Truth Out

Subscribe to Truth Out feed Truth Out
Fearless Independent Journalism
Updated: 51 min 22 sec ago

Is Trump-Putin Summit a Danger or Crucial Diplomacy Between Nuclear Powers?

Mon, 07/16/2018 - 16:09

As President Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, we host a debate on US-Russia relations. In Washington, DC, we speak with Joe Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation. In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, we speak with Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and one of the founding editors of The Intercept. Greenwald calls the Trump-Putin meeting “excellent” and adds that President Obama also sought diplomacy with Russia. Cirincione calls the summit “a danger to America and to the West.”

Please check back later for full transcript.

The post Is Trump-Putin Summit a Danger or Crucial Diplomacy Between Nuclear Powers? appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

We Are Nurses and We Won’t Back Down

Mon, 07/16/2018 - 16:09

On Friday night, I marched with hundreds of nurses, their families and supportive community members from our picket line outside the University of Vermont (UVM) Medical Center to downtown Burlington. After two days of being on strike against the second-largest employer in the state, we filled the streets of its largest city, wearing our red T-shirts and carrying signs declaring the importance of safe staffing and fair wages.

I’ve been a socialist and an activist for my whole adult life. I’ve marched in more protests than I can count (200? 300? who knows?). In the 15 years I lived in New York City, I marched with tens of thousands of union members through various campaigns. I was a member of the Communications Workers of America union, and participated in a victorious two-week strike against Verizon.

But the last two days, and last night’s protest in particular, were unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and it happened here in little old Burlington, Vermont: population 42,000. I’m still trying to figure out why.

***

Maybe it was the sheer breadth of participation in the strike. Despite sincere and deep concerns about leaving our patients in the care of scab nurses, entire units joined each other on the picket lines. The hospital itself admitted that only 93 of the 1,800 LPNs, RNs and APRNs in our union crossed the picket line.

I knew that the majority of nurses at UVMMC were angry about our working conditions. It was another thing to see that anger translated into a willingness to fight.

We organized 10 picket lines around town. Night-shift nurses maintained an overnight presence at the main hospital picket line. People made fantastically creative signs, taught themselves to lead chants and had special red T-shirts made to reflect the issues on their units. Some spirited souls even wore red tutus and ball gowns to the march.

Maybe, too, it was the community support. Hundreds of drivers passed us on the picket lines, laying on their horns, giving us the thumbs-up, pumping their fists in the air and flashing us electrified grins.

One UPS driver got out of his truck in order to run up and down our lines, high-fiving every single nurse he passed. Like other UPS drivers, he refused to cross our picket lines throughout the strike.

People brought nourishing, lovingly prepared food to our picket lines: roasted zucchini in herb sauce; homemade pesto; artisanal whole-grain bread; popsicles and ice water. Ben and Jerry’s drove a truck up, and served out ice cream by the cupful.

Teachers, university professors, grocery workers, EMTs, home care workers and so many family members of nurses walked the lines with us. A patient wearing his hospital gown — IV pole in tow — joined us in his wheelchair on the picket line. I’m crying as I write this.

Bus drivers shouted out solidarity to us over their PA systems as they drove by. A musician from Massachusetts played labor songs for hours, with lyrics refashioned to suit nursing issues.

Nurses from New York state and Massachusetts drove for hours to join us, even bringing along an inflatable, cigar-chomping “fat cat” that they positioned at a hospital entrance.

Local politicians joined us to give greetings. Sen. Bernie Sanders called in from DC to address us. Ordinary working-class heroes from across the country got their co-workers or socialist pals together to take pictures demonstrating solidarity with us. My favorite came from a comrade in India who took a picture together with her ill father, their fists raised in solidarity.

Maybe it was the timing. In Trump’s America, unions are supposed to be breathing their last gasps. After years of decline in the private sector, workers in the public sector are now facing the threat of extinction after the Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 Supreme Court decision.

But we’ve shown that workers can actually fight back against a twisted system, where corporate executives are rewarded with six-figure bonuses while we work longer hours, at a faster pace and for stagnant wages.

***

But it’s more than all these factors. It’s something else: defiance, determination and confidence among people who are sick of being ground down.

Last night, someone played Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” over a megaphone while we were marching. I thought to myself that we ought to try chanting that, so I started it up: “We won’t back down, we won’t back down…”

Suddenly, the fists of everyone around me went up, and that gorgeous Vermont air was filled with a loud, unified message that we will not back down in the face of greed and indifference from our hospital administrators.

My fellow nurses and community members have been transformed by this struggle.

I think that’s what feels different. We went from feeling defensive to feeling confident. From worrying that the community would call us greedy or insensitive to knowing that the community has our backs. From thinking a union was something external — a service group, perhaps — to knowing that we are the union. Our strength comes from our numbers and our solidarity.

It’s not over, and lots of questions remain about what happens next. We may need to strike again, perhaps for more than two days. There is certainly support for this among our co-workers. While we were picketing together, dozens of nurses told bargaining committee members that they want us to announce when the next strike will occur.

But it was clear by the end of last night’s march that we’re in this to win it: for our patients, our coworkers, our community and for working people everywhere. And we won’t back down.

The post We Are Nurses and We Won’t Back Down appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Mass Protests Meet Trump-Putin Summit in Helsinki

Mon, 07/16/2018 - 16:07

Mass protests greeted President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin as they met for a summit Monday in Helsinki. As the two leaders drove from the airport to their summit, they were met by 300 billboards in English and Russian that were posted by the country’s leading newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, and drew attention to their strained relations with the media. Greenpeace activists unfolded two large banners from the bell tower of Kallio Church in Helsinki that called on the presidents to “Warm Our Hearts, Not Our Planet.” Meanwhile in Helsinki on Sunday, thousands took to the streets to demand human rights, equality and a focus on the climate. We speak with Heidi Hautala, a Finnish politician and member of the European Parliament from Finland, who addressed the protests on Sunday. She is also a member of the Green League, part of the European Green Party.

Please check back later for full transcript.

The post Mass Protests Meet Trump-Putin Summit in Helsinki appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

National Insecurity in the United States of Inequality

Mon, 07/16/2018 - 15:53

So effectively has the Beltway establishment captured the concept of national security that, for most of us, it automatically conjures up images of terrorist groups, cyber warriors, or “rogue states.”  To ward off such foes, the United States maintains a historically unprecedented constellation of military bases abroad and, since 9/11, has waged wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and elsewhere that have gobbled up nearly $4.8 trillion.  The 2018 Pentagon budget already totals $647 billion — four times what China, second in global military spending, shells out and more than the next 12 countries combined, seven of them American allies.   For good measure, Donald Trump has added an additional $200 billion to projected defense expenditures through 2019. 

Yet to hear the hawks tell it, the United States has never been less secure.  So much for bang for the buck.  

For millions of Americans, however, the greatest threat to their day-to-day security isn’t terrorism or North Korea, Iran, Russia, or China.  It’s internal — and economic.  That’s particularly true for the 12.7% of Americans (43.1 million of them) classified as poor by the government’s criteria: an income below $12,140 for a one-person household, $16,460 for a family of two, and so on… until you get to the princely sum of $42,380 for a family of eight.

Savings aren’t much help either: a third of Americans have no savings at all and another third have less than $1,000 in the bank.  Little wonder that families struggling to cover the cost of food alone increased from 11% (36 million) in 2007 to 14% (48 million) in 2014.

The Working Poor

Unemployment can certainly contribute to being poor, but millions of Americans endure poverty when they have full-time jobs or even hold down more than one job.  The latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that there are 8.6 million “working poor,” defined by the government as people who live below the poverty line despite being employed at least 27 weeks a year.  Their economic insecurity doesn’t register in our society, partly because working and being poor don’t seem to go together in the minds of many Americans — and unemployment has fallen reasonably steadily.  After approaching 10% in 2009, it’s now at only 4%

Help from the government?  Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare “reform” programconcocted in partnership with congressional Republicans, imposed time limits on government assistance, while tightening eligibility criteria for it. So, as Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer show in their disturbing book, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, many who desperately need help don’t even bother to apply.  And things will only get worse in the age of Trump.  His 2019 budget includes deep cuts in a raft of anti-poverty programs.  

Anyone seeking a visceral sense of the hardships such Americans endure should read Barbara Ehrenreich’s 2001 book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.  It’s a gripping account of what she learned when, posing as a “homemaker” with no special skills, she worked for two years in various low-wage jobs, relying solely on her earnings to support herself.  The book brims with stories about people who had jobs but, out of necessity, slept in rent-by-the-week fleabag motels, flophouses, or even in their cars, subsisting on vending machine snacks for lunch, hot dogs and instant noodles for dinner, and forgoing basic dental care or health checkups.  Those who managed to get permanent housing would choose poor, low-rent neighborhoods close to work because they often couldn’t afford a car.  To maintain even such a barebones lifestyle, many worked more than one job.

Though politicians prattle on about how times have changed for the better, Ehrenreich’s book still provides a remarkably accurate picture of America’s working poor.  Over the past decade the proportion of people who exhausted their monthly paychecks just to pay for life’s essentials actually increased from 31% to 38%.  In 2013, 71% of the families that had children and used food pantries run by Feeding America, the largest private organization helping the hungry, included at least one person who had worked during the previous year.  And in America’s big cities, chiefly because of a widening gap between rent and wages, thousands of working poor remain homeless, sleeping in shelters, on the streets, or in their vehicles, sometimes along with their families.  In New York City, no outlier when it comes to homelessness among the working poor, in a third of the families with children that use homeless shelters at least one adult held a job.

The Wages of Poverty

The working poor cluster in certain occupations.  They are salespeople in retail stores, servers or preparers of fast food, custodial staff, hotel workers, and caregivers for children or the elderly.  Many make less than $10 an hour and lack any leverage, union or otherwise, to press for raises.  In fact, the percentage of unionized workers in such jobs remains in the single digits — and in retail and food preparation, it’s under 4.5%.  That’s hardly surprising, given that private sector union membership has fallen by 50% since 1983 to only 6.7% of the workforce. 

