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Sign-Up Deadline Is Friday, but Some People May Get Extra Time

Fri, 12/15/2017 - 05:00

Open enrollment on the federal health law's marketplace ends today. But some consumers who miss the cutoff could be eligible to apply later during a special enrollment period. People who are eligible for that special enrollment period have up to 60 days after their coverage ends to sign up for a new marketplace plan.

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Open enrollment on the federal health law's marketplace ends today, and most people who want a plan for next year need to meet the deadline.

But some consumers who miss the cutoff could be surprised to learn they have the opportunity to enroll later.

"While a lot of people will be eligible … I am still worried that a lot of consumers won't know it," said Shelby Gonzales, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Under the health law, people are entitled to a special enrollment period (SEP) when they have specific changes in their lives, such as losing other health insurance, getting married or having a child, or when they have a change in income that affects their eligibility for premium tax credits or cost-sharing reduction subsidies. Those special enrollment periods generally last at least 60 days.

Other circumstances can also qualify customers for a special enrollment period. But this year, consumer advocates are focused on two that could affect a substantial number of people: consumers whose 2017 marketplace policies are being discontinued in 2018 and people affected by the hurricanes that ravaged Texas, parts of the Southeastern United States and Puerto Rico.

It's not clear how many consumers this will affect. In past years, people who sign up during an SEP made up a tiny fraction of overall marketplace enrollment. In the spring of 2016, 11.1 million people had a marketplace plan. Meanwhile, roughly 1.6 million signed up through a special enrollment period during 2015, according to the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

The majority of people who use a special enrollment period do so because they've lost coverage under another plan. This applies to people who lose their job-based coverage as well as those with marketplace plans whose insurer discontinues their plan for the upcoming year.

Between 2014 and 2018 the average number of issuers per state declined from 5 to 3.5, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.) Several big name companies, including Anthem, Aetna and Humana, dramatically pulled back in their 2018 offerings.

A growing proportion of people will likely qualify for SEPs now because of a loss of marketplace coverage, insurance analysts say.

People who are eligible for that special enrollment period have up to 60 days after their coverage ends on Dec. 31 to sign up for a new marketplace plan. Meeting the regular Dec. 15 sign-up deadline is preferable because it allows coverage to start Jan 1. But eligible people who miss that date can apply through the marketplace for an SEP that will allow them to sign up until the end of February.

Even if the marketplace automatically re-enrolls customers in a plan that's similar to the one that ended, they're entitled to an SEP to pick a new plan, said Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

But people shouldn't count on getting a clear explanation of what the SEP is or how it works, said Pollitz, who has reviewed the consumer notices related to plan discontinuations.

"The notices are not what they could be," she said.

Gonzales concurs.

"The bottom line here is many consumers experienced a discontinuation of their plan this year," she said. "Notices are complicated, and these consumers in particular are going to get several notices which may result in more confusion, and it will not be easily understood by many what an SEP is or how and/or when to activate it."

This year, there are also special enrollment periods for people who were affected by the hurricanes that slopped across all or parts of Texas, Florida, Georgia, Puerto Rico and elsewhere last fall.

The special enrollment period for 2018 applies to people who live in or move from counties designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency as hurricane disaster areas. It gives them an extra two weeks, from Dec. 16 to Dec. 31, to sign up for January coverage. Officials said they'll consider extending the timeframe if necessary.

To take advantage of the special enrollment period, people must request it through the healthcare.gov call center. They'll be asked to attest that they resided in an affected area, but they won't have to provide proof.

Consumer advocates who work on outreach for enrollment and help people sign up for coverage aren't yet talking up the SEPs, said Gonzales.

"They want one clear message for everyone: Open enrollment ends Dec. 15," she said. Starting Dec. 16, these groups will start getting the word out for people who have missed the deadline and may not realize they may have other options.

Categories: News

Unable to Celebrate "RonnieMan" Johnson's 29th Birthday, His Family Remembers the Life Taken by Chicago Police

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 15:06

 Erin Hooley / Chicago Tribune / TNS via Getty Images)Ronald "RonnieMan" Johnson's mother Dorothy Holmes speaks at a protest near 53rd Street and King Drive, in response to State's Attorney Anita Alvarez' announcement not to charge a Chicago police officer in the 2014 fatally shooting of Ronald Johnson III, Monday, December 7, 2015, in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Erin Hooley / Chicago Tribune / TNS via Getty Images)

On December 14, Ronald "RonnieMan" Johnson would have turned 29, but this father of five was shot and killed by Chicago Police Officer George Hernandez on October 15, 2014. Determined not to make RonnieMan yet another entry in the roster of Black men killed by police, his family is celebrating his life by honoring his love of children with a toy drive during his favorite month.

 Erin Hooley / Chicago Tribune / TNS via Getty Images)Ronald "RonnieMan" Johnson's mother Dorothy Holmes speaks at a protest near 53rd Street and King Drive, in response to State's Attorney Anita Alvarez' announcement not to charge a Chicago police officer in the 2014 fatally shooting of Ronald Johnson III, Monday, December 7, 2015, in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Erin Hooley / Chicago Tribune / TNS via Getty Images)

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Photographs, illustrations and protest posters of RonnieMan Johnson cover the walls of Dorothy Holmes's living room walls. RonnieMan was her only son. The Chicago Police Department killed him on October 12, 2014.

Ronald "RonnieMan" Johnson was born on December 14, 1988. "He was like the first grandchild in the house, first nephew, on my mom's side," Holmes explains. RonnieMan was Holmes's only son and the oldest of her three children. "He was funny, spoiled ... mostly everybody spoiled him," Holmes says.

RonnieMan grew up on the South Side of Chicago, including in Englewood and in Altgeld Gardens. "He liked basketball, football, arcade games. He loved the animals," Holmes remembers.

As a child, Holmes jokes, RonnieMan was a brat, but didn't have many issues with other people and was well-liked. "He had a lot of friends, regardless of whatever neighborhood he moved in," she says. He spent his free time going on camping trips and enjoying sports. As the oldest, and a lifelong protector of children, RonnieMan was very protective of his younger sisters, Billie "Tay Tay" and Rosalyn "Ra Ra." He liked school, and had no problems with it or with his teachers until he got to high school.

He attended Corliss High School until his junior year, when he made the decision to leave school. "He started hanging with the wrong crowd, and he just stopped going," Holmes says. "He was going to Kennedy-King College for his GED, but the gangs [nearby] were ... out of control. So, he stopped going because he was catching the bus there," Holmes says. RonnieMan occupied his time working factory jobs and spending time with his five beloved children.

"He was a good father. He babysat while [their] mother worked, so they didn't need to find anyone to watch them, and he worked the night shift," Holmes explains.

RonnieMan Johnson. (Photo provided by Dorothy Holmes)RonnieMan Johnson. (Photo provided by Dorothy Holmes)An adoring father, RonnieMan helped raise six children, five of whom were biological. "He liked doing stuff with his kids. Taking them out to Chuck E. Cheese's ... [his] nieces and nephews, he'd take them, too. He was good with them. All the kids liked [him]," Holmes says. RonnieMan's oldest daughters, Ron'jonae and Ron'Niyaa, spoke of times he stayed up with them late, watching movies and exchanging kisses on each other's cheeks.

On October 12, 2015, RonnieMan went to a party with friends at an apartment on 53rd and King Drive, across from Chicago's Washington Park.

"His cousin picked him up to go to a party, and in the process of leaving the party, the car he was in got shot up and everyone in the car jumped out and ran," Holmes says. Some people from the car ran back into the building, and some, Holmes was told, ran in between cars. RonnieMan ran to try to protect himself, to ensure that his beloved children had a father in the morning.

"The police chased him. He ran back to the party, but he couldn't get the gate open," Holmes says. At that point, RonnieMan ran toward the park, where he encountered Officer George Hernandez. In a video that went viral, one can see Hernandez get out of the back of a police car and shoot, killing unarmed RonnieMan.

"I got [a] call about 12:45 a.m. -- Ra-Ra called.... Tay-Tay answered the phone, [for me] and [Ra-Ra] told her RonnieMan got shot on King Drive. My instinct is someone in Parkway shot him," Holmes says. Parkway Gardens is a notoriously violent housing complex, located on King Drive, in which RonnieMan and two of his children resided.

"Then she said 53rd and King, so I jumped in the car and got from 122nd and Normal to 53rd and King in less than four minutes," Holmes says.

By the time she arrived, RonnieMan's body had already been removed. As family members began calling the Chicago Police Department (CPD), they were given the runaround and sent to various hospitals throughout the city, none of which had RonnieMan. Finally, Holmes learned that he had passed.

"[CPD] told me they took him to Northwestern ... sending some people to Stroger, Mt. Sinai. Once I found out exactly where he was at [University of Chicago], everyone was just standing around," Holmes says.  

"They was gonna let us in, and the sergeant came out laughing, saying he was only shot but one time. That's when everyone got trying to fight. [The sergeant] got in the car and left, and they called for backup and put the hospital on lockdown and said no one would identify him that night," Holmes explains. Holmes's family argued with the sergeant, who they felt had disrespected RonnieMan and their family by laughing at his death.

Holmes and her family stayed at the hospital until almost 3 or 4 a.m., until finally having to go home.

"When I seen it on the news, they had said [RonnieMan] turned around and pointed a gun at the officer. I'm like, 'That's a lie,'" Holmes recalls. Shortly after, she was then accosted by media at her home, questioning her. She still hadn't seen her son, and she still hadn't learned that the police were the ones who had shot him.

"I'm like, 'What did they kill him for?' I know he had no gun on him. The gun they had, had no fingerprints," Holmes says. Police continued to state that RonnieMan had pointed the gun at the officer. However, a video surfaced with a girl screaming, "They just killed him, and he didn't even do anything."

"I'm thinking, 'Wait a minute, they told me he died at the hospital, but in the video, why are they covering [his body] at the park?" Holmes says.

Holmes then went to Chicago's Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) seeking answers. "They claimed they wrote a letter [to the State's Attorney]. They said they had a video, saying they had dashcam footage," Holmes says.

When Holmes left IPRA, she called her lawyer, who assured Holmes that they had dashcam footage and that RonnieMan was killed by CPD. Initially, Holmes refused to watch the video.

"Then I had my grandson, Karon [RonnieMan's son] with me, to see the video. It was nothing like they said. Everything they said was a lie," Holmes says.

The City waited to release the dashcam footage until after Mayor Rahm Emanuel's re-election. Then, former State's Attorney Anita Alvarez refused to bring charges against Officer George Hernandez, RonnieMan's killer.

"[Hernandez] is back on the street, to my understanding," Holmes says. Truthout contacted the CPD to confirm Hernandez's employment, but the CPD declined to comment.

Since RonnieMan's death, Holmes has had health issues, including high blood pressure and persistent headaches. RonnieMan's children, nieces and nephews -- some of them young activists in Assata's Daughters, a collective of Black young people who receive political education and engage in city-wide campaigns -- miss their beloved relative, and have become skeptical of the police.

"They know the police killed him, and they don't trust the police. I'm not going to tell them no different because that's how I feel, too," Holmes says. "Why should I call 911, and [police] make it to the scene, and I be the one who end up dead?"

Two weeks before RonnieMan was killed, he had told a relative that, "he stay out of police way because they be killing everyone."

Holmes has become an outspoken advocate for her son, seeking justice through her work in various organizations. She has worked with Black Lives Matter Chicago, Assata's Daughters and is working to start her own organization, the RonnieMan Foundation.

"If the new state's attorney bring charges against Hernandez, that would ease a little bit of pressure, but it won't bring him back. That would make me feel better as a parent. That's it. However long it takes, I'm willing to do that fight," she says.

Because of her fight, Holmes believes the CPD is targeting her.

"[CPD] came to the house saying there was a stray dog wandering around the neighborhood, and they end up killing my dog," Holmes says. Yet she still fights for her son, who she misses in every moment.

"I miss [RonnieMan] ... calling ... I miss him coming through the door and aggravating everyone in the house," Holmes smiles.

RonnieMan's favorite month was December. "My favorite memory is when my daddy built a gingerbread house with us," RonnieMan's second-oldest daughter, Ron'jonae says. "It had like those sour things on it, some sugar stuff and some icing."

Three years ago, Holmes started the RonnieMan Johnson toy drive in her son's honor, providing toys for Chicago's children in need. "I started the toy drive in his name because December was his favorite month, because his birthday was December 14," Holmes says. All the toys are donated or personally purchased by Holmes and her family.

"There wasn't a Christmas my kids didn't get something," Holmes says. "Whatever we were going through, I made sure I provided for these kids. Now, my 12 grandkids, then for the Christmas drive, there's a whole lot of them. This might be the only toy [the kids] got."

RonnieMan would glow in December, and was always grateful for all that his family provided for him and all that he was able to provide for his children.

"I miss his smile most, his walk. He smiles like Ron'jonae," RonnieMan's eldest daughter Ron'Niyaa says.

Holmes's toy drive is a labor of love and a suiting memorial for her son.

"The smile he got on his face when December came is the same as when these kids get their toys," Holmes says. "I just like to see the kids smile, the way RonnieMan would glow."

Toys are being collected for the RonnieMan Toy Drive until December 18 and can be purchased and sent through Dorothy Holmes' Amazon Wishlist.

Categories: News

For the Cost of the Tax Bill, the US Could Eliminate Child Poverty Twice

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 15:02
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This article was originally published at TalkPoverty.org

Congressional Republicans are rushing to finalize their tax legislation before the holidays. They haven't held a single hearing, in part because their plan is one of the least popular pieces of legislation ever. It's easy to see why: The Senate version of the bill would raise taxes on most families making $75,000 or less per year by 2027, while tying a big bow on permanent tax cuts for millionaires and large corporations. And after years of panicking over the size of the deficit, Republican leaders are now planning to balloon it by a whopping $1.5 trillion over the coming decade.

That tells you a lot about Congress' priorities -- especially since, for less than the cost of the Republican tax plan, Congress could eliminate child poverty in the United States. Twice.

