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Updated: 4 hours 8 min ago

Senate Ignored Federal Court Employees Willing to Testify Against Kavanaugh

6 hours 42 min ago

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley has announced that the committee will hold another hearing on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh next Monday in light of accusations that he attempted to rape a 15-year-old girl at a party while he was in high school. Both Kavanaugh and his accuser, professor Christine Blasey Ford, will testify under oath. As the allegations against Kavanaugh gain steam, a new report from Ryan Grim for The Intercept has revealed that attorney Cyrus Sanai multiple times tried to reach out to Senators Charles Grassley and Dianne Feinstein on behalf of federal court employees also willing to speak out against Kavanaugh. The employees wanted to talk about Kavanaugh’s work as a clerk for disgraced former Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, who resigned in 2017 after being accused by at least 15 women of sexual misconduct. But Sinai never heard back. Kavanaugh has said repeatedly that he did not witness Kozinski behave in a sexually inappropriate way. We speak with Ryan Grim, Washington, DC bureau chief for The Intercept. His latest piece is headlined “Attorney Sent Letter to Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein Claiming Federal Court Employees Willing to Speak About Brett Kavanaugh.”


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I’m Juan González. Welcome to all of our listeners and viewers around the country and around the world. Senate Judiciary Committee chair Chuck Grassley has announced the committee will hold another hearing on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh next Monday following the accusations he attempted to rape a 15-year-old girl at a party while he was in high school. Both Kavanaugh and his accuser, Professor Christine Blasey Ford, will testify under oath.

Ford told The Washington Post that Kavanaugh and his friend pushed her into a bedroom during a party and that Kavanaugh then forcibly pinned her down on a bed and tried to pull off her clothes. She says she tried to scream, but that Kavanaugh put his hand over her mouth to silence her. On Monday, her attorney Debra Katz called the incident an attempted rape. She spoke on CNN.

DEBRA KATZ: She clearly considers this an attempted rape. She believes that if it were not for the severe intoxication of Brett Kavanaugh, she would have been raped.

AMY GOODMAN: — denied the accusation and issued a new statement Monday that “I have never done anything like what the accuser describes, to her or to anyone. Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday,” Kavanaugh said.

Dr. Blasey Ford identified Kavanaugh’s friend as the conservative writer Mark Judge. Judge once wrote a book about his high school days titled, Wasted: Tales of a GenX Drunk. The book describes being an alcoholic in high school and even features a cameo by someone he calls “Bart O’Kavanaugh” who vomited in someone’s car and passed out on his way back from a party.

On Monday, Republican Senator Susan Collins welcomed the additional hearing and said if Kavanaugh lied about what happened, that would be “disqualifying.”

SUSAN COLLINS: It is important that there be a very thorough interview and that we see both individuals respond to the allegations. There are an awful lot of questions, inconsistencies, gaps and that is why, to be fair to both, we need to know what happened. Obviously, if Judge Kavanaugh has lied about what happened, that would be disqualifying.

AMY GOODMAN: The accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, is a professor at Palo Alto University in California who teaches in a consortium with Stanford University, training graduate students in clinical psychology. Monday’s hearing comes just 50 days before midterm elections. Meanwhile, Democrats have called for the FBI to re-open Kavanaugh’s background check investigation. Senator Richard Blumenthal told The Washington Post,
“If there’s a hearing before that investigation, the committee is going to be shooting in the dark with questions.”

For more, we are joined here in our New York studio by Ryan Grim, Washington, DC bureau chief for The Intercept. Last week, he was the first to report that Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein had a secret letter describing an incident involving Kavanaugh and a woman in high school, and that Feinstein was refusing to share it with her Democratic colleagues. His new piece is headlined “Attorney Sent Letter to Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein Claiming Federal Court Employees Willing to Speak About Brett Kavanaugh.” Ryan, welcome back to Democracy Now! Let’s start with the tick-tock, if you will, of how all this was revealed. You were the one who broke the story of this secret letter.

RYAN GRIM: Right. And if you kind of piece together my reporting with Ronan Farrow’s reporting, who has done some very interesting work on this too, you find on July 6th, she first sent a letter to Anna Eshoo, her local congresswoman.

AMY GOODMAN: And you’re saying “her” because she was anonymous at the time.

RYAN GRIM: At this time, she was anonymous. She told her friends, we now know, from a Mercury News story around that time — she warned them. She said, “I’ve reached out to a Washington Post tip line. I’ve also reached out to my congresswoman and I plan to reach out to my senator. And the world is going to come down on me. I’m willing to take the plunge. This is a decision that I’ve made.” So this was July.

Dianne Feinstein says that she can’t recall if she spoke with Dr. Blasey Ford after getting the letter. Her office says that Feinstein did speak to her. In any event, as August unfolded, she witnessed the way that Kavanaugh’s nomination was marching forward and for some reason, decided to walk back. Ronan Farrow has reported that Feinstein wanted to make the kind of legal argument against Kavanaugh rather than a personal argument against him. So in all of this context she decided, “OK, you know what? Maybe this isn’t the right time. Why destroy my life if Democrats are just going to roll over and she’s [sic] just going to be confirmed anyway?” So the last week or so —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And meanwhile, during this time, did Feinstein notify any of the other members of the committee about what she had?

RYAN GRIM: No. Somehow word leaked out to some other members of the committee in the last week or two, and they came to her and said, “We appreciate the role of confidentiality, we respect victims’ rights here but we don’t necessarily want you to unilaterally make the decision on whether or not this letter should be sent to federal authorities, whether there should be further investigation, whether we can speak to the victim and talk to her about coming forward.” And she refused. She said, “No.”

AMY GOODMAN: This is Dr. Christine —

RYAN GRIM: No, this is Feinstein. She said, “No, I’m not going to share the letter.” And so once you have a dispute among Democrats on the committee like that, it is only a matter of time until it gets into the press. So I had sources telling me about this dispute, that there were Democrats on the committee who wanted to privately view the letter. Not that they wanted to out the victim, not that they wanted her to release the letter even but that they wanted to just view the letter privately to see what these allegations were, to see whether or not there needed to be a ratcheting up of this situation. So after my story came out, there was a meeting of the committee Democrats, and they pressured her. They said, “You’ve got to do something.” And so at that point —

AMY GOODMAN: What could be her logic for not sharing it with the other members of the committee? Not saying she’s going to raise it, but —

RYAN GRIM: Not to get in her head, but she has taken a much more conservative approach to this nomination, where her fellow committee members were disrupting the hearing. Cory Booker famously released private documents, which turned out not to be private. But you know, there is been a lot of theater. And so perhaps —

AMY GOODMAN: Facing expulsion from the Senate.

RYAN GRIM: Right. He said, “Bring it on.” And so perhaps she worried that if she shared it — although she could have redacted it — but if she shared it, that it would eventually leak out. And to be sure, once other committee members did find out about it, it did get out into the press, so she would be correct about that.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What would be the rationale for not at least notifying the FBI that there was other information they may have to look into, into Kavanaugh’s background?

RYAN GRIM: The rationale there would be once you notify the FBI, the FBI puts that document in his background file, and that background file is accessible to other committee members. And once it is accessible to other committee members, it may leak out into the public.

AMY GOODMAN: So then Senator Feinstein, though, it sounds like — at least according to Dr. Blasey’s lawyer, who felt that it was Senator Feinstein who did the right thing, and she was somewhat appalled that it got out, apparently.


AMY GOODMAN: I mean, then Senator Feinstein is stopping even the FBIinvestigating a possible crime.

RYAN GRIM: Right. And so what’s also interesting is that we — and we’re going to learn more about this over the years and decades to come — did Feinstein ultimately get permission to send it to the FBI last Thursday? She has been saying that since July, she did not turn it over on principle. Did she cave on that principle because she was under pressure from her Democratic colleagues, or did she reach out? Her attorney says that Feinstein had not reached out, so we will see about that. But she made the judgment that it became untenable to hold it back.

It has had the effect of, in some respect, discrediting the allegations, because now Republicans are saying, “Oh, this looks like a last-minute thing, that you’re just throwing everything against the wall. Why didn’t we hear about this before? You had all these opportunities.”

AMY GOODMAN: And the minority leader of this committee that was weighing Kavanaugh did not think, perhaps — I mean, it has the suggestion of — this was worthy enough to investigate.

RYAN GRIM: Right. And in some ways, Dr. Ford was failed by that in the sense that she did not come at the last minute. Before he was even nominated — he was only on the shortlist — and she was telling friends about this before he was even on this list of 10 or so approved nominees.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I want to ask you about your second piece, because this piece suggests that there could be other people who have information about Judge Kavanaugh that has not come forward. Could you talk about that piece? And also, who is Cyrus Sanai?

RYAN GRIM: He is an attorney in California who is the whistleblower who first called out Judge Alex Kozinski. He was the chief judge of the Ninth Circuit Court who in December of 2017, was finally brought down by a series of Washington Post articles about his sexual harassment in the workplace over decades. He came out in 2008 and made these allegations publicly, filed complaints against him.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Sanai, the attorney.

RYAN GRIM: This is Sanai — and has consistently since then. The Ninth Circuit judges are the ones who police themselves, so Alex Kozinski stayed on the court until the combination of the media reports and the #MeToo movement took him down.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And this is the famously liberal Ninth Circuit Court.

RYAN GRIM: Exactly. That’s right. And so because of that, he has become the person that you speak to about issues related to the Ninth Circuit Court. If you are an employee within the federal branch, that is who you would logically reach out to to talk about blowing the whistle because he is already persona non grata among these judges and you know he’s going to protect your confidence.

So after my original story came out, he reached out to me and said, “I also sent a letter to Chuck Grassley and Feinstein in July saying that there are members of the federal court, employees of the federal court, who knew and worked with Kavanaugh and can testify under the right circumstances, if they are protected, that Kavanaugh is lying about what he knew about the judge’s behavior.” Kavanaugh had said he was shocked and saddened and appalled.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, explain Kavanaugh’s relationship with Judge Kozinski.

RYAN GRIM: It’s very tight. Not only was he his clerk in the early 90s, he became close friends with him afterwards, and he and Kozinski vetted the clerks that went to Anthony Kennedy in the Supreme Court, which is one of the most powerful positions in the legal world — to vet Supreme Court justices. Kavanaugh’s own clerk last year was Kozinski’s middle son. So these are very close people.

AMY GOODMAN: And Kavanaugh was recommended to be Anthony’s clerk, which he was, by Judge Kozinski.

RYAN GRIM: Yes. And then Kennedy recommended to Trump that Kavanaugh be his replacement. Without Kozinski, you don’t have Kavanaugh. He has distanced himself in testimony and in public statements from Kozinski’s behavior. Interestingly, Mazie Hirono followed up to him in written questions —

AMY GOODMAN: The senator from Hawaii.

RYAN GRIM: Senator Mazie Hirono said, “Please search your email and check to see if you got any sexually inappropriate emails from Kozinski, because to know him for 20 years like this and to not have, is very strange.” Instead of the wall of denial that he gave in his testimony, his reply to that was “I do not remember receiving any sexually inappropriate emails.” And that’s the end of his written reply.

And so now, according to Sanai, there are employers who would say, “That’s nonsense. I know firsthand that Kavanaugh was a witness to…” — not that Kavanaugh approved of the behavior, but that he is lying about this. And his credibility is now central to the accusation of the attempted rape.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I want to get back to the claims of Dr. Blasey Ford in terms of there was supposedly another person in the room when Kavanaugh allegedly sexually assaulted Professor Blasey Ford, a guy by the name of Mark Judge. Could you talk about Mark Judge, who he is?

RYAN GRIM: Yeah. He’s a known quantity in Washington. When he was brought out as the character witness for Judge Kavanaugh, that should have been setting off alarm bells for everyone. It is like bringing out the worst guy in your crew as the one that you send to The New York Times to vouch for your character. If Mark judge is the best you can do, that is deeply alarming.

People can just Google Mark Judge and find some of his past writings, stuff that is racist, that’s misogynist. He has said, “It’s nice that feminists say yes means yes and no means no, but there’s a middle ground.” Like he has written these words in print. Not in Facebook posts, not in tweets, but like in published articles.

So if this is the person who was brought out to deny that he would ever do such a thing — and then it was not surprising to find out that he was the accomplice named by Dr. Blasey Ford as physically, literally, in the room. And now Kavanaugh is saying that he wasn’t at this party, which is an odd denial because she has not specified what the date was or what the address was, so that also raises red flags. How do you deny being at a party that hasn’t been specified which party it was?

AMY GOODMAN: So what happens on Monday? Yesterday we had an extended discussion about this on Democracy Now!, but it brings us back, of course, to Anita Hill.