Low-wage employers like it that way and — Walmart being the poster child for this — work diligently to make it ever harder for employees to join unions.  As a result, they rarely find themselves under any real pressure to increase wages, which, adjusted for inflation, have stood still or even decreased since the late 1970s. When employment is “at-will,” workers may be fired or the terms of their work amended on the whim of a company and without the slightest explanation. Walmart announced this year that it would hike its hourly wage to $11 and that’s welcome news.  But this had nothing to do with collective bargaining; it was a response to the drop in the unemployment rate, cash flows from the Trump tax cut for corporations (which saved Walmart as much as $2 billion), an increase in minimum wages in a number of states, and pay increases by an arch competitor, Target.  It was also accompanied by the shutdown of 63 of Walmart’s Sam’s Club stores, which meant layoffs for 10,000 workers.  In short, the balance of power almost always favors the employer, seldom the employee.

As a result, though the United States has a per-capita income of $59,500 and is among the wealthiest countries in the world, 12.7% of Americans (that’s 43.1 million people), officially are impoverished. And that’s generally considered a significant undercount.  The Census Bureau establishes the poverty rate by figuring out an annual no-frills family food budget, multiplying it by three, adjusting it for household size, and pegging it to the Consumer Price Index.  That, many economists believe, is a woefully inadequate way of estimating poverty.  Food prices haven’t risen dramatically over the past 20 years, but the cost of other necessities like medical care (especially if you lack insurance) and housing have: 10.5% and 11.8% respectively between 2013 and 2017 compared to an only 5.5% increase for food.   

Include housing and medical expenses in the equation and you get the Supplementary Poverty Measure (SPM), published by the Census Bureau since 2011.  It reveals that a larger number of Americans are poor: 14% or 45 million in 2016.  

Dismal Data

For a fuller picture of American (in)security, however, it’s necessary to delve deeper into the relevant data, starting with hourly wages, which are the way more than 58% of adult workers are paid.  The good news: only 1.8 million, or 2.3% of them, subsist at or below minimum wage.  The not-so-good news: one-third of all workers earn less than $12 an hour and 42% earn less than $15.  That’s $24,960 and $31,200 a year. Imagine raising a family on such incomes, figuring in the cost of food, rent, childcare, car payments (since a car is often a necessity simply to get to a job in a country with inadequate public transportation), and medical costs.   

The problem facing the working poor isn’t just low wages, but the widening gap between wages and rising prices.  The government has increased the hourly federal minimum wage more than 20 times since it was set at 25 cents under the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act.  Between 2007 and 2009 it rose to $7.25, but over the past decade that sum lost nearly 10% of its purchasing power to inflation, which means that, in 2018, someone would have to work 41 additional days to make the equivalent of the 2009 minimum wage.

Workers in the lowest 20% have lost the most ground, their inflation-adjusted wages falling by nearly 1% between 1979 and 2016, compared to a 24.7% increase for the top 20%.  This can’t be explained by lackluster productivity since, between 1985 and 2015, it outstripped pay raises, often substantially, in every economic sector except mining.

Yes, states can mandate higher minimum wages and 29 have, but 21 have not, leaving many low-wage workers struggling to cover the costs of two essentials in particular: health care and housing.

Even when it comes to jobs that offer health insurance, employers have been shifting ever more of its cost onto their workers through higher deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses, as well as by requiring them to cover more of the premiums.  The percentage of workers who paid at least 10% of their earnings to cover such costs — not counting premiums — doubledbetween 2003 and 2014.

This helps explain why, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 11% of workers in the bottom 10% of wage earners even enrolled in workplace healthcare plans in 2016 (compared to 72% in the top 10%). As a restaurant server who makes $2.13 an hour before tips — and whose husband earns $9 an hour at Walmart — put it, after paying the rent, “it’s either put food in the house or buy insurance.” 

The Affordable Care Act, or ACA (aka Obamacare), provided subsidies to help people with low incomes cover the cost of insurance premiums, but workers with employer-supplied healthcare, no matter how low their wages, weren’t covered by it.  Now, of course, President Trump, congressional Republicans, and a Supreme Court in which right-wing justices are going to be even more influential will be intent on poleaxing the ACA.

It’s housing, though, that takes the biggest bite out of the paychecks of low-wage workers.  The majority of them are renters.  Ownership remains for many a pipe dream.  According to a Harvard study, between 2001 and 2016, renters who made $30,000-$50,000 a year and paid more than a third of their earnings to landlords (the threshold for qualifying as “rent burdened”) increased from 37% to 50%.  For those making only $15,000, that figure rose to 83%.  

In other words, in an ever more unequal America, the number of low-income workers struggling to pay their rent has surged.  As the Harvard analysis shows, this is, in part, because the number of affluent renters (with incomes of $100,000 or more) has leapt and, in city after city, they’re driving the demand for, and building of, new rental units.  As a result, the high-end share of new rental construction soared from a third to nearly two-thirds of all units between 2001 and 2016.  Not surprisingly, new low-income rental units dropped from two-fifths to one-fifth of the total and, as the pressure on renters rose, so did rents for even those modest dwellings. On top of that, in places like New York City, where demand from the wealthy shapes the housing market, landlords have found ways — some within the law, others not — to get rid of low-income tenants.

Public housing and housing vouchers are supposed to make housing affordable to low-income households, but the supply of public housing hasn’t remotely matched demand. Consequently, waiting lists are long and people in need languish for years before getting a shot — if they ever do.  Only a quarter of those who qualify for such assistance receive it.  As for those vouchers, getting them is hard to begin with because of the massive mismatchbetween available funding for the program and the demand for the help it provides.  And then come the other challenges: finding landlords willing to accept vouchers or rentals that are reasonably close to work and not in neighborhoods euphemistically labelled “distressed.”  

The bottom line: more than 75% of “at-risk” renters (those for whom the cost of rent exceeds 30% or more of their earnings) do not receive assistance from the government.  The real “risk” for them is becoming homeless, which means relying on shelters or family and friends willing to take them in.

President Trump’s proposed budget cuts will make life even harder for low-income workers seeking affordable housing.  His 2019 budget proposal slashes $6.8 billion (14.2%) from the resources of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) by, among other things, scrapping housing vouchers and assistance to low-income families struggling to pay heating bills.  The president also seeks to slash funds for the upkeep of public housing by nearly 50%.  In addition, the deficits that his rich-come-first tax “reform” bill is virtually guaranteed to produce will undoubtedly set the stage for yet more cuts in the future.  In other words, in what’s becoming the United States of Inequality, the very phrases “low-income workers” and “affordable housing” have ceased to go together. 

None of this seems to have troubled HUD Secretary Ben Carson who happily ordered a $31,000 dining room set for his office suite at the taxpayers’ expense, even as he visited new public housing units to make sure that they weren’t too comfortable (lest the poor settle in for long stays).  Carson has declared that it’s time to stop believing the problems of this society can be fixed merely by having the government throw extra money at them — unless, apparently, the dining room accoutrements of superbureaucrats aren’t up to snuff.

Money Talks

The levels of poverty and economic inequality that prevail in America are not intrinsic to either capitalism or globalization. Most other wealthy market economies in the 36-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have done far better than the United States in reducing them without sacrificing innovation or creating government-run economies. 

Take the poverty gap, which the OECD defines as the difference between a country’s official poverty line and the average income of those who fall below it.  The United States has the second largest poverty gap among wealthy countries; only Italy does worse.

Child poverty?  In the World Economic Forum’s ranking of 41 countries — from best to worst — the US placed 35th.  Child poverty has declined in the United States since 2010, but a Columbia University report estimates that 19% of American kids (13.7 million) nevertheless lived in families with incomes below the official poverty line in 2016.  If you add in the number of kids in low-income households, that number increases to 41%.  

As for infant mortality, according to the government’s own Centers for Disease Control, the US, with 6.1 deaths per 1,000 live births, has the absolute worst record among wealthy countries. (Finland and Japan do best with 2.3.)

And when it comes to the distribution of wealth, among the OECD countries only Turkey, Chile, and Mexico do worse than the US.

It’s time to rethink the American national security state with its annual trillion-dollar budget.  For tens of millions of Americans, the source of deep workaday insecurity isn’t the standard roster of foreign enemies, but an ever-more entrenched system of inequality, still growing, that stacks the political deck against the least well-off Americans.  They lack the bucks to hire big-time lobbyists.  They can’t write lavish checks to candidates running for public office or fund PACs.  They have no way of manipulating the myriad influence-generating networks that the elite uses to shape taxation and spending policies.  They are up against a system in which money truly does talk — and that’s the voice they don’t have.  Welcome to the United States of Inequality.

The post National Insecurity in the United States of Inequality appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Why Are Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin Holding This Summit?

Mon, 07/16/2018 - 15:36

By the time you are reading this, the much anticipated (dreaded?) summit between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin will have begun. In an interview with CBS News anchor Jeff Glor on Sunday, Trump was asked about his goal for the meeting. He replied, “I’ll let you know after the meeting,” which certainly offers him plenty of room to declare it a success. Trump did say that “nothing bad” would happen, so we can all rest easy on that count.

The indictments of 12 Russian military intelligence officers on criminal hacking charges, handed down on Friday, put this entire spectacle in a different light than it was in when Trump set off for the NATO meeting in Brussels last week.  According to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Trump was aware of the coming indictments, which means that trash-talking the investigation as a “witch hunt” during his trip — and attacking first the NATO alliance and then British Prime Minister Theresa May — were all done knowing that the noose was tightening. What seemed to be an aggressive play for dominance now looks like someone acting out under tremendous stress and anxiety.

Trump’s reckless interview with Rupert Murdoch’s British tabloid the Sun, in which he insulted May for no good reason, bears out that impression. The reporter claimed that he rudely shooed away his aides who were trying to protect him from himself as he rambled on with a self-destructive rant that sounded as if he were trying to convince himself that he was in control.

In their joint press conference the next day Trump apologized to May, which was certainly unusual. Naturally he also lied and said that the newspaper hadn’t quoted him in full, claiming that he had a recording and could prove it, all they had to do was ask the press secretary. Of course the paper had already released the audio of the interview. Requests for the White House’s version have gone unanswered.

