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If There’s No “Smocking” Gun, Why Is Trump So Terrified?

Mon, 12/10/2018 - 18:12

The honorific changes hands with the speed of the news cycle, but for the time being, the title of “Smartest Person In DC” belongs to a 36-year-old Republican operative from Georgia named Nick Ayers. Currently serving as Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Ayers’s name was all over the news this weekend after President Trump announced the at-long-last departure of his own chief of staff, John Kelly.

Ayers was a shoo-in to replace Kelly, most everyone agreed. Those who considered him a good fit for the spot pointed to his youth and vigor — Ayers looks a fair bit like the cherubic mass-murderer from the second half of “Breaking Bad” — and his deep connections with the Freedom Caucus wing of Congress. Both would serve him well in the storms to come, but for one problem: Turns out he is actually too smart to take the job.

Ayers took a long look at what was a supremely bad weekend for the White House and said, “Check please.” On Sunday afternoon, he sent his official regrets at turning down the C-o-S position with a tweet: “Thank you @realDonaldTrump, @VP, and my great colleagues for the honor to serve our Nation at The White House. I will be departing at the end of the year but will work with the #MAGA team to advance the cause. #Georgia”

Translation: “Thank you but nope nope nope nope. I’ll be over there doing MAGA things but nope nope nope no way no how. #nope”

It really was a bad weekend for the White House. The Robert Mueller team dropped the sentencing paperwork for Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen on Friday. While the redacting pen was as busy with these documents as they were with Michael Flynn’s on Tuesday, there was enough bleeding meat on the bone to send Trump into a weekend-long, terrified Twitter frenzy that was precisely as fact-free and frightened as his last Twitter frenzy about whatever it was about.

The Friday documents had two significant thuds buried within. The first was that Manafort lied like Jeff Lebowski’s rug about his contacts with various Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign, and after Trump took office in 2017.

This was combined with the revelation that Trump personally approved a plan to have Cohen reach out to Russian government contacts regarding the construction of a new Trump Tower in Moscow, a fact Trump denied multiple times both before and after the campaign. All the various Russia-related interactions, by Manafort and others associated with Trump, were weaved into a thick rope by The Washington Post in its Sunday edition.

Trump reacted to being directly implicated in a pair of impeachable felonies with his usual measured calm.

The second thud was unrelated to Russia specifically, but may come to be equally damaging to Trump. In his plea, Cohen admitted to breaking a pair of campaign financing laws — giving $130,000 to Stormy Daniels and directing publisher AMI to pay $150,000 to Karen McDougal — at the direct bidding of the president. In his own words, Cohen told Mueller that payments made to McDougal and Daniels were done “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office,” also known as “Individual 1,” also known as Donald Trump. “I participated in this conduct,” Cohen continued, “for the principal purpose of influencing the election.”

Trump reacted to being directly implicated in a pair of impeachable felonies with his usual measured calm: “Democrats can’t find a Smocking Gun tying the Trump campaign to Russia after James Comey’s testimony. No Smocking Gun…No Collusion. @FoxNews That’s because there was NO COLLUSION. So now the Dems go to a simple private transaction, wrongly call it a campaign contribution, which it was not (but even if it was, it is only a CIVIL CASE, like Obama’s — but it was done correctly by a lawyer and there would not even be a fine. Lawyer’s liability if he made a mistake, not me). Cohen just trying to get his sentence reduced. WITCH HUNT!”

“Smocking Gun” is what makes it art.

Impeachment, long seen as a fool’s errand, seems to feel more real with the arrival of each new damning chunk of evidence.

The new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives will be sworn in a scant 23 days from now. “There’s a very real prospect,” soon-to-be intelligence committee chairman Adam Schiff told The Chicago Tribune, “that on the day Donald Trump leaves office, the Justice Department may indict him, that he may be the first president in quite some time to face the real prospect of jail time.”

“On the day he leaves office.” Interesting choice of words there. Impeachment, long seen as a fool’s errand with the current Republican majority in the Senate, seems to feel more real with the arrival of each new damning chunk of evidence. Schiff’s line about “On the day he leaves office” suggests Trump’s resignation would serve as a ready solution to this swelling calamity… except that, even if Trump does step down, Schiff expects law enforcement will still want a word with him anyway.

Campaign finance felonies. Brazen abrogation of the emoluments clause. Myriad tax investigations into the Trump Organization and the so-called “nonprofit” Trump Foundation. Broad daylight obstruction of justice in the firing of James Comey. Oh, and look at all those Russian connections.

Ayers gets to hang on to that “Smartest Person” title for a good while, I think, like the bandleader who turned down the Titanic gig. Unsinkable, indeed.

The post If There’s No “Smocking” Gun, Why Is Trump So Terrified? appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Public Pressure Could Halt US Support of Yemen War

Mon, 12/10/2018 - 18:11

US tax dollars are supporting Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, which has already claimed the lives of some 85,000 children, and 12 million more people are likely on the brink of starvation. As Nicholas Kristof wrote in The New York Times, “the starvation does not seem to be an accidental byproduct of war, but rather a weapon in it.”

The United States has long been a staunch ally of Saudi Arabia, and both the Obama and Trump administrations have provided considerable military support to the Saudi war in Yemen.

But Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s involvement in the torture and murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has finally spurred both Democrats and Republicans to take steps to end US military involvement in Yemen.

On November 28, the Senate voted 63-to-37 to advance a resolution that would direct the removal of US Armed Forces from hostilities in Yemen. However, S. J. Res. 54 carves out an exception for continued US-supported military measures against “al Qaeda or associated forces” that could be twisted to rationalize nearly any military assistance Donald Trump provides to Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

S. J. Res. 54 Purports to End US Military Involvement in Yemen

Senators plan to debate S. J. Res. 54 this week. The bipartisan resolution, introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) with 18 co-sponsors, invokes the War Powers Resolution. Enacted by Congress in the wake of the Vietnam War, the War Powers Resolution permits the president to introduce US Armed Forces into hostilities or imminent hostilities only after Congress has declared war, or in “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces,” or when there is “specific statutory authorization.”

The War Powers Resolution defines the introduction of US Armed Forces to include:

… the assignment of members of such armed forces to command, coordinate, participate in the movement of, or accompany the regular or irregular military forces of any foreign country or government when such military forces are engaged, or there exists an imminent threat that such forces will become engaged, in hostilities.

S. J. Res. 54 states, “activities that the United States is conducting in support of the Saudi-led coalition, including aerial refueling and targeting assistance, fall within this definition.”

Trump Denies US Forces Are Engaged in “Hostilities”

Donald Trump has pledged to veto the resolution, denying that US forces are involved in “hostilities” for purposes of the War Powers Resolution. On November 28, the Trump administration issued the following Statement of Administrative Policy:

The fundamental premise of S.J. Res. 54 is flawed — United States forces are not engaged in hostilities between the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi forces in Yemen. Since 2015, the United States has provided limited support to member countries of the Emirati and Saudi-led coalition, including intelligence sharing, logistics, and, until recently, aerial refueling…. No United States forces have been introduced into hostilities, or into situations where hostilities are clearly imminent, in connection with ongoing support to the Saudi-led coalition. As a result, this United States support does not implicate the War Powers Resolution.

After stating that US Armed Forces “assist in aerial targeting and help to coordinate military and intelligence activities,” S. J. Res. 54 cites Defense Secretary James Mattis’s December 2017 statement: “We have gone in to be very – to be helpful where we can in identifying how you do target analysis and how you make certain you hit the right thing.” US targeting assistance enables the coalition to kill Yemenis more efficiently.

Nevertheless, tens of thousands of Yemeni civilians have been killed in bombings by the Saudi-led coalition, many using some of the billions of dollars’ worth of US-manufactured weapons. And late last year, a team of US Green Berets secretly arrived at the border between Yemen and Saudi Arabia to help in the war.

Loophole in S. J. Res. 54 Actually Authorizes US Military Involvement in Yemen

In S. J. Res. 54, Congress “directs the President to remove United States Armed Forces from hostilities” in Yemen “except United States Armed forces engaged in operations directed at al Qaeda or associated forces.”

The only US combat troops on the ground in Yemen are allegedly targeting Al Qaeda forces. But, according to the ACLU, “military officials have already claimed they do not know the mission of each Saudi aircraft refueled by the US.”

National Security Adviser John Bolton has a history of skewing intelligence to support his goals.

Moreover, this resolution will not stop US drone strikes in Yemen. Although those strikes were ostensibly aimed at al Qaeda, one-third of Yemenis killed by US drone bombings were civilians, including several children, according to a recent report by the Associated Press.

Thus, under the guise of removing US forces from hostilities in Yemen, S. J. Res. 54 could actually provide congressional justification for continued military involvement under the War Powers Resolution.

S. 3652 Would Suspend US Arms Transfers to Saudi Arabia

Another bipartisan bill pending in the Senate is the “Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act of 2018.” Introduced by Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) and five co-sponsors, including Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), S. 3652 would suspend US arms transfers to Saudi Arabia; prohibit US refueling of Saudi coalition aircraft; impose sanctions on anyone hindering the provision of humanitarian assistance, or those involved in the death of Khashoggi, including “any official of the government of Saudi Arabia or member of the royal family”; mandate briefings on US military support to the Saudi-led coalition, including civilian casualties; and require an unclassified written report on the Saudis’ human rights record.

This resolution would prohibit the United States from selling the Saudis arms that could be used for offensive (but not defensive) purposes, including bombs, missiles, aircraft, munitions, tanks and armored vehicles.

The suspension of arms transfers to the Saudis, however, contains a provision allowing a presidential waiver for “national security interests” provided the secretaries of state and defense certify that for the preceding 180 days, the Saudi-led coalition has ceased all air strikes and offensive ground operations “not associated with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or ISIS.” Again, this would create a significant loophole.

But if S. 3652 gains traction, it would go a long way toward ending US military assistance to Saudi Arabia in Yemen, providing accountability for Saudi atrocities and exerting international pressure on the Saudis to end their brutal killing in Yemen.

S. Res. 714 Seeks Crown Prince’s Accountability for Khashoggi Murder

Sen. Graham spearheaded a bipartisan non-binding resolution that expresses “a high level of confidence” that bin Salman was “complicit” in the death of Khashoggi, whom it identifies as an “outspoken critic of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.” The resolution calls for bin Salman to be held accountable for his contribution to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

S. Res. 714, co-sponsored by Dianne Feinstein (D-California), Marco Rubio (R-Florida), Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), Todd Young (R-Indiana) and Chris Coons (D-Delaware), would express “the sense of the Senate” that the Saudi crown prince:

be held accountable for contributing to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, preventing a resolution to the blockade of Qatar, the jailing and torture of dissidents and activists inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the use of force to intimidate rivals, and the abhorrent and unjustified murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

H. Con. Res. 138 Suffers From Similar Flaws as S. J. Res. 54

Meanwhile, H. Con. Res. 138, which directs the president to remove US Armed Forces from hostilities in Yemen, is pending in the House of Representatives. But procedural maneuvers by Republican Congress members have prevented its consideration during this congressional term. It will likely be reintroduced in some form when the Democrats assume control of the House in January.

H. Con. Res. 138 suffers from similar infirmities as its Senate counterpart, S. J. Res. 54. But instead of carving out an exception for al Qaeda and associated forces, H. Con. Res. 138 exempts “United States Armed Forces engaged in operations authorized under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force [AUMF]” from the mandate of the resolution. Unlike S. J. Res. 54, the House resolution fails to define “hostilities” under the War Powers Resolution.

Although Congress, in the 2001 AUMF, authorized the president to use “all necessary and appropriate force” only against individuals and groups responsible for the September 11, 2001, attacks, three presidents have relied on it to justify at least 37 military operations in 14 countries, many of them unrelated to 9/11.

In a letter to congressional representatives urging opposition to H. Con. Res. 138, the ACLU noted that the exception in the resolution for the 2001 AUMF “raises serious concerns that the Executive Branch will claim that the Congress is implicitly recognizing and authorizing the United States’ use of force in Yemen under the AUMF.”

The ACLU letter also states, “H. Con. Res. 138 could create a harmful precedent that causes the Executive Branch to claim Congress must pass a resolution of disapproval in order for the War Powers Resolution to be effective in stopping hostilities.”

Toward Ending US Support to Saudis in Yemen

Notwithstanding deeply entrenched US support for Saudi Arabia, outrage over the Saudis’ torturous murder of Khashoggi, as well as campaigns by several progressive groups, have galvanized congressional opposition to US assistance for Saudi killing in Yemen.

In March, a bipartisan Senate bill that would have halted US support to the Saudis in Yemen was defeated 55-44. At the time, Sen. Sanders, who co-sponsored the legislation, stated, “Some will argue on the floor today that we’re really not engaged in hostilities, we’re not exchanging fire. Please tell that to the people of Yemen, whose homes and lives are being destroyed by weapons marked ‘Made in the U.S.A.,’ dropped by planes being refueled by the U.S. military on targets chosen with US assistance.”

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights determined that between March 26, 2015, and August 9, 2018, there were a total of 17,062 civilian casualties in Yemen — 6,592 dead and 10,470 injured. The majority of them — 10,471 — resulted from airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led Coalition.

“There is a U.S. imprint on every single civilian death inside Yemen,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) recently declared, “because though the bombs that are being dropped may come out of planes that are piloted by Saudis or [United Arab Emirates forces], they are U.S.-made bombs…. It’s unconscionable.”

Congress now has an unprecedented opportunity to pass a resolution that could substantially reduce the widespread killing and humanitarian disaster in Yemen. This would be the first time since its enactment in 1973 that the War Powers Resolution is used to end a US military operation.

The Senate could act this week, but the House will not take up the matter before next year, and Trump has threatened to veto a resolution. There will invariably be amendments to any concurrent resolution in both the House and the Senate. Although the resolutions, as currently drafted, contain loopholes that could authorize US assistance to Saudi military actions against al Qaeda, and contain a clause for presidential waiver, public pressure on members of Congress to close those loopholes may well prove effective. And if sufficient pressure is applied, a resolution could garner enough congressional support to override a presidential veto.

The post Public Pressure Could Halt US Support of Yemen War appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Mueller Probe Could Lead to Indictment of the Trump Organization

Mon, 12/10/2018 - 17:37

Federal prosecutors have accused President Trump of committing a federal crime by directing illegal hush money to two women during the presidential election. The accusation was revealed Friday in filings made public by the US Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York, including a damning sentencing memo for Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen, who has admitted to paying adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal during the campaign in order to prevent them from speaking to the media about their alleged affairs with Trump. The sentencing memo was made public along with two new sentencing memos from special counsel Robert Mueller: one for Cohen and another for Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort. “We keep talking about whether you can indict a sitting president,” says independent journalist Marcy Wheeler, editor of “There’s still a debate about that, but, really critically, you can indict a corporation. You can indict Trump Organization.”


NERMEEN SHAIKH: Federal prosecutors have accused President Trump of committing a federal crime by directing illegal hush money to two women during the presidential election. The accusation was revealed Friday in filings made public by the US Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York, including a damning sentencing memo for President Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen, who has admitted to paying the women. The memo states, quote, “With respect to both payments, Cohen acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election. … He acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1,” end-quote. “Individual-1” is a reference to President Donald Trump. The payments were made to adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal during the campaign in order to prevent them from speaking to the media about their alleged affairs with Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: The sentencing memo was made public Friday along with two new sentencing memos from special counsel Robert Mueller: one for Cohen and another for Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort.

We go now to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where we’re joined by independent journalist Marcy Wheeler. She edits and has been closely following the multiple investigations of President Trump.

Marcy, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you explain what’s most significant about these filings? And just for people to understand, we’re talking about filings from two different places, from the Mueller inquiry and from the US court in New York, from the prosecutor’s office, from the US Attorney’s Office.

MARCY WHEELER: Right. So, there’s two sentencing memos, actually, both for Cohen — one out of Manhattan, as you said, the US Attorney’s Office in New York, and one out of Mueller’s office. And then, the Manafort thing is actually not a sentencing memo. It’s just a memo laying out the lies he told and the reasons he — that the government has said that he violated his plea agreement, and all of the benefits that he thought he was going to get out of that are now gone.

The news that is catching attention is what you just said, which is that in the New York sentencing memo, it makes it very clear — doesn’t accuse Trump yet, but it makes it very clear that what Cohen did in setting up these hush payments, and, importantly, getting reimbursed by Trump Organization for these hush payments, he did it with Donald Trump’s knowledge and on his instructions. And there’s been a — in the right wing, they’re sort of saying, “Well, this is just a minor campaign finance” — actually, Trump this morning tweeted out and said that, as well. But what they’re missing is that the language the US attorney in New York uses is very clearly talking about fraud to carry out that campaign finance violation. So, for example, they point to all of the efforts Cohen and the Trump Organization used the hide the payments and to hide what they were actually for, things like the shell company that Cohen set up to carry out the payments.

