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Trump Replaces Rex Tillerson With CIA Director Mike Pompeo at State; Torturer Named New Head of CIA

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 04:00

President Trump has ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and said he replace him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Trump announced the news on Twitter this morning. He also said CIA's deputy director Gina Haspel will be tapped to succeed Pompeo at the CIA. Both would need to be confirmed by the Senate. If confirmed Gina Haspel will become the first woman to head the CIA.

Gina Haspel was directly involved in the CIA's torture program under the George W. Bush administration. She was responsible for running a secret CIA black site in Thailand where prisoners were waterboarded and tortured. We air President Trump's and highlights from Democracy Now! coverage on Pompeo and Haspel.

Categories: News

State Election Leaders to Senate: Armed Secret Service Agents Should Not Be Allowed at Polling Sites

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 04:00

A bipartisan group of secretaries of state are condemning a proposal to allow armed Secret Service agents at election polling stations. The proposal has already been approved by the House as part of the Homeland Security Department reauthorization bill. On Friday, 19 secretaries of state wrote a letter to Senate leaders urging them to drop the proposal, calling it "unprecedented and shocking." For more, we speak with Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

In Ruling Called "Victory for Everyone Who Breathes," Federal Judge Says Scott Pruitt Violating Clean Air Act

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 04:00

 Riccardo Savi / Getty Images for Concordia Summit)Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, speaks at the 2017 Concordia Annual Summit at the Grand Hyatt New York on September 19, 2017, in New York City. (Photo: Riccardo Savi / Getty Images for Concordia Summit)

Resulting in what environmentalists called a "victory for everyone who breathes," a federal district court in California on Monday ruled that President Donald Trump's Environmental Protection Agency is violating the law by not implementing crucial smog protection guidelines mandated under the Clean Air Act.

According to Judge Haywood Stirling Gilliam Jr. of the federal District Court for the District of Northern California, EPA chief Scott Pruitt broke the law by not listing areas in the country that are failing to comply with air pollution standards -- a violation of "his nondiscretionary duty under" the federal law -- and gave him until April 30th to list those areas publicly.

While Pruitt submitted designations for areas in the country that were complying with smog guidelines, he has refused to list those areas which were failing to meet minimum standards -- a refusal which resulted in legal action by sixteen state attorneys general and a coalition of environmental groups.

As the San Francisco Chronicle reports:

The lawsuits, filed against Pruitt and the EPA in December, said that areas suffering from ozone pollution and lacking the required designation include the Bay Area, Central Valley, Los Angeles and New York City area.

One of the requirements triggered when an area does not meet the ozone standard is a mandate that new factories and power plants must have state-of-the-art pollution controls.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement, "The stakes are high. The smog-reducing requirements at issue will save hundreds of lives and prevent 230,000 asthma attacks among children.

"We will closely monitor the EPA to make sure it complies with the court's order," Becerra said.

Monday's ruling, said Mary Anne Hitt, director of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, "is a victory for everyone who breathes, and is clear evidence that Scott Pruitt's frequent attempts to delay and obstruct federal clean air safeguards is against the law. The severity of Pruitt's attempts are a matter of life and death. Delaying the implementation of these life saving smog standards puts the health of thousands of kids at risk."

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Categories: News

On Getting Pushback: Advice for Young People Walking Out of School

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 04:00

Some students who plan to participate in tomorrow's National School Walkout have been met with threats of significant disciplinary action. Grassroots organizer and direct action trainer Kelly Hayes offers supportive advice to students who are faced with pushback.

 Craig F. Walker / The Boston Globe via Getty Images)Junior Nigel Wallace comforts freshman Aleyana Pina during a student walkout to protest gun violence in schools and demand new gun control laws at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on March 7, 2018. (Photo: Craig F. Walker / The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

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As a longtime grassroots organizer and direct-action trainer, I have heard from multiple parents, in the past few days, asking me about what their children will be up against as they participate in the #NeverAgain walkouts this week. As most of us have read, some students will be treated gently by administrators, who have more or less decided to go with the flow. Some students, however, may face consequences for walking out. Many have already been menaced by saber-rattling administrators with consequences ranging from suspension to arrest. The threat of some potential penalty for participating in protest is nothing new, but for many students, this is a first-time experience, so I have decided to share some thoughts and advice for young people who may be walking out.

So, You've Been Told You'll Get Into Trouble

Some students have been told, in no uncertain terms, that anyone who walks out as part of a protest will be punished. Some school administrators have outlined specific punishments, while others have left students wondering. I have seen numerous outraged parents on social media, threatening to involve the ACLU if students are punished for exercising their "right to protest." I am glad these parents are being supportive of their children, but it's important to keep in mind that if the punishment is within the school's normal disciplinary code (check your student handbook), and a student has, in fact, broken the rule in question, the ACLU is not going to stave off that suspension. I'm not saying that's a reason not to walk out, but I am saying: Be ready to absorb the consequences of your actions. Don't expect the system to see the light, cut you a break, or dismiss the rules because of some higher law regarding free expression. As someone who has organized protests for many years now, I can tell you, that's not how any of this works.

In broad terms, people have a right to protest. But students don't have a legally protected right to leave school in protest of anything. Defiance for the sake of justice usually costs something. I am not saying students shouldn't dodge those consequences, if they can, or that parents and students shouldn't talk administrators out of punishing students who protest whenever possible. Do that. But let's also talk with young people who are new to all of this about the fact that protest doesn't just happen when everyone's on your side and you're being offered a hall pass. Most movements aren't received that way at all.

Even students at schools where no one will be penalized should understand that there will be schools where no exemption from discipline is offered, and that in protest, exemption from discipline is rarely a thing. Students who are exempt from punishment should not exempt themselves from discussion of what it means to issue a call to action, to answer one, or to be in solidarity with others, for whom the ask may pose a risk.

Make sure that everyone has a legal plan: If something unthinkable happens, and someone goes to jail, who gets called? Have a plan for that. If the punishment handed down is inordinate and ridiculous, and simply must be fought, who contacts an attorney, and what attorney will they contact? It's good to have those bases covered, if you can. And if the situation feels very risky (for example, if the proposed punishment is excessive and potentially damaging), have real conversations with one another about who is most at risk (due to existing disciplinary status, institutional anti-Blackness, and other possible factors), and what could be done to insulate the most vulnerable participants.

As someone who has absorbed numerous consequences for disobedience in protest, including arrest, I can tell you, it's important to be ready. Know what you are getting into. Direct action means stepping outside of society's preset solutions -- solutions that have already failed your community. That's a challenge to authority, and to the validity of the system itself, as it makes clear that the recourse you were freely given was not genuine. The paths you were told to take to solve your problems are actually closed, or have been politically rerouted by the powerful into insignificance. This is why we protest -- because it is the only meaningful path open to us under the unjust conditions we are faced with. In taking such action, I believe a person should know the risks they are facing, take personal responsibility for knowing those risks, and act if they feel that the necessity of the action outweighs the risk. I cannot tell you if that's the case in any of your given situations. Only your beliefs, your conscience and your knowledge of your circumstances can tell you if the urgency of the moment demands that you take a risk.

When You Protest

Move as a group. Numbers don't always afford safety, but they do afford power. If you have a lot of people, don't let your group get stretched out. Don't have stragglers who could be hassled out of view. Don't have people jetting out ahead who could be grabbed up as an example to the rest of the group, in an effort to stop your procession. If they want to confront you, make them confront everyone, together.

Any imagery your event generates in the media and on social media will also be more powerful if your group moves in a tight formation, making your unity clear for all to see.

I have no experience dealing with school resource officers, specifically, as they pertain to protest, but I would say a lot of the same rules apply as in street protests, because whatever title police in schools are assigned, they are, in reality, still police. Have a buddy -- that way no one is identifiably vulnerable for being on their own, and there is a witness to whatever each person experiences. Make agreements with your co-organizers about what to say/do if confronted by a school resource officer. This is not a decision you want to be making on the spot. If you need to respond to an officer, have a canned response that everyone has agreed to, like "We will be going outside for 17 minutes and then returning." That's it. No flourish. No arguing. If you are detained, hand over your school ID and shut your mouth. If they are detaining you, they may be treating the protest as criminal, which means anything you say can be used against you and your friends. They may act as though their questions come from a place of agreement or understanding. Know that's not real and stick to your plan of minimum communication.

Know your tone. Is your event solemn? Is it angry? Have some intention about that and encourage your classmates and co-organizers to hold one mood together. If your event is too scattered, you lose control of your narrative. Encourage participants to take the matter seriously. No goofing off. Personally, I would try to keep a serious expression at all times. People who are photographed laughing and smiling in serious protest situations are often used to discredit the seriousness of an event or issue. Don't play into that. If the group's shared mood or behavior falters, words or songs that are spoken or sung collectively can be a good way to reel people back into a shared mode.

Read Up

There's a lot of good material out there on the legal, ideological and pragmatic aspects of protest. For those getting pushback, I highly recommend, "White People Hate Protests," a zine by Mariame Kaba that makes clear that the popular embrace of past movements is largely grounded in our society's need to subsume those movements, rather than allow for any sense of historical momentum. Movements that truly undermine the status quo are rarely popular when they occur, regardless of what people claim decades later.

I also recommend the zine "Why Protest," which provides some relevant thoughts and inspiration about why we take action in general. I would actually suggest printing out copies of "Why Protest" to share with your classmates on Wednesday or thereafter. It's that good.

If you are part of a walkout about gun control, read up about guns and gun laws. Don't settle for talking points. Be able to discuss your own informed thoughts. There's a lot of legal history around gun legislation, and there's a lot that may matter to you that doesn't matter to adults who have shaped the gun control narrative over the years. This is not the Democrats' moment. It's your moment. Let your exploration of the facts and the ideas at work inform it.

Make sure your demands reflect your values and desired outcomes. If your demands aren't in lockstep with the demands being made at other schools, that's OK. Some of the more unique demands that students who are walking out have made involve the development of alternative forms of conflict resolution in their schools, such as transformative justice programs, to create a more just and healing environment when harmful dynamics arise the first time. That's a good thing.

In solidarity with those who have already been organizing, read up on what groups have been leading protests in your area in recent months in years. What are they fighting for? Why? Had you heard about them before? If not, ask yourself why, and what forces might be at work. While people tend to have their favorite examples of youth protest -- examples that tend to rest firmly in the past -- there is incredible youth organizing that's gone on in very recent times that many have yet to hear of. Black youth in Chicago, for example, won a trauma center for the city's underserved South Side, but it took a lot of direct action and defiance to make that happen.

Lastly, read up on your school's disciplinary code and on local protest laws. Acts of righteous indignation should be well informed.

If You Don't Walk Out

Maybe you've decided to sit this one out. Maybe your protest was somehow thwarted. Maybe you settled on a compromise with administrators -- an assembly of some kind that isn't what you had in mind but will address the issues you wanted to discuss. Here's what you need to remember: Organizing an event can be a very good thing, but if you want to change the world, organizing one event is just one small step in a much larger process of taking action, building culture and building community for the sake of change. And while your principal, the police, or your own circumstances may derail your participation in a singular event, community and culture are something you can build every day through the relationships you develop with others, and through the dialogues and activities you undertake. No principal has the power to stop that, and that's a beautiful thing.

Categories: News

Wakanda in Schools: The "Black Panther" Curriculum Makes Its Debut

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 04:00

From moviegoers showing up in traditional African garb to Black communities fundraising for private screenings and viewing parties, the release of Black Panther has demonstrated a political consciousness unlike other recent cinematic releases. So when Chicago sixth-grade teacher Tess Raser shared her Wakanda Curriculum on Twitter, it was no surprise that it, too, would be celebrated.

The film, which opened Feb. 16, offers a celebration of Black culture, empowerment, ingenuity and beauty in a fictional African nation unburdened with systemic racism and oppression.

Raser's two-part curriculum provides a creative opportunity for educators to leverage the film and discuss African colonialism and American racism separate from the Eurocentric history typically taught in American classrooms. Students are given the space to digest heavy topics, such as global anti-Blackness, and learn about the effects of colonialism through the experience of Wakanda, an African country that escaped the emotional, societal, and political trauma of White imperialism.

"After seeing Black Panther, I started to think about how students could analyze the movie as they would with a piece of literature," Raser said. "It was a good way for them to make connections to their community and to prepare them to be change makers."

Raser leads a classroom of 30 Black students at the Dulles School of Excellence on the South Side of Chicago, an area that she said is often referred to as "Chicago's most violent block."

"There's just so much that teachers have to deal with," she says. "I think the response I've received really highlights a need that teachers have for meaningful radical curriculum that's created for Black children."

Due to high-stakes standardized testing and district pressures to do well on math and reading assessments, many students in Chicago Public Schools receive minimal exposure to social studies, she said. Many of her students over her five years in the district have had little to no preparation in these subjects.

On Feb. 28, The Chicago Sun-Times reported that the school board would be closing four high schools and one elementary school in the South Side Englewood neighborhood because of low test scores and lack of enrollment. The closures make way for a new $85 million dollar Englewood High School set to open in 2019. The news comes just five years after the district voted to shut down 50 other schools for the same reason, a decision that intensified flight from affected neighborhoods, forcing more than 1,600 Englewood students to leave for other school districts.

To increase enrollment in these communities, CPS has distributed 73 percent of hundreds of millions of dollars in school construction dollars to neighborhoods where more than one-quarter of the student body is White, WBEZ reports. That amounts to just 12 percent of all schools in the district.

"The area is changing, and White people are moving in. They want a school for their kids. Meanwhile, our schools are fighting to stay alive. I don't know how much CPS would even care or value a curriculum like this because they're focused more on test scores," Raser said.

New opportunities have emerged for Raser since her Wakanda curriculum went viral. Despite the threat of school closures in her district, she remains committed as an educator and admits it's hard to imagine a life outside of school. "These viral moments are like the movies where the teacher comes in and saves the day, and it's always pleasant," Raser said, "but there are so many times a week where that is not the case."

In Dayton, Ohio, another teacher, Tina Bailey, was inspired to incorporate lessons from Black Panther into her fourth-grade classroom.

While wearing a Black Panther mask, Bailey greeted her students with the Wakandan salute as each entered the classroom to start the day -- another video moment that went viral. For Bailey, the salute represented a society where people lived harmoniously with each other despite differences.

"No matter where you are from or what tribe you come from we can come together," Bailey said. "We can grow together and change things together. We may not look the same, but when you enter into our classroom we become one."

For both teachers, Black Panther offers a refreshing recentering of the Black narrative, one that unites the diverse cultures within the community and celebrates Blackness in the image of rulers of a kingdom and creators of an advanced world.

"The movie really touched on the relationships and tensions among the diaspora," Raser said. "In my area, the kids had previously used the term 'African' as an insult for someone. That really bothered me, so I wanted to address their misconceptions, and this was a good moment to hook them into focusing on broader themes."