He was agitated and belligerent, and seemed confused at times. He picked fights with the press, and acted churlish about having to address the issue of Russian election interference yet again. He said he would ask Putin about it but he didn’t expect Putin to confess. There would be no “Perry Mason moment,” so there was nothing he could do.

But the president knew that special counsel Robert Mueller’s office was about to hand down an indictment that told the story in great detail. He knew that the scandal was about to shift into a higher gear.

His performance was extremely odd, even by his standards:

Trump’s last 2 attempts to discuss foreign policy have been complete and utter disasters https://t.co/LCqwmX1xq7 pic.twitter.com/Sq896OUdNn

— ThinkProgress (@thinkprogress) July 15, 2018

Pressed again on what he’d like Putin to do in Syria, Trump starts bashing Obama, and eventually gets around to praising himself.

The president is simply incapable of discussing foreign policy at any level of depth. pic.twitter.com/A8g4MFbqHI

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 13, 2018

Trump sounds tired, is struggling to read pic.twitter.com/zA3a4a9MHf

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 13, 2018

After the press conference mercilessly came to an end, the president and first lady met Queen Elizabeth. It could not have been more awkward. On one side of the TV screen, Rod Rosenstein was handing down indictments that detailed foreign intervention on behalf of Donald Trump in 2016. On the other side, Trump was acting clueless about how to behave around a 92-year-old woman, much less one accustomed to formal protocol. The whole world held its breath as he zigged and zagged in front of the queen, terrified that he might somehow knock her to the ground. It wasn’t the worst moment of the British leg of his trip, but it was certainly the weirdest.

Trump was obviously relieved to get out of there and head to his usual weekend gig doing personal appearances at his commercial properties. The Turnberry golf course in Scotland was an interesting choice. It has garnered a lot of press attention because nobody can figure out where Trump got the massive amount of cash he paid for what has become an ever-growing money pit.

He played golf and tweeted. He blamed the Obama administration for the Russian hacking. In his interview with CBS, he said:

I heard that they were trying, or people were trying, to hack into the RNC too. The Republican National Committee. But we had much better defenses. I’ve been told that by a number of people. We had much better defenses, so they couldn’t. I think the DNC should be ashamed of themselves for allowing themselves to be hacked. They had bad defenses and they were able to be hacked. But I heard they were trying to hack the Republicans too. But — and this may be wrong — but they had much stronger defenses.

The US intelligence community, the Senate Intelligence Committee and the indictments handed down last Friday all make clear that the Russian agents were helping Trump. It’s unlikely they would have felt the need to try too hard to break into the RNC for that purpose.

As for what’s going to happen now, nobody has a clue, not even John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser. He seems a little dazed and confused, which is not something we’ve seen before.

National security adviser John Bolton on whether he thinks Pres. Trump should trust Russian Pres. Putin:

“I’m the national security adviser, I’m not the national security decision-maker…He’s going to make the decision how to handle this” https://t.co/0ZJlbNSM7i #ThisWeek pic.twitter.com/r6kYhEcAQF

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) July 16, 2018

National security adviser John Bolton tells @jonkarl he finds it “hard to believe” that Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin was unaware of Russian interference in 2016 presidential election https://t.co/lcky4rNR2f #ThisWeek pic.twitter.com/Fw2Tp96ePP

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) July 16, 2018

ABC: Following Mueller’s indictment, do you have any doubt that Putin knew about the election meddling that was going on in 2016?@AmbJohnBolton: Well, when we met, Putin told me he didn’t, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ pic.twitter.com/CaQKumw08j

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 15, 2018

The single biggest unanswered question of this whole strange odyssey is this: Why are they having this summit? Trump’s meeting with Putin alone is obviously suspicious. Considering all the evidence of some sort of collusion that is already in the public domain, it seems reasonable to speculate that the president has nefarious motives. He is certainly behaving like someone with something to hide.

But he is also desperately whirling from one spectacle to another — summits, reality-show Supreme Court nominations, meetings with world leaders, rallies for the faithful. Whatever Trump did or didn’t do with Russians to get elected, it’s obvious that he has no idea how to do the job of president. He’s just putting on a show. This is how he’s gotten through his whole life, bluffing his way through, teetering on the edge of disaster, always on the brink of having everything blow up in his face. He’s dancing as fast as he can, but you can see that he’s starting to flag.

So the question isn’t what Donald Trump wants out of this summit. He will tell us afterwards that it is a great success, because as long as he’s on TV meeting with Vladimir Putin, it’s yuge. The question is what Putin wants out of this summit. He’s giving Trump his extravaganza, and he will certainly expect something in return.

The post Why Are Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin Holding This Summit? appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Secret Documents Expose Monsanto’s War on Cancer Scientists

Mon, 07/16/2018 - 15:23

DeWayne Johnson, a 46-year-old father dying of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, became the first person to face Monsanto in trial last week over allegations the company hid evidence about the cancer-causing dangers of its Roundup weedkiller. Johnson is the first of some 4,000 people suing Monsanto in state and federal courts claiming their cancers were caused by glyphosate-based Roundup. The litigation, and documents coming to light because of it, are shining light on the heavy-handed tactics Monsanto (now a subsidiary of Bayer) has used to deny cancer risk and protect the chemical that is the lynchpin of its profits.

“Monsanto was its own ghostwriter for some safety reviews,” Bloomberg reported, and an EPA official reportedly helped Monsanto “kill” another agency’s cancer study. An investigation in Le Monde details Monsanto’s effort “to destroy the United Nations’ cancer agency by any means possible” to save glyphosate.

Two recent journal articles, based on reviews of the Roundup trial discovery documents, report corporate interference in a scientific publication and a federal regulatory agency, and other examples of “poisoning the scientific well.”

“Monsanto’s ghostwriting and strong-arming threaten sound science and society,” wrote Tufts University Professor Sheldon Krimsky in a June essay. The discovery documents, he said, “uncover the corporate capture of science, which puts public health and the very foundation of democracy at risk.”

This corporate war on science has major implications for all of us, considering that half of all men in the U.S. and a third of women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in our lifetimes, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The Documents the Food Industry Doesn’t Want You to See

For years, the food and chemical industries have set their sights on one particular target in the science world: the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the independent research group that for 50 years has worked to identify cancer hazards to inform policies that can prevent cancer.

“I’ve been fighting IARC forever!!! :)” one former Kraft Foods scientist wrote to a former Syngenta scientist in an email obtained through a state open records request. “Foods and ag are under siege since Glyphosate in March 2015. We all need to gather somehow and expose IARC, as you guys did in the paper. Next priorities are all food ingredients: aspartame, sucralose, dietary iron, B-carotene, BPA, etc. IARC is killing us!”

The IARC expert panel decision to classify glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” created a rallying point for the panel’s foes to gather forces. A key Monsanto document released via litigation reveals the plan of attack: discredit the cancer scientists with the help of allies across the food industry.

Monsanto’s public relations plan assigned 20 corporate staffers to prepare for the IARC carcinogenicity report on glyphosate, with objectives including “neutralize impact,” “establish public perspective on IARC,” “regulator outreach,” “ensure MON POV” and “engage industry associations” in “outrage.”

The document identified four tiers of “industry partners” to help advance the three objectives named in the PR plan: protect the reputation of Roundup, prevent “unfounded” cancer claims from becoming popular opinion, and “provide cover for regulatory agencies” to keep allowing the use of glyphosate.

Uncovering Monsanto’s Network of “Industry Partners”

The industry partner groups Monsanto tapped to discredit the IARC scientists included the largest pesticide and food industry lobby organizations, CropLife International, BIO and the Grocery Manufacturers Association; industry-funded spin groups such as GMO Answers and the International Food Information Council; and “science-y” sounding front groups like Sense about Science, the Genetic Literacy Project and Academics Review – all using similar messaging and often referring back to each other as sources.

Documents obtained by the U.S. Right to Know investigation illuminate on how these partner groups work together to promote the “MON POV” about the safety and necessity of pesticides and GMOs.

One set of documents revealed how Monsanto’s PR operatives organized “Academics Review” as a neutral-sounding platform from which they could launch attacks against a target list of foes, including the Sierra Club, author Michael Pollan, the movie Food, Inc. and the organic industry.

The architects of Academics Review – co-founders Bruce Chassy and David Tribe, Monsanto executive Eric Sachs, former Monsanto communications director Jay Byrne, and former VP of the biotech industry trade group Val Giddings – talked openly in the emails about setting up Academics Review as a front group to promote industry interests and attract industry cash, while keeping corporate fingerprints hidden.

Even now with their playbook exposed – and their primary funding identified as coming from a trade group funded by Monsanto, Bayer, BASF, Syngenta and DowDuPont – Academics Review still claims on its website to accept donations only from “non-corporate sources.” Academics Review also claims that the “IARC glyphosate cancer review fails on multiple fronts,” in a post sourced by the industry-funded PR website GMO Answers, the industry-funded front group American Council on Science and Health, and a Forbes article by Henry Miller that was ghostwritten by Monsanto.

Miller and the Academics Review organizers Chassy, Tribe, Byrne, Sachs and Giddings are all also members of AgBioChatter, a private listserver that appeared in Monsanto’s PR plan as a tier 2 industry partner. Emails from the AgBioChatter list suggest it was used as a forum to coordinate industry allies on messaging and lobbying activities to promote GMOs and pesticides. Members included senior agrichemical industry staff, PR consultants and pro-industry academics, many of whom write for industry media platforms such as GMO Answers and Genetic Literacy Project, or play leadership roles in other Monsanto partner groups.

Genetic Literacy Project, led by longtime chemical industry PR operative Jon Entine, also partnered with Academics Review to run a series of conferences funded by the agrichemical industry to train journalists and scientists how to better promote GMOs and pesticides and argue for their deregulation. The organizers were, again, dishonest about the sources of their funding.

These groups cast themselves as honest arbiters of science even as they spread false information and level near hysterical attacks against scientists who raised concerns about the cancer risk of glyphosate.

A search for “IARC” on the Genetic Literacy Project website brings up more than 220 articles with industry messaging, maligning the cancer scientists as “anti-chemical enviros” who “lied” and “conspired to misrepresent” the health risks of glyphosate, and arguing that the global cancer agency should be defunded and abolished.