And so, I would expect the next charges, the ones that might name Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator but will almost certainly name Trump Organization, because, remember, his company can be indicted, and also probably whichever one of his children is named in those filings, as well, they’re going to be charged with what’s called conspiracy to defraud the United States. And the argument is that any time you carry out fraud to hide the fact — to hide stuff that prevents the government from doing regulatory work, when you do that, that’s a crime in and of itself, irregardless of how serious the campaign finance violation is. So, that seems to be where they’re going in New York.

There’s a bunch of stuff in the other two memos that say Mueller has similar kinds of crimes coming in his investigation, as well as the conspiracy with Russia. There’s still some hints that that’s going to come reasonably soon, as well.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Marcy, I want to go to Democratic Congressmember Jerry Nadler, the incoming chair of the House Judiciary Committee. He was interviewed on Sunday by CNN’s Jake Tapper about Michael Cohen’s admission that he made illegal hush money payments to two women at the direction of President Trump.

JAKE TAPPER: If it’s proven, are those impeachable offenses?

REP. JERRY NADLER: Well, they would be impeachable offenses. Whether they are important enough to justify an impeachment is a different question. But certainly they’d be impeachable offenses, because even though they were committed before the president became president, they were committed in the service of fraudulently obtaining the office. That would be the — that would be an impeachable offense.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Marcy Wheeler, can you comment on what Nadler said, its significance? And these are, in fact, impeachable offenses, he says.

MARCY WHEELER: The idea is that you cheated to win. You cheated to win the office of the presidency, and that goes to the core of whether or not you should be president. It sounds like where Nadler is going is, the underlying crime, the hush payment, may not be grave enough by itself to sustain an impeachment, but, as I mentioned, there was stuff in the filings on Friday that suggests Mueller is going to charge very similar crimes.

Just as one example, one of the things that Paul Manafort lied about is that he was getting payments through a super PAC from Tom Barrack, who is one of Trump’s biggest donors, who’s the guy who hired Paul Manafort in the first place. So he was getting payments through a super PAC that themselves are probably not legal. And it raises questions — the question we’ve always asked about Paul Manafort is: He was dead broke for the entire time he was working for Trump, so who was paying him? And if he was being paid through this super PAC, for example, then it’s another example of, as I said before, the conspiracy to defraud the United States. And what I expect is what we see in New York. We’re going to see parallel kinds of charges but tied to hiding the role of the Russians, in Mueller’s investigations. And those, I think, together, will add up.

And then the other thing that I think is really important that people have just forgotten through this entire process — we keep talking about whether you can indict a sitting president. You know, there’s still a debate about that, but, really critically, you can indict a corporation. You can indict Trump Organization. And that filing in New York and, frankly, the Cohen filing from Mueller, as well, both make it quite clear that the Trump Organization was involved in this fraudulent activity. And so, I think we should start talking a lot more about how Trump is going to react when his eponymous corporation starts getting charged in crimes, as well, because, you know, that’s where his ego is invested, that’s where his alleged billions are invested. And that, too, I think, makes him vulnerable in a way other presidents have not been.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the issue is, I mean, you’ve got the hush money payments for alleged affairs that Trump was trying to keep secret. But then, on the issue of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, which is supposedly what this inquiry was all about, explain what you think is most significant about what both Michael Cohen has said and what Manafort has said, why, for example, building a Trump Tower in Moscow weighs in here and more. And what were you most surprised by, Marcy?

MARCY WHEELER: It wasn’t surprising. We’re still getting more details about Cohen’s version of the Trump Tower deal. But the language that prosecutors — that the Mueller’s prosecutors here used in his sentencing memo was really stark, because it laid out that that Trump Tower deal could have meant hundreds of millions of dollars for Trump. That Trump Tower deal, they make explicit, probably required the involvement of the Russian government. That Trump Tower deal was being arranged at the same time as the June 9th meeting we’ve heard about over and over again. So, there’s that paragraph in the Cohen memo which lays out the stakes of what it meant for Trump, for Cohen, for Don Jr. to be open to a meeting with Vladimir Putin and to be open to a meeting from Russians offering election-year assistance on behalf of the Russian government. So, the language that Rob Goldstone, who’s the music promoter who set up that June 9th meeting — he talks about a package of assistance from the Russian government.

And the Cohen memo makes it very clear now what that would have meant to Don Jr. To Don Jr., it would have meant hundreds of millions of dollars if Vladimir Putin would buy off on this Trump Tower deal. And so, it really changes his willingness. Most of the witnesses in that meeting say that at the end of that meeting he said, “Sure, we’ll get rid of — you know, we’ll revisit these Magnitsky sanctions when and if my dad wins.” Changes the entire meaning of that meeting. And I think it makes it a lot clearer what the quid pro quo there was involved. And it was about money, and, again, money for the Trump Organization. So, it goes to that corporate entity, that can also be charged, in addition to Don Jr., who keeps talking about his expectation he’ll be indicted.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Marcy Wheeler, what do you expect — what steps do you expect the Trump administration to now take? I mean, the White House has essentially entirely dismissed what happened on Friday, saying that nothing new was revealed and nothing damaging to the president.

MARCY WHEELER: Well, it’s not clear they can do much. Matt Whitaker has not been able to prevent anything from happening. It’s not yet clear whether he’s cleared his ethics review. So it’s not yet clear whether he actually is in direct control of the Mueller investigation yet, because he should be recused. He should be ethically not permitted to be in charge of this. But the thing is that, I mean, you know, the Mueller — the Manafort discussion about the lies he told, that’s going to go forward regardless of what Whitaker said. Again, Don Jr. sounds like he recognizes more and more that Mueller has the goods, not just that he lied, but that he lied for a reason. He lied to hide this larger deal that was going on. And it sounds like Michael Cohen has provided a great deal of evidence in support of that. That’s why the Mueller prosecutor said that he actually should get some consideration in his sentencing.

So, I’m not sure what Trump can do to interrupt it. I mean, he wants to bring in William Barr as attorney general, but he, too, is going to have ethical problems, because he interviewed to be on Trump’s defense team. So, it’s not even clear, if he does get confirmed quickly, that he’ll be able to help Trump in the way that he helped Poppy Bush years ago in killing the Iran-Contra crisis. So, we’ll see. But I’m not — I think it may be beyond Trump’s ability to really undercut this investigation anymore.

AMY GOODMAN: Marcy Wheeler, we want to thank you very much for being with us, independent journalist who covers national security and civil liberties, runs the website We’ll link to your latest piece, “The Quid Pro Quo Was Even Tighter Than I Imagined.”

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go to the streets of Katowice, Poland, where thousands marched this weekend. And we go underground in a coal mine here in Poland. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Music from today’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, where Dr. Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad, a Yazidi Kurd from Iraq, were both awarded the prize for their fight against sexual violence.

The post Mueller Probe Could Lead to Indictment of the Trump Organization appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Demonstrators at UN Climate Summit Face Riot Police and Intimidation

Mon, 12/10/2018 - 17:37

This week Democracy Now! is broadcasting from the UN climate summit in Katowice, Poland, where the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait have blocked language “welcoming” October’s landmark IPCC climate report that warned of the catastrophic effects of a global temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius, beyond which global crises could unfold at a rapid pace. The four countries rejected using the word “welcome,” insisting that members instead “note” the findings of the widely cited UN report. We begin our coverage with voices of some of the thousands of climate activists from around the world who marched in Katowice on Saturday, calling for world leaders to do more to keep rising greenhouse gas emissions in check. We also speak with a member of the European Parliament who confronted undercover Polish officials who were monitoring the protest.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, We’re broadcasting from the UN climate summit in Katowice, Poland. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Thousands of climate activists marched here in Katowice, Poland, on Saturday, calling for world leaders to do more to keep rising greenhouse gas emissions in check. It was the only permitted protest during the 2-week UN climate talks. Earlier this year, Poland’s right-wing government banned all spontaneous protests and gatherings within the city. The police have also been given the authority to carry out widespread surveillance during the summit. In addition, Polish authorities blocked some climate activists from entering the country. The Climate Action Network reports at least 12 members of civil society were denied entry into Poland.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, on Saturday, Democracy Now! was out in the streets of Katowice.

PROTESTERS: Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!

KEVIN BUCKLAND: Hi. My name’s Kevin. I’m part of the Gastivists Collective. So, we’re here on the street, and we are surrounded by robocops, which is ridiculous. This is a completely peaceful protest, beautiful energy from people all around the world. But it is showing the relationship between state power in protecting the interests of the fossil fuel companies. And Europe imports about half of the world’s gas and produces almost none of it. So Europe has a hugely important role to play here. And using hundreds of billions of euros of public money to build a new generation of fossil fuel infrastructure, fossil gas infrastructure, is the wrong direction, when all that money could be spent on renewables.

If, while we’re resisting just coal and oil, they build the next generation of fossil fuel infrastructure, fossil gas infrastructure, we’re going to have to fight that one next. So we say, “Look, if the industry is selling gas as a bridge fuel, let’s take out the bridge. Let’s stop fossil fuel industry right here. And let’s go directly to the renewable energy transition we need.” We don’t have to lock ourselves into another 30 years of fossil fuel infrastructure.

PROTESTERS: Poland, not coal land! Poland, not coal land! Poland, not coal land!

DOROTHY NALUBEGA: I am Dorothy Nalubega. I’m from Uganda. I am part of the delegation of the Global Greens. The Global Greens is a network of all Green political parties in the world. And we are here at COP to push for policies to put for measures of climate mitigation that help all the world together, because climate change is a global — it’s a global issue.

Yet we know that being greedy is one of the grave causes of climate change. It is greed that has brought about the attack on the Hambach Forest in Germany. It is greed that has brought about the sand mining in Uganda, my country. It is greed that has brought about the attack on Mabira Forest in Uganda, my country. It is also greed that has brought about fracking in the U.K. So we are here today on the streets to join others to fight that, to give a message to our leaders to stop the greed and think about the generation to come.

PROTESTERS: Keep your coal in the hole. Keep your coal in the hole. Keep the oil in the soil. Keep the oil in the soil. Keep the tar in the sand. Keep the tar in the sand. Keep the gas in the land. Keep the gas in the land.

TETET LAURON: My name is Tetet Lauron, and I come from the Philippines. I’m with the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. We’re saying feminists demand climate justice. We are here to expose and oppose the rise of macho-fascism, not just in the hallways of the negotiations, but all over the world. From where I come from, the Philippines, Duterte is a macho-fascist, killing environmental rights defenders, human rights defenders, feminists, everyone who gets in his way. And it’s the same thing all over the world. We see the rise of a macho-fascism who decide on what the future of our planet will be. We cannot allow that to happen. We need to rise up. Time is up for those leaders.

The governments here do not want critical voices, and they want to silence us. The Polish bill has been enacted since last year trying to silence critical voices during the climate talks. It says demonstrations not allowed, protests not allowed. But as you can see, even if they don’t allow it, we will assert for our right to express ourselves and to protest.

SRIRAM MADHUSOODANAN: I’m Sriram Madhusoodanan from Corporate Accountability, based in Boston. And we’re here in solidarity with people’s movements around the world demanding climate justice, the people’s demands for climate justice at COP24. It’s absolutely extremely concerning that those organizations representing the voices of people are shut out when, in the same voice, just yesterday, an executive of Shell was practically boasting about their influence in the Paris Agreement and shaping parts of it, like Article 6 on markets. This is unacceptable. We have a corporation that still is not being held accountable for a long track record of human rights and environmental crimes, including in the Niger Delta. And for it to be boasting about how it is shaping the global agreement about how the world responds to climate change, that’s shameful, and that’s unacceptable.

JARON BROWNE: I’m Jaron Browne. I’m with Grassroots Global Justice Alliance. And I’m here with the It Takes Roots delegation from North America, front-line delegation. We feel like the solution of just transition is critical. And the conversation in Poland and being here even brings it more home to us, because we have folks in our movement from Appalachia who right now are taking over Mitch McConnell’s office this week because of the conditions happening with black lung and the serious health impacts for coal workers and also for communities whose water and land have been polluted. So, it’s not a question of, you know, workers versus community, but together we have real solutions. And that’s what our movements are bringing. We’re bringing a real vision of just transition that can transform the whole economy while also dealing with this urgent climate crisis.

YACEK BOZEK: Yacek Bozek, Klub Gaja. So, we are in Silesia area. This is the place, one of the places in Europe, where is not very nice air quality. Not very nice air quality is not very example — good example. We have some places in this place where air quality is the worst in Europe, like in Pszczyna, for example. And this is the reason that people have to use sometime the mask. This is the mask, anti-smoke mask. And this is the symbol for the COP24, that if we want to talk about changes, the first we have to think about people.

YUYUN HARMONO: My name is Yuyun Harmono. I’m from WALHI-Friends of the Earth Indonesia. We are here protesting our government, because our government plans to build more coal power plants. It’s not compatible with the scientists’ recommendation that we need to leave coal immediately. In developing countries, especially in the South, people are devastated because of climate change. There is a typhoon. There is a — people have to leave their places because they cannot live there anymore. The water is coming to their place. And it’s not — it’s impossible for them to live in that place. That is why we ask for the South, the developing countries, they have to act fast. They need to reduce their emissions. And they need to do it now.

MAKOMA LEKALAKALA: Makoma Lekalakala, and I’m from South Africa, Earthlife Africa. I’m here to amplify voices of poor people all over the world who are demanding climate justice. We have no more time. This is time to act. My main mission coming here was also to ensure that there is no nuclear subsidies in finance, in climate finance. Nuclear is not a solution to climate change. It can never be a solution to climate change because of the nuclear fuel chain, which is high carbon-intensive. So, at this COP, what we expect is for the negotiators to listen, to actually listen to what the IPCC report says, that nuclear is not a solution to climate change. It can never be a solution to climate change. And it should not even be considered.

VIDYA DINKER: My name is Vidya Dinker from INSAF, which is Indian Social Action Forum. And I come from South India, a coastal city, where there is ever-expanding industry taking away land and water from people and polluting our lives. Climate change is very real now. We see unprecedented flooding in our part of the world. We also see climate change, things getting hotter all the time. And we see that corporations are completely oblivious to it.

And even though our nations come here to COP and talk all the great talk, walking the walk is actually much needed, and that is not happening in our countries. They still support corporations and land grab for corporations. They are seeing that they get their subsidies. Farmers are struggling. We had a big march with farmers down Parliament Street from all over the country, congregating in Delhi, which is the national capital, demanding that there is a special session of Parliament for farmers’ issues, because farmers in India are committing suicide. They’re struggling every day. This kind of shortsighted development path that we are treading is something that is going to land us all into a hellhole.

PATRICIAH ROY AKULLO: My name is Patriciah Roy Akullo from the ACTAlliance Uganda Forum. We are here today because of the impact of climate change in our country. We are having long droughts and flooding at the same time. So, when we’re having so much drought, it means the communities cannot grow crops, so they’re having hunger, prolonged hunger. Children and women are affected. Children are not going to school, because they don’t have food at school. Their parents cannot afford school fees, because they don’t have crops to sell and raise money for their family. So the impact is quite grave. When it floods, the farm fields are flooded. Animals are dying. And if we do not see this as something grave, if the world cannot see our suffering and cannot commit to finance [inaudible], it’s not fair. It’s not climate justice. So that’s why the ACTAlliance is saying we want action now. Act now for climate justice.

JAKUB GOGOLEWSKI: My name is Jakub Gogolewski. I’m a finance campaigner with the coalition called Development YES-Open-Pit Mines NO. We are preventing all new lignite mines in Poland. And the colleagues behind me are trying to prevent what is deemed to be the last coal power plant in Poland, a very controversial project.

What we are also doing is we are using Poland to change the insurance industry. In Europe, there was a tremendous shift. In the U.S., the Insure Our Future campaign just started on U.S. insurers, which are still insuring the dirty tar sands pipelines and coal. There was a tremendous shift of the biggest reinsurers in Europe last year — Swiss Re, Munich Re. Brokers already tell us that projects in Asia, we are having problems to insure. So, this is working. So what we are saying is we actually can make coal uninsurable. If coal is not insurable, we don’t have to — we can build it in Turkey, we can build it in Indonesia, we can build it in Poland and other places that really need it.