RYAN GRIM: Right. And so now, as Susan Collins said in the sound you played earlier, the question moves from, “Is this behavior disqualifying?” Because there are a number of Republicans who are coming out and saying, “Boys will be boys. We should forgive behavior like this by a 17-year-old.” What Collins has done is move it to, “Is he being truthful about whether or not he did it?” So a lot of it will come down, unfortunately, to how credible the witness appears. And from everything I’ve been able to gather about her, she is an extremely formidable woman. She has passed a lie detector test. She has therapist notes from six years ago. She has other friends that she has confided in. She also is somebody who just exudes credibility. Meanwhile, Kavanaugh has demonstrably perjured himself in front of the committee already about whether or not he had exploited stolen documents back in the 2000s.

AMY GOODMAN: Back when he worked for President George W. Bush around the issue of judicial nominations.

RYAN GRIM: Right. He has said that he did not use these stolen documents, and that is a lie. There are emails that prove that he did it. One of the subject lines in one of the emails said like “Here’s spy documents.” He has been caught red-handed lying about that particular issue.

AMY GOODMAN: That goes to the issue of perjury because he was asked about it again.

RYAN GRIM: And he also has said that he knows nothing about Alex Kozinski’s behavior, which other employees will say, “That’s absolutely absurd. This was going on for decades.”

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What about the issue though that — obviously, in the Anita Hill case, she was alleging conduct by Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court nominee, while they were working together. It was harassment, she claimed, by him, on the job. We’re talking here about an incident that happened, as people have said, when one person was 15 and one was 17, if it did happen. What about the differences in terms of the situations involved here?

RYAN GRIM: I think one of the interesting differences — I’d be curious for your take on this too — is that in 1991, the behavior that she was describing — not the specific actions, but the general behavior of men harassing women in the workplace — was almost universal. It was so widespread. And so the “There but for the grace of God go I” attitude of men was much more pronounced and out in the open. Like, they were much less ashamed to say, “Well, maybe we need to change the culture, but the culture today is what it is.”

There are some men who are hinting that same thing about attempted rape, but it is much more difficult to publicly say, “Who amongst us hasn’t tried to rape a woman?” People are making that claim in public, but many fewer, and they’re being called out — and say, “Are you listing to yourself? Do you hear what you’re saying?” So that, I think, is a key difference — that the behavior was criticized but broadly accepted in 1991, what Clarence Thomas was doing, whereas nobody can, with a straight face, say that, “Well, who hasn’t committed a rape here or there as a teenager?”

AMY GOODMAN: And your response to Trump’s response to all of this, saying go ahead with the hearings and the delay.

RYAN GRIM: Right. I think a lot of people are just going to ignore what Trump’s position is on this. Trump stood by Roy Moore through multiple credible allegations of molesting young girls. He stood by Rob Porter even after we published photos of the physical abuse he had committed towards his first wife. He has himself posted of his penchant for sexual assault. So if Mark Judge and Donald Trump are your character witnesses here, you’re in trouble.

AMY GOODMAN: Ryan Grim, we want to thank you for being with us, Washington, DC, bureau chief for The Intercept. We will link to his new piece “Attorney Sent Letter to Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein Claiming Federal Court Employees Willing to Speak About Brett Kavanaugh.” He broke the story that Senator Dianne Feinstein had a secret letter from an anonymous woman who was accusing Brett Kavanaugh of attempted rape when they were both in high school. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

The post Senate Ignored Federal Court Employees Willing to Testify Against Kavanaugh appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Immigrants Seeking Shelter Fear Deportation as FEMA Shifts Funds to ICE

6 hours 42 min ago

While the worst of Hurricane Florence is over, officials say the most dangerous flooding is yet to come for residents of the Carolinas and Virginia, as thousands have been ordered to evacuate their homes and hundreds more have sought rescue from rising floodwaters. But undocumented immigrants have expressed concern they will encounter immigration enforcement if they seek help. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has reallocated nearly $10 million from FEMA’s budget to ICE to pay for detention space and deportations. We speak with Laura Garduño Garcia, a DACA recipient and Greensboro-based organizer with Siembra NC and the American Friends Service Committee; and with Mary Small, policy director for Detention Watch Network.

Please check back later for full transcript.

The post Immigrants Seeking Shelter Fear Deportation as FEMA Shifts Funds to ICE appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Yemen’s Descent Into Hell: A Saudi-American War of Terror

7 hours 9 min ago

It’s the war from hell, one that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, along with seven other Middle Eastern and North African states, have been waging in Yemen since March 2015, with fulsome support from the Pentagon and American weapons galore. It has produced dead children in the dozens, a never-ending air campaign that pays scant heed to civilians, famine, cholera, you name it. No wonder it’s facing mounting criticism in Congress and from human rights groups. Still, ever since President Donald Trump (like Barack Obama before him) embraced the Saudi-led coalition as this country’s righteous knight errant in the Middle East, the fight against impoverished Yemen’s Houthi rebels — who have, in turn, been typecast as Iran’s cats-paw — has only grown fiercer. Meanwhile, the al-Qaeda affiliate there continues to expand.

For years now, a relentless Saudi air campaign (quite literally fueled by the US military) has hit endless civilian targets, using American smart bombs and missiles, without a peep of protest or complaint from Washington. Only a highly publicized, completely over-the-top slaughter recently forced the Pentagon to finally do a little mild finger wagging. On August 7th, an airstrike hit a school bus — with a laser-guided bomb made by Lockheed Martin — in northern Yemen, killing 51 people, 40 of them schoolchildren. Seventy-nine others were wounded, including 56 children. Soon after, a UN Security Council-appointed group of experts issued a report detailing numerous other egregious attacks on Yemeni civilians, including people attending weddings and funerals. Perhaps the worst among them killed 137 people and wounded 695 others at a funeral in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, this April.

The attack on those schoolchildren and the UN report amplified a growing global outcry against the carnage in Yemen. In response, on August 28th, Secretary of Defense James Mattis let it be known that the Trump administration’s support for the Persian Gulf potentates’ military campaign should not be considered unreserved, that the Saudis and their allies must do “everything humanly possible to avoid any innocent loss of life.” Considering that they haven’t come close to meeting such a standard since the war started nearly five years ago and that the Trump administration clearly has no intention of reducing its support for the Saudis or their war, Mattis’s new yardstick amounted to a cruel joke — at the expense of Yemeni civilians.

The Statistics of Suffering

Some appalling numbers document the anguish Yemenis have endured. Saudi and Emirati warplanes officially have killed — and it’s considered a conservative estimate — 6,475 civilians and wounded more than 10,000 others since 2015. Targets struck have included farms, homes, marketplaces, hospitals, schools, and mosques, as well as ancient historic sites in Sana’a. And such incidents haven’t been one-off attacks. They have happened repeatedly.

By April 2018, the Saudi-led coalition had conducted 17,243 airstrikes across Yemen, hitting 386 farms, 212 schools, 183 markets, and 44 mosques. Such statistics make laughable the repeated claims of the Saudis and their allies that such “incidents” should be chalked up to understandable errors and that they take every reasonable precaution to protect innocents. Statistics compiled by the independent Yemen Data Project make it clear that the Gulf monarchs don’t lie awake at night lamenting the deaths of Yemeni civilians.

Saudi Arabia and its partners have accused the Houthis, the rebels with whom they have been in such a deadly struggle, of also attacking Yemeni civilians, a charge Human Rights Watch has validated. Yet such a they-do-it-too defense hardly excuses the relentless bombing of non-military sites by a coalition that has overwhelming superiority in firepower. Houthi crimes pale by comparison.

And when it comes to the destruction of civilian lives and livelihoods, believe it or not, that may be the least of it. Take the naval blockade of the country by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that cut the number of ships docking in the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeida from 129 between January and August 2014 to 21 in the same months of 2017. The result: far less food and medicine entered the country, creating a disaster for Yemenis.

That country, the Arab world’s poorest, has long relied on imports for a staggering 85% of its food, fuel, and medicine, so when prices soared, famine spread, while hunger and malnutrition skyrocketed. Nearly 18 million Yemenis now rely on emergency food aid to survive: that’s an unbelievable 80% of the population. According to the World Bank, “8.4 million more are on the brink of famine.” In December 2017, following a barrage of bad publicity, the Saudi-Emirati blockade was eased marginally, but it had already set in motion a spiral of death.

The blockade also contributed to a cholera epidemic, which the shortage of medicines only exacerbated. According to a World Health Organization report,between April 2017 and July 2018, there were more than 1.1 million cholera cases there. At least 2,310 people died from the disease, most of them children. It is believed to be the worst cholera outbreak since statistics began to be compiled in 1949. At 800,000 cases between 2010 and 2017, Haiti held the previous record, one that the Yemenis surpassed within half a year of the first cases appearing. The prime contributors to the epidemic: drinking water contaminated by rotting garbage (uncollected because of the war), devastated sewage systems, and water filtration plants that stopped running due to lack of fuel — all the result of the horrendous bombing campaign.

Wartime economic blockades starve and sicken civilians and soldiers alike and so amount to a war crime. The Saudi-Emirati claim that the blockade’s sole purpose is to stanch the flow of Iranian arms to the Houthis is nonsense, nor can it be considered a legitimate act of self-defense, even though it was instituted after the Houthis fired ballistic missiles at the airport in the Saudi capital and the residence of that country’s monarch. (Both were shot down by Saudi air defenses and were clear responses to coalition airstrikes on Houthi-held territory that killed 136 civilians.) By the standards of international humanitarian law or simply common sense, choking off Yemen’s imports was a disproportionate response, and clairvoyance wasn’t required to foresee the calamitous consequences to follow.

True to form, President Trump’s UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, echoed Saudi charges that the Houthi missiles were Iranian-supplied Qiam-1s and condemned that country’s interference in Yemen. Given the scale of destruction by a foreign coalition using armaments and technical assistance provided by the United States (and Britain), her comments, in less grim circumstances, would have been laughable.

Those American-supplied weapons have included cluster munitions, which pose a particular hazard to civilians because, when dropped from a plane, their devastating bomblets often disperse over enormous areas. (Such bombs are banned under a 2008 treaty signed by 120 countries that neither Riyadh nor Washington has joined.) In May 2016, the Obama White House confirmed that it had stopped sending such weapons to Saudi Arabia, which then continued to use Brazilian-made variants. However, other American arms have continued to flow to Saudi Arabia, while its warplanes rely on US Air Force tankers for mid-air refueling (88 million pounds of fuel as of this January according to a Central Command spokeswoman), while the Saudi military has received regular intelligence information and targeting advice from the Pentagon since the war began. And with the advent of Donald Trump, such military involvement has only deepened: US Special Operations forces are now on the Saudi-Yemen border, helping to find and attack Houthi redoubts.

In June 2018, ignoring US opposition, the Saudi coalition heightened the risk to Yemeni civilians yet more by launching an offensive (“Golden Victory”) to capture the port of Hodeida. (So much for the Pentagon’s standard claim that supporting the war gives the US influence over how it is waged and so limits civilian casualties.) Saudi and Emirati airpower and warships supported Emirati and Sudanese troops on the ground joined by allied Yemeni militias. The advance, however, quickly stalled in the face of Houthi resistance, though only after at least 50,000 families had fled Hodeida and basic services for the remaining 350,000 were disrupted, creating fears of a new outbreak of cholera.

The Roots of War

Yemen’s progression to its present state of perdition began as the Arab Spring’s gales swept through the Middle East in 2011, uprooting or shaking regimes from Tunisia to Syria. Street demonstrations grew against Yemen’s strongman, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and only gathered strength as he attempted to quell them. In response, he allied ever more strongly with Saudi Arabia and the United States, alienating the Houthis, whose main bastion, the governate of Saada, abuts the Saudi border. Adherents of Zaydi Islam, the Houthis played a pivotal role in creating a political movement, Ansar Allah, in 1992 to assert the interests of their community against the country’s Sunni majority. In an effort to undercut them, the Saudis have long promoted radical Sunni religious leaders in Yemen’s north, while intermittently raiding Houthi territories.

As a Houthi rebellion began, Saleh tried to make himself an even more indispensable ally of Washington in its post-9/11 anti-terrorist campaigns, notably against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a growing local franchise of al-Qaeda. For good measure, he joined the Saudis in painting the Houthis little more than tools of an Iran that Washington and Riyadh both loathed. When those powers nonetheless came to see the Yemeni autocrat as a political liability, they helped oust him and transfer power to his deputy, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Such moves failed to calm the waters, as the country started to disintegrate and Saudi-US efforts to consolidate the transition from Saleh to Hadi unraveled.

Meanwhile, regular American drone strikes against AQAP angered many Yemenis. In their eyes, not only did the attacks violate Yemen’s sovereignty, they intermittently killed civilians. Hadi’s praise for the drone campaign only discredited him further. AQAP’s power continued to grow, resentment in southern Yemen rose, and criminal gangs and warlords began to operate with impunity in its cities, highlighting the Hadi government’s ineffectuality. Neoliberal economic reforms only further enriched a clutch of families that had long controlled much of Yemen’s wealth, while the economic plight of most Yemenis worsened radically. The unemployment rate was nearly 14% in 2017 (and exceeded 25% for young people), while the poverty rate rose precipitously, as did inflation.