Many of the anti-IARC articles posted on that site, or pushed by other industry surrogates, ignore the many news reports based on the Monsanto Papers documenting corporate interference in the scientific research, and focus instead on the misleading reporting of Kate Kelland, a Reuters’ reporter who has close ties to the Science Media Centre, the sister organization of Sense About Science, a group Monsanto suggested in its PR plan to “lead industry response” in the media.

The battle against IARC, based on these attacks, has now reached Capitol Hill, with Congressional Republicans led by Rep. Lamar Smith investigating and trying to withhold U.S. funding from the world’s leading cancer research agency.

Who Is on the Side of Science?

Monsanto’s lobbying and messaging to discredit the IARC cancer panel is based on the argument that other agencies using risk-based assessments have exonerated glyphosate of cancer risk. But as many news outlets have reported, along with the two recent journal articles based on the Monsanto Papers, evidence is piling up that the regulatory risk assessments on glyphosate, which rely heavily on industry-provided research,  have been compromised by undisclosed conflicts of interestreliance on dubious scienceghostwritten materials and other methods of corporate strong-arming that puts public health at risk, as the Tufts Professor Sheldon Krimsky wrote.

“To protect the scientific enterprise, one of the core pillars of a modern democratic society, against the forces that would turn it into the handmaiden of industry or politics, our society must support firewalls between academic science and the corporate sectors and educate young scientists and journal editors on the moral principles behind their respective professional roles,” Krimsky wrote.

Policy makers must not allow corporate-spun science to guide decisions about cancer prevention. Media must do a better job reporting and probing into conflicts of interest behind the corporate science spin. It’s time to end the corporate war on cancer science.

The post Secret Documents Expose Monsanto’s War on Cancer Scientists appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Progressive Kevin de León Receives Endorsement From California Democrats

Mon, 07/16/2018 - 15:23

In the latest sign that many in the party are ready for new blood and a bolder, more progressive vision, the Democratic Party in California offered a stunning rebuke to the state’s senior US Senator Diane Feinstein by endorsing her primary challenger Kevin de León, the former State Senate leader from Los Angeles.

In a vote by the party’s 330-member executive body in Oakland on Saturday evening, de León received a full 65 percent of the votes, while Feinstein — who had argued with the board not to issue an endorsment — received only 7 percent. Twenty-eight percent of members chose not to vote.

“Tonight we showed the world what a truly unified Democratic Party looks like,” de León declared followig the vote. “California Democrats are leading the call for a bold agenda in Washington that puts people before politics and focuses on building a future for our state that works for everyone.”

The final results from Saturday’s party convention:

As the Los Angeles Times notes, the endorsement of de León “was an embarrassment for Feinstein, who is running for a fifth full term, and indicates that Democratic activists in California have soured on her reputation for pragmatism and deference to bipartisanship as Trump and a Republican-led Congress are attacking Democratic priorities on immigration, healthcare and environmental protections.”

Christina Bellatoni, political reporter for the Times, exclaimed:

Can’t underscore how huge this is in California politics:https://t.co/SkrKjttoNA

— Christina Bellantoni (@cbellantoni) July 15, 2018

Writing for The Intercept, California-based journalist David Dayen added: “The executive board has grown more and more progressive for a decade, since a new generation of activists secured spots in the party hierarchy. De León proved to have better relationships with party delegates than a senator who spends most of her time in Washington, and little connecting with Democratic activists back home. But the endorsement is also a resounding rejection of Feinstein’s brand of centrist politics, which simply doesn’t mesh well with the party’s most dedicated and plugged-in supporters.”

And Winnie Wong, co-founder of the People for Bernie [Sanders] group, simply pointed out just what a stunning landslide it was:

She won 7% of the vote. https://t.co/pUTXpXBAXj

— Winifred (@WaywardWinifred) July 15, 2018

The post Progressive Kevin de León Receives Endorsement From California Democrats appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Inside the Koch Family’s 60-Year Anti-Union Campaign That Gave Us “Janus”

Mon, 07/16/2018 - 15:03

With last month’s monumental Janus decision by the Supreme Court, the Koch family won a major victory in their multi-generational attack on unions.

The ruling spreads to the entire public sector one of the laws the Koch fortune first helped push through in Kansas 60 years ago: “right-to-work.” And in doing so it enshrines the union-busting agenda their fossil fuel money has helped advance for decades. 

Through a single vote, the Court’s 5-4 Janus decision reverses decades of legal precedent that had obstructed part of the Koch’s pro-corporate agenda. That vote was secured with the Kochs’ help in bankrolling efforts that include: helping to maintain a GOP Senate majority; helping the Senate block President Obama from filling the February 2016 Supreme Court vacancy; and helping to win the confirmation of right-wing corporate activist Neil Gorsuch.

Janus helps cement the nation’s highest court as the Koch Court, and Charles Koch wants to keep it that way.

As Documented first detailed in partnership with the Intercept, for months the Kochs had been investing heavily in anticipation of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the Court, which was announced on June 27, the same day as Janus. Earlier this year, the Koch group “Americans for Prosperity” (AFP) hired Sarah Field from the Koch-funded Federalist Society to spearhead its campaign to extend the Koch hold on the Court for perhaps a generation or more.

Despite claims by AFP that helping to seat Gorsuch was their “first” foray into Supreme Court nominations, the Koch effort to influence who becomes a judge and how they interpret the law goes back much further.

In fact, the Kochs have been investing in reshaping the law to suit their personal agenda for decades. For example, the Koch group Citizens for a Sound Economy, AFP’s predecessor, backed Clarence Thomas’ controversial confirmation to the Court more than 25 years ago.

The Kochs’ long-term agenda to remake the United States in their image is a multi-pronged effort that includes changing both the law and who makes or interprets the laws, including the anti-union Janus decision.

The Seeds of Janus

The effort to roll back union rights actually began almost a century ago, as wealthy industrialists objected to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, known as the Wagner Act, which enshrined the right to collective bargaining in the United States.

Many tycoons of the time, like Alfred Sloan, head of General Motors, opposed those rights along with other business reforms of FDR’s New Deal.

Fred Koch, co-founder of the corporation that later became Koch Industries, harshly criticized American workers under New Deal policies in 1938. He extolled the economic policies of Emperor Hirohito and fascists Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini:

Although nobody agrees with me, I am of the opinion that the only sound countries in the world are Germany, Italy, and Japan, simply because they are all working and working hard… The laboring people in those countries are proportionately much better off than they are any place else in the world. When you contrast the state of mind of Germany today with what it was in 1925 you begin to think that perhaps this course of idleness, feeding at the public trough, dependence on government, etc., with which we are afflicted is not permanent and can be overcome.

Only recently, through the investigative work of Jane Mayer, has the public learned that the Koch fortune was actually built in part on directly aiding Hitler by building the oil-cracking factory that became “a key component in the Nazi war machine.” As Mayer noted in her 2016 book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, that factory refined high-octane fuel needed for the Luftwaffe, which targeted, terrorized, and killed many thousands of innocent civilians. Fred Koch’s praise of Germany came after Hitler’s air bombers helped murder 136 men, women, and children in Guernica in the Basque region, a tragedy made famous by the mural painted by Pablo Picasso.  

Meanwhile, industrialists like Sloan pursued efforts to undo New Deal reforms. In 1947, Congress amended the Wagner Act with the Taft-Hartley Act. It gave states the power to pass “right-to-work” laws that undermined collective bargaining by not requiring workers who benefit from bargained rights to pay dues to the unions that secured and enforced them.

How the Kochs Fertilized “Right-to-Work”

As Mayer noted:

[Fred Koch] was an early and active member of the Wichita-based DeMille Foundation for Political Freedom, an anti-labor group [founded in 1945] that was a forerunner of the National Right to Work Defense Foundation. In a revealing private letter, one of its staff members explained the group’s ‘Astroturf’ strategy. In reality, he said, big-business industrialists would run the group, serving as its ‘anonymous quarterbacks,’ and ‘call the turns.’ But he said they needed to sell the ‘yarn’ that the group was ‘composed of housewives, farmers, small businessmen, professional people, wage earners-not big business industrialists.’ Otherwise, he admitted, the movement was ‘almost certainly doomed to failure.’

By 1954, an engineer from Wichita, Kan., Reed Larson, took a leave from his job at the Coleman Company, to launch Kansans-for-the-Right-to-Work. The following year, former Rep. Fred Hartley, Jr., (R-N.J.) co-founded the National Right to Work Committee (NRTWC). By 1958, the NRTWC was targeting six states to adopt right-to-work laws but it failed in every place, except Kansas.

“Fred [Koch] co-led a referendum drive to alter the state constitution in order to make it harder for unions to take root in Kansas,” Duke University Professor Nancy MacLean noted

On Nov. 9, 1958, the New York Times reported that right-to-work won in Kansas because anti-union views had taken hold, noting:

More campaign efforts and more money were expended on the emotion-provoking issue than on the campaigns of all Republican and Democratic state and Congressional candidates combined. … For the last 10 days or so before Election Day an organization called Kansans-for-the-Right-to-Work flooded newspapers, television channels and other advertising media with appeals to ‘vote yes.’ These by far outnumbered the ‘vote no’ advertisements of unions opposing the amending.

A month later, Fred Koch joined Robert Welch and ten other men in Indianapolis to found the extreme rightwing group dubbed the “John Birch Society” (JBS).

As the Washington Post noted in its 1961 profile of JBS:

At the top of the Society’s structure in Wichita are several very wealthy industrialists. Oil engineer Fred Koch is president of the Rock Island Oil and Refining Co. A millionaire several times over, he is on the Society’s national council. … Wichita is the John Birch Society’s center of strength in Kansas, and one of its greatest in the country. … The leadership of the Birch Society overlaps heavily with the leadership of the organizations that successfully campaigned in 1958 for a right to work amendment to the State’s Constitution.

As detailed by Group Research Inc. in its 1962 history of JBS, Koch worked with both NRTWC and the Christian Crusade in arguing against union dues like those at issue in the Janus case.