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Categories: News

Bayou Bridge Pipeline Opponents Say Louisiana Governor's Office Is Surveilling Them

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 04:00

Opponents of the Bayou Bridge pipeline accused Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards of meeting with representative of the oil and gas industry while refusing to meet with activists and communities affected by the pipeline's construction. They further allege that the administration has instead placed them under surveillance.

 © Julie Dermansky)Louisiana Bucket Brigade founder Anne Rolfes at a press conference protesting Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards' treatment of anti-pipeline activists. (Photo: © Julie Dermansky)

Opponents of the Bayou Bridge pipeline accused Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards of meeting with representative of the oil and gas industry while refusing to meet with activists and communities affected by the pipeline's construction. They further allege that the administration has instead placed them under surveillance, pointing to similar treatment of Dakota Access pipeline opponents in North Dakota in 2016. Their claims are based in part on emails and other public records released by the state.

The activists brought their grievances to the Democratic governor's home and office on March 1, holding a press conference in front of the Governor's Mansion in Baton Rouge and then occupying the foyer to his office in the State Capitol for over an hour.

"The Bayou Bridge pipeline should be called the John Bel pipeline," Louisiana Bucket Brigade founder and director Anne Rolfes declared at the press conference. In her view, "any accidents that will happen" related to the pipeline lead back to the Governor. He had the power to stop it, she said, but chose not to. 

At the press conference, representatives from the HELP Association, 350 New Orleans, L'eau est La Vie (Water Is Life) camp, and the Center for Constitutional Rights also expressed disappointment in what they described as the state government's cozy relationship with industry.

Louisiana Bucket Brigade read aloud emails about the Bayou Bridge pipeline from the Edwards administration and industry that were obtained by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a New York-based legal and educational nonprofit.

 © Julie Dermansky)Pastor Harry Joseph of the Mount Triumph Baptist Church in St. James, where the pipeline will terminate, speaking at the press conference in Baton Rouge. (Photo: © Julie Dermansky)

 © Julie Dermansky)Security next to the press conference in Baton Rouge. (Photo: © Julie Dermansky)

The governor, who voiced his support for the pipeline early on, has not commented on a federal judge's recent ruling halting construction of the project through the Atchafalaya Basin, an environmentally sensitive National Heritage Area.

The pipeline is a joint venture between majority stakeholder Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota Access pipeline, and Phillips 66 Partners, LP. Pipeline construction along its route from Lake Charles, near the Texas border, to St. James, about 60 miles west of New Orleans, began in January. 

CCR attorney Pamela Spees grew up in Lake Charles, Louisiana, one of the communities affected by the pipeline. She said in a press release that the emails show how "the deck is stacked against people in Louisiana who stand in opposition to the ongoing destruction and harm caused by the Oil and Gas industry. The indications of monitoring and surveillance of local advocates and small organizations by the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness are particularly concerning. It is astounding that the resources of so many law enforcement agencies are trained on watching these organizations and communities trying to exercise their rights to be heard."

In addition, Spees found it "deeply troubling that not one email released by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality contained any discussion of or expressions of concern by people in the agency about the alarming accident history of the companies involved in the Bayou Bridge project."

CCR is still fighting to get other public records related to the Bayou Bridge pipeline, and has appealed two cases it lost. One is against Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC, in which the nonprofit sought records concerning the company's use of eminent domain. And the other is against Louisiana's St. Charles Parish Sheriff's Office and Sheriff Greg Champagne for failing to release public records related to trips he and some of his deputies took to North Dakota to observe how law enforcement was responding to the Dakota Access pipeline protests.

"We saw a dangerous blurring of the lines between law enforcement and private corporations at Standing Rock," Spees said. "Louisiana residents have a right to know what role local officials played in that situation and how it relates to events playing out closer to home."

Surveillance of Opponents of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline

Dominic Renfrey, a representative with the Center for Constitutional Rights, informed me that Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC is employing the firm Hub Enterprises to provide security for the company, based on sightings at pipeline construction sites.

Energy Transfer Partners spokesperson Alexis Daniel told me, "The safety of our employees and the communities in which we live and work is our top priority. In order to ensure that, we do have security plans in place and we do communicate with law enforcement agencies as appropriate. Beyond that, we do not discuss details of our security efforts."

CCR's Renfrey also said that documents released last week indicate the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) "might be involved in surveillance." The GOHSEP director sent to state regulatory and law enforcement agencies, including the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the Department of Natural Resources, the Louisiana State Police, and the Louisiana National Guard.  The agency also prepared a report about the L'Eau Est La Vie Camp, contrasting it to the resistance camps against the Dakota Access pipeline.

 © Julie Dermansky)Hub Enterprises security personnel across the street from a Bayou Bridge pipeline construction site that activists shut down temporarily on February 26 during a direct action leading to the arrest of three protesters. (Photo: © Julie Dermansky)

GOHSEP Communications Director Mike Steele told The Advocate that there's nothing sinister about his agency's role. "The agency keeps an eye on issues that may, at some point, draw big crowds requiring security, traffic control, or crowd control. Homeland security may have an ominous connotation," he said, "but they aren't spies." 

"It's not surveillance. It's letting these agencies know that these matters are ongoing," Steele said.

There was plenty of security on hand at the March 1 press conference and impromptu visit to the governor's office. Some of the security personnel were impossible to identify because they remained in vehicles with tinted windows.

 © Julie Dermansky)Anne Rolfes, founder of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, trying to figure out who was in an SUV monitoring the press conference across from the governor's mansion. (Photo: © Julie Dermansky)

 © Julie Dermansky)Security inside the foyer in front of the governor's office. (Photo: © Julie Dermansky)

The documents so far obtained by CCR don't indicate that any state agency hired a private security firm to surveil opponents of the pipeline. However, if one did, it wouldn't be the first time a government agency in Louisiana hired a private firm to supplement its resources.

Last year, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration hired Trident Response Group, a private security firm based in Texas, for risk assessment, surveillance, intelligence gathering, and extra security at sites where Confederate monuments were slated for removal.

Landrieu's administration defended the move to hire a private security firm after documents from an open records request showed the city paid over $700,000 dollars to Trident in May while the city prepared to remove the monuments. While denying that the city spied on local groups on either side of the issue, the city has not been transparent about what services Trident provided.  

Take 'Em Down Nola, the group pushing for the removal of the Confederate monuments, suggested that Trident may have hacked some of its members' emails and social media accounts and possibly infiltrated the group.

Trident shares similarities with TigerSwan, one of the private security firms employed by Energy Transfer Partners in North Dakota, and Hub Enterprises. All three companies' websites tout staff that include former military personnel. 

TigerSwan's license application with the Louisiana State Board of Private Security was turned down last year. The denial was based on the pending litigation against the company for allegedly operating in North Dakota without a permit. 

Some Bayou Bridge opponents believe the company was working in Louisiana without a license before its application was turned down.

In February 2017, James "Spider" Marks spoke in favor of the Bayou Bridge pipeline at a permit hearing. He identified himself as a retired US Army major general and president of a corporate advisory firm, but did not disclose that he also sits on TigerSwan's board of advisors. 

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade says that emails from GOHSEP reveal Louisiana officials are aligned with a growing national trend of surveillance intended to intimidate citizens exercising their First Amendment rights, a finding the group considers alarming.

"Since the Standing Rock camp opposing the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota was disbanded last year, 56 bills that heighten the risk and criminal penalties of dissent have been introduced across 30 states," reads a press release from the organization. "Many of these bills seek to frame protests as 'riots' and activists as 'terrorists' or 'jihadists,' in attempts to criminalize protected free speech activity." 

Several states have even gone as far as introducing or passing bills that critics say would specifically criminalize pipeline protests.

"The documents reveal an unacceptable disparity in the public agencies' treatment of pipeline and industry representatives in contrast to the communities they're obligated to serve," Spees said. She told me that CCR will continue to seek more information from Louisiana's public agencies because the documents already obtained suggest there is more to the story.

Energy Transfer Partners spokesperson Alexis Daniel told me, "The safety of our employees and the communities in which we live and work is our top priority. In order to ensure that, we do have security plans in place and we do communicate with law enforcement agencies as appropriate. Beyond that, we do not discuss details of our security efforts."

I asked Governor Edwards' office what he would say to those who feel he is willing to meet and listen to representatives of the oil and gas industry but not the Bayou Bridge pipeline's opponents, including those directly impacted by the project. Shauna Sanford, a representative from the governor's office, said, "We don't have a comment at this time."

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Categories: News

In Texas, Teachers and Students Already Pack Heat in Classrooms. Is This Where the Nation Is Headed?

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 04:00

 andrea crisante / Shutterstock)Shortcomings in Texas' programs provide a cautionary tale. (Image: andrea crisante / Shutterstock)

President Trump's seemingly improbable proposal to arm and train teachers to intercept school shooters actually isn't such a fantasy: In Texas, such programs already exist. Their shortcomings provide a cautionary tale for the rest of the country.

 andrea crisante / Shutterstock)Shortcomings in Texas' programs provide a cautionary tale. (Image: andrea crisante / Shutterstock)

President Trump's seemingly improbable proposal to arm and train teachers to intercept school shooters actually isn't a fantasy: In Texas, two such programs already exist -- and their shortcomings provide a cautionary tale for the rest of the country.

Just after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the state passed the 2013 Protection of Texas Children Act, allowing police to deputize up to one teacher or staffer as a "school marshal," per every 400 students. Teacher-marshals undergo 80 hours of gun safety training involving simulations of active-shooter scenarios, and psychological evaluations. Under the program, school districts can opt out of federal and state "gun-free zone" policies to allow teachers to conceal-carry firearms in school buildings.

Texas school districts can choose between that program or the 2007 "Guardian Plan," which also allows staff to carry firearms on school grounds. According to a review of state board policies by the Texas Association of School Boards, 172 Texas school districts, about 17 percent of all independent school districts in the state, participate in one of the two programs, allowing for armed staff and/or board members.

It's not just Texas. In 2013, state capitals across the country began introducing legislation to arm school staff in response to Sandy Hook. According to an analysis conducted by the Education Commission of the States, at least 10 states allow staff members to carry or access firearms on school property.

On Sunday night, President Trump moved closer to taking these states' models national, promising Justice Department assistance to help fund firearms training for teachers and school staffers across the US.

Students, Teachers Warn Against Guns in Classrooms

Many on the right are touting programs like those in Texas as a model for Trump's vision of gun-toting teachers following the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. However, there's no concrete evidence to show that the programs have been effective in stopping school shooters.

Teachers and students in Texas told Truthout the programs set a dangerous precedent for teachers whose resources are already stretched thin. Teachers unions in the state and across the country say school districts' money would be better spent on supplies and salaries, rather than firearms training and mental health evaluations.

The Texas affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) testified against the legislation that created the state's school marshal program when it was first introduced.

"I realize they go through gun training, but there's a large variety of things that could go wrong if there was unfortunately a shooting at a school," said Texas AFT's Rob D'Amico. "The teacher could be in danger from the police not knowing that the teacher is a teacher. The teacher might not be trained well enough to avoid hitting other students. What if the teacher was wounded and a student picked up the gun, and the student was shot?"

Student organizers pushing for gun-control reforms across the country expressed doubts that programs like those in Texas would provide a solution to the prevalence of school shootings in the US. They warn against taking Texas' programs national.

Jami Anderson, a junior, helped lead a walkout at Anderson High School in Austin, Texas, in February to demand lawmakers act on gun reform after the Parkland massacre. She told Truthout that she wouldn't feel safer if she knew that her teachers were armed.

"If that [program] was instated at my school, I would stop coming to school most likely," Anderson said. "I think it's an absurd idea, just adding more guns to the situation just adds more violence. ... Like any student, I have teachers that I disagree with, or [with whom I] am not the favorite student, of course, and I just feel like that would just add tension and anxiety for students. For me, it would be hard to function in a classroom if I knew there were firearms present and just in a matter of seconds there could be a fatality in my classroom."

Other students organizing for gun-control reforms across the country whom Truthout spoke with were similarly united against the idea of arming teachers.

Ella Hauck, a junior at Riverton High School in Wyoming, told Truthout she and her cohorts are planning to participate in the nationally coordinated walkout campaign tomorrow in remembrance of the 17 students who were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, though she says her school's particular action is not specifically geared toward advocating for gun-control reforms. She also plans to protest against increased and intrusive security measures at schools in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting.

Like students elsewhere, Hauck also doesn't think Trump's proposal to arm teachers is a solution. "If someone came into the classroom, pointed a gun at [a teacher], and said 'Give me the gun in the safe,' what are you going to do?" she said.

Hauck, however, says she is advocating for more armed school resource officers (SROs) in her school district.

"There is a fine line. We don't want our school to become a prison. We don't want metal detectors and armed guards all over the place, but we do think an SRO needs to be in every school," she said.

However, the Parkland shooting itself demonstrates the failures of even highly trained SROs, as the SRO at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School resigned after it was revealed he remained outside of the school as the shooting unfolded inside.

Youth organizers across the US will coordinate student walkouts tomorrow during the "ENOUGH! National School Walkout," not only to condemn the national effort to arm teachers, but also to protest an expanding militarization of classrooms.

High Schoolers Graduate to Campus Carry

For Anderson in Texas, who is also working to send a contingent of students to the national March for Our Lives in Washington, DC, not only is the fact that the state already arms teachers in some districts unsettling, but the prospect of attending college in-state in a couple years is complicated by the fact that it is now legal for students to conceal-carry guns at public universities.

Texas and nine other states have passed "campus carry" legislation allowing students to conceal-carry firearms in school buildings on public university campuses. Since the law took effect August 1, 2016, a Houston Chronicle analysis has found mixed results regarding its impacts. According to the Chronicle's review, more than a dozen universities had at least one gun-related report, including aggravated robbery and an accidental discharge in a dorm.

Texas university professors who oppose campus carry legislation point to its problems as another reason why the idea of guns in classrooms is no solution to violence nationwide.

Susan Harper, who formerly taught classes at Texas Woman's University (TWU) and El Centro College in Dallas, told Truthout that Texas' campus carry legislation -- coupled with the pressures and poor working conditions associated with adjunct teaching -- motivated her to leave academia for a job in publishing.

"I had this realization that if I got shot on adjunct wages, I would not have health insurance to cover my injuries, and if I died, my partner would not have enough money to bury me, and that was sobering," she said.

Since the legislation passed in 2016, Harper, who taught sociology courses, said she has feared for her safety in the classroom on multiple occasions when dealing with students displaying problematic behaviors during peak stress periods in their graduate school programs -- especially students, who, as she put it, "have a bunch of toxic masculinity stuff going on," and who may "object to a queer woman" teaching their class.