It was a formula for disaster and when Hadi proposed a plan to create a federal system for Yemen, the Houthis were infuriated. New boundaries would, among other things, have cut their homeland off from the Red Sea coast. So they gave up on his government and girded for battle. Soon, their forces were advancing southward. In September 2014, they captured the capital, Sana’a, and proclaimed a new national government. The following March, they occupied Aden in southern Yemen and Hadi, whose government had moved there, promptly fled across the border to Riyadh. The first Saudi airstrikes against Sana’a were launched in March 2015 and Yemen’s descent to hell began.

The American Role

The commonplace rendition of the war in Yemen pits a US-backed Saudi coalition against the Houthis, cast as agents of Iran and evidence of its increasing influence in the Middle East. Combatting terrorism and countering Iran became the basis for Washington’s support of the Saudi-led war. Predictably, as this cartoonish portrayal of a complicated civil war gained ground in the mainstream American media and among Beltway pundits (as well, of course, as in the Pentagon and White House), inconvenient facts were shunted aside.

Still, all these years and all those dead later, it’s worth considering some of those facts. There are, for instance, significant differences between the Houthis’ Zaydi variant of Shia Islam and the Twelver Shiism dominant in Iran — and some similarities between Zaydis and Sunnis — which makes the ubiquitous claims about a Iran-Houthi faith-based pact shaky. Moreover, Iran did not jump into the fray during the violent 2004-2010 clashes between Saleh and the Houthis and did not have longstanding ties to them either. In addition, contrary to the prevailing view in Washington, Iran is unlikely to be their main source of weaponry and support. Sheer distance and the Saudi coalition’s naval blockade have made it next to impossible for Iran to supply arms to the Houthis in the volume alleged. Besides, having pillaged various military bases during their march toward Aden, the Houthis do not lack for weaponry. Iran’s influence in Yemen has undoubtedly increased since 2015, but reducing the intricacies of that country’s internal crisis to Iranian meddling and a Tehran-led Shiite bloc expanding from Syria to the Arabian Peninsula amounts to, at best, a massive oversimplification.

The obsession of Trump and his key advisers with Iran (a remarkable number of them are Iranophobes) and The Donald’s obsession with plugging American arms makers and hawking their wares helps explain their embrace of the House of Saud and continuing support for its never-ending assault on Yemen. (Jared Kushner’s bromance with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman undoubtedly played a part as well.) None of that, however, explains the full-scale American backing for the Saudi-led intervention there in the Obama years. Even as his administration denounced Bashar al-Assad’s slaughter of Syrian civilians, his officials seemed unmoved by the suffering war was inflicting on Yemenis. In fact, the Obama administration offered $115 billion worth of weaponry to Riyadh, including a $1.15 billion package finalized in August 2016, when the scale of Yemen’s catastrophe was already all too obvious.

In recent years, opposition to the war in Congress has been on the rise, with Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Ro Khanna playing prominent roles in mobilizing it. But such congressional critics had no effect on Obama’s war policy and are unlikely to sway Trump’s. They face formidable barriers. The mainstream narrative on the war remains powerful, while the Gulf monarchies continue to buy vast quantities of American weaponry. And don’t forget the impressive, money-is-no-object Saudi-Emirati lobbying operation in Washington.

That, then, is the context for the Pentagon’s gentle warning about the limits of US support for the bombing campaign in Yemen and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s subsequent certification, as required by Congress, that the Saudis and Emiratis were taking perfectly credible action to lower civilian casualties — without which the US military could not continue refueling their planes. (Mattis “endorsed and fully supported” Pompeo’s statement.) As the fifth anniversary of this appalling war approaches, American-made arms and logistical aid remain essential to it. Consider President Trump’s much-ballyhooed arms sales to the Saudis, even if they don’t total $100 billion (as he claimed): Why then would the Saudi and Emirati monarchs worry that the White House might actually do something like cutting off those lucrative sales or terminating the back-end support for their bombing campaign?

One thing is obvious: US policy in Yemen won’t achieve its declared goals of defeating terrorism and rolling back Iran. After all, its drone strikes began there in 2002 under George W. Bush. Under Obama, as in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, drones became Washington’s anti-terrorist weapon of choice. There were 154 drone strikes in Yemen during the Obama years according to the most reliable high-end estimates, and civilian casualties ranged between 83 and 101. Under Trump they soared quickly, from 21 in 2016 to 131 in 2017.

The reliance on drone attacks has bolstered al-Qaeda’s narrative that the American war on terror amounts to a war on Muslims, whose lives are deemed expendable. And so many years later, in the chaos of Yemen, the group’s power and reach is only growing. The US-backed, Saudi-led intervention is also likely to prove not just self-defeating but self-prophetic. It seems to be cementing an alliance between Iran and the Houthis who, though they have been pushed out of Aden, still control a big chunk of Yemen. Meanwhile, in a move that could make the war even deadlier, the Emiratis appear to be striking out on their own, supporting secession in southern Yemen. There’s not much to show on the anti-terrorism front either. Indeed, the Saudi coalition’s airstrikes and US drone attacks may be moving Yemenis, enraged by the destruction of their homes and livelihoods and the deaths of loved ones, toward AQAP. In short, a war on terror has turned into a war of and for terror.

In Yemen, the United States backs a grim military intervention for which — unless you are a weapons company — it is hard to find any justification, practical or moral. Unfortunately, it is even harder to imagine President Trump or the Pentagon reaching such a conclusion and changing course.

The post Yemen’s Descent Into Hell: A Saudi-American War of Terror appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

An International Court Is Investigating Mass Expulsion of Indigenous Islanders

7 hours 11 min ago

Can you imagine being forced out of your home, your land, shipped to an unknown territory with no job and none of your belongings except the clothes on your back?

That is the story of the Chagossian people. They are the little-known victims of two colonial powers, the UK and the United States, whose governments manipulated diplomatic rules and colluded to remove the Chagossians from their Indian Ocean homeland to create a major US military base on the island of Diego Garcia. The two governments have gotten away with this injustice for the past 50 years despite the Chagossians’ valiant efforts to return home.

For the first time, this month, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is examining the deportation of the Chagossians and Britain’s 1965 decision to separate the people’s Chagos Archipelago from colonial Mauritius in preparation for the expulsion. The case could have significant implications for the US military, for Mauritius, which is challenging UK sovereignty over the British Empire’s last-created colony, as well as for this long-ignored group of refugees.

The Chagossians and their African and Indian ancestors had lived on the beautiful tropical islands of the Chagos Archipelago since the late 18th century. They lived there until the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the US and UK governments uprooted them from their homes and separated them from almost all their possessions and their livelihoods. The governments removed the Chagossians to build what has become a major US military base, which has played key roles in the 1991 and 2003 US-led Gulf Wars in Iraq and the US war in Afghanistan.

The case before the ICJ in The Hague has been brought by the former UK colony of Mauritius, which is challenging Britain’s decision in 1965 to separate the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius as Mauritius was gaining its independence. In June 2017, the UN General Assembly ruled overwhelmingly — despite UK and US opposition — to send the case to the International Court.

Few people in the United States or elsewhere know the story. Upon learning about the Chagossians, many reply: How is that possible? I can’t believe I haven’t heard about them.

Once we learned what the Chagossians and their supporters do every day to claim their right to return home, we began to wonder why media outlets aren’t speaking about this human rights violation more frequently.

In order to understand the hushed nature of the story, it’s important to look back on how the two governments agreed on the construction of the US military base on Diego Garcia.

In 1965, the UK used its colonial power over Mauritius to “exclude” the Chagos Archipelago from the Mauritian territory — disregarding UN conventions. This allowed the British government to keep control over the archipelago. In turn, US officials conspired with their British counterparts to remove approximately 1,500 Chagossians. In a 1971 memo, US Navy Admiral Elmo Zumwalt gave the definitive order that would condemn Chagossians to exile: “Absolutely must go.”

The price tag of this secret negotiation cost the US government $14 million to relocate the Chagossians to Mauritius and the Seychelles. The two governments withheld the Chagossians’ expulsion from Congress, Parliament, the UN, and the media.

This pattern of keeping the truth about the Chagossian exile in the dark continues today. If the media remains silent, they become accomplices to the crimes these two world powers are committing against the Chagossians.

Let us not overlook our society’s tendency to forget in the face of tragedy. The Chagos Archipelago sits some hundred miles away from the UK and some thousand miles away from the US, which makes it easy to remove any element of humanity from the exile. This insensitive perspective allows the British bureaucracy to treat them as a minor hindrance and for the US to avoid their responsibility in this crime.

Consider, as well, that the Chagossians have decided to play within the judicial realm of the two governments. But when the rules are dictated by those in power, the outcome is already set. By staying quiet, the media has played into this game of the powerful, a game that dehumanizes those involved. After all, shouldn’t the media be a tool to uncover the injustice and tip the balance in favor of the marginalized?

After 50 years of protests, strikes, and legal battles, some Chagossians have only received: negligible and inadequate compensation, short trips to restore the cemetery where their loved ones rest, and repeated dismissals in court proceedings.

In the US, few people know about this crime that their government has been perpetrating for 50 years because the Chagossian struggle has received little media coverage: a feature in 60 Minutes (2003), an article in The Washington Post (2007), a story on NPR (2015), and a handful of op-eds. Are there too few Chagossians for their exile to be considered a tragedy? Is their homeland too far away from the US that they do not deserve massive outrage? Are the colonialist voices more important than the colonized?

It is time for us to think about what is newsworthy in this country. While major media outlets in the US are covering the government’s role in other international affairs, they are ignoring the fact that for the last 50 years the US and the UK governments have been the perpetrators of an ongoing human rights violation.

With the case before the International Court of Justice, an opportunity arises for the Chagossians to get justice and for the world to know about the crimes committed against them. A victory for Mauritius would demonstrate the illegitimate nature of UK’s sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago and would offer further proof of the unlawful deal between the British and US governments.

Although the Court’s opinion is non-binding, it is an opportunity for the international community and all of us to show our solidarity with the thousands of displaced Chagossians and take a stand against continuing human rights violations sponsored by modern colonialist practices. Chagossians demand the right to return home. Being silent is not an option in the face of this injustice.

The post An International Court Is Investigating Mass Expulsion of Indigenous Islanders appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

In Affront to Those Fleeing US-Backed Wars, Trump Slams Door on Refugees

7 hours 14 min ago

Launching yet another bigotry-driven attack on those fleeing wars and humanitarian crises in which the US is playing an active and deadly role, the Trump administration announced late Monday that it is reducing America’s refugee admission limit for 2019 to a record-low 30,000.

Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International, called it an “appalling” announcement.

“At a time when the world is facing the largest displacement crisis in recorded history, it is unconscionable that the Trump administration would further dismantle the US Refugee Admissions Program by setting a cap of 30,000 refugee admissions for fiscal year 2019 — the lowest resettlement cap in the program’s history,” Win Without War director Stephen Miles said in a statement slamming the White House’s decision.

“What’s more,” Miles continued, “the US has a direct moral responsibility to open its doors, not slam them shut, given that our own nation is an active combatant in many of the very conflicts and humanitarian crises driving the global refugee crisis.”

We are experiencing the largest displacement crisis in recorded history with over 68 million displaced persons and 25 million refugees globally. Today the Trump administration lowered the US refugee cap to 30,000 people per year. Shameful. #RefugeesWelcome

— Win Without War (@WinWithoutWar) September 18, 2018

Unveiled by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday, the new “cap” of 30,000 refugees is 15,000 lower than the 2018 mark, making the new policy a major victory for top White House adviser and virulent racist Stephen Miller.

According to the New York Times, Miller joined forces with President Donald Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly to push for an even lower cap of 25,000 refugees, and Pompeo ultimately accepted Miller’s xenophobic push for a “deep cut.”

“This is the lowest goal in the history of the program, and compounded by this administration’s history of creating road block after road block for refugees to arrive, this must be perceived as an all-out attack against our country’s ability to resettle refugees both now and in the future,” Ryan Mace, grassroots advocacy and refugee specialist at Amnesty International USA, said in a statement.

“Today’s announcement demonstrates another undeniable political attack against people who have been forced to flee their homes,” Mace concluded. “There is absolutely no excuse for not accepting more refugees in the coming year.”

30,000 refugees. For a population of 320,000,000. Pathetic and shameful.

— Christian Christensen (@ChrChristensen) September 17, 2018

While the administration’s official cap represents the highest number of refugees the White House is willing to provide a safe haven from violence and persecution, it is far from a requirement.

Thanks in large part to its inhumanely restrictive border and asylum policies, the Trump administration admitted just 20,918 refugees in 2018, less than half of the White House’s 45,000-person cap.

But as the Trump administration has drastically restricted the number of refugees from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, Vox’s Dara Lind noted on Monday that the White House has not significantly curtailed European refugee admissions.