PROTESTERS: What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now! What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!

AMY GOODMAN: Just some of the voices of thousands of people who marched Saturday for climate here in Katowice, Poland.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: During the protest, one member of the European Parliament, Thomas Waitz of Austria, confronted undercover Polish officials who were monitoring the protest. Democracy Now!’s Tami Woronoff spoke to Waitz shortly after the confrontation.

THOMAS WAITZ: So these people don’t want to tell us from which organization they are. I’m a member of the European Parliament. And he’s telling me, first, he’s not speaking English. Then he speaks English, and he says, “We are a group of friends here.” I would ask you a last time, legitimize yourself: From which organization are you? You’re all dressed in the same way here. For who are you working? Excuse me, sir? Can you hear me? So, this is something we see here, how the Polish government hides their own officials. They’re not even ready to say who they are and who they work for. My name is Thomas Waitz. I’m a member of the European Parliament.

TAMI WORONOFF: Where do you think they’re from?

THOMAS WAITZ: I think they’re a part of the Polish officials. I think they’re a part of the Secret Service, or they are part of the police force trying to hide their identity.

TAMI WORONOFF: Why do you think they’re here?

THOMAS WAITZ: I think they’re here to control the protest. I think they’re here to intervene from inside the protest if there’s any problems. But I don’t know what they’re actually doing here, because there’s so many police here. There are thousands of policemen guarding these very few protesters here, which is very ordinary people, normal people, not doing anything wrong. This is a complete ridiculous over-security measure here. It’s important that police guides the demonstration, but these persons here, they try to hide their identity, and they have a secret mission. And they’re also trying to hide their faces. They’re hiding their faces behind scarves.

TAMI WORONOFF: Can you describe the police presence here a little bit?

THOMAS WAITZ: The police presence is scary. The police is completely equipped with big amounts of tear gas. They’re equipped with electric Tasers. They are completely armed as they would go to war. And it’s a complete overdone security measure. And these people here are, I would say, 98 percent absolutely peaceful, normal citizens using their right to demonstrate. But this is a very militaristic and very aggressive attitude that we see, especially these guys, not even saying who they are working for. Who are you working for? Come on, tell us. He’s turning around. The message they send is that the official representatives of Polish politics do not see the climate rescue movement as allies but more as enemies. And I can feel that people feel threatened here as enemies and not as a welcomed part of civil society.

AMY GOODMAN: European Parliamentarian Thomas Waitz of Austria here in the streets of Katowice, Poland. When we come back, Democracy Now! goes into a coal mine. Stay with us.

The post Demonstrators at UN Climate Summit Face Riot Police and Intimidation appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

News From the Far Side of Nowhere

Mon, 12/10/2018 - 16:51

Breaking News! — as NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt often puts it when beginning his evening broadcast. Here, in summary, is my view of the news that’s breaking in the United States on just about any day of the week:

Trump. Trump. Trump. Trump. Trump.

Or rather (in the president’s style):

Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump!!!!!!!!

Or here’s another way of thinking about the news unmediated — a word that’s gained new resonance in the age of The Donald — by anyone but him: below you’ll find a set of run-on tweets from you-know-who to his base — and by that I mean not just his American fans but “the Fake News Media” that treats such messages as the catnip of their twenty-first-century lives. These particular ones are from the afternoon of November 29th and the morning of November 30th @realDonaldTrump (mistakes and all). Consider it a wee sampling of the unmediated DJT (SAD!). However, given the desperately sped up all-Donald-all-the-time universe we live in, these — being almost two weeks old — are already ancient history, the equivalent of so many messages from Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, scratched in cuneiform on clay tablets:

“Just landed in Argentina with @FLOTUS Melania! #G20Summit. ‘This demonstrates the Robert Mueller and his partisans have no evidence, not a whiff of collusion, between Trump and the Russians. Russian project legal. Trump Tower meeting (son Don), perfectly legal. He wasn’t involved with hacking.’ Gregg Jarrett. A total Witch Hunt! Alan Dershowitz: ‘These are not crimes. He (Mueller) has no authority to be a roving Commissioner. I don’t see any evidence of crimes.’ This is an illegal Hoax that should be ended immediately. Mueller refuses to look at the real crimes on the other side. Where is the IG REPORT? Arrived in Argentina with a very busy two days planned. Important meetings scheduled throughout. Our great Country is extremely well represented. Will be very productive! Oh, I get it! I am a very good developer, happily living my life, when I see our Country going in the wrong direction (to put it mildly). Against all odds, I decide to run for President & continue to run my business-very legal & very cool, talked about it on the campaign trail… Lightly looked at doing a building somewhere in Russia. Put up zero money, zero guarantees and didn’t do the project. Witch Hunt!”

And so it goes in an America already preparing to sign off on 2018 in a blur of Trump.

Or think of the Trumpian news cycle as just a set of trigger names: Paul (pardon “not off the table”) Manafort, Michael (“very weak”) Cohen, Robert (“phony witch hunt”) Mueller, Mia (“gave me no love”) Love, Vladimir (“very, very strong”) Putin, Mohammed (“might have done it” ) bin Salman, Justin (“stabbed us in the back”) Trudeau, Emmanuel (“very insulting”) Macron, Rex (“dumb as a rock“) Tillerson, James (“weak and untruthful slime ball”) Comey, Jim (“rude, terrible person”) Acosta, Roger (“guts”) Stone.

Or here are the names of the 13 New York Times reporters with bylines on pieces in some way related to Donald Trump and in that paper on the day after the president’s former lawyer Michael Cohen pled guilty to lying to Congress about a “potential Russian business deal during the presidential campaign”: Mike McIntire, Megan Twohey, Mark Mazzetti, Benjamin Weiser, Ben Protess, Maggie Haberman, Peter Baker, Daniel Politi, David D. Kirkpatrick, Michael S. Schmidt, Sharon LaFraniere, Linda Qui, and David E. Sanger. And these six reporters were given credit for helping on one or more of the pieces those 13 were involved in producing: Katie Benner, Nicholas Fandos, Eileen Sullivan, William K. Rashbaum, Neil MacFarquhar, Matt Apuzzo, and Andrew Kramer. (And that’s not even including whoever wrote the unsigned editorial page column, “Why It Matters That Mr. Cohen Lied,” or Kitty Bennett who, according to a note, “contributed research” to one of those pieces.)

And if you’re not yet feeling satisfied that I’ve caught our Trumpian moment adequately, I could certainly launch into a list of the endless insults the president regularly tosses out at “the Fake News Media” and “the Clinton News Network” in the feeding frenzy that now passes for “the news” or I could simply offer you the most relevant insults he aimed at individual reporters — mainly black ones — on the week of November 5th. (“What a stupid question. What a stupid question. But I watch you a lot and you ask a lot of stupid questions.”) At this point, though, let me take pity on your souls. I suspect you’ve already got the gist of things. I have a feeling, in fact, that you already had it long before I ever put down a word of the above.

After all, as hard as it may still be to believe, HE looms over our lives, our planet, in a way no other human being ever has … whose images were once plastered all over the Soviet Union and China. Even the staggering attention recently paid to an otherwise less than overwhelming dead president, one George H.W. Bush, could only have occurred because, in his relative diffidence, he seemed to some like the un-Trump of some long gone moment. The blanket coverage was, in other words, really just another version of Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump!!!!!!!!

All in all, check off these first two presidential years of his as a bravura performance, which shouldn’t really surprise any of us. What was he, after all, but a whiz of a performer long before he hit the White House? And what are we — the media and the rest of us — but (whether we like it or not, whether we care to be or not) his apprentices?

Now, for a little breaking news of another sort! Unbelievably enough, despite all evidence to the contrary, there are still other things going on out there somewhere, even if Donald Trump has thrown so much of it into shadow. I’m talking about a world — or parts of it, anyway — that doesn’t test well in focus groups and isn’t guaranteed, like this American president, to keep eyes eternally (or even faintly) glued to screens, a world that, in the age of Donald Trump, goes surprisingly unnoted and unnoticed.

So consider the rest of this piece the most minimalist partial rundown on, in particular, an American imperial world of war and preparations for the same, that is, but shouldn’t be, in the shadows; that shouldn’t be, but often is dealt with as if it existed on the far side of nowhere.

What We Don’t See

Let’s start with the only situation I can recall in which Donald Trump implicitly declared himself to be an apprentice. In the wake of the roadside-bomb deaths of three American soldiers in Afghanistan (a fourth would die later) — neither Donald Trump nor anyone else in Washington gives a damn, of course, about the escalating numbers of dead Afghans, military and civilian — the president expressed his condolences in an interview with the Washington Post. He then went on to explain why he (and so we) were still in Afghanistan (14,000 or so US military personnel, a vast array of American air power, and nearly 27,000 private contractors). “We’re there,” he said, “because virtually every expert that I have and speak to say[s] if we don’t go there, they’re going to be fighting over here. And I’ve heard it over and over again.”

Those “experts” are undoubtedly from among the very crew who have, over the last 17-plus years, helped fight the war in Afghanistan to what top US commanders now call a “stalemate,” which might otherwise be defined as the edge of defeat. In those years, before Donald Trump entered the Oval Office threatening to dump the longest war in American history, it had largely disappeared from American consciousness. So had much else about this country’s still-spreading wars and the still-growing war state that went with them.

In other words, none of what’s now happening in Afghanistan and elsewhere is either unique to, or even attributable to, the Trumpian moment. This president has merely brought to a head a process long underway in which America’s never-ending war on terror, which might more accurately be thought of as a war to spread terror, had long ago retreated to the far side of nowhere.

Similarly, the war state in Washington, funded in a fashion that no other set of countries on this planet even comes close to, and growing in preeminence, power, and influence by the year, continues to go largely unnoticed. Today, it is noted only in terms of Donald Trump, only to the degree that he blasts its members or former members for their attitudes toward him, only to the degree to which his followers denounce “the deep state.” Meanwhile, ex-CIA, ex-NSA, and ex-FBI officials he’s excoriated suddenly morph into so many liberal heroes to be all-but-worshipped for opposing him. What they did in the “service” of their country — from overseeing torture, warrantless wiretapping, wars, and drone assassination programs to directly intervening for the first time in an American election — has been largely forgiven and forgotten, or even turned into bestsellerdom.

Yes, American troops (aka “warriors,” aka “heroes”) from the country’s all volunteer force, or AVF, continue to be eternally and effusively thanked for their service in distant war zones, including by a president who speaks of “my generals” and “my military.” However, that military has essentially become the US equivalent of the French Foreign Legion, an imperial police force fighting wars in distant lands while most Americans obliviously go about their business.

And who these days spends any time thinking about America’s drone wars or the assassin-in-chief in the Oval Office who orders “targeted killings” across significant parts of the planet? Yes, if you happened to read a recent piece by Spencer Ackerman at the Daily Beast, you would know that, under President Trump, the already jacked-up drone strikes of the Obama era have been jacked-up again: 238 of them in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan alone in the first two years of Trump’s presidency (and that doesn’t even include Libya). And keep in mind that those figures also don’t include far larger numbers of drone strikes in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The numbers of dead from such strikes (civilian as well as terrorist) are essentially of no interest here.

And here’s another crucial aspect of Washington’s militarized global policies that has almost completely disappeared into the shadows. If you read a recent piece by Nick Turse at the Intercept, you would know that, across the continent of Africa, the US now has at least 34 military installations, ranging from small outposts to enormous, still expanding bases. To put this in the context of the much-ballyhooed new great power struggle on Planet Earth, the Chinese have one military base on that continent (in Djibouti near the biggest US base in Africa, Camp Lemonnier) and the Russians none.

In the Greater Middle East, from Afghanistan to Turkey, though it’s hard to come up with a good count, the US certainly has 50 or more significant garrisons (in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Oman, Qatar, and Turkey, among other places); Russia two (in Syria); and China none. In fact, never has any country garrisoned the planet in such an imperial and global fashion. The US still has an estimated 800 or so military bases spread across the globe, ranging from tiny “lily pads” to garrisons the size of small American towns in what Chalmers Johnson once called its “empire of bases.” And the American high command is clearly still thinking about where further garrisons might go. As the Arctic, for instance, begins to melt big time, guess who’s moving in?

And yet, in the age of Trump, when on any given day the New York Times has scads of employees focused on the president, neither that paper nor any other mainstream media outlet finds it of interest to cover developments in that empire of bases. In other words, for the media as for the American public, one of the major ways this country presents itself to others, weapons in hand, essentially doesn’t exist.

The world as it is — the world of those wars, those bases, and a national security state looming in its own unauditable fashion over the nation’s capital as well as the planet — has essentially been obliterated from American life, except as it relates to one man. Only when he manically tweets, complains, insults, or comments about any of this, does it, or a cast of characters connected to it, briefly emerge from the shadows and become a modest part of American life.

“We Came, We Saw, He Died”

Donald Trump is hardly alone in this process of self-focused obliteration. Consider, for instance, the former first lady, senator, secretary of state, and failed presidential candidate whom the president still likes to call “crooked Hillary.” In a Guardian interview, she recently made headlines by offering a little unsolicited advice on right-wing populism to political figures on another continent. “I think Europe needs to get a handle on migration because that is what lit the flame,” she said. “I admire the very generous and compassionate approaches that were taken particularly by leaders like Angela Merkel, but I think it is fair to say Europe has done its part, and must send a very clear message — ‘we are not going to be able to continue to provide refuge and support’ — because if we don’t deal with the migration issue it will continue to roil the body politic.”

In other words, when it comes to dealing with the staggering number of displaced people on this planet, she had some words of wisdom for Europe’s leaders, but curiously — or perhaps not so curiously at all — there was a small personal connection she managed to avoid. When you look at where those refugees eager to flood Europe are coming from, the three countries that have led the list since 2014 are Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan; the fourth is Nigeria. In other words, refugees from the top three lands now creating a political crisis in Europe were displaced, at least in significant part, thanks to the American war on terror and the never-ending fallout from the 2003 Bush administration invasion of Iraq. Hillary Clinton, of course, backed that invasion big time as a senator and she was involved in all of those American wars as secretary of state.

In addition, Nigerian and other desperate African refugees heading north for possible nightmarish journeys across the Mediterranean normally pass through another war-torn catastrophe of a land. Its name should certainly ring a bell with the former secretary of state. After all, she infamously mocked the 2011 death of its autocratic ruler during a US/NATO military intervention she had promoted this way: “We came, we saw, he died.”

Think of that as the epitaph on the gravestone not just of the now-failed state and terrorist haven of Libya, but of the twenty-first-century Washington Dream of a world of successful American wars and of a planetary Pax Americana. In other words, given the last 17-plus years, there was nothing strange about the fact that Hillary Clinton offered advice to the Europeans (don’t let them in!), but not to us (get out!).

Or think of it this way: those shadows were there, obliterating much of a splintering and splinted world even before Donald Trump shambled into the Oval Office. In this century, Americans have been in something like a contest of avoidance when it came to what their country and the planet it garrisons were becoming. If anything, Donald J. Trump has only made that avoidance easier — at least for the moment — as his penumbra spreads ever more darkly across our land.

The post News From the Far Side of Nowhere appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Trump Says He Didn’t Have to Disclose Payments. Legal Experts Disagree.

Mon, 12/10/2018 - 16:44

Legal experts and prosecutors are pushing back against the claim President Donald Trump made early Monday morning when he said his secret payments to silence women claiming extramarital sexual affairs with him were nothing more than a “simple private transaction.”

Trump was referring to the recent court filings involving his former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen and the revelations that Cohen, at the order of the president, created payment schemes to get both porn actor Stormy Daniels and former playboy model Karen McDougal to be quiet about the affairs they claim to have had with Trump while he was married to First Lady Melania Trump. Trump has denied the affairs, but previously pretended not to know anything about the payments.

Trump calls creating a shell company to pay off a porn star from disclosing an extramarital affair weeks before a presidential election a “simple private transaction.”

It’s also *smoking gun.

— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) December 10, 2018

New York Times columnist Jim Rutenberg noted in response to Trump’s morning tweet, “In Stormy Daniels/Karen McDougal hush $ deals prosecutors didn’t see ‘simple transactions,’ they saw a brazen effort to deceive the voting public through illegal means meant to hide that deception from campaign disclosure requirements.”

As Reuters notes in its reporting on the president’s claim, “Under US law, campaign contributions, defined as things of value given to a campaign to influence an election, must be disclosed. Such payments are also limited to $2,700 per person.”