A History of Hostility

In 1959, Fred Koch joined the Executive Committee to plan the JBS strategy to push back against what it viewed as communism in nearly every American institution.

In 1960, Koch published his polemic “A Business Man Looks at Communism” and distributed it to JBS chapters across the country. That pamphlet makes a variety of hysterical claims against unions, including:

Labor Unions have long been a Communist goal. How far they have been penetrated by Communists I have no idea, but it must be very far indeed, judging the hatred and venom poured out in some labor papers….

Koch also accused the US Supreme Court under former Gov. Earl Warren (R-CA) of issuing pro-Communist decisions, the universities of having thousands of Communist professors, the United Nations of being subversive, and former GOP President Dwight Eisenhower of being soft on Communism.

Similar sentiments were expressed in numerous other publications the JBS also pushed. The organization pitched a screed against the union workers who organized against Kohler fixtures in Wisconsin. It pushed attacks on the UAW’s Walter Reuther, who was posthumously awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

It published and peddled right-wing writer Rosalie Gordon’s attack on the US Supreme Court for decisions enforcing collective bargaining rights as protecting the “labor-union monopoly,” along with what she called the “plague” of desegregation caused by Brown v. Board of Education.

The JBS also pushed reprints of tomes by Ludwig von Mises attacking unions as illegitimate intervenors in the “free market,” artificial inflators of wages for workers, and thieves of the profits of tycoons. It promoted F.A. Hayek’s vilification of government regulation of corporations as leading to fascism and Hilaire du Berrier’s conspiracy theories that American labor unions were supposedly using union dues to finance communist terrorist violence abroad.

Fred Koch’s son Charles urged visitors to the John Birch Society bookstore in Wichita to read copies of JBS pamphlets, including those by anti-labor writers from the Austrian School of Economics, like Mises.

Indeed, as the present author first documented for the Center for Media and Democracy, Charles Koch became active in JBS after returning home to Wichita to help with the family business. Charles was a leader and fundraiser for JBS, including underwriting its publications and national radio network, while it attacked collective bargaining and leaders of the civil rights movement such as the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks.  

Charles Koch in Action

Though he left JBS in 1968, Charles Koch never abandoned its core anti-union agenda and the lessons of his father’s commitment to right-to-work. He did try to shed some of the rhetoric around communist conspiracies, though of late he was painted by Koch political strategist Richard Fink as a martyr against “collectivism,” in audio obtained by the Undercurrent, which also included outlandish claims linking fascism and the minimum wage. 

It was Charles Koch’s investment in lifting up the work of Mises and Hayek, who made similar claims, that helped preserve and extend their legacy. As Stephen Moore noted in a 2006 profile on Charles for the Wall Street Journal:

The authors who have had the most profound influence on his own political philosophy include F.A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Joseph Schumpeter, Julian Simon, Paul Johnson and Charles Murray. Mr. Koch says that he experienced an intellectual epiphany in the early 1960s, when he attended a conference on free-market capitalism hosted by the late, great Leonard Reed.

Charles brought Mises to Wichita to speak and deployed F.A. “Baldy” Harper’s Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) to promote Mises and his protégé Hayek. As lauded by Reed’s Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), Hayek argued that unions violated the very idea of the “rule of law” and that the Wagner Act was central to that violation, a sentiment he promoted in numerous writings.

Charles Koch is deeply devoted to an alternative universe in which collective bargaining undermines the rule of law and is not a major cause of increased wages. Moore noted in his interview:

As we continue, Mr. Koch becomes increasingly animated. He discusses another seminal work in his collection, F.A. Harper’s 1957 Why Wages Rise. The book demonstrates ‘that wages rise not because of unions or government action, but because of marginal productivity gains — people get more money when they produce more value for other people.’ Then he confides, “I was so thrilled by this revelation that I had what Maslow called a ‘peak experience.’'”

Koch has also supported the NRTWC, which “sought to put a new face on the anti-union campaign by building its rhetoric on the arguments of Hayek, Mises, and otherswith a ‘respectable’ pedigree.” The NRTWC argues that:

Compulsory unionism itself violates the dignity of the individual worker, regardless of how the forced union tribute is spent. As the late Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedrich A. von Hayek wrote: “[T]he coercion which unions have been permitted to exercise … is primarily the coercion of fellow workers.

Deep Devotion and Investment

Hayek and Mises are not the only two virulently anti-union economists Charles Koch backed. As Nancy MacLean documented in Democracy in Chains, one of the key architects of the Koch agenda domestically and internationally, James Buchanan, also railed against the so-called “union monopolies” for distorting “free market” wages.

And, as UnKoch My Campus has detailed, Koch money has funded scores of academics to push their agenda at universities, buying control over content and personnel with restrictive dictates attached to their donations.

Many of the rightwing groups Charles Koch is known to have made a major investment in since the 1970s have pushed right-to-work or attacked collective bargaining rights. These include Reason magazine, the Cato InstituteAmericans for Prosperity, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the State Policy Network and many more.

During David Koch’s 1980 bid to become vice president, running on the ticket of Libertarian Ed Clark — which was pushed by Charles and fueled with Koch cash — the campaign platform included making right-to-work the law of the land:

[W]e urge repeal of the National Labor Relations Act, and all state Right to Work Laws, which prohibit employers from making voluntary contracts with unions. We oppose all government back-to-work orders as imposing a form of forced labor.

That is, there would be no need for state right-to-work laws if there were no NLRA that protects collective bargaining rights. As a result, right-to-work would be effectively nationalized at the determination of the employer.

After badly losing that election, the Kochs have invested heavily in changing the culture — and courts of America — to make their anti-union vision a reality.

Right-to-work is part of that vision.

Millions Spent

A leak of the Kochs’ summer retreat in 2010 revealed that they featured NRTWC leaders at their gathering of billionaires to plot plans for that year’s midterm elections.

In 2012, before most of America even knew that the Kochs had branded their billionaire conclave as “Freedom Partners,” that group injected $1 million directly into the NRTWC among the more than $200 million of its known spending that cycle.

In 2016, they focused much of their known political spending on keeping a GOP majority in the Senate, and they influenced the make-up of the US Supreme Court by helping to block Judge Merrick Garland’s confirmation.

For the 2018 election, they’ve pledged to spend more than $400 million through the Seminar Network, the latest rebranding of their network of tycoons.

To be clear, the Koch family fortune is not the only one that has been expended pushing right-to-work laws to try to weaken the power of ordinary people to negotiate through unions. A major funder of right-to-work effort has been the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, along with Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, which Mother Jones has dubbed “the ATM” of the right wing.

Collective bargaining has provided women with greater economic opportunities and job security. Right-to-work laws also have a disproportionate impact on people of color, who are union members at a higher rate than whites. Black women will likely be the group most adversely affected by the Janus case. Notably, workers in right-to-work states also have lower wages than in states that have rejected this agenda.

Undermining Progressives Too

The spread of right to work through Janus also will affect our elections.

As In These Times has documented with the Center for Media and Democracy, the national push for right-to-work is designed to undermine the power of unions and to “defang and defund” them as a way to weaken the chances for progressives to win in politics and policy.

The Koch investment in making right-to-work a national reality represents one of the longest and deepest commitments to this agenda, aside from NRTWC itself.

And this year marks the 60th anniversary of Fred Koch’s victory of making right-to-work legally binding in Kansas.

Now, six decades later, Charles Koch has helped make his father’s wish binding on the rest of America through helping to make the Janus ruling a reality.

The post Inside the Koch Family’s 60-Year Anti-Union Campaign That Gave Us “Janus” appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Corporations and Mainstream Media Trumpet the “Horrors” of Higher Wages

Mon, 07/16/2018 - 14:35

The media have treated us to an array of stories warning us of the terrible labor shortage facing the country. Some of the pieces have been general, such as this CNBC piece on the labor shortage “reaching a critical point,” or this Wall Street Journal article on wage gains “threatening profits.”

Others have been more industry-specific, such as The Washington Post’s highlighting of the trucker shortage that threatens the “prosperous economy.” Then there is this New York Times piece noting that nursing homes have trouble attracting nursing assistants at the $13.23 an hour average pay for the occupation.

It’s clear that many in the media are terrified by the prospect that as the labor market gets tighter, workers might get a larger share of the pie. Perhaps this should not be surprising when billionaires control major news outlets, but it does mean that economic reporting might be getting pretty far out of line with economic reality.

At the most basic level, if workers did see pay increases at the expense of profits, they would just be getting back some of what they have lost in this century. The after-tax profit share of national income rose by almost three full percentage points between 2000 and 2016. That would correspond to an average loss of almost $3,000 per worker per year.

But even this calculation understates the shift from wages from profits. According to new research by Gabriel Zucman, more than a third of the foreign profits of US corporations are actually profits made in US but shifted overseas to evade taxes.

Factor this profit shift into the calculation and the loss to workers is close to $4,000 per worker per year. And this is before factoring in the corporate tax cut passed last year.

In this context, the whining over higher wages seems especially pathetic. Corporations were happy to take advantage of the weak labor market, especially in the years of the Great Recession, to increase their profit share. Now they are warning of disaster if they have to give back some of their gains if the labor market continues to strengthen.

Undoubtedly, many of those complaining about the labor shortage want the Federal Reserve Board to accelerate its pace of interest rate hikes. The hope is that slower economic growth will mean fewer jobs and higher unemployment.

Others are looking for more direct help from the government. For example, Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort is looking to get permission to bring in 78 foreign workers to fill low-paying jobs such as cooks and housekeepers.

We’ll see soon enough how the battle shakes out, but the basic story should be quite clear to anyone paying attention. The increase in income inequality we have seen over the last four decades has little to do with the intrinsic dynamics of the market. It is a story of the rich rigging the rules to get all the money.

We see this again and again in different areas of public policy. After running around the country for 18 months yelling about China’s currency policy, which has cost the jobs of millions of manufacturing workers in the United States, Donald Trump has dropped currency from his list of complaints as he sets out on his trade war. Instead, we are supposed to fight China over Boeing and Pfizer’s patent fees.