In fact, she says that when she confronted her department head regarding one such student, her superior suggested that she obtain her concealed handgun license.

"I cannot imagine carrying a weapon into the classroom," Harper said in response to the idea of armed educators. "The knowledge that there is a gun in the classroom puts such a chill on discussion, and it promotes a climate of fear. ... I think about the optics of it and I, as a white woman who's taught in a lot of classrooms with predominantly students of color, there's already a power imbalance there -- to add a deadly weapon to it all? That's not what I signed up for."

While the state's law generally allows guns in university buildings, classrooms and dorms, rules differ from campus to campus. Some universities allow certain faculty to declare their offices as gun-free zones, but others do not. Harper took issue with the fact that, at TWU, she was told she could not declare her office a gun-free zone, but that such a zone has been declared with a sign on the floor of the building where the university's board of regents meets.

Students, Teachers Walk Out for School Funding, Not Arms

As the gun debate has raged over the past few years, funding has been slipping away from vital educational priorities. Texas' schools took an enormous hit in 2011, after the state legislature cut $5.4 billion from the public education budget. The legislature increased public education funding by $1.5 billion last year after rejecting a House proposal that would have returned $3 billion back to public schools. Texas ranks 38th in the nation for public school funding per student, according to a recent study by the National Education Association.

Public schools are facing similar budget cuts across the nation: A recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that public investment in K-12 schools has dropped off "dramatically" in a dozen states over the past decade.

Hauck in Wyoming joined three other classmates from Riverton High School last Monday, skipping class to testify before the state's Senate Education Committee against planned cuts to education funding. The state legislature reached a deal Thursday on a two-year budget by stripping language relating to specific spending levels for Wyoming schools, which face a $660 million deficit. The House and the Senate have repeatedly deadlocked over school funding in the past couple of weeks.

Hauck called the committee's vote "undeniably frustrating," saying lawmakers "get so caught up in the politics of it and forget they are affecting real people, and it's not just about numbers, and it's not about making a name for yourself in the legislation, it's about truly making a difference for people. We get up there, and our speech is heart wrenching, and we're polite, and we ask for positive changes, and we're clear about our mission, and they say 'Thanks for coming,' and they just start talking about money again, and I feel like we got swept to the side a little bit."

Hauck and her classmates plan to walk out again on April 20 and march to their state representative's office to protest against cuts to education funding.

Teachers in cash-strapped districts in states like West Virginia are joining students like Hauck in walking out of the classroom to push for more funding. That state's grassroots wildcat strike closed K-12 classrooms across all of the state's 55 counties for nine school days and resulted in a victory for the teachers on March 6 with the announcement of an across-the-board raise of 5 percent for all public employees.

The success of the strike has intensified the climate for education activism nationally, with momentum building in Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona for similar actions amid deepening frustration over teachers' paltry pay.

Texas and states across the country need "more resources for public school funding overall ... not some wide-scale arming of teachers," said AFT's D'Amico.

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Categories: News

Bee Sanctuaries in Detroit: Conserving Honeybees on the City's Vacant Lots

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 04:00

Recent studies suggest that the many vacant lots in Detroit, Michigan -- often owned and held by millionaires as investments -- could serve an important purpose. They hold great potential for conserving declining honeybee populations, which can help sustain life in general. Some local beekeepers are taking heed.

Grassroots, not-for-profit news is rare -- and Truthout's very existence depends on donations from readers. Will you help us publish more stories like this one? Make a one-time or monthly donation by clicking here.

Land-use and acquisition concerns in Detroit usually revolve around who owns what property and how it is used to support the life of the neighborhood -- and often the answers to these questions are "a millionaire" and "not very well." But Detroit's many wide-open spaces allow us to peer through the thin veil that separates city life from nature and ask much bigger questions about how the use of land can sustain life in general. Recent studies suggest that the vacant lots in Detroit hold great potential to conserve declining honeybee populations, and smart, local beekeepers are taking heed.

Meet Timothy Paule and Nicole Lindsey of Detroit Hives. Their story is more uplifting than our recent comics journalism investigation into the city's failed Amazon bid -- unless you suffer from melissaphobia (the fear of bees). But if you do, read on! Timothy and Nicole are not only helping to preserve Detroit's population of pollinators, they're set to convince a whole generation that honeybees are awesome.

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1.     Personal interview with Timothy Paule and Nicole Lindsey on February 9, 2018.

2.     Also interesting is that the wild honeybee decline under development appears largely due to negative effects of changes in land-use on female bees. "Big city Bombus: using natural history and land-use history to find significant environmental drivers in bumble-bee declines in urban development," Paul Glaum, Maria-Carolina Simao, Chatura Vaidya, Gordon Fitch and Benjamin Iulinao, Royal Society Open Science, May 17, 2017. Accessed March 12, 2018:

3.     "Why Are the Bees Dying?" Hilary Kearney,, July 3, 2017. Accessed March 12, 2018:

Categories: News

Overthrow: 100 Years of US Meddling and Regime Change, From Iran to Nicaragua to Hawaii to Cuba

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 04:00

As special counsel Robert Mueller continues his probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, we take a look back at Washington's record of meddling in elections across the globe. By one count, the United States has interfered in more than 80 foreign elections between 1946 and 2000. And that doesn't count US-backed coups and invasions. We speak to former New York Times reporter Stephen Kinzer, author of Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: As special counsel Robert Mueller continues his probe into Russian meddling into the 2016 election, we take a look back at Washington's record of meddling in elections across the globe. By one count, the United States has interfered in more than 80 foreign elections between 1946 and 2000. And that doesn't count US-backed coups and invasions. Former CIA Director James Woolsey recently joked about the US record of meddling overseas, during an interview with Laura Ingraham on Fox News.

LAURA INGRAHAM: Have we ever tried to meddle in other countries' elections?

JAMES WOOLSEY: Oh, probably. But it was for the good of the system, in order to avoid the communists from taking over.


JAMES WOOLSEY: For example, in Europe in '47, '48, '49, the Greeks and the Italians, we -- CIA --

LAURA INGRAHAM: We don't do that now, though? We don't mess around in other people's elections, Jim?

JAMES WOOLSEY: Well, mmm, yum, yum, yum, never mind. Only for a very good cause.

LAURA INGRAHAM: Can you do that -- let's do a vine video and -- as former CIA director. I love it.

JAMES WOOLSEY: Only for very good cause --


JAMES WOOLSEY: -- in the interests of democracy.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The list of countries where the US has interfered is long. In 1893, the US helped overthrow the kingdom of Hawaii. Five years later, in 1898, the US invaded and occupied Cuba and Puerto Rico. A year later, it was the Philippines. Early 20th century interventions included Nicaragua, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, all in the 1910s.

AMY GOODMAN: In 1953, the US helped overthrow the Iranian government. A year later, in 1954, US-backed coup in Guatemala, overthrowing the democratically elected leader of Guatemala, Jacobo Árbenz. Then, in the '60s, the list grew to include, once again, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia and the Congo. And that's just a partial list. Even with the end of the Cold War, US interference overseas did not end. Next week marks the 15th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq to topple the government of Saddam Hussein.

We now go to Stephen Kinzer, former New York Times foreign correspondent, who writes about world affairs for The Boston Globe. He's the author of a number of books, including Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror. He's written the book Bitter Fruit about the coup in Guatemala. And his latest book is The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire.

Stephen Kinzer, we welcome you back to Democracy Now! to talk, sadly, about the very same issue. I'm not quite sure where to begin, whether to go back to the beginning, but let's start, since it was 65 years ago, in Iran, in 1953, in March of 1953. The US was in full swing making plans for overthrowing the government of the democratically elected leader, Mohammad Mosaddegh. Can you talk about what the US did in Iran then? So well known throughout Iran, but most people in this country have no idea.

STEPHEN KINZER: Early in the 20th century, the people of Iran began moving towards democracy. It was a very difficult struggle. It was back and forth. But finally, after the Second World War, democracy did emerge in Iran. It was the one parenthesis, the one period of real democracy that we've had in Iran over the last hundred years. So, the problem came when the Iranians chose the wrong leader. They did something that the United States never likes: They chose a leader who wanted to put the interests of his own country ahead of the interests of the United States. And that alarmed the West, and particularly the United States.

Mosaddegh's first move was to nationalize Iranian oil. We thought this would be a terrible example for the rest of the world. We didn't want to start this process going in other countries. So, in order to set an example, the United States decided we would work with the British to overthrow the elected democratic government of Iran. We sent a senior CIA officer, who worked in the basement of the American Embassy in Iran organizing the coup. The coup finally succeeded in the summer of 1953. Mosaddegh was overthrown.

And, more important, the democratic system in Iran was destroyed forever. This was not just an attack on one person, but an attack on democracy. And the reason why we attacked that democracy is the democracy produced the wrong person. So, we like elections and democratic processes, but they have to produce the candidates we like; otherwise, our approval disappears.

AMY GOODMAN: And the person he sent -- that the US, the Dulles brothers, sent in to Iran with the suitcases of money to begin the process, Teddy Roosevelt's grandson?

STEPHEN KINZER: That's right. Sometimes I wonder if there's something genetic in the Roosevelt family that predisposes them toward regime change. It is a kind of a quirk of history that the person who effectively projected the United States into the regime change era at the beginning of the 20th century, Teddy Roosevelt, had a grandson who went to Iran in the 1950s and carried out a regime change operation there. And there were similarities --

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to go --

STEPHEN KINZER: -- between the operations that they carried out.

AMY GOODMAN: Before you go on, Stephen, I wanted to go to a part of a trailer from an upcoming documentary titled Coup 53 about the 1953 British-American coup in Iran and the overthrow of Mohammad Mosaddegh, directed by the Iranian physicist-turned-award-winning-documentary-filmmaker Taghi Amirani.

TAGHI AMIRANI: This man, Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh, he was our first democratically elected prime minister.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Nobody knows who Mosaddegh was. Democratically elected prime minister of Iran.

TAGHI AMIRANI: In 1952, Time magazine named him Man of the Year, because he had nationalized Iranian oil and kicked the British out.

UNIDENTIFIED: [translated] Mosaddegh came along and threw them out. They were gone. Gone! Gone!!

UNIDENTIFIED: [translated] The Iranian people had rejected the Shah's rule with blood, with blood, and bare hands in front of tanks.

INTERVIEWER: You had a million dollars in cash to run the coup, right?


DAVID TALBOT: Kermit Roosevelt was prepared to do whatever he had to do, when he was given this mission by Allen Dulles to overthrow the democratic government of Iran.

ALLEN DULLES: But may I say this? At no time has the CIA engaged in any political activity or any intelligence activity that was not approved at the highest level.

AMY GOODMAN: That last voice, Allen Dulles, head of the CIA from 1952 to 1961. At the time, his brother -- his brother, Secretary of State Dulles, was secretary of state. We're talking about the overthrow of Iran for the British oil company that would later become British Petroleum. Is that right, Stephen Kinzer?

STEPHEN KINZER: Yes. That company is now called BP. So, you're seeing long-term effects of these interventions, and what you're seeing in Iran today 100 percent ties back to what we did in 1953. We like to have this idea that these operations are discreet, they're not going to have any long-term effects. We'll remove one government, place another favorable government in power, and anything will go fine. Everybody will forget it, and it won't have any long-term effects. But if you look around the world, you can see that these kinds of operations to interfere in other countries' politics, what the CIA calls "influence operations," actually not only often wind up devastating the target country, but, in the end, undermine the security of the United States.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Stephen Kinzer, I'd like to move to another part of the world: Nicaragua. Most people are familiar, obviously, with the Reagan-era attempts to overthrow the Sandinista government or the period during the Roosevelt era of the attempts to get rid of Sandino as a force in Nicaragua. But, further back, José Santos Zelaya, at the beginning of the 20 century, could you talk about the efforts of the US government to overthrow Zelaya?

STEPHEN KINZER: Zelaya was a fascinating figure, certainly the most formidable leader Nicaragua ever had. He was a slashing reformer. He was a liberal, a progressive. He built ports and roads, tried to build up a middle class in Nicaragua. He brought the first automobile into Nicaragua, the first streetlights. He organized the first baseball league. He was a true modernizer.

But he had one characteristic the United States really didn't like. And that is, he wanted Nicaragua to have an independent foreign policy. When he needed to raise money for a planned railroad across Nicaragua, rather than seek loans from the Morgan bank in the United States as we wanted him to do, he floated the loan offers in London and in Paris. The United States tried to get those governments to forbid the offering of those loan agreements, but they refused. Sure enough, the money was raised. And America became very alarmed. Nicaragua was trying to diversify its international relations. It didn't want to be just under the power of the United States. And that was a fatal decision by Zelaya.

Once he decided that he wanted to pull Nicaragua out from under the thumb of the United States, he became a target. And we did overthrow him in 1909. That was the beginning of a century of American interference in Nicaragua. I think you can argue that there's no country in the world where the cycle of American intervention -- imposition of a dictator, rebellion, repression, and a return of American power to impose another leader -- is so clear, over such a long period of time, the way it is in Nicaragua.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Stephen Kinzer, former New York Times foreign correspondent, now writes the world affairs column for The Boston Globe.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you about another invasion that is rarely talked about these days: the invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965 by Lyndon Johnson and the efforts of the United States, again, to control the affairs of the Dominican Republic over many, many years, because, obviously, there were two invasions of the Dominican Republic. There was one at the early part of the century that led to the rise of Trujillo, and then there was one after the fall of Trujillo to attempt regime change against President Juan Bosch, who had been elected into office.

STEPHEN KINZER: You have placed it very well, because if we remember this operation at all, we remember the American Marines landing on the beaches in the Dominican Republic. But the cause of that intervention was the foolish mistake of the Dominican people of electing a leader who was unpalatable to the United States. Juan Bosch was a figure a little bit like Zelaya had been half a century earlier in Nicaragua. He didn't want the Dominican Republic to be under the thumb of the United States. He wanted it to be an independent country. And this was something the US couldn't tolerate.

All these movements in the Caribbean Basin have been -- have had, as a fundamental part of their political program, measures to limit the power of foreign corporations in their countries, and often measures to limit the amount of land that foreigners can own in their country. These are the kinds of measures that are hateful to the American corporations that have gotten so rich from taking the resources of the Caribbean Basin, and leaders who promote those policies always find themselves in Washington's crosshairs.

This is not just ancient history. We had an episode in Honduras in 2009 where a president who was very much in this line, trying to pull Honduras away from subservience to the United States, was overthrown in a coup by the military, dragged out of his house in the middle of the night in his pajamas, sent into exile. The US was so happy, members of Congress even went to Honduras to congratulate the leader of the coup. And then, just last year, a new election was held to ratify the results of the coup. The election was so fraudulent that for the first time in the history of the Organization of American States, the OAS called for a new election. And the leader of the OAS, Almagro, had to do it, because he had been denouncing attacks on democracy in Venezuela and figured he couldn't just stand by while something even worse was done in Honduras. Unfortunately, the United States doesn't have that kind of shame, and we cheered that election. We refused the call for a new election. And Honduras today is under the rule of a regime that is the product of a coup, supported by the United States, against an elected government.