According to a Saturday column in the Times by government watchdog experts Barry Berke, Noah Bookbinder and Norman Eisen, the sentencing memos released last week are, in fact, quite damaging to Trump and put him at legal risk:

The Trump Organization’s reimbursements to Mr. Cohen for payments were fraudulently disguised as legal fees — and, according to the memo, were approved by senior executives at the organization. The New York prosecutors also disclosed that they are investigating additional unspecified matters involving Mr. Cohen and, presumably, the Trump Organization. In light of these disclosures, the likelihood that the company and the Trump campaign face charges is now high.

Although President Trump may avoid a similar fate because the Justice Department is unlikely to indict a sitting president, he could be named as an unindicted co-conspirator, as was President Richard Nixon, or charged if he leaves office before the statute of limitations runs out (most likely in 2022).

“Contrary to the president’s claim that all of this ‘totally clears’ him,” the trio of legal experts wrote, “the danger to Mr. Trump, his business and his campaign has compounded significantly.”

In response to Trump’s morning tweet on Monday, the Washington Post reports that “prosecutors disagree” with the president’s latest claim:

In morning tweets, Trump says payments to silence women were a “simple private transaction,” not illegal campaign contributions.

Prosecutors disagree.

— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) December 10, 2018

Appearing on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday morning, Rep. Jerrod Nadler (D-NY) said that what Cohen is alleging transpired during the 2016 campaign in terms of Trump’s personal payments to the women would be a clear campaign law violation and could be grounds for impeachment:

Rep. Jerry Nadler: Illegal payments would “certainly” be “impeachable offenses” if directed by President Trump

— The Hill (@thehill) December 10, 2018

The post Trump Says He Didn’t Have to Disclose Payments. Legal Experts Disagree. appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Low-Income People Suffer When Government Tech Contracts Change

Mon, 12/10/2018 - 16:27
This article was published by

Earlier this year, the tech company Novo Dia Group announced it would not continue as a vendor with the US Department of Agriculture, due to a switch in federal contractors. What seemed a run-of-the-mill business decision threw a very real wrench into the availability of locally-grown foods for low-income Americans.

The problem was that Novo Dia held the only keys to a USDA program dedicated to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program processing software and equipment for 1,700 farmers’ markets nationwide. Without Novo Dia providing this service, markets would have no way to accept SNAP — a disruption that would cost farmers income and SNAP recipients food.

If you’ve ever attempted to switch your cell phone provider but keep your actual device, you might be able to relate: Farmers’ markets had perfectly functional and expensive equipment that simply would not work with any other SNAP processing software. It’s the government equivalent of trying to keep your iPhone when you move from Verizon to AT&T.

This episode raised a lot of questions about the government’s relationship with tech companies tasked with administering public programs: How does it choose who to hire? How does it hold those companies accountable? And how do those decisions affect the daily lives of low-income Americans who rely on being able to access their benefits?

The answers are vitally important: Governments are increasingly relying on new technologies to sort applications, manage caseloads, and distribute benefits. How such technology is contracted, developed, and deployed will have real impacts on millions of low-income Americans.

Take, for instance, what happened in Washington, DC. In the fall of 2016, the city’s Department of Human Services, along with the contractor Infosys Public Services Inc., replaced a computer system the District had been using since the early 1990s to enroll low-income residents in SNAP and cash assistance programs. The Food and Nutrition Service, the USDA agency responsible for administering the country’s nutrition assistance programs, issued a letter to the DC Department of Human Services, warning against launching the new system without having done adequate testing.

But two months later, DC rolled out the system anyway — to repeated outages and glitches, including benefits not being loaded onto Electronic Benefit Transfer cards.

Frustrations between agency employees and customers ran so high that there were physical altercations in some enrollment offices, causing the union representing the workers to issue a formal grievance. The union asked that the agency return to using the previous technology or distribute hazard pay to employees.

Rhode Island, meanwhile, has been struggling to serve its SNAP recipients since it rolled out a new $364 million computer system in 2016 — known as the Unified Health Infrastructure Project — causing delays in distribution by the thousands. Recently, the Food and Nutrition Service threatened to withhold more than $900,000 in federal reimbursements due to Rhode Island’s continued failure to address a list of nearly 30 items related to system functionality, issuance of benefits, backlogs, certification, and more.

In turn, state Department of Nutrition Services Director Courtney Hawkins blamed Deloitte Consulting, the company contracted to build the computer system saying, “This formal warning underscores the fact that Deloitte has not yet delivered a fully functioning system that works on behalf of Rhode Islanders.” In April, the company apologized for its disastrous roll-out.

To date, two federal class action lawsuits have been filed against Rhode Island over its SNAP program. Recently, it was reported that the total cost of its new computer system had reached “$647.7 million through the 2019-20 federal fiscal year, with $138 million of that amount to be covered by state taxpayers and the rest by the federal government.”

Part of the problem in developing these systems is how the government chooses which companies to hire, said Dave Guarino, director of GetCalFresh, a project of Code for America. He notes that there are only “a small number of vendors who know how to navigate the procurement process, and they’re the ones who get the contracts.”

Thus, the proposal and bidding process limits the amount of competition and creates stagnancy in the technology developed for government programs. It also leaves out newer, smaller, and more innovative companies.

In theory, this is because the government process is designed to decrease risk, given the high amount of sensitive and confidential information managed by these systems, so it’s the well-known contractors with a track record of managing large projects who ultimately get the gig.

But Guarino says that government technology crises, such as IT disasters for SNAP recipients, highlight the need for a true shift in thinking about risk and agility. “We should be demanding better software and better experiences,” said Guarino. “But if we want government to be able to act more nimbly and quickly, we also need to be able to say that government can take more risks.”

While risk-taking can have downsides, Guarino said the best practice is to test new ideas “on a really small scale in a way that minimizes risk, but maximizes learning” — a concept that could have helped to prevent harm caused by the failure of the DC system roll-out, as problems could have been spotted and fixed with a relatively small control group.

Guarino also noted the importance of working with a broad range of partners to develop and administer technology, as well as dividing up tasks to “the best firm for each job.”

His own project, GetCalFresh, is one such successful model. GetCalFresh offers online SNAP applications for 36 counties in California, and its technology was developed to measure and remove barriers that often prevent low-income people from accessing their benefits. Users can easily submit SNAP applications by mobile phone or computer, often in fewer than 10 minutes, and can also send verification documents securely via their phones. And by working with a wide range of partners, including Code For America, state and county agencies, and organizations, Guarino said the project is more successful than it would be with a single entity at the helm.

“These things often aren’t talked about as dimensions of why poverty persists and why some poverty solutions don’t reach everybody they could,” said Guarino, “But they’re a really huge deal.”

The thousands of farmers and customers affected by the Novo Dia debacle would likely agree. And as DC, Rhode Island and surely other places have proven, short-sighted decisions and worse implementation of new government tech can adversely impact scores of people. Indeed, if we want innovative, effective poverty solutions in today’s digital landscape, we need to think hard about tech.

The post Low-Income People Suffer When Government Tech Contracts Change appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

New Documents Show That Facebook Has Never Deserved Your Trust

Mon, 12/10/2018 - 15:48

Another week, another set of reminders that, while Facebook likes to paint itself as an “optimistic” company that’s simply out to help users and connect the world, the reality is very different. This past week, those reminders include a collection of newly released documents suggesting that the company adopted a host of features and policies even though it knew those choices would harm users and undermine innovation.

This month, a member of the United Kingdom’s Parliament published a trove of internal documents from Facebook, obtained as part of a lawsuit by a firm called Six4Three. The emails, memos, and slides shed new light on Facebook’s private behavior before, during, and after the events leading to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Here are some key points from the roughly 250 pages of documents.

Facebook Uses New Android Update to Pry Into Your Private Life in Ever-More Terrifying Ways

The documents include some of the internal discussion that led to Facebook Messenger’s sneaky logging of Android users’ phone call and text message histories. When a user discovered what Messenger was doing this past spring, it caused public outrage right on the heels of the Cambridge Analytica news. Facebook responded with a “fact check” press release insisting that Messenger had never collected such data without clear user permission.

In newly revealed documents from 2015, however, Facebook employees discuss plans to coerce users into upgrading to a new, more privacy-invasive version of Messenger “without subjecting them to an Android permissions dialog at all,” despite knowing that this kind of misrepresentation of the app’s capabilities was “a pretty high-risk thing to do from a PR perspective.”

This kind of disregard for user consent around phone number and contact information recalls earlier research and investigation exposing Facebook’s misuse of users’ two-factor authentication phone numbers for targeted advertising. Just as disturbing is the mention of using call and text message history to inform the notoriously uncanny PYMK, or People You May Know, feature for suggesting friends.

“I Think We Leak Info to Developers”

A central theme of the documents is how Facebook chose to let other developers use its user data. They suggest that Mark Zuckerberg recognized early on that access to Facebook’s data was extremely valuable to other companies, and that Facebook leadership were determined to leverage that value.

A little context: in 2010, Facebook launched version 1.0 of the Graph API, an extremely powerful — and permissive — set of tools that third-party developers could use to access data about users of their apps and their friends.

Dozens of emails show how the company debated monetizing access to that data. Company executives proposed several different schemes, from charging certain developers for access per user to requiring that apps “[Facebook] doesn’t want to share data with” spend a certain amount of money per year on Facebook’s ad platform or lose access to their data.

NEKO is Facebook’s acronym for its mobile app-install ad system.

The needs of users themselves were a lesser concern. At one point, in a November 2012 email, an employee mentioned the “liability” risk of giving developers such open access to such powerful information.

Zuckerberg replied:

Of course, two years later, that “leak” is exactly what happened: a shady “survey” app was able to gain access to data on 50 million people, which it then sold to Cambridge Analytica.

“Whitelists” and Access to User Data

In 2015, partly in response to concerns about privacy, Facebook moved to the more restrictive Graph API version 2.0. This version made it more difficult to acquire data about a user’s friends.

However, the documents suggest that certain companies were “whitelisted” and continued to receive privileged access to user data after the API change — without notice to users or transparent criteria for which companies should be whitelisted or not.

Companies that were granted “whitelist” access to enhanced friends data after the API change included Netflix, AirBnB, Lyft, and Bumble, plus the dating service Badoo and its spin-off Hot or Not.

The vast majority of smaller apps, as well as larger companies such as Ticketmaster, were denied access.

User Data as Anticompetitive Lever

Both before and after Facebook’s API changes, the documents indicate that the company deliberately granted or withheld access to data to undermine its competitors. In an email conversation from January 2013, one employee announced the launch of Twitter’s Vine app, which used Facebook’s Friends API. The employee proposed they “shut down” Vine’s access. Mark Zuckerberg’s response?

“Yup, go for it.”


A significant portion of the internal emails mention Facebook enforcing “data reciprocity”: that is, requiring apps that used data from Facebook to allow their users to share all of that data back to Facebook. This is ironic, given Facebook’s staunch refusal to grant reciprocal access to users’ own contacts lists after using Gmail’s contact-export feature to fuel its early growth.

In an email dated November 19, 2012, Zuckerberg outlined the company’s thinking:

Emphasis ours.

It’s no surprise that a company would prioritize what’s good for it and its profit, but it is a problem when Facebook tramples user rights and innovation to get there. And while Facebook demanded reciprocity from its developers, it withheld access from its competitors.

False User Security to Scope Out Competitors

Facebook acquired Onavo Protect, a “secure” VPN app, in fall 2013. The app was marketed as a way for users to protect their web activity from prying eyes, but it appears that Facebook used it to collect data about all the apps on a user’s phone and immediately began mining that data to gain a competitive edge. Newly released slides suggest Facebook used Onavo to measure the reach of competing social apps including Twitter, Vine, and Path, as well as measuring its penetration in emerging markets such as India.

A “highly confidential” slide showing Onavo statistics for other major apps.

In August, Apple finally banned Onavo from its app store for collecting such data in violation of its Terms of Service. These documents suggest that Facebook was collecting app data, and using it to inform strategic decisions, from the very start.

Everything But Literally Selling Your Data

In response to the documents, several Facebook press statements as well as Mark Zuckerberg’s own letter on Facebook defend the company with the refrain, “We’ve never sold anyone’s data.”

That defense fails, because it doesn’t address the core issues. Sure, Facebook does not sell user data directly to advertisers. It doesn’t have to. Facebook has tried to exchange access to users and their information in other ways. In another striking example from the documents, Facebook appeared to offer Tinder privileged access during the API transition in return for use of Tinder’s trademarked term “Moments.” And, of course, Facebook keeps the lights on by selling access to specific users’ attention in the form of targeted advertising spots.

No matter how Zuckerberg slices it, your data is at the center of Facebook’s business. Based on these documents, it seems that Facebook sucked up as much data as possible through “reciprocity” agreements with other apps, and shared it with insufficient regard to consequences for users. Then, after rolling back its permissive data-sharing APIs, the company apparently used privileged access to user data either as a lever to get what it wanted from other companies or as a weapon against its competitors. You are, and always have been, Facebook’s most valuable product.

The post New Documents Show That Facebook Has Never Deserved Your Trust appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

COP24 Climate Protesters Must Get Radical and Challenge Economic Growth

Mon, 12/10/2018 - 15:40

At the COP24 conference in Poland, countries are aiming to finalise the implementation plan for the 2015 Paris Agreement. The task has extra gravity in the wake of the recent IPCC report declaring that we have just 12 years to take the action needed to limit global warming to that infamous 1.5°C target.

Although the conference itself is open to selected state representatives only, many see the week as an opportunity to influence and define the climate action agenda for the coming year, with protests planned outside the conference halls.

A crucial role of environmental activists is to shift the public discourse around climate change and to put pressure on state representatives to act boldly. COP24 offers a rare platform on which to drive a step change in the position of governments on climate change.

However, many environmental movements in Europe are not offering the critical analysis and radical narratives needed to achieve a halt to climate change.

Growing Pains

By now most people agree that greenhouse gas emissions (including CO2) are the proximate driver of climate change, and that climate change is not only a future problem, but is already causing significant environmental and social problems across the world. Further, the trend in global CO2 emissions still appears to be increasing, driven largely by consumption in advanced and emerging economies.

Economic growth measures the increase in the amount of goods and services produced by an economy over time, and it has historically been tightly coupled to CO2 emissions. Decoupling these two factors is not impossible, and indeed many leading academics argue that the power of human ingenuity will solve the climate crisis. However, this is certainly unlikely in the timescales needed to tackle climate change in a just and equitable way.

Economic growth and carbon emissions are closely linked.International Energy Agency

Practically, what this means is that as long as economic growth continues to expand rapidly and indefinitely, so too will the quantity of CO2 in the atmosphere and the associated environmental and social impacts.

To address climate change, therefore, we must address the root cause of this planetary ailment: the ideology of growth first, growth always. By moving away from growth-oriented societies in Europe and other advanced economies, towards ones that prioritise environmental and social health, we stand the slimmest chance of solving our climate crisis, while still allowing the poorest economies globally to meet their economic needs.

From Outrage to Strategy

Recent environmental movements demanding action on climate change, like the Extinction Rebellion in the UK and the Ende Gelande Alliance in Germany, don’t seem to take a clear stance on the role of economic growth in driving climate change. They don’t identify our unwavering commitment to the dogma of infinite economic growth as the driving force behind climate change, and as the reason that our efforts thus far have been impotent to stop the growing tidal wave of CO2 emissions.

In the UK, the Extinction Rebellion has captured the public’s attention and gathered widespread support and media coverage over the past few weeks, with their outraged cries for government action.

However, their demands are broad and unspecific, asking for “net zero [carbon emissions] by 2025.” They make no mention of how the UK government might achieve this, but link to other websites which offer potential routes for reaching this target.

The sites suggested by the Extinction Rebellion promote ideas such as green growth and a green new deal. These ideas are founded on the premise that we can achieve both continually high rates of economic growth and reduce our impact on the planet. Sadly, the evidence (and a dash of common sense) tells us that this is not yet happening, and is unlikely to be possible in the near future. So what should groups like Extinction Rebellion do?

The Way Forward

It would currently be considered politically unfeasible to advocate for policies that might unintentionally, or intentionally, limit economic growth. Unfortunately, however, without a wider critique of the toxic relationship between climate change and economic growth, governments will be almost powerless to achieve any net zero targets they set.

At COP24 environmental movements have an opportunity to use their platform to highlight the relationship between economic growth and environmental impact, and even to discuss radical alternative futures that are not dependent on a growth-based economy.

Importantly, this doesn’t have to be considered a sacrifice. The relationship between economic growth and happiness in wealthy economies is at best complicated, and at worst nonexistent. This demonstrates the possibility of finding paths to climate stability that do not diminish our quality of life.