The Supreme Court has decided it is a “free speech violation” if unions sign a contract requiring the workers who benefit from the union to share in the cost of maintaining the union. However, the court sees no questions of freedom at stake when fast-food companies prohibit their workers from seeking jobs with competitors.

Undoubtedly, we will see many economists doing careful research studying the causes of growing inequality. Major foundations will devote tens of millions of dollars for this work.

But there is no mystery here. The rich control the political process and they are using this control to get an ever larger share of the economic pie. Implying that there is some complex puzzle to be sorted out helps the rich in their pursuit of upward redistribution.

The post Corporations and Mainstream Media Trumpet the “Horrors” of Higher Wages appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The Limits of Green Energy Under Capitalism

Mon, 07/16/2018 - 14:14

Renewable energy is expanding rapidly all around the world. The energy capacity of newly-installed solar projects in 2017, for instance, exceeded the combined increases from coal, gas and nuclear plants. During the past eight years alone, global investment in renewables was $2.2 trillion, and optimism has soared along with investments. “Rapidly spreading solar technology could change everything,” announced a piece in the Financial Times, which also explained that, “there is growing evidence that some fundamental changes are coming that will over time put a question mark over investments in old energy systems.”

But can renewable energy grow fast enough in the market economy to pinch off the use of fossil fuels and help fend off climate catastrophe? Unfortunately, it’s not likely. Even as the percentage of global energy generation from renewables increases, so too does global energy consumption, which means that fossil fuel emissions are also increasing.

The world’s energy-related carbon emissions rose by 1.7 percent in 2017 and energy consumption grew by 2.2 percent, the fastest rate since 2013. For the past decade, primary energy consumption increased worldwide at an average rate of 1.7 percent per year. Power generation rose last year by 2.8 percent with renewable energy providing 49 percent of that increase and most of the rest (44 percent) coming from coal. Globally, oil consumption grew by 1.8 percent, natural gas by 3 percent and coal consumption increased by 1 percent. The key point is that greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels are increasing even as renewable energy use is growing.

To visualize the relationship between the growing percentage of green energy and increasing total global energy production, imagine a “dynamic energy consumption pie chart.” A growing portion of the pie represents green energy sources, so that piece of the pie is getting wider, but the radius of the pie chart also increases with time to account for the increase of global energy consumption. The pie is getting bigger and bigger while the fossil fuel slice is growing longer (which is bad) but thinner (which is good). Which process wins out? As long as fossil fuel use is not decreasing, it doesn’t matter for the climate.

People often get confused when fossil fuels and renewable energy are discussed together, but the climate only cares about the former. The latter has no effect. Solar panels, wind turbines and the like neither help nor harm the climate. The only thing that matters, in terms of climate disruption, are greenhouse gas emissions. 

It is not enough for the percentage of green energy to increase each year — unless it reaches 100 percent of global energy production very quickly. Even if the rate of greenhouse gas emissions decreases, but doesn’t decrease fast enough, we face disaster. What is required is that global greenhouse gas emissions decrease rapidly to zero by midcentury in order for the biosphere to stand a chance of survival. Unfortunately, even a rapidly increasing percentage of green energy production is unlikely to achieve that under capitalist market forces.

What About the Carbon Bubble?

Falling prices for renewable energy have led academics, activists and investors to warn of a “carbon bubble” of overvalued fossil fuel assets in the global economy, which could lead to a major capitalist crisis. A recent economic study, published in Nature Climate Change predicted that a sudden decrease in the value of fossil fuels — triggered by low renewable energy prices — would cause the carbon bubble to burst, and under the assumption of continuing trends, such an event will likely occur before 2035.

Economic crises notwithstanding, could the bursting of the carbon bubble at least prevent or significantly delay environmental collapse? Unfortunately, no. Lead author Jean-François Mercure warned, as reported by the Guardian, “that the transition was happening too slowly to stave off the worst effects of climate change. Although the trajectory towards a low-carbon economy would continue, to keep within [2 degrees Celsius] above pre-industrial levels — the limit set under the Paris agreement — would require much stronger government action and new policies.”

Capitalism or Survival

Capitalism requires perpetual economic growth in order to avoid economic crises such as the Great Depression. More specifically, in order to stave off mass unemployment and economic misery, capitalism requires increasing commodity production, escalating resource extraction, increasing trash and toxic dumping, and ever increasing energy production. Capitalism, by its very nature, must expand unendingly and it has already surpassed the limits of sustainable growth in the sense that global consumption now exceeds the planet’s bio-capacity to regenerate the resources consumed. According to the World Wildlife Fund, 1.6 Earths would be required to meet the demands humanity makes on nature each year. Capitalism is not only incapable of responding adequately to the environmental crisis, it is the very cause of the crisis and can only make matters worse.

As Richard Smith points out in Green Capitalism: The God that Failed, the scale of change needed to achieve a sustainable civilization is staggering. The rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions together with resource conservation requires that we radically reduce or close down large numbers of power plants, mines, factories, mills, processing and other industries around the world. It means drastically cutting back or closing down not only fossil fuel companies, but the industries that depend on them, including automobile, aircraft, airline, shipping, petrochemical, construction, agribusiness, lumber, pulp and paper, and wood product companies, industrial fishing operations, factory farming, junk food production, private water companies, packaging and plastic, disposable products of all sorts, and above all, the war industries. The Pentagon is the single largest institutional user of petroleum products and energy.

The loss of jobs from the de-industrialization required to save ourselves would not be just a few coal mining and oil drilling jobs but millions of jobs in the industrialized world. Mainstream environmentalists argue that the jobs versus the environment dichotomy is a false one, but they are wrong. Within a capitalist framework that is exactly the choice. What we would need to do within this framework to save the biosphere, including ourselves, would result in total economic collapse.

It is not enough just to oppose capitalism. We also need to create something better: An alternative system of human relations along the lines of eco-socialism is not only desirable, it is imperative. Included in such a vision are free health care, free education, free mass transportation, and since most jobs under capitalism are pointless or destructive, we need a drastically reduced workweek.

Polluting industries will not voluntarily shut down. To accomplish what is needed requires socializing virtually all large-scale industries. The only way to rationally reorganize the economy sustainably is to collectively and democratically plan most of the world’s industrial economies.

While all kinds of useless, wasteful and polluting industries must be eliminated, we cannot contract the entire economy. We need to expand some industries, including renewable energy, public health care, public transit, long-lasting energy efficient housing, durable mass transportation vehicles, long-lasting appliances and electronics, repair shops, public schools, public services, environmental remediation, reforestation and organic farming.

It is essential that environmental activists begin to focus on ending the economic system of capitalism itself. The survival of life on this planet depends on it.

The post The Limits of Green Energy Under Capitalism appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Global Temperature Projections Could Double as the World Burns

Mon, 07/16/2018 - 13:51

A recent mountaineering trip found two friends and myself venturing into the central Cascade Mountains of Washington State. The approach to our climb meant we had to take a ferry 40 miles up the 55-mile-long Lake Chelan to Lucerne village on its western banks, then venture up into the mountains from there.

When we returned to Lucerne after our climb to catch the ferry back, I took note of a US Forest Service sign with information about the remediation work at Holden Mine, which we’d seen nine miles up a dirt road to the trailhead we had used to begin our approach hike.

The propaganda on the sign claimed that the Holden Mine remediation was “Cleaning up the past to improve the future.” I confidently use the term “propaganda” because this is exactly what this is. The sign went on to tell of the covering up of waste rock and mill tailings, because, “Over the several past decades these piles have been exposed to rain, snowmelt and ground water creating acidic water runoff with high concentrations of aluminum, zinc, iron, cadmium and copper. The impacted runoff entered Railroad Creek and degraded water quality and aquatic habitat downstream from the site.”

After reading it, I turned around and looked at the brilliant blue waters of Lake Chelan glistening in the early afternoon sun. This lake — the third-deepest in the United States at well over 1,000 feet with several hundred feet of its deepest reaches even lower than sea level — is the primary water source for a massive amount of farming in Central Washington and hundreds of thousands of people annually use it for fishing and recreation. The lake’s water is toxic.

Lake Chelan is yet another wound that the white colonialist mentality has gouged into the Earth. But as profound as this wound is, it pales in comparison to the ongoing and worsening impacts of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD).

Two new studies investigating corn and vegetables have warned of an increasing risk of food shocks around the world, along with malnutrition, if ACD continues unchecked, which by all accounts it will, given the governmental refusal to even discuss the actions necessary for mitigation. Both studies were published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and showed how ACD will increase the risk of simultaneous crop failures across the planet’s largest corn-growing regions, as well as sapping nutrients from critical vegetables. For example, an increase of 4 degrees Celsius (4°C) — which is essentially the current trajectory we are on to reach by 2100 — could cut US corn production nearly in half. Meanwhile, the likelihood of simultaneous crop failures for the four biggest corn exporters (US, China, Brazil, Argentina) suffering yield losses of 10 percent or greater increases from 7 percent at 2°C warming to 86 percent at 4°C.

Another study warns of how ACD already poses a serious threat to the nutritional value of crops, and a lack of action could well have major global implications for both food security and global health. The same study showed that global crop yields could be reduced by nearly one-third with a 4°C temperature increase.

But the food crisis is already current, because drying wells and sinking land at the heart of the most productive farmland in the US, the Central Valley of California, are an indication that we are watching the collapse of this once bountiful area. Large portions of the San Joaquin Valley have already sunk nearly 30 feet since the 1920s, with some areas having dropped a staggering three feet over just the last two years. All of this is the result of farmers’ relentless pumping of groundwater to offset the lack of snowpack and rainfall, both of which stem largely from ACD. It is important to note that the groundwater the farmers are using accounts for between 30 to 60 percent of the water that all Californians use each year, depending on how much rain and snow the state gets. The US Geological Survey stated that the pumping and resultant sinking of the San Joaquin Valley is “one of the single largest alterations of the [planet’s] land surface attributed to mankind.”

Another sign of the dramatic changes besetting the planet comes from the Arctic, where a cyclone became one of the most powerful on record. The fact that it occurred in June was also noteworthy, as historically these storms don’t normally begin to hit the Arctic until late summer. Its impacts on what is left of the ever-shrinking sea ice are, of course, deleterious.