So, this is not something that we used to do in ancient history. This is something that's happening right now. And that's why those of us familiar with this history roll our eyes a little bit when we hear these outraged allegations that Russia has been doing something so dastardly as to try to influence our politics.

AMY GOODMAN: Stephen Kinzer, can you take us on a brief, kind of thumbnail journey from the overthrow of Hawaii, the Spanish-American War, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines -- all before the turn of the 20th century?

STEPHEN KINZER: This was a fascinating period, and it really was the moment when the United States went from being what you could call a continental empire -- that is, inside North America -- to being an overseas empire, a crucial moment of decision for the United States. That was not inevitable, but that was the choice we made.

So, in 1893, at the behest of sugar growers in Hawaii, the United States promoted the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. The idea was that Hawaii would then immediately become part of the United States. That didn't happen, because there was a change of presidency in Washington, and the new president, Grover Cleveland, hated that intervention and didn't want to take Hawaii in. Then, five years later, in 1898, when Grover Cleveland was gone, the Spanish-American War broke out. The United States became interested in the Pacific, because we destroyed the Spanish fleet in the Philippines. Then we decided we should take the Philippines for ourselves. We became interested in the China market. This was a real, fantastic Fata Morgana out there for American business. The American press was full of stories about how many nails we could sell in China, if we could get the Chinese to use nails; how much cotton we could sell there; how much beef we could sell there, if we could get the Chinese to eat beef. So, we decided we needed stepping stones to China. And that was the moment when we decided, "Let's take Hawaii as we've taken the Philippines."

So, that happened at the same time the United States was consolidating its rule over Cuba and Puerto Rico. In Cuba, we staged a presidential election, after we consolidated our power there in 1898. We found a candidate that we liked. We found him in upstate New York. He spoke good English, which is always essential for the people that we promote. We brought him back to Cuba. As soon as it became clear that the campaign was rigged, the other candidate dropped out. He became president of Cuba. Sure enough, six years later, the United States had to send troops back to Cuba to suppress protests against him. They occupied Cuba for three more years. Then they left. They had to come back again about six or seven years later, in 1917, because again the Cuban people had had the temerity to elect a leader who was unpalatable to the United States. So, this was a great model for an idea, a concept, that has reverberated through the whole period since then, which is: Have your elections, but you must elect someone we like; otherwise, we're going to go to Plan B.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to go to break, and then we're going to come back with Stephen Kinzer and talk about James Woolsey's latest comment. When asked on Fox if the US is still interfering with people's elections, he chuckles and says, "Only for a good cause." Yes, we're talking with Stephen Kinzer, former New York Times foreign correspondent, now writing a world affairs column for The Boston Globe, has written many books, one on the coup, US overthrow of Guatemalan democratically elected government, called Bitter Fruit, one called Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, one specifically on Iran, All the Shah's Men, and his latest book, The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: "Nicaragua" by Bruce Cockburn, here on Democracy Now!. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Our guest is Stephen Kinzer, former New York Times foreign correspondent, now writes for The Boston Globe. He's author of a number of books, his latest, The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire. Juan?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I'd like to ask you, in terms of the Spanish-American War and, of course, of the bitter guerrilla war that developed in the Philippines in the 1899, 1900, the birth of the Anti-Imperialist League in the United States -- it was a widespread movement of Americans opposed to this overseas empire. Could you talk about some of the figures and the impact of the Anti-Imperialist League? Because we don't see that kind of organization these days, even though the US empire continues to grow and make itself felt around the world.

STEPHEN KINZER: The story of the Anti-Imperialist League is a central part of my new book, The True Flag. And I like my books always to be voyages of discovery. I'm always looking for some really big story that shaped the world but that we don't know about. And this really is one. Here's a story that has almost completely dropped out of our history books.

But the Anti-Imperialist League was a major force in American life in the period around 1898, 1900. It was based in Boston, later moved to Washington, had chapters all over the United States. Some of the leading figures in the United States were members. The leaders of the Anti-Imperialist League included billionaires like Andrew Carnegie and social activists like Jane Addams and Samuel Gompers, Booker T. Washington. Grover Cleveland was a member. It was really a remarkable group. It staged hundreds of rallies, published thousands of leaflets, intensely lobbied in Washington, and actually had quite an impact.

This was a debate that seized the attention of the entire American people: Should we begin taking territories outside North America? Or should we now stop, now that we've consolidated our North American empire? Everybody in the United States realized this was a huge decision. It dominated newspaper coverage. When the treaty by which the United States took the Philippines and Guam and Puerto Rico was brought before the Senate, there was a 34-day debate. That's the center of my book. In this debate, you will see every argument, on both sides, that has ever been used, for the last 120 years. Every argument about why intervention is a good idea or a bad idea starts there. And the Anti-Imperialist League played a great role in that debate. And interestingly enough, that treaty, that set us off on the path of global empire, was passed in the Senate by a margin of one vote more than the required two-thirds majority.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, of course, the --

STEPHEN KINZER: And when it was challenged in the Supreme Court, it was five to four.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, of course, the most eloquent spokesman -- the most elegant spokesman for the Anti-Imperialist League was none other than Mark Twain, no?

STEPHEN KINZER: This is another discovery I made while I was writing my book. I grew up with what I now realize was a partial, a kind of false, image of Mark Twain. I always thought of him as Mr. Nice Guy. He's a sweetheart. He's everybody's favorite old uncle, who has nice curly white hair and rocks on his porch and tells nice, funny stories that everybody laughs at. This is not correct! This is not the real Mark Twain.

Mark Twain was an eviscerating anti-imperialist. He was militant. He was intent. He used to write that Americans fighting in foreign wars were carrying a polluted musket under a bandit's flag. And he even wanted to change the flag of the United States, to change the stars to skull-and-crossbones symbols. So, I now realize that we have sort of sanctified and bleached Mark Twain for public consumption. Many of the quotes I use from Twain in my book do not appear in many biographies or anthologies. That part of Twain has been dropped out of his legacy, and I'm trying to recovery it, because he speaks to us today.

AMY GOODMAN: Makes me wonder if his books will start to be taken out of libraries around the country.

Categories: News

Death to Drug Dealers: Trump Threatens to Ramp Up Drug War, Praising Efforts in Philippines and China

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 04:00

President Trump has reiterated his calls for the US to impose the death penalty on drug dealers, praising countries like the Philippines, China and Singapore that apply capital punishment to drug traffickers. During a speech on Saturday, Trump recounted conversations with Chinese and Singaporean leaders who, he said, solved their countries' drug problems by executing drug traffickers. Trump has also repeatedly expressed admiration for Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and said he's done an "unbelievable job on the drug problem." Last month, the International Criminal Court opened a preliminary investigation into accusations that Duterte had committed crimes against humanity by overseeing the killing of up to 8,000 people in his so-called war on drugs. We speak to Widney Brown, the managing director of policy at the Drug Policy Alliance.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: President Trump has reiterated his calls for the US to impose the death penalty on drug dealers, praising countries like the Philippines, China and Singapore that apply capital punishment to drug traffickers. This is Trump speaking in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, on Saturday.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Think of it. You kill 5,000 people with drugs, because you're smuggling them in and you're making a lot of money and people are dying, and they don't even put you in jail. They don't do anything. But you might get 30 days, 60 days, 90 days. You might get a year. But you're not going to get -- and then you wonder why we have a problem. That's why we have a problem, folks. And I don't -- I don't think we should play games.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: During his speech, President Trump recounted conversations with Chinese and Singaporean leaders who, he said, solved their countries' drug problems by executing drug traffickers. Trump has also repeatedly expressed admiration for Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and said he's done a, quote, "unbelievable job on the drug problem." Last month, the International Criminal Court opened a preliminary investigation into accusations that Duterte has committed crimes against humanity by overseeing the killing of up to 8,000 people in his so-called war on drugs.

AMY GOODMAN: This is not the first time Trump has called for executing drug dealers. Earlier this month, he made similar remarks during a White House summit on the opioid crisis. On Friday, The Washington Post reported the Trump administration is studying new policy that could allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty for drug dealers.

For more, we're joined by Widney Brown, the managing director of policy at the Drug Policy Alliance. Her recent piece for The Hill is headlined "Trump's call for death penalty is the wrong response to drug war."

Widney Brown, welcome to Democracy Now!

WIDNEY BROWN: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what Trump called for this weekend.

WIDNEY BROWN: Well, basically, he's saying he wants to execute people who bring drugs into the country or otherwise sell drugs. The problem is, supply-side initiatives have failed. We have a war on drugs that started in the 1970s. If it was a success, we wouldn't be having an opioid overdose crisis today.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, in the waning days of the Obama administration, there seemed to be a consensus on moving forward to end the war on drugs, to begin trying to reduce the prison population. But now the Trump administration clearly is going in the opposite direction.

WIDNEY BROWN: Exactly. I think Trump and also the attorney general are both going back to ways that we know have failed, which has led to mass criminalization in the US It's devastated communities of color. It's been racially disproportionate in the ways that drug laws have been enforced. It's been a failure.

And we actually know how to save lives. Let's be clear: We have a crisis here. But we know how to save lives. And that's by implementing harm reduction policies that allow people to use drugs safely, engage with them if they want to seek treatment, and move away from a criminal justice sector focus on the drugs to a public health sector focus.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let's go to President Trump, again, speaking this weekend in Moon Township, Pennsylvania.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: When I was in China -- and other places, by the way -- I said, "Mr. President, do you have a drug problem?" "No, no, no. We do not." I said, "Huh, big country, 1.4 billion people, right? Not much of a drug problem." I said, "What do you attribute that to?" "Well, uh, the death penalty."

AMY GOODMAN: And then I want to go to Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte in his own words. In 2016, Duterte likened himself to Hitler.

PRESIDENT RODRIGO DUTERTE: Hitler massacred 3 million Jews. Now, there is 3 million -- what is it? Three million drug addicts, there are. I'd be happy to slaughter them. At least if Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have [me]. You know, my victims, I would like to be all criminals.

AMY GOODMAN: So, there is the Philippine President Duterte comparing himself to Hitler. Last month, again, the International Criminal Court opened a preliminary investigation into accusations he committed crimes against humanity by overseeing the killing of up to 8,000 people in his war on drugs. President Trump praised both China and the Philippines.

WIDNEY BROWN: Exactly, which is appalling. You don't kill your way out of a drug crisis. And what's happening in the Philippines is you actually have death squads going around summarily rounding up or killing people based on allegations that they may use drugs. That is not how you solve a drug problem. And that we have a president who's actually saying, "I want to emulate this behavior," which -- one of the things we've seen in the US because of the war on drugs is the evisceration of due process and fair trial protections. So we've already got a problem in the US The last thing you want to do is emulate things that even more undermine the rule of law here.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And isn't the problem, especially in the United States, of drug trafficking these days, it's even more so now -- it's not the illegal or banned substances. It's the controlled substances, the chemicals, like -- or the pills, that are being dispensed by pharmacists and doctors, in ways that are creating a massive epidemic across the country. So, this is -- if you're talking now about going after the drug dealers, you're talking about going after the pharmacists and the doctors, not the people on the street selling drugs.

WIDNEY BROWN: Exactly. I'm not sure that's what President Trump had in mind. But clearly we have an opioid crisis that started with prescription drugs. There's been a failure to regulate. People who are on the drugs, they become addicted. They're cut off from the drugs. Then they turn to street drugs that they can get.

And again, we're not putting in place the harm reduction measures that we could: safe injection site, needle exchange, access to naloxone, which can save lives in the moment, plus engagement with treatment. And we do that -- the reason we're not doing that and are not -- we are trying to do that. It needs to be done much more comprehensively. But when you stigmatize people because they use drugs, then it's much harder to get them engaged with you. And that's what we're trying to do through harm reduction strategies.

AMY GOODMAN: Rolling Stone writer Jamil Smith tweeted, "I'll just reiterate that the state has no business killing people, and that the death penalty is a cornerstone of systemic racism. @POTUS isn't talking about killing the Sacklers, or Big Pharma executives." This weekend, you had also this mass protest at the Metropolitan, where people threw pills, because the Sackler supports the Met -- the Sacklers support the Met, as well as many exhibits around the country. The Sacklers, of course, the makers of OxyContin --

WIDNEY BROWN: Mm-hmm, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: -- though they don't put their name on that drug.

WIDNEY BROWN: So I think what you've got are two different issues. You've got: Does the US government effectively regulate the pharmaceutical industry? Do they regulate both how things are distributed, and do they regulate how things are marketed? Are they paying attention to that? And I think what we're seeing because of this crisis is the answer is a clear no.

But the focus, in terms of the war on drugs, is, as you say, not the pharmaceutical companies. It's actually people who use and often small-time pushers, as well as some drug traffickers. Let's be clear: There are all of those. But the racism issue is profound in the US The disproportionate policing in communities of color has devastated those communities and led to mass criminalization of people in those communities. That's not going to be addressed by the death penalty. The death penalty, universally, is being rejected. About 141 countries in the world no longer use the death penalty whatsoever. The US has been moving away from use of the death penalty. Now we see Trump wanting to revive the death penalty, at the very time that we know how many people have been found factually innocent who were on death row. That should give anyone pause.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Could you talk about the example of Portugal and how it responded to its drug problem early in the 21st century?

WIDNEY BROWN: Yes. In 2001, Portugal had an overdose crisis -- much smaller place, but comparable, in terms of the percent of the population, to what we're having right now. And they made a radical decision to decriminalize all drugs. They set up dissuasion committees, where, basically, if you were found to be using drugs, you would go before this committee, and they would decide whether you needed treatment or whether your drug use was actually fine. As a result, their overdose rates plummeted. Their HIV seroconversion rates plummeted.

Now, to be clear, they have universal healthcare. They have treatment available to people. So, if you did that in the United States, you would not necessarily see all those positive outcomes. But the very act of decriminalizing means you would at least reduce the harms that are associated with criminalizing people. And those harms include everything from, of course, being incarcerated, but even if you're not incarcerated, but under the control of the criminal justice system, access to housing, access to scholarships for higher education, being able to get a job, voter disenfranchisement. So, we actually see intense consequences as a direct result of criminalization itself. What we'd love to see are the benefits of actually healthcare treatment available to anyone.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to end with the words of Raffy Lerma. He's the award-winning photojournalist who documented President Rodrigo Duterte's so-called war on drugs. He came into our studios. He was winning an award here in New York. His life has been in grave risk as he goes out and photographs the killings on the streets, by military and vigilante paramilitary groups, of people they say are drug dealers. Raffy Lerma described the situation on the ground.