By identifying the root cause of climate change, and our inability to address it, these groups can go further than demanding action. They can change public mindsets, put pressure on national governments and point to a shared way forward. Here, we have our best shot at limiting the damage of climate change in a meaningful and timely way.

The post COP24 Climate Protesters Must Get Radical and Challenge Economic Growth appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Richard Wolff: There Are No Blueprints for Revolution

Mon, 12/10/2018 - 15:27

Richard D. Wolff is Professor of Economics Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he taught economics from 1973 to 2008. He is currently a visiting professor in the Graduate Programs in International Affairs at the New School University in New York City. In this interview, Wolff discusses how the revolutions that overthrew feudalism laid the foundations for our current crisis of capitalism, why historical models of socialism put into practice failed, and what lessons we can learn from them in creating a new socialism.

Vaios Triantafyllou: Do you believe that there is a cure for capitalism from within? Is this something that we should be looking for merely in the short term, or is it possible in the long term, as well?

Richard Wolff: I don’t know where else a cure would come from other than within. Capitalism has become the dominant economic system in the world we live in. This is the culmination of several centuries, from the 17th century, when it begins to dominate in Great Britain and spreads from there to Western Europe, and North America, Japan, and the rest of the world. Karl Marx understood that very nicely in Das Kapital, and elsewhere too, where he writes about how capitalism is the kind of system that has to become worldwide. The very logic of accumulation, competition and so on, will make it become the world system.

Marx saw that in the middle of the 19th century. Now we have achieved that a century later, through the colonial period and all the rest. So, if there is going to be a change, and if it’s going to be on this planet, then it will come from capitalism itself. And that shouldn’t discourage anyone because that’s how these changes have always come.

Feudalism collapsed in on itself; slavery likewise. Even when slavery or feudalism was overthrown by something that was geographically distant, it was still part of a system that was weakened by its own internal contradictions. So, the very ability of “outsiders” to make much of a difference is always dependent on the internal strength and cohesion of the system.

Right now, I look at the capitalisms in the world, and I see basically two, or maybe you can say three of them. I see one part of the capitalist world declining quickly with all the usual problems that go with it. I see another part of global capitalism still rising, still on the ascendancy. Then I see a third part that is neither the one nor the other. It sits there, trying to figure out which way to go, with whom to ally.

The first group would be Western Europe, North America and Japan. There, capitalism is declining. The second is China, India, Brazil and a few other places where capitalism is growing. Then, you have the rest of the world, what we used to call the “Third World.” They don’t know what to do or with whom to ally; which side to associate their own economic growth with, and obviously would feel better being like China, India and all the rest, but they still have a lot of problems. It’s not clear that they will be able to climb out of their long-term secondary status in the world, and of course, the best example of that would be Africa.

I wouldn’t know how to answer “short term” and “long term.” I’m a cautious person, so the easiest answer would be that the potential for change is in the long term. But, because of the difficulties in Western Europe, North America and Japan, and because you can never predict these things in terms of when exactly they happen, I would not exclude at all the possibility of a serious crisis of capitalism even in the short run.

When we talk about a transition to socialism or a socialist economy, do you believe that it is important to draw blueprints in our effort to achieve such a transition? More importantly, do you believe that developing such blueprints constitute a moral justification for militantly fighting for socialism (keeping in mind that when most people talk about socialism, what they have in mind is pretty vaguely defined)? Or do you believe that the existing oppression and exploitation justify militantly fighting for even vaguely defined alternatives?

I would pose it slightly differently, and I hope it’s ok with you if I do that. Let’s take the collapse of feudalism in the European context: 18th- and 17th-century revolutions in England, 18th-century revolutions in France and the United States, and so on.

In the United States, the demand for blueprints comes from people who are either enemies of socialism or deeply skeptical.

Number one: These were revolutions against a feudalism that had become intolerable. So, my assumption is, until given a reason to think otherwise, the end of capitalism also has to be seen, first and foremost, as intolerable in the growing hearts of the society — never all of the society, but parts of it, enough parts of it that there is an accumulation of power sufficient to rebel, to refuse to accept the continuation of capitalism. So that’s how I expect to see the transition begin.

Number two: If you look at the lessons from the transitions from slavery, feudalism and so on, and other examples, you will see that in no case did the people all share anything remotely like a blueprint — a clear, defined notion of what exactly they were going to put in place of the system they were rejecting, the system they were overthrowing, and so on.

I just want to make one point here: We should keep in mind that our scope is to transition to a system that has a certain degree of central planning associated with it.

Again, using the transition from feudalism to capitalism — and I use that because that’s the one we know the most about — let’s take the French Revolution…. The ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity, the great slogan of the revolution, you might add that the Americans added democracy. So, we have liberty, equality, fraternity and democracy as what they thought they were producing and putting in place of feudalism, which they associated with autocracy, aristocracy, religion and so forth.

These are all big, broad ideas. They are not blueprints of any kind…. I don’t think that the people who revolted against feudalism had a clear blueprint. I don’t even think they agreed on these broad categories. So, for example, there were forces in the revolutions against feudalism that wanted to establish a society of small, independent, self-employed proprietors. The image that comes from, say thinkers like John Locke in England, or Thomas Jefferson in the United States. But there were others who had no such idea, who thought already in terms of a much more modern notion of a small number of employers and a large number of employees, for whom self-employment was not at all what they understood to be the goal. Indeed, in many of the societies, in England, in France, in the United States, after the revolution, they got rid of feudalism. A tremendous battle broke out quickly between those who wanted a society of self-employed farmers, merchants and crafts people, versus those who wanted the more modern notion of employer-employee as being different people.

Graphic by Kostas Kochaimidis

That had to be fought out, and in each country, it was resolved in different ways. The French had always protected a huge self-employment sector, whereas the United States has ruthlessly destroyed those people and substituted ever-larger conglomerations of a board of directors of 15 people and an employee number that goes over a million — that kind of system. So, I think that what happens in each society is you have a variety of general ideas that come together in a coalition that does not agree about those ideas, but does agree on the intolerability of what exists. So, they get together, they become strong enough to break down, to tear down, to destroy what exists, and then they begin to find out among themselves which of their different images is going to be the basic principle of the next society. Then they go about constructing what they think will emerge from it.

There has to be an end to the traditional trichotomy of slavery, feudalism and capitalism.

Lastly, in the case of capitalism, it very quickly (at least in historical time) became clear that the revolutions against capitalism in France, England and the United States, and so on could not deliver on their promises. Marx sees the French Revolution, he looks around and he says, “Well we have achieved capitalism in the place of feudalism, but I don’t see liberty, equality, fraternity or democracy,” and I think that was Marx’s great insight: that the capitalist system that was brought about in a revolution against feudalism had made promises about what its leaders thought capitalism was associated with — that is liberty, equality and all that — but all these promises had been betrayed.

Marx’s project, in a way, is to explain why capitalism failed to deliver on very broad images of ideas that sincerely animated the people who made the capitalist revolution. Marx concludes in the end that the employer-employee relationship of capitalism was not the end of slavery and feudalism, it’s just the changed form of the same small number of people controlling the vast apparatus of production.

Don’t you think that it’s important to bring proposals for alternatives to the table to be discussed?

It’s fine to bring proposals as long as we don’t get lost in the details of proposals about the future. We are not able to foresee those conditions. We cannot imagine, in many cases, what they would be. Yes, by all means, let’s discuss what we would like this future to look like, as long as we remember what it is we are doing. I do not take seriously, and you and I may disagree about this, the demand for blueprints. The reason for that is, in my experience here in the United States — and things may be different in Europe or in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world — the demand for blueprints comes from people who are either enemies of socialism or deeply skeptical. It is my experience that their desire is to find some problem with, or some incompleteness of, or some inconsistency in this blueprint, not in order to debate how that problem could be solved, but to use it as an excuse not to take the project as a whole seriously. So, you understand my hesitation.

Having said that, let me try and quickly answer what I think we need to do. I think much of the experience of socialism, in the last century-and-a-half that we have had as a movement, has been focused way too excessively on what I will call the macro level of society: around questions of what the state is and does; around questions of property, whether it will be socialized or private; and on questions on the system of distribution, both of resources and products. Should that distribution be planned, typically by the state, or should it be left to the quid pro quo exchanges of a market system of one kind or another?

In a socialist society, we have to trust that ultimate power is in the hands of working people who collectively own and operate their production.

Those, I accept, are important questions. It’s not that I reject all of that, but this over-focus on these questions was at the expense of socialism inadequately focusing on the micro level. On exactly how you organize the factory, the office, the store. How do you organize the enterprise, and how do you organize the household where people live, where they do their household activities? Because socialism relatively neglected the micro level, the household and particularly the enterprise, you developed a lopsided socialism. You developed in people the notion that somehow you didn’t have to worry about the micro level. It would either take care of itself, or would be swept up in the transition to socialism at the macro level, and that, I think, history has shown us did not work. In fact, in the case of Soviet Union, I would argue the opposite worked. It was the failure to transform the enterprise and to transform the household that, in the end, made it impossible for the socialist “macro” aspect of the economy to even survive long enough to address the micro level.

So, what do I mean — very concretely — if socialism means anything, at least the socialism that I read in the works of Marx and the leading Marxists since him, is after all for me the most developed analytical tradition that’s useful in this area. It’s not the only one, but it is the most developed one. For me, there has to be an end to the traditional trichotomy of slavery, feudalism and capitalism. In each of those systems, a small number of people appropriate as they wish, the surplus produced by a large number of people. Masters appropriate and distribute the surplus produced by slaves; feudal lords appropriate and distribute the surplus produced by surfs; and capitalist employers appropriate and distribute the surplus produced by employees. For me, socialism has to be the negation of all of that. The only way I can understand that is to transform enterprises, factories, offices and stores such that all the workers involved in them together, collectively, produce a surplus which they themselves distribute. They decide collectively what to do with the surplus they have all produced. They are not exploited because they don’t give that surplus to a different group of people who decide in their own interests what to do with it.

So for me, that’s the transformation of the workplace. The micro-level institutionalization of the socialism that is adequate as a partner to the macro-property arrangements, market versus planned, role of the state and all of the rest of it. I would apply the same analysis to the household, because, in effect, it is an enterprise too. Inside the household, the food is cooked and made into a meal; dirty rooms are made into clean rooms; dirty laundry is cleaned and made clean; injuries are attended to by people in the family; children are cared for, etc.; and that, too, has to be transformed from the hierarchical, patriarchal institutions of the past to a much more egalitarian, collectively decided institutionalization of the present.

Lastly, I believe the Soviet brand of socialism — and … the other efforts, Chinese, Cuban, Eastern European, Vietnamese, and so on — were all handled similarly in the fact that they inadequately attended to the transformation of the household and the transformation of the enterprise. Because of that, they did not give to the base of society the power that comes from controlling the economic engine of society. They didn’t give the mass of people the power to control the engine at the base. That helped to enable a powerful state, originally conceived of to serve the people, to use its power not only to serve them, but also to control them and to exploit them just as the capitalists had, so that when you got rid of the private owners of the means of production and state officials replaced them, the workers still came to work each day and produced the surplus, only it was now incorporated by those state officials rather than a board of directors, and that is not adequate for a socialist transition.

So, I would argue that when I advocate for what comes beyond capitalism, it is a state planning apparatus; it is a socialized ownership model, more or less, but it is one that has to be anchored by, has to be accountable to a transformed micro level in the enterprise and the household to keep it honest, to keep it democratic. Always remember that the ultimate power in a capitalist society is with the capitalists, and if it’s going to be fundamentally different in a socialist society, then we have to trust that this power is, in the end, in the hands of working people who collectively own and operate their production. That, for me, is a lesson that any socialist needs to learn and needs to apply that comes from some of the difficult experiences of the first wave of socialists from 1917, from 1949, from Russia to China, and so on. We, too, have to learn from those experiences, from what they achieved, for sure, but also where they failed, likewise. I think this approach exceeds the imbalance between the macro and the micro, and has a solution for that imbalance by a transition to the micro level in more specificity, more concreteness, about where we are going in socialism than the people who demand blueprints have any right to expect.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

The post Richard Wolff: There Are No Blueprints for Revolution appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

North Carolina’s Election Fiasco Is About Voter Suppression, Not Voter Fraud

Sun, 12/09/2018 - 17:23

North Carolina voting issues are in the spotlight once again, thanks to swirling questions around the use of absentee ballots in the 9th Congressional district.

Last week, the North Carolina State Board of Elections voted unanimously not to certify the 9th District’s US House race — in which Republican Mark Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by a slim margin — because of irregularities in the district’s absentee ballots.

In particular, fewer ballots were returned in the 9th District than in the rest of the state. In addition, out of the 9th District ballots that were returned, there was a higher rate of ballots that were spoiled — and thus uncounted — than in other districts, the Brennan Center’s analysis confirms. To top it off, these discrepancies appear to have disproportionately affected low-income communities.

At least three voters in the 9th District have provided affidavits stating that individuals came door-to-door to collect mailed ballots, according to reports in the New York Times. These unknown visitors allegedly told the voters that they would deliver their ballots. One voter, Datesha Montgomery, reported that she voted only for school board members and sheriff, but the woman who collected her ballot said that “she would finish it herself.” This is illegal under North Carolina law. If voters are getting help with the ballot delivery, it can only be from certain direct family members (unless one of the special rules for nursing home residents is applicable).

The state is no stranger to voting-related controversies: In 2016, a federal appeals panel struck down North Carolina’s law restricting early voting and imposing strict voter ID requirements. The panel called it “the most restrictive voting law North Carolina has seen since the era of Jim Crow.”

But the controversy over the 9th District race raises a new set of issues. Here are a few key points that should not get lost:

First, Voters Are Not the Problem

Since 2010, 25 states have passed restrictive legislation making it harder for citizens to register or vote. These range from a strict voter ID law in Texas to shorter early voting periods in Florida. Collectively, these laws have placed the burden of election security onto individual voters and mistakenly positioned them since as the main culprits behind election fraud. There is, however, no evidence of widespread fraud committed by voters. Instead, legislation on election fraud in response to this controversy should focus on insiders or operatives with their special knowledge of how the system works; on preventing ballot tampering; and on ensuring that absentee ballots are returned.

Second, This Was Voter Suppression, Not Voter Fraud

The concern should be whether there was tampering with ballots cast by eligible voters. In the case of the 9th District, three voters filed affidavits claiming someone unauthorized had collected their absentee ballots, which were later not counted because they were “spoiled.” But someone seems to be trying to do a bait and switch. There have been no allegations that the voters were not who they said they were. As a result, adding a strict voter ID law to the state constitution, as some have called for, would not fix the problem at hand. Additionally, there already are laws in North Carolina around who can collect and return a ballot. (In this case, those laws were violated because individuals who are unrelated to the voter are not allowed to collect that voter’s ballot, except in rare circumstances involving people in nursing homes.)

Third, We Need to Investigate Whether This Was the Tip of the Iceberg

In the 9th District, which is where the voters who filed affidavits live, the spoiled ballot submission rate (as a percentage of all submitted absentee ballots) was 13.4 percent — more than a third higher than the rest of the state. In past years, it was essentially the same as the rest of the state. This difference, however, was particularly concentrated within certain communities in the 9th District. No one likes to think that these voters may have been targeted based on their income, race, or political affiliation, but that needs to be part of the inquiry. The three voters who have been named all live in neighborhoods where the median household income is less than $50,000. In the 9th District, 22 percent of voters in neighborhoods in that income range had spoiled ballots, far higher than in neighborhoods with similar incomes elsewhere in the state. Higher-income neighborhoods in the 9th District, however, had lower rates of spoiled absentee ballots than comparable neighborhoods in other congressional districts.

This, however, isn’t all of the story. Not only were submitted ballots from low-income neighborhoods more likely to be spoiled but these ballots were less likely to be returned at all.

The combination of high spoilage rates among the ballots that were returned (which agrees with the affidavits filed by voters) and low return rates from these neighborhoods is cause for serious concern. To be sure, there is not yet independent evidence that criminals were collecting ballots and disposing of them, but these numbers indicate that possibility.

Nonwhite voters in the 9th District were also much more likely to submit spoiled ballots than in other parts of the state. Although this disparity is not as glaring as the disparity arising from neighborhood differences, it is still significant and worrying, and it demands further explanation.

Finally, when we slice the data by political affiliation, there are problematic discrepancies in the absentee ballot spoilage rate. Republican absentee voters in the 9th District were slightly more likely to submit spoiled ballots than Republican voters elsewhere in the state. The difference, however, is much greater among Democratic voters: 18.7 percent of ballots returned by Democratic voters in the 9th District were spoiled compared to just 12.5 percent of ballots outside of the district.