“While refugee arrivals from other parts of the world are down as much as 90 percent from Obama-era levels, resettlements from Europe — specifically, the former Soviet Union — have taken only a modest hit,” Lind observes, citing new government data. “In the rest of the world, the Trump administration isn’t going to come anywhere close to the ‘ceilings’ it set for the fiscal year ending September 30.”

“The Trump administration already accepted a historically low amount of refugees,” noted Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) on Monday in response to Pompeo’s announcement. “These new restrictions are outrageous. I came here at age 16 as an immigrant and today I am a congresswoman. Who could these refugees fleeing violence be if we gave them the chance?”

The post In Affront to Those Fleeing US-Backed Wars, Trump Slams Door on Refugees appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Group Behind Kavanaugh Confirmation Has Spent Years Reshaping Judicial Benches

8 hours 6 min ago

Who is behind the battle to quickly fill Justice Kennedy’s vacant seat on the Supreme Court? It is well reported that the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) has been the principal spender supporting Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination, shelling out nearly $3.1 million, triple the next biggest spender, according to Brennan Center data.

But what may be less known is that JCN is well-versed in these sorts of campaigns. For a dozen years, JCN has used multi-million-dollar infusions from shadowy donors to support putting conservative judges on state, local, and federal benches — and to prevent others from reaching the bench. And JCN has been remarkably successful at helping to tilt the judiciary to the right.

Established in 2004 as the Judicial Confirmation Network to promote President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees, JCN is a 501(c)(4) “social welfare organization,” which says its mission is “strengthening liberty and justice in America.” In pursuit of that anodyne goal, JCN reportedly spent a staggering $7 million to block the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland and $10 million to back the nomination of Neil Gorsuch. More recently, JCN has run ads reportedly worth over $800,000, pressuring senators to confirm Trump’s federal judicial nominees for lower courts.

JCN’s Campaign to Remake State Courts

Since at least 2012, JCN has also funneled money into state supreme court races, spending millions directly and indirectly to ensure their preferred candidates reach the bench.

For example, in 2012, the 4-3 conservative majority of the Michigan Supreme Court was at stake. JCN spent between $600,000 and $1 million on an ad alleging that law professor Bridget McCormack “volunteered to free a terrorist,” to which the New York Times responded: “She didn’t.”

In 2013-14, JCN funded organizations that spent on state supreme court races in Wisconsin and Tennessee. The bulk of the money — $500,000 — went to the Wisconsin Club for Growth, which spent extensively to support conservative Justice Patience Roggensack’s successful reelection campaign.

In 2015-16, JCN upped the ante, raising and spending more money. They funneled nearly $2 million to conservative groups involved in state supreme court elections in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. JCN also spent nearly $600,000 on its own ads to successfully block Arkansas Justice Courtney Goodson’s bid for Chief Justice.

This year, Justice Goodson is up for reelection — and JCN is back at it. They’ve already spent nearly $1 million in connection with the race, including on ads accusing Goodson of ethical violations, which an independent group of retired Arkansas judges determined to be “false and misleading.” JCN even launched a website to promote their allegations: When Goodson sued to block TV stations from running the ads, one court issued a preliminary injunction, temporarily blocking JCN ads in some parts of the state. That case is on appeal at the Arkansas Court of Appeals.

Following the Money

Because of lax disclosure laws, JCN, like other “social welfare organizations,” is generally not required to disclose its donors. What is known about JCN’s funding comes from publicly available tax filings and tends to generate more questions than answers.

JCN’s recent funding, for instance, can be traced only as far as a single opaque donor. In 2016, JCN’s primary financier was the Wellspring Committee, a conservative nonprofit that donated $23 million to JCN. Of Wellspring’s $32 million in receipts that year, $28.5 million came from a single, anonymous donor. Wellspring also funds the conservative law group the Federalist Society, whose executive vice president, Leonard Leo (currently on leave), has advised the Trump administration on judicial nominations.

At Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) tried to connect the dots. “I’d be prepared to make a very substantial bet that there’s enormous overlap between the funders of the Judicial Crisis Network campaign for your confirmation and the Federalist Society donor group,” he said. Absent desperately needed transparency, Whitehouse’s guess is as good as anyone’s.

What Do JCN’s Donors Want?

While it may seem obvious how a seat on the US Supreme Court could attract millions of dollars in spending, why would JCN spend $1 million to oppose a single Arkansas Supreme Court justice or to prevent a Michigan law professor from reaching the bench? Perhaps some corporate interests in Arkansas are frustrated by Goodson’s ruling in a tort reform case that JCN’s counsel criticized two years ago, or maybe someone in Michigan or Arkansas didn’t want McCormack or Goodson to hear their pending cases. JCN’s critics say the organization has engaged in such manipulation before, such as pouring $1 million into a 2012 local race to unseat a Michigan County Circuit Court judge — which one analysis argued was likely done at the behest of one corporate donor who had received an unfavorable ruling from the incumbent judge. But since JCN refuses to disclose its donors, the public can only speculate.

What is clear is that JCN’s spending poses serious threats to the integrity and independence of judicial decision-making. Even if a judge is unaware of the sources of JCN’s funding, might a judge’s decision in a particular case be influenced by fear of becoming a JCN target? And JCN’s secret spending obscures potential conflicts of interests from judges themselves and makes it impossible for litigants to know when to ask judges to recuse themselves from a case involving a major campaign supporter or opponent.

JCN itself also winds up in federal court on occasion. If JCN appeared before the Supreme Court, would Justice Gorsuch or a future Justice Kavanaugh recuse themselves from a matter involving an organization that spent millions of dollars in support of their nominations?

JCN’s success reshaping the nation’s courts raises many questions, but don’t expect the group to reveal any answers.

The post Group Behind Kavanaugh Confirmation Has Spent Years Reshaping Judicial Benches appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Nothing Will End if the US Continues to Support Saudi Arabia

8 hours 11 min ago
Janine Jackson interviewed Shireen Al-Adeimi on Yemen reporting for the September 7, 2018, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

Janine Jackson: It is disheartening that with tens of thousands of people killed, millions in need of assistance, at least a million affected by the largest cholera outbreak in history, and no clear end in sight to the violence behind it all, that the Washington Post would feel a need to run a piece headed “Five Reasons the Crisis in Yemen Matters.”

Coverage is better than silence, of course, but as the war on Yemen is in its third year now, one would hope that US media would be in the business of regularly illustrating why the crisis matters, and specifically why it should matter to people in the US, whose government continues to play an active, central role in the war.

That angle has not been corporate media’s approach, more typically represented by this Reuters piece that describes the peace talks set to begin as we record this show, September 6, as

aimed at getting the Saudi-backed government and the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement to work toward halting the fighting, removing foreign forces and establishing a unity government.

US citizens are poorly served by reporting that consigns our government’s role in conflict to the background, and Yemenis, certainly, even more so.

We’re joined now by Shireen Al-Adeimi. She’s been working to bring attention to the crisis in Yemen. She’s an assistant professor of education at Michigan State University. She joins us now by phone from East Lansing. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Shireen Al-Adeimi.

Shireen Al-Adeimi: Thanks for having me.

We spoke with you last December, and the tolls of death, of displacement, of illness have only gotten worse since then. But today, we hear maybe some conversations will be had in Geneva. In terms of bringing the war on and in Yemen to an end, what would you say has changed since we spoke last winter? I want to say I see more opposition, more acknowledgement of the US responsibility, but maybe I’m just thinking wishfully.

No, I think there’s definitely been more awareness, first and foremost, which has prompted, in return, more opposition to the US’s role specifically. I was surprised that I was turning on the channels and watched full coverage of the bus bombing on CNN, and that is not something that has been happening before, in any kind of consistency. And when we have had information about the war in Yemen, we have not really heard about the US’s role in the conflict, which of course is what’s keeping this conflict alive.

So I think there’s been some changes there, but unfortunately it took such a drastic turn for the worst. It took the murder of 44 schoolchildren on a school bus, coming back from a field trip, and they were bombed by the Saudi-led coalition using American weapons, and it took for that event to finally bring some kind of attention in the media, and some kind of scrutiny about the US role, but, you know, at least here we are.

Yes, CounterSpin had reported that MSNBC,which is sometimes looked to as the “resistance media,” had gone basically a year with silence on Yemen. But then there was a very affecting piece by Chris Hayes, after that school bus attack, that did point to the role of the US, in terms of saying, “Viewers who are watching this and are upset: There is something you can do, because it is our government that is playing such a key role in supporting the Saudi coalition there.” So not just the coverage, but the acknowledgment that there’s something for US citizens to do here.

Exactly, and Chris Hayes had me on his podcast, where wetalked for an hour about the roots of the conflict, and specifically the US’s role, so I think, again, this is encouraging, that they’re not just talking about the conflict now as some far-away thing that’s happening, without our support or consent. We’re speaking about it as we should, which is this is a US-backed, Saudi-led conflict.

Particularly in the wake of that August 9 attack, we did hear language about protecting civilians, but talk is cheap, notoriously. You and Sarah Lazare reported for In These Times on actual moves by Donald Trump, that show the real priority that he places on civilian lives. It kind of went under most media’s radar. Can you tell us about that?

Right. So Congress passed a Defense bill for 2019, the NDAA, and there were some senators and Congresspeople who had worked together to try to introduce some provisions into this Defense bill to ensure that US dollars are not spent toward refueling the Saudi-led coalition’s jets, because this is one of the main functions of the US in Yemen, trying to refuel Saudi air jets. I think the provisions were a good start. They were weak to begin with, because they included some loopholes; they mentioned that the secretary of State could just issue a waiver, and they said that mid-air refueling can continue to occur if the Saudis and Emirates are showing that they are trying to protect civilian life; this is very vague terminology, of course. The Saudis have just repeatedly said yeah, yeah, yeah, we’re not targeting civilians, and that’s been enough.

Nonetheless, there were some provisions that were there, and in his signing statement, Trump essentially said that these infringe on his rights as president, and he would just ignore them. So what is the point, then, of including something like this, if the president could just go on and say, “Well, I’ll do what I want. I can just ignore whatever provisions are there.”

Spain, I just heard, cancelled delivery of 400 bombs that Saudi Arabia had bought, and they’re giving their money back. It seems as though this kind of, oh, our hands are tied, all we can do is sort of vaguely wave at the idea of civilian casualties… There are concrete things that the US could be doing here, if the goal were to stop the violence.

One of the things that Congress has attempted twice, once in the House and once in the Senate, was introducing the War Powers Resolution, which basically is a bill which says, “Let’s vote on the US’s presence in Yemen,” and it would be binding if Congress voted for the US to stop supporting Saudi Arabia; it would be a binding bill. The one time it was introduced in the Senate, by Senator Sanders, they didn’t end up voting on the bill itself; they voted to table it. I think it was pretty close; 44 senators voted not to table it, but still. And when it was introduced in the House last year, it was stripped of its privileged status, which meant that it couldn’t even go to a vote. There wasn’t going to be a debate on it.

But actually, right this morning, about an hour ago, members of Congress, led by Adam Smith, have announced that they’re working toward another War Powers Resolution in September, and that they are trying to, again, get the US to end its support of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, acknowledging that there are all these civilian deaths, and that we are facilitating this war.

I think I’d just like to include again a message of empowerment, that this bill is being worked on now, to have people call their representatives in Congress, and urge them to support the bill.

What thoughts do you have about the potential for the peace talks that are meant to be starting today in Geneva?

It sounds like the Houthis have not arrived yet. I read something about them not being able to secure safe return by the UN, and other things that they had said they wanted that have not been met yet. So right now, you have the Saudi-led coalition’s representative, AKA the Yemeni government, in Geneva, waiting to have these talks.

I think if the Houthis make it there, I’m hopeful that this would lead to some kind of resolution, but like you said, there’s been so much misinformation about this war, and I think it’s intentional. There’s this “Iran-allied” vocabulary that’s just now fact. It’s difficult to tell people, well, Iran is not involved in this conflict, because they’ve just taking it as fact. So we’ll see what happens, we’ll see if people are actually serious about ending this war. Of course, nothing will end if the US continues to support the Saudi Arabians, and if Saudi Arabia continues its attack on what is a sovereign country and should be respected.

Being portrayed in the media as a “humanitarian disaster,” I think can spur some people to think, “Oh, what we need to do is get in there, is intervene.” And I know I asked you this back in December; I just would like to underscore it; Yemenis aren’t saying, “Please intervene. Please come save us.” That’s not the message out of Yemen.

It’s the complete opposite. It’s that we’ve only gotten to this point because of foreign intervention. This was a civil war back in 2015; it would have started as a civil war, ended as a civil war. Yemen has seen many civil wars, and we’ve gone through it, and we’ve continued to rebuild after that, and it’s never gotten to these levels of humanitarian crises. We’re talking about the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. If it remained in Yemen as a civil war, the ports wouldn’t have been blockaded. People wouldn’t be starving. Every ten minutes, a child diesin Yemen from starvation and disease. And so we’ve only gotten to this point because of foreign intervention. So I believe, and many Yemenis who are still fighting and resisting and waiting for all of this to be over in Yemen believe that, let Yemenis solve their own problems, and we’re not asking for any saviors. We’re asking for people to stop intervening in Yemen.