RAFFY LERMA: It's really overwhelming, what's happening in the Philippines right now. There, close to 14,000 people have been killed in this -- the name of the drug war, and 4,000 of which have been claimed by police in police operations. They claim that they have killed 4,000 people. And the rest are unexplained killings, those they say that are deaths under investigation. And some of them are the vigilante killings. And, well, yes, so many people have been killed. … I can say most of the killings are poor, are the poor. I have also covered people like getting caught with millions of drugs' worth, but they're alive. They get due process. They go to court. They're not dying. And these people, they get killed with 200 pesos' worth of drugs. That's around $4. That's your life in the Philippines. It's not fair.

AMY GOODMAN: That's the award-winning photojournalist Raffy Lerma, speaking to us in New York, has faced many death threats, as he goes out late at night on the streets and documents what he's seeing across the Philippines. The president, Rodrigo Duterte, has compared himself to Hitler, proudly talks about, boasts about, the number of what he calls drug dealers killed. President Trump has supported what Rodrigo Duterte is doing.

As we wrap up, we want to thank Widney Brown, managing director of policy at the Drug Policy Alliance. And we'll link to her piece in The Hill headlined "Trump's call for death penalty is the wrong response to drug war." Thanks so much for being with us.

WIDNEY BROWN: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! When we come back, as the US investigates Russia meddling with the US elections, we're going to take a look at US history. We'll speak with Stephen Kinzer, author of Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq. Stay with us.

Categories: News

Marjorie Cohn | US Refusal to Negotiate With Russia Increases Likelihood of Nuclear War

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 04:00

In his March 1 state of the nation speech to the Russian Federal Assembly, President Vladimir Putin claimed that Russia has developed an "invincible" intercontinental cruise missile resistant to US missile defense systems. The US's refusal to accept Russia's offer to negotiate over nuclear weapons has increased the likelihood of thermonuclear war.

Russian President Vladimir Putin claims the US set the stage for an escalated nuclear arms race by withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. (Photo by Alexei Nikolsky / TASS via Getty Images)Russian President Vladimir Putin claims the US set the stage for an escalated nuclear arms race by withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. (Photo by Alexei Nikolsky / TASS via Getty Images)

On March 1, 2018, in his annual state of the nation speech to the Russian Federal Assembly, President Vladimir Putin declared that his country has developed an "invincible" intercontinental cruise missile resistant to US missile defense systems. Putin claimed the new weapon can operate at very high speeds and has unlimited range.

Although "some experts" have suggested Putin may be bluffing, Theodore A. Postol, professor emeritus of science, technology and national security policy at MIT, told Truthout, "I think he's deadly serious." Postol, who evaluated Moscow's anti-ballistic missile defense while serving as adviser to the chief of naval operations in the early 1980s, said Putin's speech "made very clear that every attempt to engage us in constructive discussion has been met with no response. He was responding to the US unwillingness to talk about missile defenses."

US Withdrawal From Treaty Escalated the Arms Race

Putin criticized George W. Bush's 2002 withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which stated that in order to reduce offensive nuclear forces in Russia and the United States, both sides would have to agree to limit anti-ballistic missile defenses.

To read more stories like this, visit Human Rights and Global Wrongs.

"Russia was categorically against [the US withdrawal]," Putin said. "We saw the Soviet-US ABM Treaty signed in 1972 as the cornerstone of the international security system."

The significance of the US withdrawal from the ABM treaty cannot be overestimated, in Postol's opinion. "What the Russians would say, and I fully agree, is that the current escalating arms race between the United States and Russia is a direct product of US withdrawal from the ABM treaty of 1972," he said.

As David Krieger, founder of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, noted at Truthdig, "The fuel for a new nuclear arms race was already on the fire, and a Russian strategic response was predictable, when the US withdrew from the ABM Treaty and began developing and emplacing missile defense systems globally. The US withdrawal and abrogation of the ABM Treaty may prove to be the greatest strategic blunder of the nuclear age."

Likewise, Moscow correspondent Fred Weir wrote in the Christian Science Monitor, "The US withdrew unilaterally from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty ... triggering Russian fears that technological advances might one day wipe out their nuclear deterrent."

We are in a new arms race that will put us under the terror of a new Cold War.

"Things have been escalating for quite a while," Postol pointed out, adding that the US is "increasing the size of its missile defenses while at the same time trying to get Russia to reduce the size of its offensive forces." That "created a theoretical imbalance. The US has been building, in theory, a system that could be used to intercept Russian forces while those forces are being reduced."

The escalation of the nuclear arms race continued during the Obama administration. As Reuters reporter Scot Paltrow has pointed out, "By the time Obama left office in January 2017, the risk of Armageddon hadn't receded. Instead, Washington was well along in a modernization program that is making nearly all of its nuclear weapons more accurate and deadly." Paltrow cited examples of lethal nuclear weapons developed on Obama's watch.

Does Missile Defense Really Work?

Postol is skeptical about the effectiveness of missile defense systems because they have only been tested under the "most orchestrated conditions and even under those conditions, they have failed a high percentage of the time, some simply because something unexpected happened. In combat, the conditions will not be choreographed."

Thomas S. Lee, writing for CNN, agrees that anti-ballistic missile defense systems are ineffective. Lee noted, "It is very hard to shoot down a ballistic missile. This is true even of a short-range ballistic missile with a relatively flat trajectory, much less a long-range missile with many more possible trajectories and a far greater speed."

But Donald Trump thinks US missile defenses can be very effective, Postol observed. "In a crisis or a standoff, Trump might take actions he wouldn't take if he thought he was defenseless. So, the potential for miscalculation is much higher when the weapons systems are not effective."

Former Defense Secretary William Perry described the dangers of nuclear miscalculation, citing a 1983 incident in which Russian satellite nuclear warning systems mistakenly thought they detected five US nuclear missiles launched at Russia, as well as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Trump's New Policy Increases Possibility of Nuclear Weapons Use

Other signs indicate that Trump is very open to nuclear weapons use. His administration's new Nuclear Posture Review reveals "a shift from one where the use of nuclear weapons is possible to one where the use of nuclear weapons is likely," Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), said in a statement.

Nuclear arms dealers stand to profit handily from the heightened nuclear arms race.

Putin alluded to the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) in his speech, noting, "Some of the provisions of the updated US nuclear strategy review, which reduces the threshold for using nuclear weapons, trigger tremendous concern. It is written in such a way that it can be used in response to a conventional weapon strike or even in response to a cyberthreat."

This is not an exaggeration. For the first time, Trump's NPR would allow the United States to use nuclear weapons in response to non-nuclear attacks, including cyberattacks, in "extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, its allies and partners."

The war in Syria, in which both the US and Russia are already involved, may provide a venue for just that eventuality. Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter wrote on Truthdig, "It doesn't take a stretch of imagination today to paint a scenario in which American and Russian forces clash over Syria."

"Putin's statement makes it clear we are in a new arms race that will put us under the terror of a new Cold War, in constant fear of death at any instant," Fihn added.

However, Postol asserted, "The United States has created the appearance that it believes it can fight and win a nuclear war against Russia." That's a false assumption, he said. "After nuclear weapons are used by one side, or when they are used preemptively, the other side would mount a massive attack against central strategic forces of the attacking state."

There is no winning a nuclear war, even a limited one, as Geoff Wilson at the Ploughshares Fund wrote in The National Interest. "The reality is that planning to use nuclear weapons in a 'limited' way is a dangerous fantasy," he noted. "Even the Nixon administration paid lip service to the futility of the concept by referring to its plan for limited nuclear strikes against the Soviet Union as the 'Madman Theory.'"

That doesn't even account for the incalculable devastation a nuclear explosion, or series of nuclear explosions, would wreak on the environment.

Make no mistake. The nuclear arms dealers stand to profit handily from the heightened nuclear arms race. In their recent report, ICAN and PAX, a nongovernmental peace organization, concluded that the top 10 financial institutions with the greatest investment in manufacture of nuclear weapons are US companies, which account for almost half ($253 billion) of the total investment.

As Bush pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, he escalated the "global war on terror." But, in January, Defense Secretary James Mattis stated that "great power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of US national security."

Ritter writes on Truthdig that Putin's speech was a message not just to the Russian Federal Assembly, but also to the White House and Trump, as well as Congress, "where Russia-baiting has become a full-time occupation, and to the American people, who have been caught up in a wave of anti-Russia hysteria fueled by fantastical claims of a Russian 'attack' on American democracy which, when balanced against the potential of thermonuclear annihilation, pales into insignificance."

Thomas Graham, senior director for Russia on George W. Bush's National Security Council, thinks we are in a very dangerous period. Graham told The Washington Post, "The tension is high, higher now than it was several months ago, in part because the Russians have gotten past the phase where they thought with President Trump they would be able to move the relationship in a different direction.... This is qualitatively worse than any post-Cold War period."

Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons Leads to Divestment

On July 7, 2017, more than 120 countries adopted the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It forbids ratifying countries "never under any circumstances to develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices." The treaty also prohibits the transfer of, use of, or threat to use nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices.

Fifty-three countries signed the treaty, and three have ratified it, making them parties to the agreement. The treaty will enter into force 90 days after 50 ratifications. But the five original nuclear-armed nations -- the US, Britain, France, Russia and China -- did not participate in the treaty negotiations and have not signed it.

The treaty, however, "has created a movement towards divestment, reflected in the reduction in the number of companies investing in nuclear weapons, and an increase in financial institutions comprehensively prohibiting any investment," according to Susi Snyder of PAX, who is a co-author of the new report. "Investments are not neutral, these companies should be congratulated for standing on the side of humanity."

Meanwhile, in response to Putin's March 1 invitation to enter into nuclear arms negotiations for "international security and sustainable development," Krieger wrote, "The U.S. should take him up on this offer."

Indeed, we should. The future of our planet is at stake.

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Categories: News

How to Reduce Poverty and Inequality Through State Government Taxes

Sun, 03/11/2018 - 05:00

 Scott Olson / Getty Images)Illinois demonstrators rally in support of a tax on Chicago financial exchanges and other progressive taxes on November 2, 2015, in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Scott Olson / Getty Images)

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New progressive taxes are needed at the state level to generate much-needed revenue for anti-poverty programs while also curbing the excessive power the wealthiest 1 percent currently hold over our political system. Case in point: the new federal tax law that will lower taxes on the wealthy, despite majority support among US taxpayers for substantial taxes on the rich. And while opponents will no doubt argue the contrary, a joint Stanford University-Treasury Department report shows that high taxes do not drive millionaires to move across state lines.

Here is a menu of some of the most promising options.

Taxes on High-Income Earners

In 2016, tax increases on the wealthy passed in both states where they were on the ballot. In California, voters extended the nation's highest top tax rate (13.3 percent) on those making more than $1 million per year, delivering an estimated $4 billion to $9 billion in annual revenue for human needs. Maine voters also passed a 3 percent surtax on income over $200,000.

In 2018, at least two states are expected to bring tax increases on the wealthy before voters. A Massachusetts ballot initiative would create a 4 percent tax on incomes that exceed $1 million, with revenue estimated at $2 billion annually dedicated to public education and transportation.

In Maine, activists are working to place a proposal on the ballot to fund access to in-home care through a payroll tax increase of 1.9% from employees and employers on salaries and wages over $127,000 a year. This would partially close the federal loophole that allows the wealthy to avoid paying Social Security payroll taxes on the bulk of their income.

State Estate Taxation

The estate tax is a levy on large fortunes when they are transferred from one generation to the next, with exemption thresholds that shield middle and working class families. Before the Bush tax cuts passed in 2001, every state in the nation collected revenue from the state estate tax credit, which sent the first 16 percent of federal estate tax revenue to the states. Congress phased out this tax credit gradually until fully repealing it in 2005. Re-instating a steeply progressive state estate tax in states that lost their state estate tax could generate significant revenue while reducing the concentration of wealth in intergenerational wealth dynasties.

In 2006, Washington state voters supported their state estate tax by a nearly 2-to-1 margin because the revenue raised directly funded education in the state (an education opportunity trust fund). A state estate tax campaign has the power to fund critically important public initiatives like debt-free higher education and universal long-term care while halting the rising wealth at the very top.

The California College for All coalition is pushing a ballot initiative to levy a progressive tax on California estates and fund free public higher education, restoring the state's leadership role on accessible college. The estate tax would generate an estimated $4 billion a year and provide aid to 2.6 million California residents.

Tax on Companies With Extreme Gaps Between CEO and Worker Pay

In 2016, the city of Portland, Oregon, adopted the world's first tax penalty on corporations with extreme gaps between their CEO and worker pay. The city's current business license tax is 2.2 percent of adjusted net income. The surtax will be 10 percent of the business tax liability for companies with a CEO-worker pay ratio of more than 100-to-1 and 25 percent for companies with a ratio of more than 250-to-1. More than 500 corporations that do business in the city, including mega-firms like Wells Fargo and Walmart, will be subject to the surtax.

Lawmakers in at least five US states and in the US Congress have introduced legislation similar to the Portland tax, and that number will likely rise when US corporations begin publicly disclosing the ratio between their CEO and median worker pay through their proxy statements in 2018. A Rhode Island bill would give preferential treatment in state contracting to corporations that pay their CEOs no more than 25 times their median worker pay.

These efforts build on the living wage movement by using the power of the public purse to pull down the top end of the pay scale and send a message that everyone in a workplace contributes value (not just the CEO). 

High-End Real Estate Taxes to Fund Affordable Housing and Other Priorities

In 2016, San Francisco voters approved a tax on high-end real estate transactions that contribute to gentrification. The tax raises additional revenue from commercial and residential real estate transfers over $5 million. Funds have been used to provide free tuition and stipends to San Francisco residents at the city's community college.

Affordable housing coalitions in Boston, New York City, Cincinnati, and other major cities are exploring implementing high-end real estate transfer taxes to off-set the huge disruption that wealthy investors have caused in local housing markets. Many favor using funds to create a fund for the creation and preservation of permanently affordable housing and homeownership. 

Carried Interest Tax

States with significant financial sectors can take action to make up for Washington's failure to close the "carried interest" loophole, which allows private equity and hedge fund managers to reduce their tax bills by claiming a large share of their earnings as "capital gains" instead of ordinary income. This has allowed many of the wealthiest Americans to pay lower rates than firefighters and teachers.

Legislation to close the carried interest loophole has been introduced in New YorkNew JerseyMassachusettsConnecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Illinois. Campaigns to introduce bills are underway in several more, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo backed this effort in his 2018 State of the State speech.

Financial Transaction Tax

The notion of placing a small tax on trades of stocks, derivatives, and other financial instruments has gained increased attention at the national level in recent years, but Congress has failed to take action. Such taxes are designed to discourage short-term financial speculation while raising significant revenue for urgent human needs.

The Illinois state legislature is considering a bill that would place fees of $1-$2 per contract on Chicago's commodities and financial exchanges, with revenue estimated at $10 billion to $12 billion per year. 

Capital Gain Tax

A capital gains tax is a levy on income from investments rather than wages. In the 42 states (including the District of Columbia) that impose capital gains taxes, rates range from 3.1 percent in Pennsylvania to 13.3 percent in California. States without a capital gains tax should implement one and states that have one should increase the rate to at least 10 percent.

Raising or introducing such taxes would mostly impact the wealthy, since the top 1 percent owns half of the nation's financial wealth and the bottom 50 percent only own 0.5 percent of financial wealth. State capital gains taxes help ensure fairness between those who work paycheck to paycheck and those who pocket dividends. 

Luxury Taxes

A luxury tax is a duty levied on luxury goods, such as high-end automobiles and expensive yachts. Both Connecticut and New Jersey, for example, have luxury car taxes. In Connecticut, the sales tax rate jumps from 6.35 percent to 7.75 percent on vehicles costing more than $50,000. In New Jersey, a tax penalizes both luxury cars and gas guzzlers by imposing a 0.4 percent surcharge on vehicles that have price tags above $45,000 or get less than 19 miles per gallon. 

State Payroll Tax on High Incomes

Federal payroll taxes for Social Security have a huge loophole for the wealthy in the form of a cap on the amount of income subject to the tax. It's currently $128,400 and is adjusted annually for inflation. This means a multi-millionaire and someone earning $128,400 per year pay the same amount in Social Security payroll taxes -- not the same rate, the same amount. States can close this loophole by imposing a state level payroll tax on income above the federal cap. (See Maine proposal, detailed above.)

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Categories: News

This Is History Now: Is the "American Dream" Over for Black Boys?

Sun, 03/11/2018 - 05:00

The educational system is failing Black boys, and no Marvel superhero is coming to fix the problem. The answer lies in offering appropriately trained teachers and equitable educational options instead of limiting opportunities and possibilities for students of color.

 pathdoc / Shutterstock; Edited: JR / TO)(Photo: pathdoc / Shutterstock; Edited: JR / TO)

As a parent of three children, including one son, I have witnessed Black boys start to lose interest in their studies in elementary school. 

Years ago, I walked down the hall of my neighborhood Chicago public school, and outside one classroom sat a little boy on the floor. He had been kicked out of the classroom by his teacher and relegated to a space on the floor in the hallway. I don't know how long he sat there, but I do know time spent in the hallway was time away from learning.

Author Jawanza Kunjufu in his book, Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys refers to the "fourth grade failure syndrome," when Black boys begin to lose interest in school. Unfortunately, this may also be a time that schools, teachers and administrators also lose interest in Black boys. Forty percent of Black boys in urban public schools drop out of high school. Boys who drop out of school are more likely to enter the school-to-prison pipeline by becoming involved in criminal activity or simply being outside of supervised, structured environments that can help to shield them from crime and danger. 

The recent video showing young Black elementary school students in Atlanta exuberantly dancing on tables after hearing they would be guests at a showing of the movie Black Panther is both an amusing distraction and a reminder of how we have failed Black boys in school and beyond. 

The Marvel comics film has earned more than $500 million at the box office to date, and its predominantly Black cast centers on a good-versus-evil battle of a villain whose rage is fueled by the pain of his childhood, against the Black Panther, who wants the best for his people. 

Placed in Wakanda, a fictional African country emerging from its seclusion, it is a metaphor for young Black children -- particularly males -- to symbolically emerge from the sidelines to claim their rightful place in the US. But contrary to the success of the fictional King T'Challa and his brilliant nemesis Killmonger, who graduated from MIT at the age of 19, children remain in the shadows of educational systems that are failing Black boys in particular. 

Since 1968, the US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights has collected mandatory data from all public schools on civil rights indicators related to access and barriers to educational opportunity from early childhood through high school. 

Data on disparities in discipline, access to high-level math and science courses, and availability of experienced teachers in the classroom has remained intractable. For example, Black students are twice as likely to be expelled without educational services than white children. Moreover, Black children are also twice as likely as white students to be disciplined by law enforcement. 

To be sure, barriers to educational equity for Black boys is not the sole purview of public schools. Private institutions can also be complicit. 

recent piece in the Grio tells the story of Josh Crayton, a senior at Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Ohio, who was expelled five months before graduation for allegedly "raising his voice" at his white English teacher. 

Since adolescence is known to be a developmental period where youth are prone to make mistakes, it is particularly important that teachers are in tune and skilled at teaching Black boys in urban communities. 

Regrettably, the route to prosperity via education is not played on a level field. For many Black boys growing up in urban and impoverished neighborhoods, an equitable and quality education is elusive. 

Factors such as teacher preparation, large teaching loads in understaffed schools with lower economic resources and teacher expectations about the ability of their students to succeed can contribute to sub-optimal outcomes for Black boys. 

Similar circumstances may also contribute to the fact that Black boys are more likely to be placed in special education classes, and less likely to be classified as "gifted." Black boys are also more likely to be punished harsher than other students for the same rule infractions.

One answer is to hire more Black teachers because students of color do better when taught by teachers of color. The US teacher workforce is 80 percent white, so additional solutions are needed. White teachers must be intentional about learning cultural competency skills that enable them to adjust their unconscious bias to see their students clearly.

But they need not to just see Black boys; they can actively immerse themselves in the communities where they work so that they understand the contexts of the lives of children, families and communities.

White women are the largest demographic of the teaching workforce, and authors Moore, Michael and Penick-Parks in their 2017 book The Guide for White Women who Teach Black Boys are explicit in their guidance for teachers by stripping away the illusion that the race of teachers and students doesn't matter. This book teaches white educators to foster learning environments that help Black boys thrive in school, change school culture so that Black boys can be their authentic selves and recognize their unconscious biases to truly connect with Black boys.

Far too often, when it comes to Black boys and men, the answer to societal woes is to invest more in the criminal legal system than educational equity. Recent University of California-Los Angeles protests were directed toward Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for proudly taking credit for a brand new multimillion dollar Police Training Academy while simultaneously closing high schools in Black neighborhoods. This is another example of Black boys facing discrimination and ongoing disadvantage. 

As a nurse, I have also seen the devastating impact on the physical and psychological well-being of Black boys and men when this society does not value who they are or what they have to contribute to this world.

To combat the real-life inadequacies we give to Black boys, we must offer appropriately prepared teachers and equitable educational options for students, rather than limiting the opportunities and possibilities for students of color. 

This is real, and no Marvel superhero, no matter how popular, is going to change the landscape for us. We have to care. We have to act.

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Categories: News

Progressives Fight Democratic Establishment to Join Bernie Sanders in Senate

Sun, 03/11/2018 - 05:00

Progressive candidates are challenging establishment Democrats and incumbent Republicans in Senate races across the country, but they face an uphill battle with little or no help from the Democratic Party, even in states easily won by Bernie Sanders during the 2016 presidential primaries.

 Drew Angerer / Getty Images)Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks about health care on Capitol Hill, June 26, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

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The Democratic Party is currently facing a surge of progressive opposition in primaries, even in regions of the country where Democrats have not been competitive in recent years.

Dozens of progressive candidates are running for local, statewide and congressional races, with several candidates out-raising establishment opponents. But the progressive surge is most evident in Senate races, where the high levels of grassroots progressive engagement are unprecedented. Thirty-four Senate seats are up for election this year, with 26 currently held by Democrats who are already the minority. This shifts the political strategy in favor of preserving Senate seats up for re-election rather than attempting to seize the Senate majority, though that still remains a possibility.

In interviews with Truthout, 15 Senate candidates running across the country discussed a wide variety of issues progressives are facing in their campaigns. Their challenges range from the amount of money and resources Senate campaigns require and the exhaustive petition process to make the ballot, to the unlikely prospect that a blue wave will wash over the United States Senate this year.

Two candidates currently running for the Democratic Senate nomination in Utah this year are Mitchell Vice, a progressive running on issues like Medicare for All, and Jenny Wilson, an establishment candidate who is a Democratic National Committee (DNC) member and currently serves on the state party's executive committee. According to Vice, Wilson has used her role in party leadership to solidify her position as the nominee and intimidate other candidates into dropping out of the race last year.

"Jenny Wilson is really in charge of the party," said Vice, who explained that Utah Democratic Party leaders mainly focus on Salt Lake County because the populous there enables them to win the state convention. Wilson’s father, Ted Wilson, served three terms as mayor of Salt Lake City. Vice argues this structure permits the Utah Democratic Party to ignore the rest of the state while undermining progressive candidates by supporting establishment Democrats in primaries and deterring progressives from running. He pointed to Misty Snow, the progressive 2016 Utah Senate candidate for the Democratic Party, as an example, claiming she was abandoned by party leaders once she won the nomination.

The Utah Democratic Party has noted its focus in 2018 will be more on local and state elections than putting resources into federal races. In his own case, Vice noted that he and other candidates have been pressured to drop out to pave the way for Wilson to be the unopposed nominee.

“I have supported the party through my role as a Democratic elected official and role as DNC member, yet those matters do not have any direct role with the upcoming US Senate nomination,” Wilson told Truthout.

Wilson forwarded Truthout a January 2018 email that she sent to Utah Democratic Party leadership to suspend her participation in the State Executive Committee until after the primary, though she formally announced her campaign in July 2017. 

“The other three initial challengers -- James Singer, Danny Drew and Robert Comstock -- all self-selected out early and have endorsed me," Wilson said. "I don't know all reasons, but I assume they endorsed me because they believe I am a stronger candidate and am better prepared to serve in the Senate. I'm happy to face Mitchell Vice at convention and/or in a primary.”

"We need a vehicle to get in, and that vehicle is the Democratic Party, but before that happens we need to take the wheel," Vice told Truthout. "But right now, we're in the backseat of the station wagon trying to crawl over three rows of seats."

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), the Senate Democrats' campaign arm, formally endorsed and is funding Rep. Kyrsten Sinema in the Arizona Senate race to fill the seat that will be vacated by Republican Sen. Jeff Flake. Rep. Sinema is a member of the Blue Dog Caucus, a coalition of conservative Democrats receiving substantial support from the DSCC and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

"When you combine the problem of campaign financing with the fact that Arizona Republican voters far exceed Democratic voters, and the historical failures of most Democratic Arizona campaigns for the last 20 years, I think the cost-benefit analysis prevents progressive-minded individuals from running," said Sandy Russell, the campaign manager for Arizona US Senate candidate Chris Russell.

Justice Democrats, an organization founded in 2017 by former Bernie Sanders staffers to help progressives run against establishment Democrats and Republicans, endorsed candidate Deedra Abboud.

"Four Arizona US Senate candidates have promised to collectively spend $12 to $15 million on this one race, as if they can buy Arizona voters, which is intimidating to many progressives," Abboud told Truthout. "People are the real power, and people should always be more important than money."

In Nevada, the DSCC also endorsed Rep. Jacky Rosen in the Democratic primary, the winner of which will challenge Republican Sen. Dean Heller in his re-election race.

"For decades, politics in Nevada have been tightly controlled by Harry Reid and his machine. This cycle is no different," said attorney Jesse Sbaih, who is challenging Rosen. "As a result, it's very difficult to raise money and get media coverage to spread our progressive message."

Democrats in Texas are gearing up to oppose Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in his re-election bid this year in hopes that his unpopularity and changing state demographics can make the race competitive. Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) was announced as the Democratic nominee in the March 2018 primary. Rep. O'Rourke also received fundraising help from Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer before the March 6 primary. The Texas Democratic Party push backed against Sema Hernandez, a Bernie Sanders-inspired progressive activist challenging O'Rourke for the nomination.

"When I arrived to Texas Democratic Party headquarters in December 2017, I was asked if I was sure I wanted to run because there was already two other people in the race," she said.

When Hernandez paid in cash the $5,000 fee to be put on the ballot for the Democratic primary, she said that the Democratic Party official who accepted the fee jokingly asked if it was drug money. The Texas Democratic Party did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Rep. O'Rourke is the only primary candidate who has refused to participate in a scheduled debate with Hernandez and a third primary challenger, Edward Kimbrough. Despite only fundraising less than $10,000 in her race, Hernandez received 23.7 percent of the vote.

Ten incumbent Democrats have yet to face primary or third-party challengers. "When someone wants to take on the establishment, they are going to be met with overwhelming adversity," said Tykiem Booker, who dropped out of the Senate race as the only primary challenger to Sen. Tom Carper (D-Delaware). "My struggle was trying to convince the masses that they should take a chance on someone new, instead of someone who has been in office for decades and is not up to date on the new generations."

The majority of progressive primary candidates for US Senate who are finding success in developing bases of support are challenging moderate Democrats who have sided with Trump and Republicans on several issues.

The most competitive Democratic primary in a US Senate race this year is likely Sen. Dianne Feinstein's re-election bid in California. Feinstein's decision to run for re-election has incited challenges from state Sen. Kevin de León to Justice Democrat Alison Hartson and Berniecrat David Hildebrand.

Hartson told Truthout the reason she threw her hat in the ring was to challenge the corporate Democrats as represented by Dianne Feinstein. But the hurdles challengers face are many.

"Speaking from a perspective of running in California, the main obstacles are the sheer amount of money pitted against progressive candidates and the undemocratic endorsement process," Hildebrand told Truthout. 

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill has shifted toward the center politically, inspiring progressives to call for a primary challenge from the left. McCaskill has clashed with Bernie Sanders supporters in her votes for several Trump nominees and in her denigrating of popular progressive policies like Medicare for All.

"Claire McCaskill is not fighting hard enough to salvage our economy, society or future," said Angelica Earl, a former Obamacare marketplace employee who is running against McCaskill in the Democratic primary. "While I understand the mindset of incremental change and support the progressive push from the ground up, I do not understand why the buck stops there."

One of Maine's Senate seats is held by Sen. Angus King, who managed to win election to the Senate as an independent in 2012, but unlike his independent colleague Bernie Sanders, Sen. King has tended to side with Republicans on a variety of issues, though he caucuses with Democrats.

"Running against an incumbent backed by big money is the right way to challenge dated institutions in this historic time of populism around progressive campaigns," said Zak Ringelstein, the Democratic Party challenger to Senator King's re-election this year.

Other Senate candidates are running against incumbent Democrats to hold them accountable to the people they serve, rather than allowing them to receive a free pass for re-election in states that trend in favor of Democrats.

Ann Marie Adams is challenging Sen. Chris Murphy in Connecticut's Democratic primary this year as one of only five Black women running for the US Senate in 2018.

"There's nothing personal against Murphy. I just don't think he was doing a good job representing all of us in Connecticut," Adams told Truthout. She cited a need for diversity in representation and the encouragement of a new wave of women running for office as her inspiration for running.