Another recent report illustrates how what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic. The loss of Arctic sea ice could well cook the tropics by changing critical ocean currents and altering wind patterns, which will of course cause dramatic changes across the entire planet.

Look out your window. Better yet, go outside and feel what is happening. By early July, cities across the globe set all-time-high temperature records. While no single weather event can ever be attributed solely to ACD, it has been well known for decades now that all of these phenomena are being driven in part (and most are largely driven) by ACD.

Earth

Nearly 1 billion people across South Asia are at risk of seeing their already desperate plight worsen, according to a recent World Bank Report. The report pins the cause on increasing temperatures and precipitation changes stemming from ACD, if major changes are not made to current global emission rates.

Baobab trees that live for millennia and are common throughout sub-Saharan Africa are now rapidly dying off, and scientists are pointing to ACD as the cause. A recent report showed that of the 13 oldest baobab trees, four have died in just the last dozen years, and five others are on their way out, given that they have already lost their oldest stems.

A very disconcerting study coming out of Northwestern University has warned that even slight increases in temperatures could lead to the extinction of bees across the US Southwest in the very near future. Over a two-year period, the study simulated the predicted warmer future climate, and the results are shocking: 35 percent of the bees died the first year, and 70 percent died the second year.

Adding insult to injury, another recent report warned of something we’ve known for years now: that warming temperatures could increase the spread of bark beetles, which are well-known for how effectively they decimate forests.

Meanwhile, Atlantic puffins, which were nearly decimated by hunters about a century ago, had made a comeback thanks to a protection program run by the National Audubon Society. But now, according to a recent report, they are likely on their way out again due to ACD impacts.

Water

Basic high school physics shows that as the atmosphere continues to warm, it can hold more moisture. Hence, we should expect greater severity of rain events due to ACD.

Recent events in Japan provide an example of this, where record rainfall caused flooding and landslides that have led to at least 155 deaths, with dozens still missing at the time of writing.

The flip side of this phenomenon is that there are longer periods between these rain events, which brings drought.

In the US, the Rio Grande River (the fourth-longest river in the country) is vanishing before our eyes. Authorities recently warned that the river likely won’t make it out of Colorado into New Mexico this summer, let alone further down into Texas or Mexico. This means that farmers in the already drought-prone region will be struggling with their crops through a summer of extreme drought.

Over in Iraq, ACD-fueled drought coupled with upstream countries damming the Tigris and Euphrates rivers is creating a crisis for farmers. This is causing even more of Iraq to turn into desert, and the future for farmers there is dismal.

The oceans are continuing to warm as they absorb the majority of the heat humans are generating in the atmosphere.

The giant North Pacific “blob,” a massive area of warming water that occurred from 2014-16, is still having major impacts on Alaskan fisheries. That state’s famous Copper River red salmon are currently in decline, and a dismal salmon run forced the state to carry out an “unprecedented” shutdown of fishing at a popular dip netting area there.

To make matters worse, Alaska also had to shut down several king salmon fishing areas in the Susitna Valley — one of the main reasons again being the ACD-fueled “blob.”

Warming waters in the Gulf of Mexico are causing fish there to change their geographic distribution, a phenomenon happening around the world that has been mentioned in several other climate dispatches.

A fascinating study was recently published showing that, regarding sea level rise, rising bedrock below the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could actually slow down what was expected to be a catastrophic collapse of that ice sheet. The study revealed how as the ice melts, it releases its weight load from the bedrock, which then rises. Projections show that this could rise by as much as eight meters in the coming century, which could potentially protect the ice from the warm seawater that has been melting it from below. The author of the study said that this could buy the world a few extra decades to prepare for what is still eventually to come with sea level rise.

However, a significant amount of sea level rise is already set in motion, given thermal expansion of ocean waters, ongoing melting in Greenland and the rest of the cryosphere, and other factors.

Case in point: Watch a four-mile-long iceberg carve off the Helheim Glacier in late June; an event where half-mile-high columns of ice broke free and spun onto their backs, releasing 10 billion tons of ice into the ocean.

A recently released study shows that coral reefs “will be overwhelmed by rising oceans,” given that they cannot grow fast enough to keep up with rising sea levels. Reefs only grow in certain water depths, so as waters rise, the coral simply cannot cope.

In Bangladesh, ongoing rising sea levels coupled with recurrent flooding is causing an increase in homelessness, and now a recent report shows that growing unpredictability of shifting rainfall patterns is further complicating the people’s plight.

Another report on the ramifications of sea level rise in the US warned that more than 150,000 homes and businesses could face more frequent high tide flooding within 15 years, and the number of homes and businesses impacted by this could well double by 2045. It is worth noting that these projections are not based on worst-case sea level rise estimates, which have thus far themselves not been keeping pace with reality.

The same report warned that Charleston, South Carolina, is one of the riskier places to live on the coast in the Southeast, as within the next three decades, as many as 8,000 homes in Charleston County could flood at least 26 times if seas rise just two feet. Also singled out in the report was Texas, where more than 5,500 homes along coastal areas of that state could be flooded by rising sea levels by 2030.

As a harbinger of further planetary warming, a recent study showed that the Barents Sea in the Arctic Ocean is continuing to warm dramatically, which means it could soon transition from being a cold Arctic area to a warmer Atlantic-dominated climate regime, hence shifting the climate for the entire region, with global implications. The study showed that the Barents Sea is likely on track to become ice-free year round in the near future.

Fire

Summer is now in full swing, and so is fire season along with record temperatures.

Wildfires have been blazing across the Western US for weeks now. By July 4, thousands of people had already been forced to evacuate from their homes due to encroaching fires, as more than 60 large, active fires were present, mostly across the already drought-ridden Western states. Colorado had already had its third-largest fire in its history, which was still expanding beyond the already 147 square miles it had burned, roughly 200 miles southwest of Denver.

Also in early July, someone in the Rocky Mountains described a “tsunami” of flames, and one of the fires burning in the Rockies had already burned an area larger than the city limits of Denver and was only 5 percent contained.

Wildfires in California this summer have already scorched more than two times the five-year average of land burned this year, and that is only as of July 1.

Things are so bad across the Western US that officials have opted for a rare shutting down of national forests. This is due to widespread “exceptional” drought, record warm temperatures and the high danger of more fires. Thus far, national forests and parks in New Mexico and Arizona have been shut down, along with the San Juan National Forest in southwestern Colorado.

Air

For most of you reading this dispatch, you don’t need science to tell you how much warmer it is outside than it used to be. One look at these global heat maps from early July showing temperature departures from normal tell the story.

A major heat wave swept across most of the US, setting records across the country, while in China, a heat wave torched Shanghai, Beijing and other cities, forcing the country to speed up its natural gas imports to meet energy demand to run air conditioners. Around that time, the UK recorded the hottest temperatures it has ever recorded for June, while in Scotland, the roof of the Glasgow Science Centre got so hot it began to ooze tar as portions of the structure literally began to melt.

In Alaska, just before July 4, Anchorage set a new heat record when the city saw 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

At least 33 people died from the heat across southern Quebec in Canada as the province baked under extreme temperatures, causing Montreal to open pools and air conditioned spaces to the general public in hopes of preventing more deaths.

Across the US, the number of summer days with above normal temperatures has been trending upward, with 92 percent of the 244 cities analyzed in a recent study having more summer days with above-normal temperatures than half a century earlier.

Denial and Reality

As usual, the denialism in the fossil-fuel-funded GOP is on parade.

Four Republican senators recently called to halt funding for an ACD education program, calling the program “propaganda.”

Swerving back into reality, a recent study dispelled, again, the myth about natural gas being a “clean” energy source. The report showed that natural gas could warm the planet as much as coal does, in the short term. “That’s because its main ingredient, the potent greenhouse gas methane, has been leaking from oil and gas facilities at far higher rates than governmental regulators claim,” an article in Science said of the study. “A new study finds that in the United States, such leaks have nearly doubled the climate impact of natural gas, causing warming on par with carbon dioxide (CO2)-emitting coal plants for 2 decades. (Methane doesn’t persist in the atmosphere as long as CO2 does, but while it does, its warming effect is much stronger.)”

You know things are really bad when even the pope is warning that unless governments take ACD seriously, Earth will be nothing more than “rubble” and “refuse.”

To underscore everything in this month’s dispatch, an international team of researchers from 17 countries recently published their findings in Nature Geoscience, which showed that global temperatures could eventually double those that have been predicted by climate modeling. According to their findings, sea levels could rise by six meters or more, even if the world meets the 2°C maximum temperature rise level set by the Paris climate agreement.

The post Global Temperature Projections Could Double as the World Burns appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Amendment in Farm Bill Bans People With Drug Convictions From Hemp Industry

Sun, 07/15/2018 - 16:11

A hemp legalization amendment in the 2018 Farm Bill prevents anyone with a felony drug conviction from growing hemp.

Some existing hemp entrepreneurs could even find themselves shut out.

“I have a very successful business, I’ve been in this from the get go,” said Veronica Carpio, an experienced hemp producer and president of Grow Hemp Colorado, at a hemp conference in New York last month.

Despite her undeniable contributions to the industry, a past felony cannabis conviction endangers her continued involvement. “If this bill passes, I’m out.”

At issue is part of the Senate version of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, also known as the 2018 Farm Bill, which would legalize industrial hemp growing across the country. Sen. Mitch McConnell spearheaded the current effort to legalize industrial hemp and his “Hemp Farming Act of 2018” soon picked up bipartisan sponsorship. However, the hemp legalization amendment, unlike the original bill, bans anyone convicted of a drug-related felony from involvement in hemp growing and potentially other aspects of the industry.

Felony Ban Divides Hemp Advocates Over Legalization Amendment

No other crop grown in the US faces these kinds of restrictions. While most hemp advocates celebrated McConnell’s initial efforts to legalize hemp, they’re much more divided over this new clause. Multiple hemp experts we spoke with speculated that the Senate changed the language to appease conservative elements of the legislature and the Department of Justice.