We’ve been speaking with Shireen Al-Adeimi, assistant professor of education at Michigan State University. Thank you so much, Shireen Al-Adeimi, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

The post Nothing Will End if the US Continues to Support Saudi Arabia appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Kavanaugh’s Oath

8 hours 14 min ago

The post Kavanaugh’s Oath appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The National Prisons Strike Is Over. Now Is When Prisoners Are Most in Danger.

8 hours 15 min ago

Over the last few weeks men and women across the United States – and even as far away as Nova Scotia, Canada – have protested to demand humane treatment for the incarcerated.

In 2016, when prisoners engaged in similar hunger strikes, sit-ins, and work stoppages, their actions barely registered with the national media. As someone who regularly writes about the history of prisoner protests and prison conditions today, this lack of interest was striking.

This time around, though, prisoner demands to improve the conditions of confinement have captured the attention of reporters everywhere. Coverage can be found in such major newspapers as The Washington Post and The New York Times. Popular magazines such as GQ and Teen Vogue have also published pieces.

All seem to sense that American prisons may well be descending into crisis, so perhaps it is time to start paying attention.

That our institutions of confinement are in a state of emergency is, in fact, not new. When prisoners tried to tell us this when they erupted in 2016, it was perhaps still possible to imagine that the abuses they suffered might soon be addressed by a seemingly robust bipartisan criminal justice reform effort in Washington, DC.

Today, however, with Donald Trump in the White House and Jeff Sessions heading the Department of Justice, it is much harder to conjure up such optimism. News of seven horrific prisoner deaths at Lee Correctional Facility in South Carolina last April made it quite clear that corrections officials are still failing to ensure prisoner safety and haven’t made the conditions inside their institutions any less brutal. This time, with politicians so noticeably less vocal about this vital issue, prisoners alone are calling the public to action.

That their determination to be heard is finally striking a chord, is good news for our nation.

Our Responsibility

Prisons and detention centers exist and operate in the name of the public good. Americans want to believe these institutions make our society safer by upholding the rule of law.

Yet, as those locked up keep telling us in the most painful and graphic detail, these places are barbaric. They do far more harm to society than good. These are places where men, women and children are placed in solitary confinement for periods considered torture by medical experts.

These are places where human beings are fed too little, are denied access to basic medical care, and are raped, abused and even killed.

These are places where children behind bars are increasingly isolated from their parents, and where parents behind bars find it almost impossible to connect with their kids, thanks to companies who charge usurious rates for calls, and push states to allow only “video visitations.” These myriad abuses take place in taxpayer-funded institutions, and can only happen because the public is utterly shut out.

And so, it is indeed positive that the media is finally shining light on what prisoners need in order to survive their time. They need “immediate improvements to conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women,” and also an end to prison slavery as well as real rehabilitation programs.

Prisoners also want to end to severe racial discrimination evident in our nation’s policing practices, laws and sentencing guidelines. And they are calling for the rescinding of 1996’s Prison Litigation Reform Act, which has made it difficult for prisoners to seek legal help.

But what happens next is also critical.

It is when the headlines fade, and prisons once again slip from the public’s consciousness that prisoners are in the most jeopardy.

Consider the brutal aftermath of the Attica Prison Uprising in 1971, when nearly 1,300 men took over that facility in upstate New York to call the nation’s attention to the inhumane conditions inside. As the state moved in to retake the facility, state troopers shot 128 men and killed 39 –prisoners and hostages alike. Countless other men were then tortured.

Or consider the reprisals experienced by prisoners in facilities such as Michigan’s Kinross prison in 2016.

And, of course, there is what the men in South Carolina’s Lee Correctional are enduring even now as you read these words – lockdowns 24/7 in 6×8 cells, insufficient food, and lack of basic and desperately needed medical care.

The fact is that men and women behind bars are in most in danger in the days, weeks and months after they have dared to protest.

It is the responsibility of anyone who has voted for prison construction in their communities to know what happens in those institutions, particularly since this country has locked up more people in the last 40 years than ever before in its history – more than in any other country. We must pay attention to which companies benefit from such a harsh criminal justice system, and recognize the devastatingly high price that certain communities have paid for that same system to exist. And, because it ensnares so many of our most vulnerable citizens, we must insist that those inside be treated lawfully and humanely.

The post The National Prisons Strike Is Over. Now Is When Prisoners Are Most in Danger. appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Florence: A Preview of Our Climate Future

8 hours 18 min ago

Days after making landfall, Hurricane Florence continues to dump rain across the US eastern seaboard.

Politicians and media have called the amount of rainfall across North Carolina “epic.” That state has borne the brunt of the impacts. When Florence made landfall last Friday, Wilmington, North Carolina, was hit by gusts of 105 miles per hour, the strongest winds the city had felt since 1958.

One mayor described Florence as “twice the size of Hurricane Hugo” which raked the Carolinas back in 1989, while residents described the aftermath of the flooding and destruction as similar to that of a “bomb.” As of Sunday, Swansboro, North Carolina, had already received 33.89 inches of rain, smashing the previous record by nearly one foot.

In North Carolina alone, one million people had to be evacuated, as 19 states sent aid to that state alone, and highly toxic coal ash was washed into a nearby lake from the flooding.

However, as bad as all of this is, we must resist the impulse to see it as a wild aberration. Hurricane Florence is a glimpse of storms to come.

Bigger, Stronger, More Often

A June report by the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) noted that tropical cyclone events around the world will likely increase, along with rainfall rates, as the planet warms further.

The report reminded us of what science had been showing for years: A warmer atmosphere and warmer ocean waters fuel hurricanes, making them larger and stronger and causing them to occur more frequently.

With carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and warming continuing unabated — coupled with multiple climate feedback loops intensifying the warming effect — some scientists are now warning that areas typically impacted by hurricanes might ultimately become uninhabitable.

Cornell University astrobiologist Jack O’Malley-James told Wired Magazine recently, “The negative part is that what we’re doing to the planet is making it less suitable for our own survival. Human civilization has depended upon millennia of fairly stable and predictable climate conditions.”

Given that sea level rise is already on track to displace millions of people living in low-lying coastal areas, and that the number, size and frequency of hurricanes is only going to continue to increase, how much longer will countries continue to invest in the billions of dollars required to rebuild devastated cities in the wake of these storms?

At what point does this rebuilding simply stop? Then, where will all of the victims of these storms go?
These are the questions that reasonable policy-makers should be asking themselves, as we progress further into an era of intensifying weather events.

The post Florence: A Preview of Our Climate Future appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Why Dallas Authorities Are Desperate to Attack Botham Jean’s Character

8 hours 45 min ago

The overt contradictions in Dallas police officer Amber Guyger’s story about how and why she shot Botham Shem Jean, a 26-year-old Black man, in his own apartment September 6 would leave anyone with even a rudimentary set of reasoning skills in doubt.

First, we heard from anonymous police sources that after parking on the wrong floor of her apartment complex and arriving at Jean’s door, mistaking it for her own (despite his bright red floor mat), she entered his apartment easily because the door was unlocked. Later, we heard that, actually, Guyger inserted her electronic key and struggled with the lock, putting down several items she was holding to continue wrestling with it before Jean opened the door himself.

Finally, a version was settled on: Guyger says that Jean’s door was already slightly ajar, so when she inserted the electronic key, it pushed the door open. She alleges that she then entered Jean’s dark apartment and saw his silhouette across the room, thinking she was being burglarized. She drew her gun, gave “verbal commands” that she says Jean “ignored” and shot him twice, once in the torso, according to the Texas Rangers arrest warrant affidavit.

But at least two of Jean’s neighbors at the apartment complex demonstrated and confirmed to The Intercept’s Shaun King that the apartment doors at the complex do not readily hang ajar, but rather, swing shut. Further, even the Dallas Police Department’s (DPD) own search warrant contradicts Guyger’s account. Instead, it accuses Jean of directly confronting Guyger, reporting that a witness heard “an exchange of words, immediately followed by at least two gunshots.” The DPD also has it that Jean was right at the door, rather than across the room.

This set of mind-bogglingly contradictory accounts is one of the reasons that thinking people in Dallas-Fort Worth are fuming in the streets, demanding Guyger be charged with murder and fired from the force. (On September 9, Guyger was arrested on manslaughter charges and was released after a little more than an hour on $300,000 bail.) The DPD’s response to their protests? Balls of pepper spray.

Jean’s family has spoken out about authorities’ highly irregular handling of the case. Jean’s mother, Allison Jean, called on the department to “come clean.” The family has expressed frustration with how officials have juggled the case: handing it from the DPD to the Texas Rangers and most recently, to the Dallas County district attorney’s office — apparently in a trust-building exercise lost on the public.

The family has turned to local attorney S. Lee Merritt, who is now running his own concurrent investigation. He recently told reporters that two witnesses overheard knocking and one witness immediately adjacent to Jean’s apartment heard a woman’s voice saying, “Let me in,” before the shooting. More critically, Merritt told CNN that there had been noise complaints registered at the apartment complex that came from the “immediate downstairs neighbor,” which would have been Guyger’s third-floor apartment, and that there had been a noise complaint “that very day.” The existence of noise complaints may provide an ulterior motive for the shooting.

Attacking Jean’s Character

As this information was punching holes in Guyger’s questionable accounts, the DPD was busy attempting to assassinate Jean’s character to shore her up. Even as Jean was being laid to rest Thursday, Dallas police released a public record showing that, rather than searching the apartment of a supposedly disoriented officer, who, by their own accounts, was behaving nothing short of bizarrely the night of September 6, they instead found 10.4 grams of marijuana on the victim’s kitchen counter. (Police tested Guyger’s blood for drugs and alcohol but have not made the results public.)

“To have my son smeared in such a way,” said Allison Jean Friday, “I think shows that the persons who are really nasty, who are really dirty and are going to cover up for the devil, Amber Guyger.”

Authorities are likely feeling the pressure to mount a smear campaign in order to get Guyger off the hook. While in the past, a police officer’s acquittal might be taken for granted, Dallas’s police are fresh off the heels of the conviction and sentencing in August of former Balch Springs officer Roy Oliver in the police-perpetrated shooting of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards.

“That was their goal from the beginning: to assassinate the character of Botham and to exculpate Ms. Guyger.”

Jean, like Edwards, was an exceptionally sympathetic and virtuous character. A 26-year-old from Saint Lucia in the Caribbean, Jean visited orphanages, ministered to the sick and worked with vulnerable youth during his time there, according to his mother. He moved to Dallas and worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers after graduating from Harding University in Arkansas in 2016. Many have heard his beautifully warm voice after videos of his singing at the Dallas West Church of Christ went viral.

Merritt told Truthout that the language of the search warrant “shows the purpose of the investigation from the beginning was to find evidence to incriminate the victim and exonerate the shooter. So as evidence comes in, it seems to absolve Ms. Guyger of any real liability. Of course, that’s the evidence they’re able to gather, because that was their goal from the beginning: to assassinate the character of Botham and to exculpate Ms. Guyger.”

Merritt recalled that the same kinds of police tactics were used against the similarly sympathetic Edwards, saying the police initially offered another “highly implausible false narrative” about the car hurtling toward Oliver, who had to act “heroically” by filling the car with bullets to protect his fellow officers. In that case, too, the police “hunted all night for a gun that they believed the boys may have thrown out of the car,” Merritt said, and initially investigated Jordan’s older brothers as criminals.

“That all turned out to be false, and the reason I believe it turned out to be false is because – and this is sad – is because of the character of the person he ended up killing. Jordan was seen as somebody deserving of justice,” Merritt said. He noted the system’s tendency to favor “exceptional” victims – those who appear extremely sympathetic in the public eye – particularly when it comes to Black victims (most of whom are afforded no measure of justice).

Merritt highlighted another case he’s currently working on in North Texas that occurred a week before Jean’s murder: the police-perpetrated shooting of 21-year-old O’Shea Terry, who was shot as he drove away from an Arlington, Texas police officer who had his arm in Terry’s car window. Body-worn camera footage contradicted an officer’s claim that he pulled out his gun to somehow dislodge his arm from the window, showing instead that the officer stuck his arm in the car as Terry was rolling up the window and driving away, and then shot him several times.

“That story was kind of swept away with this [Jean] incident, but O’Shea Terry [has] a criminal record, so the fact that deadly force was used against him is ‘OK,'” Merritt told Truthout. “He was killed the same way Jordan Edwards was killed. Roy Oliver didn’t want the car Jordan Edwards was traveling in to leave. He wanted to stop and question it. He couldn’t, so he shot it up. Same thing as O’Shea Terry … but he’s not the kind of Black deserving of justice” in the eyes of state’s current criminal punishment system, in which victims are unjustly divided into “good” and “bad,” deserving and undeserving.

Merritt and a crowd of more than 100 protesters openly challenged that system Sunday night, protesting on behalf of both Jean and Terry at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Nine protesters were arrested after breaking off from the larger march associated with Merritt and blocking the roadway around the stadium.

Merritt told Truthout the Jean family has been frustrated with the local media’s coverage of Jean’s shooting, saying mainstream reporters have aided and abetted the police department’s smear campaign. Writing at D Magazine, Dallas-based journalist Barrett Brown provides a useful roadmap to the ways in which local coverage has deferred to authorities’ narrative.

“They are trying not be upset about [the coverage],” Merritt told Truthout. “We spend a lot of time celebrating who Botham Shem Jean actually was. So, they’re trying to keep that image in their head, but it’s difficult when media is complicit in law enforcement’s attempt to assassinate his character in order to justify his murder.”

Meanwhile, few reporters have focused on Guyger’s own character. While she and her family quickly erased their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles in the days after the shooting, Guyger’s Pinterest account has recently surfaced, revealing troubling, albeit typical, aspects of her own police-oriented disposition. The account contains a meme critical of the Black Lives Matter movement and supportive of law enforcement: “When the Police RIOT for the death of a brother…… They do it with CLASS.” Another meme that didn’t age well: “PEOPLE ARE SO UNGRATEFUL. No one ever thanks me for having the patience not to kill them.”

Irregularities mark Guyger’s case from top to bottom, including atypical police procedures during her booking into the Kaufman County Jail, her last-minute manslaughter charges, the volleying of the investigation between law enforcement entities and lastly, the overwhelming sympathy for her story in her own charging documents.

As Dallas-area defense attorneys have noted, the language of the probable cause affidavit for Guyger’s manslaughter charge seems to have been carefully written to legally shield her. Probable cause affidavits are typically written to justify and support the arrest of a criminal defendant. In Guyger’s case, however, Stephen Le Brocq told Law&Crime, the affidavit “is written such that, one would question why a warrant was even issued.”

Victims’ Virtuousness on Trial

Oliver’s 15-year sentence is the second conviction obtained by prosecutors in Dallas County this year in police-perpetrated shooting deaths. Former Farmer’s Branch police officer Ken Johnson’s 10-year sentence in January for fatally shooting 16-year-old Jose Cruz broke a 45-year paradigm in Dallas County, which had not seen a criminal conviction against an officer in a police-perpetrated shooting death since former Dallas police officer Darrell L. Cain fatally shot 12-year-old Santos Rodriguez in 1973, sparking an uprising in the city.

Being able to portray Jean as anything other than saintly is absolutely critical for authorities hoping to shield a fellow officer.

Cain was sentenced to five years in prison, and got out on parole in only two-and-a-half years. The family never received an official apology from the city of Dallas, only an informal apology from Mayor Mike Rawlings, according to Cynthia Cordova, who is caregiver to Santos’s mother, Bessie, and a friend and spokesperson of the Rodriguez family.

Cordova agreed that convictions in the county shouldn’t only occur in cases involving very young boys or victims who are perceived as extremely virtuous. Pointing to the cases of Rodriguez, Cruz and Edwards, she recently asked, “What happened to those [victims] in between?” Less sympathetic cases tend not to make the national news, let alone lead to convictions. “They just fell through the cracks, or [the police and district attorney] just didn’t care,” Cordova recently told Truthout.

The dynamic of convictions in Dallas County may mean there’s a chance that Guyger will be convicted, because Jean’s spotless record mirrors those of the young boys whose shootings resulted in officer convictions. Being able to portray Jean as anything other than saintly is absolutely critical for authorities hoping to shield a fellow officer.

Meanwhile, Merritt is working toward filing a civil lawsuit sometime this week as his team continues to gather its own evidence.

“We’re seeing the additional importance of having our own investigators, our own ballistics teams, etcetera, going back and doing some of the work with the limited information we have access to, because obviously we don’t have the subpoena or warrant power that the state has,” he told Truthout. “Some of the key witnesses … don’t believe in the veracity of the state’s investigation or the city’s investigation, so they’d rather give information to us, which we then turn over to the district attorney’s office.”

Still, more evidence may be on the way from city investigators that could pose problems for Guyger’s narrative: The district attorney’s office obtained a search warrant to seize Guyger’s own electronic lock. The crucial data contained inside could reveal whether she unlocked her door and entered before going to Jean’s apartment. Investigators likewise are in the process of downloading the data form Jean’s electronic lock.

The post Why Dallas Authorities Are Desperate to Attack Botham Jean’s Character appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

As Washington Becomes a Swamp of Corruption, Can Legislation Clean Up the Mess?

8 hours 51 min ago

We are in the midst of a corruption crisis.

In the past few weeks alone, Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former attorney, pleaded guilty to breaking campaign finance laws and other charges. Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, was convicted of tax fraud, bank fraud and failing to disclose a bank account. Two strong and early Trump supporters have landed in hot water as well: Former US Rep. Chris Collins was indicted on insider trading, while US Rep. Duncan Hunter and his wife were charged with using more than $250,000 in campaign funds to pay for family trips, golf outings and other personal expenses.

That’s just been in the past few weeks.

Despite President Trump’s campaign promises to “drain the swamp” in Washington, his blatant disregard for the rules and norms designed to protect against corruption began immediately, and have extended to nearly every part of the executive branch. From right after the election when his inaugural committee raised millions from influence-seekers without accountability for how the money was spent, to his early days in office when he reversed important transparency measures like White House visitor log disclosure, to the wealthy and corporate-interest-conflicted personnel he has put in place, Trump’s blatant attempt to profit off his presidency is dramatically increasing the risk that government decisions will be compromised by corruption.

Corruption of our system predates this president, of course, and extends beyond the executive branch to Congress. Elected officials spend hours each week dialing for dollars from millionaires to fund their campaigns, and lobbyists for industry capitalize on lawmakers’ fundraising targets to gain influence and shape policy. We need sweeping reforms to tackle this culture of corruption, and now, lawmakers are stepping up to the plate. The latest is US Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts). Her new Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act contains many of the bold new proposals we need to start the cleanup.

At the bill’s introduction, Senator Warren said, “Our government systematically favors the rich over the poor, the donor class over the working class, the well-connected over the disconnected. This is deliberate, and we need to call it for what it is — corruption, plain and simple.”

Her message resonates, and not just with Democrats. In a new poll conducted by GBA Strategies for the Center for American Progress Action Fund, more than half of the Republicans surveyed (56 percent) said Congress is not checking the Trump administration’s corruption enough, and 57 percent of Independents agreed.

Americans don’t believe that politicians will tackle the nation’s very real problems until they tackle the corrupting influences on our democracy. Americans want economic security; safe workplaces; affordable college education; a universal system of health care; clean air, water and land; and more — but they don’t think that elected officials can or will address those issues until our democracy is repaired.

Senator Warren’s reform measures would get to the core of the corruption problem by surgically striking at the connections between corruption, corporate capture of government and moneyed lobbyist influence on policy.

Among other things, the bill closes the revolving door between jobs in government and in lobbying, including halting the “golden parachutes” that companies, particularly banks, give executives to cushion their landing in Washington. (Senator Warren pointed to the more than $280 million Goldman Sachs gave to Gary Cohen when he left the bank to run Trump’s economic team.) The bill also ensures that after leaving office — for the rest of their lives — appointed federal officials won’t become lobbyists. Furthermore, the bill bans any executive of a company found guilty of breaking the law from taking a job in the federal government for six years.

At the bill’s launch, Senator Warren reaffirmed the bipartisan nature of this problem. When she was asked by Dan Merica of CNN whether there were any Democratic agency heads she would call out for being in the pocket of industry, she flagged Obama-era Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White, citing her “light touch regulation,” and noted that White never finished the much-needed rule that would require corporations to disclose their political spending.

The bill also strikes at the heart of corporate lobbying by stopping registered lobbyists from writing campaign checks or gifts to anyone running for or in federal office, and by creating a new tax on corporations that run big lobbying campaigns when they spend more than $500,000.

Circling back to the abuses of the most corrupt administration of our generation, the bill also bans elected officials, cabinet members and other senior government players from owning or trading individual stocks. This is a mechanism to cut back on the rich gaining inside information in government and then profiting from their public service to become richer.

Our democracy is mired in a crisis of corruption, and only foundational reforms that reaffirm the principles of fairness, equity, ethics and accountability can begin to fix it.

From crisis, opportunities arise, and we must seize this moment of opportunity. While it is unlikely that Warren’s legislation will be passed in this legislative session, lawmakers should realize Americans on both sides of the aisle want bold systematic changes that realize the promise of representational democracy. Only when our elections and government at every level represent our communities — not corporations and special interests — will we be able to pass the policies needed by the nation.

The post As Washington Becomes a Swamp of Corruption, Can Legislation Clean Up the Mess? appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Why We Need to See Trump’s Tax Returns

Mon, 09/17/2018 - 15:49

Once upon a time, there was a little-known energy company called Enron. In its 16-year life, it went from being dubbed America’s most innovative company by Fortune Magazine to being the poster child of American corporate deceit. Using a classic recipe for book-cooking, Enron ended up in bankruptcy with jail time for those involved. Its shareholders lost $74 billion in the four years leading up to its bankruptcy in 2001.

A decade ago, the flameout of my former employer, Lehman Brothers, the global financial firm, proved far more devastating, contributing as it did to a series of events that ignited a global financial meltdown. Americans lost an estimated $12.8 trillion in the havoc.

Despite the differing scales of those disasters, there was a common thread: both companies used financial tricks to make themselves appear so much healthier than they actually were. They both faked the numbers, thanks to off-the-books or offshore mechanisms and eluded investigations… until they collapsed.

Now, here’s a question for you as we head for the November midterm elections, sure to be seen as a referendum on the president: Could Donald Trump be a one-man version of either Enron or Lehman Brothers, someone who cooked “the books” until, well, he imploded?

Since we’ve never seen his tax returns, right now we really don’t know. What we do know is that he’s been dodging bullets ever since the Justice Department accused him of violating the Fair Housing Act in his operation of 39 buildings in New York City in 1973. Unlike famed 1920s mob boss Al Capone, he may never get done in by something as simple as tax evasion, but time will tell.

Rest assured of one thing though: he won’t go down easily, even if he is already the subject of multiple investigations and a plethora of legal slings and arrows. Of course, his methods should be familiar. As President Calvin Coolidge so famously put it, “the business of America is business.” And the business of business is to circumvent or avoid the heat… until, of course, it can’t.

The Safe

So far, Treasury Secretary and former Trump national campaign finance chairman Steven Mnuchin has remained out of the legal fray that’s sweeping away some of his fellow campaign associates. Certainly, he and his wife have grandiose tastes. And, yes, his claim that his hedge fund, Dune Capital Management, used offshore tax havens only for his clients, not to help him evade taxes himself, represents a stretch of the imagination. Other than that, however, there seems little else to investigate — for now. Still, as Treasury secretary he does oversee a federal agency that means the world to Donald Trump, the Internal Revenue Service, which just happens to be located across a courtyard from the Trump International Hotel on Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue.

As it happens, the IRS in the Trump era still doesn’t have a commissioner, only an acting head. What it may have, National Enquirer-style, is genuine presidential secrets in the form of Donald Trump’s elusive tax returns. Last fall, outgoing IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said that there were plans to relocate them to a shiny new safe where they would evidently remain.

In 2016, Trump became the first candidate since President Richard Nixon not to disclose his tax returns. During the campaign, he insisted that those returns were undergoing an IRS audit and that he would not release them until it was completed. (No one at the IRS has ever confirmed that being audited in any way prohibits the release of tax information.) The president’s pledge to do so remains unfulfilled and last year counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway noted that the White House was “not going to release his tax returns,” adding — undoubtedly thinking about his base — “people didn’t care.”

On April 17, 2018, the White House announced that the president would defer even filing his 2017 tax returns until this October. As every president since Nixon has undergone a mandatory audit while in office, count on American taxpayers hearing the same excuse for the rest of his term, even if Congress were to decide to invoke a 1924 IRS provision to view them.

Still, Conway may have a point when it comes to the public. After all, tax dodging is as American as fireworks on the Fourth of July. According to one study, every year the U.S. loses $400 billion in unpaid taxes, much of it hidden in offshore tax havens.

Yet the financial disclosures that The Donald did make during election campaign 2016 indicate that there are more than 500 companies in over two dozen countries, mostly with few to no employees or real offices, that feature him as their “president.” Let’s face it, someone like Trump would only create a business universe of such Wall Street-esque complexity if he wanted to hide something. He was likely trying to evade taxes, shield himself and his family from financial accountability, or hide the dubious health of parts of his business empire. As a colleague of mine at Bear Stearns once put it, when tax-haven companies pile up like dirty laundry, there’s a high likelihood that their uses aren’t completely clean.

Now, let’s consider what we know of Donald Trump’s financial adventures, taxes and all. It’s quite a story and, even though it already feels like forever, it’s only beginning to be told.

The Trump Organization

Atop the non-White House branch of the Trump dynasty is the Trump Organization. To comply with federal conflict-of-interest requirements, The Donald officially turned over that company’s reins to his sons, Eric and Donald Jr. For all the obvious reasons, he was supposed to distance himself from his global business while running the country.

Only that didn’t happen and not just because every diplomat and lobbyist in town started to frequent his money-making new hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. Now, according to the New York Times, the Manhattan district attorney’s office is considering pressing criminal charges against the Trump Organization and two of its senior officials because the president’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid off an adult film actress and a former Playboy model to keep their carnal knowledge to themselves before the election.

Though Cohen effectively gave Stormy Daniels $130,000 and Karen McDougal $150,000 to keep them quiet, the Trump Organization then paid Cohen even more, $420,000, funds it didn’t categorize as a reimbursement for expenses, but as a “retainer.” In its internal paperwork, it then termed that sum as “legal expenses.”

The D.A.’s office is evidently focusing its investigation on how the Trump Organization classified that payment of $420,000, in part for the funds Cohen raised from the equity in his home to calm the Stormy (so to speak). Most people take out home equity loans to build a garage or pay down some debt. Not Cohen. It’s a situation that could become far thornier for Trump. As Cohen already knew, Trump couldn’t possibly wield his pardon power to absolve his former lawyer, since it only applies to those convicted of federal charges, not state ones.

And that’s bad news for the president. As Lanny Davis, Cohen’s lawyer, put it, “If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn’t they be a crime for Donald Trump?”

The bigger question is: What else is there? Those two payoffs may, after all, just represent the beginning of the woes facing both the Trump Organization and the Trump Foundation, which has been the umbrella outfit for businesses that have incurred charges of lobbying violations (not disclosing payment to a local newspaper to promote favorable casino legislation) and gaming law violations. His organization has also been accused of misleading investors, engaging in currency-transaction-reporting crimes, and improperly accounting for money used to buy betting chips, among a myriad of other transgressions. To speculate on overarching corporate fraud would not exactly be a stretch.

Unlike his casinos, the Trump Organization has not (yet) gone bankrupt, nor — were it to do so — is it in a class with Enron or Lehman Brothers. Yet it does have something in common with both of them: piles of money secreted in places designed to hide its origins, uses, and possibly end-users. The question some authority may pursue someday is: If Donald Trump was willing to be a part of a scheme to hide money paid to former lovers, wouldn’t he do the same for his businesses?

The Trump Foundation

Questions about Trump’s charity, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, have abounded since campaign 2016. They prompted New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood to file a lawsuit on June 14th against the foundation, also naming its board of directors, including his sons and his daughter Ivanka. It cites “a pattern of persistent illegal conduct… occurring over more than a decade, that includes extensive unlawful political coordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and willful self-dealing transactions to benefit Mr. Trump’s personal and business interests, and violations of basic legal obligations for non-profit foundations.”

As the New York Times reported, “The lawsuit accused the charity and members of Mr. Trump’s family of sweeping violations of campaign finance laws, self-dealing, and illegal coordination with Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.” It also alleged that for four years — 2007, 2012, 2013, and 2014 — Trump himself placed his John Hancock below incorrect statements on the foundation’s tax returns.

The main issue in question: Did the Trump Foundation use any of its funds to benefit The Donald or any of his businesses directly? Underwood thinks so. As she pointed out, it “was little more than a checkbook for payments from Mr. Trump or his businesses to nonprofits, regardless of their purpose or legality.” Otherwise it seems to have employed no one and, according to the lawsuit, its board of directors has not met since 1999.

Because Trump ran all of his enterprises, he was also personally responsible for signing their tax returns. His charitable foundation was no exception. Were he found to have knowingly provided false information on its tax returns, he could someday face perjury charges.

On August 31st, the foundation’s lawyers fought back, filing papers of their own, calling the lawsuit, as the New York Times put it, “a political attack motivated by the former attorney general’s ‘record of antipathy’ against Mr. Trump.” They were referring to Eric Schneiderman, who had actually resigned the previous May — consider this an irony under the circumstances — after being accused of sexual assault by former girlfriends.

The New York state court system has, in fact, emerged as a vital force in the pushback against the president and his financial shenanigans. As Zephyr Teachout, recent Democratic candidate for New York attorney general, pointed out, it is “one of the most important legal offices in the entire country to both resist and present an alternative to what is happening at the federal level.” And indeed it had begun fulfilling that responsibility with The Donald long before the Mueller investigation was even launched.

In 2013, Schneiderman filed a civil suit against Trump University, calling it a sham institution that engaged in repeated fraudulent behavior. In 2016, Trump finally settled that case in court, agreeing to a $25 million payment to its former students — something that (though we don’t, of course, have the tax returns to confirm this) probably also proved to be a tax write-off for him.

These days, the New York attorney general’s office could essentially create a branch only for matters Trumpian. So far, it has brought more than 100 legal or administrative actions against the president and congressional Republicans since he took office.

Still, don’t sell the foundation short. It did, in the end, find a way to work for the greater good — of Donald Trump. He and his wife, Melania, for instance, used the “charity” to purchase a now infamous six-foot portrait of himself for $20,000 — and true to form, according to the Washington Post, even that purchase could turn out to be a tax violation. Such “self-dealing” is considered illegal. Of course, we’re talking about someone who “used $258,000 from the foundation to pay off legal settlements that involved his for-profit businesses.” That seems like the definition of self-dealing.

The Trump Team

The president swears that he has an uncanny ability to size someone up in a few seconds, based on attitude, confidence, and a handshake — that, in other words, just as there’s the art of the deal, so, too, there’s the art of choosing those who will represent him, stand by him, and take bullets for him, his White House, and his business enterprises. And for a while, he did indeed seem to be a champion when it came to surrounding himself with people who had a special knack for hiding money, tax documents, and secret payoffs from public view.

These days — think of them as the era of attrition for Donald Trump — that landscape looks a lot emptier and less inviting.

On August 21st, his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was convictedin Virginia of “five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud, and one count of failure to disclose a foreign bank account.” (On September 14th, he would make a deal with Robert Mueller and plead guilty to two counts of conspiracy.) On that same August day, Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, also pled guilty to eight different federal crimes in the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, including — yep — tax evasion.

Three days later, prosecutors in the Cohen investigation granted immunity to the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg. A loyal employee of the Trump family for more than four decades, he had also served as treasurer for the Donald J. Trump Foundation. If anyone other than the president and his children knows the financial and tax secrets of the Trump empire, it’s him. And now, he may be ready to talk. Lurking in his future testimony could be yet another catalyst in a coming Trump tax debacle.

And don’t forget David Pecker, CEO of American Media, the company that publishes the National Enquirer. Pecker bought and buried stories for The Donald for what seems like forever. He, too, now has an immunity deal in the federal investigation of Cohen (and so Trump), evidently in return forproviding information on the president’s hush-money deals to bury various exploits that he came to find unpalatable.

The question is this: Did Trump know of Cohen’s hush-money payments? Cohen has certainly indicated that he did and Pecker seems to have told federal prosecutors a similar story. As Cohen said in court of Pecker, “I and the CEO of a media company, at the request of the candidate, worked together” to keep the public in the dark about such payments and Trump’s involvement in them.

The president’s former lawyer faces up to 65 years in prison. That’s enough time to make him consider what other tales he might be able to tell in return for a lighter sentence, including possibly exposing various tax avoidance techniques he and his former client cooked up.

And don’t think that Cohen, Pecker, and Weisselberg are going to be the last figures to come forward with such stories as the Trump team begins to come unglued.

In the cases of Enron and Lehman Brothers, both companies unraveled after multiple shell games imploded. Enron’s losses were being hidden in multiple offshore entities. In the case of Lehman Brothers, staggeringly over-valued assets were being pledged to borrow yet more money to buy similar assets. In both cases, rigged games were being played in the shadows, while vital information went undisclosed to the public — until it was way too late.

Donald Trump’s equivalent shell games still largely remain to be revealed. They may simply involve hiding money trails to evade taxes or to secretly buy political power and business influence. There is, as yet, no way of knowing. One thing is clear, however: the only way to begin to get answers is to see the president’s tax returns, audited or not. Isn’t it time to open that safe?

The post Why We Need to See Trump’s Tax Returns appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Kavanaugh’s Confirmation Is About “Life and Death for Women”

Mon, 09/17/2018 - 15:45

As news of sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh breaks, his stance on Roe v. Wade is also under scrutiny. The New York Times reports that it received several leaked documents ahead of Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings earlier this month, including an email in which Kavanaugh questioned the accuracy of calling Roe v. Wade the “settled law of the land.” We speak with Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor at; and Ian Millhiser, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the justice editor of ThinkProgress.

Please check back later for full transcript.

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Categories: News

Facebook Censors Kavanaugh Story After a Conservative Site Calls It “Fake News”

Mon, 09/17/2018 - 15:45

Last week, ThinkProgress published a report by Senior Fellow Ian Millhiser headlined “Brett Kavanaugh said he would kill Roe v. Wade last week and almost no one noticed.” But then a Facebook fact-checker with the conservative outlet the Weekly Standard declared it “fake news,” leading the piece to be targeted and demoted by the social media site. The Intercept then re-published Millhiser’s piece, with editor-in-chief Betsy Reed writing, “The story was effectively nuked from Facebook, with other outlets threatened with traffic and monetary consequences if they shared it.” We speak with Ian Millhiser, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the justice editor for ThinkProgress.

Please check back later for full transcript.

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Categories: News

Twenty-Five Zones Along Shell Falcon Pipeline Are at Risk of Explosions

Mon, 09/17/2018 - 15:43

Shell Pipeline Company has identified 25 locations that are prone to landslides in or near the route of its proposed Falcon Ethane Pipeline through Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. Fourteen of those locations are in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

The Falcon Pipeline is just one piece of a massive network of unconventional oil and gas-related infrastructure being built by Shell and its affiliates and business partners in Pennsylvania with the aim of turning the region into a new petrochemical hub. The development has elicited concern from researchers, residents and environmental groups about the increased risk of explosions and spills, as well as the cumulative impact on air and water quality in the region.

Two of the sites identified by Shell as being prone to landslides along the proposed Falcon Pipeline route are in Allegheny County. The other 12 sites are in Beaver County — 35 miles west of Pittsburgh — where last Monday a natural gas pipeline not affiliated with Shell exploded, destroying one home, two garages, a barn, and several vehicles. The explosion and subsequent fire didn’t result in any serious injuries, but it forced the evacuation of 25 homes, shut down the interstate, and caused the local school district to close for the day.

The explosion, in a brand new section of Energy Transfer Partners’ Revolution Pipeline, is being attributed to a landslide following heavy rains over the weekend. This isn’t the first time a landslide has caused a natural gas pipeline to explode: In June, landslides resulted in the rupture and explosion of a TransCanada natural gas pipeline in Marshall County, West Virginia.

Shell is currently constructing a multi-billion dollar ethane cracker plant in Potter Township, just five miles from the site of the Energy Transfer Pipeline explosion. Shell’s proposed Falcon Pipeline would transport large volumes of natural gas and liquids to the ethane cracker plant to be converted into ethylene for use in plastics manufacturing.

In its permit application, Shell identified “landslide risk” areas along the proposed route for the Falcon Pipeline. The FracTracker Alliance, a Pittsburgh-based oil and gas industry watchdog group, has mapped those locations. In Pennsylvania, the 14 landslide-prone areas on or near the proposed pipeline route total 2.1 miles.

In Potter Township, where the ethane cracker plant is under construction, the Falcon Pipeline would cut through an approximately half-mile long landslide risk zone located about 800 to 1,000 feet from neighborhoods with 20 to 30 homes in them. One house in Potter Township sits 665 feet from a portion of the proposed pipeline route identified as being in a landslide risk zone.

In Independence Township, one home sits 396 feet from a landslide risk zone along the proposed pipeline route.

“According to our analysis, the blast radius for the Falcon pipeline there is about 900 feet, so if there were an accident, all those homes are in the impact radius near the landslide area,” Kirk Jalbert, a science and technology researcher and assistant professor at Arizona State University, told EHN. Jalbert previously served on the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Environmental Justice Advisory Board, and as Manager of Community-Based Research and Engagement for the FracTracker Alliance.

The Pennsylvania DEP found 101 technical deficiencies in Shell’s initial Falcon Pipeline application, and Shell has since issued a response to those citations.

“It’s possible there are sections of the proposed pipeline route that were moved away from landslide areas in Shell’s responses,” Jalbert noted, “but it’s unlikely that all of them were moved.”

Shell did not respond to inquiries about whether the proposed pipeline route has been changed to avoid landslide risk areas.

“I Hope This Explosion Serves as a Wake-Up Call”

On September 6 — four days before the Energy Transfer Partners pipeline explosion — local environmental groups held a rally at the Pittsburgh office of the Pennsylvania DEP to urge the agency to deny Shell Pipeline Company’s permit application for the Falcon Ethane Pipeline, in part due to concerns over landslide risks.

“We think there are still significant problems with Shell’s application for the Falcon pipeline,” Matt Mehalik, executive director of environmental advocacy group The Breathe Project, told EHN. “This pipeline would go through a route that’s very close to many homes in Southwestern Pennsylvania. I hope this explosion serves as a wake-up call to homeowners about the serious risks associated with Shell’s plan.”

Record-setting precipitation in 2018 has caused hundreds of landslides across Southwestern Pennsylvania, prompting Allegheny County to seek a disaster declaration from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for emergency funds to help clean up the damage. The county estimated that landslides caused $18 million in damage in 31 municipalities, including Pittsburgh, between February and April.

Climate change is causing more extreme rainfall events across the US, resulting in an increase in the frequency and severity of flooding.

“People will say this explosion happened because of unusually heavy rains,” Mehalik said, “but if you’re building a pipeline that can’t withstand five inches of heavy rain over a weekend, something is wrong.”

Jalbert emphasized that the Energy Transfer Partners pipeline exploded just a week after being brought online.

“Representatives from oil and gas pipeline companies often say that explosions only happen on old pipelines, and that they’re using the most stringent design standards available to build these safe new pipelines,” he said. “They can’t say that anymore. This pipeline was brand new. Clearly something is wrong with the regulatory review process.”

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Categories: News

Kavanaugh Accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, Willing to Testify Before Senate

Mon, 09/17/2018 - 15:32

Putting new pressure on Republican Senators who would like to ram through a vote on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, the attorney for the woman who has accused him of attempted rape has said her client is willing to testify about the sexual assault she says took place when the two were in high school.

“She’s willing to do whatever it takes to get her story forth,” attorney Debra Katz said of her client, Christine Blasey Ford, during an interview with Savannah Guthrie on NBC’s “The Today Show” Monday morning.

“Is your client willing to testify before the Judiciary Committee publicly and tell this story?” –@savannahguthrie

“She is. She’s willing to do whatever it takes to get her story forth.” -Debra Katz, attorney for Kavanaugh accuser

— TODAY (@TODAYshow) September 17, 2018

Speaking directly at Republicans who are already attacking Ford for coming forth, Katz said it was that kind of reaction her client had feared.

“It’s not clear what the Republicans are saying,” Katz said in a separate interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America” with George Stephanopoulos. “I was listening to some reporting this morning saying that they’re going to fight this tooth and nail, that they’re going to grill her. That’s hardly an effort to get into a fair and thorough investigation of what has occurred. That’s a very intimidating statement and it really is designed to scare her and make her not want to come forward.”

“She’s willing to cooperate. What she’s not willing to do is to be part of this bloodletting that happens in Washington,” attorney of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser tells @ABC News’ @GStephanopoulos.

— ABC News (@ABC) September 17, 2018

Katz said that her client is willing to go through with testimony despite the violent and threatening reactions she has already received after she went public on Sunday. But also in the interview, Katz reiterating the strength of Ford’s credibility, saying that existing documentation and a polygraph bolster her claims.

“She has taken a polygraph. She is a credible person. These are serious allegations, and these should be addressed.”

Watch @savannahguthrie’s full interview with Debra Katz, attorney for Kavanaugh accuser

— TODAY (@TODAYshow) September 17, 2018

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Categories: News

Why Labor Is Holding Applause for Michigan’s Latest “Workers’ Rights” Measures

Mon, 09/17/2018 - 15:14

On September 5, the Michigan legislature seemed to take bold steps toward improving working conditions for its constituents: It passed legislation that would guarantee workers the right to earn paid sick leave, as well as a minimum wage increase to $12 an hour that mandates the same base wage for both tipped workers and non-tipped workers alike. These measures make the state the 11th in the nation to mandate paid sick days and the eighth to require that tipped workers be paid the same wage as all others.

But advocates are holding their applause. Both issues had been set to appear on the November ballot for voters to either approve or reject. By acting on them now, the legislature has ensured they will no longer appear on the ballot. Rather than requiring a three-quarter majority to change a voter-approved law, lawmakers will now only need a simple majority to change them later on.

And that seems to be exactly what they have planned. Even as they passed the measures, lawmakers made it clear that they did so not to enshrine them in law, but to create an opportunity to water them down later. “The Senate adopted the policy to preserve the ability for this legislature and future legislatures to amend the statute to better fit our state and our economy,” State Senate Republican Majority Leader Arlan B. Meekhof said in a statement after the vote. “The Senators heard from restaurant employees who fear they will earn less under the proposal and business owners who are concerned that they may have to reduce payroll in order to meet these new mandates. The Senate will be looking at options to improve the policies in the coming months.”

A number of Democrats, including all of those in the state Senate, voted against the measures. Democratic Rep. Leslie Love called the move “nothing less than voter suppression.”

The actions of the legislature didn’t shock Danielle Atkinson, founding director of Mothering Justice, who has been advocated for paid sick leave in the state for six years. “What happened [on September 5] was not a surprise,” she tells In These Times. The legislature has “pushed back on a number of occasions, starting with preemption and then just their hostility to moving legislation.”

Advocates are already vowing to fight back if the legislature does change the laws. “We believe the language of the [state] constitution is very clear that this is not an option available to the legislature,” Mark Brewer, an attorney who represents both the campaign to increase the minimum wage and the campaign to guarantee paid sick leave, tells In These Times. “We will sue to overturn any weakening of this law by the legislature.” He has been authorized by both groups to do research and gather evidence to be ready to file a lawsuit if and when the legislature acts.

The groups argue that the state constitution only affords lawmakers three options: adopt a ballot measure and make it law, reject it and send it in front of voters, or propose an alternative to appear alongside it on the ballot. A decision from the attorney general in 1964 stated that the legislature can’t amend such a measure the same year it enacted it “without violation of the spirit and letter” of the constitution. “We can declare victory now because there is no legal way to amend the legislation this year,” Michigan One Fair Wage said in a statement after the passage.

That organization, which had been advocating and collecting signatures for the minimum-wage ballot measure, has celebrated the passage while warning of retribution for future changes. “On behalf of the over one million workers and their families who will receive a raise, Michigan One Fair Wage is declaring victory in spurring the legislature to raise the minimum wage to $12 for all workers, including tipped workers who currently earn a subminimum wage of $3.52 an hour,” the group said in its statement. “This legislation would not have passed without the more than 400,000 Michigan voters who signed petitions demanding that One Fair Wage be on this November’s ballot.”

“It’s now the law of Michigan, which means that people are going to get a raise,” Brewer notes.

Atkinson sees it the same way. “We still consider it a victory because we know that the legislature [was] recognizing the importance of this issue, the popularity of this issue, the timeliness. They knew they couldn’t ignore it,” she says. “We are working to make sure that everybody knows that this is law.”

But the campaigns are also aware that this isn’t the end of the story. “The Republican legislature and their leadership and a lot of their members were very clear in saying that the only reason they were adopting this was to keep it off the ballot,” Brewer notes. And yet, he says, “No Michigan legislature has ever done that.”

A few of the top options lawmakers appear to be considering reinstating a lower minimum wage for tipped employees and slowing down the rate of the increase for everyone else, Brewer says. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Advocates are not just going to sit on their hands while they wait, however. The groups are “going to do a lot of public education,” Brewer says. “At this point, if the legislature votes to weaken the law they’re essentially taking away paid sick time or taking away a raise.”

“Our efforts right now are completely focused around to talking to every person we see,” Atkinson says. That includes knocking on doors, making phone calls and asking members to reach out to their friends and family. “It’s a right,” says Atkinson, “and if the legislature comes back and amends it, they are taking away a freedom that you have fought so dearly for.” Her group also plans to travel to Lansing to speak directly with lawmakers. “Hopefully they’ll listen to us before they listen to the lobbyists,” she says.

Michigan One Fair Wage and groups that support paid sick leave have vowed to turn people out to the polls in November, both to counter any dampening in enthusiasm with these issues off the ballot and also to show lawmakers that their constituents want them to stick to their promises. Ellen Bravo and Wendy Chun-Hoon, co-executive directors of Family Values @ Work, an organization that supports local paid-sick-leave campaigns, said in a statement, “All the partner groups in this coalition will mobilize to ensure that every legislator who voted for the bill hears from their constituents. They will do everything in their power to preserve the law they won. And they will work to achieve the highest possible turnout at the polls.”

“From Texas to Michigan, Americans are sending a message that they’re ready to do what politicians have failed to do: ensure no one [has] to choose between caring for a sick child and paying rent,” Jonathan Schleifer, executive director of The Fairness Project, which supports efforts to require paid sick leave, says in an email to In These Times. “Elected leaders who fail to listen will be held accountable.”

The post Why Labor Is Holding Applause for Michigan’s Latest “Workers’ Rights” Measures appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Henry A. Giroux on How Destroying Public Space Means Destroying Dissent

Mon, 09/17/2018 - 14:56

On last week’s podcast, This Is Happening was joined by Economist Henry Giroux, author of American Nightmare: Facing The Challenge of Fascism. Henry discusses his new article on how the starting point for fascism is in the destruction of those social spheres and public spaces that make community possible, dialogue crucial and dissent essential. When spaces disappear in which people can think, act, speak, organize and hold power accountable, politics is emptied of any substance and freedom loses its ability to resist an impending fascism.

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Categories: News

Cheap Tricks With Economic Statistics: The Democratic Version

Mon, 09/17/2018 - 14:31

We all know Donald Trump’s tendency to make up numbers to tell everyone what a great job he is doing as president. People are rightly appalled, both that Trump is not doing a great job, but also that he is lying to imply otherwise.

While Trump is clearly over the top in just inventing data to back his argument, Democrats are also often not very straightforward in assessing the data. We got a dose of that last week when there were complaints that the rate of income growth had slowed down in 2017 compared with 2016 and 2015.

Workers should be unhappy about the pace of income growth. They have much ground to make up following the losses of the Great Recession and the weak growth even prior to the downturn, but the main reason that income growth was slower in 2017 than in 2016 and 2015 is that oil, and energy prices more generally, rose in 2017 after falling the prior two years.

As a result of the reversal in oil prices, inflation was 2.1 percent in 2017, compared to 1.3 percent in 2016, and just 0.1 percent in 2015. This means that even though there was a very modest acceleration in nominal wage growth, and comparable gains in employment in all three years, the growth in income adjusted for inflation was far lower in 2017 than in the prior two years.

Workers have to pay for gas and heating oil, so the rise in energy prices does affect their living standards. In that sense, the weaker income growth in 2017 is very real, but this hardly represents some new failure of the political system. The speeding of income growth in 2015 and 2016, and its slowing in 2017, are just the story of fluctuating world oil prices, which any honest analyst should acknowledge.

This point is important for those of us who think that progressives are best served by being honest about numbers. Erratic numbers have a tendency to reverse themselves. While energy prices did jump in August, the big rises are most likely behind us.

As a result, inflation was 2.7 percent for the year ended in August, down from 2.9 percent in the year that ended in July. With last summer’s big gas price hikes falling out of the 12-month window, year-over-year inflation is likely to be down to 2.5 percent or even 2.4 percent with the September data.

With nominal wages rising at a 2.9 percent rate in the most recent data, that doesn’t translate into great wage growth, but 0.4 to 0.5 percent is better than zero. Those that made a big point of hyping the lack of real wage growth based on the July data may look a bit foolish in another month or two.

Those trying to push the zero real wage growth as an election issue may have the further problem that for the 64 percent of households who own their own home, it is even less true. Rent, and owners’ equivalent rent for the people who own their home, is by far the largest single contributor to inflation.

It is unlikely that people who own their home see the implicit rent they pay to themselves as a cost. For homeowners, a better measure of inflation is a price index that excludes rent.

If we exclude rent, inflation was 2.3 percent over the last year. This measure is likely to dip below 2.0 percent next month. That means that people who own their homes are seeing a respectable rate of real wage growth of close to 1.0 percent annually.

Of course, the good news for homeowners makes the story even worse for those who rent. Many renters are paying 40 percent or even 50 percent of their income in rent. For renters, the 3.6 percent rise in rents over the last year is a very big chunk of the inflation they see. Workers who rent may well be seeing an inflation rate that is more rapid than the growth in their wages.

The fact that wages are growing modestly does not mean that people should be satisfied with the current state of the economy. Workers took a huge hit in the Great Recession, as there was a massive transfer from wages to profits. Workers should be able to get back the ground they lost, and this will require wage growth that is considerably more rapid than 1.0 percent a year.

But we should be clear, wages are now moving in the right direction, even if not nearly fast enough. We may fool ourselves by trying to argue otherwise, but probably not too many other people.

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Categories: News