Progressive organizations backing candidates across the country have yet to endorse many candidates for Senate, though the progressive surge inspired by Bernie Sanders' historic 2016 presidential campaign is still building momentum. As Sanders often noted during his campaign, "Change happens from the bottom up." The  organization Sanders founded to help progressives get elected, Our Revolution, has not endorsed a 2018 Senate candidate yet, and the Justice Democrats only endorsed three so far. Meanwhile, the organization founded by former Sanders staffers to elect progressives, Brand New Congress, has only endorsed Senate candidate Paula Jean Swearengin, who is challenging West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, one of the most conservative Democrats in the Senate.

"A big obstacle to challenging all incumbents is that 'conventional wisdom' that just doesn't apply anymore," Swearengin told Truthout, going on to say that elected officials should have to work to be elected rather than expect to win unopposed. "Primaries should be considered a check-up on the health of a party. This is an opportunity for ideas to be voiced and for our membership to be well-represented."

Bernie Sanders easily won West Virginia's primary during his presidential campaign, but in that state and several others, elected officials have ignored a progressive-majority base within their own parties. This abandonment has provoked several primary challenges from the left.

"Sanders took 64 percent of the caucus last year, and the establishment chose to represent the 20 percent," said Dustin Peyer, who is running against Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota. "Some establishment Democrats are very against the idea of having a progressive run against Heitkamp."

Several establishment Democrats have treated the threat of primary challengers on the left to incumbent Democrats as a nuisance, pushing some candidates to go so far as to run on a third-party ticket.

"I spent two years on three of the DFL [Democratic-Farmer-Labor] state party committees, party affairs, platform, and outreach and inclusion," said Paula Overby, who is running against Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) this year as a Green Party candidate.

Sanders won Minnesota during the 2016 primaries by more than 20 percent.

"It is not possible to reform a process that is so institutionalized," Overby said. "My current campaign focuses on changing the rules, elevating minor parties to major party status, creating easier ballot access for progressive candidates and, most importantly, providing the public with a legitimate perception of choice."

Though many progressives are running against Democrat incumbents or establishment Democrats in open Senate races, some progressives are stepping in where the Democratic Party won't bother to spend resources to compete.

"The reason that the Democratic Party has given up on Mississippi is financial," said Jensen Bohren, a progressive who is currently the only Democrat running to challenge incumbent Republican Sen. Roger Wicker in Mississippi. Wicker already has more than $4 million in cash on hand for his campaign.

"One of the first questions the Democratic Party of Mississippi asked me when I first emailed them in January of 2016 was, 'Are you able to raise funds to compete in the election. We would expect this race to cost at least be $3 million just to compete, " Bohren said.

Categories: News

How the Global Women's Movement Shaped the UN International Development Agenda

Sat, 03/10/2018 - 05:00
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Women's rights are under attack around the globe, with progress threatened in many countries. Yet feminist organisations continue to fight back, mobilising and forming new alliances. At this challenging moment, much can be learned from the success of the global women's movement which profoundly influenced the United Nations' current international development agenda.

Agreed in 2015 by 193 governments, this agenda guides global development policies, programs, and financing until 2030. Its 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) and 169 targets focus on challenges including poverty, climate change, world peace, and gender equality. Unlike the previous millennium development goals, women's rights underpin much of this agenda.

Amid conservative backlash against women's rights, how did feminist advocates ensure that the SDGs focused on gender equality and other issues critically important to women? What strategies did the women's movement use to influence this agenda?

Last year, the International Women's Health Coalition (IWHC) published a study -- "Power Lessons: Women's Advocacy and the 2030 Agenda" -- on precisely these questions. Along with a related, short film, it documents and reflects on the years of analysis, coordination, alliance-building, and engagement with policy-makers that went into shaping the agreement.

UN negotiations have challenging, fast-paced dynamics and are often New York-based, limiting the participation of small and local women's rights groups particularly in the Global South. This is one of the challenges that the Women's Major Group's Major Group (WMG) -- a coalition of more than 600 women's organisations and networks from around the world -- sought to tackle.  

The group, which is the focus of IWHC's study, restructured its leadership to include regional representation, and raised money for women from the Global South to travel to attend the SDG talks. Online organising enabled virtual participation. One WMG member said: "It became easy because people felt included and valued for their contributions."

The WMG also brought together activists and organisations working across different issues and representing diverse peoples. They embraced others' concerns, learning from each others' areas of expertise. One participant said: "This is the story of the beauty of engaging more and more organisations and seeing what the added value is and how different people of different networks work."

More than three years before the 2030 agenda was finalised, women's groups held regional and global strategy meetings to start linking issues, prioritising demands, and developing clear, unified positions.

"The women's movement pulled something off which a lot of people would have thought wasn't possible, which was to actually develop one single common platform of women's rights," said another participant. "It covered every single issue that we knew was in play. That was extremely hard to do."

The WMG also skillfully mapped allies in government and UN agencies, and developed technical language for negotiators to use in talks. "We talked to every government that was present in these negotiations to say, 'This is what we want, and this is why it's so important,'" said one member.

Lessons we can draw from this experience include: the significance of building transparent and inclusive structures and processes; organising early; prioritising demands; developing clear, unified positions; identifying champions; building relationships; and putting persistent pressure on decision-makers.

Of course, the women's movement also faced a number of challenges. The IWHC study for instance identified fierce opposition on sexual and reproductive rights, as well as resistance to progressive demands related to global financial structures and systems.

Women's groups had to balance bold demands with political pragmatism -- working within the boundaries of what governments might realistically accept, while still pushing the agenda as far as possible. Despite continual fundraising, limited budgets were an ongoing constraint.

Women described solidarity and advocacy on the SDGs as an example of what can happen when feminist organisations come together to use a political opportunity to fight for rights and social justice. The impact they had shows the power and necessity of strong women's rights movements.

The 2030 agenda is not perfect. But gender equality is woven throughout its goals and targets.

Amid volatile geopolitics and narrowing space for civil society, feminist advocates will need to sustain the intersectional approach they took to influence the SDGs. Inevitably, governments will "cherry pick" the most politically expedient goals and targets to focus on.

Some states are already backtracking on critical issues, such as sexual and reproductive health and rights, property rights, and challenges to the economic status quo globally and nationally.

At the same time, some governments are taking action and reallocating funds, showing political will to implement the SDGs. Feminists should take advantage of such opportunities and push to ensure that the goals are realised.

They must continue to work together, champion each other's issues, and monitor SDG implementation at the local level. In the words of one advocate: "We've built our solidarity in ways that others haven't… we should recognise that, and figure out how to sustain that power."

Categories: News

Cochran, Corker, Flake and Hatch: The Great Senate "See Ya!"

Sat, 03/10/2018 - 05:00

The U.S. Capitol is bathed in the light of the sun setting over the National Mall in Washington, USA on March 7, 2018. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)The US Capitol is bathed in the light of the sun setting over the National Mall in Washington, DC, on March 7, 2018. (Photo: Samuel Corum / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)

No matter what happens during the 2018 midterm elections, Congress is going to be a different place next year. More than 30 Republican lawmakers are joining Cochran, Flake, Corker and Hatch next year on their way to ports unknown. August names like Issa, Gowdy, Barton, Chaffetz and Farenthold will no longer be with us. Will anything change as a result?

The U.S. Capitol is bathed in the light of the sun setting over the National Mall in Washington, USA on March 7, 2018. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)The US Capitol is bathed in the light of the sun setting over the National Mall in Washington, DC, on March 7, 2018. (Photo: Samuel Corum / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)

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When word first came that Sen. Thad Cochran, Republican of Tennessee, was retiring on April 1 for health reasons, I waited for the punch line. It had to be an April Fools' joke, right? The day Cochran became a Senator 40 years ago, Jimmy Carter was president and Grease had just hit the theaters. On the longevity scale, he's right up there with Sam Rayburn, Ted Kennedy and cholera. It was an odd thing to contemplate: How do you have a Senate without Thad Cochran?

Easy, I realized. You have a better one, maybe.

Thad Cochran is one of those occasional public servants whose conservative cruelty goes largely unnoted. Perhaps it's the luck of geography, with sincere apologies to the Magnolia State, the easiest deflection in politics is "Yeah, but he's from Mississippi." Having former Sen. Trent Lott as your wingman, as Cochran did for many years, certainly raises the bar for mendacity while taking off a good amount of heat. Lott enjoyed the cameras; Cochran was too busy.

Thad Cochran's desk, a gift he happily accepted, belonged to Jefferson Davis when Davis was president of the Confederacy. In his time as a senator, Cochran requested nearly half a billion dollars in earmarks, more than anyone in Congress. In 2005, the Senate formally apologized for not passing an anti-lynching law during the days of Jim Crow, a grimly necessary measure at the time. Cochran and Lott were not among the 80 senators who cosponsored the resolution.

That same year, Cochran voted against the Detainee Treatment Act, which would have prohibited the gross abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. Joining him in that vote favoring torture were today's right-wing all-Ssars: Jeff Cornyn, Ted Stevens, Jim Inhofe, Pat Roberts and then-Senator Jeff Sessions. In 2009, Cochran voted against the Affordable Care Act, and just last year signed a letter urging President Trump to abandon the Paris Agreement, which he did.

Four months after a gunman slaughtered 20 children and six staff members at a grammar school in Connecticut, Thad Cochran voted against a bill that expanded background checks for gun purchases. The bill was defeated despite having a national approval rating near 90 percent. Thad Cochran, to no one's surprise, enjoys an A+ legislative rating from the National Rifle Association.

The refrain, as ever: What if they elect someone worse than Cochran? Answer: They won't, because they can't. The thing about guys like Ted Cruz and Roy Moore is that they devour headlines and air time, but seldom actually get anything done. They're still quite dangerous, but we also need to recognize the danger of lower-profile lawmakers such as Cochran, who has been exceedingly effective in enacting his agenda. He was named one of the US's ten best senators by Time Magazine and dubbed "The Quiet Persuader" by his colleagues. The Roy Moores of the world can ruin dinner with their ranting, but Cochran will have already left you with the check.

Thad Cochran isn't the only marble statue that has chosen to pull up its roots and hit the road. Congress will be a very different place in 2018, no matter what the Democrats manage to accomplish, due to the departures of several seemingly eternal conservatives.

Sen Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, is for the door when his term expires. Flake has warmed the cockles of many liberal hearts lately with his scathing attacks on Trump, but that doesn't make him Baelor the Blessed. He voted in favor of the Iraq war as a member of the House in 2002 but changed his mind and started voting against war appropriations five years later. In other words, when it became unpopular, Flake the fiscal conservative voted to stop paying for the war he'd voted for. In 2005, Flake voted against appropriating federal funds to address the unimaginable damage done by Hurricane Katrina, one of five times he has voted against disaster aid funding.

There are many Flake stories, but this one takes the cake. In April of 2013, he penned a note to the mother of a victim of the theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado. "Strengthening background checks," he wrote, "is something we agree on." A few days later, he voted with Cochran and the others against strengthening background checks. Flake's approval rating collapsed to 32 percent, making him at the time the most unpopular senator in the country.

They might elect someone worse? Hard to imagine.

Sen. Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, is likewise taking his leave of public office in 2018. Corker made some heavy waves after criticizing Trump's pro-fascist reaction to the violence in Charlottesville; when Trump inevitably bashed back, he called the White House "an adult day-care center." The left batted its eyes in approval until Corker went back to being Corker.

The frost between him and Trump didn't linger long. The two mended fences out of pure political expediency, and Corker the notorious fiscal hawk wound up supporting Trump's deficit-detonating tax bill. Notably, the bill carried a provision that will vastly enrich real estate moguls … like Donald Trump and Bob Corker.

It's nice to retire after topping off the ol' bank account.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, is after 41 years the longest-serving senator in his party. That ends next year. Hatch has not let the legislative grass grow over the decades; when the notoriously conservative Salt Lake City Tribune denounces you for your "utter lack of integrity" and "unquenchable thirst for power," it means you've really been putting the work in.

Gadzooks, where to begin? Hatch voted in favor of the TARP bailout before voting against it, was instrumental in dismantling the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments, voted in favor of Trump's calamitous tax cuts, launched multiple investigations into subsidies for green energy production, opposed the ACA, was a leading voice in approving Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court before helping to thwart Merrick Garland's nomination years later, once compared LGBTQ teachers to Nazis, and introduced the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, which broadly loosened EPA controls over predatory drug companies and vastly exacerbated the national opioid crisis.

All in a day's work … or in Hatch's case, 14,975 days' work.

No matter what happens during the 2018 midterm elections, the US Congress is going to be a whole new thing after the departure of this clutch of hard-right senators and their friends. If the GOP manages to maintain majority control in the upper chamber, they will still have a nifty little mud fight on their hands. Corker is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Hatch is chairman of both Finance and Judiciary, Cochran is chairman of Appropriations … and those committees are where almost all the action (and almost all the money) is. They're all up for grabs no matter who prevails come November.

More than 30 Republican lawmakers are joining Cochran, Flake Corker and Hatch next year on their way to ports unknown, most of them from the House. August names like Issa, Gowdy, Barton, Chaffetz, Farenthold, Franks and Meehan will no longer be with us after January. Strange days indeed.

However, conservatives shouldn't be too nervous. When the chips are down and it matters most, leave it to the Democrats to fill the conservative gap left by any departing right-wing Republicans. Nancy Pelosi is already retreating on DACA and guns in the current budget debate. Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, tore her own party to pieces this week for its support of a GOP-led push to roll back banking regulations put in place after the financial collapse of 2008.

"If Republicans and some Democrats are going to help the bank lobbyists roll back Wall Street reform, we're going to make sure the American people know about it," Warren wrote on social media. "This bill wouldn't be on the path to becoming law without the support of these Democrats."

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Categories: News

Donald Trump's Relentless Scandal-Fixer: The Many Mysterious Doings of Michael Cohen

Sat, 03/10/2018 - 05:00

Michael Cohen (L), U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, speaks to the media after finding out the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing at which they were to appear was canceled, on September 19, 2017 in Washington, DC. The committee is investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, speaks to the media after finding out the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing at which they were to appear was canceled, on September 19, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

If there is one person lurking around the shadows of every Trump scandal, it would be his personal lawyer Michael Cohen, known as the Tom Hagen of the Trump family, only with much less class and dignity than the original consigliere of Godfather fame. Back in 2011 ABC News described him as "the man behind Donald Trump's possible 2012 presidential campaign," and asked him about the Hagen reference. He replied:

[I]f somebody does something Mr. Trump doesn't like, I do everything in my power to resolve it to Mr. Trump's benefit. If you do something wrong, I'm going to come at you, grab you by the neck and I'm not going to let you go until I'm finished.

Presumably that does not include putting horse's heads in people's beds, but you never know. He certainly likes to make people believe he would stop at nothing to protect "Mr. Trump."

At the beginning of the campaign CNN's Don Lemon questioned Trump about his declaration that undocumented immigrants were criminals and rapists and Trump responded, "Well, somebody's doing the raping." This prompted Brandy Zadrozny and Tim Mak of the Daily Beast to inquire into claims by Trump's first wife, Ivana, during their divorce that Trump had blamed her for his botched scalp reduction surgery and violently raped her in retaliation. Cohen responded to the reporters by saying that a spouse cannot legally be held liable for rape (which is not true) and threatened them in true Godfather style:

I'm warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I'm going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting. You understand me? You write a story that has Mr. Trump's name in it, with the word 'rape,' and I'm going to mess your life up … for as long as you're on this frickin' planet … you're going to have judgments against you, so much money, you'll never know how to get out from underneath it.

He seems like a lovely fellow. They wrote the story, obviously. But it is true Trump has lawyers on retainer, led by Cohen, who pretty much run a cover-up machine for him. Much of this operation has to do with women and former employees who might spill the beans on Trump's unsavory peccadilloes, both personal and financial. Trump demands that everyone who works for him sign non-disclosure agreements and we now know, through the Stormy Daniels scandal. that he has his (alleged) mistresses sign them as well. (In Michael Wolff's book Fire and Fury, Steve Bannon is quoted as saying that Trump's lawyers paid off hundreds of women.) If any of these people get uppity, it's Cohen who brings out the thumbscrews.

Last month the New York Times reported on Cohen's relationship with Trump pal David Pecker, publisher of the National Enquirer. Pecker has allegedly observed a "catch and kill" arrangement under which the tabloid buys up scandalous Trump stories and pictures and never publishes them. The evidence suggests there has been quite a bit of this activity over the last few years.

Cohen appears to have made a mistake with the Stormy Daniels scandal, which is surprising since he's had so much practice with this stuff. A little birdie (who wears two shirts, perchance?) tipped off the press that Cohen had created an LLC for the purpose of paying Daniels off less than two weeks before the election. That turned the spotlight back on Trump's "issues" with women and raised the specter of campaign finance violations. Daniels has taken advantage of the attention and is now suing Trump and accusing Cohen of trying to intimidate her into silence, keeping the story in the headlines at least a bit longer.

It's hard to understand why this particular affair would lead Cohen and Trump to pay off Daniels so close to the election. Trump had already been accused of harassment or assault by more than a dozen women -- and was caught on tape bragging about it. Daniels has never claimed she was raped or assaulted. Would an allegation of a consensual affair years earlier, even with a porn star, have made any difference at that point? He denied all those other women's charges during the campaign, of course, calling the accusers liars, just as he has denied the Daniels affair or any knowledge of the payoff. Unfortunately for the president, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders got confused this week and confirmed that he is a party to the non-disclosure agreement with Daniels, so that denial is no longer operative.

There is some speculation that this had less to do with the campaign and more to do with Trump's marriage. Maybe there is a provision in Melania Trump's pre-nuptial agreement about extramarital affairs, for instance, that could cost Trump a bundle if Melania decides she's had enough. Whatever was going on here, it was deemed sufficiently important for Trump's top fixer to intervene.

But Cohen is not just the guy who takes care of Trump's women problems. Remember that earlier this week when Trump's former campaign aide Sam Nunberg had his meltdown on national television while waving around his grand jury subpoena, Cohen's name was on it. He's up to his neck in various strands of the Russia scandal.

Among other things, Cohen has appeared before the House Intelligence Committee, and just this week it was revealed that Republicans on the committee (quite likely Rep. Devin Nunes, its chairman) had contacted Cohen's lawyer with a tip about some confidential testimony that could be helpful to him. Cohen is also mentioned in the Steele dossier as a go-between who secretly met with Russians in Prague during the campaign (which he has denied) and he's an old friend of an FBI informant and convicted felon named Felix Sater, a Russian-born investor who has been involved with Trump and various Russian interests for years. Sater is the one who was working with the Trump Organization on a real estate deal in Moscow during the primaries and reportedly told Cohen, "Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it." Shortly after Trump's inauguration, Sater reportedly helped concoct a bizarre secret peace plan for the Ukraine crisis that would allow the new administration to lift sanctions against Russia -- and had Cohen deliver it to then-national security adviser Michael Flynn.

I wouldn't be surprised to find out that Robert Mueller has assigned an entire team just to sort out Cohen's byzantine Russian connections.

I hesitate to even guess what kinds of tasks Cohen has performed for Trump in the business realm over the years. He no longer works directly for the Trump Organization and has never worked for the White House. He is Donald Trump's personal lawyer, and he's working hard at it. Just last week, he secretly filed a restraining order against Stormy Daniels in a last-ditch effort to keep her mouth shut. No horses have gone missing, as far as we know. But the message is clear.

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Categories: News

Toxic Coal Ash Being Dumped in Puerto Rico, Which Already Suffers Worst Drinking Water in the Nation

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 05:00

Even before Hurricane Maria struck the island nearly six months ago, the majority of Puerto Rico's residents lived with water that violated health standards set by the US law. Since the storm, residents say the situation has only gotten worse. Among the sources of potential water contamination are mountains of coal ash generated by a coal-fired power plant owned by a private company called AES. For years, residents have demanded the company stop dumping toxic coal ash into their community, saying the waste is poisonous to their health and the environment. We speak with Mekela Panditharatne, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council who just returned from the island and wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post headlined "FEMA says most of Puerto Rico has potable water. That can't be true."

Please check back later for full transcript.


Categories: News

A Step Toward Peace? South Korea Announces Trump Will Meet With North Korea's Kim Jong-un

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 05:00

The White House says President Trump has accepted an invitation to meet directly with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un. South Korea's National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong spoke with reporters Thursday night outside the White House after briefing officials on the recent talks between Seoul and Pyongyang, and said the meeting would take place within two months. No sitting US president has ever met with a North Korean leader; Kim Jong-un has never met another sitting head of state. For more, we speak with Tim Shorrock, correspondent for The Nation and the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism in Seoul.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

Christian Dominionists Meet at Trump's Washington Hotel to Answer the "Divine Call to War"

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 05:00

While all attention was focused on the Conservative Political Action Conference last month, the Christian Dominionists were holding their own event at Trump's Washington, DC hotel. An extreme faction of the Christian Right, the Dominionists are committed to turning the US into a Christian fundamentalist theocracy and view Trump as the leader who will bring about this change.

 Ehrlif / Getty Images)(Photo: Ehrlif / Getty Images)

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Last month, while NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre was regaling culture warriors at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference with tales of socialists trying to take away their guns, Christian Dominionists were holding an event called "The Turnaround: An Appeal to Heaven National Gathering," at Washington's Trump International Hotel. It featured some of the most prominent Christian Dominionists in the country. Although there are various iterations of Dominionism, Dominionists are united in their belief that conservative Christians should take complete control of all the political, secular and cultural institutions in the country.

Though they are not nearly as well known as Christian Right leaders, such as Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham and Robert Jeffress Jr., top Dominionist leaders like Dutch Sheets, Chuck Pierce, Cindy Jacobs and Lou Engle are a force worth paying attention to.

Those leaders, according to People for the American Way's Right Wing Watch, "are associated with the New Apostolic Reformation, which believes a triumphant, dominion-taking church will help bring about the return of Christ, and many are part of POTUS Shield, a network of self-described apostles and prophets who believe President Trump was anointed by God to help bring that all about."

Dutch Sheets, the go-to guy for the event, claimed that it would "play a prophetic role in getting the church to function as Christ's Ekklesia, the representatives of His Kingdom government on earth; as such, we will expose the enemies of God, disrupt their plans, enforce Heaven's rule, and reform America." In 2015, Right Wing Watch pointed out, Sheets said, "We must realize that we are God's governing force on the earth, which have been given keys of authority from Him to legislate from the spiritual realm."

Sheets has also maintained that both the Department of Justice and the FBI are trying to destroy Trump's presidency, a belief also recently espoused by the Rev. Franklin Graham. "We will operate in our kingdom authority while there, breaking the back of this attempt to render President Trump ineffective," Sheets wrote in early February on his blog at "We will decree the exposing and failure of all attempts to sabotage his presidency. We will release favor over him, enabling him to accomplish everything for which God sent him to the White House -- including the turning of the Supreme Court! President Trump will fulfill all of God's purposes for him."

Right Wing Watch pointed out that Lou Engle, "who has called on Christians to pray that God would 'sweep' the Supreme Court and other federal courts of justices and judges who uphold Roe v. Wade," operates through a group called The Call. In early February, the organization sent supporters an "email about the prophetic nature of the event and the choice of February 22 for its opening. The email asked readers to 'take up our rod of authority' and urged people to pray for President Trump."

Evidently, as Right Wing Watch reported, officials at Trump International were so taken with the event's concept that the hotel lowered its prices to accommodate the Dominionists.

I asked two long-time movement watchers -- Americans United for Separation of Church and State's Communications Director Rob Boston and Political Research Associates' Frederick Clarkson -- to help us understand why the Dominionist movement matters. Are its leaders effective politically in and of themselves? How does their connection to the Trump White House empower them? How does the New Apostolic Reformation fit within the broader Christian Right?

"Dominionists are the most extreme faction of the Religious Right -- they're people who literally embrace the concept of theocratic government," Rob Boston told me in an email. "They're latter-day Puritans with modern-day technology, and they would make this country an officially 'Christian' one by force if necessary. Of course, their definition of Christianity is so extreme that it would exclude millions of Americans who attend mainline churches."

What unites the "religious right," under Boston's definition, is its theocratic mission.

"The people who belong to this movement go by different names -- Reconstructionists, Theonomists, Dominionists -- but they all share a common belief: Our republican form of government should be replaced with a Christian fundamentalist theocracy," Boston explained. "They may disagree on what constitutes a proper form of Christianity, but their goal is to 'reconstruct' society from the ground up, along 'biblical' lines."

While Christian Reconstructionism has always been a small movement, "the writings of people like Rousas John Rushdoony laid the philosophical groundwork for the rise of the religious right in [the US], by providing a biblically sound justification for intervention in politics, a position that for many years was seen as anathema to the goals of the church's mission of personal salvation," Boston noted.

According to Boston, the religious right has tried to distance itself from Reconstructionists, labeling them "as a fringe," but "that's only because the former finds the latter's overt enthusiasm for mixing fundamentalism with fascism embarrassing."

Nevertheless, "these two factions share much in common," said Boston. "They are at war with much of modern life. They refuse to accept things like women's liberation, LGBTQ rights, secular public schools, religious pluralism, democracy, modern science, higher education, biblical criticism, liberal Christianity, non-theistic belief systems, and so on. To Reconstuctionists, the 6th century Byzantine Empire is a model society -- except, of course, that they would install a fundamentalist Christian emperor and not an Orthodox Catholic one. They're not likely to get us back that far, but if current trends continue and Trump keeps placating them, especially by putting far-right jurists on the courts, they could move the country a lot closer to 1950 than many of us would like."

Frederick Clarkson, senior political analyst at Political Research Associates, has witnessed Sheets and others in action. In an email, Clarkson told me that his understanding, after reading the promotional material for the event, was "that they intend to fill the atmosphere in Washington with 'biblical decrees' and that this is part of what organizer Sheets calls his answer to the 'divine call to war.'"

"And when Sheets and other apostles leading this event say a divine call, they mean it," Clarkson added. "I have seen Chuck Pierce stop the proceedings at an event to say he was receiving a word from God, and people gasp and hang on his every nuance. This may seem strange to those outside of these networks, but for many of their followers, this is their experience of the living God. Thus, it is no small thing when the living God, speaking through his apostles and prophets is calling for 'enforcing kingdom rule' and raising up an 'Army of Special Forces.'"

According to Clarkson, "Pentecostalism is the only growth sector in Christianity in the US and the New Apostolic Reformation is the most politically dynamic element of the Christian Right." However, the movement has not received much media attention. "They adhere to an urgent and animating vision of dominion, such that they are able to believe that God has chosen an ungodly man to accomplish his purposes," Clarkson added.

So why are dominionists so taken with Trump? "The great irony of this movement," Boston explained, "is that, like other Religious Right groups, it has hitched itself to Donald Trump, perhaps the most amoral, un-Christlike man ever to occupy the White House. Dominionists tend to interpret the most mundane events through the lens of what they consider to be biblical prophecy, and in a desperate ploy to cover their actions, some of them argue that God is using Trump as his instrument."

"Many believers would be offended by that notion, and others recognize it for what it is: a convenient excuse. The fact is, Trump is giving this crowd what it wants, so they are willing to overlook his many moral flaws and reckless behavior. It's a typical political bargain, and whether this crowd cares to acknowledge it or not, it definitely involved the selling of many souls and the shredding of mounds of moral credibility."

"One does not have to take their hyperbolic utterances seriously, but no one should have any doubt that their followers do," Clarkson pointed out. "Holding the event in the five-star Trump hotel a few blocks from the White House is plenty of proof of the truth that they are carrying out the will of God and must stand up to Trump's opponents, who must also be seen as the opponents of God."

While the media focused its attention on CPAC, The Turnaround, went relatively unreported. "For decades, the broad theocratic movement we call Dominionism has been rising in plain sight, and now is a close ally of the president of the United States, enjoying access to power that ostensibly more moderate evangelicals can only dream of," Clarkson declared.

In a recent speech at a luncheon in Nashville, hosted by the Susan B. Anthony List and Life Issues Institute, an anti-abortion organization, Vice President Mike Pence told the enthralled audience that abortion will be outlawed "in our time."

"I just know in my heart of hearts this will be the generation that restores life in America," Pence said. "I truly do believe [i]f all of us do all that we can, then we will once again, in our time, restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law."

Whether Pence is right about that is yet to be determined. However, there is no question that the broader Christian Right, which includes the New Apostolic Reformation, is serious about pushing conservative judicial appointments, which could lead to making abortion illegal again, and not just the halting of the expansion of LGBTQ rights, but even the reversal of marriage equality.

"Many of these rights are hanging by one vote on the Supreme Court, Americans United's Boston pointed out. "If Trump gets another appointment, it could tip the balance and empower Religious Right legal groups to reopen issues we thought were long-settled. Even under its current makeup, there's no guarantee that the court [will not] adopt a theory of 'religious freedom' that allows entire classes of people to be discriminated against, denied medical treatment or treated like second-class citizens because of someone else's religion."

"The danger," said Boston, is not that we will wake up tomorrow living in The Handmaid's Tale, but rather that we will see a gradual erosion of our rights as the wall of separation between church and state is lowered by the courts. Whether a theocratically-tinged government comes due to baby steps or a giant leap is irrelevant at the end of the day to those forced to live under it.

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