The House version of the bill does not include hemp legalization. Legislators must now debate this and other differences in a conference committee before the Farm Bill passes to the President’s desk. Hemp supporters like Rick Trojan, vice president of the Hemp Industries Association, worry that even if it passes the amendment will create an unequal and unfair hemp industry.

“Excluding a whole class of people is not what I’m about,” Trojan said. “And not what I think the hemp industry is about.”

Hemp Legalization Amendment Could Shut Out Hemp Entrepreneurs

The United States partially re-legalized hemp through an amendment to the 2014 version of the Farm Bill. Under this previous hemp legalization amendment, states were free to create hemp research programs that included market research (sales of hemp products like CBD). Since then growers in Colorado, Carpio’s home base, made the state into the country’s top hemp producer.

The 2018 legalization amendment places hemp under the control of the Department of Agriculture. The department would approve each state or Native American tribe’s growing program. But the following clause would shut out thousands of people like Carpio from being part of these licensed programs:

FELONY.—Any person convicted of a felony relating to a controlled substance under State or Federal law shall be ineligible—

(i) to participate in the program established under this section; and

(ii) to produce hemp under any regulations or guidelines issued under section 297D(a).

The full scope of the effects of this clause are unclear. According to Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, the amendment bans anyone with a felony drug conviction from hemp growing. He could not guarantee that it won’t interfere with other parts of the industry.

“We were disappointed to see that got added to the language,” Steenstra said. “That’s not something we were happy about.”

Racism in Hemp Legalization Amendment?

“Just because you had a conviction for a drug-related felony doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t be in the industry,” said Steenstra.

Advocates argue that cannabis is harmless and extremely beneficial. If the US is in the process of legalizing hemp, why should past convictions prevent you from participating in the field? In fact, such people likely have skills in growing and production the hemp industry sorely needs.

“That is a way of intentionally slowing the growth of an industry,” Trojan suggested.

Trojan and Carpio were unflinching in their condemnation of the clause in the hemp legalization amendment, suggesting it perpetuates racist aspects of the war on drugs. Although all races use and sell drugs and mind-altering substances at about the same rate, drug convictions disproportionately affect people of color.

“We denounce racism and discrimination in the cannabis (both hemp and marijuana) industries and this new language needs to be challenged and removed,” Carpio wrote in a press release.

Opponents of the war on drugs are working to legalize cannabis and other substances while concurrently seeking to change laws to enable people with drug convictions to expunge their criminal records. Carpio said the felony ban in the hemp legalization amendment represents a significant setback to those efforts by excluding thousands of already vulnerable people from the earning potential of hemp. Even though most states are in the process of legalizing cannabis, most of the people excluded from the hemp industry are likely to be those with cannabis-related convictions. Statistics show police arrest more people for cannabis use than for all violent crimes combined.

Can the Hemp Legalization Amendment Be Changed in Time?

Steenstra suggested it would be tough to change the hemp legalization amendment. He expects hemp legalization to pass in its current form.

“At this point, what are we going to do?” Steenstra asked, though he pledged to look for opportunities to change the amendment.

Joy Beckerman, president of the Hemp Industries Association, concurred.

 

“There is no such thing as legislation that doesn’t have concerns or flaws, unfortunately,” said Beckerman.

She appeared at the same New York hemp conference where Carpio spoke. “I would love to be able to go from prohibition to utopia but sadly that is just not the way things work.”

Trojan, on the other hand, strongly encouraged hemp supporters to keep fighting.

“Everyone needs to contact their legislator,” he said said. “Continue to push for equal access to this economic boon.”

The post Amendment in Farm Bill Bans People With Drug Convictions From Hemp Industry appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The Kavanaugh Nomination and Labor

Sun, 07/15/2018 - 16:03

Last week, President Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court.  Kavanaugh currently serves as a judge on the United States Appeals Court for the District of Columbia Circuit. He was nominated to the DC Circuit by President George Bush in 2003 but was not confirmed until 2006.  Prior to coming to the bench, Kavanaugh held a number of positions that brought him into the partisan fray, including serving on Ken Starr’s Whitewater Special Counsel team, working for President Bush on the Florida recount, and serving in the Bush White House as the staff secretary.  He clerked for Justice Kennedy, overlapping with Justice Gorsuch’s tenure in Kennedy’s chambers.  He attended Yale University for both college and law school. Kavanaugh’s nomination was met with swift and strong opposition from the labor movement. AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka described Kavanaugh as having a “dangerous track record protecting the privileges of the wealthy and powerful at the expense of working people.”  SEIU tweeted that “confirming Kavanaugh would tip the scales of justice against working people.”

Opposition to the nomination by the labor movement is no surprise.  Kavanaugh’s record demonstrates consistent support for the interests of employers and a lack of concern for the interests of workers and the government agencies that come to the DC Circuit to protect workers’ rights.  Below, I will provide an overview of his record and attempt to make the case that his record reflects a sustained and, at times, aggressive hostility to the role of the law in protecting the vulnerable and less powerful.

An appropriate starting point in conveying the character of his record is his dissent in Agri Processor Co., Inc. v. NLRB.  There, the majority held that the employer had a duty to bargain with its employees, despite the fact that many of the employees were undocumented workers. The majority relied on the Supreme Court’s holdings in Hoffman Plastic Compounds and Sure-Tan that undocumented workers were “employees” covered by the NLRA.  Despite the Supreme Court’s decision in Hoffman, Kavanaugh dissented, denying that either Hoffman or Sure-Tan resolved the question of the Act’s coverage for undocumented workers.  The majority held that the argument offered by the employer and supported by Kavanaugh “ignores both the Act’s plain language and binding Supreme Court precedent.”

The Agri Processor dissent is significant for a number of reasons.  First, it reflects a broader trend in Kavanaugh’s record of being unsympathetic to the plight of immigrants.  The National Immigration Law Center cautioned that “Kavanaugh’s legal writings and recent dissents speak for themselves: he thinks immigrant communities should be Constitution-free zones . . . .”  I would note too that while the Agri Processor majority refers to the workers at issue in the case as “undocumented workers” or “aliens without work authorization,” Kavanaugh adopts the label reviled by advocates for immigrants, “illegal immigrant workers.” Second, as discussed in greater detail below, his dissent reflects a willingness to write groups of workers completely out of basic labor standards – here all undocumented workers out of the basic right to engage in collective bargaining.

Finally, and in some ways most important, the Agri Processor dissent raises serious questions about Kavanaugh’s respect for precedent.  Sitting as a court of appeals judge in Agri Processor, Kavanaugh was bound to follow the Supreme Court’s holding in Hoffman Plastic.  His view that this decision left open the question of whether undocumented workers were “employees” under the Act runs counter to a stark fact about Hoffman. In Hoffman, the Supreme Court holds that undocumented workers are not entitled to back pay awards under the National Labor Relations Act. But the Court also explicitly holds that other remedies are available when an employer violates the NLRA rights of an undocumented worker. As the Supreme Court put it in Hoffman, “[l]ack of authority to award backpay does not mean that the employer gets off scot-free.” Indeed, the Hoffman Court goes on to hold that the employer “will be subject to contempt proceedings should it fail to comply with these orders,” and that such remedies – including contempt sanctions – are “sufficient to effectuate national labor policy.” Of course, if undocumented workers are not employees, there would be no remedies available in a case like Hoffman. The fact that the Supreme Court goes out of its way to affirm that remedies are available in cases involving undocumented workers – and writing that such remedies effectuate national labor policy – is simply inconsistent with a holding that undocumented workers are not employees. That Kavanaugh would have held as much as a court of appeals judge raises questions about how as a Justice he would treat controlling precedent with which he disagrees.

Looking more broadly at Kavanaugh’s record reinforces the themes present in the Agri Processor dissent. In his 12 years on the bench, Kavanaugh frequently sided with employers in the numerous NLRB cases that came before him, including in several high profile cases. For example:

  • In NLRB v. CNN America Inc., when CNN brought approximately 300 union-presented technical positions in-house after having contracted out those positions for many years, Kavanaugh joined the majority in finding that CNN was not a joint employer with contractor, but dissented from the finding that CNN was a successor employer. Kavanaugh’s position would have completely absolved CNN of any liability for failing to abide by the collective bargaining agreement.
  • In Southern New England Telephone Co. v. NLRB, Kavanaugh wrote the majority opinion allowing the employer to prohibit workers from wearing pro-union t-shirts when dealing with customers. He began his opinion by accusing the NLRB of lacking “common sense.”
  • In Verizon New England v. NLRB, Kavanaugh again wrote a majority opinion rejecting protection for employees who expressed pro-union sentiments during a labor dispute. Kavanaugh held that Verizon could prohibit workers from displaying pro-CWA signs in their cars parked on Verizon’s property and in view of the public. The majority held that the collective bargaining agreement’s waiver of the right to picket encompassed a waiver of the right to display the signs.
  • In Venetian Casino Resort v. NLRB, Kavanaugh wrote the majority opinion reversing the Board’s decision that the Venetian violated the Act when it called the police to remove union demonstrators who were trying to organize the Venetian’s workers. The majority held that the Venetian’s call to the police constituted a petition to the government, shielded from liability by the First Amendment by the Noerr-Pennington doctrine.

What stands out about Kavanaugh’s record in labor cases is not just his consistency in ruling for employers over workers, but the seemingly unnecessary positions he sometimes takes when doing so.  Below is an overview of those cases – in addition to Agri Processor — that demonstrate Kavanaugh’s more anti-worker/pro-employer tendencies:

  • In American Federation of Government Employees v. Gates, the court reviewed regulations issued by the Bush Administration’s Department of Defense implementing a statute that gave DOD the authority to temporarily impose a new labor management system for DOD’s career employees. Kavanaugh’s majority opinion held that the Secretary of Defense was empowered to abolish collective bargaining altogether. As the dissent points out, Kavanaugh reached this conclusion despite the fact that: (1) the authorizing statute explicitly stated that DOD was required to “ensure that employees may . . . bargain collectively,” and (2) DOD did not even argue to the court that it had the authority to abolish collective bargaining – instead DOD argued for flexibility in creating the new system.
  • In Miller v. Clinton, