Truth Out

Subscribe to Truth Out feed
Truthout sparks action by revealing systemic injustice and providing a platform for transformative ideas through investigative reporting and analysis.
Updated: 18 min 15 sec ago

With Gerrymandering, Republicans Have a Starting-Line Advantage of 10 Percent

Sat, 10/21/2017 - 04:00
The stories at Truthout equip ordinary people with the facts and resources to create extraordinary change. Support this vital work by making a tax-deductible donation now!

Janine Jackson: We are definitely in challenging times, but it's useful to remember that it isn't that Americans per se are opposed to gun control, human rights for LGBTQ people, or affordable healthcare. At the same time, it's painful to remember why it appears that we are. It's because, as a recent piece by Neal Gabler for BillMoyers.com reminds us, we don't have a working democracy where every voice is heard: A minority of people have outsized power.

One of the reasons for that is being considered right now in the Supreme Court. Recalled by many of us as an old-timey graphic in middle school textbooks, the term "gerrymander" refers to the drawing of political districts in such a way as to benefit a particular party. The case Gill v. Whitford is focused on Wisconsin, where in 2012 Republicans won just 48.6 percent of the statewide vote, but captured 60 out of 99 seats in the state assembly.

Here to help us see what's going on and what's at stake is Steven Rosenfeld. He covers national political issues for AlterNet, and he's author of a number of books, including the forthcoming Inside Job: How American Elections Are Still Rigged Against Voters. He joins us now by phone from San Francisco. Welcome to CounterSpin, Steven Rosenfeld.

Steven Rosenfeld: Thank you very much. I'm glad to be here.

Wisconsin is asking the Supreme Court to overturn a decision striking down the 2011 redistricting plan for the lower house of their state assembly. Can you remind us what happened in Wisconsin that led to this being the test case for this issue?

What happened was the Republicans, after they got completely trounced by Obama in 2008, saw a way back from political wilderness, as the cliche goes, and they realized that if they won enough seats in state legislatures in 2010 that they could draw the maps that would last this decade. So Karl Rove wrote about this in the Wall Street Journal, the Democrats from Nancy Pelosi to Obama completely ignored it, and then the Republicans went out with some of the nastiest political ads you could ever imagine at the local level, and they just emptied these legislatures out of long-time citizen legislators. They called women prostitutes, they called guys every kind of crook imaginable.

And then they drew the maps, and what they did was they drew maps segregating the reliable voters, their party's and the Democrats. They looked at who came out and voted for John McCain in 2008, which was a lousy year, and they made sure that in these districts, they would have at least 56 percent, sometimes not too much more than that, reliable Republican majorities. And they put the Democrats, they packed them into other districts where they would typically win with 65, 70, 75 percent of the vote. So that's how you end up getting these Republican supermajorities. It's how they control the US House, it's how they control all these states that you think should be purple, like Wisconsin or Georgia or North Carolina, but instead they're firmly, firmly red.

And it turns out that if you draw lines, political districts, using race, it's illegal under federal law -- with one exception, which is sort of affirmative action for minorities. But if you draw these lines using extreme partisanship, which is what the Republicans argue they did in Wisconsin, so far, in the Supreme Court, it's been legal; it has not been judged to be illegal. But Anthony Kennedy, in an earlier case, sort of hinted at, well, maybe we gotta take a look at this, because it's so unfair, and if you can come up with a formula for us to prove how unfair it is and how anti-democratic is, we may consider it.

Well, that is what the people in Wisconsin did; they came up with the formula. A lower federal court said, OK, we agree with you. The Republicans in Wisconsin said, uh, we are going to appeal, and that's what's brought us to the Supreme Court, where basically they're going to decide the rules that will either make our national politics fairer and more balanced, or continue being as extreme as they have been through the next decade, the decade of the 2020s, because redistricting is coming right around the corner.

The way of measuring it, that's been the sort of missing piece, that's the social science that Justice Roberts dismisses as "sociological gobbledygook"; he claimed during the arguing of this case that "the intelligent man on the street" would never understand how you could have a formula to figure out which votes were, quote unquote, "wasted."

Yeah. I should remind you that John Roberts also said, before Donald Trump's election campaign, that we were in a post-racial society and therefore we no longer needed the Voting Rights Act's enforcement provisions. And then within 24 hours of that Supreme Court decision in 2013, virtually every red state in the Old South passed voter ID laws, they got rid of same-day registration, they ended early voting. This is completely nuts.

Yeah. And it seems so disingenuous in the extreme to say, as Roberts also did, that the problem of gerrymandering should be fixed, he said through "democracy," by which he meant the normal political process. But this is the normal political process!

Yes, this is democracy, and it's not very democratic.

Exactly.

In fact, this is what people really don't understand. This is one of the biggest, most influential factors on why Democrats and progressives have not been winning. The Supreme Court had a decision, before Gorsuch was on it, that basically threw out North Carolina's racially motivated US House districts. And the numbers in it were that Republicans kept winning with 56 percent of the vote, and the Democrats and the few seats they held were like 69 and 70 percent. It's not democratic when you segregate voters. The language people use is, politicians shouldn't choose their voters.

But it's segregating voters, reliable voters, and it gives you a 6 percent head start. And then you have other things that academics have tracked. Strict voter ID peels off another 2 or 3 percent. And then pretty soon Republicans have a starting line advantage, before anybody knows who's running, of 10 percent. And for you to win elections by more than 10 percent, I mean, maybe we'll see that in 2018, but, gosh, it's so, so rare.

Well, this case, Gill v. Whitford, is talking about the Supreme Court's ability to shut down extreme cases, which we should note could theoretically be committed by either major party. But that's not really a system for going forward, it doesn't sound like.

Well, the Republicans in 2010, after they won political monopoly control in lots of states -- they targeted a dozen states, and these are the states that are always among the finalists in presidential elections. We're talking about Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Texas. And it's as if we have two entirely different countries and two entirely different sets of voting rules. We have blue state coastal America, where none of this stuff is happening. People almost don't understand how could this be happening, they can't relate to it in their experience. And then you have this red state set of rules.

And the Democrats are no angels; they had plenty of things that they did to stop Bernie Sanders in that presidential nominating contest. I'm not sure he would have won, but they sure made it harder. The Democrats who run California are not exactly angels, either. But they have done nothing on the level of a coordinated nationwide strategy to basically seize the House and seize these states.

And [Republicans] have done it, and it's held for every race, every election, every two-year cycle this decade. I mean, think of it. After 2010, the House, Republicans have held it. And all those states, all those states that filed those lawsuits against everything -- Obamacare, LGBT rights, affirmative action this, climate change that -- this is what's been the result.

And actually, it goes worse than that, because today in the House, things have been segregated to such an extreme amongst who votes, that you have the most extreme Republicans saying that, well, taking healthcare away for 20-something million people is not good enough; and Paul Ryan can't control them. This has created a downward spiral that's pulling us to the bottom.

Finally we're recording this on October 5. Do you have any thoughts right now about how Gill v. Whitford is likely to play out?

Yeah, I do. I suspect that they're not going to touch it, which means the status quo will hold. And the reason I say that is because Kennedy, who is the swing vote, said or signed on to a dissent in the North Carolina case that came out and threw out their congressional House seats last spring. It was written by Alito, and it said that, odious as all this extreme partisanship is, it's part of human nature and part of politics, and it just comes with the turf, and we just can't and shouldn't touch it.

And I think that even though he was the one who invited the folks in Wisconsin to come up with a standard, that was several years ago, the most recent real clue we have from him is saying, well, I don't know, it just seems like it's just so much a part of human nature, and human nature is reflected in politics, we just got to live with the dark side. And I'm not optimistic.

We've been speaking with Steven Rosenfeld, journalist at AlterNet.org and author of the forthcoming Inside Job: How American Elections Are Still Rigged Against Voters. Steven Rosenfeld, thank you for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

Well, thank you so much.

Categories: News

No Casting Couch for Low-Wage Women, but Lots of Sexual Harassment

Sat, 10/21/2017 - 04:00
Help preserve a news source with integrity at its core: Donate to the independent media at Truthout.

Sexual harassment doesn't happen just to glamorous women in glamorous industries. Since sexual harassment is about power, not sex, it's not surprising that low-wage women in lousy jobs get a lot of it.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says the restaurant industry is the largest source of sexual harassment claims. In a national survey of 4,300 restaurant workers by the worker center Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, more than one in 10 workers reported that they or a co-worker had experienced sexual harassment. ROC says even this creepy figure is likely an undercount.

Focus groups and interviews ROC conducted nationwide found sexual harassment an "accepted… part of the culture." One worker said, "It's inevitable. If it's not verbal assault, someone wants to rub up against you."

ROC reviewed four years of EEOC sexual harassment settlements and verdicts in the restaurant industry and found that cases were filed primarily against well-known chains, including McDonald's (the worst with 16 percent of the cases), KFC, Sonic, IHOP, Applebee's, Cracker Barrel, Ruby Tuesday, and Denny's.

Most often, workers were abused and harassed daily and faced some form of retaliation for complaining.

Labor Notes' Jenny Brown, who now works for National Women's Liberation, points out that the "dismal stats" for restaurant workers are connected to how they get paid: tips.

The Restaurant Opportunities Centers United notes, in a 2014 report, that "a majority-female workforce must please and curry favor with customers to earn a living." Men take advantage with harassing questions, gestures, groping, even stalking.

"Unfortunately, it's just become the societal norm, and we have all accepted it and we all hate it," a woman bartender told ROC.

Managers tend to side with the customers when workers complain. One server reported her boss's words: "Well, those people pay a lot of money for our services and, I mean, would it hurt to smile a little bit, be a little bit more friendly to them?"

In the Fields

One farmworker described the norm in the fields similarly to that in restaurants: "You allow it or they fire you." A 2010 study of farmworker women found 80 percent had experienced sexual harassment at work.

Farmworker women are especially vulnerable when they are employed and paid by individual crewleaders, who thus have tight control over their livelihoods.

Janitors are another low-paid case in point, as Sonia Singh wrote this year. They're predominantly female, often working late at night in isolated workplaces. The 2015 PBS documentary "Rape on the Night Shift" exposed how widespread and underreported sexual violence is for janitors.

In May 2016 United Service Workers West won a new master contract in California that requires sexual harassment training for supervisors and workers, and ensures that workers can make complaints to managers above their direct supervisors.

The union explored using a telenovela (soap opera) format for the training, which could be paused for participants to debrief on scenarios they'd just watched.

The union also worked with legislators to develop a statewide bill, the Property Services Worker Protection Act. The union got local mayors and unionized cleaning contractors to pledge support, and paid for "End Rape on the Night Shift" billboards in strategic locations.

When they still weren't clear that Governor Jerry Brown would sign the bill, rank-and-file organizers decided to stage a fast.

Twelve survivors of workplace sexual violence and harassment began their hunger strike in front of the state Capitol. Many of the women read out open letters to their attackers. Most had never shared their stories publicly before this campaign.

After the group had fasted for five days, Brown signed the law, which will take effect in 2019. It requires cleaning and security employers to train employees and managers on sexual violence and harassment.

In a Hotel Room

Perhaps the women workers most vulnerable to actual assault are hotel cleaners. Apparently male guests reason that if there's a woman in a bedroom, she must be available. Jenny Brown wrote, "Workers report that male customers expose themselves, attempt to buy sexual services, grab and grope them and, in some cases, attempt to rape them."

"Customers offer money for massage -- but they don't want massage, they want something else," said Elizabeth Moreno, an 18-year Chicago hotel worker. When she delivers room service items, male guests occasionally come to the door naked, she said.

The problem is so prevalent that hotel workers in Hawaii and San Francisco have resisted management efforts to make them wear skirts. Workers said the uniforms make them more vulnerable to groping in a job that requires bending over beds, tubs, and floors.

At the New York Sofitel, where Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund, assaulted a housekeeper in a $3,000-a-night room in 2011, management changed the skirt uniform to pants and tunic, according to a union representative.

Room attendants' safety is compromised by staff cuts that leave women isolated as they work. Some Hawaiian hotel workers on "turn down duty," which involves entering rooms in the evening to draw drapes and turn down covers, used to work in pairs. Now management is asking them to work alone, and they say it makes them feel unsafe.

In Chicago, workers have fought for the right to prop the hotel room door open with their supply cart while they clean. Some hotel managements said it was "unprofessional" or might allow theft of items from the room.

"When we're running water, we don't hear the guest come in," said Moreno. In her union hotel, a supervisor oversees room cleaning if a customer is present.

Management Laughs

After the Strauss-Kahn incident, the hotel workers union UNITE HERE held speak-outs in eight cities. "These customers think they can use us for anything they want, because we don't have the power that they have or the money that they have," said Yazmin Vazquez, a Chicago room attendant.

A 30-year hotel worker in Indianapolis, a "guest runner" on the evening shift, brought towels and shampoo to customers who requested them. She said that twice a week she confronted men who came to the door naked, propositioned her, or worse. Managers knew about this, she said, but most laughed it off.

Toronto hotel worker Andria Babbington also said managers laughed at her when she complained about a naked guest who asked to be tucked in.

"Hotels are complicit in a culture of silence," said Annemarie Strassel of UNITE HERE. "The premise is that the guest is always right."

Add in management's desire to please guests and sweep publicity-causing incidents under the rug, and many workers feel pressured to endure insults and assaults as a part of the job.

If workers do report a guest's behavior, the police are rarely called. "No matter what we say, the managers will always respect the guest," said Hortensia Valera at the Chicago speak-out.

Still, the police did arrest Strauss-Kahn (though charges were later dropped) and, soon after, the Egyptian banker Mahmoud Abdel-Salam Omar, whom a housekeeper had charged with a similar assault. Both the New York City housekeepers were union members.

Just as is happening today with the stream of reports on media mogul Harvey Weinstein, the publicity then made workers freer to talk about similar incidents.

Managements at both hotels said they would give workers panic buttons.

New book from Labor Notes: Secrets of a Successful Organizer is a step-by-step guide to building power on the job. "Full of so many creative examples and powerful rank-and-file stories, it makes you want to dive right in." Buy one today, only $15.

Categories: News

Oklahomans Turn "Oilfield Prayer Day" Into a Protest Against Big Oil

Sat, 10/21/2017 - 04:00

"Pipelines are genocide!" and "Keep the frack out of my water" were just a few of the signs held by protesters at a rally in Oklahoma City on this month. Standing outside the building that houses the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, protesters rallied for nearly two hours to demand that the public utilities commission ban fracking and limit the damage of the fossil fuel industry.

The rally was set up to coincide with the one year anniversary of "Oilfield Prayer Day," a state-sanctioned event proclaimed by Gov. Mary Fallin in an effort to recognize, as she explained it, "the incredible economic, community and faith-based impact demonstrated across the state by oil and natural gas companies." Last year's celebration involved a prayer breakfast in Oklahoma City with more than 400 people in attendance, including Gov. Fallin, to support an industry suffering from low prices and mass layoffs.

Indigenous people and other local residents at this month's gathering said they weren't protesting prayer itself, but rather the harmful impacts of the fossil fuel industry. One such impact has been measured regularly by the state government itself. In 2010, the Oklahoma Geological Survey reported 41 earthquakes with a magnitude of 3 or greater in center and north-central Oklahoma. Five years later, the same region experienced 903 such earthquakes in a single year. According to the survey, they were "very likely triggered by the injection of produced water in [wastewater] disposal wells" used by oil and gas firms.

In addition to earthquakes, Oklahomans are regularly faced with oil and gas leaks. A few years ago, Oklahoma was second in the country for most spills. The state's drinking water is at risk of contamination from fracking, and polluted ecosystems can lead to dead wildlife. The latter issue led the Ponca tribe, an indigenous group near Ponca City, Oklahoma, to pass a moratorium on any future fossil fuel work near their lands.

"Tribal sovereignty is also being ignored for the sake of Big Oil," said Ashley Nicole McCray, a member of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. "The Pawnee nation is one example of a tribe that has banned this sort of resource extraction from taking place on their lands, but this has been ignored by the state of Oklahoma. Last year, the Pawnee nation was hit hard by a 5.8 magnitude earthquake that destroyed much of the community."

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission, or OCC, is a three-person board that regulates industries such as oil and gas. The commission, as McCray noted, possesses "scientific information that shows the direct correlation between fracking and earthquakes," yet are not opposed to the presence of fracking companies.

"We want to not only draw attention to the purpose of the OCC for Oklahomans who were unaware of their purpose prior to this day, but also demand that they ban fracking statewide," she said.

Meanwhile, Casey Holcomb, a community organizer from Norman, Oklahoma, noted the importance of pressuring officials who can change the state's oil and gas policy.

"We're really tired of the earthquakes. We're tired of the negligence of the industry. We're tired of [oil and gas companies] bankrupting our state," Holcomb said.

He then pointed out the connection between the state's budget crisis and gross production taxes paid by the industry. The state's gross production tax used to be 7 percent -- until, in 2015, lawmakers temporarily lowered it to 2 percent, essentially as a tax cut for companies. Yet, some smaller producers actually favor a return to the old rate amid the state's monetary shortfall.

"We wouldn't be in this situation if the horizontal drillers paid their fair share," Holcomb said. "But they're not, and they're being subsidized by the taxpayers of Oklahoma. As a result, we have schools that are only open four days a week because they can't afford to pay the salaries of the teachers and overhead costs of the schools."

Oklahoma residents face additional barriers in curtailing the power of the oil and gas industry. For example, in 2015, some lawmakers drafted a bill barring local governments from banning fracking, while also establishing the OCC as the only entity allowed to regulate oil and gas firms. After lawmakers voted in favor of the measure, Gov. Fallin signed it into law.

"The single biggest issue that we are trying to convey to Oklahomans is that this is not an anti-fossil fuel movement," said Jonathan Bridgwater, the director of Sierra Club's Oklahoma chapter. "This is a pro-Oklahoma movement."

Activists in the state are emphasizing the failure of Oklahoma's politicians to advocate an economic system that does not rely on fossil fuels and instead focuses on other industries such as renewable energy.

"To sum it up, we completely see the state government of Oklahoma heading down a track that's going to turn Oklahoma into the next West Virginia, rather than turn it into, say, Texas or California," Bridgwater said.

Organizers are determined to pressure officials into changing their relationship with fossil fuel companies despite the crackdown they continue to face. Earlier this year, their efforts against the Diamond pipeline --  a nearly $900 million interstate venture -- were deemed "domestic terrorist threats" by the Department of Homeland Security. In addition, officials implemented a law on May 3 that penalizes citizens who protest "critical infrastructure," which are mainly oil and gas facilities.

"The situation in Oklahoma is tense to say the least," McCray explained. "Fighting against Big Oil -- which has had a huge hold over Oklahoma since the illegal inception of this so-called state -- is difficult for everyone, especially indigenous people."

Nicole wants the state to acknowledge and respect the federally-recognized tribes in Oklahoma. She recalled how former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, "repeatedly ignored tribal sovereignty to the benefit of Big Oil and the detriment of the people of the state of Oklahoma."

With Pruitt now heading the Environmental Protection Agency, McCray said, "It is vital that the rest of the nation look back to Oklahoma and see how our path has unfolded. What we have endured and what we continue to experience is a mere sample of what the rest of the nation is in for if something drastic doesn't happen now."

For now, Oklahoma activists are preparing and training for future actions. Right after the rally, some organizers headed nearly 20 miles east of Oklahoma City to attend the grand opening of the Good Hearted Peoples Camp, where residents are sharing strategies and experiences, while also getting some rest before continuing their actions against fossil fuels.

Truthout refuses corporate funding and all the strings that come attached. Instead, reader support powers us. Make a tax-deductible donation today!
Categories: News

Trump's Hatchet Man: John Kelly, Sgt. Johnson and the Big Lie

Sat, 10/21/2017 - 04:00

President Donald Trump (R) speaks to new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly after he was sworn in, in the Oval Office of the White House, July 31, 2017 in Washington, DC. Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general and formerly secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, replaces Reince Priebus. (Photo by Mike Theiler-Pool/Getty Images)President Donald Trump (R) speaks to new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly after he was sworn in, in the Oval Office of the White House, July 31, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Mike Theiler-Pool / Getty Images)

Ever since Donald Trump was asked about his curious delay in commenting on the deaths of four servicemen in Niger and, instead of answering, began to brag about how he was the only president to call all the families of fallen soldiers, this ugly story has been festering. Once again, Trump's reflexive self-aggrandizement to cover up for his failures has gotten him into trouble.

First of all, other presidents have of course called families of the fallen and have made many other gestures of sympathy and care. It was a low blow to try to tar his predecessors as failing to honor the war dead. Needless to say, the moment he made the claim that he alone called all the families, reporters went out and started asking and it turned out he hadn't done that either.

After making that ignoble boast, Trump went on a radio show and said that someone should ask John Kelly, the former Marine general who is now his chief of staff, whether President Obama had called him after his son was killed in Afghanistan, which obviously meant that was where he'd heard that Obama fell down on the job. The White House later confirmed this.

Evidently, this spurred Trump to finally call Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, one of the soldiers killed in Niger, while she was on the way to meet the coffin at the airport. He behaved like a boor because he doesn't know how to act any other way. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., who was accompanying the family to carry out this terrible duty, complained publicly about Trump's insensitive comments which the fallen soldier's mother confirmed. Instead of taking the mature and dignified course and simply apologizing for being inartful with his words, President Trump called everyone a liar and sent out one of "his generals" to clean up his mess.

Kelly has a distinguished record in the Marine Corps and is himself a Gold Star father who lost a son in Afghanistan. I don't think anyone in the country disrespects either of those things. But he is no longer in uniform and has willingly become a partisan political player working for a contemptible leader. When he decided to use his stature and experience to bail out his boss for making a hash of what he calls a sacred issue on Thursday, he sold his own reputation cheaply.

He went before the press and confirmed that Obama hadn't called him, but said he didn't see this as a negative thing. He wondered how any president can properly express himself if he's never been through the ordeal of losing a child, trying to elicit sympathy for poor Donald Trump and the burden he bears. But most presidents read a book or two about former administrations, they reach out to the living ex-presidents for insight or they just generally give a damn about aspects of the job other than holding rallies and watching "Fox & Friends." But this is Trump: He doesn't read and he doesn't ask for or take advice. He's not like any other president in our history.

After delivering what seemed to be a sincere disquisition on the way members of the military and their families face this tragedy, Kelly abruptly went on the attack, accusing everyone but his boss of lowering the discourse and destroying everything that's traditionally sacred in our society.

Kelly said that women were formerly considered sacred and implied that Khizr and Ghazala Khan and his wife had degraded the sacredness of the Gold Star family by appearing at the Democratic convention, conveniently ignoring the fact that the man he's working for is an admitted sexual predator who mercilessly attacked that Gold Star family. (He didn't mention that POWs used to be held sacred as well, or that his boss says he "prefers people who aren't captured.")  He angrily decried the politicization of the war dead, although it was his own boss who politicized a simple question about a military mission that nobody wants to talk about by attacking his predecessors' approach to dealing with this sacred duty.

Then Kelly went for the jugular and brutally attacked Rep. Wilson for "eavesdropping" on the conversation between the president and Sgt. Johnson's wife. Apparently he hadn't bothered to read anything about the incident or he would have known that the call was on a speakerphone in the car and the exchange was confirmed by others who heard it. Had he looked into it, he would also have found out that Wilson, a former educator, is a good friend of the family and ran a program Johnson attended called the 5,000 Role Models of Excellence Project, for youths pursuing military careers.

Not that any of that matters. It was apparently decided in the White House ahead of time that the best way to protect the boss was to smear Rep. Wilson. Kelly carried out the order with relish, even though its premise was a lie.

Just like his boss, the president, Kelly never once uttered the name of Sgt. La David Johnson or his pregnant widow, Myeshia.

Much of the mainstream press was predictably breathless over Kelly's forceful performance. Interestingly, many of the military commentators were not as impressed, correctly observing that it was Trump and Kelly who were politicizing the fallen. And the president just kept going:

The Fake News is going crazy with wacky Congresswoman Wilson(D), who was SECRETLY on a very personal call, and gave a total lie on content!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 20, 2017

Chuck Todd said on "Meet the Press Daily" that people heard what they wanted to hear from the reports of Trump's calls, suggesting that if you liked Trump you understood his reported comment, "He knew what he signed up for," as a sign of empathy and caring. I have no doubt that's true. His fans always give him the benefit of the doubt. For the rest of us it's not that simple, since Trump is a compulsive liar who has never shown empathy toward anyone but himself. As George W. Bush famously said, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me ... won't get fooled again."

Truthout won't back down from taking Trump and his cronies to task. Click here to support journalism that holds those in power accountable!
Categories: News

Unreality Distilled: The United States of Trump

Sat, 10/21/2017 - 04:00

President Donald Trump speaks with Governor Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)President Donald Trump speaks with Governor Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC on Thursday, October 19, 2017. (Photo: Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Sometimes I talk to the president of the United States in my head. It always starts the same way: Dude, let me get this straight. This time it's his Russia-FBI-DNC dossier theory, but really, it's about how he represents everything that has gone wrong. Donald Trump is exactly as strong as the lies that sustain him.

President Donald Trump speaks with Governor Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)President Donald Trump speaks with Governor Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC on Thursday, October 19, 2017. (Photo: Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Workers of firm involved with the discredited and Fake Dossier take the 5th. Who paid for it, Russia, the FBI or the Dems (or all)?

-- Donald J. Trump via Twitter, 19 October 2017, 7:56am

Sometimes I talk to the president of the United States in my head. It's weird, but I have to.

Dude, I say (I can hyperlink words when I talk to the president in my head). Dude, what? Really? It always begins this way. We've covered some serious ground, the president and I, over the 40 miles of bad road that has been the last two years of American politics. His attacks on Muslims and Mexicans, his marauding misogyny, the border wall, penis measuring during a nationally-televised debate, the bag of hammers he chose for his Cabinet, Russia Russia Russia, Puerto Rico, North Korea, his embrace of Nazis and Klansmen, the NFL, the families of fallen soldiers, meeting the president of the Virgin Islands, Comey, Clinton, Mueller, Obama and all his favorite people -- there isn't much we haven't discussed. It always starts the same way.

Work doesn't make money anymore. Money makes money. Money made by money made you.

Dude. Let me get this straight. You accused Russia, the Democratic Party and the Federal Bureau of Investigation of conspiring to confabulate a dossier filled with damaging information about you. These three entities, you claimed, came together in secret to undo you by creating a package of reports that include detailed descriptions of deep ties between you, your campaign and Russia … because Russia would enter into a plot that would expose their own clandestine operations, just to burn you? That's so them.

The FBI part is even more odd. You're comfortable accusing the law enforcement arm of the Justice Department of a vendetta against you? Of falsifying information to foment political change -- against you? The bureau has a sordid history, to be sure, but the targets of its sordidness are not powerful, wealthy, white men.

As for the Democrats, whatever dude. The scary freakin' Democrats did it. We're talking about the same party, right? The one that lost to you? You! They lost to you, Donald fa-chrissakes Trump. The Atlanta Falcons ain't got nothing on the Democratic Party when it comes to stalled momentum, chump mistakes and snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The Democrats are having trouble conspiring to put in a lunch order these days. Coming up with something this spectacularly hilarious isn't really in their wheelhouse.

It's all of a piece with you, isn't it. All that stuff about Obama bugging your tower was pretty spiffy but this one is special. This is you changing reality into unreality with your mighty foghorn of nonsense. The world says, "Wha? Huh? How can he say …?" and you smile, because they're talking about you again, and that's what matters.

You are certainly a man of the times, The Man, avatar of all that ails us. You are, among other things, the end product of a decades-debunked economic model that consigns a vast majority of Americans to poverty and stasis while lavishing trillions on the wealthy. This we call "trickle down," and we've waited half a century now for the rain that never comes.

Work doesn't make money anymore. Money makes money. Money made by money made you. From what I hear, the last person you trickled down on got a page in that famous dossier. The economic model has failed dramatically, but you couldn't care less. It did well by you, and that's the dot at the end of the line.

Reality TV star, right? Perfect. Just exactly right. Television, Edward Murrow's wires and lights in a box, will prove in time to be one of the greatest derangers of civilizations in the history of the planet. A spigot of fiction, fear, calamity, greed and deception flows daily from every screen, unmaking reality stitch by stitch. Many see themselves now not as who and what they truly are, but as how they are depicted in the box. That's where you came from, that land of bombast and lies, and it makes seamless sense. "Reality" TV, indeed.

You are made of everything that lays us low, and the sooner we dismantle all that, the sooner we dismantle you.

Not that you give a damn, but a lot of people are genuinely terrified right now. Pursuing your catastrophic brand of foreign policy with unstable nuclear nations is only slightly less smart than jumping into a shark tank with a pork chop tied around your neck. I know the folklore of noble American militarism by heart, too. Taking on the flag, the anthem and the football players was you rewriting reality, again, by swaddling yourself in that folklore. John Kelly helped tuck you in. It's the safest place there is in politics, and it only cost tens of trillions of dollars to make it happen. Meanwhile, the country you claim to lead is hiding under the bed.

And since we're on the topic of conspiracies, what about "Climate change is a Chinese hoax"? This past hurricane season must have put at least a small dent in your denialism, not that it's doing Puerto Rico any good. This is the stuff that is going to get us all killed. You have to know that, right? Of course you do. You're the guy who wanted to use his money, which was made by money, to build a wall around his golf course in Scotland to protect it from the rising seas.

You are the distilled essence of the age, a blurred orange watercolor that looks different every time the light changes. There is no substance to you, only menace and the same confused fiction that seeks to define and control this nation. Too many ignore or dismiss you as some sort of terrible mistake, a wrong turn down a blind driveway we can back out of, but that is not the truth of it. You were inevitable, a product of unreality many years in the making. If you didn't exist, someone would have made you up.

Tomorrow, you will wake up and tell another obvious lie, threaten someone else, let fly with that mighty foghorn of nonsense, but I've got the measure of you. You are made of everything that lays us low, and the sooner we dismantle all that, the sooner we dismantle you. You're exactly as strong as the lies that sustain you. There's an answer for that, too.

This story could not have been published without the support of readers like you. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout and fund more stories like it!
Categories: News

For Months, the Trump Administration Has Illegally Stopped Undocumented Women From Obtaining Abortions

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 12:59
The only way Truthout can maintain a sanctuary for real, independent news is with your support. Make a tax-deductible donation today!

The US Constitution grants all women -- including prisoners and undocumented immigrants -- the right to an abortion, no matter what obstacles fundamentalist Christians may create in certain states. But since Trump's inauguration, the administration has blocked young pregnant women who cross the border without papers from seeking abortions.

The San Francisco ACLU has now taken on one such case on behalf of Jane Doe, a pregnant 17-year-old who is being held in a federal immigration shelter in Texas. The shelter won't allow her to visit the doctor who has agreed to perform her abortion.

"The government may not want to facilitate abortion, but it cannot block it," US Magistrate Laurel Beeler told SFGate. "It is doing that here."

Several hundred undocumented pregnant women cross the border alone each year, but shelters do not allow minors to leave to get abortions without permission from the US Office of Refugee Resettlement. Instead, these women are forced to attend Christian-sponsored "crisis pregnancy centers" where they are falsely warned that abortions are dangerous, forced to look at sonograms of the fetus and pressured into carrying their pregnancies to term.

Jane Doe missed her first scheduled abortion on September 28 because the shelter forbade it, and she is now attending mandatory anti-abortion counseling.

"Jane Doe is a brave and persistent young woman who has already been forced by the Trump administration to delay her abortion for weeks," ACLU attorney Brigitte Amiri told SFGate. "The government is holding her hostage so that she will be forced to carry to term against her will."

According to SFGate, Scott Lloyd, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, told a shelter staff person, "My priority is unborn children, and there will be no more abortions."

Plenty of others are on his side. In response to the ACLU's claim in court, seven states, including Texas, filed arguments stating that undocumented immigrants in American custody have no right to an abortion.

Categories: News

The Balanced Budget

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 04:00
Categories: News

Immigrants Fleeing California Wildfires Find No Sanctuary, Fearing Deportation and Avoiding Shelters

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 04:00

As catastrophic wildfires in California kill at least 42 people and leave thousands of homes and businesses in ruins, many of the area's 20,000 undocumented immigrants have had no sanctuary from the flames, with some sleeping on beaches in order to avoid federal agents at shelters. This comes as far-right media outlets like Breitbart are falsely reporting that an undocumented immigrant was arrested in connection to the fires. Police said there is no indication the man had anything to do with the wildfires. We speak with Alegría De La Cruz, deputy county lawyer of Sonoma County, and Juan Hernandez, executive director of the La Luz Center in Sonoma, California.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

Major Victories for Climate Movement, but Global Chaos Grows: Roundtable With Leaders on What’s Next

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 04:00

After a summer of extreme weather around the world, we host a roundtable discussion with environmental leaders on next steps: Lindsey Allen, executive director of the Rainforest Action Network; Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network; and May Boeve, executive director of 350 Action, the political arm of the climate organization 350.org.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

Americans' Appetite for Cheap Meat Linked to Widespread Drinking Water Contamination

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 04:00

Agricultural pollution is contaminating drinking water supplies for millions of Americans with potentially dangerous chemicals, says a new report. Environmental groups blame the meat industry, which requires massive supplies of industrially grown corn and soy to raise cattle, and are putting pressure on large-scale meat producers to get their supply chains to clean up their acts.

Scientists recently announced that the "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, an area the size of New Jersey where oxygen levels are too low to sustain most forms of life, is larger than ever. For years, environmentalists have used annual surveys of the dead zone to bring attention to large amounts of agricultural pollution from the nation's breadbasket that flows down the Mississippi River and fuels oxygen-depleting algae blooms in the Gulf.   

This year, the message is hitting much closer to home, especially for those living near farmlands.

A new report from the Environmental Working Group shows that the agricultural pollution causing the dead zone is also contaminating drinking water supplies for millions of Americans with potentially dangerous chemicals. Environmental groups particularly blame large-scale meat production, which require huge supplies of industrially grown corn and soy to raise animals to satisfy the nation's appetite for cheap meat.

The US leads the world in meat production. One-third of all land in the continental US is used to grow feed and provide pasture for animals that will be killed for meat, according to the environmental group Mighty Earth. Now that agricultural pollution's impact on drinking water is coming into focus, meat producers such as Tyson Foods are coming under mounting pressure to set standards that would require large farms in their supply chains to clean up their acts.  

"People just naturally pay more attention to the pollution issue in their own backyard than they do [to] pollution issues thousands of miles away," said Matt Rota, senior policy director at the Gulf Restoration Network, a group that works to reduce pollution in the Gulf South.

Chemicals called nitrates and other pollutants can contaminate drinking water sources when fertilizer and manure drain from poorly protected agricultural fields. Drinking water supplies for roughly 200 million Americans in 49 states have some level of nitrate contamination, but the highest levels are found in rural towns surrounded by industrial farms, according to the Environmental Working Group.

Runoff from farm fields finds its way from rural watersheds to the Gulf, providing nutrients for summertime algae blooms that force fish to migrate and kill off smaller creatures at the bottom of the food chain. The dead zone spanned 8,777 square miles off the coast of Louisiana and Texas when marine scientists measured it over the past summer.

Agricultural Pollution Is a Threat to Public Health

Nitrates are naturally found in soil and water, but high levels of exposure have been linked to birth defects, cancer and a dangerous condition known as blue baby syndrome in infants, which results from low levels of oxygen in the blood. Few water supplies in the US have levels of nitrates above the federal limit of 10 parts per million, which was set 25 years ago to prevent blue baby syndrome, but studies have found that the risk of cancer increases at levels as low as 5 parts per million.

Treating polluted water is expensive, and drinking water utilities often use chlorine and other disinfecting treatments when agricultural pollution contaminates sources of drinking water with manure and other pollutants. When these treatment chemicals interact with plant and animal waste, they create potentially dangerous byproducts such as trihalomethanes (THMs), a group of chemicals linked to liver, kidney and intestinal tumors in animals, according to the Environmental Working Group.

The EPA sets limits on the amount of THMs allowed in drinking water, but environmentalists say those limits were based on the technical feasibility of removing the chemicals, not concerns over their long-term toxicity. In 2010, state scientists in California estimated that levels 100 times lower the legal limit would pose a one-in-a-million lifetime risk of cancer.

Nationwide, water supplies in 1,647 communities, serving 4.4 million people, are contaminated with THMs in amounts at least 75 times higher than California's one-in-a-million cancer risk level. In 2014 and 2015, 411 of those communities had levels of THMs at or above the EPA's limits, and two-thirds were found in five states with high levels of agricultural pollution -- Louisiana, California, Oklahoma, Missouri and Texas. (You can find out if THMs and other pollutants are in your water supply using this database.)

Craig Cox, the Environmental Working Group's vice president for agriculture and natural resources, said farmers can take simple steps to reduce agricultural runoff, but too few farmers are taking action. Agricultural trade groups have considerable political clout in Washington, and farmers are exempt from many state and federal environmental regulations. A federal program pays billions of dollars a year to farmers that adopt conservation practices; however, that money does not always support the best pollution control methods.

"Decades of ill-conceived federal farm policy has been a driving factor in this situation we have today that puts millions of American families at risk of drinking tap water contaminated with these dangerous pollutants," Cox said in a statement.

Activists Target Meat Mega-Producers

Environmentalists in the Gulf spent years fighting for tougher regulation of industrial farming to protect waterways from runoff and ultimately reduce the size of the dead zone, even filing an unsuccessful lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to act during the Obama administration. The EPA did introduce eight policy guidelines to help states reduce fertilizer pollution in 2011, but no states have implemented more than two of them because the program is largely voluntarily, according to the Mississippi River Collaborative.

Now that the Trump administration is in charge, prospects for establishing tougher standards are slim at best.

"I don't have a whole lot of confidence that the feds will be taking stronger steps to make sure that nitrogen pollution isn't getting into our drinking [water] supply," Rota told Truthout.  

Unable to change farming practices with regulation, activists are now focusing on brand-name companies that buy from industrial farms. Mighty Earth recently mapped high levels of nitrates in Midwestern waterways and found that supply chains for major meat companies were responsible for much of the fertilizer pollution. Tyson Foods, which produces roughly 20 percent of the country's meat supply through brands, such as Jimmy Dean, Hillshire Farms, Ball Park and Sara Lee, stood out from the rest, with major processing facilities in all five states that are top contributors to pollution in the Gulf.

Activists across the country are now calling on Tyson directly, demanding that the company pressure its subsidiaries and suppliers to clean up their acts. Audrey Beeble, a community organizer with the Clean It Up Tyson campaign in Louisiana, said that Tyson's new CEO has shown interest in sustainability, and activists see an opening to hold the company to task. Unlike individual farmers, large companies like Tyson are more responsive to pressure from consumers.

"They are a household name; everybody knows Tyson," Beeble said in an interview. "People want to know what's in their food. They are sick of unchecked corporations."

Activists say there are several methods farms can use to prevent agricultural runoff, including rotating crops with small grains, planting cover crops, optimizing fertilizer applications to prevent runoff and using conservation tillage practices. They are also calling for a moratorium on the further clearing of native prairie ecosystems for industrial farming.

Tyson, which runs meat packaging and processing plants, not farms, claims it's "misleading" to single out one company when water pollution is a problem across the agriculture industry. Nearly 40 percent of corn, for example, is grown to produce ethanol, not meat. In a statement to Truthout, Tyson said that real change on this issue requires "a broad coalition of stakeholders," and the company is working with trade associations and researchers to "promote continuous improvement in how we and our suppliers operate."

Rota said individual farmers generally don't want to cause problems in their own communities or downstream. He thinks they will do the right thing if they are provided with the right solutions and held accountable.

"Farmers aren't bad people, and I don't know of any farmer who goes out to say, 'I'm going to pollute other people's drinking water,'" Rota said. "But they are business people, and they need to be responsible for their businesses."

Support from readers provides Truthout with vital funds to keep investigating what mainstream media won't cover. Fund more stories like this by donating now!
Categories: News

Economic Update: Success of New York Worker Co-ops

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 04:00

This week's episode discusses the passage of California Disclose Act; the untrustworthiness of Equifax, Yahoo and Johnson & Johnson; Washington sueing big pharma for contributing to the opioid crisis; and socially destructive corporate behavior. This episode also includes an interview with Emma Yorra, a specialist in the development of worker co-ops.

To see more stories like this, visit Economic Update: Your Weekly Dose of Revolutionary Economics

To listen in live on Saturdays at noon, visit WBAI's Live Stream

Economic Update is in partnership with Truthout.org

Your radio station needs Economic Update! If you are a radio station, check this out. If you want to hear Economic Update on your favorite local station, send them this.

Visit Professor Wolff's social movement project, democracyatwork.info.

Permission to reprint Professor Wolff's writing and videos is granted on an individual basis. Please contact profwolff@rdwolff.com to request permission. We reserve the right to refuse or rescind permission at any time.

This story could not have been published without the support of readers like you. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout and fund more stories like it!
Categories: News

51 GOP Senators Just Voted to Cut $1.5 Trillion From Medicare and Medicaid to Give Super-Rich and Corporations a Tax Cut

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 04:00

Along strict party lines, the Republican-controlled Senate on Thursday night voted to pass a sweeping budget measure -- one criticized as both "despicable" and "horrific" for providing massive giveaways to corporations and the super-rich while eviscerating funding for social programs, healthcare, education, and affordable housing.

The measure passed by 51-49 vote, with only one Republican, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, joining every Democrat and the chamber's two Independents who voted against it. Its approval now paves that way for massive tax giveaways to the wealthy and corporations envisioned by President Donald Trump and the GOP in both the House and the Senate.

"51 Republican Senators just voted to cut Medicaid by $1 trillion and Medicare by $500 billion so that millionaires and corporations can get a tax cut. It's immoral and despicable," said TJ Helmstetter, a spokesperson for Americans for Tax Fairness, in a statement immediately following the vote.

51 GOP Sens. voted to slash Medicaid by $1T, Medicare by $500B, & other working family priorities just so the 1% can get BIG tax cuts. SHAME pic.twitter.com/diqckrg9JT

— For Tax Fairness (@4TaxFairness) October 20, 2017

Though the budget resolution itself is nonbinding, MoveOn.org's Ben Wikler notes how the Senate passage on Thursday represents the "starting gun for what might be the most consequential legislative fight of the Trump era: the looting of the US treasury to reward billionaire GOP donors and mega-corporations, at the expense of the rest of us." And with the Senate resolution now in place, a reconciliation process can begin with Republicans in the House, meaning the GOP can "shoot for a tax bill without a single Democratic vote."

In the wake of its passage, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) -- who earlier this week called the proposal "Robin Hood in reverse" for taking from the poor to give to the rich --  said the "Republicans' budget is not a bad bill. It's a horrific bill."

Republicans’ budget is not a bad bill. It’s a horrific bill.

— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) October 20, 2017

Sanders was far from alone in his outrage.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) called the vote a "dark deed" and urged people nationwide to stand up and fight back against what the budget represents:

Another dark deed done: GOP passes obscene budget to slash Medicare/Medicaid & explode the deficit – all in the name of tax cuts for the 1%.

— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) October 20, 2017

Just think of the possibilities if instead of padding millionaires' bank accounts, we invested this $$ in education and infrastructure jobs.

— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) October 20, 2017

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), also vocal in her warnings ahead of the vote, condemned the budget put forth by her Republican colleagues as "garbage".

Thanks to reader support, Truthout can deliver the news seven days a week, 365 days a year. Keep independent journalism going strong: Make a tax-deductible donation right now.
Categories: News

Tearing Down Monuments of Oppression Is the First Step to Decolonization

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 04:00
 LW / TO)The Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt, in New York City. (Photo: MacLachlan; Edited: LW / TO)

The campaign to take down symbols of racism and colonization has only grown and intensified since right-wingers, emboldened by Trump, started to push back. With so much of the US's landscape built in the name of slave owners, conquistadors and génocidaires, white supremacists correctly see the removal of racist symbols as a slippery slope, as decolonizers attempt to remake the here and now.

 LW / TO)The Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt, in New York City. (Photo: MacLachlan; Edited: LW / TO)   Choose journalism that empowers movements for social, environmental and economic justice: Support the independent media at Truthout!

Hundreds of activists from various groups crowded into the American Museum of Natural History in New York City this past Columbus Day to take part in activist group Decolonize This Place's unofficial tour of the museum. As the activists stopped at each of the sections of the museum displaying the culture and history of various non-European peoples, a small group of organizers exposed the colonial perspective embedded in these displays and explained how the displays "otherized," exoticized, dehumanized and/or exploited these peoples along with their history and culture.

"It's really simple," said Natasha S.*, an organizer with Decolonize This Place. "The American Museum of Natural History is the most visited museum in this country. It is also the museum that gets the most funding from the city, and on top of that, it is a hall of white supremacy. So, what we're really doing is thinking about the museum as a representation of settler-colonization and basically highlighting our struggles and movements in that space."

After the tour inside the museum was done, the activists began unfurling banners denouncing white supremacy, colonialism and patriarchy and then raised up three very large, connected banners in front of the Theodore Roosevelt statue outside the museum, blocking the statue from being seen. The 10-foot statue, entitled "Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt," was sculpted by James Earle Fraser in 1939 and portrays a muscular Roosevelt on horseback with an African and a Native American walking on either side and seemingly being led by him. Roosevelt's left hand even rests on the head of the African to his side. The white supremacist symbolism is clear.

"The statue echoes those old 'races of mankind' posters that used to decorate college classrooms of physical anthropology, with whites highest on the evolutionary tree, furthest from the ape," historian and sociologist James W. Loewen wrote in his book Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong. "Inside its doors, the American Museum of Natural History still takes the same stance, putting American Indians and Africans closer to animals, whites furthest removed."

The activists then demanded that the Roosevelt statue be taken down and the exhibits be "reviewed and reconceived by representatives of the 'exhibited' populations." They also called for New York City to follow the lead of other municipalities to rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day.

The action that day was one of many recent moves by activists against symbols and monuments to white supremacy and colonialism. After the murder of nine Black people in Charleston, South Carolina, by a Confederate-flag-waving white supremacist in July 2015 Americans were galvanized to start taking down Confederate flags, as well as statues and monuments dedicated to white supremacists. The campaigns have received much backlash from right-wingers and white supremacists which has, in turn, only intensified and expanded these campaigns. With so much of the US's landscape built in the name of slave owners, conquistadors, colonizers and génocidaires, today's white supremacists correctly see these calls to remove racist statues as a slippery slope ultimately leading to a questioning of the American project itself. And unfortunately for them, anti-racist and anti-colonial activists know this as well and plan on going beyond these initial steps, moving toward decolonization and the dismantling of white supremacy.

Statues Toppling Around the Country

For the past two years, all across the US, statues dedicated to white supremacy and colonialism have been targeted by activists in various ways. In October 2015, someone planted an axe in the head of a Columbus statue near Detroit's City Hall. Confederate statues at the University of Texas at Austin were tagged with "Black Lives Matter" in February 2016. An anarchist group in New Orleans calling themselves the Real Meow Meow Liberation Front-Professional Party Planning Committee spray-painted a circle-A on a Confederate monument in May 2017 -- even leaving a hammer and chisel at the base of the monument and a note encouraging people to "take a few whacks" at it. A month later, the same group chiseled the nose off a nearby Confederate soldier statue, spray-painted a circle-A on it, and even created a parody Twitter account for the missing nose. Decolonize This Place's recent protest at the American Museum of Natural History was a repeat of the anti-Columbus Day protest the group did last year, in which activists covered the Roosevelt statue with a tarp. 

People are talking about tearing down history, but it's not history. Not when the legacy is still very much alive." -- Takiyah Thompson


One of the most inspiring and audacious direct actions against a racist statue recently was in August in Durham, North Carolina. A group of more than 100 activists from leftist and anti-capitalist groups, such as the Workers World Party and the Industrial Workers of the World physically tore down the Confederate Soldiers Monument in front of the old Durham County Courthouse while chanting "No cops! No KKK! No fascist USA!" Multiple activists were later arrested and charged with felonies for tearing down the statue, the first of whom was 22-year-old student Takiyah Thompson.

"I think it's important to think about the position of the Confederate statue in front of the old courthouse," Thompson told Truthout. "Even though that courthouse is no longer in use, it's still a government building, and the fact that it's on the courthouse steps makes a very clear statement to Black people, and people of color more generally, about what kind of justice they're going to receive when they enter that courtroom. People are talking about tearing down history, but it's not history. Not when the legacy is still very much alive." 

Thompson said that the action started as a response to an uninspiring post-Charlottesville vigil organized by the liberal, pro-Democratic Party group IndivisiblesNC on August 13. According to Q. Wideman -- a Black, queer woman and friend of Thompson's who went to Charlottesville -- when she attempted to speak and criticize the liberal, pacifist rhetoric at that vigil, the Indivisibles organizers stopped her, threatened to call the police and cut the livestream. Right before the livestream was cut, a white man can be seen telling Wideman "You're not going to sabotage this!" and that she "can have another rally" if she wanted to speak. When Wideman was finally given time to speak, it wasn't included on the livestream.

IndivisiblesNC told Truthout that there "were a number of individuals involved in organizing the event who are active with Durham-area Indivisible groups" and that the IndivisiblesNC "network's involvement with this event was mainly around offering a public Facebook page from which to host a public event." 

"We share the community's sadness that not every voice could be heard," the vigil's organizers wrote in a statement issued shortly after the event. "The organizations involved in planning this rally remain committed to peaceful, non-violent protest that provides safety for everyone present and is in compliance with the law. To that end, the police were notified of the event via press release. The organizers had no further direct interaction with them."

IndivisiblesNC also told Truthout that the livestream "was interrupted (stopped and restarted) due to personal circumstances and choices of the individual using their own device to do the livestream" and "was not due to any direction or decision of the vigil organizers."

The next day, the Workers World Party organized its own rally which ended with the Confederate statue being torn down and history being made.

"I think it's important that the people struggle to remove the statues themselves because when people struggle for their own liberation, they won't allow others to come in and claim themselves as liberators," Thompson told me. "It's important that this movement be taken up by regular-ass people."

Not long afterwards, with Columbus Day in sight, people began taking direct action against statues of Columbus. On August 21, a Columbus monument in Baltimore was smashed with a sledgehammer "in protest of white supremacy," with the anonymous activists even posting a video of them doing it. Later that month in New York, Columbus statues in BuffaloYonkers and Queens were vandalized within days of each other. On September 12, a Columbus statue in New York City's Central Park had red paint splashed on its hands with the message "Hate Will Not Be Tolerated" spray-painted on the base. On the holiday itself, Columbus statues all over the country were vandalized. As all this happened, the calls for the statue in New York City's Columbus Circle to be taken down grew louder and louder.

"I think it's really important that we examine why this man gets a statue, what did he actually do, and break down that gross history filled with violence, rape, slavery and land dispossession. All those things together are really what that statue represents," said Shawnee Rice, a volunteer organizer with the American Indian Community House. "And what kind of message does keeping that statue there send to Indigenous children growing up, seeing this statue, and finding out that he raped our women and fed our children to dogs?"

White Supremacist Backlash

But all these actions have not gone unnoticed by the forces of white supremacy.

The infamous #UniteTheRight rally in Charlottesville was ostensibly in opposition to the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. For the torch-wielding fascists there, the removal of these monuments represents not only a threat to white supremacy, but a threat to the existence of white people. The chants of "You will not replace us" and "white lives matter" illustrated this. And in the name of these symbols of white supremacy, fascists have shown themselves to be more than willing to engage in material, concrete violence. 

Activists see the destruction of these statues as one of the initial steps to the destruction of the forces that constructed them.


On August 15, months before Decolonize This Place conducted this year's anti-Columbus Day tour, right-wing online media outlet The Daily Wire published a fearmongering article making it seem as if last year's tour had happened that month rather than last year. They even used one of my tweets from last year, despite it being clearly dated October 11, 2016. The article was so dishonest yet so widespread that Snopes felt the need to debunk it.

The fascists running the state apparatus correctly recognize that white supremacy is under threat if the vandalizing and removal of these statues and monuments are allowed to continue.

President Donald Trump himself apparently saw the misleading Daily Wire article and commented on the Roosevelt statue during his rally in Phoenix on August 22.

"I see they want to take Teddy Roosevelt's [statue] down, too," the US's head white supremacist told the crowd. "They're trying to figure out why. They don't know. They're trying to take away our culture. They are trying to take away our history."

And even before Decolonize This Place showed up at the American Museum of Natural History for this year's anti-Columbus Day tour, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) made sure to be visibly present with barricades surrounding the Roosevelt statue, preventing any activist from getting too close. 

"We expected that [the NYPD] would do that, but at the same time, these monuments are meant to reflect the values of the people," Amin Hussein of Decolonize This Place told Truthout. "And when you live in a city where it actually barricades those monuments against the people, something's off."

Right-wing politicians in New York City also rallied in front of City Hall on August 24 in support of keeping the Columbus Circle statue. And even Black and Brown Democrats like Public Advocate Tish James and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. (who supported taking down Confederate statues) voiced their support for keeping the statue. Even for the city's liberal Black and Brown politicians, the fight against white supremacy and colonialism can only be allowed to go so far.

In Durham, the day after the Confederate statue was torn down, the local sheriff Mike Andrews made sure to send a clear message to the perpetrators.

"Let me be clear, no one is getting away with what happened," he told reporters. "We can all agree yesterday went too far." 

"Creating a world where cultural racism is not okay is an important first step to tearing down more structural forms of racism." -- Takiyah Thompson


On August 17, days after Thompson and other activists were arrested, more than 100 people dressed in black lined up outside the Durham County Sheriff's office to turn themselves in to show solidarity with their arrested comrades. Most of them were turned away, but as of today, 14 people in total have been arrested for the action and are currently facing felony and misdemeanor charges.

Activists see the destruction of these statues as one of the initial steps to the destruction of the forces that constructed them. The agents of white supremacy and colonialism, both state and non-state, know this -- and they are willing to do whatever it takes to stop it.

As Frantz Fanon wrote in his anti-colonial magnum opus The Wretched of the Earth: "The colonial regime owes its legitimacy to force and at no time tries to hide this aspect of things. Every statue, whether of Faidherbe or of Lyautey, of Bugeaud or of Sergent Blandan -- all these conquistadors perched on colonial soil do not cease from proclaiming one and the same thing: 'We are here by the force of bayonets....'" 

Anti-racist and anti-colonial activists know this truth, too, and are prepared to keep pushing further. When people witness open defiance of white supremacy and colonialism -- when they see these statues being vandalized and torn down -- it can shake them into consciousness. These actions symbolize the fact that oppressive institutions can be overturned. The police, the prisons, the politicians -- all of these manifestations of white supremacy can be torn down much like the statue of the conquistador or the Confederate general. And as Hussein told me after the anti-Columbus Day action, these activists "are not going away." They intend on growing and building movements to further decolonize this country and abolish white supremacy. Like the brave folks in Durham, they're willing to face the violence of the state to do it.

"Creating a world where cultural racism is not okay is an important first step to tearing down more structural forms of racism. It's an act of the oppressed reclaiming their agency," Thompson told Truthout. "So even though it was just a statue and people have made the criticism of 'Oh well, let me know when you tear down a prison,' well obviously, that's the next step. That would be the end goal, but it's important for oppressed people to have these small victories in the long road to liberating themselves."

*Natasha asked to be identified by her first name only.

Categories: News

White Nationalism and Christian Right Unite at Values Voter Summit

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 04:00

Trump took the podium at last weekend's Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit. His comments reflected the fearful, nationalist worldview that holds his base together, as he undoes the legacy of the US's first black president. Conference speakers lauded attendees as the keepers of "Judeo-Christian values," which were described as being under threat. 

 Mark Wilson / Getty Images)Donald Trump speaks during the annual Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit at the Omni Shorham Hotel on October 13, 2017, in Washington, DC. Trump is the first sitting president to address Values Voter Summit. (Photo: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

In times of great injustice, independent media is crucial to fighting back against misinformation. Support grassroots journalism: Make a donation to Truthout.

As the first sitting president to take the podium at Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit, President Trump may have offered history a footnote with his Oct. 13 speech, but by the following day his remarks were all but forgotten, as Steve Bannon's stemwinder, a steaming stew of vitriol, splashed across mainstream media. On the Sunday shows, Bannon was the focus.

The former White House strategist, ousted from the West Wing in the days following the president's mixed-messaging on the violence perpetrated by neo-Nazis and other white supremacists in Charlottesville, remains unrepentant.

Before he joined the Trump campaign, Bannon courted some of those very same people at Breitbart to expand the reach of the site beyond more traditional conservative circles, according to a report by Joseph Bernstein of BuzzFeed. Now back at Breitbart, Bannon has free rein to push the dark worldview he's peddled for years in the over-the-top, fear-mongering propaganda movies he's produced, and the Christian right is lapping it up, all in the service of Bannon's power-grab for control of the Republican Party.

To see more stories like this, visit Moyers & Company at Truthout.

Beginning with Trump, conference speakers lauded attendees at last weekend's gathering as the keepers of "Judeo-Christian values," which were described as being under threat. Several, including former Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) described Europe as having been lost to Islam, warning that the United States could be next. Despite the fact that the US takes in few refugees from Syria and other Muslim-majority countries, Frank Gaffney, a titan of the right's anti-Islam cottage industry, dragged out a far-right hashtag for those few who make it in: "refujihadis." Author Brigitte Gabriel, a Christian born in Lebanon, also railed against refugees from the war-torn nations of Africa and the Middle East, claiming they carried disease to the US and raped American women. They "hate America," she said, and she gave a shout-out to Bannon, echoing his call for an end to Senate filibuster rules, which she said were stalling the implementation of Trump's agenda.

While the purported threat posed by Islam has been preached to the "values voters" in years past, gone this year was the veneration of so-called "free-market" capitalism as a core notion of right-wing Christian ideology, leaving Bannon's rallying cry for economic nationalism to flood the zone. And in Bannon ally Sebastian Gorka, another former White House adviser to Trump, the Values Voter Summit for the first time featured a speaker known to proudly wear the emblem of a group sympathetic to the Nazi cause in Europe. Neither Bannon nor Gorka are regarded as being particularly religious.

Neither is Trump. Just before the 2016 election, Christian pollster George Barna surveyed a group he calls "SAGE cons" -- spiritually active, governance-engaged conservatives -- and said found that a mere 1 percent described Trump as an exemplar of "Godly character." Barna said his polling also found that 77 percent described Trump as "arrogant," 61 percent as "rude," 52 percent as "a bully." Yet 91 of them percent voted for him anyway, Barna said in a breakout session. And at the summit, the assembled SAGE cons gave Trump gave a hero's welcome.

Trump, after all, represents the ultimate smack-down of the cultural changes wrought by civil rights and feminism, the forces the Christian right organized to oppose over 40 years ago. The applause lines in his speech told the tale of a people motivated not by such traditionally Christian values as charity and acceptance, but by talismans of identity laced with tacit prejudices, such as the implicit anti-Semitism of the so-called "war on Christmas" theme revived by Trump. Speaking of department-store workers, Trump claimed, "They don't use the word 'Christmas' because it's not politically correct…Well, guess what? We're saying 'Merry Christmas' again."

"We stand united behind the customs, beliefs and traditions that define who we are as a nation and as a people," he added.

The president suggested that "faith and prayer" could replace "federal regulation," without specifying regulation of what.

Trump didn't need to spell out too much; he never specifically mentioned the NFL players whose firing he urged just weeks ago. He never mentioned the words "abortion" or "birth control." He had learned the SAGE-con code: "America's heritage," "sanctity of life," "religious freedom." (Just in case anyone should miss his greater point, he did, however, boldly state that he would protect the world from "radical Islamic terrorism.") As president, he could leave to others the specifics of the fearful, nationalist worldview that holds his base together.

For that base, Trump is delivering, and he reminded them of all he has done -- especially his naming of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Plus, he's undoing the legacy of the nation's first black president. To sweeten the pot just ahead of his speech, he revoked the subsidies to low-income subscribers to Obamacare, and when he noted this, the crowd roared its approval. And from the looks of the audience in the room, I'd venture to say that a plurality, if not a majority, were on Medicare.

At every Values Voter Summit since the first held in 2006, there is usually an overarching narrative theme, an action theme, and several threads that serve as a glimmering subtext. This year's big, sprawling narrative was the threat to Western civilization posed by Islam in particular, and non-Western and nonwhite nations in general. The action theme was "war" on the Republican establishment in general, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in particular. The decorative threads included the supposed threat posed by transgender people, various descriptions of feminism as either a "criminalization of masculinity" (Todd Starnes of Fox News) or a dead movement(Dana Loesch of the National Rifle Association), and a sustained attack by several speakers on the Southern Poverty Law Center, the civil-rights organization which, in 2010, famously added FRC to its list of hate groups "for knowingly spread false and denigrating propaganda about LGBT people," according to SPLC Senior Fellow Mark Potok.

Preceding a panel led by retired Gen. Jerry Boykin of FRC, conference-goers were treated to an anti-SPLC video produced by Prager University. Throughout the conference, different narrative strands were often woven together, as when Gaffney accused SPLC of working with the Muslim Brotherhood, presenting a slide featuring the two organizations' logos side by side and naming it the "red-green axis" (after the colors of the respective logos).

Gorka urged conference-goers not to fret over his and Bannon's ouster from the White House. "The left has no idea how much more damage we can do to them as private citizens," he said with a cartoon-villain inflection.

And indeed, it was Bannon who brought the fire. He opened with a famous quotation from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. "To everything, there is a season, and a time for every purpose under Heaven… A time of war and a time of peace." He then declared the present moment to be a time of war -- "against the Republican establishment."

"This is not my war," he added. "This is our war."

That establishment, he said, is "personified by Mitch McConnell." But the Senate majority leader, who was bashed by speakers throughout the conference, wasn't the only one on Bannon's enemies list, which includes Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), despite Corker's announcement that he will not run again. Corker's crime, according to Bannon, is the fact that he dared to criticize "the commander-in-chief of the armed forces" while "we have young men and women in harm's way." Meta-message: Criticize Trump and Bannon will force you from office with the threat of a primary challenge.

Bannon rattled off the names of sitting senators currently in his sights: Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Dean Heller of Nevada and John Barrasso of Wyoming. The problem with them, by Bannon's lights, isn't that they don't vote with for the president's priorities -- they do. It's that they haven't come to the microphones to defend the commander-in-chief.

One of the Summit's star speakers was Roy Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court who, with Bannon's support, unseated incumbent Sen. Luther Strange in the Sept. 26 Republican primary.

Moore, of course, is famous for having placed a monument to the Ten Commandments in the courthouse, refusing to stand down when the religious display was ruled unconstitutional by a federal court. When the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage a legal right, Moore instructed county clerks not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. He was ultimately ousted from the bench for refusing to uphold the US Constitution -- but not until years after he led the charge, according to Talking Points Memo, against the removal of a mandate for racial segregation in public education from Alabama's state constitution. Moore's speech at Values Voter was a hash of misused literary citations, a barnyard joke and a poem he wrote about his vengeful deity: "You think that God's not angry that our land's a moral slum? How much longer will it be before his judgment comes?" (Well, it almost rhymes.)

The incoherence of Moore's speech mattered not, as he is the walking, talking embodiment of Bannon's formula for seizing power within the GOP: A dark, hypernationalist, racialized identitarian ideology dressed in the language of Christianity, contempt for the US Constitution and the promise of violence to come.

Moore is also the gauntlet thrown by Bannon at Trump's feet. The president endorsed Strange in the primary matchup, enduring an embarrassing loss. Soon after Moore won the primary, Trump deleted his tweeted endorsements of Strange. For Trump, few epithets pack more punch than "loser." Bannon likely thinks he's found the formula to keep Trump doing his bidding. And perhaps he has.

Categories: News

Our Summer of Fire and the Fires to Come

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 13:52

Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)A helicopter prepares to drop water on a fire that threatens the Oakmont community along Highway 12 in Santa Rosa on October 13, 2017. Early morning mandatory evacuations happened on Adobe Canyon Road and Calistoga Rd. (Photo: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Out-of-control wildfires have devastated the Western US this year, causing not only immediate deaths and untold property damage, but dangerous levels of smoke pollution and long-term health effects. The impact of wildfires on human health and ecosystems will keep rising, unless serious and emergency measures are taken to counter climate change and its effects.

Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)A helicopter prepares to drop water on a fire that threatens the Oakmont community along Highway 12 in Santa Rosa on October 13, 2017. Early morning mandatory evacuations happened on Adobe Canyon Road and Calistoga Rd. (Photo: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Explosive wildfires have raged in Northern California over the last two weeks. Forty-one people are dead, and at least 6,700 structures have been destroyed, making these the most destructive fires in the state's history. Parts of the city of Santa Rosa have burned to the ground. Extremely hot and dry conditions, continuing impacts of the state's drought, and high winds combined to create fires so fast-moving, many residents were forced to flee for their lives with only minutes notice. Tens of thousands have been forced to evacuate. In the last several days, better weather has been helping firefighters fight the blazes, though many are still continuing. Air quality in the region has been called the worst in recorded history due to wildfire smoke.

The fires in Northern California come after a summer of infernos and smoke spanning the West.

It began in Seattle on August 1, 2017. Coming out of work that day, I looked around to try to fathom why the entire atmosphere was thick with haze. Maybe the city's smog had suddenly become abominably worse for unexplainable reasons? Looking around, I noticed it was smoke that lay everywhere. It filled my throat and lungs. The world seemed suddenly wrong, without sense.

These days, and especially this summer, living on Earth feels like existing in dread of the next environmental apocalypse. That day, it felt like it had arrived.

That night, I heard the news. Smoke from wildfires in British Columbia was blanketing the area.

For the next two weeks, it was hard to take a breath outside. The air was acrid, lung-burning. The blue, fresh summer skies Seattle is known for were extinguished. Being outside felt like walking in a stagnant, dead, smoky bubble. The sun and moon eerily appeared through a deep haze, orange or blood red. It was like living in an alternate universe. The smoke returned throughout August and early September.

The Seattle Times said that the region's "natural air conditioning," marine air blown by winds from the west, had broken down. Air quality levels in August plunged so severely, at times Seattle and Portland had air quality worse than Beijing. Elderly people, children and those with compromised respiratory systems were warned to avoid going outside. The general population was told to avoid strenuous outdoor exercise.

I was happy to get out of town on August 11 to head for the Oregon coast and hiking in the Redwoods in Northern California. I looked forward to being able to breathe fresh air again. But it became clear the smoke went way beyond Washington State. As we drove into Eugene, giant plumes of white smoke billowed out of the Willamette National Forest to the east. Further south, more clouds filled the sky from the North Umpqua complex fire. Driving down Highway 101, we came to Brookings on the Pacific coast at the southern tip of Oregon. Smoke choked the town. A fire up the Chetco River had just "blown up" and was spreading in all directions. A few days later, we heard that people were being evacuated immediately due to the fires' rapid spread, in certain spots all the way down to the ocean.

Arriving in Redwood National Park, we were amazed to see the skies there clouded with smoke. In the late afternoon in the Tall Trees Redwood Grove, rays of sunlight angling through smoke and off the trees turned the grove a beautiful but surreal red. Coming home in late August, Oregon was smothered in smoke far thicker than it had been in Seattle, from the southern border almost to the northern. It was hard to imagine people having to try to live and function every day in this.

Summer of Heat and Western Fire

This summer, Seattle broke records for the driest in recorded history, the most consecutive days without rain -- 55 -- and also tied for the warmest summer on record.

Similar conditions were present throughout the West. High-pressure systems repeatedly set up and refused to budge along the north Pacific coast or slightly onshore, and blocked any developing weather systems from the west. After weeks without rain, forest brush and understory that had grown thick after an unusually wet winter withered and dried to a crisp. It was like jet fuel awaiting a match. It was only a matter of time until lightning strikes from dry storms, as well as humans, set things alight.

Scorched by record temperatures, British Columbia (BC) went up in flames in July. Fires raged all summer and 1.2 million hectares burned -- the equivalent of 4,680 square miles -- an area almost as large as the state of Connecticut. The area burned exceeded the yearly average of area burned in BC from 2006-16 by almost 10 times.

In Oregon this summer, a Rhode Island-sized area went up in flames. The Chetco Bar Fire scorched old-growth redwoods in a protected grove at the northern edge of the Redwoods range, severely burning 25 percent of the trees. Another major fire was one along the Columbia River Gorge in northeast Oregon. Started by fireworks on September 2, the fire was fanned by extreme heat and easterly winds. It exploded. Dozens of hikers were forced to hike for their lives to escape. Embers crossed the Columbia River and set off new fires in Washington.

In late August and September, offshore winds created by high pressure inland pulled in more smoke to the Seattle area, now from Washington's own wildfires. Ash fell from the sky, reminding people of the volcanic explosions from Mt. St. Helens in 1980.

Health Impacts of Wildfire Smoke

The smoke didn't just make life miserable at times this summer for the millions of people throughout the West; it was downright unhealthy.

Joshua Benditt, a pulmonologist with the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, said he was getting many calls from his patients with lung problems due to the wildfire smoke. Benditt said the poor quality of air from the smoke meant, "It's very difficult for patients with asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and even some other kinds of lung diseases. It's quite irritating to them and it can cause coughing and wheezing and actually even respiratory failure."

Bonnie Henry, a deputy provincial health officer in BC, told the Vancouver Sun in August that emergency calls and hospital visits had increased 20 to 50 percent among people with respiratory and other health conditions.

In the inland regions closer to the fires, the air was worse than on the coast. Sarah Coefield, an air quality specialist with the Missoula City-County Health Department, described how desperate the situation was becoming for people in Seeley Lake, Montana where elderly, children and sick people were choking on smoke.

These types of conditions existed to varying degrees for weeks throughout the West. Air quality values ranged from "unhealthy for sensitive groups" to "very unhealthy" and worse. In early September in Spokane, Washington, air quality reached hazardous levels for several days.

satellite image from NASA on September 5 showed smoke being blown across the US by the jet stream. NASA said, "Smoke from wildfires can be very dangerous. A 2017 Georgia Tech study showed the smoke from wildfires spew methanol, benzene, ozone and other noxious chemicals into the atmosphere." This study directly measured the amount of emissions from several Western wildfires of some of these potentially dangerous gases, as well as particulate matter pollution that is a mix of microscopic solids and liquid droplets. The study found that the particulate pollution from wildfires, already known to be a large source of particulate pollution in the West, was actually three times worse than previously thought.

A 2016 study, called a "Critical Review of Health Impacts of Wildfire Smoke Exposure" found that globally, the estimated premature mortality caused by wildfire smoke is 339,000 people yearly. High levels of particulate matter in the air from wildfire smoke have led to increases in deaths in Malaysia, Russia and Australia. The study drew a clear connection between wildfire smoke exposure and increased morbidity for people with asthma, COPD and general respiratory problems.

The Georgia Tech study cites other scientific studies that have linked particulate matter (PM) from wildfires to increased respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. While more research is required to fully resolve the whole picture of health impacts of PM in humans, the health impacts from fire smoke is clearly cause for real concern, when literally millions of people are living for weeks at a time in regions choked with wildfire smoke.

Climate Change and Increasing Forest Fires

Wildfires have been a natural occurrence in the history of forests over many, many millennia. In many ways, fires have played a crucial role in helping regulate and regenerate the health of the forest. Natural variation in weather patterns is one factor in creating conditions for wildfires. But what has been happening over the last several decades is far from normal.

Mike Flannigan, director of the Western Partnership for Wildland Fire Service at the University of Alberta, says the "evidence is becoming more and more overwhelming" of the link between climate change and increasing fires globally. The length of fire seasons worldwide increased by 19 percent from 1978 to 2013, due to longer periods of warm and dry weather in a quarter of the world's forests. While the pattern is not uniform, various parts of the world are seeing clear changes over the last decades, according to Flannigan, including Alaska, Siberia, the boreal forests of Canada and elsewhere.

In the Western US, the length of the wildfire season has increased from five months long in the 1970s, to seven months today with 2015 being the worst wildfire season in the West on record as tracked by the National Interagency Fire Center, with over 10 million acres burned. As of October 15, the amount of land burned in 2017 would rank third highest. According to the EPA, of the 10 years with the largest acreage burned, nine have occurred since 2000.

In the Pacific Northwest as a whole, temperatures have risen 1.5°F since 1920. Extremely warm temperatures and drought mix with historically low amounts of winter snowpack to create conditions setting the table for fire.

The connection of climate change and a warming planet to increasing forest fires isn't just confirmed by observational statistics. Scientific studies have started quantifying the contributions of a warmer planet to increasing fires. A 2016 study in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences demonstrated that over half of the increases in "fuel aridity" (metrics that measure the degree of lack of moisture in fuels) since the 1970s, and a doubling of the amount of forest area burned since 1984 were due to human-caused climate change. A 2017 study in the same journal concluded global warming was responsible for increasing the severity and probability of the hottest monthly and daily events in 80 percent of the globe that they were able to study.

In a sense, the relationship isn't rocket science, but it is basic science. Warming temperatures means warmer air, and warmer air holds more moisture, sucking it out of plants and trees making them drier and more likely to ignite and readily burn. When this happens over whole regions of millions of acres, these conditions predispose regions to burn more readily. When the warmth and dryness lasts for longer periods of time, the time when wildfires happen also lengthens.

There are other ways in which climate change is contributing to increasing fires in the West. Lightning strikes are increased by warmer temperatures. It's estimated that for every degree Celsius of warming, strikes increase by about 12 percent.

Furthermore, bark beetle infestation of forests is spreading northward and to higher elevations throughout the West as the planet warms. As winters become warmer and spring comes earlier, conditions for beetle survival increases. Drought-induced stress severely weakens trees' ability to fend off beetles. Beetles interfere with a tree's nutrient delivery and this can kill trees, providing more raw fuel for fires. The beetle infestation has killed tens of millions of acres of forest in North America, and is the largest known insect infestation in North American history.

Human-caused activity is contributing in other ways to forest changes and fire increases.

Forest and other natural habitat continues to be eaten up by new housing and sprawl, driven by the inability of capitalism to restrict development and protect natural areas. Forest Service policy over many years has been to suppress fires, and this has contributed to a build-up of large amounts of fuel on public lands. As human habitation continues to encroach on forests, more fires are sparked. The US Forest Service is also increasingly pushed to try to fight fires to protect houses and towns, in some cases further adding to build-up of fuel. Many foresters are advocating that more scientific criteria be used to differentiate when and which fires should be fought, and which should be allowed to burn up accumulated fuel and return the forests to a more natural fire cycle.

The 2017 Fires and the Larger Picture of a Changing Climate

The smoke and fires this summer were a wake-up call about how quickly things can change in the natural environment and how large the stakes are. But is this devastating summer just the beginning of much worse things to come? And if this is the harbinger of the future, what will this mean for the health of humans and ecosystems?

This summer has been one of truly devastating "natural" disasters overall. Intriguing and important scientific debates emerged from this hurricane season, including over whether global warming was causing more extreme and long-lasting weather events, such as Hurricane Harvey's stall over Houston that caused record rainfalls.

Jennifer Francis, a research professor at Rutgers University, has been studying the relation between the warming of the Arctic, the loss of sea ice and changes that are being observed in weather patterns in the Northern hemisphere, particularly at certain times of the year.

She has advanced a theory that the warming of the Arctic is causing the jet stream to wobble at certain times, creating big waves that draw warmer air up into the Arctic from the southern latitudes. Francis believes that with these big waves, which have been observed, the jet stream is also weakened in its flow from west to east. The jet stream then becomes more susceptible to any obstacles in its path -- physical ones, such as mountain ranges, but also areas of warm temperature, for example. The weakened, wavy jet stream leads to weather patterns that are more persistent. The main cause of this phenomenon is the way in which global warming is occurring more rapidly in the Arctic, lessening the temperature difference between the Artic, and the mid-latitudes.

These phenomena are also further warming the Arctic and melting more sea ice via a number of feedback loops.

Truthout asked Francis via email if this Arctic warming may also be responsible for hot, dry weather patterns that have occurred more frequently in the West over the last several years in summer, contributing to such massive wildfires.

She replied, "There are several new papers that connect Arctic warming and sea-ice loss in the Pacific sector of the Arctic with a strengthened Pacific ridge in the jet stream (large northward bulge), but the mechanism is not simple."

"It appears that there are two factors that need to happen simultaneously to create the strong, persistent ridge that has been so prevalent in recent years along the western coast of North America. One factor is the natural occurrence of a ridge in this location, owing usually to warmer-than-normal ocean temperatures along the west coast -- e.g., a pattern known as a positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation. If there is also substantial ice loss/warming in the Pacific Arctic sector, that ridge tends to be strengthened, which makes it more persistent. This favors the conditions conducive to wild fires: dry and hot."

This link is alluring, if not yet definitively proven. Truthout also spoke with Nick Bond, research meteorologist with the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean at the University of Washington. He said that the weather pattern we saw on the west coast this summer with the persistent ridge of high pressure was very unusual, but, "There's plenty of internal variability in the system -- I'm kind of reluctant, one particular weird year, to ascribe too much to that, but on the other hand, this weather we're having, is the kind of weather we expect to be more common in future decades ... in the long term maybe this is something we better get used to."

So, whether this summer's pattern of persistent high-pressure ridges and abnormally hot, dry weather is already a result of climate change enhancing natural variation, or if it's a harbinger of what's to come, these are important things to watch. Regardless, it's clear that the West, along with the planet, is warming overall, and that this is contributing to the conditions leading to larger wildfires right now. The impact of increasing wildfires on people's health and ecosystems will keep rising, unless serious and emergency measures are taken to counter climate change and its effects.

Want to see more coverage of the issues that matter? Make a donation to Truthout to ensure that we can publish more original stories like this one.
Categories: News

Three Ways Trump's Nuclear Strategy Misunderstands the Mood in Ira

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 04:00
Why doesn't this site have ads? In order to maintain our integrity, Truthout doesn't accept any advertising money. Help us keep it this way -- make a donation to support our independent journalism.

US President Donald Trump has refused to tell Congress that the 2015 nuclear deal the Obama administration reached with Iran and five other world powers still serves US national interests. This refusal, or decertification, went against top officials in his own government and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Nobody should be surprised. Trump has attacked the Iran deal for years without offering a realistic alternative. His Oct. 13 speech on Iran was long on recriminations, but short on factual analysis and practical recommendations. This disconnect has kept experts and pundits guessing about what Trump's decertification is meant to achieve. 

There are three common interpretations. Each makes different assumptions about how Iran will react. All rest more on wishful thinking than a solid understanding of politics in Iran. 

A key figure in Iranian politics is Hassan Rouhani, who was elected president in 2013. He won by promising that skillful diplomacy could improve Iran's economy without sacrificing key aspects of Iran's nuclear program. 

The Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland, where I am the director, has worked with partners in Tehran and Toronto on nine surveys of Iranian public opinion before and after Rouhani's recent reelection. Data from these surveys clearly suggest that each set of assumptions underlying interpretation of Trump's strategy is wrong

#1: Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too

In the most benign interpretation, responsible members of the Trump team are letting the president play to his domestic political base by denouncing the deal, but not allowing him to withdraw or reimpose sanctions that would violate it. 

This interpretation depicts decertification as a "legal placebo" -- a harmless, if ineffectual, way to make a petulant president feel better. It assumes that Iran will honor its nuclear obligations so long as the United States does not reimpose nuclear sanctions, thus preserving the benefits of a deal that Trump's secretary of defense testified does serve US interests.

Do Iranians really expect the economic benefits of the deal to outweigh the costs incurred by adhering to an agreement that is continually being undercut by the United States? They might -- but that hope is fading fast.

In June 2017, 64 percent of respondents to our survey said that their economy was bad and 50 percent thought it was getting worse. Seven in 10 said that the deal had not improved living conditions of Iranians at all. 

Two-thirds still support the nuclear deal. But, US actions are eroding optimism that the deal will eventually make life better. That has dropped to 59 percent, down from 66 percent a year earlier.

Iranian confidence that the United States will uphold its end of the bargain has already dropped precipitously, from 45 percent shortly after the deal was signed to 24 percent in June 2017. Confidence in the other parties to the agreement -- Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia -- is higher at 53 percent. But 71 percent of Iranians do not think the Europeans are moving as rapidly as they could to engage economically with Iran, mostly due to US obstructionism and pressure.

A clear majority, 55 percent, say that if the United States takes measures against Iran that violate the nuclear deal, Iran should retaliate by restarting aspects of its nuclear program. Only 41 percent want to abide by the agreement and try to resolve the problem diplomatically. 

Trashing the Iran deal without tearing it up, in other words, is not a harmless outlet for Trump's animosity. The more he makes threats and sows uncertainty, the more likely Iran's leaders are to decide that the gains are not worth the grief. 

#2: Hardball Bargaining Strategy

The second interpretation takes at face value Trump's claim that decertification is meant to increase US bargaining leverage and get more out of the nuclear deal. 

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson implied that allied support for tougher sanctions on Iran's ballistic missile tests might be required to keep the United States in the nuclear deal. The administration is also supporting legislation co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Bob Corker and Tom Cotton that would automatically reimpose sanctions if Iran does not obey demands that go well beyond the terms of the nuclear deal itself.

The Iranian public is strongly opposed to the kinds of additional restrictions that Trump wants Congress to impose. Seventy percent said that Iran should not agree to end enrichment under any circumstances, while 62 percent said categorically that Iran should not extend the duration of the special nuclear limits it accepted. 

When asked whether Iran should curtail certain nonnuclear activities in order to get all US sanctions lifted, 63 percent opposed reducing ballistic missile tests. Fifty-nine percent opposed ending aid to Syrian President Assad.

Iranians would be even more firmly opposed to these policy changes if they got nothing new in return. Thus, threatening to reimpose nuclear sanctions is counterproductive if the objective is to get more from Iran.

#3: Killing the Deal to Provoke Regime Change

A third interpretation suggests that Trump does not really want to prolong, or to improve, the nuclear deal. Instead, he wants to end it, preferably without being blamed for the deal's demise, and help the people of Iran get a government that is peace-loving and democratic. If so, he would be following some version of a strategy proposed by John Bolton, a leading neoconservative from the George W. Bush administration.

Trump's speech denounced Iran's government as a fanatical dictatorship that violently suppresses its own people, supports terrorism and causes conflict throughout the Middle East. He also alleged that this "rogue regime" had been on the verge of total collapse before the nuclear deal lifted sanctions and provided a huge financial boost. 

From this perspective, the main effect of the nuclear deal has been to prolong the power of Iran's supreme leader and his "corrupt personal terror force and militia." Trump's pledge to terminate the nuclear deal if Congress and US allies cannot gain Iranian acquiescence to unacceptable demands would demonstrate "total solidarity with the Iranian regime's longest-suffering vicitims: its own people."

Our surveys show that Trump misunderstands what the Iranian people want. The vast majority list economic problems, particularly unemployment, as their greatest concern, not political issues, like corruption or human rights. Pre-election data showed that younger Iranians preferred Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, Tehran's conservative mayor who eventually dropped out of the race, to Rouhani, who is more moderate politically but has less impressive economic achievements.

Iranians see US sanctions as making their life worse, not better. When asked in December 2016 what happened to the economic benefits Iran was supposed to get from the nuclear deal, 51 percent said they never materialized. Few blamed their own government. Only 21 percent said the economic gains from the deal went to Iranians with special connections, while 15 percent thought they went to Iran's military and foreign allies. And, when asked in June 2017 about the effect of sanctions imposed because of Iran's alleged human rights violations, only 8 percent thought they improved human rights in Iran. Thirty-six percent thought they hurt them, and 52 percent said they had no effect. 

The Iranian people want the United States to fulfill the economic promises it made in the nuclear deal, not to foment internal unrest and radical political change. When asked about the meaning of Rouhani's reelection, only about a third said it showed that most Iranians wanted religion to play a lesser role in policymaking. Less than a quarter saw it as evidence that the Iranian public disapproved of the ideals of the Islamic revolution. In other words, by reelecting Rouhani, Iranians showed support for continuity and moderation, not fundamental changes to their political system.

Trump seems to think that he gains a strategic advantage by keeping everybody else guessing. That might be true if he had a sound strategy that could achieve his objective so long as his opponents could not anticipate his next move and counteract it. With Trump's decision to decertify the Iran deal, though, the evidence suggests that whatever strategy he has will likely be self-defeating.

Nancy Gallagher receives funding from the MacArthur Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

The Conversation

Categories: News

The New Co-op Helping Former Prisoners Find Work -- and Recover

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 04:00

The United States has the world's highest incarceration rate, with more than 2.2 million people in prison. And within the United States, the highest incarceration rate belongs to Washington, DC There, a new worker-owned business cooperative hopes to reverse those numbers, offering former prisoners opportunities for employment and healing.

Though co-ops that employ formerly incarcerated people already exist, Tightshift Laboring Cooperative is the first Washington, DC, co-op formed and operated by ex-prisoners. The co-op offers an array of manual labor services, including residential and commercial cleaning, hauling and moving, and landscaping. It also uses eco-friendly products to provide customers with affordable, high-quality cleaning services.

It's more than just a business to Juan Reid, a former inmate who co-spearheaded the cooperative. For him, Tightshift is about helping former inmates recover, find work, and counter prisoner stigmatization in the workplace.

Reid, 36, was sentenced to 14 years in prison for aggravated assault when he was just 18 years old. He spent the last seven of those years in solitary confinement, an experience he says was torture and a form of "dressed-up" slavery. When he returned to his Bloomingdale neighborhood, he noticed he was being punished a second time -- this time by employers who wouldn't hire him because of his criminal record.

Unbeknownst to his family, Reid became homeless. On the freezing morning of Jan. 21, 2015, a winter storm was passing and Reid was sleeping in a van. It was his 34th birthday.

His mother called him on his cellphone to wish him a happy birthday.

"She told me she was proud of me," Reid says. "She thought I was OK, but I wasn't. I wasn't going to tell her, though. I just didn't want to be a burden to her."

But his mother's message reassured him that his family still loved and cared about him. He moved back in with his father and a few months after that, he met Allison Basile while walking through the neighborhood. They don't remember what sparked their initial conversation, but they quickly found out that they had at least one thing in common -- they were both fed up with economic inequality and systemic racism.

Basile, 30, had a history of working with nonprofits and developing co-ops, although she hadn't worked with returning citizens before.

"I'm focusing on ways to shift ownership and control," Basile says. "Shifting ownership and control is the root of a lot of our challenges, and Juan is super-entrepreneurial and was looking to go into business for himself."

She told him about business cooperatives, and the idea of an employee-run business enthralled him. He wanted to join the movement. The two traveled to New York for a seminar to learn more about the inner-workings of co-ops. Back home, they received two microgrants from the Diverse City Fund in Washington, DC, and crowdsourced $6,500. With this money, they launched Tightshift late last December.

Reid plans to visit jails to recruit new members. He wants to assure them that they'll have jobs once they get out. In addition to that, he canvasses the streets, soliciting friends and youth in his neighborhood to join Tightshift.

New members must first go through the member-apprentice program. In that program, newcomers learn the workings of the cooperative and receive training. They earn $14 an hour and have a voice in the decision-making. Newcomers complete the program by accumulating 1,000 work hours, which Reid and Basile expect would take about a year to complete. Members then can buy into the co-op, receiving a $3 pay increase.

But it hasn't been easy getting people to finish the apprenticeship. Sixteen people have started the program, but only five work actively with Tightshift. Consequentially, Reid and Basile are the only official member-owners of Tightshift. A big reason for that, Basile says, is that a lot of the apprentice members deal with trauma. One apprentice-member, for example, was incarcerated at 18, watched his best friend get killed, and is now battling drug addiction.

"We love him and want for him to be able to keep working with Tightshift," Basile says, "but we know he's going to need some time and space for healing in order to be able to do that."

A residential healing center is something Basile and Reid are working to establish to help apprentice-members physically and emotionally recover from trauma, especially from incarceration.

To that end, Tightshift is launching a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for providing its member-apprentices with healing spaces and resources.

"There's a lot of trauma we have to deal with when you go through the prison system," Reid says. "Our new apprentices will live in the healing center, so they can just work and heal."

Categories: News

Wisconsin Governor Walker and His Appointees Push Policy to Punish Students Protesting Right-Wing Speech

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 04:00

In the latest attempt to silence protesters, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his appointees on the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents are pushing a new policy that would suspend or expel students who protest right-wing speech on campus. Thomas Gunderson, an organizer for Our Wisconsin Revolution, discusses why the legislation lacks legitimacy. 

 Gage Skidmore)Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin speaks at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference on March 13, 2016, in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

We're now several months into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators and educators, not only about how to resist, but how to build a better world. Today's interview is the 84th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

The battles over "free speech" on campus have loomed large in the era of Trump, with conservative provocateurs invited to campuses across the country only to claim that they are being silenced when students protest them. In one of the latest salvos in the battle to claim "freedom of speech" for the right wing, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his allies are pushing a policy that would suspend or expel students for protesting in ways the university deems infringe on the free speech of another.

Today we bring you a conversation with Thomas Gunderson, an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and an organizer (both on and off campus) with Our Wisconsin Revolution. Gunderson is organizing against Gov. Walker's policy.

Sarah Jaffe: The University of Wisconsin and Scott Walker's appointees there made headlines again last week with some sort of "free speech" policy. Can you explain that?

Thomas Gunderson: The big issue with it is that it is complicated to explain. The moral of the story is that it essentially threatens to suspend and expel students who ... violate a new set of really obscure and vague policies that the Board of Regents will be proposing.

So, you don't know what the policies that you could potentially be already violating are?

Pretty much. That is the really scary part. They promote it as a bill that is done to protect "freedom of speech" and "freedom of expression" while the obscure language really just chills the student body ... many think that this is the real intention of it, given that, really, the only thing that is concrete about it is that students will be suspended and students will be expelled.

For disrupting speech, right?

Yes, or disrupting just ordinary activity. Whatever that could mean.

Was there a particular incident on the University of Wisconsin's campus that made this seem necessary to the regents, or is this sort of a response to the national feelings that everybody is having about campus free speech?

This is really just about having a corporately captured state legislature and now, at this point, Board of Regents in Wisconsin. The Board of Regents policy is the other side to the Campus Free Speech Act, which comes out of the Barry Goldwater Institute from Arizona, a hard-right libertarian-esque type of think tank.

What would that act do?

That was pretty much giving the Board of Regents the go-ahead to make a new set of policies regarding academic freedom and freedom of expression, which is also just a huge irony. In Wisconsin, they are acting as if the University of Wisconsin Madison Board of Regents has been a stalwart of academic freedom when it has recently removed tenure and made the university a more exclusive place by raising the price of it.

This is all happening in the context of ongoing changes and attacks on the university. Could you talk a little bit more about those over the last few years?

I think it was around two years ago that they made pretty sweeping changes to what was once really sound tenure protection at the university. It caused a huge backlash among faculty and there has been a huge problem with retention since, as well as rising prices. It has really been pretty much an all-out assault on what once made [the] University of Wisconsin system kind of special.

Yes, I remember when Walker tried to change the Wisconsin Idea. Can you explain to people what that is?

Yes. That was really a sneaky Walker move, where he tried to slide in language changing that the goal of the university wasn't to promote the sifting and winnowing [of] the pursuit of truth, and instead to ... saying that the university's goal is to apply a sound workforce for Wisconsin.

Walker's attacks on the university have gone back to when he was first elected, but also, the university has been the source of a lot of the protests against him, going back to the Teaching Assistants Association ... who started the Wisconsin Uprising back in 2011.

Correct.

On the one hand, we have something very specific here with Walker's specific motivations toward the university system. On the other hand, we are seeing similar attacks on public universities around the country, and we are seeing this particular obsession with student protest being somehow antithetical to free speech nationally. I wonder if you could talk about where you see these attacks on the university and on free speech in the broader national context.

It is especially annoying that they are just trying to do this in the UW system right now, because just in the recent year they have politically attacked both professors and students. Members of the state legislature have openly attacked professors and students whose expression, whose free speech they have found disagreeable.

For anything like a "free speech" legislation to have any sort of legitimacy to it, the restrictions upon free speech have to necessarily be viewpoint and value-neutral restrictions. That this would be the case in the UW system at the current moment is just completely unrealistic. I think that is what has many students, at least in my circles, very concerned about this: that they will be people who are targeted. Particularly a lot of minority groups at the university, those that are here are really worried about it.

In the moment of Trump, Wisconsin, of course, has been living with Scott Walker for a while now, so you have seen a lot of the things that are now being moved to the national level there.

Right. Just another really bizzarro quintessential timing thing of it is that as we speak, UW Madison is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the student Vietnam protests here on campus. If these policies were around then, those students wouldn't have only been pepper-sprayed, but they also would have been possibly getting suspended or expelled or worse.

Since we are talking about this and the work that people are doing on campus being potentially under threat, talk about what Our Wisconsin Revolution has been doing on campus.

At the moment, there [have] been a lot of op-eds written. We are trying to really just bring awareness that this happened on Friday the 6th [of October]. We also have a petition circulating that everyone is welcome to sign, saying they support the students and their right to freedom of expression and speech, and the language of this legislation is too vague and we believe will be used to target already marginalized students. We are, hopefully, going to build up some student awareness and, hopefully, be able to make something happen when the Board of Regents is actually at the University of Wisconsin Madison in these coming weeks, because they have not banned protests quite yet.

When did Our Wisconsin Revolution get started and when did the campus branch get started?

Our Wisconsin Revolution is fairly new. It is the state affiliate of Our Revolution. It arose in Wisconsin over this past summer, in June. I was able to attend the convention where we elected our board and made plans to get a Dane County and Madison chapter officially affiliated. Being that Our Wisconsin Revolution started in the summer, this is Our Wisconsin Revolution's student chapter's first semester. There has been a lot of energy around it, just because at this point, we have taken the [Bernie] Sanders vision and really tried to apply it to Madison, which has meant opposition to a new jail that the county board has been trying to build, and really building membership and awareness at this point.

Going forward, do you have anything coming up with Our Revolution on or off campus that people should know about?

We don't have a specific event planned at the moment, but the third Thursdays of every month we have a social mixer with the Democratic Socialists of America and that is always a great time. People should come to our general assembly meetings on the fourth Thursday.

How can people keep up with you online?

We have Facebook pages for both the student chapter and the state affiliate and county affiliate. Also, we have a webpage, as well: www.Ourwisconsinrev.com.

Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission.

The following article could only be published thanks to support from our readers. To fund more stories like it, make a donation to Truthout by clicking here!
Categories: News

What Breitbart's Email Leaks Mean for Public Perception of the "Alt-Right"

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 04:00

BuzzFeed's leak of Breitbart's emails are not a revelation but confirmation that Milo Yiannopoulos, Steve Bannon and their supporters were not only in cahoots with white supremacists, they were aware of the violence they were stoking. While the leaks have widened the rift that developed between the Breitbart gang and the "alt-right" in the wake of Charlottesville, they likely will not unseat Breitbart from electoral politics without massive public pressure from anti-fascist movements.

 Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)Far-right British commentator Milo Yiannopoulos is escorted from Sproul Plaza at the Berkley campus after a speach Sunday. (Photo: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)   Exposing the wrongdoing of those in power has never been more important. Support Truthout's independent, investigative journalism by making a donation!

The celebrity of Milo Yiannopoulos has always been a balance between career-end charades and headline-grabbing stunts. While tabloids were still fawning over his wedding photos, especially on the race of his new husband, BuzzFeed was preparing a feature that further demolished his defenses against allegations of white nationalism. In the story published on October 5, Joseph Bernstein unveiled what was apparently years of private emails and Breitbart memos that outlined the far-right publication's relationship with open white nationalists, including Yiannopoulos's clear reliance on them. What this revealed was how Yiannopoulos's celebrity became a tool by which Stephen Bannon engaged in an information war to "defend the West."

While the term "alt-right" was roundly used to describe Yiannopoulos as he railed against Black Lives Matter and feminism, it was always a bit misapplied. The "alt-right" has always meant white nationalism, though in a dressed-up form that would rather cite esoteric German philosophers than David Duke. Yiannopoulos, a queer Jew, did not fit that bill, and while he enjoyed denouncing Muslims and immigrants, he did not meet the ideological litmus test that white nationalists like Richard Spencer or Jared Taylor might.

Instead, Yiannopoulos led what is now called the "alt-light," a slightly more moderate sphere of angry far-right populists that have helped to mainstream "alt-right" memes and talking points without committing to their more shocking political fantasies. People like Anne Coulter, Lauren Southern, Gavin McInnes, Rebel Media and, of course, Breitbart, are all figures in this canon, and Yiannopoulos was simply their loudest and most prolific icon. Gaining fame by leading the misogynist troll army during Gamergate, Yiannopoulos was ported over the pond to work at Breitbart as a tech editor, but it was his pithy blogs going after Breitbart's favorite targets that garnered his celebrity. In 2015 and 2016, Yiannopoulos mingled with white nationalism, bringing people like male tribalist Jack Donovan onto his podcast and writing his much-cited outline of the "alt-right" for Breitbart.

What has allowed for Breitbart's and Yiannopoulos's success has always been plausible deniability. Yiannopoulos can say almost the same things as the "alt-right," but then ducks away from accusations since he effectively refused to take the final rhetorical step: He wasn't talking about people of color or women per se, just these particular people. This has been a known strategy for years as Breitbart replaced Fox News as the radical right organ of news. The email leaks show that Breitbart's connections to white supremacists were real.

In email after email, Yiannopoulos's directives came down from Bannon, who excoriated Yiannopoulos anytime he refused to hone in specifically on Muslims and those "we are in an existential war" against. Yiannopoulos, for his part, made friends with the white nationalists early on, especially with Weev, the famous troll known for his vulgar neo-Nazism and work with The Daily Stormer. Yiannopoulos's articles were shaped and edited by Devin Saucier of American Renaissance, the most prominent white nationalist organization in the country that focuses much of its time on trying to prove race differences in intelligence. Other "alt-right" figures did direct edits on stories, and far-right Breitbart investors like Rebekah Mercer of the Mercer Family Foundation filtered stories to Yiannopoulos through Bannon. While Yiannopoulos played the innocent dupe to the racism of the "alt-right," in email after email, according to BuzzFeed News, he not only understood its racism full well, but it appeared as though he and Bannon reveled in it and used Breitbart as a well-coded tool to stoke those racist feelings in readers.

The relationships of tech impresario Peter Thiel and Bannon and the Neoreactionary movement -- specifically race and IQ proponent Curtis Yarvin -- was again made explicit, but this inspired few surprises. Yarvin became famous under the pen name Mencius Moldbug, and wrote a blog outlining his opposition to equality, democracy and social progress. Moldbug's ideas have had major currency in Silicon Valley, and Thiel, as a major right-wing tech figure, was able to shelter himself from direct connections with Yarvin until the report was released.

Most damning of all, however, is likely the clip of Yiannopoulos's April 2016 Texas karaoke event, where "alt-right" leaders threw up "sieg heils," and Richard Spencer laughed in the audience. The private event was not open to the media, and presumably Milo had no intention of revealing his open admiration of the "alt-right" shown at the bar. Mike "Enoch" Peinovich, the host of the white nationalist troll-podcast The Daily Shoah, described on his show his own relationship with Yiannopoulos after the fact, admitting he was also at this karaoke event and that they had exchanged contact information.

What is more shocking, however, is the relationship that Yiannopoulos and Breitbart maintained with journalists at mainstream publications. Mitchell Sunderland at Vice's women's platform Broadly sent one email telling Yiannopoulos to go after the "fat feminist" Lindy West, a woman who has seen some of the most aggressive sexist harassment in the post-Gamergate internet. The undercurrent here is that Yiannopoulos's brand of reactionary abuse was a popular pastime for people in the media, and his antics created more clickbait stories for even leftist publications to lap up.

There have been few believers in the "alt-light" claims of anti-racism, or of Bannon's arms-length relationship with Neoreaction and the "alt-right," and that is the dark spot that BuzzFeed's info dump really elucidates. With such a massive leak as this, with such damning evidence, one could easily expect that the result would be firings (Vice did fire Mitchell Sunderland for his correspondence with Yiannopoulos), denouncements and social exorcisms. What is more shocking, in a sense, is that none of that will result because all of this is simply a confirmation for what has been both publicly known and privately accepted. That Breitbart is a tool for the development of white nationalism, that people like Bannon and Yiannopoulos know full well the type of violence they are stoking, and that backers like the Mercers and Thiel are allying with a revolutionary white supremacist movement is not particularly striking. Instead, we simply have the map laid out, our educated assumptions made transparent.

The recent fragmentation of the "alt-right," which really started with schisms in the days after Trump's victory, hit a fever pitch after Charlottesville. The effect of the social shift and the subsequent online platform denial the "alt-right" faced, as well as the betrayals that Yiannopoulos has brought on the "alt-right," has given him no quarter in the wake of this revelation. Yiannopoulos went as far as to go on social media to declare that it was an "alt-right" plot to reveal this information. "I am told a figure on the Right paid one of Richard Spencer's nutty goons $10,000 for this video," Yiannopoulos wrote on Instagram, with little evidence of this transaction. "I have been and am a steadfast supporter of Jews and Israel. I disavow white nationalism and I disavow racism and I always have." Figures like Paul Joseph Watson of Infowars have picked up on Yiannopoulos's allegations, pushing a conspiracy theory that establishment journalists colluded with white nationalists to bring down Yiannopoulos.

Spencer, for his part, has continued his anti-Yiannopoulos campaign on social media and podcasts, repudiating a figure he once celebrated. Around the troll-sphere of the "alt-right," Yiannopoulos's response to the revelations and his inability to take ownership for his racist protocols has further demonized him. The former alliance between the "alt-right" and the "alt-light" has been delivered a heavy blow, and no amount of revelations of previous collaboration is going to resurrect their Trumpian beast. Instead, this has the ability to permanently sever any future connections, and for "alt-light" figures who attempt to co-opt the energy of white nationalists, it will act as a warning about the potentially public nature of that friendship.

Revelations like this could cause Thiel and the Mercers to try and back away from their public associations with white nationalist people and movements, but if what we already know about them was not enough for them to go dormant, this is likely not dangerous enough either. It is unclear how Breitbart will respond, if the network will use this as an opportunity to clear its ranks, or to simply ignore the allegations and press forward with its mission. The only thing that forces these connections to dissolve is massive public pressure -- the kind that only organized movements with clear goals can grasp. All of these figures have been the target of anti-fascists over the past 18 months, and that is not likely to abate, but it will require larger coalitions of stakeholders to permanently unseat Breitbart's place in the American electorate.

Categories: News

Trump's Travel Ban Suffers Another Defeat as Judges Say Threat of Discrimination "Still Intact"

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 04:00

President Trump's latest attempt to bar some citizens of eight Muslim majority countries from entering the US suffers a second defeat, as another federal judge rules that the latest policy is unconstitutional. We speak with Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

Pages