in the country couldn’t claim citizenship. Bush won the nomination, but Buchanan managed to insert a pledge in the Republican platform to build a “structure” on the border. It proved an embarrassment at a moment when there was an emerging post-Cold War consensus among Republican and Democratic Party leaders that a free trade agreement with Mexico had to be encouraged and the border left open, at least for corporations and capital. Bush’s campaign tried to fudge the issue by claiming that a “structure” didn’t necessarily mean a wall, but Buchanan’s people promptly shot back. “They don’t put lighthouses on the border,” his sister and spokesperson Bay Buchanan said.

1993: Having passed the North American Free Trade Agreement in Congress, President Bill Clinton immediately started to militarize the border, once again significantly increasing the budget and staff of the Border Patrol and supplying it with ever more technologically advanced equipment: infrared night scopes, thermal-imaging devices, motion detectors, in-ground sensors, and software that allowed biometric scanning of all apprehended migrants. Stadium lights went up, shining into Tijuana. Hundreds of miles of what the Clinton White House refused to call a “wall” went up as well. “We call it a fence,” said one government official. “‘Wall’ has kind of a negative connotation.”

The objective was to close off relatively safe urban border crossings and force migrants to use more treacherous places in their attempts to reach the United States, either the creosote flatlands of south Texas or the gulches and plateaus of the Arizona desert. Trips that used to take days now took weeks on arid sands and under a scorching sun. Clinton’s Immigration and Naturalization Service commissioner, Doris Meissner, claimed “geography” as an “ally” — meaning that desert torments would work wonders as a deterrent.

The Clinton White House was so eager to put up a set of barriers that it barely paid attention to the actual borderline, at one point mistakenly running a section of the structure into Mexico, prompting a protest from that country’s government.

Another stretch, spanning 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean, would be built using Vietnam-era steel helicopter landing pads stood on end. Their edges were so sharp that migrants trying to climb over them often severed their fingers. As one observer noted, the use of the pads raised “the chilling possibility” that the US might be able to “wall off the country” with leftover war matériel.

2006: The Secure Fence Act, passed by President George W. Bush’s administration with considerable Democratic support, appropriated billions of dollars to pay for drones, a “virtual wall,” aerostat blimps, radar, helicopters, watchtowers, surveillance balloons, razor ribbon, landfill to block canyons, border berms, adjustable barriers to compensate for shifting dunes, and a lab (located at Texas A&M and run in partnership with Boeing) to test fence prototypes. The number of border agents doubled yet again and the length of border fencing quadrupled. Operation Streamline detained, prosecuted, and tried migrants en masse and then expedited their deportation (mostly using an immigration reform law Clinton had signed in 1996). Agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (created after 9/11) seized children off school buses and tracked undocumented residents deep into liberal states, including in the exclusive Hamptons on New York’s Long Island and in New Bedford, Massachusetts. All told, in his eight years in office, Bush deported two million people, at a rate roughly matched by his successor, Barack Obama.

2013: The Democratic-controlled Senate passed a bill in June 2013 that — in exchange for the promise of a one-time amnesty and a long-shot chance at citizenship for some of the millions of undocumented residents in the country — offered more billions of dollars for policing, fencing, and deportations. According to the New York Times, with a winding down in Iraq and Afghanistan (however brief it would prove to be), defense contractors like Lockheed Martin were betting on a “military-style buildup at the border zone,” hoping to supply even more helicopters, heat-seeking cameras, radiation detectors, virtual fences, watchtowers, ships, Predator drones, and military-grade radar. The bill failed in the House, killed by nativists. But the Democratic Party would continue to fund “tough-as-nails” (in the phrase of New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer) border security programs that amounted to years of up-armoring the border in what was then referred to as a “border surge.”

No one really knows how many people have died trying to get into the United States since Washington began to make the border tough as nails. Most die of dehydration, hyperthermia, or hypothermia. Others drown in the Rio Grande. Since about 1998, the Border Patrol has reported nearly 7,000 deaths, with groups like the Tucson-based Coalición de Derechos Humanos estimating that the remains of at least 6,000 immigrants have been recovered. These numbers are, however, undoubtedly just a fraction of the actual toll.

June 16, 2015: Donald J. Trump descends an escalator in Trump Tower to the tune of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” to announce his presidential campaign and denounce “Mexican rapists.”

“I will build a great, great wall on our southern border,” he tells Americans. “And I will have Mexico pay for that wall.”

Show Me a 50-Foot Wall…

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” poet Robert Frost once wrote.

Borders, not to mention walls, represent domination and exploitation. But they also symbolize the absurdity of political leaders taking the world as it is and trying to make it as they think it ought to be. However much people might curse border fortifications, they also enjoy subverting them — even if the subversion only lasts a moment, as when citizens of Naco, Sonora, and Naco, Arizona, play an annual volleyball game over the border fence; or when an artist decides to paint “the world’s longest mural” on border fencing; or when families come together to gossip, tell jokes, and pass tamales and sweets between the posts; or when couples get married through the spaces separating the slats. As long as the United States keeps coming up with new ways to fortify the border, people will keep coming up with new ways to beat the border, including tunnels, ramps, catapults and homemade cannons (to launch bales of marijuana to the other side), and GoFundMe campaigns to pay for ladders.

As Janet Napolitano, former governor of Arizona and former director of Homeland Security, once said, “Show me a fifty-foot wall, and I’ll show you a fifty-one-foot ladder.”

The post How Not to Build a “Great, Great Wall”: A Timeline of Border Fortification appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

After a Weekend of Explosive Revelations, How Much More Is Trump Hiding?

Mon, 01/14/2019 - 15:27

The lede in Peter Baker’s story in the Sunday New York Times was one I don’t think anyone ever expected to see:

So it has come to this: The president of the United States was asked over the weekend whether he is a Russian agent. And he refused to answer.

That comment specifically refers to a question posed to the president by Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro in reference to the big Times story on Friday reporting that in the wake of the firing of James Comey in May 2017, and Trump’s suspicious behavior surrounding that event, the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into the president himself. We don’t know whether that probe is still active, but one can safely assume that it was folded into special counsel Robert Mueller’s portfolio along with a number of other investigations that had been opened into Russian spying, sabotage and cyber-propaganda over the course of the presidential campaign.

Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir took a deep dive into the details and political implications on Saturday, particularly noting the fact that while many of us have concluded that there was plenty of evidence Trump was compromised and this was just the last straw, the right just sees this as more evidence of a “Deep State coup.” Any hopes that there will soon be a bipartisan consensus on this is as remote as ever.

But that wasn’t the only Russia story that hit this weekend. The Washington Post reported that Trump’s infamous private meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the past two years are even more suspicious that we were led to believe. This seems to have especially alarmed some of the people who know about such things:

Now is the time for all good men (and women) to come to the aid of their country https://t.co/CHkIZnocW6

— Law Offices of David H. Laufman, PLLC (@DavidLaufmanLaw) January 13, 2019

The Atlantic’s Natasha Bertrand pointed out that Laufman is the former chief of the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section of the National Security Division at the Department of Justice. He oversaw parts of the Russia investigation before leaving DOJ last year.

We knew, of course, that Trump had gone to some lengths to speak privately with Putin, but the new reporting shows that he’s gone to greater lengths than we knew to hide the details, going so far as confiscating the notes from at least one of his interpreters at the 2017 G20 summit and giving instructions not to discuss the meeting with members of his administration. (Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did attend that meeting .) You’ll recall that Trump was also later revealed to have had a long private conversation with Putin at the official G20 banquet.

Here's Donald Trump desperately trying to get Vlad's attention at the G20 dinner. pic.twitter.com/5sIKuJvtu8

— Jennifer Hayden (@Scout_Finch) July 19, 2017

As Marcy Wheeler and others have pointed out, Trump later admitted that they discussed “adoptions” at this little tête-à-tête, which just happened to take place the night before Trump dictated that dishonest response to the New York Times on Air Force One. You remember: The one claiming that the the notorious Trump Tower meeting with Donald Jr., Jared Kushner and all those Russians was an innocent discussion about… adoptions.

The Post revealed something else about that Hamburg meeting that was quite startling. The American interpreter who was in the room refused to discuss the details of the meeting with officials from the National Security Council but did report that Trump responded “I believe you” after Putin denied any Russian involvement in the US election.

It must have been quite a chat. Our president tweeted this on the way home:

Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 9, 2017

Experts all dismissed that as a daft notion, but Trump brought it up again at the notorious Helsinki meeting last summer. This time he refused to have anyone but the interpreters present for the two hours he spent with Putin before appearing in what may be the most horrifying press conference of his tenure — and that’s really saying something.

When Trump was standing beside the Russian president, he was asked about the election and whether he would denounce Russian interference. This is what he said:

So let me just say that we have two thoughts. You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server — haven’t they taken the server. Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee?I’ve been wondering that, I’ve been asking that for months and months and I’ve been tweeting it out and calling it out on social media. Where is the server? I want to know where is the server and what is the server saying?

With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia.

I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be. But I really do want to see the server.

But I have — I have confidence in both parties. I — I really believe that this will probably go on for a while, but I don’t think it can go on without finding out what happened to the server. What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC? Where are those servers? They’re missing; where are they? What happened to Hillary Clinton’s emails? 33,000 emails gone — just gone. I think in Russia they wouldn’t be gone so easily. I think it’s a disgrace that we can’t get Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 emails.

So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

And what he did is an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer. OK?

Needless to say, beneath that river of incoherent drivel, Trump managed to make it quite clear to the whole world, as Putin looked on, that he would not or could not say one word of condemnation for Russia’s behavior.

The Post reported that officials “said they were never able to get a reliable readout of the president’s two-hour meeting in Helsinki.” Experts in these matters explain that the fact there was no American record of what was said in the meeting meant that Putin could say Trump agreed to anything he wanted, and there would be nothing Trump could do about it. But that’s a silly thing to worry about. After the press conference, it was obvious that Trump was happy to appear before the whole world and agree to anything Putin proposed.

The Democrats say they will call the interpreter to testify before the House Intelligence Committee, which could potentially answer the more serious concern. Is Putin exercising leverage over Trump in these private meetings or is Trump just a guy standing in front of a strongman, asking him to love him?

The post After a Weekend of Explosive Revelations, How Much More Is Trump Hiding? appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The Green New Deal Is Happening in China

Mon, 01/14/2019 - 15:06

One of the Trump administration’s talking points about global warming is that we’re reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while the countries that remain in the Paris accord are not. Well, the first part of this story is clearly not true, as data for 2018 show a large rise in emissions for the United States. The second part is also not very accurate, as most other countries are taking large steps to reduce emissions.

At the top of the list is China. The country has undertaken a massive push to convert to electric powered vehicles and clean energy sources.

China’s progress in this effort is truly extraordinary. In the case of electric cars, it has used a carrot-and-stick approach where it offers consumers large subsidies for buying electric cars while also requiring manufacturers to meet quotas for electric car production as a percent of their total fleet of cars. It has also invested in the necessary infrastructure, ensuring that there are a large number of charging stations widely dispersed across the country so that drivers don’t have to worry about being unable to recharge their cars.

The result has been a massive increase in the sale of electric cars. Electric car sales are projected to be 1.1 million this year, almost equal to sales in the rest of the world combined. The country expects sales to continue to rise rapidly, with annual sales hitting 11.5 million in 2030. By comparison, electric car sales are expected to be just 480,000 in the United States this year, less than half the number in China.

There is a similar story with solar and wind energy. China added more solar capacity last year than the rest of the world combined. In 2018 it already surpassed the goal it had set for 2020. It is now looking to double its capacity over the next two years.

China also has almost as much wind power capacity as the rest of the world combined. Its capacity is more than three times as great as in the United States. However, even with the extraordinary growth in clean energy, wind and solar together still account for less than 20 percent of China’s generation capacity and less than half the amount of electricity produced by burning coal.

China’s enormous progress in promoting electric cars and clean energy should tell us a great deal about the potential in these areas in the US.

Nonetheless, China’s enormous progress in promoting electric cars and clean energy should tell us a great deal about the potential in these areas in the United States. While China’s economy has grown rapidly over the last four decades, on a per person basis its income is still less than one-third that of the United States.

This means that a relatively poor country was able to make massive gains in reducing greenhouse gas emissions compared with its baseline growth path. The focus on electric cars and clean energy also did not impair the country’s growth in any obvious way.

Over the last decade, China’s GDP growth has averaged 7.9 percent annually. Perhaps there is a story where China’s economy would have grown even more rapidly without the subsidies and other measures to promote green growth, but obviously, these measures could not have been very serious impediments if the country could still sustain one of the fastest growth stretches the world has ever seen.

If China could make such enormous progress in a short period of time, surely the United States could make comparable gains with the resources at its disposal. This doesn’t mean that the necessary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will be costless: People will have to change lifestyles. This means doing without SUVs and eating much less meat. But China’s success is an impressive example.

This brings up another issue directly related to Donald Trump’s trade war with China. One of the biggest complaints that Trump has is that China is “stealing” our technology. Most media commentators have widely endorsed this complaint.

China already spends almost as much as the United States on research and development. With a much more rapidly growing economy, China is virtually certain to pass the United States in research and development spending in the very near future, if it has not already done so.

Rather than spending so much effort worrying about what China is taking from us, we should be thinking about what we can get from China.

Rather than spending so much effort worrying about what China is taking from us, we should be thinking about what we can get from China, especially in the area of green technologies where it has made such enormous progress. Rather than looking to lock up our technologies to maximize the profits US corporations get from their patent and copyright monopolies; a modern trade deal would look to maximize the flow of technology across national borders.

That would be the focus of a trade deal if we were concerned about economic prosperity and the future of the planet. Unfortunately, that is not likely to be the agenda of the people involved in trade negotiations.

The post The Green New Deal Is Happening in China appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Matthew Whitaker Is Shaping Immigration Law Per Trump’s Agenda

Mon, 01/14/2019 - 14:54

On December 3, 2018, Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker took the statistically rare step of “self-referral”: He assumed authority over a question of immigration law on which the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) had ruled, in its own normal course and purview, in 2017.

The BIA, the appellate panel that reviews decisions of the immigration courts, had, in the case Matter of L-E-A, dealt with the question that Whitaker is now positing for himself, issuing his referral less than a month after his November 7 appointment by President Trump as acting attorney general. In his own words, the inquiry is: “Whether, and under what circumstances, an alien may establish persecution on account of membership in a ‘particular social group’ … based on the alien’s membership in a family unit.”

According to The New York Times, pending before US Citizenship and Immigration Services is an asylum application for Victorina Morales and her family. Morales is an undocumented housekeeper who worked illegally at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, for more than five years. Her application is based on her membership in a family unit — coincidentally or not, strikingly similar to the question Whitaker has now certified to himself. The White House declined to comment on The New York Times’s article about Morales, printed December 7, 2018.

It was expected that a decision would be rendered after January 18, 2019: the deadline that Whitaker had set for briefs. Whitaker postponed the deadline amid the ongoing government shutdown, and plans to revise the briefing schedule at an undetermined time, once the government reopens.

Reportedly, the basis of Morales’s asylum application is that several years ago, a group of men invaded her father-in-law’s home in Guatemala and hacked at him with a machete to extort money they assumed he possessed because he had family members in the United States. They then dragged him off to a field and shot him dead. The brutal assault happened in front of Morales’s son, Marvin Gonzalez, when he was only a child.

There has been speculation about what retribution might befall Morales for coming forward about her undocumented status and illegal work: The New York Times asked in its headline, “What Price Will She Pay?”

The attorney general’s self-referral authority is an exception to the reality that for most noncitizens undergoing deportation proceedings before an immigration court, there is no higher level of administrative appeal than the BIA. Once an immigration judge renders a decision granting or denying immigration relief, either party — the “respondent” noncitizen or the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) — may appeal the decision to the BIA. Federal courts of appeal can review decisions of the BIA.

However, the attorney general has the right under federal regulations to intervene in the appeals process by self-certifying a BIA decision, or accepting referral of a BIA decision by DHS or the BIA itself. Once a case has been referred to the attorney general, the BIA decision is no longer final and cannot be reviewed by a federal court or relied on as precedent. The decision issued by the attorney general becomes the final agency decision, a binding precedent for future cases to be decided by immigration judges and the BIA.

It seems convenient that Whitaker happened, quite swiftly, to certify to himself a question involving the viability of family-unit-based asylum claims such as Morales’s. How exactly did this category of cases come to the attention of the new acting attorney general? Did Morales’s status as a now publicly undocumented figure defying the administration have anything to do with Whitaker’s decision to refer the family-unit question to himself?

A Politicized Process

In 2010, the New York University Law Review published an article by Laura Trice chronicling instances in which advocates have speculated that attorneys general received inappropriate guidance from actors such as the Office of Immigration Litigation (OIL), choosing cases for self-referral that were aligned with OIL’s prosecutorial agenda or the attorney general’s political objectives. Trice cautioned in her article that, “the lack of procedural requirements for Attorney General certification results in haphazard, secretive, and sometimes politicized review, with [the] process determined by the Attorney General in an ad hoc, case-by-case manner.” Such a politicized process only threatens to further delegitimize Whitaker’s current tenure, which has already been marred by claims of an unconstitutional appointment.

Placing the respective roles of the attorney general and the BIA in historical context, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Patrick Glen, professor of law at Belmont University College of Law, noted in 2016 that the BIA “has acted as the Attorney General’s delegate, without any independent statutory existence since the Board’s creation in 1940.” The pair cited a 1958 Fordham Law Review article by Harry N. Rosenfield, who pointed out a fact that is striking for the ease with which it can be forgotten: The BIA was “not even mentioned in the 119 page [Immigration and Nationality] Act of 1952.” Only the attorney general and the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security remain statutorily charged with the administration and enforcement of immigration laws. The BIA’s authority to act is provided by regulations of the attorney general and is therefore derivative of the attorney general’s office.

The attorney general’s self-referral power has been among the less publicized immigration-related “design flaws” favoring the current administration.

As Trice points out, “Under the current regulations, the government has absolute control of what cases are brought before the Attorney General for review. The BIA, DHS, or the Attorney General can pick and choose among the 30,000-plus cases decided by the BIA each year to find the case that presents the issues in the light most favorable to its own position.”

Nonetheless, as Gonzales and Glen state, the BIA has the authority to exercise independent judgment, and the attorney general is precluded from influencing or dictating its decisions. As the Supreme Court held in United States ex rel. Accardi v. Shaughnessy:

In unequivocal terms the regulations delegate to the Board discretionary authority as broad as the statute confers on the Attorney General; the scope of the Attorney General’s discretion became the yardstick of the Board’s…. In short, as long as the regulations remain operative, the Attorney General denies himself the right to sidestep the Board or dictate its decision in any manner.

In order for an attorney general to decide an individual case, the case must be referred to the attorney general for review. Unlike prior versions of the relevant regulations, the current regulations do not contain any substantive criteria or standard that cases must meet in order to be referred for review; the regulations focus exclusively on who may refer the cases.

Only three main actors can initiate this process — the attorney general, the BIA (acting through its chairperson or a majority of its members) and the secretary of DHS (although other possible DHS officials are allowed to do this as well, so long as the attorney general concurs in their designation). The people most directly affected by the ultimate decisions — variously called the “aliens,” the “respondents” or the “undocumented” — do not have the authority under the regulations to refer cases to the attorney general, although Gonzales and Glen note that there is no necessary bar against a respondent’s submission of a request that the attorney general certify a case for review.

Self-Referral’s “Design Flaw”

Since 1940, there has been a gradual drop in cases referred to the attorney general by the BIA and DHS. This decrease coincides generally with less overall utilization of the referral authority, down from its peak through the middle of the 1950s. The early versions of the referral regulation dictated referral when a Board member dissented, when a “question of difficulty” arose or in certain substantive cases, ensuring that the BIA would refer cases to the attorney general. The “question-of-difficulty” basis for referral predominated in cases through the 1950s. As these criteria were replaced by a regulation centered only on the identities of the referring parties, the BIA became less essential as a referral source.

Gonzales and Glen also posit that due to the vast development of immigration law since 1940, with detailed case law and regulations, and especially since the enactment in 1952 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), “It is perhaps less important or less necessary for the Board to seek definitive guidance from the Attorney General…. The development of the law may have entailed a higher proportion of cases where the Board could simply apply extant law or make a reasonable extension of that law.”

Gonzales and Glen point out that the Supreme Court’s admonition in Accardi could be another possible explanation for the mid-1950s decline in referrals from the BIA. With the Court’s statement that the BIA must exercise its independent judgment in cases it decides, the BIA may have been discouraged from referring cases to the attorney general in situations where it was confident in the judgment it rendered. Attorneys general may have been eager to adopt a clear separation between their own roles and that of the BIA, letting BIA decisions stand on their own. Gonzales and Glen also point to “a busier Attorney General, whose broad oversight functions look significantly different and more expansive” since 1940. The attorney general “simply has less time to exercise review authority in immigration cases notwithstanding any desire to do so.” When such review does happen then, the desire must be quite great indeed.

Attorneys general have used the authority “sparingly,” averaging only about 1.7 certified decisions annually between 1999 and 2009. Even in the relatively “active” administration of George W. Bush, the attorneys general only issued 16 decisions, an average of two per year. This is significantly lower than the average of eight per year issued between 1953 and 1956, which in turn was substantially lower than the average of 37 decisions issued in the period between 1940 and 1952.

As the American Immigration Lawyers Association wrote in September 2018 of the self-referral authority:

Under the previous administration, Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch employed this power only four times over the course of eight years. In just the last year, Attorney General Sessions has certified six cases to himself and issued five decisions that are transforming immigration law in ways that run contrary to decades of judicial practice and established law. Overall, the decisions are aimed at minimizing the role of judges in immigration courts by restricting their authority to manage their dockets or make decisions based on the facts of each case. In the words of Judge Tabaddor [president of the National Association of Immigration Judges], ‘When you provide a prosecutor with a super veto power, that’s a design flaw.’

The attorney general’s self-referral power has been among the less publicized immigration-related “design flaws” favoring the current administration, which is perhaps one factor emboldening the further abuse of this power.

Attorney general referral is a potential form of dialogue, an opportunity for collaboration among governmental branches on the development of immigration policy. The current pattern of its use, however, smacks of intergovernmental circumvention, batter-ramming new policies into place within whatever time the extant attorney general may have in office.

Returning to the Rule of Law

The federal courts, however, are taking notice. On December 19, 2018, the US District Court for the District of Columbia, in the case Grace v. Whitaker, issued an injunction halting enforcement of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s June 11, 2018, decision in Matter of A-B-, a case that Sessions had referred to himself.

In Matter of A-B-, Sessions had reversed a grant of asylum to a Salvadoran woman who had fled several years of domestic violence at the hands of her then-husband. The decision began by overruling a 2014 BIA decision recognizing “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship” as a “particular social group” within the meaning of the asylum provisions of the INA. Sessions wrote in Matter of A-B-, “Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum,” and, “Accordingly, few such claims would satisfy the legal standard to determine whether an alien has a credible fear of persecution.”

Applying Sessions’s decision, asylum officers at the US Southern border encountered individuals whose accounts of fear were admittedly sincere, but the officers nonetheless issued negative “credible fear” determinations. The plaintiffs in the case before the District Court for the District of Columbia were 12 of these individuals. They had credibly alleged that they feared rape, pervasive domestic violence, beatings, shootings and death in their countries of origin. They had sought review of the negative credible fear determinations by an immigration judge, but the judge upheld the asylum officers’ findings. The plaintiffs found themselves subject to final orders of removal; some were removed pursuant to such orders before the start of the District Court litigation in Grace v. Whitaker.

The District Court held that,

Not only does Matter of A-B- create a general rule against such claims at the credible fear stage, but the general rule is also not a permissible interpretation of the statute. First, the general rule is arbitrary and capricious because there is no legal basis for an effective categorical ban on domestic violence and gang-related claims. Second, such a general rule runs contrary to the individualized analysis required by the INA.

The District Court issued an injunction permanently prohibiting the government from continuing to apply Sessions’s directive in Matter of A-B-. The District Court’s order also prohibited the removal of the plaintiffs who are currently in the US, without first providing credible fear determinations consistent with pre-existing immigration laws. In addition, remarkably, the Court ordered the government to return to the US the plaintiffs who were unlawfully deported and to provide them with new credible fear determinations.

In response, Executive Director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association Benjamin Johnson stated with the support of retired immigration judges and BIA panel members that, “Though substantial due process barriers persist for these survivors even after today’s ruling, we take heart in knowing that in this case, the rule of law was restored.”

On January 15, 2019, confirmation hearings will begin for William Barr, Trump’s nominee for attorney general. Barr was previously attorney general under George H.W. Bush, during which time Barr made clear his disdain for the rights of asylum seekers. More recently, he has written in support of the Trump administration’s Muslim ban, and has praised Sessions’s tenure as attorney general. Barr wrote with delight: “He attacked the rampant illegality that riddled our immigration system, breaking the record for prosecution of illegal-entry cases.”

If Barr’s nomination is confirmed, it is of course likely that he will follow the path of Sessions and Whitaker. What this means for Morales is that she could be forced to endure a cycle similar to that of Matter of A-B-. The new attorney general, bearing the torch passed by Whitaker, could issue an order trying to incinerate eligibility for asylum based on membership in a family unit. Hope for Morales’s case — and the others affected by such a decision — might come only from the federal courts, with the balance they can provide against the whims of the executive branch.

The post Matthew Whitaker Is Shaping Immigration Law Per Trump’s Agenda appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Ex-Obama HUD Chief Julián Castro Enters 2020 Presidential Race

Sun, 01/13/2019 - 16:49

Julián Castro, former mayor of San Antonio and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) secretary under President Barack Obama, formally declared on Saturday that he is seeking the Democratic nomination for president in the 2020 contest—an announcement that’s been expected since he launched an exploratory committee last month.

JUST IN: Former Housing and Urban Development Sec. Julian Castro announces his candidacy for president: “I am a candidate for president of the United States of America.” https://t.co/Cu08QouIQ3 pic.twitter.com/Xu2Z3q8pYL

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) January 12, 2019

In a Saturday morning speech at San Antonio’s Plaza Guadalupe, Castro denounced President Donald Trump’s immigration policies—including his demand for billions of dollars in border wall funding that’s produced the longest government shutdown in U.S. history—and his characterization of refugees from Central and South America arriving at the Southern border as “a national security crisis.”

“There is a crisis today. It’s a crisis of leadership. Donald Trump has failed to uphold the values of our great nation,” 44-year-old Castro told the crowd. “Yeah, we have to have border security, but there is a smart and a humane way to do it. And there is no way in hell that caging babies is a smart or a good or a right way to do it. We say no to building a wall and say yes to building community.”

“There are serious issues that need to be addressed in our broken immigration system, but seeking asylum is a legal right. And the cruel policies of this administration are doing real harm and damage,” added Castro, who is the grandson of a Mexican immigrant and would be the first Latino president.

Laying out other key components of his campaign platform, Castro noted his support for Medicare for All and his rejection of corporate political action committee (PAC) money as well as his dedication to taking action to address the global climate crisis.

“As president, my first executive order will recommit the United States to the Paris climate accord,” Castro vowed, referencing the international deal that Trump ditched just months after taking office. Endorsing the Green New Deal, he added, “The biggest threat to our prosperity in this 21st century is climate change.”

Castro also decried police violence toward African Americans, particularly compared with how authorities handled Dylann Roof, a white supremacist who murdered nine black parishioners at a church in Charleston, South Carolina three years ago.

Castro: “If police in Charleston can arrest Dylann Roof…without hurting him, then don’t tell me that Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice, and Aiyana Jones, and Eric Garner, and Jason Pero, and Stephon Clark, and Sandra Bland shouldn’t still be alive today.” pic.twitter.com/JV0E2ylNhN

— David Mack (@davidmackau) January 12, 2019

While Castro pledged to campaign on several progressive issues, following his speech on Saturday, some critics pointed to an April 2016 Politico report on a petition launched by a coalition of progressive organizations when former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was considering Castro as a running mate in the 2016 race. The groups—including Presente.org, MoveOn, DailyKos, Rootstrikers and the Working Families Party—charged that Castro’s record at HUD was disqualifying.

Citing the coalition’s calculations, Politico reported that “HUD under Castro has sold 98 percent of the long-delinquent mortgages it acquired through a program aimed at preventing foreclosures to Wall Street banks under Castro’s watch, without anywhere near the number of needed strings attached.” Some group leaders also said that as agency chief, “Castro has done too much to help private equity firms like Blackstone, instead of black and Latino communities.”

Castro is among the growing list of Democrats who have announced their plans to run for president—including Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), who said in a video circulated by CNN on Friday that she will make a formal announcement next week, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), who launched an exploratory committee at the end of last year.

The post Ex-Obama HUD Chief Julián Castro Enters 2020 Presidential Race appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Five Forces Driving the Rise of Fascism in 2019

Sun, 01/13/2019 - 16:30

The New Year’s Day inauguration of avowed authoritarian strongman Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil signaled an ominous start to 2019. Brazil, as the fifth-largest country by landmass (larger than the Australian continent), the sixth-largest by population (larger than Russia) and the ninth-largest economy (larger than Canada), represents global fascism’s biggest gain in recent history. The rise of Bolsonaro follows the recent consolidation of power by reactionary nationalists Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, Viktor Orbán in Hungry and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines.

We start out 2019 with neo-fascists and assorted other “populists” and ethnonationalists holding office in 11 European nations and scoring recent double-digit vote tallies in Finland, Sweden, Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Italy, Switzerland, Denmark and the Netherlands. Marine Le Pen’s French ethnonationalist National Front garnered one-third of that country’s 2017 vote for president. Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of Poland’s governing PiS Party, described migrants arriving in Europe as being physically different than Poles, with an ability to carry “various parasites and protozoa, which don’t affect their organisms, but which could be dangerous here.” Duterte celebrated New Year’s Eve boasting of his childhood molestation of his family’s maid. Bolsonaro praised genocide against Native Americans and, on his first day in office, issued an executive order putting agribusiness interests in charge of Indigenous reserves. He also told a fellow member of Brazil’s congress, on the floor of that house, that she wasn’t good enough for him to rape and promised to jail his opposition. 2019 is promising to be ugly.

In the United States, while Republicans lost ground nationally, reactionaries solidified domination of the party, with moderates and constitutionalists retiring or losing primaries in 2018. Despite a large popular vote loss, Republicans added two seats to their Senate majority, giving them continued power to appoint activist right-wing judges.

After losing statehouse races in Michigan and Wisconsin, Republican legislatures in both states moved to curtail the authority of the incoming Democratic governors-elect, as they did two years earlier in North Carolina. Resistance to ceding power after losing an election is a critical warning sign of a failing democracy. Nationally, the Republican Party has been doubling down on its efforts to suppress voting while embracing propagandistic misinformation campaigns and xenophobic dog-whistles often associated with the rise of fascism.

Resistance to ceding power after losing an election is a critical warning sign of a failing democracy.

Trump isn’t leading the party to fascism — he’s the product of a sustained GOP effort to subvert voting rights and democratic norms. By the time this New York City sideshow authoritarian ran for president, the Republican rank-and-file was well groomed to receive him and the fascism he represented.

Here are five forces that are driving this rise of fascism.

1) Surveillance

The reality of fascism is that, historically, it has always sucked for damn near everyone falling under its authoritarian jackboot, including those who supported its rise. How’d things work out in Germany, Italy, Chile, Argentina? Fascism is always embodied by repression of freedoms and kleptocratic corruption. The reality of what fascists do and how it plays out is never good news. Which is why quantifiable reality is fascism’s primary enemy. Propaganda-wise, rising fascists must crush reality. Thanks to data analytics, many platforms are now weaponized to do just that with pinpoint precision.

Personal data is now plentifully available through social media posts, “likes” and internet use patterns. Google and Facebook are primarily in the business of not just harvesting, but analyzing, and thus, monetizing this data to sell micro-targeted advertising, knowing the innermost desires of each consumer.

Your time you spent reading this column, swiping Tinder, playing Candy Crush, paying bills or reading product reviews is all captured. Myriad Google services and apps spy on your every move. Your internet-connected cars, smart TVs, household appliances, thermostats and fitness trackers also contribute to your intricate data profile.

Big data companies cross-reference and analyze this data, creating your unique psychographic profile – used to craft your irresistibly perfect dopaminergic bubble and effectively micro-market products and political ideologies specifically to you while predicting your future behavior.

Of course, you can monkey-wrench this system by disappearing off the grid and walking away into the woods. But even then, chances are your car will narc you out or your hiking partner will post a Yelp review of the trail. At the end of the day, Amazon will market you boots.

Moreover, surveillance extends far beyond the internet for people of color and other targeted groups. Between predictive policing algorithms, the proliferation of cameras and other police surveillance technologies, and the rise of electronic monitoring, the current criminal legal system provides many tools that are a perfect match for fascist tactics, and are already being deployed against marginalized communities.

The techno-dystopian fascist potentials here are boundless.

2) Mega-Monopolies

Corporate monopolies have been rebounding since Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department relaxed antitrust enforcement. The current consolidation of tech giants heralds a previously unimaginable rise of monopoly power, with Amazon, Google and Facebook gobbling up and assimilating competitors, growing to control the very platforms upon which commerce and communication, including free speech, exist.

Free speech is the life force of democracy. Monopolies that have the power to pull the plug on free speech, by their very existence, stand as an existential threat. Monopolies may now tolerate corrupted “democracies” that allow their existence. The question is, will they be as tolerant of resurgent democracies that threaten their power? Or put more bluntly, can you count on Jeff Bezos’s Washington Post, now a subdued counterpoint to the Republican Party’s Fox News operation, to not cozy up to authoritarians when, say, a Sanders or Warren Justice Department applies antitrust laws against Bezos’s Amazon monopolies?

The history of European fascism in the 1930s and ’40s warns us that such conglomerates had no problem supporting fascism when it supported them. Let’s not forget the roles of IBM in providing technology supporting the Nazi Holocaust, or Ford and GM in arming the Nazi military. With monopolies purchasing American political assets on “both sides of the aisle,” their unfettered growth and continued consolidation of power is all but guaranteed, and the window of opportunity to rein them in is quickly closing. History has given us reason to worry.

3) Migration Xenophobia

Global warming promises to send more climate change refugees fleeing famine, flood, persistent wildfires, deadly heat waves and rising oceans, while persistent poverty, the rise of fascist regimes and the political collapse of civil societies are causing millions to join the migrations. The linguistic, cultural and religious differences that migrants represent has become weaponized in the arsenal of fascists who work to sow fear of the unknown (xenophobia) in populations they wish to control.

Syria provides an example. The 2011-2012 uprising against the repressive Assad government in Syria and the subsequent violent chaos brought on by seven years of a five-way war, caused 6 million Syrians to flee their country, with about a million heading to Europe. The arrival of these Arabic-speaking, primarily Muslim Syrians in Europe provided an opportunity for previously fringe ethnonationalists to sow xenophobia. Simply put, the Syrian war, fueled by foreign invaders, drove fleeing Syrians to Europe where neo-fascists exploited their presence to undermine European democratic concepts of liberalism and multiculturalism. These fascist movements are now threatening the political cohesion of the European Union, in whose creation Europeans envisioned a united front against the resurgence of fascism.

2019 promises to see more migrants and more fascists.

4) Attacks on Education

The best defense against fascism is an educated population with the ability to think critically. This is why newly formed democratic governments usually invest in education while authoritarians slash education.

Education level is also a marked determining factor in voting in the United States, with college educated voters favoring Democratic candidates by significant margins in recent elections – which is a reversal from the mid 1990s. The Republican Party, with an established record of targeting demographic groups for voter suppression based on their voting patterns, can’t help but target educated voters. But education empowers people, making them more difficult to target for suppression. Less access to education accomplishes the same goals, which might explain the GOP’s stinginess when it comes to student financial aid and its opposition to free higher education. Meanwhile, disinvestment from education continues in communities of color and low-income communities. As in other realms, already-marginalized people will be hit hardest by this fascism-driving force.

5) False Equivalencies

As of December 30, The Washington Post’s fact-checkers have documented 7,645 false or misleading statements (a.k.a. lies) made by President Trump since taking office. For Trump and many of his enablers, lying comes as naturally as breathing. This creates a problem for journalists. Call out liars for lying, which is the job of journalism, and it looks like bias to the untrained eye. The problem is that one group is doing almost all of the lying. So, if you report on lies, you’re essentially reporting on Republican lies, or just “attacking” Republicans. Reality is biased.

The corporate news media in the United States are not in the business of keeping us informed. They’re in the business of capturing and selling our attention. If they appear biased, in this case by reporting the truth, they risk alienating viewers. To appear less biased, they rhetorically balance the White House’s most egregious lies against oversimplifications or rhetorical generalizations from their opponents.

This causes a false equivalency — a “he said / she said” narrative with everyone fibbing — which has no bearing on the reality that one group is doing almost all of the lying. The end result is, instead of outrage and anger directed at the liars, we get a general antipathy toward politics, which leads to a disempowering apathy and yielding of the political area to fascists. We’ve got to demand better media — or make it ourselves — and stop supporting media outlets that can’t quite call out liars and fascists.

Our Movements Can Triumph

Donald Trump is trolling us every day. That’s who he is. I never wanted to write about him, but here we are. Republicans have been depressing for a while, but the Trump presidency brings their obnoxiousness to a historically unprecedented level, with dozens of outrages each week since CNN began promoting him as a serious presidential candidate in 2015. Trump and his enablers have declared a war, not only on ideologies and groups of people, but on the future itself. Meanwhile, we see multiple new arms races, bellicose threats against world leaders, new alliances with fascists and the emboldening of racists that want us dead at home. There’s no doubt we are in the middle of an unprecedented crisis brought on by a sadistic bully and his enablers. Don’t just think you can ignore Donald Trump, and that he won’t get inside your head. He’s already there. And he’s the driving force behind the rise of fascism in the United States.

To ignore him is to allow him. We can’t drop the ball in this struggle.

It’s time for us to seek out solace in community and liberation in activism. We can move beyond the fascist threat. Our movements can gain momentum. The complacency of the Obama years — where things slowly got worse while a brilliant, personable orator captivated our hopes — are over. Rather then foolishly trust the old Democratic Party to fix the problems it was complacent in making, we’re hitting the streets with a level of vigor not seen in over a generation. Let’s keep at it. The forces driving fascism are strong. We have to be stronger. Historically, anti-fascism always triumphs in the end. Let’s do this quickly.

The post Five Forces Driving the Rise of Fascism in 2019 appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

NRA May Have Illegally Coordinated With GOP Senate Campaigns

Sun, 01/13/2019 - 14:58

The National Rifle Association appears to have illegally coordinated campaign ads with Republican candidates in key Senate races, according to Federal Communication Commission (FCC) records obtained by The Trace.

According to the report, the NRA’s ads on behalf of Missouri Senate candidate Josh Hawley and Montana Senate candidate Matt Rosendale in 2018, as well as North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr in 2016, were all authorized by the same media consulting firm that they candidates used for their ads. (Hawley and Burr won their races, but Rosendale lost to Democratic Sen. Jon Tester.) The scheme appears to be in violation of laws barring independent groups from working in concert with political campaigns.

According to the FCC records, at least 10 purchases by both the NRA and three Senate campaigns were made by the same person, National Media CFO Jon Ferell.

The Trace reported that the company used the “assumed or fictitious name” Red Eagle Media to buy ads for the NRA while using the name American Media & Advocacy Group to buy ads for the Senate candidates.

The Trace previously reported in December that President Trump’s 2016 campaign had the same type of scheme with the NRA. In that case, the campaign and the NRA hired different National Media affiliates to approve ads on their behalf. National Media employees using different corporate names placed ads for both Trump and the NRA around the country.

Campaign finance laws prohibit independent groups from sharing election-related information with campaigns. Though it is not illegal for the groups and campaigns to use the same vendor, the Federal Election Commission requires vendors to prevent workers from sharing information.

Larry Noble, who served as general counsel for the FEC for more than a decade, told The Trace that “all evidence points to coordination.”

“It’s hard to understand how you’d have same person authorizing placements for the NRA and the candidate and it not be coordination,” he said.

Last year, The Daily Beast obtained audio in which Rosendale, during his 2018 campaign against Tester, admitted that Chris Cox, the top political strategist for the NRA’s Institute of Legislative Action, assured him that the NRA would aid his campaign by August.

“I fully expect the NRA is going to come in … in August sometime,” Rosendale said in the recording. “The Supreme Court confirmations are big. That’s what sent the NRA over the line. Because in ’12, with [Republican Senate nominee Denny Rehberg], they stayed out, they stayed out of Montana. But Chris Cox told me, he’s like, ‘We’re going to be in this race.’”

The NRA followed up Rosendale’s prediction by spending more than $400,000 on political ads targeting Tester by September.

Both the NRA and Rosendale denied any coordination after the recording was released.

Even before that story broke, Politico reported in July 2018 that two NRA groups had illegally coordinated spending in support of Republican candidates, using a shell company created by the Republican consulting firm OnMessage.

Alex Tausanovitch, who served four years as counsel to commissioners on the FEC, told Montana Public Radio that the coordination between Rosendale’s campaign and the NRA was as blatant as it gets.

“The spirit of the rule is candidates are supposed to be entirely independent of these outside groups, and here we have a recording of the candidate talking about what seems to be a private, substantive conversation with an outside dark money group about the specifics of the campaign,” Tausanovitch said. “That is the kind of thing the FEC could easily look into.”

The NRA is now the subject of two pending complaints before the FEC, but The Trace noted that the federal laws barring such coordination are rarely enforced, in part because the FEC has been deadlocked along partisan lines for years.

Ann Ravel, who served on the FEC until 2017, said that the NRA cases “show how weak the campaign finance system is.”

“There is so much documentary evidence that it wouldn’t even require a lengthy investigation,” Ravel said. “Some cases are hard to prove, but this, on its face, is so obvious. I would not think that there is any basis for not at least investigating the matter.”

“What this reflects is the FEC’s lack of enforcement and the lack of respect that the NRA and the vendor are showing toward the FEC and the law,” added Larry Noble. “You do this if you think no one is going to investigate.”

The post NRA May Have Illegally Coordinated With GOP Senate Campaigns appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

More Solutions Needed for Campus Hunger

Sun, 01/13/2019 - 14:23

A new federal report does a good job of explaining what many researchers have been saying for a decade – food insecurity among college students is a serious national problem.

As one University of California, Berkeley student revealed in an interview for a 2018 research article I helped write: “Food is always on my mind: ‘Do I have enough money? Maybe I should skip a meal today so I can have enough food for dinner.‘”

However, when it comes to offering up solutions, the new report from the Government Accountability Office comes up short.

My experience as one who has researched campus hunger goes back to 2014, when colleagues and I conducted the first public university system wide survey of campus hunger. We found that over 40 percent of University of California students – about half of all undergraduates and one out of every four graduate students – faced food insecurity. That is more than three times the national household rate of 12 percent. Food security is generally defined as access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.

Our findings on campus hunger have been replicated in the University of California system, the California State University system and in colleges throughout the nation.

Effects of an Empty Stomach

For those who are food secure, it might be easy to scoff at the notion that somehow college students can’t find enough to eat. The reality is hunger among college students has psychological impacts that affect student performance. For instance, in a 2018 study, colleagues and I found students experiencing food insecurity had a lower grade point average than students not facing food insecurity.

Researchers and I also found that not having access to enough food at all times increased a student’s risk for poor mental health. This, in turn, increases their risk for lower grades.

So what does the latest federal report – released 10 years after the first study documenting hunger on campus – say about the problem and what should be done about it?

The new federal report states that from nine to over 50 percent of America’s college students face food insecurity. The report also reveals that of the two to three million students at-risk for food insecurity who were potentially eligible for participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – more commonly known as SNAP – only 43 percent were receiving those benefits.

More Solutions Needed

The report recommends that government administrators do more to make students aware of their potential eligibility for SNAP benefits. The low participation rate in SNAP may stem from lack of awareness of exemptions for eligibility. Or it could have to do with the stigma of receiving food assistance. Some organizations recommend campus-based initiatives to combat food insecurity in order to lessen the stigma associated with receiving food assistance for students.

Will better SNAP guidance end student hunger? In my view as one who has been looking at this issue for some time, not entirely.

For example, college students cannot get SNAP benefits unless they meet certain criteria, such as working at least 20 hours a week and attending school full-time. This rule should perhaps be rethought in light of how difficult it is to go to school full-time, keep up one’s grades and work more than 20 hours a week.

What else can we do to fix student hunger? Updating college student financial aid is one solution. For instance, the purchasing power of the Pell grant – a federal grant for low- to middle-income students – is at a 40-year low.

Another solution is to extend the Federal School Lunch Program, which could help pick up the slack for the lost purchasing power of the Pell grant.

In my view, more assistance should also be given to graduate students, who also face campus hunger but who were not mentioned in the new federal report.

Lastly, students must be better educated on things such as financial aid, personal budgeting and self-advocacy. At a time when the cost of going to college is becoming more difficult to cover, it’s more important than ever to help students succeed and be healthy so that they can lead future generations.

The post More Solutions Needed for Campus Hunger appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The Federal Government Offers a Case Study in Bad Email Tracking

Sun, 01/13/2019 - 14:18

The US government sends a lot of emails. Like any large, modern organization, it wants to “optimize” for “user engagement” using “analytics” and “big data.” In practice, that means tracking the people it communicates with — secretly, thoroughly, and often, insecurely.

Granicus is a third-party contractor that builds communication tools to help governments engage constituents online. The company offers services for social media, websites, and email, and it boasts of serving over 4,000 federal, state, and local agencies, from the city of Oakland to the US Veterans Administration to HealthCare.gov. In 2016, the company merged with GovDelivery, another government-services provider. It appears that parts of the federal government have been working with GovDelivery, now Granicus, since at least 2012. Last October, we took a closer look at some of the emails sent with Granicus’s platform, specifically those from the whitehouse.gov mailing list, which used the GovDelivery email service until very recently. The White House changed its email management platform shortly after we began our investigation for this article. However, several other agencies and many state and city governments still use Granicus as their mailing list distributors.

The emails we looked at, sent to subscribers of the Whitehouse.gov email list in October 2018, happen to be an exemplary case study of everything wrong with the email tracking landscape, from unintentional and intentional privacy leaks to a failure to adhere to basic security standards.

Not only does Granicus know exactly who is opening which email and when, but in the emails we studied, all of that information is sent without encryption by default, so network observers can see it too. Ironically, even the White House’s Privacy Policy is hidden behind one of the tracking links.

How Does It Work?

We inspected an email from the White House’s “1600 Daily” newsletter sent October 22, 2018. The email uses two common methods to monitor user behavior: pixel tracking and link tracking. We’ll break them down one at a time, using examples from the email itself to illustrate how those methods work in the common case. In addition, we’ve written guidelines for users, email clients, and email providers to protect against these techniques.

Pixel Tracking

Today, almost all emails are sent and read in HTML. An HTML email is treated much like a static web page, with text formatting, custom fonts, and, most importantly, embedded images. When you open an email, your computer or phone needs to load each image from the Internet, which means, depending on the email client you use, your device might send a request to the server that hosts the image.

In emails, a tracking pixel is an “image” included for the purpose of tracking you. It’s usually small (1 by 1 pixel) and invisible. Trackers will often tag on a bunch of extra identifying information to the end of the “image” URL. For instance, they often include information about which email was opened and which email address it was originally sent to. In the White House newsletter I received, the tracking pixel looks like this:

When you open the email, your email client (like Thunderbird or Apple Mail) might send a request to the URL above. As you can see, it points to links.govdelivery.com, a domain owned by Granicus. The biggest part of the URL is the enid parameter, a base64-encoded string. If we decode my email’s enid, we can read the information that’s sent to the third party:

Every time I open this email, my device sends Granicus my email address and a unique identifier for the email that I opened. Granicus knows exactly who I am, which email I’m reading, and when I opened it — and potentially, so might a network observer.

Link Shims

The email also uses link shimming, the practice of obfuscating URLs in emails for tracking purposes, to track which links you click on. (Link shimming, and link tracking more generally, is commonly used on the web by search engines and social media companies.) Take a look at a sample link from the newsletter. When rendered by your email client, it looks like this:

By inspecting the source code, we can see that the blue text above actually points to the following URL:

The first part of the link, in yellow, is nearly identical to the tracking pixel URL we saw before. The redirect URL, in green, points to the article you intended to click. UTM parameters, in blue, allow whitehouse.gov to collect more contextual information about your click.The first part of the link, in yellow, is nearly identical to the tracking pixel URL we saw before. The redirect URL, in green, points to the article you intended to click. UTM parameters, in blue, allow whitehouse.gov to collect more contextual information about your click.The first part of the link, in yellow, is nearly identical to the tracking pixel URL we saw before. The redirect URL, in green, points to the article you intended to click. UTM parameters, in blue, allow whitehouse.gov to collect more contextual information about your click.

That mess will take you on a brief visit to govdelivery.com before being redirected to whitehouse.gov, the location of the real press release. Once again, the redirect sends Granicus the enid data, including information about who you are and where you’re coming from. These data, combined with the pixel data from above, allow Granicus to offer “subscriber segmentation” services to its customers (i.e. the government). According to its website, customers can filter individual subscribers by their “targeted message” activity, including whether they received, opened, or clicked a specific email message within a given time frame.

Privacy or Security: Choose None

It’s frustrating enough that the government has been using a third-party service to surreptitiously monitor who opens emails they send, what they click on, when, and from where. What’s worse, in several of the emails we looked at, the tracking is performed over an unencrypted connection using HTTP. This means that all the requests made to Granicus are legible to anyone who could eavesdrop on your connection. If you open one of the emails on unsecured WiFi at an airport or a coffee shop, anyone could be able to monitor your activity and collect your email address.

Perhaps more concerning, using an unencrypted connection allows Internet service providers (ISPs) to collect that sensitive information no matter where you are. Thanks to recent deregulation, ISPs are now legally permitted to sell data about their customers — which could include your email address, political preferences, and information about which government agencies you interact with. Normally, HTTPS protects sensitive information from ISPs’ prying eyes. But in this case, not only can Granicus see which email user clicks on which links; anyone on the network, including the ISP, can too.

The practice of link shimming poses a subtle security risk as well: it makes users more susceptible to phishing. If users are led to click links that look like garbage, they are much more likely to be duped into clicking links from less-than-reputable sources. 91% of cyber attacks start with a phishing email, including many attacks on the government itself. That means that training users to trust insecure, illegible links to unrecognizable domains is a serious problem.

To top it all off, Granicus’s emails are often sent without STARTTLS, a basic protection against passive dragnet surveillance. That means the emails travel around the Internet backbone without encryption, which is just another channel where data about you and your interests may be exposed to snoops on the network. (We recently launched STARTTLS Everywhere to make email delivery more secure.)

Conflicting Reports

After beginning our investigation on October 22, we reached out to both the White House and Granicus for comment regarding their privacy and security practices. The White House didn’t reply, but we did receive a response from Granicus Chief Product Officer Bob Ainsbury:

The private information of both Granicus govDelivery users and govDelivery subscribers is secure. Any claim to the contrary is a very serious allegation and completely inaccurate. …

Further, email addresses cannot be identified through HTTP connections. All HTTP requests made for the purposes of tracking are transmitted in unrecognizable data and do not allow users’ private information to be compromised at any time.

The claim that the HTTP requests are secure and “do not allow users’ private information to be compromised” is, as we’ve shown above, demonstrably false. The data Granicus transmits are not encrypted, but encoded in base64, which can be decoded by literally anyone.

Furthermore, the company claimed that:

Granicus govDelivery is one of the few email platform providers that has adopted the highest level of data security standards necessary to deliver digital communications for government agencies. That security standard is FedRAMP, which requires platform providers to:

  • encrypt all traffic with FIPS 140-2 validated encryption modules, utilizing TLS 1.1 or higher …

Its continued use of HTTP for email tracking and failure to support STARTTLS for in-transit email encryption indicate that Granicus has not adopted encryption anywhere near “across the board” when it comes to users’ private information. In that context, the reference to “utilizing TLS 1.1” for “all traffic” is baffling, as we have seen evidence the company continues to use unencrypted HTTP for many of its emails.

Schrödinger’s Trackers

In a strange coincidence, it appears that the White House’s newsletter, “1600 Daily,” ceased using Granicus as its service provider on October 30, 2018, two days before we reached out for comment. It now uses MailChimp for email analytics. MailChimp performs similar types of tracking, using invisible pixels to track email opens and link shims to track clicks, but the company does employ industry-standard security practices like HTTPS. The new tracking pixels are a little more compact, but just as potent:

An example of a tracking pixel from a more recent “1600 Daily” newsletter, which sends information to Mailchimp’s list-manage.com domain (in orange) over HTTPS (in blue) contianing a custom tracking string (in yellow)An example of a tracking pixel from a more recent “1600 Daily” newsletter, which sends information to Mailchimp’s list-manage.com domain (in orange) over HTTPS (in blue) contianing a custom tracking string (in yellow)An example of a tracking pixel from a more recent “1600 Daily” newsletter, which sends information to Mailchimp’s list-manage.com domain (in orange) over HTTPS (in blue) contianing a custom tracking string (in yellow)

According to the Privacy Policy, the White house still uses pixels and link shims to collect “automatically generated email data” from subscribers, including:

//www.whitehouse.gov/privacy-policy///www.whitehouse.gov/privacy-policy/A list of “automatically generated email data” the White House collects, according to https://www.whitehouse.gov/privacy-policy/

Other government agencies still use Granicus, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs’ “My HealtheVet” newsletter, the Social Security administration, and HealthCare.gov Alerts. These mailing lists all perform the same kinds of link shimming and pixel tracking we observed in the original White House emails. Some of the emails we’ve received from Granicus use HTTPS connections to perform tracking, but others still use insecure HTTP. And the company still does not support outbound server-to-server email encryption with STARTTLS.

Moreover, Granicus’s response, included in full below, shows that it doesn’t understand what “secure” means in the context of sensitive user data. Government agencies should be asking some hard questions about how they continue to handle our information.

Protect Your Users; Protect Yourself

Techniques like pixel and link tracking are extremely common and have been around for decades, and it’s unfortunately rare to see them being used responsibly. If you’re a sender, we implore you to think before you track.

Unfortunately, many federal agencies still use Granicus’ services, dubious security and all. These agencies should drop GovDelivery in favor of more ethical, more secure analytics, and evaluate how much information they really need to collect to fulfill their missions. Although the White House is no longer using Granicus, it, too, performs extensive tracking on subscribers to its lists. And the only way it offers to opt out is to unsubscribe.

As a user, there’s no fool-proof way to opt-out of leaky email tracking, but there are ways to practice good email hygiene and prevent most forms of it. At the end of the day, the most effective way to avoid the tracking is to follow the White House’s advice and unsubscribe. Just be aware that the “unsubscribe” link is tracked, too.

On November 1, 2018, we reached out to Granicus to request a comment on the company’s use of email tracking in services to the US government. The company’s response, attributed to Bob Ainsbury, Chief Product Officer at Granicus, is included in its entirety here:

The private information of both Granicus govDelivery users and govDelivery subscribers is secure. Any claim to the contrary is a very serious allegation and completely inaccurate. Granicus govDelivery is one of the few email platform providers that has adopted the highest level of data security standards necessary to deliver digital communications for government agencies. That security standard is FedRAMP, which requires platform providers to:

  • encrypt all traffic with FIPS 140-2 validated encryption modules, utilizing TLS 1.1 or higher
  • provide two-factor authentication to all customers
  • conduct monthly security scans, providing the results to the FedRAMP JAB for review on a monthly basis
  • conduct an annual penetration test and audit of controls to ensure compliance.

Like the world’s other leading email platforms – including several other email systems used at the White House – we do use pixels to track open rates and link shims to track click rates. This is an industry standard that has been in use for over 20 years. It’s used by virtually every major commercial and public sector communicator to track simple email opens and link clicks. It is worth noting, that Granicus govDelivery is configurable, allowing customers to turn off activity capture.

Further, email addresses cannot be identified through HTTP connections. All HTTP requests made for the purposes of tracking are transmitted in unrecognizable data and do not allow users’ private information to be compromised at any time.

Granicus is committed to the privacy and security for over 4,000 government clients and the citizens who subscribe to receive digital messages using our software, which is why we’ve made the investment to remain FedRAMP, ISO 27001 and GDPR compliant. Privacy and security are our highest and most important priorities at Granicus.

Any and all original material on the EFF website may be freely distributed at will under the Creative Commons Attribution License, unless otherwise noted. All material that is not original to EFF may require permission from the copyright holder to redistribute.

The post The Federal Government Offers a Case Study in Bad Email Tracking appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The Biggest Issues for Wildlife and Endangered Species in 2019

Sun, 01/13/2019 - 14:14

Wildlife didn’t have an easy go of it in 2018. We lost the last male northern white rhino, the vaquita porpoise continued its slide toward extinction, poachers kept targeting pangolins and other rare creatures, and through it all the Trump administration kept trying to whittle away at key protections for endangered species.

So with that rough bit of recent history, what does 2019 hold?

Well, in most cases it won’t be pretty. There will be more blood, more habitat loss, more legislative attacks and more extinctions — but at the same time, there will also be signs of hope and progress on many levels.

Here are some big issues that experts say we should be watching in 2019:

Climate Chaos

Of course, climate change will continue to threaten species around the world in 2019.

“The impacts of climate change aren’t showing signs of slowing, and this administration refuses to recognize it,” says Charise Johnson of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Water temperatures are rising, increased flooding, deforestation, fires, storms — these are all things that affect a species’ existence.”

And new threats continue to emerge. “There’s been a lot of discussion about how global climate change affects ocean acidification, and now there’s emerging evidence that the even greater threat is reduced oxygen levels,” says noted conservationist William Laurance of James Cook University. A study published last month found that ocean deoxygenation could have a major impact on zooplankton, one of the building blocks for the ocean food web. Deoxygenation also causes increased algal growth, like the red tides that choked the coasts of Florida this past year and killed hundreds of manatees and tens of thousands of fish.

“Changes in ocean composition will be a large-scale driver of mortality,” Laurance says. “Some people are calling this ‘the great dying.’ ”

A related issue in the Arctic also appears to be another emerging threat. According to the just-released “Horizon Scan of Emerging Issues for Global Conservation in 2019” (the tenth annual edition of this study), climate-change induced release of carbon from polar ice will further worsen global warming, while the release of mercury from thawing permafrost will create a toxic threat for animals, plants and soil.

Meanwhile, on top of the obvious weather-related changes, climate change could create an additional unexpected threat to some species: wildlife trafficking.

“Some species will undoubtedly decline as a result of climate change, making them rarer and thus potentially even more desirable by those who trade in them,” explains Richard Thomas, global communications coordinator for TRAFFIC, the anti-wildlife-trafficking organization. “Addressing wildlife trade issues and promoting sustainable harvesting are likely to become more important than ever,” he says.

The (tiny) bit of good news related to climate change? Because so many scientists are studying it, we’re learning more and more about its effects.

“I think research showing when, where and how species are able to adapt to some changes is promising,” says amphibian biologist Karen Lips of the University of Maryland. The more we know about exactly how climate change threatens certain species — or about how they can adapt to it — the better we can do at protecting them from extinction.

Politics in the Trump Era — and Beyond

Among the greatest threats to wildlife are the Trump administration and similar politicians around the world, such as Brazil’s new far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, who took office last week and immediately moved to undermine indigenous rights in his country.

“The new president in Brazil could unravel 50 years of progress for species, tropical forests and indigenous people,” says Lindsay Renick Mayer, associate director of communications for Global Wildlife Conservation. That could be devastating to one of the world’s most biodiverse regions on the planet, which is often referred to as the “lungs of the Earth.”

A ring-tailed lemur.A ring-tailed lemur.A ring-tailed lemur.Eric Kilby via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Mayer adds that the recent election in Madagascar could be just as bad. Former president Andry Rajoelina, whose previous tenure was marked by a dramatic increase in illegal logging, deforestationand biodiversity loss, was reelected last month, although as of press time the election remains mired in protests and accusations of fraud. “The risk of losing the amazing biodiversity of Madagascar is always a big story. We hope that the situation there doesn’t get worse and that there is a chance for improvement,” Mayer says.

Getting back to the Trump administration, many experts worried about how things will play out for this country’s wildlife in the year ahead.

“The federal government is shirking its duty to protect species and commit to conservation programs,” says Johnson of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who points to three potential rule changes would diminish the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act and other conservation regulations, among many other attacks against the laws. “This, in addition to funding cuts for species listings, will put a strain on conservation efforts,” she says.

Johnson expects funding to remain an issue in 2019, as will further attacks against the Endangered Species Act.

Others echoed those thoughts and fears about the ESA. “I think our current administration has shown that the environment and conservation are not high priorities,” says Lips. “I think that has a dampening effect on the actions of the federal agencies.”

There’s a potential positive side to this, she adds: “I have heard, however, that historically this produces increased donations to NGOs and increased activism by citizens.”

Indeed, that may have also helped inspire last November’s “blue wave,” the newly elected officials from which took office this month. Many of our experts expressed cautious optimism about these new government representatives.

“I think one of the biggest stories of the year is going to be what Democratic House oversight of the Trump administration can do for environmental policy,” says shark scientist David Shiffman. “Each individual thing they do will be very subtle and maybe you won’t even know what’s happening on time, but the aggregate effect, I think, will be slowing down a lot of the harmful decisions made by this administration.”

Roads to Ruin, But a Push to Preserve

But outside of Washington, things are speeding up. New road and infrastructure projects, many backed by Chinese investment, are currently being carved into critical habitats in Indonesia, Africa, the Amazon and other regions. Much of this stems from China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a development strategy to build extractive industries in 70 nations around the globe along with overland roads, ports, railways and pipelines to exploit them.

“We’re experiencing an avalanche of new infrastructure projects,” says Laurance, who points out that the Initiative has at least 7,000 developments planned or underway. One of the most notorious projects is a gigantic hydroelectric dam that could wipe out the newly discovered Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis) in Sumatra.

Meanwhile, a similar — if not even more extensive — proliferation of illegal roads is being constructed around the world by loggers, miners, poachers and other extractive industries. These activities threaten everything from elephants and tigers to insects and rare plants.

One big problem is that conservationists don’t always know where these roads — legal or otherwise — are being built, and without that information it’s impossible to protect species from development.

“It’s actually really difficult to try to get even basic maps of where roads are,” Laurance says. Right now he and his team pore over satellite images by hand, looking for signs of new disturbance — not an easy prospect when images vary by surface, shadowing and other factors. “Our group has spent something like a thousand hours trying to map these roads,” he says.

Their results of their labor-intensive work are rather shocking: “For every kilometer of legal road, we’ve mapped around three kilometers of illegal roads,” Laurance says. “That’s a very rough average, but it gives you an idea of the magnitude of the problem.”

Laurance has issued a call for help to develop a software tool to automate the road-discovery process. “We’ve got an urgent need to detect the roads and tell governments, look, here’s where there’s illegal activity,” he says.

Without that, conservation — and species — will lose ground every day. “The bottom line is we need to be able to keep track of roads in real-time, on a global scale, and especially in developing countries,” he says.

As this road-building goes on, governments around the world face a tight deadline to protect some of their most pristine wildlife habitats — or at least say they’re doing so. The signatories to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets have until 2020 — next year — to meet 20 conservation goals, including conserving “at least 17 percent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 percent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services.”

Most countries haven’t come close to that goal yet. Many of the experts we spoke with expressed hope that the tight deadline will result in some good, quick land and water protection that could protect countless species, but cautioned that these efforts should be watched carefully to make sure they truly protect key habitats and that they offer connectivity between disparate species populations.

The oceans will also be a big part of the Aichi targets. “You’ll probably see a lot of new, large marine protected areas established in the next year,” says Shiffman. He cautions, though, that some of these could be established in places where there’s no fish or other species to protect, or no system in place in which to protect what’s there. “They could end up being paper parks — parks in name only,” he says.

A Host of Other Issues

Here are a few more factors predicted to play a big role in 2019.

Understanding the effects of plastic waste is crucial.Understanding the effects of plastic waste is crucial.Understanding the effects of plastic waste is crucial.John R. Platt

First, we continue to learn more about how plastic waste affects wildlife and the environment. Most recently, a study found that 100 percent of sea turtles had plastic or microplastics in their digestive systems. With more and more plastic being produced every day, this will be a major focus of research and conservation the coming year.

Meanwhile many experts also expressed fear about emerging diseases, like those affecting bats, frogs and salamanders.

“Emerging diseases are increasing in numbers, impacts, and in incidents, and are likely to cause greater losses of species,” says Lips. “They don’t often get the attention that climate change does, and the time scale is accelerated.”

Lips also noted that it’s often hard to get funding and other support for these growing problems because they’re less in the public eye. “People and the media tend to focus on the current emergencies rather than the slow, long-term problems because we are not very good at maintaining focus and attention,” she says.

The threats of poaching, snaring and wildlife trafficking will also remain significant around the world, as the forests of southeast Asia and the plains of southern Africa became emptied of their animal life and as “valued” species such as tigers, rhinos and pangolins face ever-increasing pressures.

Right now this activity is all illegal, but that could change in the blink of a pen stroke. “We need to watch out for the pro-trade agenda” like this past year’s attempt by China to legalize the medicinal trade in rhino horns and tiger parts, cautioned Rhishja Cota, founder of the wildlife advocacy organization Annamiticus. This may also mean keeping an eye out on the Trump administration’s continuing efforts to promote big-game hunting and resulting trophy imports by its wealthy patrons.

Finally, as habitats shrink and poaching and other threats take their toll, a growing number of species are likely to benefit from last-gasp captive breeding, either to boost their wild populations or to keep them alive once their habitats have disappeared. The red wolf and Florida grasshopper sparrowcaptive-breeding programs may save those species from extinction in 2019. Another species starting the year off on better footing is one of the world’s rarest birds, a duck called the Madagascar pochard (Aythya innotata), just returned to the wild after 15 years thanks to a captive-breeding program in Scotland, of all places. Other incredibly rare species likely to benefit from similar programs this year include the Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) and maybe even the rarely seen saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis).

“We haven’t had a camera trap photo of saola since 2013 and no biologist has ever seen one in the wild,” says Mayer from Global Wildlife Conservation. “But the Saola Working Group and partners are hoping to detect saola and begin to catch them next year for a conservation breeding program in Vietnam. Next year could be the year we rediscover this species and work toward breeding it.”

The Countdown Begins

The year 2019 has just barely begun, but experts warn us that the opportunity to make a difference on these issues is already running short.

“I don’t want to sound too bleak, but time is literally running out for the world as we know it,” say TRAFFIC’s Thomas. “The Earth simply can’t take the punishment of relentless over-exploitation of its natural resources, poisoning of its atmosphere and pollution of its oceans. We need to put aside political differences and work together to do something about this catastrophic situation — and quickly.”

The post The Biggest Issues for Wildlife and Endangered Species in 2019 appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The Age of Technology Requires Us All to Reimagine Politics

Sun, 01/13/2019 - 14:11

In Future Politics: Living Together in a World Transformed by Tech, Jamie Susskind makes accessible the often head-scratching world of technological development and how it intersects with everyday politics. In this interview, Susskind discusses some of the factors contributing to the exponential integration of tech in our daily lives and how we can take control away from market-driven tech firms by achieving a greater understanding of the technology that surrounds us.

Samantha Borek: Future Politics gets into the nitty-gritty language of both politics and the tech industry, but the book never felt inaccessible or dense. Was this a conscious effort in writing the book?

Jamie Susskind: Thank you for saying so! Absolutely — one of my main aims in writing Future Politics was to make sure that anyone could understand what lies in store for us, but without … over-simplifying. Too much tech writing (and too much political theory) is so convoluted and narrow in scope that it can’t hope to reach a general readership. I believe that the changes caused by digital technology will affect all of us, so it’s essential that all of us are able to think and speak about them in an intelligent way. That’s what I hoped to achieve with Future Politics.

Do you think that advertising, especially the warm and fuzzy ads of the holidays, has played a large role in the exponential rise of technology? Do they affect peoples’ willingness to let potential surveillance tech like the Amazon Echo or Google Home into their lives?

It’s certainly true that consumer demand is behind a lot of technological development (although not all of it), and that advertisements contribute to consumer demand in increasingly sophisticated ways. And yes, adverts for tech products are only going to show you the personal upsides to making a purchase, rather than the societal consequences or the potential downsides. One of my arguments in Future Politics is that we have to stop seeing tech solely as consumers, and start looking at it as citizens, applying the same civic scrutiny that we would bring to any other form of power.

We have to stop seeing tech solely as consumers, and start looking at it as citizens, applying the same civic scrutiny that we would bring to any other form of power.

I should add that I believe we are all becoming more comfortable with the notion of almost constant scrutiny of our lives in the form of data-gathering. Unlike most previous generations, whose lives were forgotten almost immediately, living in the digital age means that an increasing amount of our lived experience — what we do, where we go, what we think, what we purchase, and so forth — is caught and captured in permanent or semi-permanent form. That is a broader trend — and while advertising does little to discourage it, it can’t be called the sole cause.

In the book, you discuss technological coding as a form of power. What are the implications of that power in the hands of tech companies, and how can we put ourselves on an equal playing field?

Those who write code will increasingly write the rules by which the rest of us live our lives. So, when you take a ride in a self-driving car, you will be subject to the rules coded into that vehicle: It may refuse to go over the speed limit, or park in a particular spot. It may automatically pull over for the police in circumstances where you would have been inclined not to, had you been driving. In the future, digital technologies are going to be everywhere, touching every aspect of our lives. So too will the rules in those technologies.

You can’t ask a technology to do something it’s not coded to do, which is why a tweet of more than 280 characters simply won’t send, or a DVD made for use in North America simply won’t play on DVD players manufactured in Europe. As more and more of our lives — and our freedoms — are lived out through technologies, we will be increasingly subject to the rules coded into those technologies.

Jamie SusskindJamie SusskindJamie Susskind.via Jamie Susskind

As I argue in Future Politics, code is therefore going to have a major impact on various aspects of our lives that we would traditionally have seen as “political” — our freedom, the health of our democracy, the justice (or otherwise) of our distributions of goods. In line with a long tradition of Western political philosophy, I call for greater transparency and accountability (yes, of tech firms) so that we never become the slaves of systems that we have no opportunity to affect or alter. I don’t believe the market mechanism is enough to regulate these systems, often because they establish monopolies through large network effects. The change needs to be more profound.

Define the concept of “re-magification” with regards to technology. How does it affect policy making, or policy makers’ understanding of technology?

In the past, advances in science and technology helped humans to strip away some of the mystery of the world. Max Weber, writing at the turn of the 20th century, identified the central feature of modernity as Entzauberung, translated as de-magification or disenchantment. This was the process by which magic and superstition were replaced by rational observation as the preferred means for explaining the mysteries of life.

I use the term re-magification to describe the opposite: a generation that increasingly finds itself surrounded by technologies of extraordinary power, subtlety and complexity — most of which we can barely understand, let alone control. This is the sense in which Arthur C. Clarke wrote that, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Obviously, this has implications for policy making, as calls for “regulation” and the like will be futile, even counterproductive, if lawmakers do not have a decent grasp of the technologies they are looking to regulate. And in fairness, I do think a decent grasp is enough: You don’t need to be an engineer to understand in broad terms how a machine learning system works. And you don’t need to be Mark Zuckerberg to understand how Facebook makes money without charging its users. Sadly, many politicians are still behind the curve on even the basics. Until we have at least a basic grounding in how digital technology actually works, we are going to struggle to think sensibly about it politically.

Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have contributed massively to resistance organizing in recent years, but they’ve also amplified voices on the far-right. Will we need to rethink the meaning of “free speech” on these platforms, and what does that imply for the future of democracy discussed in the book?

The simple truth is that, for better or worse, the “freedom” of our speech is now increasingly reliant on the decisions taken by tech firms that host the speech platforms. They determine the forms of communication that are allowed (for example, images, audio, text, hologram, virtual reality, augmented reality, no more than 140 characters and so forth). They also determine the audience for our communications, including who can be contacted (members of the network only?) and how content is ranked and sorted according to relevance, popularity or other criteria. And, yes, they even determine the content of what may be said, prohibiting speech that they deem unacceptable.

There is no inherent reason why these platforms cannot be engineered in ways that are likely to promote truth or civility, rather than their opposite, but of course there are free-speech trade-offs in doing so. Moreover, I reckon few of us will feel comfortable with the idea that the health of our democratic discourse is increasingly going to be determined by firms whose main interest is the pursuit of profit rather than the health of democracy, and whose engineers and executives may not have the faintest idea about the philosophy of free speech, where it comes from and why it matters. Just as politicians’ pronouncements on technology can be cringe-inducing in their naivety, so can tech “gurus”’ pronouncements about politics.

There needs to be a meeting of worlds, whereby we recognize, frankly, the new political role that these platforms play; that they are not (and cannot be treated as) simply commercial entities like any other. The decisions they take strike at the heart of the way we live together. Regulation will play a part, but we also need more “philosophical engineers” worthy of the name.

Do you think younger generations are learning to be better equipped to handle the rise of technology, and should we be looking to them to guide conversations about policy regarding that tech?

Each generation brings a unique perspective. I am a millennial, and when I wrote the book, I expected that those my age and younger would be the most receptive audience for my work. But what’s been interesting to me is that folk older than me — Baby Boomers in particular — have taken to it with gusto.

Likewise, those a few years younger than me (especially those who cannot remember a time before the internet) often have different political priorities from my own. They seem less fazed by a loss in privacy but more concerned about the effects of technology on the distribution of wealth.

I have no statistical evidence for these findings — they are just what I have learned from speaking in front of lots of different crowds — but the overall point is that it cannot be any one generation that shoulders the responsibility here, just as it could not just be a single generation trying to solve climate change. It requires all of us.

The post The Age of Technology Requires Us All to Reimagine Politics appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

“Free Trade” Is Today’s Imperialism by the 1 Percent

Sun, 01/13/2019 - 14:06

Opposition to “free” trade is clearly growing — both the progressive and the corporate elements of the Democratic Party are now critical of agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Less clear are the alternatives to free trade that might emerge. As progressives continue to build power inside and outside of the Democratic Party, we must clarify our understanding of the international political economy, and imagine and begin to build real alternatives to free trade. Building these alternatives must become an essential component of a more progressive US foreign policy.

The conventional wisdom says that if you oppose free trade, you must support protectionism or economic nationalism. This is misleading. There is no such thing as “free” trade. People create all of the systems that govern our political economy. These systems inevitably favor certain human activities over others, and we can design them to act any way that we want. The important question is: For whom are trade policies “free”? Put another way: Who do trade policies favor?

Debunking “Free” Trade

“Free” trade is free only for capital owners: the plutocratic few who own and control multinational corporations. When countries enter into free trade agreements, the governments of both countries effectively agree that their laws will not favor businesses from their country over businesses from any other countries. The main way that free trade does this is by attempting to reduce all tariffs to as close to 0 percent as possible, to eliminate import quotas that countries can use to limit the amount and types of goods imported from specified countries, and to discourage countries from more directly subsidizing their own businesses.

Far from promoting freedom for everyone, “free” trade empowers multinationals from the global North to control the world political economy in two important ways. First, free trade facilitates global North multinationals to maintain the unequal trade they established with the global South during colonialism. This increases inequalities of power and wealth between global North and global South. Second, free trade empowers global North multinationals to plan the world economy alongside global South multinationals, the junior partners of the global North multinationals, and to pit working-class people in the global North and global South against one another.

Thus, free trade is the modern form that imperialism takes. Throughout US history, the US government has used military force to expand free trade throughout the world. For more than a century, US-backed military coups and US-backed military dictatorships have led to partnerships between the US government, US multinationals and local elites across the globe that are built around creating trade that concentrates wealth for multinationals. This remains a core source of violence in the world with many implications. Today, for instance, Central American refugees at the southern US border are criminalized for fleeing a history of US military coups and intervention in Central America and the neoliberal trade policies that US multinationals and local elites created in their aftermath.

Colonialism and the History of Unequal Trade

In the 1950s, the Argentinian economist Raúl Prebisch and the German economist Hans Singer developed “dependency theory,” which describes the unequal terms of trade that the global North established with the global South during colonialism — the same unequal economic relationships that free trade protects today. Prebisch and Singer attacked the mainstream trade theory of “comparative advantage,” which holds that countries naturally produce the goods that they are most efficient at producing. Core to the idea of comparative advantage — and to mainstream economic theory today — is the idea that the “invisible hand” of the market guides these natural choices.

However, during colonialism, global North colonizers did not rely upon the market’s “invisible hand.” Instead, they ensured — through physical violence and use of tariffs that they still prevent global South countries from using today — that they would have a monopoly on the production of manufactured and high-tech goods, the most profitable sectors of the economy. Global North corporations sold these goods to people in their own countries and to people in global South countries, while making sure that global South corporations lacked the capacity to make such goods on their own.

The global North turned the global South into an exporter of raw materials — a position from which they are still largely unable to escape — so that they could have access to an ever-expanding supply of low-cost raw materials that they needed for manufactured goods. Global North countries, by reorganizing global South economies to become raw material exporters, also ensured access to global South markets. Throughout colonialism, and to a somewhat lesser extent today, global North corporations have been able to own and capture the profits from global South corporations that produce raw materials, in addition to owning global North corporations that produce manufactured goods.

It is important to note that global North governments have used protectionism to maintain these unequal economic relationships developed during colonialism. For example, the British used tariffs and subsidies to help their corporations become the colonial world’s dominant producer and exporter of textiles and the machines of the early Industrial Revolution, the most profitable manufactured goods of the day. They didn’t stop using protectionism, even while attempting to impose free trade on all other countries, including their American colonies, until they had become the dominant producer of manufactured goods during the 1800s. Similarly, the US relied extensively on tariffs until becoming the dominant producer and exporter of manufactured goods during the early 1900s.

This hypocrisy continues today. More powerful global North governments do not even honor the spirit of their own free trade agreements, as they frequently favor their own industries, especially their agricultural, pharmaceutical and digital technology industries. At the same time, global North governments use free trade agreements to demand that global South countries cannot use the same tools that global North governments have used to propel their corporations to their dominant economic position of today.

Free Trade Imperialism: Continuing the Unequal Trade of Colonialism

With mass global South resistance to colonialism increasing in the early 1900s and intensifying in the aftermath of the world wars, global North corporations and governments no longer needed colonialism. From their perspective, moving toward the international economic model that would become free trade was much more cost-effective. As the US sociologist Johanna Bockman writes of US government and business elites in the aftermath of the second world war, “[They] supported neither free trade nor globalization imagined as a level playing field with flows moving evenly around the globe. Instead, they supported the international neocolonial system through the [General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)], while using the rhetoric of free trade and modernization to support US national interests.”

Today’s free trade agreements are about enforcing the unequal economic relationships that global North corporations have continued to enjoy since the times of colonialism.

Roughly 70 years after the global North created the post-second world war international order, global North corporations continue to own and control a disproportionate amount of the most profitable industries in the global economy. Though many US commentators warn of the rise of Brazil, Russia, India and China, US corporations, in 2013, still had leading positions in 18 of the 25 most profitable industries. Moreover, US corporations are dominant in the most profitable advanced industries, including banking and financial services, aerospace and defense, chemicals, computer hardware and software, insurance, pharmaceuticals, heavy machinery, and oil and gas. While the US has roughly 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the global share of gross domestic product, US corporations likely control far more than 25 percent of the profit-producing capital in the world. These profits are concentrated among the shareholders of multinationals incorporated in the US, which, according to one estimate, are at least 85 percent owned by US citizens. These profits are not being shared with vast majority of people in the world, most of whom do not own any wealth, let alone shares in corporations.

Global North and US multinational dominance of the world economy is not an accident, as global North governments and multinationals have used the international institutions they created following the second world war to continue to dominate the world economy. These institutions include the United Nations; the GATT, which has since become the World Trade Organization (WTO); the International Monetary Fund (IMF); and the World Bank.

The WTO is the main international institution that makes and enforces trade policies. The core GATT/WTO principles are “non-discrimination” and “national treatment.” Non-discrimination means that countries will not use their trade policies to discriminate between goods that are produced in different foreign countries. National treatment means that countries will not use their trade policies to favor products produced in their own country over products produced in any other country.

As described above, global North countries used their trade policies to promote the products of the corporations based in their countries for centuries. The free trade principles of non-discrimination and national treatment deny the ability of any country to use those same policies today. This allows global North corporations to ensure that global South governments will not create policies that can help their own corporations develop the wealth they need to compete. Additionally, since the GATT/WTO free trade framework facilitates continued global North corporate control over advanced industries, global North corporations are far more likely to develop the high-tech industries of the future, as they own the profits from today’s advanced industries which they can invest in research and development.

As Lawrence Summers, economic adviser to the Clinton and Obama administrations, points out, the GATT/WTO free trade regime has been so successful that today’s free trade agreements aren’t even about the traditional obstacles to free trade, as these obstacles are already effectively eliminated in most countries. Instead, today’s agreements involve protecting the property rights (especially the intellectual property rights) of multinationals and harmonizing the regulatory regimes across countries with which multinationals must comply. In other words, today’s free trade agreements are about enforcing the unequal economic relationships that global North corporations have continued to enjoy since the times of colonialism.

The most egregious example of global North countries using the WTO to codify their colonial unequal economic relationships is the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs), an agreement that is part of the WTO. TRIPs extend patent, copyright and trademark protections to all WTO members — effectively the entire world economy. However, the global North is a net intellectual property producer and the global South is a net intellectual property consumer. TRIPs’ intellectual property protections extend to goods like pharmaceuticals, digital technology hardware and software, and most art and media entertainment. Intellectual property protections allow the global North corporations that own the patents, copyrights and trademarks for these products to maintain monopoly control over them. Global North corporations can charge high prices for pharmaceuticals and digital technology to global South consumers, transferring wealth to global North corporations. Further, intellectual property protections make it impossible for global South corporations to compete with global North corporations to produce these goods, meaning that global North corporations can continue to monopolize the profits.

Economic and military violence is the visible hand the global North governments and corporations have used to concentrate the world’s wealth.

Since the post-WWII restructuring of the international economy, global South countries have needed to find capital to develop their own industries. The GATT/WTO free trade framework bars global South countries from creating policies that can help their own industries develop their own surplus capital, as described above, so global South countries have resorted to borrowing money from the financial sector. The IMF and the World Bank have promoted and subsidized global North banks lending to global South countries, and have only made capital available to global South countries if they accept the conditions of the North’s free trade policies, as well as privatization of any state-owned businesses and deregulation of their economies.

Through the work of GATT/WTO, the IMF and the World Bank, global South governments and corporations have been kept in the unequal economic position developed during colonialism. As Vijay Prashad explains, US and Western militaries have also helped to expand free trade throughout the world by supporting military dictators and military coups throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America. This economic and military violence is the visible hand the global North governments and corporations have used to concentrate the world’s wealth.

This visible hand explains how global North, and especially US, corporations continue to own and control a disproportionate amount of the most profitable industries in the global economy.

Learning From Past Efforts to Reform International Institutions

Before more deeply exploring the alternatives to free trade that we can create today, we should focus on two post-WWII efforts to change the established international political economy order: John Maynard Keynes and E.F. Schumacher’s attempt to create an International Clearing Union (ICU) in the 1940s and the Non-Aligned Movement’s effort to create “structural adjustment” in the 1960s and 1970s.

During the 1940s, the economists Keynes and Schumacher advocated for an international system of capital controls, and economists including Yanis Varoufakis and Paul Davidson have revived this effort today. Keynes and Schumacher considered their proposal for an ICU as a solution to two key problems with the international financial system.

First, global North multinationals and banks extract profits from the global South. This extraction reduces the global South’s relative purchasing power, as profits are not recirculated within the global South, which makes the global South increasingly reliant on importing advanced goods, the purchase of which depletes their currency. Eventually, this dampening of purchasing power around the world creates global recessions.

Second, national governments cannot simply increase their country’s purchasing power through public spending. If national governments spend, creating money in their own currency, their currency depreciates relative to other currencies as the supply of their own currency has increased, making imports even more expensive, further depressing the country’s purchasing power. Keynes and Schumacher were effectively arguing that the rules of the international financial system depressed purchasing power and caused recessions because the rules allowed global North multinationals to concentrate capital that they refused to redistribute. Without redistribution, global South purchasing power remains too low in order to incentivize global North multinationals to invest at high enough levels required to avoid recession.

The solution, according to Keynes and Schumacher, was to create an ICU, which would effectively act as an international bank through which all currency exchanges would occur. The ICU would track global North trade surpluses, and if such surpluses exceeded certain amounts, the ICU would effectively tax the global North currency and redistribute the amount of money taxed to the global South country to increase its purchasing power and to help its country build its own productive capacity. This system, Keynes and Schumacher argued, would recirculate profit throughout the world and keep aggregate demand high enough to avoid the instability of recessions. Today, calls remain for a similar system, with the main difference being that economist Varoufakis prefers that the surplus redistribution be managed by a transparent digital distributed ledger (the technology at the core of Bitcoin and other digital cryptocurrencies), rather than by international bureaucrats.

The key insight from the ICU proposal is that global North multinational corporate concentration of capital creates international economic instability, and that we need an international institution to redistribute global North profits.

UNCTAD’s Vision for Reforming the World Economy

Another alternative worth examining is the effort by the Non-Aligned Movement to create “structural adjustment” of the world political economy in the 1960s and 1970s. The Non-Aligned Movement — a group of global South countries claiming independence from the US and the USSR, led by Indonesia, India, Egypt, Tanzania, Yugoslavia, Cuba and others — created the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), for which Prebisch, the Argentinian economist who developed dependency theory, was the first secretary-general.

The Non-Aligned Movement attempted to use UNCTAD to create what they envisioned as structural adjustment of the international political economy. (The IMF would later co-opt the term to help impose the free trade Washington Consensus throughout the global South.) The UNCTAD structural adjustment program called for new policies and institutions that shifted control of capital from the global North to the global South, including marketing cartels that pooled global South multinational corporate power; grants from the global North to provide financial and technological assistance to global South multinationals; and minimum market share agreements, whereby global North countries agreed to buy certain amounts of advanced goods from global South multinationals, giving them access to markets.

The short answer for why UNCTAD’s efforts failed is because global South countries lacked the required political power; they could not create the program on their own and their unity could not withstand the global recession of the 1970s.

The key insight from UNCTAD’s structural adjustment program is that the current terms for economic competition between global North and global South multinationals are unequal, and deliberate policies for transferring capital, technology and market access to the global South are required to reverse these unequal terms, just as deliberate global North policies were required to create these unequal terms in the first place.

But a key problem with UNCTAD’s structural adjustment plan is that it does not address inequalities of wealth and power within countries. UNCTAD’s program was designed to shift power between the wealthy and powerful in the global North and the global South. It wasn’t necessarily designed to create a democratic political economy throughout the world that shifts power to the grassroots masses and away from the elite few who own multinationals.

We can, however, begin to build alternatives to “free” trade that both shift power and wealth from the global North to global South and from the elite few to the grassroots masses throughout the global North and the global South. Building upon the insights from Keynes and Schumacher’s attempt to create the ICU and the Non-Aligned Movement’s attempt to use UNCTAD to reform the world economy, we can work toward a progressive international political economy that promotes material dignity and freedom for all the people of the world.

The post “Free Trade” Is Today’s Imperialism by the 1 Percent appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Africa’s Place in the Radical Imagination

Sat, 01/12/2019 - 16:03

How does a geographic area occupy both a physical existence and a figment of our imagination, now even further tangled in Wakanda fantasies? What is the cultural, political, affective, discursive space in which impression or illusion (or desire) takes primacy over materiality?

Our leftist politics are as much an act of generating new futurities as they are destroying and remaking new structures and/or repurposing existing ones. But often, in the process of dreaming that constitutes our radicalisms, we retreat into ahistorical and erasing revisionisms as opposed to situating our political visions within some concrete foundation. Within radical politics, Africa often exists far more comfortably as an abstracted symbol, a site of the ultimate myth-making within political imaginaries — a phenomenon to which those in the African diaspora are not immune — than it does as a geographically bounded plexus of messy and sometimes contradictory material realities.

Ground Zero of European Empire-Building

Though bloody colonial violations have been perpetrated across the globe, the African continent was, in many ways, a ground zero for the European state- and fortress-making project. It was a place of plunder from first contact in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, to the 1884 Berlin Conference’s “diplomatic” distribution of land that precipitated Europe’s ongoing scramble for the continent, to coercive liberalization policies that adjusted relatively newly independent states’ infant economies in response to what for many were inescapable debts.

King Leopold II infamously ran a slave colony in his ironically named Congo Free State, which he was able to administer under the guise of philanthropic work and the promise of abolishing the Arab slave trade in eastern Africa. Congo has not been free since. He forced the native Congolese to extract rubber to meet growing Western industrial demand. He deployed his private army, the Force Publique, to enforce resource collection quotas with chicotte whippings, kidnapping and torture, village burnings and collectivized punishment, and, perhaps most gruesomely, sadistically collecting hands and feet of Congolese people so as not to waste bullets.

Africa, too, was something of a drawing board for the Western world’s most identity-making genocide (this is not a reference to the slaughter of the Native American, First Nations, and Arawak and other peoples of the Caribbean, whose murders facilitated the settlement of North America). Prior to the Nazis’ slaughter of 10 million so-called Untermenschen (Jews, Roma, Blacks, Slavs, ethnic Poles, physically and mentally disabled people, gays, and other “lesser” or “asocial” peoples that offended so-called pure Aryan sensibilities) during World War II, imperial Germany decimated the Herero and Nam peoples during the 1904-1908 Herero Wars.

What began as “classic” settler colonial migration and competition over resources and land quickly evolved into genocide after Kaiser Wilhelm II instructed replacement colonial administrator Lt. General Lothar von Trotha to suppress indigenous insurgency mit allen Mitteln (“by all means”). Through forced labor systems, starvation and dehydration in the Kalahari and Namib Deserts, prison camps and summary execution of all enemy combatants (which included every Herero man, woman and child), Germany’s first race war was waged.

At the Shark Island Concentration Camp, Dr. Eugen Fischer conducted extensive experiments on the living bodies and corpses of indigenous prisoners. He studied the Basters, the mixed-race offspring of European settler men and indigenous women, concluding that genetically muddied people like those should not reproduce. Adolf Hitler praised Fischer’s racial hygiene work, which influenced the ideas of Aryan racial purities in his own infamous manifesto Mein Kampf. Fischer’s 1913 work The Rehoboth Bastards and the Problem of Miscegenation Among Humans supported German anti-miscegenation policy and provided a scientific legitimization of and justification for the 1935 Nuremberg Laws.

In 1933, Fischer signed a loyalty oath to the Nazi government, and was appointed most senior official of the Frederick William University (now Humboldt University of Berlin). In 1937 and 1938, Fischer extensively experimented on and sterilized mixed-race children and Roma people, continuing the study he had begun in Namibia. In 1940, he officially joined the Nazi Party. Just as Frantz Fanon wrote that “the antisemite is inevitably a negrophobe,” we, too, can practically understand how so much structural violence in modern capitalist society is derived from anti-Black, or specifically anti-African, “science” and other logics.

Racialization as a Displinary Structure

As Alexander Weheliye noted, race and racialization comprise a disciplinary structure that govern a hierarchy of humanity into “full humans, not-quite-humans, and non-humans,” where blackness (and a proximity to it) clearly distinguishes those able to claim “full human status” from those who cannot.

The afterlife of slavery that we can see in the “post”-emancipation and “post”-Jim Crow United States, too, can be understood and analyzed on and through the continent; Saidiya Hartman’s précis that “emancipation instituted indebtedness” is applicable to the postcolonial continental condition. British slave-owners were compensated for their forfeited property after the abolishment of the trade and institution of slavery, and Haiti’s legacy of indebtedness began after the island’s slaves audaciously freed themselves from France through their 1804 revolution. The African continent has similarly been in arrears to their “former” European masters since the release of continental colonies following these states’ successful struggles for independence.

Today, economists discourage debt abolition as it might motivate developing countries, including many African ones, to continue defaulting on their loans or refuse to make timely payments or over-borrow funds. It may even lead to industrialized nations altogether ceasing financial assistance to these countries because of a poor return on their investments. So where debt abolition is understood as moral hazard per orthodox economics, we might then understand the maintenance of indebtedness as moral (as well as social, political and economic) necessity.

Through the colonial process, the continent has been relegated to a laboratory-like zone of non-being within which bio-/necropolitical technologies could be refined — Africa has been a site of pharmaceutical testing, military exercise and expansion, a dumping ground for both waste and the charitable donations of the team merchandise of Super Bowl losers (a fitting metaphor). It is a continent, too, of managerial imposition, with borders sketched atop long-existing nations and super-sovereign administrations (whether League of Nations/United Nations mandate or “separate but equal” apartheid administration or proxy governance by Western nation-states) simultaneously eroding continental governance and projecting narration of an incapacity for self-governance.

Our racialized seeing, our very capability to see and humanize, is contoured by anti-blackness, and so Black African suffering is not legible as a human suffering that must be alleviated for humanity’s sake. Rather, it becomes a canvas upon which Western moralizations can be articulated and acted and political values can be assessed. Suffering is not alleviated so that the continent might suffer less in earnest. Aid “solutions” are offered so as to further necessitate their existence, a continued management and domination of space and people through a continuous provision of resources that justify continued conquest through “development” and “charity.”

The struggles of African people(s), both within nation-states and beyond/between them, are deeply interconnected with other global struggles for autonomy and self-determination. The liberation of Africa is also the liberation of its diaspora: the freedom of the continent and the collection of peoples first burdened with the non-human designation “Black” is the freedom of the diaspora that also endures that non-human subjection, whose social death is foundational to the social contracts of their respective nation-states.

An epoch marked by a true continental self-sufficiency is one also marked by a considerably weakened Western world, as the prosperity of Western capitalism is presently and has historically predicated upon a weakened Africa; an Africa whose collective economic growth and self-sufficiency is hamstringed by (the exacerbation of) conflict, corrupt governance, and market politics that devalue agricultural exports and stunt the expansion of manufacturing and industrial and other formal economic sectors.

Beyond Flattened Talking Points

For all of these reasons, for reasons also not mentioned, our internationalist concerns for the continent and the one billion people living there must necessarily transcend the flattened talking points to which Africa is frequently reduced in our discourses. The open-air slave markets in Libya cannot simply become a feature in our rapid-fire news cycle or ammunition in a set of taking points about Hillary Clinton’s imperial track record. The relatively recent abrupt end to former President Robert Mugabe’s nearly forty-year tenure, for example, is not the opportunity to flex political muscles sculpted through painstaking participation in dogmatic purity politics.

In the formulation of anti-imperialist projects, there exists the idea that a leader or party’s politics begin and end with an articulated relationship to the West: that anti-Westernness (which is somehow metonymic with anti-imperialism) is a politics in itself. These difficulties seem to come to a particular head when we seek to understand the Chinese government’s interactions with the different states with which it has commercial and economic and political and social interaction. We revert to the politics of the Little Red Book that contoured contemporary Chinese relationships with the continent through provision of support for independence struggles. But even as we might celebrate a source of economic support that contests the West’s hegemonic sphere of influence, we can also earnestly acknowledge the nurturing of a political co-dependency and other happenings in agriculture, petropolitics, construction, and other sectors that might call the intentions of the relationship into question.

A number of leaders on the continent are publicly skeptical of or hostile to the West — we may remember the former president’s histrionic anti-Western flourishes in his United Nations General Assembly addresses. But despite these bold pronouncements, Mugabe’s governance and economic management lacked deeply, and scores of Zimbabwean people suffered under his rule (not even to mention the ethnic violence in Matabeleland for which he and the new leader, President Emerson Mnangagwa, along others, were responsible).

Our imaginations have arrested the development of the continent, it seems. Some of our imaginings of the continent have halted its development at the point of extraction in a way that a freed Africa would necessarily return to a romanticized (sometimes bordering on ahistorical) pre-colonial/pre-transatlantic slave trade state. Others of us know the continent solely through the wave of liberation and independence movements of the 1960s and 1970s, wherein a freed Africa would, once again, return to those moments of trans-diasporic and transcontinental revolutionary politics.

The continent often fails to exist as a dynamic and constantly changing, widely varied collection of peoples, parties, interests and realities. While we might criticize the colonial treatments it continually receives in media portrayals or political discourse, it still remains a political and historical terra nullius upon which yearnings and desires of diasporans and non-Afro descendant leftists alike can be projected.

African politics neither need to be the sole focus of our internationalism, nor should they displace passion for other causes — but they cannot be relegated to an afterthought after we have exhausted our solidarities with other struggles. There is, for example, no understanding of American border imperialism without linking African extraction to a contemporary regime of biological citizenship that duly precludes foreign-born Africans and Afro-Caribbeans from ever being fully understood or embraced as citizens.

Similarly, there is no robust understanding of imperial military strategy without the Department of Defense’s AFRICOM, an American government-coordinated combatant command whose mandate purports to “promote regional security, stability and prosperity” despite actively militarizing the continent in service of American security interests (ones often at odds with the material needs of large swaths of the communities within the countries in which they operate).

The flattened dark continent is comprised of fifty-four countries and over one billion people, thousands of ethnic groups and languages and countless cultural expressions and material engagements with economic mobility and poverty and industrialization and agriculture and fashion and poaching and urbanism and higher education and corruption and entrepreneurship and service economies and military conflict and so many other realities.

Our politics must accordingly be oriented around the myriad social, historical, political, economic and discursive ways that the continent has been subjugated — including the question of how our tax dollars continue to facilitate its ongoing marginalization. These considerations demand far more thoughtful consideration than the limits and impositions of our Western political imaginations.

The post Africa’s Place in the Radical Imagination appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Democrats Propose “Technological Wall” With Expanded Border Surveillance

Sat, 01/12/2019 - 15:58

Progressives in recent weeks have applauded Democrats’ refusal to bend to President Donald Trump’s demands for a wall at the US-Mexico border, a key component of his xenophobic anti-immigration agenda. But on Friday, digital rights advocates called on Democratic lawmakers to expand their fight against the wall into a fight for all human and constitutional rights — instead of suggesting alternative “border security” proposals that would infringe on civil liberties.

Fight for the Future launched a campaign Friday to fight against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) suggestion on Thursday that a so-called “technological wall” would be an appropriate alternative to Trump’s planned concrete or steel wall.

Congressional Democrats are calling for a “technological wall” at the border, meaning increased warrantless surveillance that could impact up to two-thirds of all people in the US

Sign our petition to tell Congress “NO TECH WALL” at the border: https://t.co/cjmdDvqEFX pic.twitter.com/0plunpvqbU

— Fight for the Future (@fightfortheftr) January 11, 2019

Trump, Pelosi said in a press conference, “knows we all support border security and that there’s a better way to do it…90 percent of the drugs come in through the ports of entry. So what we are proposing is to build the infrastructure of the ports of entry…to have the scanning technology to scan cars coming through, for drugs, contraband of any kind, weapons even.”

“The positive, shall we say, almost technological wall that can be built is what we should be doing,” Pelosi said.

Fight for the Future swiftly circulated a petition following Pelosi’s speech, calling on Democrats including Senate Majority Leader Schuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) not to replace Trump’s proposed wall — which critics say would further endanger migrant families coming to the US — with a surveillance system that would threaten their right to be protected from unlawful search and seizure.

“Schumer and Pelosi’s position may seem appealing in light of Trump’s bizarre plan to build a costly and unnecessary wall, but in reality — increasing border surveillance is a nefarious move that widely threatens the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution,” wrote the group.

Sarah St. Vincent, a surveillance researcher at Human Rights Watch, wrote on Twitter that “‘more surveillance’ has become the default answer to far too many difficult policy questions.”

“Replacing more visible rights harms with — potentially — less visible ones is not a good answer,” St. Vincent said.

Fight for the Future pointed to border surveillance programs that already exist and “desperately need Congressional review” instead of being expanded, including searches of electronic devices and monitoring by drones.

“Current border surveillance programs subject people to invasive and unconstitutional searches of their cell phones and laptops, location tracking, drone surveillance, and problematic watchlists,” wrote Fight for the Future in its petition.

The group addressed Democratic leaders directly, writing, “Drop your plan for a ‘technological wall,’ or increased surveillance, at the border.”

The post Democrats Propose “Technological Wall” With Expanded Border Surveillance appeared first on Truthout.

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