According to the US Census Bureau, the 5.7 million poor families with children would need an average of $11,400 more to live above the poverty line in 2016. In total, the income needed to boost these families -- along with the additional 105,000 children who were not living with their families -- above the federal poverty level is about $69.4 billion per year in today's dollars. Over ten years, that adds up to about 46 percent of what Congress plans to spend on its tax plan. There would be so much money left over after we boosted these kids out of poverty that the United States could also pay tuition and fees for all of them to get an in-state education at a four-year public university, and it still wouldn't costs as much as the tax plan.

If Congress wanted to really let loose, and spend just 12 percent more than the tax bill does -- for a total of $1.74 trillion -- we could completely eliminate all poverty in America.

But instead of reducing poverty in the United States, Congressional Republicans are chipping away at the existing programs that support low-income people. Congress was so fixated on repealing the Affordable Care Act this summer that it ran out of time to reauthorize the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which insures 9 million kids. It has been 73 days since CHIP's funding expired, and more than half of states could run out of money in the first months of 2018. Some are already paring back services in preparation.

And now, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and his fellow Congressional Republicans have announced that their next priority is cutting critical programs such as Medicaid, which provides health care to 2 in 5 US children, and Social Security, which is the nation's largest children's anti-poverty program. To pave the way for these cuts, Ryan and friends are already rolling out poisonous rhetoric that paints low-income families as lazy and idle -- even though Census data show that most families with children living in poverty do work, and are just being paid so little they can't make ends meet.

These policies are obviously cruel. But, for a group of lawmakers who fancy themselves business-minded, they're also stunningly financially irresponsible. Child poverty costs the United States a lot of money: an estimated $672 billion per year in lost productivity, worse health outcomes, and increased criminal activity.

Instead, congressional Republicans are choosing to saddle the nation's kids with debt -- the very thing they've repeatedly accused past administrations of doing -- to finance a massive giveaway to the wealthy.

Categories: News

We Saved Net Neutrality Once -- We Can Do It Again

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 15:00
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Democracy lives or dies on the quality of public conversation. "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government," Thomas Jefferson wrote, "I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

Today it doesn't take the smarts of a Jefferson to realize that our public conversation, filtered through corporate-controlled, often-fractured media, is faltering. While analyzing how to fix our broken news system, from the promotion of public broadcasting to eliminating fake news, is complex, right now is a critical moment to hold the line. If we hope to reinvigorate our media, today democracy defenders are called upon to play defense -- and quickly.

Earlier this month, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai proposed a plan to dismantle net neutrality, an extremely worrying move -- one that has provoked the ire of organizations and citizens across the country. And this Thursday, the commission will vote on the plan.

If you've heard the term "net neutrality," is it something you imagine only internet fanatics can grasp? Not at all. It simply refers to baseline protection ensuring that no internet service provider can "interfere with or block web traffic, or favor their own services at the expense of smaller rivals." As such, it is integral to democratic dialogue. To abolish it, explains Craig Aaron, president and CEO of the media advocacy group Free Press, "would end the open nature of the internet and leave activists, media makers and all the rest of us at the mercy of the biggest phone and cable companies."

Needless to say, given the current composition of the FCC, the fate of net neutrality looks bleak.

Yet, the recent history of net neutrality offers an encouraging story of the power of the people to protect the core democratic principle of free exchange and shows that even if things look bad, grassroots pressure holds the key to saving the internet as we know it.

The story starts in 2010. That December, the FCC passed what those most concerned considered pretty weak half-measures prohibiting internet service providers from blocking websites or imposing limits on users, Aaron says. And by 2014, a federal lawsuit brought by Verizon succeeded in striking down even this half-measure. Verizon's hubris ignited a massive call for the FCC to fight back. Protests demanded even stronger rules to reclassify internet service providers as "common carriers," requiring them to act as neutral gatekeepers to the internet and to protect access for all.

By May 2014, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protests, concerned citizens had set up camp in Washington, D.C., at the FCC headquarters. It had all started with a protest organized by Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese. Flowers, a pediatrician who cut her teeth in the fight for universal health care, and Zeese, a lawyer who fought injustices in the 1980s' war on drugs, announced at the protest's end that they were not going to leave. The duo rolled out their sleeping bags on the grass, stayed the night, and before they knew it, the occupation grew drastically. Fellow concerned citizens flooded in with tents and banners. One day followed the next, each to the tune of passing cars honking in solidarity. Not only did employees of the FCC come out to thank the occupiers, but three of the five FCC commissioners came to meet Flowers and Zeese.

A week later, then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler put out a "notice of proposed rule-making" that asked the public, "What is the right public policy to ensure that the internet remains open?" The preferred solution put forward by the FCC, outlined in the notice, would have left the door ajar for a "two-tiered internet" plan, wherein internet service providers could sell content providers priority access to their subscribers at rates only big companies could afford. Citizen reformers couldn't and wouldn't get behind this proposal.

But the notice also sought public comment on whether the FCC should "reclassify" the internet as a common carrier under the law. Doing so would give the FCC greater legal authority over providers to fully and truly keep the internet open. This request for comments gave citizens, especially those emboldened by the FCC occupation, an opening.

For months citizens continued protesting and spreading awareness about the importance of net neutrality. Leading up to the closing of the comment period in September 2014, the activist group Fight for the Future parked a Jumbotron outside FCC headquarters. The giant video billboard played videos of fellow citizens explaining why net neutrality mattered to them. Later, reformers performed a skit outside the FCC, a "Save the Internet Musical Action." The musical's chorus -- "Which side are you on, Tom? Which side are you on?" -- would soon be answered.

These courageous public actions built on the momentum sparked by the FCC occupiers. Together, they galvanized citizens to submit 4 million comments to the FCC. The FCC chairman reversed his position, endorsed strong rules, and moved to restore the agency's authority. In February 2015, the FCC announced it would reclassify internet service providers as common carriers. Wheeler called it "the proudest day of my public policy life." Another FCC commissioner called it "democracy in action."

The victory taught one very important lesson. As Flowers put it, "it showed we don't have to compromise. We can actually stay true to what we are fighting for and win." For that win, a broad coalition of citizen power united folks ranging from the tech industry -- such as Netflix and Tumblr -- to the Black Lives Matter movement. They all understood the democratic value of a free internet on which independent media is kept accessible and online grassroots organizing is made possible. "This cross-generational and multi-issue movement was critical in pressuring the FCC commissioners and lawmakers to support net neutrality," Aaron says.

The situation in which we find ourselves today is different from how it was in 2014. The composition of the FCC has changed, and, after a year of resisting President Trump's agenda, many perceive grassroots activists to be tired. Yet, the takeaway from the above story is that citizens have untold political power and, when they effectively wield it, can influence even politically removed bureaucrats to win major democratic victories.

Countless Americans are already rising to the challenge. Recently, more than half a million people called Congress about net neutrality and approximately the same number filed comments on the FCC website. Moreover, on Tuesday, activists across the country began a "Break the Internet" campaign to raise as much awareness about the issue as possible before the FCC's critical vote. According to Aaron, "public awareness has never been higher."

This grassroots pressure will have to be sustained and significantly expanded to save the internet. And even if the FCC votes to repeal net neutrality, the fight must continue. Concerned Americans will have to pressure Congress to pass a bill to overturn the FCC decision. The fate of democracy depends on it.

Adapted from Daring Democracy: Igniting Power, Meaning, and Connection for the America We Want by Frances Moore Lappé and Adam Eichen (Beacon Press, 2017). Reprinted with permission from Beacon Press.

Categories: News

Internet Censorship

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 05:00
Categories: News

Dismissed, Disrespected, Disenfranchised: Indiana Grad Students Protesting Tax Bill Get a Lesson in Democracy for the Rich

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 05:00

When members of Indiana University's Campus Action for Democracy tried to present their opposition to the GOP tax bill to their congressional representative through peaceful means at his local office, they were threatened with arrest and escorted out of the building. Six of the activists discuss their plans for bringing democracy back in 2018.

 Denisa Jashari)Risking arrest, activists from Campus Action for Democracy occupy the office of US Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (R-Indiana) on December 11, 2017. The activists are graduate students at Indiana University and they staged a sit-in to pressure their representative to vote against the tax bill. (Photo: Denisa Jashari)   Support your favorite writers by making sure we can keep publishing them! Make a donation to Truthout to ensure independent journalism survives.

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. We're now nearly a year into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators and educators, not only about how to resist, but how to build a better world. Today's interview is the 100th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

Today we bring you a conversation with Tracey Hutchings-Goetz, Edward Brudney, Justin Knight, Kathryn Lehman, Amanda Waterhouse and Liam Kingsley. They are Ph.D. candidates or graduate students at Indiana University, and all are involved in Campus Action for Democracy. They discuss their recent occupation of their congressman's office in opposition to the tax bill and how disconnected they felt from their representative, who was unwilling to engage these constituents.

Sarah Jaffe: I am talking to all of you because you had an occupation of your congressman's office Monday. Tell us about that action and how that went.

Edward Brudney: We went in with the plan to bring our congressman, Trey Hollingsworth, a petition with signatures from around 500 ... members of the community of Indiana University in opposition to the tax bill. We went in with a specific demand of getting Trey on the phone to speak to us and to get him to change his vote to "no." Those were the conditions by which we would agree to leave his office.

Tracey Hutchings-Goetz: We went in with seven of us willing to sustain arrest, and you are talking to six of the seven.... We went in knowing full well that arrest was a possibility. Then, the staff let us kind of hunker down and wait. We conducted a teach-in in the office about the tax bill, the history of taxation and we livestreamed that the whole time.

Kathryn Lehman: We all very consciously all wore blazers. We were talking about it as "professor drag." It was to indicate that we are not just students at the university, we are also teachers, we are graders, we are part of the workforce that makes the university function and continues to let it be a viable public higher education institution.

Liam Kingsley: We all gave testimonials in the Occupy "mic check" way, in which we sort of spoke about ourselves, our experiences, what we do at the university and how this tax bill was going to affect us.

Hutchings-Goetz: We were then in the office waiting.... We had called Representative Hollingsworth's DC office because his staff seemed unable to get him on the phone.... We were told the DC office then called the Capitol Police, who then called a man who identified himself as the landlord of the building [we were occupying], but refused to give us his name. That man then contacted the Greenwood Police Department. He sent officers to the office around 6:45 pm.

Brudney: At which point, the seven of us who were risking arrest sat down on the floor in order to demonstrate our peacefulness and nonviolence in the situation as the police entered. We were engaged by a sergeant of the Greenwood Police Department. His first strategy was to ask us to stand up and leave the office. He sort of discouraged us from taking arrest and then said, "Well, listen, if you want to take arrest, just stand up and leave and I will still arrest you outside."

He spoke to us for a while. It seemed as though he was about to reach the end of his negotiating tactic and have to do what he clearly did not want to do, which was arrest us, when another officer -- who turned out to be his lieutenant and a shift commander -- ducked his head in and said, "Alright, we are done. We are out of here," and let us know that he had spoken to Representative Hollingsworth's chief of security and had been told that they did not have permission to arrest us and that we should stay in the office.

Hutchings-Goetz: ... We had folks there acting as liaisons, we had folks there acting in the capacity of media outreach, and we also had someone there acting as jail support. We gave those friends our cell phones, our bags -- everything except our IDs and some cash. They left the building and we were deprived of our cell phones at that moment because we thought we were about to be arrested.

Amanda Waterhouse: When the shift commander told us that they weren't going to arrest us ... he also drew a distinction between inside of the office and outside of the office.... He pointed to the doorframe and said, "If you cross outside of the doorframe and into the hallway of this commercial building where the office is located, you will be evicted from the building." The really key part of that was that the restroom was outside in that hallway....

Hutchings-Goetz: Another really strange thing happened related to the landlord and to the various parties involved in this, who seemed to all be coordinating things with one another.... At one point, the landlord came out and sat down at the big conference table as if he wanted to negotiate with us. He painted himself as somehow an authority in the situation and he told us that if we would agree to leave after the conversation, that he would get Representative Hollingsworth on the phone with us.

Brudney: We asked him, "Have you spoken to Representative Hollingsworth?" and he indicated that he had.

Hutchings-Goetz: So, we are having this really strange discussion with him and he told us, "You guys came in here threatening, being coercive, but you are trying to coerce the congressman into changing his vote and that is not how politics works. So, I can get him on the phone if you agree to leave."

Lehman: He was being very confrontational still at this point ... through the rest of the time we were there, [he] still refused to give us his name.

Hutchings-Goetz: Strangely enough, through this conversation both with the landlord and with Representative Hollingsworth's staff, they kept saying that Representative Hollingsworth would not ever concede to our demand and agree to say "no," which we thought was quite strange, because they also told us that he would also not tell us how he was going to vote. That he would never tell anyone how he was going to vote, which struck us as weird as coming from the landlord.

Brudney: We also found out ... that Trey had communicated, perhaps indirectly, with his staff toward the end of the night.... We asked them if, hopefully, they were getting overtime or something for this, and they indicated that they talked to Trey or they talked to some chief of staff that they were going to get a vacation day, something like that. We realized at this point, "Okay, at least three different people have communicated with Trey Hollingsworth.... That is three different ways in which Trey spent time delegating to other people to deal with us rather than to simply speak to his constituents.

Justin Knight: At some point, we had been effectively stuck in this room for about three hours since they prohibited us from going outside into the hallway to use the bathroom or use the telephone. We couldn't communicate with anybody on the outside. We learned later that the rest of the people who had come with us assumed that we were going to spend the night and were actually debating leaving and then coming back in the morning.

We were all in increasing states of discomfort from not having access to a restroom ... and we were repeatedly warned by the police that any attempt to relieve ourselves in any places except the restroom would be ground for immediate arrest on either indecent exposure or vandalism or destruction of private property charges -- none of which we were particularly interested in doing, because they obviously don't reflect the reason that we were there.

At some point, one of us decided that they were going to test how this system was working. So, I got up and went to the restroom and attempted to come back, and as we opened the door, I was physically stopped, first by the staffer and then by the building owner.

Hutchings-Goetz: They actually locked the door when you went out and when their back was turned, I unlocked it. 

Knight: It was a pretty small office. Also, the door makes a chime when you open it, so sneaking in and out was a tough job. I wasn't allowed back in the room. They called the police back to the building.... So, the police physically escorted me out and told me that if I set foot back on the property, I would be arrested for trespassing. That is when I realized that this problem of communication went both ways, because nobody on the outside had any idea what was happening with us on the inside.

For the next 40 minutes, we debated next best moves on the outside and how we could resolve this situation, because it seemed clear when I was forcibly evicted that nobody among the remaining six occupiers was going to be able to last 11 more hours without access to a restroom. I managed to talk my way back into the building to relay a message to the people that were still inside. What we ended up deciding was that they would go to the restroom and at that point, as soon as we were outside of the physical space of Trey Hollingsworth's office, we were all forcibly evicted from the building and prevented from any further attempts to get in touch with our congressional representative who ... for more than eight hours, refused to talk to us as we sat in his office.

Hutchings-Goetz: At a certain point -- I think it was probably around 10pm -- they ... brought in a Marion County Sheriff's Deputy, presumably to guard the public records that they had within the office.... When he arrived, we asked him about that, and he said he was there to protect the property of the office, to make sure we didn't commit vandalism or indecency that they thought we would commit, to make sure that we didn't use the bathroom or go outside of the office. That also struck us as odd that a sheriff's deputy from a different county....

Knight: He seemed to be off-duty, wearing the sheriff's regalia and armed with bulletproof vest. He was wearing jeans. He wasn't wearing a uniform.... It was not clear whether he had been contracted privately, whether the landlord had paid for him to be there, whether Representative Hollingsworth was using public funds to pay for him to be there.

Hutchings-Goetz: It sort of represented to us ... this strange intermixture between public and private ownership and authority that was happening in the space that we were trying to speak to our representative in, and to do this protest that was about public and governmental matters.

Tell us about Representative Hollingsworth. He voted for the tax bill the first time around -- the House bill, which included the attacks on graduate student workers' income. What else should people know about him?

Brudney: Perhaps the most important thing to know about him is that [he] is not from Indiana. He does not live here. He is actually from Tennessee. He is the son of a millionaire real estate developer. He purchased a condo in Jeffersonville, in the southern part of the 9th District, in 2016 in preparation for this race, which he funded himself with a PAC that his father had started in Indiana. He has never held a public forum since being elected. He has never actually spoken directly to constituents in a public setting. He is the beneficiary of this tax bill.

Hutchings-Goetz: According to [the information] available, he is worth around $60 million.

Waterhouse: His full complete name is Joseph Albert Trey Hollingsworth, III.

Knight: It took quite a while for him to even set up an office in the district. Correct?

Hutchings-Goetz: A little bit of information about the 9th District of Indiana might be helpful, as well. It is a district which basically extends from the southernmost ring of Indianapolis suburbs ... all the way in a kind of a skinny line down to the bottom of the state and the Kentucky border, which includes Jeffersonville and New Albany, which is where his other office is....

Bloomington is where Indiana University is, and the city that we occupy is the largest city in the district, and Indiana University itself is the largest constituency within the district. We are actually the most populous group in the district -- Indiana University students, employees, faculty, and staff and administrators.

And the congressman has never been available publicly to his constituents at either office, anyway. We really felt when we went there ... like we don't have the opportunity to have any kind of communication with this person who has been elected to represent us and is supposed to be our voice in Congress.

And ... he really proved that point to us, that we actually have no way to communicate with him.... I felt really dismissed and disrespected, and honestly, disenfranchised by that experience ... by the way that he and his DC office coordinated things around us without engaging us. It was a really troubling and upsetting experience as a constituent and a voter.

Brudney: I agree.

Knight: We felt that the only recourse that we had to communicate with our congressman was to show up in his office and refuse to leave, or else, perhaps, get arrested ... and it didn't work....

Tell people about your Campus Action group and the organizing you have been doing leading up to this.

Hutchings-Goetz: Campus Action for Democracy, which is the on-campus chapter of Hoosier Action, was founded this fall.... We have been organizing up and down the 9th District ever since, but are very soon to expand state-wide. That is the goal for Hoosier Action: to build power and fight for the interests of working Hoosiers, working families here.

Then, in September, I, as a Hoosier Action member, helped found this on-campus chapter. We have chapters around the district ... the chapters work in coordination with Hoosier Action on specific issues that affect the folks in those chapters....

I started the on-campus chapter and we have had monthly meetings working on figuring out how to get Indiana University faculty, staff and students ... trying to get all of the folks there to start thinking of themselves as a voting bloc, as a group of people who can fight for a more democratic university and a more democratic state and a more democratic country. I mean that in the sense of democracy, not the big D party sense, because we are not party-affiliated and we are also self-funded. Our members pay dues, and that is how our organization funds [itself], so that we are truly grassroots and the money is from Indiana. We are speaking to our own interests.

We have been organizing around enfranchisement, and then when the grad student tax came up in the House version of the tax bill, we have been organizing around that particular issue. We made a petition which eventually garnered about 500 signatures, and then, after Rep. Hollingsworth voted in favor of the bill, we joined the national organizers of the national walkout and march against the grad student tax. That was an event that was coordinated with Save Grad Ed, as well as some students in California....

On November 29, we organized a walkout and a petition delivery march, where we had about 150 mostly graduate students, but also faculty and staff and undergrads. We rallied together on campus in opposition to the tax bill, particularly the grad student tax, and we delivered our petition to [Indiana University] President [Michael] McRobbie's office, where we were greeted by the chief of staff there who was really lovely to us. We delivered our petition, gave some testimonials, and then our decision to engage in this action at Rep. Hollingsworth's office came out of the grad student walkout....

What are next steps?

Hutchings-Goetz: We are currently still figuring that out, but we know that the fight is not done. One of the things that we are calling for, which I think would be very powerful, would be if professors would decide to step up and consider occupying one of Rep. Hollingsworth's offices. This fight is not done. The reconciled bill has not been voted on yet.

Brudney: ... Some of the other things we had talked about in terms of next steps include also inviting Rep. Hollingsworth ... to come to Bloomington and actually speak to us, to take part in a candidates' forum which Campus Action for Democracy is organizing, ahead of the 2018 House elections, which all of the Democratic candidates have expressed interest in.

Hutchings-Goetz: The day of the House vote, Rep. Hollingsworth posted on Facebook that he was answering phones in the DC office, and coincidentally at that time, I was able to call him and speak to him. I explained the opposition that my organization and myself have to this bill and begged him to vote against it. He told me, "Well, it is important to keep higher education more accessible rather than less accessible," and wouldn't make any promises. It was at that point that I asked him to attend this candidate forum in the spring, and he said that it depends on his schedule and the congressional schedule. We will see if he actually shows up to that event, but I think from our experience together, that is extremely unlikely.

We will fight ... this with our last breath because these are all of our lives. Many of us don't know what we will do if this bill passes, frankly. I spent seven years studying to become a professor of English, and it is possible that even with the tax burden, I might be able to still finish my dissertation, but there will be no jobs for me because departments and universities will have to shutter as a result of this tax bill. There is a reason why Moody's has downgraded higher education from a stable investment to a negative investment, an investment to be avoided, because this bill is so apocalyptic for higher education.

We are going to continue to organize and build our power and grow our organization so that we can ensure that Trey Hollingsworth is no longer our representative come 2018, because it is very clear that he is much more interested in protecting his own money and growing his own wealth rather than actually acting as a public servant for the people of this district, because most of them, frankly, are low-wage workers....

How can people keep up with you and your organization?

Hutchings-Goetz: We have a Facebook page. You can also check out the Hoosier Action Facebook page or www.HoosierAction.org to find out more about our parent organization if you are not affiliated with the university. You can also become a dues-paying member of Hoosier Action on HoosierAction.org and that would be really great so that we can keep growing our power together and keep fighting for the rights of Hoosiers.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

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

Categories: News

Republicans Agree on Tax Bill "Of, By and For the Political Donor Class" With Tax Cuts for the Rich

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 05:00

Republicans in Congress say they have reached a deal on final tax legislation that will overhaul the US tax code, dramatically impacting not only household income, but also healthcare and domestic spending. The plan would slash taxes by nearly $1.5 trillion, with the vast majority of the cuts benefiting major corporations and the richest Americans, including President Trump's own family. A final vote could take place next week. We speak with David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter and founder and editor of DCReport.org.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

US Support "Vital" to Saudi Bombing of Yemen, Targeting Food Supplies as Millions Face Famine

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 05:00

In Yemen, the US-backed, Saudi-led coalition has bombed a Houthi military police camp, killing at least 30 people, most of whom were imprisoned inside the camp. One official said at least 35 bodies had been recovered from the blast site so far. The Saudi-led coalition has escalated its bombing campaign in recent days, following the killing of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Days before his death, the longtime leader switched sides in the ongoing war and threw his support behind the Saudi-led coalition. He was then killed by the Houthis. The US-backed, Saudi-led bombing campaign has devastating Yemen's health, water and sanitation systems, sparking a massive cholera epidemic. The Saudi-imposed blockade has prevented critical food, water, medicine and aid from reaching civilians. The United Nations has warned that over 8 million people are "a step away from famine." For more, we're joined by award-winning journalist Iona Craig, journalist who was based in Sana'a from 2010 to 2015 as the Yemen correspondent for The Times of London. Her new piece for The Guardian is titled "Bombed into famine: how Saudi air campaign targets Yemen's food supplies."

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

Trump's Favorite Hatemonger Bites the Dust

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 05:00
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Hey Trump, tweet this.

Your sexual predator endorsee for Alabama senator went down the tubes Tuesday night -- and literally rode out on the horse he came in on.

And, oh yeah, the women you sexually assaulted and then called "liars"? They aren't going away. They held a press conference this week, and they want Congress to do something about your crimes -- and, yes, they are crimes.

In a down-to-the-wire election, Alabama Democrat Doug Jones defeated Bible-thumping sexual predator Republican Roy Moore in a special election Tuesday to fill the Senate seat left open by Jeff Sessions when he became attorney general.

But the big winner in this election is the women of #MeToo -- who broke the silence about sexual harassment and assault committed by powerful men.

Moore's fanaticism in the service of hate and reaction is well known -- he was drummed out of the state Supreme Court for his statue of the Ten Commandments, and he defied the US Supreme Court by refusing to grant LGBT couples their legal right to marry.

But in the end, it was the women who came forward to tell their stories of being abused who turned the tables on him -- including one woman who said the holier-than-thou evangelical forced himself on her when he was a district attorney, and she was just 14 years old.

Moore's response to these calls for justice was to smear the women as liars and double down on his nauseating bigotry.

This election was about far more than vote in Alabama for a Senate seat. It was a test of support for Republican monsters like Moore, their bigoted policies and the presidency of Donald Trump.

***

Moor's campaign presented itself as a referendum on the Trump administration -- and threatened that the Republicans' big plans for next year would be in peril if he lost. "If they can beat [Moore], they can beat [Trump's] agenda, because Judge Moore stands with Donald Trump and his agenda," Moore strategist Dean Young told ABC's This Week.

Sections of the Republican Party fled from Moore, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Alabama's longtime senior senator Richard Shelby, who said he cast his vote for a write-in candidate instead of Moore.

But not Trump. Though the president reluctantly campaigned for the GOP establishment's choice, Luther Strange, Moore's opponent in the Republican primary earlier this year, Trump eagerly jumped on board when Moore became the nominee -- despite the allegations of sexual harassment.

Trump recorded a robo-call for the candidate and made an appearance at a pro-Moore rally in Florida -- the day before he was scheduled to visit the new Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, no less. Former Trump White House adviser and alt-right celebrity Steve Bannon has also been a fixture of the Moore campaign.

Trump and Moore have a lot in common. Like trying to silence women who accuse them of sexual assault.

As Alabama voters were casting their ballots, Trump went on the attack against a group of women who are calling on Congress to investigate their sexual assault claims against the president. In a sexist tweet, Trump said New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand "would come to my office 'begging' for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them)."

Trump's refusal to go along with Republican Party leaders and continue promoting Moore was a calculated pushback against the #MeToo campaign and its hundreds of women stepping out of the shadows to tell their stories of abuse and, in some cases, bring down their abusers.

At first, the Republican National Committee withdrew its support for Moore's campaign when the allegations of sexual assault emerged. But it flipped on that decision after Trump decided to continue endorsing Moore.

***

But that wasn't enough to push Moore over the top. With absentee ballots still to be counted, Jones had defeated the Republican candidate by some 20,000 votes, with about a dozen counties that voted for Trump over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election switching over to the Democrats in this race.

The margin of victory for Jones is about the same as the number of voters who wrote in another candidate. As FiveThirtyEight.org pointed out, of all Alabama senate races since 1990, only the 2014 race, in which Jeff Sessions ran uncontested, had a higher share of write-in votes.

But while the media will focus on this number, Jones built up his margin of victory in counties with major cities like Birmingham and Huntsville, where African Americans especially voted overwhelmingly for him. Jones also had a stronger advantage among women and younger voters, according to exit polls.

In Birmingham's primarily Black Woodlawn neighborhood, Genesis Johnson told the Washington Post that he hadn't voted since 2008, when he supported Barack Obama for president. He felt compelled to cast his vote for Jones this time.

And no wonder. During this election, Moore wasn't just the anti-woman candidate. When a Black voter asked Moore in September at what point in history he thought America was "great," Moore picked the era when slavery was legal. "I think it was great at the time when families were united -- even though we had slavery -- they cared for one another," Moore said. "Our families were strong, our country had a direction."

***

With a candidate like that for the Republicans, why was it even close?

The Democrats had a lot of ground to make up, even to defeat a monster like Moore. Alabama hasn't voted for a Democrat in a presidential election since 1976. Republican candidates have won Senate races by over 20 percentage points since 2004 -- and in 2016, Donald Trump won the state by a 28 percentage-point margin.

Alabama is like other states of the former slave-holding Confederacy and Jim Crow South in having turned from solid Dixiecrat to solid Republican in the aftermath of the civil rights movement.

But it isn't only the legacy of racism and reaction that turned Alabama into a GOP bastion. During the same period since the civil rights era, the Democratic Party increasingly embraced neoliberalism -- and, in the process, abandoned even a rhetorical appeal to class issues.

Those issues are as urgent today as ever. Alabama has no state minimum wage, so the paltry federal standard of $7.25 an hour applies. When the city of Birmingham enacted a $10.10 an hour minimum in 2016, state legislators killed it with a law banning cities and counties from raising the minimum wage -- or requiring employers to provide leave or other benefits, to boot.

Poverty is dire in rural areas of the state -- where hookworm, a disease of extreme poverty that has been largely eradicated in the US, is back. During a recent tour focusing on poverty and human rights abuses in the US, United Nations investigators singled out Alabama's rural Black Belt as the site of some of the worst conditions.

"I think it's very uncommon in the First World," the UN's Special Rapporteur Philip Alston said, describing Butler County, where investigators documented raw sewage flowing from homes through exposed PVC pipes and into open trenches and pits. "This is not a sight that one normally sees."

But Doug Jones had nothing to say about these issues during the campaign for Senate. He relied on being the not-Roy-Moore candidate.

That was enough to win -- barely.

***

In late November, press accounts quoted African American community leaders warning that Jones and the Democrats weren't doing enough to energize African American voters.

Hatred of Moore and Trump apparently motivated a big enough Black turnout to push Jones over the top. But the sad fact is that Jones has done nothing to deserve their votes other than not being Moore.

The Democrats' failure to provide any positive reason to vote for them will set the stage for disillusionment in the future, when the Republican candidate is merely reactionary, and not an open sexual predator.

Alabama's special election shows the rot in the Republican Party that runs all the way to the White House. This time around, it was enough to repel some reliably Republican voters who couldn't stomach voting for Moore, given the revelations about him.

The consequences of their defeat are unknown, but Trump and the Republicans are likely to pay a price -- maybe even over the proposal to cut taxes for the superrich currently before Congress.

But the inadequacy of the Democrats as an alternative to Trumpian reaction is obvious from this election, too.

Trump and his supporters won't back down. They will, in fact, double down on the hate and scapegoating that got them this far, while pushing a reactionary agenda that the ruling class wants to see enacted, whether they approve of Trump or not.

It's a pleasure to see Roy Moore go down to defeat, but we still have a fight on our hands. The resistance to this class war assault will have to be built from the bottom up.

Categories: News

Trump's First Year Sets Record for US Special Ops, Deploying to 149 Countries

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 05:00
 the US Army)Soldiers engage in a training exercise in Fort Irwin, California, on August 28, 2016. (Photo: The US Army)   Your support is crucial to keeping ethical journalism alive! Donate now to keep our writers on the streets, covering the most important issues and beats.

"We don't know exactly where we're at in the world, militarily, and what we're doing," said Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in October. That was in the wake of the combat deaths of four members of the Special Operations forces in the West African nation of Niger. Graham and other senators expressed shock about the deployment, but the global sweep of America's most elite forces is, at best, an open secret.

Earlier this year before that same Senate committee -- though Graham was not in attendance -- General Raymond Thomas, the chief of US Special Operations Command (SOCOM), offered some clues about the planetwide reach of America's most elite troops. "We operate and fight in every corner of the world," he boasted.  "Rather than a mere 'break-glass-in-case-of-war' force, we are now proactively engaged across the 'battle space' of the Geographic Combatant Commands... providing key integrating and enabling capabilities to support their campaigns and operations." 

In 2017, US Special Operations forces, including Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets, deployed to 149 countries around the world, according to figures provided to TomDispatch by US Special Operations Command.  That's about 75% of the nations on the planet and represents a jump from the 138 countries that saw such deployments in 2016 under the Obama administration.  It's also a jump of nearly 150% from the last days of George W. Bush's White House.  This record-setting number of deployments comes as American commandos are battling a plethora of terror groups in quasi-wars that stretch from Africa and the Middle East to Asia. 

"Most Americans would be amazed to learn that US Special Operations Forces have been deployed to three quarters of the nations on the planet," observes William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.  "There is little or no transparency as to what they are doing in these countries and whether their efforts are promoting security or provoking further tension and conflict." 

Growth Opportunity

"Since 9/11, we expanded the size of our force by almost 75% in order to take on mission-sets that are likely to endure," SOCOM's Thomas told the Senate Armed Services Committee in May.  Since 2001, from the pace of operations to their geographic sweep, the activities of US Special Operations forces (SOF) have, in fact, grown in every conceivable way.  On any given day, about 8,000 special operators -- from a command numbering roughly 70,000 -- are deployed in approximately 80 countries.   

"The increase in the use of Special Forces since 9/11 was part of what was then referred to as the Global War on Terror as a way to keep the United States active militarily in areas beyond its two main wars, Iraq and Afghanistan," Hartung told TomDispatch.  "The even heavier reliance on Special Forces during the Obama years was part of a strategy of what I think of as 'politically sustainable warfare,' in which the deployment of tens of thousands of troops to a few key theaters of war was replaced by a 'lighter footprint' in more places, using drones, arms sales and training, and Special Forces."

The Trump White House has attacked Barack Obama's legacy on nearly all fronts. It has undercut, renounced, or reversed actions of his ranging from trade pacts to financial and environmental regulations to rules that shielded transgender employees from workplace discrimination.  When it comes to Special Operations forces, however, the Trump administration has embraced their use in the style of the former president, while upping the ante even further.  President Trump has also provided military commanders greater authority to launch attacks in quasi-war zones like Yemen and Somalia.  According to Micah Zenko, a national security expert and Whitehead Senior Fellow at the think tank Chatham House, those forces conducted five times as many lethal counterterrorism missions in such non-battlefield countries in the Trump administration's first six months in office as they did during Obama's final six months.

A Wide World of War

US commandos specialize in 12 core skills, from "unconventional warfare" (helping to stoke insurgencies and regime change) to "foreign internal defense" (supporting allies' efforts to guard themselves against terrorism, insurgencies, and coups). Counterterrorism -- fighting what SOCOM calls violent extremist organizations or VEOs -- is, however, the specialty America's commandos have become best known for in the post-9/11 era. 

In the spring of 2002, before the Senate Armed Services Committee, SOCOM chief General Charles Holland touted efforts to "improve SOF capabilities to prosecute unconventional warfare and foreign internal defense programs to better support friends and allies. The value of these programs, demonstrated in the Afghanistan campaign," he said, "can be particularly useful in stabilizing countries and regions vulnerable to terrorist infiltration." 

Over the last decade and a half, however, there's been little evidence America's commandos have excelled at "stabilizing countries and regions vulnerable to terrorist infiltration."  This was reflected in General Thomas's May testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. "The threat posed by VEOs remains the highest priority for USSOCOM in both focus and effort," he explained. 

However, unlike Holland who highlighted only one country -- Afghanistan -- where special operators were battling militants in 2002, Thomas listed a panoply of terrorist hot spots bedeviling America's commandos a decade and a half later.  "Special Operations Forces," he said, "are the main effort, or major supporting effort for US VEO-focused operations in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, across the Sahel of Africa, the Philippines, and Central/South America -- essentially, everywhere Al Qaeda (AQ) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are to be found."

Officially, there are about 5,300 US troops in Iraq.  (The real figure is thought to be higher.)  Significant numbers of them are special operators training and advising Iraqi government forces and Kurdish troops.  Elite US forces have also played a crucial role in Iraq's recent offensive against the militants of the Islamic State, providing artillery and airpower, including SOCOM's AC-130W Stinger II gunships with 105mm cannons that allow them to serve as flying howitzers.  In that campaign, Special Operations forces were "thrust into a new role of coordinating fire support," wrote Linda Robinson, a senior international policy analyst with the RAND Corporation who spent seven weeks in Iraq, Syria, and neighboring countries earlier this year. "This fire support is even more important to the Syrian Democratic Forces, a far more lightly armed irregular force which constitutes the major ground force fighting ISIS in Syria."

Special Operations forces have, in fact, played a key role in the war effort in Syria, too.  While American commandos have been killed in battle there, Kurdish and Arab proxies -- known as the Syrian Democratic Forces -- have done the lion's share of the fighting and dying to take back much of the territory once held by the Islamic State.  SOCOM's Thomas spoke about this in surprisingly frank terms at a security conference in Aspen, Colorado, this summer.  "We're right now inside the capital of [ISIS's] caliphate at Raqqa [Syria].  We'll have that back soon with our proxies, a surrogate force of 50,000 people that are working for us and doing our bidding," he said.  "So two and a half years of fighting this fight with our surrogates, they've lost thousands, we've only lost two service members. Two is too many, but it's, you know, a relief that we haven't had the kind of losses that we've had elsewhere."

This year, US special operators were killed in IraqSyriaAfghanistanYemenSomalia, and the Sahelian nations of Niger and Mali (although reports indicate that a Green Beret who died in that country was likely strangled by US Navy SEALs).  In Libya, SEALs recently kidnapped a suspect in the 2012 attacks in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.  In the Philippines, US Special Forces joined the months-long battle to recapture Marawi City after it was taken by Islamist militants earlier this year. 

And ev this growing list of counterterror hotspots is only a fraction of the story.  In Africa, the countries singled out by Thomas -- Somalia, Libya, and those in the Sahel -- are just a handful of the nations to which American commandos were deployed in 2017. As recently reported at Vice News, US Special Operations forces were active in at least 33 nations across the continent, with troops heavily concentrated in and around countries now home to a growing number of what the Pentagon's Africa Center for Strategic Studies calls "active militant Islamist groups."  While Defense Department spokeswoman Major Audricia Harris would not provide details on the range of operations being carried out by the elite forces, it's known that they run the gamut from conducting security assessments at US embassies to combat operations.  

Data provided by SOCOM also reveals a special ops presence in 33 European countries this year.  "Outside of Russia and Belarus we train with virtually every country in Europe either bilaterally or through various multinational events," Major Michael Weisman, a spokesman for US Special Operations Command Europe, told TomDispatch.

For the past two years, in fact, the US has maintained a Special Operations contingent in almost every nation on Russia's western border.  "[W]e've had persistent presence in every country -- every NATO country and others on the border with Russia doing phenomenal things with our allies, helping them prepare for their threats," said SOCOM's Thomas, mentioning the Baltic states as well as Romania, Poland, Ukraine, and Georgia by name.  These activities represent, in the words of General Charles Cleveland, chief of US Army Special Operations Command from 2012 to 2015 and now the senior mentor to the Army War College, "undeclared campaigns" by commandos. Weisman, however, balked at that particular language.  "US Special Operations forces have been deployed persistently and at the invitation of our allies in the Baltic States and Poland since 2014 as part of the broader US European Command and Department of Defense European Deterrence Initiative," he told TomDispatch.  "The persistent presence of US SOF alongside our Allies sends a clear message of US commitment to our allies and the defense of our NATO Alliance."

Asia is also a crucial region for America's elite forces.  In addition to Iran and Russia, SOCOM's Thomas singled out China and North Korea as nations that are "becoming more aggressive in challenging US interests and partners through the use of asymmetric means that often fall below the threshold of conventional conflict."  He went on to say that the "ability of our special operators to conduct low-visibility special warfare operations in politically sensitive environments make them uniquely suited to counter the malign activities of our adversaries in this domain."

US-North Korean saber rattling has brought increased attention to Special Forces Detachment Korea (SFDK), the longest serving US Special Forces unit in the world.  It would, of course, be called into action should a war ever break out on the peninsula.  In such a conflict, US and South Korean elite forces would unite under the umbrella of the Combined Unconventional Warfare Task Force.  In March, commandos -- including, according to some reports, members of the Army's Delta Force and the Navy's SEAL Team 6 -- took part in Foal Eagle, a training exercise, alongside conventional US forces and their South Korean counterparts. 

US special operators also were involved in training exercises and operations elsewhere across Asia and the Pacific.  In June, in Okinawa, Japan, for example, airmen from the 17th Special Operations Squadron (17th SOS) carried out their annual (and oddly spelled) "Day of the Jakal," the launch of five Air Force Special Operations MC-130J Commando II aircraft to practice, according to a military news release, "airdrops, aircraft landings, and rapid infiltration and exfiltration of equipment."  According to Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Dube of the 17th SOS, "It shows how we can meet the emerging mission sets for both SOCKOR [Special Operations Command Korea] and SOCPAC [Special Operations Command Pacific] out here in the Pacific theater." 

At about the same time, members of the Air Force's 353rd Special Operations Group carried out Teak Jet, a joint combined exchange training, or JCET, mission meant to improve military coordination between US and Japanese forces.  In June and July, intelligence analysts from the Air Force's 353rd Special Operations Group took part in Talisman Saber, a biennial military training exercise conducted in various locations across Australia.

More for War

The steady rise in the number of elite operators, missions, and foreign deployments since 9/11 appears in no danger of ending, despite years of worries by think-tank experts and special ops supporters about the effects of such a high operations tempo on these troops.  "Most SOF units are employed to their sustainable limit," General Thomas said earlier this year. "Despite growing demand for SOF, we must prioritize the sourcing of these demands as we face a rapidly changing security environment."  Yet the number of deployments still grew to a record 149 nations in 2017.  (During the Obama years, deployments reached 147 in 2015.)

At a recent conference on special operations held in Washington, D.C., influential members of the Senate and House armed services committees acknowledged that there were growing strains on the force. "I do worry about overuse of SOF," said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, a Republican.  One solution offered by both Jack Reed, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Republican Senator Joni Ernst, a combat veteran who served in Iraq, was to bulk up Special Operations Command yet more.  "We have to increase numbers and resources," Reed insisted

This desire to expand Special Operations further comes at a moment when senators like Lindsey Graham continue to acknowledge how remarkably clueless they are about where those elite forces are deployed and what exactly they are doing in far-flung corners of the globe.  Experts point out just how dangerous further expansion could be, given the proliferation of terror groups and battle zones since 9/11 and the dangers of unforeseen blowback as a result of low-profile special ops missions.

"Almost by definition, the dizzying number of deployments undertaken by US Special Operations forces in recent years would be hard to track.  But few in Congress seem to be even making the effort," said William Hartung. "This is a colossal mistake if one is concerned about reining in the globe-spanning US military strategy of the post-9/11 era, which has caused more harm than good and done little to curb terrorism." 

However, with special ops deployments rising above Bush and Obama administration levels to record-setting heights and the Trump administration embracing the use of commandos in quasi-wars in places like Somalia and Yemen, there appears to be little interest in the White House or on Capitol Hill in reining in the geographic scope and sweep of America's most secretive troops.  And the results, say experts, may be dire.  "While the retreat from large 'boots on the ground' wars like the Bush administration's intervention in Iraq is welcome," said Hartung, "the proliferation of Special Operations forces is a dangerous alternative, given the prospects of getting the United States further embroiled in complex overseas conflicts."

Categories: News

Trump's Regulators: Eager Servants of Oil and Gas, at Our Expense

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 05:00
 LW / TO)(Photo: Babs; edited: LW / TO)   Help preserve a news source with integrity at its core: Donate to the independent media at Truthout.

Eleven months into the Trump administration, it's worth seriously pondering the question: Does Donald Trump have something against clean air? Did a smogless day insult his mother, and now he's out for revenge? It seems silly, but it's hard not to wonder when the Trump administration seems so determined to roll back every bit of progress the Obama administration made when it comes to reducing air pollution and hopefully slowing down the rate of global warming.

(OK, it's probably that Trump just hates Obama that much.)

The obsessiveness of the Trumpian assault on clean air was illustrated again last week, when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which works under Secretary Ryan Zinke at the Interior Department, delayed the implementation of a rule requiring oil and gas companies drilling on federally owned lands to curtail the waste of methane by releasing it in the air. The rationale for delaying the implementation of the rule until January 2019 was that the regulation "may be rescinded or significantly revised in the near future," a hint that Zinke would like to dump it entirely.

The way that the Interior Department regulates methane emissions may seem like a dry topic, but it actually provides a disturbing glimpse into the Trump administration's utter disdain for taxpayers, the planet and the rule of law.

"This is one more way President Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke are handing management of our public lands over to the special interests they consider their primary constituents," Chase Huntley, the energy and climate program director for The Wilderness Society, said in an emailed statement. "It's a horrible deal for American taxpayers." 

Methane, while far less common than carbon in the atmosphere, is far more potent as a greenhouse gas. Estimates of how much methane contributes to climate change range from 10 percent to 25 percent of the problem, meaning that cutting back on methane emissions could significantly reduce the global warming impact. But fighting climate change, although it's important, was not the reason that the BLM passed this rule during the Obama administration. The official reason was that letting oil and gas companies simply leak methane into the air amounts to stealing money from the taxpayers.

"BLM has an obligation to address waste of natural resources," Meleah Geertsma, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Salon. Because the public owns these lands, taxpayers "are owed royalties on the amounts of oil and gas that are collected." Methane that is being leaked into the air is public property being wasted by private operators, and if it's not captured and sold, you and I are being cheated. 

The Environmental Defense Fund estimates that taxpayers have lost nearly $2 billion worth of natural gas since 2013, simply because drilling companies vent it rather than spending the money on equipment and strategies needed to capture it and sell it as an energy source. The new rule, which was finalized towards the end of 2016, will, according to Interior Department estimates, reduce profits for small business operators by less than 0.02 percent, due to the cost of upgrading equipment. The captured methane, on the other hand, could provide enough energy to fuel 740,000 households a year.

"This was seen as a win-win-win," Kate Kelly, the director of public lands at the Center for American Progress, told Salon. Taxpayers got their royalties, human beings in general got cleaner air and industry -- OK, industry didn't like it, but at least standardized regulations give them a clearer path forward. 

Still, many in the oil and gas industry loathe all forms of government regulation and have been fighting this methane rule for more than a year. As this timeline compiled by the Environmental Law Program at Harvard University details, there have been a dizzying number of attempts to destroy the rule, including lawsuits, an attempt to get Congress to overturn the rule and a previous effort by Zinke to delay its implementation indefinitely. All have failed so far — and environmental groups who have sued to keep the rule in place have been winning in court.

"Zinke is kind of the last venue for industry to try to put this thing on ice," said Geertsma of NRDC, "rather than actually doing what an agency is supposed to do, which is look at the evidence and provide a legal justification."

The hurried, vaguely justified efforts to ditch or delay this rule stand in stark contrast with the considerable detail the Obama administration put into in writing it in the first place. Before passing this new rule, the Obama administration took in 330,000 comments, thoroughly researched the economic and environmental impact and met with industry people, environmental groups, Native tribes and local residents. Zinke's report to justify delaying the rule offers no evidence that any of the Obama administration's work was misleading or incorrect. Federal law requires agencies to provide such evidence if they want to change a rule.

"There's certainly a 'Where's the cause?' question and a sense that the administration is operating in a way where they feel rules don't apply to them or they're somehow above the law," Kelly said. 

"This is very consistent with the pattern we've seen with this administration so far, in environmental regulations in particular," Geertsma said "Which is just to halt everything, don't provide a factual record and claim you're doing the work, when really your intention is to repeal the regulation later down the road."

For instance, Zinke stayed another rule requiring drilling companies to pay full royalties to the public. While a judge overturned his stay, the delay tactic worked long enough for Zinke to kill the rule completely. He also hastened efforts to overturn a regulation on fracking before a federal judge listed a stay on the rule. Scott Pruitt, Trump's EPA head, has used much the same delaying tactic in trying to get rid of another methane regulation, which has also been halted by the courts.

There's a good chance that the courts will shut down Zinke's latest effort to delay implementation of this methane rule until he can find some half-baked justification to overturn it. That doesn't mean this tactic is not dangerous. Zinke's scattershot strategy is to throw up a bunch of delays and objections, and hope that some judge somewhere is corrupt enough or deluded enough to sign off on one of them. More important still, the whole process makes it clear how little the Trump administration cares about the public or the planet, and how willing it is to do substantial harm to both to serve the whims of the oil and gas industries.

Categories: News

Trans People Don't Need to Be "Cured," Despite What Discredited Studies Claim

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 05:00

Transgender and gender-nonconforming people have a long history of being pathologized by the medical and mental health community. Studies have demonstrated that trans people are generally happier and more well-adjusted after transition and that there is no form of therapy that can successfully make trans people "un-trans."

 Ted Eytan)LGBTQ+ activitsts and allies rally at the US Capitol on June 17, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Ted Eytan)

What are the most harmful myths and misconceptions currently circulating about trans and gender-nonconforming people? Laura Erickson-Schroth and Laura A. Jacobs dismantle myths about gender, sexuality, biology and identity -- whether based on junk science, media misinformation or plain bigotry -- in their new book "You're in the Wrong Bathroom!" Order your copy by making a tax-deductible donation to Truthout today.

The following excerpt from "You're in the Wrong Bathroom!" tackles the idea that "Trans People Are Mentally Ill and Therapy Can Change Them."

Are trans people confused, delusional, deranged... or just plain crazy? Can we be made to be "un-trans"?

Trans people are frequently viewed as unstable. Some imagine that our desire to change genders is a symptom of a larger dysfunction or a form of mental illness. Others argue that we would be able to simply let go of our feelings if properly "motivated" -- that providers could, and should, encourage trans people to live according to our genders assigned at birth.

Since health providers first began working with trans people, some have advocated for treatment aimed at changing our gender identities to align with our genders assigned at birth. Though those providers and researchers are now in the minority, they remain stubbornly vocal.

The facts, however, are against them. Numerous studies have demonstrated that trans people are, in general, happier and more well-adjusted after transition, and that there is no form of therapy that is successful in making trans people "un-trans." Trans people do have increased rates of mental health issues, but studies clearly show this is a result of living in a transphobic society rather than being transgender.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that trans people are, in general, happier and more well-adjusted after transition.

Like women, people of color, and LGB people before us, transgender and gender-nonconforming people have a long history of being pathologized by the medical and mental health community. Trans identity, originally called "transsexualism," was first introduced into the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Version III, in 1980. The initial DSM diagnosis, almost always used to describe trans women, included those with a persistent desire to rid themselves of their genitals and to live according to the social norms of the "other" gender. It also suggested that these longings were virtually always present since childhood. The text did separate transsexualism from schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders; still, many providers cited the desire to rid oneself of fully functioning body parts and the belief in oneself as not being the gender assigned at birth to be clear indications of severe mental illness.

The inclusion of trans identities in the DSM firmly established that the mental health community deemed "trans-ness" as a condition to be "fixed." In version four of the DSM, published in 1994, the diagnosis was changed to "gender identity disorder." This term still defined trans identity as something other than the norm -- something different, problematic, and in need of corrective treatment.

Early versions of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health's (WPATH) Standards of Care also considered transition to be a last resort that might help those few individuals otherwise unable to live within society the possibility of a "successful" life. Those who were trans-identified were only permitted access to care once they had proven to the satisfaction of a team of specialists that they were truly trans. It was up to the provider to determine if the person's condition was severe enough to justify the radical step of transition.

More recently, trans people have taken it upon themselves to force change. Responding in part to pressure from trans and LGBQ activists, version five of the DSM, published in 2013, now contains the diagnosis "gender dysphoria." Though the new diagnosis remains in a manual of disorders, the term is more palatable to some, and the diagnosis it represents is more inclusive of gender-nonconforming people who do not fit into the gender binary. Simultaneously, transgender activism has driven the Standards of Care to be more flexible and somewhat more supportive of the full diversity of trans communities.

There is no form of therapy that is successful in making trans people "un-trans."

The presence of trans identities in the DSM continues to be controversial. There is a powerful movement to have gender-related diagnoses removed altogether, as some feel that any mental health diagnosis is stigmatizing and continues to pathologize trans identities. Others argue that the inclusion has benefits, most importantly insurance coverage. Still, many insurance companies continue to categorically exclude coverage for transition-related care, whether there is a diagnosis for it or not. The International Classification of Diseases, used in many countries around the world, is a separate listing of health conditions, and the eleventh edition of the ICD, expected in 2018, proposes the new diagnosis, "gender incongruence," which would be a non–mental health diagnosis and potentially less pathologizing, but which would allow for reimbursement of care.

Trans people have been historically stigmatized not only by the mental health community through the DSM but also by individual mental health providers. In 1979, Jon K. Meyer, under the direction of Paul McHugh, chair of the Johns Hopkins University psychiatry department, published a paper in which he wrote that transgender women who had undergone surgery at Johns Hopkins demonstrated "no significant improvement" over those who had been rejected from services. McHugh was outspoken about his political mission to close the Hopkins gender clinic -- arguably the most important in the country -- and to cease services for transgender people out of a personal belief that transgender people were inherently mentally ill.

Meyer's study resulted in the closure of transgender clinics across the country, and ultimately very few places remained where transgender people could get legitimate care. Countless people suffered; denied treatment, they felt rejected, lived lives of despair, and turned to illicit treatment via black market sources or continued to suffer the torment of dysphoria. Through McHugh, the erroneous belief spread that transgender people were resigned to be depressed, anxious, and unsuccessful members of society, and that high numbers committed suicide post transition.

Not surprisingly, it was later revealed that the Johns Hopkins study was severely flawed. Meyer argued that his results showed that trans people were no better off after transition, but the measures he used to assess success included value judgments such as whether they were in "gender-appropriate" relationships. This "research" has been widely disproven.

The presence of trans identities in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders continues to be controversial.

Amazingly, despite the current vibrancy and strength of the transgender community, McHugh continues to argue that trans people should not be supported in transitioning. Unfortunately, respected news sources such as the Wall Street Journal continue to publish his opinions. In March 2016, McHugh coauthored a position statement for a group called the American College of Pediatricians, an organization of physicians much smaller than the well-known American Academy of Pediatrics that uses its official sounding name to spread misinformation about transgender people. The statement paints trans people as mentally ill:

A person's belief that he or she is something they are not is, at best, a sign of confused thinking. When an otherwise healthy biological boy believes he is a girl, or an otherwise healthy biological girl believes she is a boy, an objective psychological problem exists that lies in the mind not the body, and it should be treated as such.

Even though McHugh's work has been discredited -- as the last gasps of someone with very little relevance -- his notions persist. Many practitioners with the misguided belief that "trans-ness" can and ought to be "cured" advocate a philosophy of care known as "conversion" or "reparative" therapy. Using coercion, manipulation, aversion therapy, and peer pressure, this form of treatment is designed to compel people to live heteronormative cisgender lives. These efforts have never been effective and have been strongly rejected as unethical by the American Psychiatric and Psychological Associations, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and many other major organizations. Still, the efforts persist.

Even though Paul McHugh's work has been discredited, his notions persist.

For example, for many years, Ken Zucker, a psychologist formerly with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, was accused of practicing reparative therapy on gender-nonconforming children. His gender program was harshly criticized by clients and community members for enforcing outdated protocols that pressured transgender people to live as their assigned genders, being unwilling to engage with transgender and gender-nonconforming communities, and allowing only those who had "failed" to successfully live as their assigned genders to transition.

It appears that CAMH's board of directors rightly agreed: Zucker was removed from his position at CAMH and the gender program was shuttered in 2015 pending review. Zucker continues to speak at conferences on transgender issues often over the outcry of the community itself, but his influence may be waning: one of Zucker's two lectures at the US Professional Association for Transgender Health conference in February 2017 was canceled due to protests.

Truthout Progressive Pick You’re in the Wrong Bathroom! And 20 Other Myths and Misconceptions About Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming People

Refuting common harmful myths about trans and gender-nonconforming people.

Click here now to get the book!

The good news is that supportive mental health providers are increasing in number. In addition to major mental health associations rejecting reparative therapy, a number of US states and Canadian provinces are calling for or have passed legislation making these techniques illegal when working with minors.

Though being trans is not in itself a mental illness, transgender communities bear a disproportionate burden of mental illness. LGBTQ+ people are nearly three times more likely to experience mental illnesses such as major depression and generalized anxiety disorder than others, and those numbers are even higher in trans communities. It is well documented that fear of coming out and being discriminated against for one's sexual orientation or gender identity can lead to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse. Trans people have significantly higher rates of smoking, obesity, and diabetes, physical health disparities that likely result from mental health issues such as depression.

For some, the agony of living in a body and assuming a role they feel is not genuine can be too overwhelming to bear. Lifetime suicide attempt rates among transgender people are shockingly high -- possibly up to almost 43 percent, compared to just 1.6 percent of the general population.

This data is all consistent with minority stress models, which argue that ongoing exposure to discrimination, stigma, and sociocultural hostility drives poorer mental health outcomes, and that transgender and gender-nonconforming people are especially vulnerable. Increasingly, studies clearly show that it is society's lack of acceptance that leads to mental health issues, and not being trans itself.

Although we may understand the cause, this does not take away from the fact that trans people have elevated rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, self-harming behaviors like cutting, and suicidality, and that treatment is essential. Unfortunately, many trans people who seek help for mental health or substance abuse issues find that they face discrimination and harassment even within settings where the goal is to improve mental health. In a 2007 study of transgender people in substance abuse programs, 60 percent reported being required to use sleeping and shower facilities that did not match their gender, and many described verbal abuse from staff and other patients. Over a third of participants reported that they had stopped going to these programs because of transphobia.

In many instances, even if a mental health program is ostensibly supportive, the staff may have little training in transgender-specific issues. Fifty percent of respondents in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey reported having to teach their providers about transgender care. There are a number of mental health providers with experience working with trans populations. Some work within LGBTQ+ health centers, which often, but not always, provide sensitive and competent transgender care; others have private practices. Many psychiatrists with this background are members of the Association of LGBTQ Psychiatrists. Psychologists may be part of Division 44 of the American Psychological Association, and the National Association of Social Workers has a committee on LGBT issues. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health and GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBT Equality are two organizations open to health professionals of any kind who are interested in transgender health. Many of these associations provide online tools to search for providers by geographic area.

Ken Zucker continues to speak at conferences on transgender issues often over the outcry of the community itself.

There are also targeted programs in some cities to assist LGBTQ+ people who are struggling with specific mental health issues. For example, Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in New York City runs dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) groups for LGBTQ+ people looking to develop improved coping skills, especially if they have a history of trauma. Rainbow Heights Club, in Brooklyn, New York, is a psychosocial club that hosts meals, activities, and groups for LGBTQ+ people with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The good news is that supportive mental health providers are increasing in number.

In addition to formal mental health care, there are other strategies that have been shown to promote resilience in transgender people. Helping parents with gender-nonconforming children learn to be supportive can have a significant impact. In a 2010 study by the Family Acceptance Project, LGBTQ+ young adults with high levels of family acceptance showed greater levels of self-esteem and general health and lower levels of depression, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation and attempts. A 2016 study on the mental health of transgender children clearly demonstrated that "out" trans youth living in supportive environments with supportive families, schools, and friends have no greater rates of depression and anxiety than youth in similar environments who do not identify as trans. In addition to environmental changes that can be made to assist trans people in building resilience from a young age, trans people often engage in behaviors that build their capacity to thrive in difficult situations. Studies of transgender people's strategies for coping and resilience show that they often use techniques like positive reframing and self-talk, and turn to hobbies, humor, and spirituality to deal with transphobia in society. They also find ways to act as mentors to younger people, boosting their own and their mentees' sense of agency.

Transition-related health care also promotes resilience. The data are clear: when we have support, we thrive. Several recent studies have made it unambiguous that quality of life for transgender people is overwhelmingly improved after transition, and that transgender and gender-nonconforming people allowed to live in their self-identified genders do far better emotionally and physically. A 2010 meta-analysis of twenty-eight studies showed that 78 percent of transgender people reported significant improvement in psychological symptoms and 80 percent in quality of life with hormonal transition. A follow-up systematic review in 2016 confirmed that results from studies released since 2010 continued to show benefits. Numerous studies have demonstrated similar improvements with surgery, when it is desired. In a 2015 Italian study, transgender people who had undergone gender-affirming surgeries reported a similar quality of life to cisgender people, when matched by age, marital status, and educational level.

Starting hormonal therapy during the teen years, when appropriate, can also have positive effects. A 2014 study of trans teens in the Netherlands showed that those who were treated in puberty had similar psychological function to cisgender teens the same age.

According to the 2011 Transition Survey by Gender Advocacy Training and Education, 94 percent of trans people show an improvement in their quality of life and 96 percent in their sense of well-being with transition.

All this suggests that trans people are happier and more well-adjusted post transition, and that it is social stigma and lack of acceptance that lead to depression, anxiety, and suicidality, not being trans itself. If anything, our mental health improves with transition.

Copyright (2017), Laura Erickson-Schroth and Laura A. Jacobs. Not to be reprinted without permission from Beacon Press.

Categories: News

Major Education Victory in Philadelphia as Parents, Teachers and Activists Reclaim Control of Schools

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 05:00

We look at a major education victory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where parents, teachers and activists mounted a successful campaign to reclaim control of their local public school system after then-Pennsylvania Governor Mark Schweiker declared it financially distressed in 2001. Under the plan, dozens of Philadelphia public schools closed, and the city saw a spike in charter schools. Community groups responded by forming a coalition to pressure Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney to return control over the School District to local voters. Last month, Mayor Kenney heeded organizers' demands and called for the dissolution of the commission. This came as the city also elected civil rights attorney Larry Krasner as district attorney, who campaigned in part on ending the school-to-prison pipeline. We speak with Helen Gym, a longtime community activist and now a Philadelphia city councilmember, and Kendra Brooks of the "Our City, Our Schools" coalition as well as Parents United. She is the parent of two children who attend Philadelphia district schools.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

Stars Fell on Alabama: The Beautiful Defeat of Roy Moore

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 05:00

 Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call)Alabama Democrat Doug Jones celebrates his victory over Judge Roy Moore at the Sheraton in Birmingham, Alabama, on Tuesday, December 12, 2017. (Photo: Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call)

Almost a full year into the Age of Trump and you expect me to believe Alabama would be the place where this awful Christo-fascist nationalist inertia finally gets thrown back? Yet here we sit, 51 to 49 in the Senate and Steve Bannon temporarily stuffed back into the Mercer-funded Crackerjack box he emerged from. I know Alabama. If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere.

 Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call)Alabama Democrat Doug Jones celebrates his victory over Judge Roy Moore at the Sheraton in Birmingham, Alabama, on Tuesday, December 12, 2017. (Photo: Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call)

My heart beat just like a hammer
Arms wound around you tight
While stars fell on Alabama
Last night …

-- "Stars Fell on Alabama," Frank Perkins and Mitchell Parish, 1934

Roy Moore got beat in Alabama. Roy Moore got beat by Alabama. Roy Moore got beat.

It's not that I can't believe it. The AP called it for Doug Jones, then Fox, then The New York Times, then NBC, then everyone. It happened in color and with the volume all the way up. I saw it. I just can’t believe it.

Jones is now the first Democrat to win a Senate race in Alabama in more than 20 years, and the first Democrat to win any statewide office in Alabama since Jim Folsom became Lt. Governor in 2006. The last Alabama Senate race that was this close was in 1986, when now-GOP Sen. Richard Shelby first won the office as a Democrat himself. In 2016, Donald Trump carried the state by 30 points.

Last night, well over a million votes were cast in a special election that Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill predicted would only see 25 percent turnout at best. Black voters came out in force, in some places exceeding 2014-level turnout by 30 points, while tens of thousands of white rural voters -- Trump and Roy Moore's core base in the state -- sat this one out. The numbers whipsawed throughout the night, with Jones making up a 50,000-vote gap in under an hour as Democratic votes from Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham’s Jefferson County came boiling in.

Moore refused to concede, of course. It looks like he wants a recount, which he will have to pay for, and his people were talking about outstanding military votes, but they all sounded like the kid with 10 fingers tasked to plug 11 holes in the dike. With 100 percent of the precincts reporting just before midnight, Jones' margin of victory was north of 20,000 votes, well past the margin for an automatic recount according to state law.

This was decisive, and as for stringing this election out like the GOP did in Minnesota in 2008, here's a pro tip: The only candidates who get away with even attempting a bum's rush like that are candidates with friends. Roy Moore has no friends where it matters. The Alabama GOP chairman has declared the race over, the secretary of state said a change in results is highly unlikely, and even Mitch McConnell was relieved by this outcome, despite the fact that it narrows his majority to a whisper. This is done.

Black voters came out in force.

If you wrote this script, nobody would buy it. Almost a full year into the Age of Trump and you expect me to believe Alabama of all states would be the place where this awful Christo-fascist nationalist inertia we've been enduring finally gets thrown back? I'd have sooner bet on the Hartford Whalers to win the Stanley Cup this year, and they haven't skated since 1997. Yet here we sit, 51 to 49 in the United States Senate and Steve Bannon temporarily stuffed back into the Mercer-funded Crackerjack box he emerged from. Go Whalers.

What a filthy vat of goat vomit was this election. There was so much about it that was historically awful, but this really took the cake: After multiple women accused Moore of sexually assaulting them when they were teenagers, a pro-Trump organization called The America First Project sent a 12-year-old girl to interview Moore on the eve of the election.

The group's stated point was to demonstrate "that there is a wide range of people who support Judge Roy Moore." In reality, they were flipping the bird at Moore's accusers by showing he could be in a room with a 12-year-old girl without molesting her. Then there were the radio spots, funded by conservative super PACs, with lines like, "I heard Doug Jones would add even more Black babies to the 300,000 already being aborted this year." Yeah, it was that bad.

Moore isn't some oddball outlier; he is the culmination of 40 years spent by the GOP polluting their own base with fear, nonsense and hatred.

A disgraced judge accused of serial sexual misconduct with teenagers and wreathed in the sweaty laurels of Donald Trump, Roy Moore is the avatar of many of the problems that currently haunt the Republican Party. However, Moore isn't some oddball outlier; he is the culmination of 40 years spent by the GOP polluting their own base with fear, nonsense and hatred. The fact that so many Trump base voters stayed home on Tuesday night, even in the face of Doug Jones' vivid pro-choice stance, is frankly astonishing. In the end, Moore was too much even for a party that would seemingly elect a bag of cancer cells if it had an "R" stamped on it.

The "takes" on last night's election will be coming fast and furious today, so I'll make mine short:

* If the #MeToo moment cannot be said to have won this election outright, it had as much or more to do with Jones' win as anything else. The national conversation about sexual abuse lasered in on Alabama after the Washington Post blew the lid off Moore's sordid behavior, and last night's election will stand in history as another chapter in our ongoing national reckoning.

* Jones has to run again in 2020, which means he has to start campaigning for re-election tomorrow, and he is still a senator from Alabama. Just because he won doesn't mean Alabama has suddenly become Berkeley. A less toxic candidate than Moore may very well have prevailed. In order to help his chances back home, I strongly suspect Jones will be breaking with the Democratic caucus on any number of important votes. Doug Jones is not Roy Moore, but that doesn't mean he's going to be Ted Kennedy.

Note to the Democratic Party: Nothing is impossible. You won in Alabama. I hope you took notes.

* Amazing and refreshing as this victory is, the fact remains that a man repeatedly accused of child molestation came within less than two percentage points of defeating a man who successfully prosecuted the Klan members responsible for murdering four little girls at the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963. White Trump voters still turned out for Moore in numbers large enough to make it dangerously close. This, to me, is proof that high turnout actually works … and in order to beat back the forces of Trump and Moore, high turnout will have to be commonplace every election from here on out. It is also proof that despite this win, white supremacy and misogyny are very much alive in Alabama and beyond.

* While it is undeniably wonderful that a ghoul like Roy Moore has been thwarted, the Democrats are going to miss him, election-wise, in 2018. Had Moore won, every GOP candidate for the midterms would be forced to address his wilder claims, and the entire Republican Party would be painted with that brush. That might have been enough to win back the Senate majority, and maybe even flip the House. Of course, it is vastly preferable not to have Moore in the United States Senate … but he would have made a damn fine Typhoid Mary, afflicting his fellow Republicans with his own words and deeds.  

* This election will have no immediate effect on the Senate, as McConnell has promised not to seat the winner until after the New Year.

* Note to the Democratic Party: Nothing is impossible. You won in Alabama. I hope you took notes.

* Finally, odds are good that many voices today will proclaim the Trump Revolution to be over. While the president has indeed been handed a stinging rebuke that he will surely handle in his usual calm and measured way, the fact remains that some 35 percent of the country still believes his tweets are all being carved onto stone tablets somewhere. A great swath of Congress is still irrationally petrified of him because of his unswerving base, and that fact alone swings some weight. The walls have closed in on Trump a bit more, to be sure, but Moore's defeat does not count as a mortal blow.

The walls have closed in on Trump a bit more, to be sure, but Moore's defeat does not count as a mortal blow.

Finally, this: I am, in my own way, a son of Alabama. My father is buried there, as is his father and mother. I was a page in the Alabama state senate during Shelby's first term, and had the run of the haunted old capitol building all the way back to when my father worked for Don Siegelman in the secretary of state's office. My father was the United States attorney out of Montgomery for most of the Clinton administration, and was chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party in the grim years after the 2000 election debacle and the September 11 attacks. It was a hard hustle.

If my father wasn't already dead, Tuesday night might have killed him. For stalwart FDR Democrats like him -- and there are many in Alabama -- men like Roy Moore are an unendurable humiliation. Had he been alive to see the outcome of this vote, my dad would have howled from his porch into the Birmingham night until the wee hours, or until they finally arrested him, whichever came first. He would have been surpassingly proud of his home state last night, and deservedly so.

When I was a boy, I once saw George Wallace wheeled in to the Alabama capitol building via the back door. He looked green. Last night, the state of Alabama -- reddest of the red -- shook the green hand of Wallace off its shoulder and looked forward. If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere.

Onward.

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Categories: News

FCC Set to Roll Back Digital Civil Rights With Tomorrow's Vote to Repeal Net Neutrality

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 05:00

The Federal Communications Commission is set to vote Thursday on whether to repeal the landmark net neutrality protections passed under President Obama in 2015. Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers treat web content equally and do not block or prioritize some content over others in return for payment. The move could allow internet service providers to cut speeds and jack up prices, and drew a record 22 million comments to the FCC, which critics say the agency has not fully reviewed. "We're talking about the future of media here and who has access and control and whose voices are valued, whose stories are told, whose stories are dehumanized," says Joseph Torres, senior adviser for government and external affairs for Free Press, the national media reform organization.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

The Happiest City in the US Has a Secret

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 05:00

This article was originally published at TalkPoverty.org

How is one to tell about joy? How describe the citizens of Omelas?… I do not know the rules and laws of their society, but I suspect that they were singularly few.

One thing I know there is none of in Omelas is guilt.

-- Ursula K. Le Guin, "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"

Earlier this year, National Geographic published an article claiming to have discovered the 25 happiest cities in the United States. The measurements were based on a scale developed by Gallup, with input from Dan Buettner, who has spent decades traveling the globe in pursuit of the roots of happiness. Even with all that experience, Buettner's findings (reported in the article by George Stone) seem to overlook one glaring problem: American happiness appears to be rich and white.

The city that tops Nat Geo's list this year is Boulder, Colorado. Boulder is a small town nestled in the Rocky Mountains, known for its biking paths, clean air, and youthful population; the latter of which can be attributed to the fact that it is home to the University of Colorado Boulder (CU) and Naropa University, in addition to several specialty and trade schools. Naropa University includes the writing school that was founded by beat writers Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman. It's also where I attended grad school.

Before I moved to the city, I had farewell drinks with a friend and a schoolmate he brought along, an Asian woman who spent one short academic year at CU before bolting.

"It's the most racist place I've ever been," she told me upon learning where I would soon be moving. "Everyone there is white, and if you're not," she swiped her hand through the air as though swatting away a bug. "It was like being Asian made me an alien," she added.

There was a moment of silence as I thought about my Cuban heritage, and whether I'd fit into the city that Nat Geo this year described as "bolstered by a sense of community, access to nature, sustainable urban development and preservation policies."

Then my friend (a white gay man, if you're wondering), said, "Oh, don't worry, you pass." Ultimately, he's right. I do "pass." My skin is olive-toned but not brown, my eyes are hazel, and my hair is a shade that in Latino communities is considered rubio,which roughly translates in English to blonde. I did not personally experience the racial alienation my drinking partner described that evening, but I saw and experienced other events that made the generous smiles, the lavish, clear-aired sunsets, and the folded yogis in the parks all seem like part of a deeply exclusionary facade.

***

In the short story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," author Ursula Le Guin describes a city of immense but ambiguous happiness, where "the air of morning was so clear that the snow still crowning the Eighteen Peaks burned with white-gold fire across the miles of sunlit air, under the dark blue of the sky." There, in Omelas, the people "were mature, intelligent, passionate adults whose lives were not wretched." But buried somewhere out of sight, in a small windowless room, an emaciated child sits alone. Le Guin describes its fear and decrepitude; the terrible squalor of its existence, and the feeble, hopeless waste of its mind and body. The child is always referred to as "it," because to imagine an actual human being treated this way is beyond comprehension.

But, Le Guin explains, the people of Omelas have had to make a choice. "If the child were brought up into the sunlight out of that vile place, if it were cleaned and fed and comforted, that would be a good thing, indeed; but if it were done … that would be to let guilt within the walls."

And so the Omelans reason that it is simply a matter of math. Every life in the city stays joyful and beautiful -- and the one that is not is hidden.

***

National Geographic writes that in the happiest places, "locals smile and laugh more often, socialize several hours a day, have access to green spaces, and feel that they are making purposeful progress toward achieving life goals."

This type of happiness, the article admits, relies upon wealth. What it doesn't mention outright, however, is that for an entire city to be dubbed "the happiest," poverty cannot play a significant factor. In Boulder's case, this is not because the social problems that cause poverty have been fixed, but because the poor have been pushed out.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 88 percent of Boulder is single-racial white. The median single-household income is just under $60,000, and the mean a whopping $90,000. Median monthly housing costs are reported at $1,320, with the number of renters and homeowners roughly the same (in 2015, there were only about 2,000 more renters than homeowners). This should be surprising, considering the fact that Boulder houses two universities, and the average student does not own the home she lives in. While I was there, I watched a slow, quiet change take place; one that I doubt many of my mostly white and affluent grad school cohorts noticed. It was something I saw not from my vantage point as a grad student at the Jack Kerouac School, but as someone addicted to heroin, who would, while in Boulder, eventually become homeless, pregnant, and on methadone.

First, the natural food markets -- which were more available than average grocery stores -- began stocking security guards alongside their expensive, organic products. Then the city discretely installed security cameras near the Boulder Public Library, which were able to spy on Central Park -- once a favorite hangout spot for the city's small homeless population. Wayne, a local methadone patient who asked me to change his name for privacy purposes, tells me there is no longer a homeless presence at that location -- or, he says, much of anywhere in Boulder. That's not surprising, since the city passed several ordinances that essentially prohibit homelessness: They outlaw sleeping in vehicles, "aggressive begging," and public camping.

My methadone clinic used to be located just off Pearl Street, the beflowered street pictured in Nat Geo's article.  A short while after I left the clinic in late 2012, it moved from Boulder to Longmont -- Boulder's poorer, browner neighbor to the north. It remains there, in a large, unattached building that stands near several bus lines but away from any downtown area. Wayne has been a client there since August of this year, previously attending the sister location in Denver. He was never a patient at the Boulder location, but works as an Uber driver and tells me over Facebook that the attitude toward addiction and poverty has shifted dramatically in Boulder over the past several years.

"The influx of new wealthy people from all over the country … has made people more judgmental and ignorant," he says.

And what of the other cities that top National Geographic's list? Number two is Watsonville, California. Although Santa Cruz County, where Watsonville is located, hosts a heavily Hispanic and Latino population, Watsonville itself is, again, mostly white -- a shift that has climbed steadily since 2010. Rent averages around the same as in Boulder. Charlottesville, Virginia, earned third-place on the measure of happiness, even after making national headlines for hosting a violent white nationalist rally. It is around 70 percent white, with a mean household income just under $90,000.

Perhaps these facts are not surprising. Perhaps we have known, all along, that money does in fact buy happiness.

When I look at the photos and blog posts from my classmates who are still in Boulder, it appears relatively unchanged. Ravishing sunsets frame wine glasses adorned by a backdrop of lush mountains. Pearl Street's clean red bricks look as pretty as I remember against the quaint boutiques that line the street. In these photos, everyone is smiling. It's envy-inducing, for sure.

But then I remember how, when I was in Boulder just a few years back, the photo of Pearl Street that heads the Nat Geo article could not have been taken without a street performer or beggar in sight. How the methadone clinic was pushed north, and along with it, I'm sure, all of those clients seeking refuge from addiction. The measure of Boulder's happiness is not only healthy eating and learning new skills, but also a practiced ignorance of those who are suffering or in need.

One thing I know there is none of in Boulder is guilt.

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Categories: News

As Final Tax Scam Vote Looms, Demands for McConnell to Seat Doug Jones "Immediately"

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 05:00

 Al Drago / Getty Images)Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. John Cornyn speak to reporters about the Alabama Senate race during a news conference on Capitol Hill, December 12, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Al Drago / Getty Images)

After "bigotry and hatred were defeated at the polls" in Alabama on Tuesday, progressives turned their sights toward defeating the GOP's attempt to deliver a trillion-dollar tax cut to the wealthy, demanding that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) "immediately" seat newly elected Sen. Doug Jones before a final vote on the Republican tax bill.

Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), said in a statement late Tuesday that Jones's victory represents a repudiation of "the Trump-GOP agenda" and implored Republicans to "re-evaluate their support for the monstrous tax bill that will rip healthcare away from millions while raising taxes on middle class families."

"The Senate should slow the process down and allow the nation's newest senator to have a vote on this legislation that will affect the next generation," Clemente concluded. "It would be inappropriate for massive legislation rewriting the nation's tax code to be decided by a lame-duck senator who was just voted out of office."

ATF's call was echoed by several Democratic lawmakers Tuesday night -- demands that came just hours after McConnell made clear that he has no intention of seating the winner of Alabama's special election until next year.

Senate Republicans would be left with just one vote to spare in their push for massive corporate tax cuts if Jones were to be sworn in ahead of a final vote.

In a tweet late Tuesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called on McConnell to "listen to the people of Alabama and seat Doug Jones without any delay."

"Doug Jones should be seated immediately -- before we vote again on the tax bill," added Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). "Alabama voters deserve to have their voices heard in this fight."

On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will hold a press event to demand that Republicans delay a final vote on their tax bill until after Jones is seated.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) also weighed in:

Majority Leader McConnell must not be allowed to treat Senator-Elect Doug Jones like Judge Merrick Garland. While the election must still be certified, the Senate must follow the will of the people of Alabama and seat the Senator-Elect as soon as possible. #SeatHimNow #ALSenate

— Raja Krishnamoorthi (@CongressmanRaja) December 13, 2017

Moore's loss in the race to fill the seat left vacant by Attorney General Jeff Sessions was a "humiliating" blow to President Donald Trump, alt-right provocateur Steve Bannon, and the national Republican Party, which ended up backing Moore after withdrawing support early in November.

Now that a Democrat is set to fill a Senate seat Republicans once viewed as securely theirs, the GOP is likely to move even more aggressively to get their tax bill to Trump's desk as soon as possible, notes Vox's Dylan Matthews.

"The tax bill has so far relied on speed and the GOP's desperate desire for a 'win,'" Matthews writes. "That could still carry the plan through. If Republican leaders have their way, they won't wait around for Jones to become a senator or for [Maine Sen. Susan] Collins to have a change of heart. They're trying to send a tax overhaul to Trump's desk in less than a week's time. Just in case."

Ben Wikler of MoveOn.org highlighted this fact Monday morning and urged the tax bill's opponents to be prepared.

"The GOP will now focus obsessively on passing their tax scam bill before Doug Jones is sworn in," Wikler concluded. "It's up to the rest of us to focus just as obsessively on stopping them."

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Categories: News

EPA Refuses to Release Documents Backing Scott Pruitt's Climate Denial

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 05:00

The EPA appears to be unwilling or unable to find any specific documents backing up Administrator Scott Pruitt's claim that carbon pollution is not a primary contributor to climate change. Meanwhile, President Trump just signed a defense bill declaring climate change a national security threat, contradicting his own skepticism and efforts to derail pollution controls.

 Gage Skidmore)Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt speaks at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, on February 25, 2017. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

The Environmental Protection Agency has so far been unable to produce, and is now refusing to search for, any records that could back up Administrator Scott Pruitt's now-infamous television statement dismissing science identifying human-caused carbon dioxide emissions as the primary driver of climate change, according to briefs filed in a federal court on Tuesday.

President Trump chose Pruitt to run the EPA because the former Oklahoma attorney general had teamed up with the fossil fuel industry to challenge environmental regulations, including President Obama's landmark plan to cap climate-warming emissions from power plants. On March 9, just weeks after the Senate approved his nomination on a vote that closely followed party lines, Pruitt claimed there was "tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact" that carbon pollution has on climate during an interview on CNBC's "Squawk Box."

"I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there's tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it's a primary contributor to the global warming that we see," Pruitt said.

Shortly after his television appearance, a watchdog group representing employees at the EPA as well as other federal conservation agencies requested under the Freedom of Information Act that the EPA produce the agency records Pruitt had relied on to make his statement. The group also asked the EPA if it has any scientific studies, reports or guidance materials suggesting that human activity is not the largest factor driving climate change.

The EPA was able to provide "large amounts of archived material" on climate change that had been removed from the agency's website after Trump took office, but none of it backed up Pruitt's claims, according to a statement from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Instead, the materials "underscored the major role human activity plays in driving climate change."

"If Mr. Pruitt does indeed possess facts on climate change that are different from those previously displayed on EPA webpages, he should share them with the public before spending our money to stage a debate," said PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein.

The agency Pruitt now leads spent years gathering evidence linking carbon pollution from fossil fuels to climate change as part of the effort to meet international climate obligations and establish the regulations he wants to dismantle. By the time Pruitt took office, the government's lead environmental agency had already reached the same conclusion that the vast majority of climate scientists and world governments had reached: that carbon dioxide was the main greenhouse gas disrupting climates.  

Much of that information has since been scrubbed from the EPA's website, and Pruitt is leading a charge to repeal Obama's Clean Power Plan for reducing carbon emissions in the United States.

PEER claims the EPA initially agreed to search for records to satisfy the group's request but failed to produce anything by the legal deadline, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court earlier this year. The EPA is now defending itself, arguing that PEER is "laying a trap" by asking officials to respond to an unnecessarily broad policy question rather than simply produce documents.

The Freedom of Information Act, the EPA argues, does not require the agency to take a "policy position" or spend endless hours digging through climate research in order to find evidence to support Pruitt's claims, according to a brief filed in a federal district court on Tuesday.

PEER says the EPA initially told the court it was prepared to search for any supporting documents compiled by Pruitt or members of his staff before the CNBC interview, but now objects to the request altogether.

"Our lawsuit is neither a trap nor a fishing expedition but a rather straightforward attempt to get Mr. Pruitt to identify where is the alternative science he keeps citing," stated Dinerstein, in a statement. "We presume that Administrator Pruitt must have had some factual basis for his public statements and we merely seek to see what it is."

The court could side with the EPA and decide that the request is a media stunt and throw out the lawsuit, but PEER appears to already have made its point: Scott Pruitt's climate denial is completely at odds with the prior work of his own agency, and he probably does not have a lot of scientific evidence to back up his positions on the subject.

The EPA is not the only government agency that has recognized the link between carbon pollution and the threat of climate disruption. President Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accord and has called climate science into question, but his own military has long seen climate change as a national security threat.

On Tuesday, Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which calls climate change "a direct threat to the national security" that is "impacting stability" in areas of the world where US armed forces are operating or could be pulled into in the future. The legislation also requires that the Pentagon prepare a report on how climate change will impact military installations over the next 20 years.

The bill Trump signed into law is long -- it outlines funding for the entire military, as well as a number of policy items -- but critics are still wondering how the president missed a section that flies in the face of his own climate skepticism.

"The reality is that climate change couldn't care less about political party affiliation, which is why legislators on both sides of the aisle -- especially those on the frontlines of climate change impacts -- fought to retain this language in the final bill," said Angela Ledford Anderson, director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, in a statement.

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Categories: News

And This Week's Sexual Harasser Is...

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 05:00
Categories: News

Trump's FCC Has Spent the Year Waging War on Democracy and the Press

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 05:00

The Federal Communications Commission is enacting some of the most devastating aspects of Trump's agenda with unprecedented fervor, and often with little media scrutiny. While the net neutrality debate has put some light on the agency, it is just one of many aggressive attacks on press freedom by Chairman Ajit Pai whose ideology, like Trump's, lacks subtlety and nuance.

 ROBYN BECK / AFP / Getty Images)Protestors supporting net neutrality protest against a plan by Federal Communications Commission head Ajit Pai, during a protest outside a Verizon store on December 7, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo: ROBYN BECK / AFP / Getty Images)

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On Tuesday, November 21, media advocates were incredibly busy. Just as they were packing up and logging out for the coming Thanksgiving holiday, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman and former Verizon attorney Ajit Pai released his plans to decimate net neutrality, which will be voted on Thursday, December 14. Advocates and the public rightly decried the fact that Pai tried to lessen the blowback from this aggressive and unpopular action by releasing the plan at that particular time. 

Yet, choosing this timing was not even Pai's most slimy, deceptive act that day. Also on November 21 -- while media advocates were trying to respond to Pai's plans to hand the internet to cable and telecom companies -- he released an equally worrying statement on the FCC's website about "reviewing" ownership restrictions for corporate media giants.

The word "review" is a little misleading. In reality, the statement "seeks to allow even greater media consolidation. Ignoring federal law...," said FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat.

This is a frightening proposition, given that, thanks in large part to Bill Clinton's Telecommunications Act of 1996, the ownership rules are already so relaxed that about 90 percent of the country's major media companies are owned by six corporations. Further consolidation poses an existential threat to the capacity of media to serve a civic function (as opposed to simply a source of profit). However, the consolidation statement received little attention -- a reality that holds true for most of the numerous and consequential actions taken by Pai this year. With the exception of net neutrality, which itself received much less coverage than it warranted, FCC actions tend to be ignored by almost all media but the business press.

The public faces the frightening combination of Pai's radical, free-market absolutism and Trump's authoritarian impulses and deep contempt for the media.

"The whole country was trying to get their heads around the net neutrality plans and nobody, not the media -- not even me, really -- had much time to focus on [Pai's] effort to tee up what little remaining limits we have on ownership," said Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press, a media advocacy group that often battles with the FCC in and out of court. "It is a sort of blitzkrieg approach where they are trying to get everything done as fast as possible."

This approach is reminiscent of the phenomenon described in Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine, which observes how elites engaged "rapid-fire corporate reengineering of societies still reeling from shock" to implement neoliberal policies at break-neck pace. In this case, the shock is the election of Donald Trump. Now, as Aaron notes, "Pai [is] relishing the opportunity to burn it all down and defang the agency."

In less than a year in office, Pai has not only launched an assault on the internet, he has also started gutting numerous ownership caps and attacked polices that help the poor get access to the internet. He also ended the FCC's advocacy in court to eliminate the cruel price gouging for prison phone calls. Pai's FCC has been about as "productive" (or destructive) as any arm of the Trump presidency.

He is just getting started. The public faces the frightening combination of Pai's radical, free-market absolutism and Trump's authoritarian impulses and deep contempt for the media. "Our communications ecosystem has never been so threatened as it is right now," said Michael Copps, former acting chairman and longtime commissioner at the FCC, in an interview with Truthout.

A Year in the Life of (Ajit) Pai

While the net neutrality and media ownership plans announced in November alert us to threats we face in the future, Pai has already made significant and devastating changes to US media and telecom policy over the course of less than a year. He has done this with ease, given that the two other Republicans on the five-person Commission vote lockstep with the chairman on virtually every issue.

In the statement on media ownership, Pai cites something called the UHF discount (details of which can be read here). This refers to an egregious vote by Pai's majority on the commission to reinstate a loophole that basically allowed Sinclair Broadcasting to purchase Tribune Media for $3.9 billion, creating what Bloomberg called a "TV goliath." Without reinstating this archaic loophole, the purchase would've been illegal. Media companies aren't allowed to reach more than 39 percent of the country, but now Sinclair ("Trump TV," as Mother Jones called it) can reach around 70 percent of the country with its local broadcasts.

This decision is all the more disturbing since Politico reported in December that Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner said, "Trump's campaign struck a deal with Sinclair during the campaign to try and secure better coverage." The deal, Politico reported, was that Sinclair would give Trump more (uncritical) coverage in exchange for "access to Trump."

"Compared to the Bush administration, the pace of radical change is unmatched in breadth and scope."

Now, Pai is citing the reinstatement of the loophole as a justification for him to engage in even more consolidation, although the legality of this is challenged, including by Democratic leaders in Congress. Free Press, Common Cause (where Copps works as a special adviser) and others are likely to take the FCC to court over these issues. 
In a November vote, Pai also got rid of important cross-ownership rules -- regulations that keep one company from owning media in various forms (radio, newspaper, television) in one market. Such rules discourage monopoly and allow for more diversity of voices. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, said of the vote, "The FCC sets its most basic values on fire. They are gone."

Media ownership is not the only way Pai has hurt democracy and punished the public. The FCC recently scaled back Lifeline -- a "program that helps about 12.5 million low-income people pay for internet or phone access," according to a report from the Association of Health Care Journalists. The report noted that the move could "exacerbate disparities in health care," since the internet is increasingly being used to improve patients' health. The Lifeline scale-back demonstrates the wide-ranging consequences of FCC actions.

Other policies that Pai has impacted are not merely corporatist, but just plain cruel. When he started his tenure, the FCC had passed regulations that, as Truthout previously documented, limited a gross injustice towards prisoners and their families. Companies were charging absurd prices for phone calls between prisoners and their loved ones -- as high as $10 a minute. "For the people that rely on a $5.25 paycheck once a month, it comes down to soap, or a call to their family, which really isn't right," one federal prisoner told Truthout in February. 

The matter was making its way through court, with the FCC supporting caps on prison phone rates to rein in greedy phone corporations. Pai's opposition to the plan, however, led to the FCC abandoning the case after Trump was elected. The courts dismissed the case, citing the FCC's change of position as a reason. Commissioner Clyburn called it the worst "regulatory injustice [she had] seen in 18 years" at the FCC.

Aaron said he recalls attending a hearing where parents,  grandparents and other family members -- who were paying hundreds of dollars a week as a result of the problem -- to testify about the injustice in front of Pai and the other commissioners. "I was struck at how Pai could sit right there in front of all these victims, look at them in the face, and make a procedural argument against the policy," Aaron said.

Unmatched "Radical Change" at the FCC

Not long before Pai posted his plans about media ownership and net neutrality, another telling document was shared on the FCC website: Pai's speech at the right-wing libertarian Cato Institute's policy conference in New York City. (He also has spoken at conferences for other libertarian bastions, such as Reason Foundation and the Heritage Foundation, in New York.) "I must admit that I had no idea the Big Apple had become such a hotbed of libertarian activity. Has anyone notified the city government?" Pai joked.

Pai heads arguably the most aggressive wing of the administration, and inarguably the most politicized FCC in the commission's 80-year existence.

This is just an anecdote, but it tells us something unique about Ajit Pai from past FCC chairs, including Republican ones. "You don't see him doing the National Press Club or more traditional events like that. He doesn't run in those circles. For him, it is FreedomWorks, Cato, Heritage and those kind of ideological organizations," Aaron said. "This is unique from past Republican chairs."

Advocates argue that while the FCC has long made controversial decisions, often to the benefit of certain industries, Pai's strict adherence to ideology is something new on the commission. "There is usually some level of independence and restraint from the chair. Chairman [Kevin] Martin and Chairman [Michael] Powell had their flaws -- as did Obama's appointees -- but it is much different with Pai," said Aaron.

Copps, who served with Pai as a commissioner, emphasizes how today's chair differs from those in the past GOP. "All the recent GOP-led FCCs were enthralled with Adam Smith economics, but with Pai, it's ideology and it's just plain over the top. No subtlety, no nuance," he said. "Additionally, the special interests are even more in the saddle in 2017 than they were earlier." 

To underscore how uniquely partisan Pai is, it is worth looking at how divided Congress was on his appointment compared with past FCC chairs. The previous six FCC chairmen, spanning both parties, had been confirmed with unanimous votes -- even Tom Wheeler, who implemented the net neutrality protections currently under attack. Pai, on the other hand, was opposed by all but four Democrats, all of whom are hearing about it from progressive organizations.

This shift reflects the extent of the threat Pai poses. Like Republicans, most Democrats receive donations from companies and lobbies that will benefit from Pai's attack on regulations and ownership caps. Two of the four top recipients of telecom donations, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, are Democrats, and overall, the GOP's edge in donations is in line with its majority in Congress. Cable news giants like Comcast gave more to Democrats than to Republicans in the 2016 cycle, notably to Hillary Clinton, who was backed heavily by Big Media. Yet, despite these donations and all the lobbying done by these industries, Senate Democrats overwhelmingly opposed a Pai-led FCC. Pai is such an ideological crusader that even a normally timorous Democratic Senate Caucus, poised on the receiving end of generous donations from Big Media and Telecom, fears the devastation Pai can cause to communications.

Harold Feld, a senior vice president at the consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, also notes that in past administrations, there was less partisan uniformity among the commissioners.

"It used to be FCC commissioners were more independently minded. You couldn't assume you had the votes of other commissioners in the same party. You had to make deals ... it was less predictable," he said. "The way it is now is quite different. Compared to the [George W.] Bush administration, the pace of radical change is unmatched in breadth and scope."

Pai's Mask Comes Off

Until Pai's efforts to destroy net neutrality became a short-term reality, most people, and most of the political media, paid little attention to him. The FCC chairman is known for an affable demeanor and boyish grin -- "the kind of guy you'd want to have a beer with," according to Gigi Sohn of the Verge. He takes to social media with musings on popular culture, sportsbeer and his ridiculous, oversized coffee mug (a radical departure from the tweets his boss makes on a regular basis).

He made a cringe-worthy comedy video where he answers "mean tweets" on YouTube -- acting like a good sport, yet characterizing his opponents in the worst possible light by cherry-picking the least persuasive, most offensive arguments. He participates in "no fewer than three fantasy football leagues," according to an official statement. In at least one other official FCC statement, he quotes from The Big Lebowski (something he does with frequency), writing, "Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man," and even footnoted it as such: "The Dude, The Big Lebowski (Polygram Filmed Entertainment 1998)."

All of these quirks aside, since his assault on net neutrality protections became of immediate concern, as Mike Ludwig reported last month, the mask is coming off: Pai is viewed by media advocates as one of the most dangerous figures in a Trump White House -- a telling statement, given how many of Trump's people are hiding deep in the shadows of scandal. "Pai's FCC is a farce and a tragedy and it is going on at one of the most powerful, most destructive and most inadequately covered government agencies," Copps said.

Pai heads arguably the most aggressive wing of the administration, and inarguably the most politicized FCC in the commission's 80-year existence. Moreover, he does so at a time with immensely high stakes: The future of the internet is being shaped, increasingly large "mega mergers" are on the docket, and as noted above, all of this is happening in service to a president with nothing but derision for the press. "They are getting along famously," Feld said of Pai and Trump, noting their common usage of social media to sell policy proposals.

Pai's attempt to destroy internet freedom, however, does have one silver lining: It has woken people up to the danger of his agenda, as well as the importance of media policy and of monitoring the FCC closely. The support for net neutrality in public comments in recent months has been overwhelming, and while Pai seems poised to ignore them, they do not go to waste. 

"Those comments are helpful in litigation," Aaron said. "The FCC chair is obligated to use evidence to make changes. He must defend the logic.... I think we [have] better than a coin flip's chance in court to overrule net neutrality rollbacks." 

There is also mounting evidence that bots were deployed to use identity theft to make fake comments supporting Pai's agenda. One FCC commissioner, 28 senators and the New York Attorney General's office are asking Pai to delay the vote for an investigation, though he has predictably refused to heed their call.

Media Policy as an Election Issue

A year of the Pai/Trump agenda has been scary and dangerous. However, just as the GOP's regressive Trumpcare plans helped energize a movement for Medicare for All, Pai's undemocratic agenda is not sitting well with the US public. Many experts predict that media policy, and specifically broadband policy, will be a big election issue, in both the general election and the primaries. 

Referencing the four Democrats who voted to confirm Pai, the group Fight for the Future, a coalition of media and consumer groups, "announced that they will target these lawmakers in their districts with crowdfunded billboards informing constituents of their Senator's controversial vote." 

The Democrats in question are Jon Tester (Montana), Claire McCaskill (Missouri), Gary Peters (Michigan) and Joe Manchin (West Virginia). "A vote for Pai was a vote to end net neutrality protections," the group said. Voters and organizers will pay especially close attention to politicians getting the most donations from Big Media. 
It is also true that net neutrality is supported by a majority of both Republicans and Democrats, which could make the issue more appealing for some politicians. As Feld notes: "If there is one thing that unites the left and right, it is their hatred of the cable company."

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