To be clear, these numbers do not alone prove systematic election fraud. They do, however, give cause to investigate these voters’ claims.

Vote suppression is destructive. It weakens our democratic institutions and cheapens our democracy. Credible claims need to be investigated, and perpetrators need to be held accountable.

The post North Carolina’s Election Fiasco Is About Voter Suppression, Not Voter Fraud appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Philadelphia Just Passed the Strongest Fair Scheduling Law in the Nation

Sun, 12/09/2018 - 17:16

Philadelphia, the poorest big city in the country, just enacted the most sweeping bill yet to give low-wage workers some control over their schedules.

The city’s new law, which passed the city council on Thursday, will require businesses with more than 250 employees and more than 30 locations worldwide to provide employees their schedules at least 10 days in advance. If any changes are made to their schedules after that, employers will owe employees more money. Employers will also be required to offer more hours as they become available to existing employees who want them rather than hiring new people, and they’ll be banned from retaliating against those who either request or decline more hours.

The law is poised to have a huge impact: A recent survey conducted by UC Berkeley found that among food and retail sector workers in Philadelphia, 62 percent receive their schedules less than two weeks ahead of time and two-thirds work irregular or variable schedules. Almost half usually work 30 hours or less each week even though less than 15 percent have a second job to supplement their incomes.

“It seems that employers are being less and less cognizant of their workers’ needs and home lives,” noted Nadia Hewka, an employment lawyer with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, which advocated for the bill. “This would just put a little bit of balance back into that equation.”

The effort to help workers control their schedules started around a year ago, when advocates convened to discuss how Philadelphia could take action on its own to improve living standards for its residents. “Philadelphia is a very high-poverty city,” Hewka noted. More than a quarter of the city’s population lives below the poverty line. So advocates were interested in “anything that we can do to raise the bottom just a little bit.” But thanks to a state preemption law, the city can’t raise the minimum wage—that power is reserved for the state government. So the city council has turned to a number of other measures that can make life for working people easier: paid sick leave, an anti-wage theft ordinance, a salary history ban, ban the box legislation and now a fair scheduling law.

“What I know is that I can’t be paralyzed just because the state has limited our capacity to be able to directly raise the minimum wage,” said Helen Gym, the first-term councilmember who introduced the fair workweek bill. “We have to talk about other things that impact people’s lives and could also improve them.”

The former community organizer came into the council looking for something that could “really grapple with this incredibly vast and intractable situation around deep and entrenched poverty in our city.” As she spoke with low-wage workers and those who work with them—teachers, lawyers, anti-poverty advocates—everyone brought up how unstable schedules were disrupting people’s lives. “This was a major, major issue,” she said.

“As a municipality, we have to do something,” she added. “We have the authority and the responsibility to act here as one of the largest cities in the country.” Her colleagues apparently agreed: “It has been one of the most popular bills to move through our council in a while,” she said.

While other places, such as Oregon, New York City, San Francisco and Seattle, have similar scheduling legislation, Philadelphia’s goes further by covering workers in all industries, not just those in retail. “Of all the bills that exist around the country, ours will be the most far-reaching,” Gym noted. Hewka credits the involvement of UNITE HERE Philly, which represents hotel and restaurant workers and advocated for the bill.

Hewka sees the new law as an anti-poverty measure. It’s difficult “when you don’t know how many hours you’re working and how much you’ll be earning by the end of the week or the end of the month to make the bills you need to make,” she said. Someone’s income isn’t just determined by her wage, but by how many hours she works. A more predictable set of hours, and the ability to get more as they become available, can make a big difference.

And there are other benefits to a steady schedule. Hewka noted that many people feel that if minimum wage workers don’t like their pay they should get better jobs. “How are you supposed to improve your lot in life and go to school if your class schedules are set and your work schedule always changes?” Hewka noted. It’s also nearly impossible to hold down a second job to make ends meet if the first one is constantly shifting.

The bind is particularly tight for parents. “When [workers] are not allowed to have a say in their schedules,” Hewka said, “it impacts their entire family.” One big hurdle is finding childcare to fit a work schedule when that work schedule is constantly shifting.

On top of that, parents have to get their children to school, doctors’ offices, after-school activities and other appointments. Poor families are also often navigating the demands of welfare offices or child services, Hewka pointed out, all of which typically require daytime appointments. “All of these systems assume that you’re available to do these tasks,” she said. She has even had clients fail to show up to meetings in her office because they had to be at work instead.

“Jobs don’t recognize [workers’] humanity, let alone these kinds of demands on their lives,” she added. “You’re spinning plates up in the air with all of these things in your life. A work schedule changing can really cause everything to come crashing down.”

Gym hopes not just to improve Philadelphians’ working lives, but to make a bigger impact. “We’re trying to change the way in which we talk about poverty and the nature of work these days,” she said. “Not only did we set a standard for what happens around the state, but we sent a message across the nation that we need to see an economic justice agenda.”

The post Philadelphia Just Passed the Strongest Fair Scheduling Law in the Nation appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Carbon Emissions Will Reach a Record High of 37 Billion Tons in 2018

Sun, 12/09/2018 - 17:14

Carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions from fossil fuels and industry are projected to rise more than 2% (range 1.8% to 3.7%) in 2018, taking global fossil CO₂ emissions to a new record high of 37.1 billion tonnes.

The strong growth is the second consecutive year of increasing emissions since the 2014-16 period when emissions stabilised, further slowing progress towards the goals of the Paris Agreement that require a peak in greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible. Strong growth in emissions from the use of coal, oil and natural gas suggests CO₂ emissions are likely to increase further in 2019.

Strong energy demand is behind the rise in emissions growth, which is outpacing the speed at which decarbonisation of the energy system is taking place. Total energy consumption around the world increased by one sixth over the past decade, the result of a growing global middle class and the need to provide electricity to hundreds of millions of people living in poverty. The challenge, then, is for all nations to decarbonise their economies while also satisfying the need for energy, particularly in developing countries where continued growth in energy supply is needed.

These analyses are part of the new annual assessment of the Global Carbon Project (GCP), published today in three separate papers. The GCP brings together scientists who use climate and industrial data from around the world to develop the most comprehensive picture of the Earth’s sources and sinks of greenhouse gases.

Historical CO₂ fossil fuel emissions (black, red dot is our projection for 2018) and the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs) from the IPCC 1.5℃ special report (2018) to stabilise the climate below 1.5℃ and 2℃ warming above pre-industrial levels.Historical CO₂ fossil fuel emissions (black, red dot is our projection for 2018) and the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs) from the IPCC 1.5℃ special report (2018) to stabilise the climate below 1.5℃ and 2℃ warming above pre-industrial levels.Global Carbon Project/Jackson et al. 2018 Sources of Fossil Fuel Emissions

A surprise in 2018 (and 2017) was the return to growth in CO₂ emissions from coal use after an apparent peak in 2013, although coal emissions in 2017 were still 3% below the 2013 record high. This change was one primary reason for the higher increase in emissions growth in 2018, on top of long-term growth in oil and natural gas emissions. The largest national contributions to the growth in coal emissions came from China and India, while the single largest decline in coal emissions was in the United States, where more than 250 coal-fired power plants have closed since 2010 and more are expected to close down over the next five years.

The growth of emissions from cement production has slowed significantly.

Annual global CO₂ fossil fuel emissions to 2017, with the 2018 projection suggesting coal will approach the levels seen in 2013. (Le Quere et al. 2018, ESSD; Jackson et al. 2018, ERL)Annual global CO₂ fossil fuel emissions to 2017, with the 2018 projection suggesting coal will approach the levels seen in 2013. (Le Quere et al. 2018, ESSD; Jackson et al. 2018, ERL)Global Carbon Project Country Trends

Most countries are contributing to the increase in global fossil CO₂ emissions. However, 19 countries representing 20% of the global emissions, showed declining trends in emissions in the past decade (2008-17) while their economies continued to grow. These countries are: Aruba, Barbados, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, Malta, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, the UK, the US, and Uzbekistan.

Turning to changes in CO₂ emissions in 2018, unexpectedly, China, which accounts for 27% of global emissions, is set to grow 4.7%, up from 1.7% growth in 2017. Likewise, and despite the long-term trend of emissions declines, the US is set to increase its emissions by 2.5% this year, due to increased heating and cooling demands and oil use. The European Union is set to reduce its emissions by 0.7%, compared with 1.4% growth in 2017, potentially the first reduction since 2014. Indian emissions are expected to grow 6.3% on the back of strong growth in coal use. Greenhouse gas emissions in Australia have increased for the last four years to June 2018.

Annual CO₂ fossil fuel emissions to 2017, and projected 2018 emissions based on partial data to September (dot points with error bars).Annual CO₂ fossil fuel emissions to 2017, and projected 2018 emissions based on partial data to September (dot points with error bars).Global Carbon Project/Le Quere et al. 2018/Jackson et al. 2018CO₂ emissions per capita to 2017. Global Carbon Project 2018.CO₂ emissions per capita to 2017. Global Carbon Project 2018. Access the complete infographic at:


An unprecedented energy revolution is already underway towards cleaner sources of energy. Globally, renewable energy (solar, wind, and biofuels) is growing at an extraordinary rate, with a doubling of the global capacity every four years, albeit starting from a very low base compared with energy generated from fossil fuels. A continuation and acceleration of this trend is consistent with the requirements of the Paris Agreement. However, the same scenarios also call for the equally rapid decline in emissions from fossil fuels, something we do not see in our latest data presented here. The stronger growth in emissions projected for 2018, which is likely to extend into 2019, is inconsistent with agreed-upon climate targets.

Global Carbon ProjectGlobal Carbon Project

The recent Emissions Gap Report 2018 shows large and growing discrepancies among 1) current emissions trends, 2) national emissions reduction committed by countries, and 3) the declining trends required to meet the targets of the Paris agreement.

All countries need to increase their mitigation efforts and levels of ambition to reverse the tide of emissions growth, if decarbonisation pathways consistent with the climate targets of 1.5℃ and well-below 2℃are to be met.

Disclosure Statements: Pep Canadell receives funding from the Australian National Environmental Science Program – Earth Systems and Climate Change Hub. Corinne Le Quéré is affiliated with the UK Committee on Climate Change and the French Haut-Conseil pour l’action climatique. Glen Peters receives funding from the Research Council of Norway and the European Commission (Horizon 2020). Robbie Andrew receives funding from the Research Council of Norway. Rob Jackson receives funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

The post Carbon Emissions Will Reach a Record High of 37 Billion Tons in 2018 appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Swept Up in France’s Yellow Vest Protests

Sun, 12/09/2018 - 16:09
This story was originally published at Labor Notes.

I’ve never been tear gassed before. The smell is similar to fireworks and the effect is explosive—and effective. I immediately wanted to get as far away as I could from the noxious source of burning eyes and throat.

I was in Paris when France’s “yellow vest” (gilet jaune) movement shut down the center of the city.

There were thousands of demonstrators, all wearing the bright yellow safety vests drivers are required by law to have in their cars.

They had come from all over the country. The Paris demonstration was the latest escalation in a leaderless movement organized by activists through social media.

The movement originated out of resentment over a hike in the price of diesel gas announced by President Emmanuel Macron as part of his efforts to address climate change. The price of gas in France is already the equivalent of $6.74 a gallon. Rural families dependent on vehicles would be stretched even further with the gas tax hike.

But this is no American-style Taxed Enough Already (TEA) party protest.

“These protests are not a backlash against the presence of the French state in the economy,” said Cole Stangler, a labor journalist who reports from Paris. “Many yellow vests are just asking that it act more fairly, infuriated by a government that asks them to give up more income each month at the same time as it grants tax cuts to the super-rich.”

The protesters represent a broad section of working-class France, and their anger is wholly understandable. While the French economy has recovered in the sense that business is booming, the standard of living for the average French family has not improved since the 2008 global economic collapse. Macron’s administration has doggedly pursued the interests of corporations and the rich, reducing taxes on the rich to the tune of billions of dollars per year.

Macron has also paved the way for companies to sidestep the sectoral agreements that set industry standards and protect workers, instead negotiating individual company contracts with unions. In an executive order, he made it easier to fire workers—and thousands have been terminated as a result. Unions claim that companies are seizing the chance to expel senior, higher-paid workers and fill those positions with younger, lower-paid replacements. Macron claims these changes are necessary to address high unemployment—it has stood at over 9 percent for a decade—by further shifting the balance of power away from workers, towards employers.

Mass Disruption

The protest began at the Arc de Triomphe and commenced down the Champs-Élysées, Paris’s most opulent commercial boulevard right in the heart of the city.

This was a demonstration that intended to be heard. Mass disruption was the goal—no more business as usual.

Protesters shattered windows and set fire to construction vehicles and food stands. Entire sections of the cobblestone street were missing, as if a giant had rolled up the road and walked off with it for a living room rug.

The protesters had wielded stones, but the riot police had armor, shields, batons, and guns. And lots of tear gas.

The demonstration fanned out through central Paris as the police fired can after can into the crowds and the streets became shrouded in a fog of poison.

Police and demonstrators reached standoffs in some of the small side streets that Paris is known for.

Lines of militarized police stood behind makeshift fencing they erected on one end of a boulevard while protesters gathered around fires they set in the middle of the road at the opposite end.

Tourists caught in the middle and trying to get out were frustrated in their attempt as central Paris became a maze of impassable streets.

Macron Caves

According to polling in France, the yellow vest movement is supported by two-thirds of the public. This stands in sharp contrast to Macron, whose approval rating is barely above 20 percent.

Feeling the heat from the barricades, Macron announced this week that the tax hikes will not be enacted in 2019.

The future of the yellow vest movement is less clear.

As with the leaderless Occupy movement in the US in 2011, major union confederations haven’t backed France’s movement, but local unions have turned out members and their sympathizers to the yellow vest protests.

“Meanwhile, militant railroad workers in Paris—many of the same ones who went on rolling strikes last spring over reforms that undermined their job security—have organized a yellow vest solidarity march this weekend,” said Stangler.

“There is anger and a willingness to keep protesting without a clear set of demands. Labor, left and student activists all hope to turn the movement in a more progressive direction.”

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Categories: News

Judge Rules Against Pre-Construction Work on Keystone XL

Sun, 12/09/2018 - 16:08

Opponents of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline—from indigenous and environmental groups to local farmers and ranchers—celebrated a win in court after a federal judge ruled on Friday that the fossil fuel giant cannot conduct pre-construction work on the pipeline until the full environmental review ordered last month is complete.

“Somehow TransCanada still hasn’t gotten the message that Keystone XL is a lost cause,” observed Sierra Club senior attorney Doug Hayes. “We’ve held off construction of this dirty tar sands pipeline for a decade because it would be a bad deal for the American people, and [Friday’s] ruling is yet another reminder that it will never be built.”

The ruling from US District Court Judge Brian Morris of Great Falls, Montana followed a November decision which found that the Trump administration ignored “prior factual findings related to climate change” and relied on “outdated information” regarding Keystone XL’s threat to endangered species, tribal lands, and regional water resources when issuing a permit for the pipeline.

In a move denounced as “corporate bulling at its worst” by Friends of the Earth legal director Marcie Keever, TransCanada had sought permission to conduct pre-construction work. Morris ruled that Calgary-based company may continue activities such as security efforts and conducting surveys needed to revise the environmental review, but barred all field activities along the proposed route.

“Farmers and ranchers thank the judge for seeing through TransCanada’s transparent power grab,” added Bold Alliance president Jane Kleeb. “We want our property rights and water protected, yet all the Trump administration cares about is aiding a foreign oil corporation.”

Calling the judge’s latest decision “one more victory for the rule of law over this reckless and risky project,” Natural Resource Defense Council senior attorney Jackie Prange said: “Keystone XL cannot be built unless and until the Trump administration complies with the law. So far, we’ve seen no indication that it plans to do so.”

Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, agreed—concluding that “if the Trump administration takes an honest look at Keystone XL’s impacts, it won’t be able to justify this horrible climate-killing project.”

Critics of the Keystone XL continue to battle it in court and on the ground by organizing protests, installing solar panels along the proposed path, and returning land to local tribes in hopes of blocking the hotly contested project.

Bill McKibben, co-founder of, turned to Twitter after the ruling to thanks those who have continued the fight against the project:

Month after month, year after year, good lawyers help make sure Keystone Pipeline doesn't get built. Another win today–many thanks @CenterForBioDiv @BoldNebraska @SierraClub @NRDC @foe_us

— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) December 8, 2018

The post Judge Rules Against Pre-Construction Work on Keystone XL appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Shark Fishing Tournaments Devalue Ocean Wildlife and Harm Conservation

Sun, 12/09/2018 - 16:05

Just over three years ago, I was clinging to a rock in 20 meters of water, trying to stop the current from pulling me out to sea. I peered out into the gloom of the Pacific. Suddenly, three big dark shapes came into view, moving in a jerky, yet somehow smooth and majestic manner. I looked directly into the left eyes of hammerhead sharks as they swam past, maybe 10 meters from me. I could see the gill slits, the brown skin. But most of all, what struck me was just how big these animals are — far from the biggest sharks in the seas, but incredibly powerfully built and solid. These are truly magnificent creatures.

These animals (by which I mean any large shark, not just hammerheads) are at the top of the marine food chain. They are important keystone predators that can help structure marine ecosystems. Their role as predators can even help with carbon dynamics, keeping carbon locked up in marine sediments, or by controlling the amount of respiring biomass in our seas.

The graphic above shows how top predators such as sharks can control marine communities and help prevent climate change. Fewer top predators result in an overall greater biomass of small fish and zooplankton. The respiration of this increased biomass produces more carbon dioxide. The graphic above shows how top predators such as sharks can control marine communities and help prevent climate change. Fewer top predators result in an overall greater biomass of small fish and zooplankton. The respiration of this increased biomass produces more carbon dioxide.Via Author, CC BY 4.0

Sharks have low reproductive rates, making them especially susceptible to overfishing. Many species targeted by shark fishing tournaments (including all thresher sharks, porbeagle and makos, three of the most commonly targeted species) are already classified as vulnerable or threatened by international conservation organizations, meaning they should be protected, not killed, especially for recreation or competition.

Ecological Consequences of Shark Fishing Tournaments

Sharks are fished recreationally and as part of fishing tournaments in many places, including Australia and South Africa. However, it is typically the East Coast of the US which has specific tournaments focusing solely on sharks. These large shark fishing tournaments can have between a few dozen to a few hundred competitors, but competitors will only land the largest of these sharks. Smaller “bycatch” may go unreported, with reports of up to 16 sharks being “discarded” per boat. This catch-and-release can also be fatal to sharks, especially species such as threshers, which show a high degree of mortality after being released.

Given there are typically around 70 shark fishing tournaments per year on the East Coast of the US, this gives an upper estimate of around 70,000 sharks that could potentially be killed solely for the purposes of competition in this area (this is very much an upper estimate, assuming 100 competitors per tournament and 10 sharks killed, either through landing or discard mortality, per competitor). Overall, recreational shark fishing in the US is similar to or greater than the commercial catch — in 2014, 226,000 sharks were killed from recreational fishing, with potentially more dying as a result of catch and release.

Mako sharks killed at the South Jersey Shark Tournament in June 2017.Mako sharks killed at the South Jersey Shark Tournament in June 2017.Lewis Pugh

However, some perspective is needed here. The Pew Charitable Trust estimates that between 63 and 273 million sharks are fished from the ocean every year by commercial fishers, most often targeting shark fins. The numbers are highly uncertain, partly as so much shark fishing activity is illegal. Shark tournaments certainly kill fewer sharks than this commercial catch; however, the numbers caught and the low number of species targeted in relatively localized areas can still be high, especially on top of already highly depleted populations.

Furthermore, while fecundity (the number of offspring an individual can produce) can be difficult to measure in sharks, a common trend (which holds true in species such as dusky smooth hounds) shows that fecundity levels off with age (once mature, there is no further increase), but continues to increase with size (bigger sharks produce more offspring). This means selecting the biggest sharks may have an effect on the reproductive potential of the species.

This change may be long-term too. In many commercial fish stocks, evolutionary change has occurred as a result of fishing the largest individuals, with species evolving to be smaller due to the human-induced selective pressures of being large. While far more research would be needed for comprehensive knowledge, social structure, mate choice and aggression can all be influenced by body size, and fishing for the largest individuals may have bigger consequences than was previously thought.

The Wider Conservation Implications of Shark Fishing Tournaments

While the removal of top predators from any ecosystem is a concern, the population effects of shark fishing tournaments are clearly lower for sharks than worldwide commercial fishing. However, the conservation implications of these tournaments are greater than can be conveyed by mere numbers. In his book Animate Earth, Stephan Harding puts forward the case for equality of humans and animals, and argues that the removal of the hierarchy where humans preside over nature should allow us far greater respect for the natural environment. This builds on the foundations of bioethicist Peter Singer’s work on equality in the late 1970s, in which he argued for equality of humans and animals. While Singer’s work is an extension of human rights, Harding’s ideas are to place us within nature, not above it, and hence develop a deep respect for plants, animals and even microbes, in a similar manner to many Indigenous cultures.

At present, our planet is under a multitude of human-caused threats. Climate change, deforestation, overfishing, biodiversity loss and pollution all have a common cause, which stems from an economic and political system which treats the planet’s natural resources as either an unlimited all-you-can-eat buffet, or a drain in which we can continuously pour our waste. To address these environmental issues, we need to learn to respect nature.

Fishing sharks for prize money is the absolute antithesis of respect for nature. It places man (and it is typically white male-dominated) as the absolute power and pinnacle of life on Earth. Participants parade around with their ocean kills for the ability to receive prize money to spend and consume even more. It enforces the view that nature is there, not just to exploit for food, but to exploit for enjoyment and financial gain.

If we are to overcome the multitude of environmental threats that are urgently facing humankind, we need a major change in attitude, from exploiting nature as we see fit, to living as a harmonious part of nature. While shark fishing tournaments do target endangered species and will have negative effects on marine ecosystems, it is important to remember this is not an argument solely about numbers killed or “sustainability” of the shark populations, but about the greater environmental consequences of the messages it conveys.

Take Action: Urge Chris Oliver, the assistant administrator for fisheries at NOAA Fisheries, to stop the killing of IUCN Red List threatened species, such as mako and thresher sharks, at shark tournaments and rodeos in the USA.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The post Shark Fishing Tournaments Devalue Ocean Wildlife and Harm Conservation appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Big Tobacco Won’t Take Menthol Ban Lying Down

Sun, 12/09/2018 - 16:04

On November 15, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced plans to ban menthol cigarettes in a move that agency officials described as part of an aggressive new campaign against certain tobacco products. The plans have been welcomed by campaign groups who see mint-flavored smokes as a key means of hooking young people, particularly people of color. But given that certain manufacturers, like Altria Group, make as much as 20 percent of their profits from menthol cigarettes, the agency can expect a fierce battle. The industry will fight hard – and dirty – in its attempts to wriggle free of regulation.

The menthol ban is just one of a package of proposals designed to protect teens from tobacco. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb – a cancer survivor – also plans to curb the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and flavored cigars. Yet, there’s no doubt which is the most significant of the proposals; the FDA has been planning a crackdown on menthol for years and has already secured a ban on several other flavors, thanks to the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009, which expanded the agency’s ability to regulate the manufacturing, distribution and marketing of tobacco products. If the agency manages to outlaw menthol smokes as well, it will have struck a decisive blow against what Gottlieb describes as “one of the most common and pernicious routes” toward heavy smoking.

Echoing a common view among health bodies, the FDA stated menthol cigarettes are harder to quit than non-menthols, pose greater health risks and carry particular danger for young people because they mask the true taste of tobacco. This is backed up by research that shows that around 50 percent of teen smokers smoke menthol cigarettes, rising to 70 percent in the African American community. Indeed, groups like the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids say the move is long overdue: “Menthol cigarettes are the single most important pathway to get kids to start smoking in the United States,” said the organization’s president, Matthew Myers.

Unfortunately, analysts say that of all Gottlieb’s measures, the battle against menthol will be the toughest to win. A regulatory ban is expected to take at least a year to finalize and a further year to enact, and the FDA can’t implement it unilaterally; any prohibition would have to be signed off by the federal government, which means external agencies will be invited into the process. At some stage, the tobacco industry will have its say, and the industry’s public relations staff (not to mention litigation teams) have already begun the counteroffensive, suggesting the ban would create a black market and is “not supported by the science or evidence.”

Indeed, the army of lawyers and lobbyists at Big Tobacco’s disposal provide a fearsome obstacle. The very fact that menthol cigarettes haven’t been banned already is testament to Big Tobacco’s lobbying, which ensured the 2009 Control Act excluded minty smokes and prevented the FDA from banning existing tobacco products unilaterally. When the agency tried to reclassify e-cigarettes as medical devices to get around this roadblock, the tobacco lawyers fought and beat them again. Then there’s the shakiness of the science; lawyers are sure to zero in on the claim that menthol makes cigarettes more addictive, which manufacturers have already challenged in front of the FDA.

The E-Cigarette Bait-and-Switch

Make no mistake; this is a battle regulators must win. Although the e-cigarette market is booming among high school students, it’s got nothing on menthol, which accounts for around 35 percent of total US cigarette sales. When the FDA announced its offensive, shares in British American Tobacco (BAT) and Imperial Brands lost £8.6 billion (more than $10.9 billion in US dollars), and this comes on the back of a nightmare period: BAT has already lost 40 percent of its share value over the past year. Facing tightening regulations around the world, and having been forced to admit that cigarettes are harmful and addictive, the manufacturers simply can’t afford to lose their gateway to the highly impressionable youth market.

Time and again, the industry has shown it will stop at nothing to protect its access to new smokers – which is perhaps understandable, given its product kills two of every three long-term customers. Whether it be manipulating prices to mitigate the effect of tax hikes, or advertising near schools in developing countries, Big Tobacco has stooped to ever-greater lows to replenish its market. Even when throttled by regulations, manufacturers find a way out. In the United Kingdom, for example, Philip Morris has launched a “Hold My Light” campaign that says quitting cigarettes “is the best decision a smoker can make” – but then tells readers to switch to e-cigarettes instead.

Indeed, touting the alleged benefits of e-cigarettes is a savvy bait-and-switch from an industry that already sees the writing on the wall. It’s a tactic that was on full display in October, when delegates from 137 countries convened in Geneva to update the World Health Organization’s (WHO) global tobacco treaty, formally known as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Since the treaty entered into force in 2005, it has played a major role in curbing tobacco use around the world, particularly in demand-reduction measures. According to a 2018 assessment, it is estimated that almost 22 million future premature smoking-attributable deaths were averted thanks to “strong implementation of demand-reduction measures” taken by countries between 2007 and 2014. Given this impact, Big Tobacco was unlikely to let such an occasion pass without a counteroffensive. According to The New York Times, Japan Tobacco International was among the funders of a swanky party, called the “Nicotine Is Not Your Enemy Soirée,” which was held just down the road from the Convention’s eighth Conference of the Parties. Corporate staff were banned by the WHO from attending official events, but Philip Morris hosted a “PMI Science Engagement Hub” to try to explain the company’s new focus on supposedly “harm-reduction” devices – that is to say, e-cigarettes. Japan Tobacco International was among the funders of a swanky party, called the “Nicotine Is Not Your Enemy Soirée,” which was held just down the road from the Convention’s eighth Conference of the Parties. Banned by the WHO from having its staff attend official events, Philip Morris also hosted a “PMI Science Engagement Hub” to try to explain the company’s new focus on supposedly “harm-reduction” devices – that is to say, e-cigarettes.

Clearly, from defending its “right” to sell menthols to staking its claim in the relatively unregulated territory of e-cigarettes, the industry will use every tactic at its disposal to try to guard its market share. But this doesn’t mean that the FDA and other regulators should back down. For the health of the general public, these are battles that must be fought with just as much mettle as the industry has.

The post Big Tobacco Won’t Take Menthol Ban Lying Down appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Progressive Activists Are Winning in Red States

Sun, 12/09/2018 - 15:47

The tireless organizing of progressives in red states this fall did not just deliver one-time wins for progressive policies in areas controlled by Republican governments — it also established an infrastructure that could pave the way for progressive triumphs in the future.

The numerous progressive policy victories declared this November — including many in states where Republicans were victorious on election night — were a result of dogged campaigns and a variety of strategies.

Ballot minimum wages passed in Arkansas and Missouri. Voters expanded Medicaid in Idaho, Utah and Nebraska. Utah legalized medical marijuana. Voters in Charlotte passed what one community organizer called “the largest housing bond in the history of Charlotte.” In Austin, a $250 million housing bond was approved. Nashville approved a community oversight board for police misconduct cases. In Texas’s Harris County, 19 Black women running on criminal justice platforms were elected to various benches and a socialist became a misdemeanor court judge.

All of these wins were made possible by an infrastructure that has been built by progressives over the course of many years. While election coverage tends to simply tabulate wins and losses, the backstory of these victories is the most crucial component. It’s this groundwork that can potentially deliver more wins to these regions, both inside and outside of the ballot box.

“We Need to Hold Our Leaders Accountable Now”

Last spring, 20,000 teachers went on strike in Arizona to protest low pay and public education cuts. They ended the work stoppage after the state government agreed to raise pay and increase funding.

Noah Karvelis — a music teacher in the Littleton Elementary School District and an organizer with the group Arizona Educators United, which leads the state’s “Red for Ed” movement — said organizers knocked on some 80,000 doors to elect pro-education candidates in the state. Arizona Democrats hadn’t prevailed in a statewide vote count since 2008, but this midterm was different. They ended up winning five of the state’s nine House seats, winning the Senate seat left open by Jeff Flake’s announced retirement, and reducing the Arizona Legislature’s GOP majority considerably. Perhaps the most surprising victory of the night belonged to 32-year-old Kathy Hoffman, a first-time candidate and speech pathologist who was elected Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction. Not only did Hoffman beat a veteran lawmaker in the Democratic primary; she also took down Republican Frank Riggs, who had expanded charter schools and pushed vouchers while in power.

Karvelis told Truthout that one of the most striking aspects of this election season was how nearly all the candidates had to present themselves as pro-education. Some of the very state legislature members whom organizers fought against had to play up their commitment to schools on the campaign trail.

Red for Ed built an infrastructure to go beyond the strike and beyond any given election. Teachers set up a network of “site liaisons” throughout the state to organize in different districts.

Karvelis explained how Red for Ed built an infrastructure to go beyond the strike and beyond any given election. Teachers set up a network of “site liaisons” throughout the state to organize in different districts and equipped local leaders with a toolbox of effective strategies. Organizers have also set up numerous Facebook groups (“maybe over 100”) to coordinate on actions. Karvelis also emphasized that, while some of their grievances were addressed, all of the demands made during the strike haven’t been fully met. “We need to hold our leaders accountable now,” said Karvelis. “People are energized and they still want to fight.”

“Winning Is Strategic

Jonathan Schleifer is the executive director of The Fairness Project, a nonprofit that promotes progressive ballot measures. The organization spearheaded a number of successful Red State campaigns during these midterms. They were able to help raise minimum wages in Arkansas and Missouri, and expand Medicaid in Utah, Nebraska and Idaho. The group also helped deliver paid sick leave to Michigan and the city of San Antonio this year.

Schleifer told Truthout that the organization identifies states where progressives have had trouble pushing a policy and asks a series of questions: Would the policy be impactful? Do voters support it? Is there a coalition on the ground that the group can work with?

“It takes a complete team to run a ballot initiative,” said Schleifer, as he detailed how local groups have to collect thousands of signatures and talk to thousands of voters. He mentioned how impressive the Utah team that the group worked with to expand Medicaid had been: “Our partners on the ground in Utah had been up against conservatives for years; they were working under impossible conditions. They knew the legislature… it was a great partnership.”

Schleifer also pointed out that the idea of The Fairness Project isn’t to win on a ballot question in a conservative state and then leave, as the group has been successful pushing multiple initiatives in the same state. “We are building a permanent infrastructure,” he said. “Winning is strategic. If you can win in a state, you’re likely to do it again.”

“We Got in the Streets”

Nicole Townsend is an organizer for Southerners On New Ground (SONG) and resides in western North Carolina. SONG is a regional queer liberation organization that is building a southern base of LGBTQ people. Before the 2016 general election, SONG created the message “Dream, Vote, Organize: Our Lives Depend On It.” Townsend told Truthout that SONG has run a number of “electoral experiments” to test the waters on initiatives across the South.

“We are building a permanent infrastructure. Winning is strategic. If you can win in a state, you’re likely to do it again.”

SONG’s Nashville chapter helped get Amendment 1 passed during these midterms, establishing a community oversight board for the city’s police department. Townsend said there was an urgent need for such action, as Nashville cops fatally shot two Black men in less than two years. Townsend said that SONG holds onto a vision of ultimately abolishing prisons and police forces, as people of color and LGBTQ individuals are most often victimized by our criminal legal system. Nevertheless, its members believed that this interim intervention was necessary to improve the current conditions in the city. “Our members knocked on doors, called people on the phone, went to bars, went to restaurants,” said Townsend. “I think we needed 6,000 signatures to create a ballot question and we got over 8,000.” Townsend said the signatures were the first victory, but passing the amendment required making sure people went to the polls. “We got in the streets,” she said. “We went back to the people we talked to who gave us signatures and said, ‘OK, are you going to vote now?’”

SONG and the other community groups who worked on the issue had another huge obstacle to hurdle: the Nashville Fraternal Order of Police. The police group launched a legal challenge in an attempt to prevent voters from ever seeing the question on a ballot. When that failed, it outspent activists at a clip of nearly 30-1, running ads condemning the initiative. In the end, the amendment passed by a margin of 59 percent to 41 percent.

Townsend told Truthout that SONG attempts to establish regional demands that can be collectively embraced by SONG’s chapters throughout their given states. She said the biggest current demand is an end to money bail and pretrial detention throughout the south. “We know how this system impacts Black people, queer people and poor people,” said Townsend. “There are people sitting in a cage because they don’t have $150.”

This past spring, SONG and a number of other organizations participated in National Black Mama’s Bail Out Day, raising money to bail out incarcerated Black mothers and caregivers so they could be reunited with their families for Mother’s Day. “We go to our members in communities,” said Townsend, “and we ask, ‘what is the need right now?’”

While much of the midterm analysis has focused on electoral races and how they might impact 2020, there have also been notable assessments of the work that propelled recent progressive victories throughout the country. One such effort is a new white paper put out by two policy groups, the NewFounders and The Incorruptibles. Looking at a variety of different case studies, the white paper looks at the many new forms of progressive organizing infrastructure that have yielded recent wins, including the use of small teams to mobilize massive numbers of volunteers, the creation of people’s assemblies, the formation of nontraditional coalitions, a move away from top-down organizing and new practices for using more strategic language about political goals.

While this sort of infrastructure-building is crucial in every area, activists in GOP-controlled states face especially daunting obstacles in this effort to build blueprints for success in the Trump Era.

“The progressive movement won’t be won by having more money or newer technology,” said The Incorruptibles director Anna Callahan upon the release of the report. “It will be won by using the absolute best practices in organizing that mobilize the majority of people into a true grassroots revolution.”

The post Progressive Activists Are Winning in Red States appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Michigan Is the Latest Example of the Restaurant Lobby Subverting Democracy

Sat, 12/08/2018 - 19:37

It’s been a bad week for democracy. While all eyes have been on a Republican power grab in Wisconsin, the Republican-controlled Michigan legislature quietly gutted its brand-new laws to increase the state’s minimum wage and provide residents with paid sick leave.

Lawmakers initially passed the popular policies in September, after it became clear that ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2022, phase out the tipped minimum wage, and guarantee 72 hours of paid sick leave were likely to be approved if they were put to the state’s voters in November. Concerned that they’d be unable to overturn a ballot initiative, which would require a three-fourths supermajority, Republican legislators took the extraordinary step of passing the law themselves — so they could come back and dismantle it with a simple majority in the current lame duck session.

The new Republican bill delays the minimum wage increase by eight years, until the year 2030. Paid sick time is slashed in half, to just 36 hours per year. In addition, it maintains the tipped minimum wage, increasing it to just $4.58 by 2030, which earlier legislation would have phased out. The bill now heads to the desk of the outgoing Republican governor, Rick Snyder, who is expected to sign it into law.

Outright subversion of democracy to defeat minimum wage hikes isn’t new. A similar series of events played out in Washington, D.C., just this year, when the supposedly progressive DC council repealed a ballot initiative to eliminate the tipped minimum wage just four months after the voters passed it. In Maine, lawmakers reinstated the tipped minimum wage in 2017 after voters eliminated it the year before.

It seems that the same lobbying group may have been behind the repeal of all three bills.

The National Restaurant Association, or NRA, represents more than 500,000 restaurant businesses, making it the world’s largest food service trade association. Over the last 28 years, the NRA and its largest corporate members have spent more than $78 million on campaign contributions, spending $12 million just in the 2016 election cycle. And they have a powerful and dangerous playbook: prevent minimum wage increases at any cost.

All three of the most recent minimum wage hike reversals received significant backing from the National Restaurant Association. In Michigan, dozens of legislators received campaign contributions from the National Restaurant Association during this past election cycle, including the House majority leader.

The Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, the state-level partner of the NRA, openly bragged about the amount of control that this bought it over the state’s minimum wage fight, saying that it “worked tirelessly with the Michigan Legislature to prevent this onerous proposal from going to the ballot.”

Similarly, in Washington, DC, the NRA contributed more than $236,000 in campaign funds to 13 of the city council’s 14 members. It helped fund an astroturf campaign designed to appear as if it was led by restaurant workers, which flooded public hearings with testimonies. In Maine, the Maine Restaurant Association vehemently lobbied the state legislature until the tipped minimum wage increase was overturned.

In most of its campaigns, the National Restaurant Association claims that minimum wage increases will hurt businesses and eliminate tips that workers depend on. Even a cursory review of the research shows that neither claim is true. The growth of restaurants and restaurant employment is more robust in “equal treatment states,” where there is no tipped minimum wage, compared with states that use the federal minimum tipped wage of $2.13 per hour. And tipped workers in those states see 17 percent higher earnings on average, including tips.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, one in six restaurant workers, or 16.7 percent, live below the official poverty line — fully 10 percentage points higher than workers outside the restaurant industry. Abolishing the tipped minimum wage is particularly beneficial to women and people of color, both of whom receive significantly less in tips than their white, male counterparts.

Raising the minimum wage is among the most popular polices out there, across party lines. In fact, a study released earlier this week finds that in literally every single state in the US, the minimum wage is lower than residents want it to be. That’s why when minimum wage increases are on the ballot, they pass. So the National Restaurant Association is doing everything it can to keep voters from having a say, with dangerous consequences for low-wage workers — and for democracy writ large.

The post Michigan Is the Latest Example of the Restaurant Lobby Subverting Democracy appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The Dead End of “Comprehensive Immigration Reform”

Sat, 12/08/2018 - 18:47

“La lucha obrera no tiene frontera.” “The working class struggle has no borders.”

That’s a chant you’ll often hear on an immigrant rights protest. But for too long, this sentiment has been absent from the mainstream debate around immigration.

That’s because the movement for immigrant justice and equality has been damaged politically for over a decade by its support for the pro-corporate framework known as “comprehensive immigration reform” (CIR).

Comprehensive immigration reform takes as its starting point the need to offer enhanced border security and enforcement against “bad” immigrants as the precondition for winning some sort of limited relief for “good” immigrants who are willing to pay the price and atone for being “illegal” in the first place. (Most versions of CIR also include “guest worker” provisions to ensure a continued supply of cheap immigrant labor, though this aspect is often downplayed by advocates.)

The basic ideological framework of CIR was summed up in a 2007 primary debate by then-presidential candidate Barack Obama:

We want to have situation in which those who are already here, are playing by the rules, [and] are willing to pay a fine and go through a rigorous process should have a pathway to legalization. Most Americans will support that if they have some sense that the border is also being secured.

Coming from Obama, these words sounded reasonable enough for many progressives. Similarly, the term “comprehensive immigration reform” can sound like common sense: Who wouldn’t want the legislation to be comprehensive?

But what this ostensibly benign rhetoric obscures is a reign of terror on immigrant communities that Obama himself elevated to a high art during this eight years in office.

For the past decade, CIR has required the deportation of over 100,000 people a year, the detention of hundreds of thousands more in inhuman conditions and the terrorization of millions of families — all in exchange for comprehensive legislation that never came and now seems further away then ever.

And since the influx starting in 2014 of child migrants fleeing gang violence in Central America, the CIR prerequisite of “securing the border” before even a highly limited means of legalization has meant warehousing children in detention centers — starting under Obama’s watch — where they are physically abused and emotionally terrorized.

On the political front, as mainstream immigrants rights groups and pro-immigrant unions have gotten on the CIR bandwagon and explicitly argued for it as the best possible compromise, the effect has been to lower expectations, demobilize resistance and weaken bonds of solidarity among immigrant communities across the country.

* * *

The structural and ideological roots of comprehensive immigration reform go back to the Reagan-era Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986, which traded relief for 2.5 million people in exchange for the further criminalization of the remaining undocumented population through enhanced border and workplace enforcement.

As Justin Akers Chacón documents in his book No One is Illegal, this criminalization led to a drop in pay for undocumented workers, who had previously made similar wages to their US-born counterparts. IRCA thus became a major milestone in the creation of a pool of hyper-exploited undocumented labor.

Since then, the government has only gained more tools to control and repress immigrants. In the 1990s Bill Clinton combined vague promises of relief to the undocumented population with harsh anti-immigrant legislation that increased border security, expanded the grounds for deporting immigrants with legal status and cut noncitizens off of many federal benefits.

The actual term “comprehensive immigration reform” and its general framework were introduced by then-President George W. Bush in 2001 in a deal with Mexican President Vicente Fox that was announced just five days before September 11. After 9/11, Democrats and Republicans alike shifted in a militaristic and xenophobic direction.

Immigration was now seen as a “national security” issue rather than an economic one. Enforcement was brought into the newly formed Department of Homeland Security. In this context, CIR was permanently altered by the Orwellian politics of the so-called “war on terror.”

In a 2006 speech supporting CIR legislation, then-Illinois Sen. and rising Democratic star Barack Obama began with some obligatory liberal platitudes about this being a nation of immigrants before getting down to brass tacks:

The American people are a welcoming and generous people. But those who enter our country illegally, and those who employ them, disrespect the rule of law. And because we live in an age where terrorists are challenging our borders, we simply cannot allow people to pour into the United States undetected, undocumented and unchecked. Americans are right to demand better border security and better enforcement of the immigration laws…

To begin with, agencies charged with border security require new technology, new facilities and more people to stop, process and deport illegal immigrants… To keep from having to go through this difficult process again in the future, we must also replace the flow of undocumented immigrants coming to work here with a new flow of guest workers.

Last month, Trump mischievously tweeted a 2005 clip of a similar Obama speech about undocumented immigrants “disrespecting the law.” Trump’s trolling was ugly as always, but in this case, he inadvertently showed how bipartisan support for CIR’s anti-migrant logic has paved the way for the more blatant post-CIR xenophobia of the hard right.

* * *

The other factor that shaped CIR and provided a counterweight to the anti-terror hysteria was the explosion of immigrant protest in 2006, when hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers of all nationalities and statuses responded to draconian federal legislation by marching in the streets to display their powers as workers and demand their rights.

The “mega-marches” from March to May 2006 demonstrated the awesome power of immigrant labor, culminating in the May 1 Day Without an Immigrant — the largest single day job action this country has seen, which shut down workplaces from the port of Long Beach to dozens of meatpacking plants.

These immigrant workers weren’t pleading for relief or trying to prove what good citizens they could be in order to be granted some limited protection. Instead, they were demonstrating in practice the decisive role their labor plays and demanding their right to live and work freely in this country.

Unfortunately, this power was demobilized as suddenly as it had first appeared. Why?

Government repression undoubtedly played a large role, aided by the legal and enforcement tools gained through two decades of bipartisan “reforms.” The Bush administration carried out a series of large workplace raids, followed by a raft of deportations, specifically intended to strike terror in immigrant communities around the country.

But another factor was that immigrant workers were demobilized by a political strategy to line up the movement behind the fatally flawed framework of CIR — and, relatedly, electing Barack Obama as president.

The tragedy of CIR is that after May 2016, the immense power of mass protests and strikes was steered into something different: a defanged electoral movement — this for a movement made up in part of people who can’t vote — aiming to repackage itself as something nonthreatening to the powers that be.

* * *

In Reform Without Justice: Latino Migrant Politics and the Homeland Security State, Alfonso Gonzalez documents the creation of Reform Immigration for America (RIFA), which brought together a dizzying wide array of “stakeholders” — local and national immigrants rights groups, labor unions, clergy, business coalitions and Democratic Party think tanks — to coordinate a national strategy around CIR.

Gonzalez notes the central role played by the Center for American Progress (CAP) — led by Clinton operative John Podesta — the Center for Community Change and the National Council of La Raza.

In 2008, CAP and the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform circulated a confidential memo called “Winning the Immigration Debate,” which insisted, based on an opinion poll, that Americans support immigration more when there are punitive measures for undocumented immigrants seeking relief.

It specifically argued that immigration reform proponents should use the term “illegal” instead of “undocumented” and shift from depicting undocumented immigrants as victims to depicting them as lawbreakers who must be punished before regularizing their status.

Or, as Chuck Schumer put in in 2009: “When we use phrases like ‘undocumented workers,’ we convey a message to the American people that their government is not serious about combating illegal immigration.”

From 2006 on, immigrants rights groups were encouraged to throw their support behind different pieces of legislation that not only included enhanced enforcement, but also an extremely narrow and putative “path to citizenship” for some immigrants that could decades to complete, imposed prohibitive fines and back taxes, and had strict employment requirements.

These CIR laws would have likely made legalization inaccessible for the majority of undocumented immigrants — while further increasing the very tools used by both the government and employers to control immigrant workers.

In March 2010, RIFA organized the March for America to push for CIR. Some 250,000 immigrant workers and supporters rallied in Washington, DC. I got on a bus with my union, Service Employees International Union, to participate in the march.

But missing from the messaging were the details: What kind of immigration reform were we fighting for? While certain groups and forces that challenged and even opposed the CIR framework were there, RIFA set a lead that didn’t question the basic framework.

Over the next few years, the content of CIR legislation moved further to the right, with more enforcement and ever-narrower relief components.

The blatantly pro-corporate CIR bill of 2013 — inspiringly titled the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act — led more militant sections of the movement to question the framework of CIR. But the biggest unions and immigrant rights organizations continue to take their marching orders from the Democratic Party, which has led us into a blind alley.

* * *

The time is long past to jettison the framework of “comprehensive immigration reform” once and for all.

For one thing, Trump’s war on immigrants of all statuses shows that we need a united fight against xenophobia that rejects the racist portrayal of undocumented people as lawbreakers deserving of punishment.

For another, the growing numbers of desperate refugee and migrant families banding together in caravans to flee economic and political violence stoked by decades of US intervention of Latin America compels all those interested in justice to reject the calls in CIR proposals to “secure the border.”

CIR has never offered anything but increased repression for those who haven’t yet migrated to this country, and now it’s clear that the racist demonizing and repression of asylum seekers is intimately connected to the attack on immigrants of all statuses who are already here.

It’s time for pro-immigrant groups of all types and sizes to ditch “comprehensive immigration reform” and adopt a new framework which understands that the fate of documented immigrants in this country cannot be separated from the fate of new migrants seeking asylum — and which demands, first and foremost, the emptying of the detention facilities, the demilitarization of the border and rights for all people to live and work freely.

Just as you cannot separate migrants of different statuses into neatly divided categories, you cannot separate “immigrants” in this country from the rest of the working class that is being attacked by the same government jailing Central American children and carrying out deportations.

As the Sanctuary Caravan’s “Call to Organized Labor”puts it:

The migrants have been called an invasion of terrorists and criminals. But the terror comes from the US halls of power and privilege, from the same people who oppose unions, universal health care, and raising the minimum wage. Those in power want us to blame immigrants for our economic struggles. But we know that the rich and corporations, not immigrants, have cut our wages and shipped our jobs abroad. Instead of deporting immigrants, we need to ensure that all working people have rights on the job and are able to exercise them without fear of retaliation.

We should also be clear that it’s not immigration itself that creates a downward pressure on wages, but immigration restrictions and controls that make create a situation in which immigrants form a pool of cheaper labor.

In a country where more than one-sixth of the workforce is foreign-born, immigrant criminalization keeps a section of workers in fear of rocking the boat, while keeping the whole working class divided and demobilized.

For the immigrant rights movement and the labor movement to move forward, we need to reject the CIR framework that trades massive spending on immigrant repression in exchange for continued second-class citizenship for large sections of our population.

Far from being the only “realistic” defense against Republican xenophobia, CIR has weakened our side’s ability to mount a real defense, one that links arms with people of all statuses to demand that the billions being used now to police, detain and deport be used instead to provide health care, education and green infrastructure for all.

The post The Dead End of “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News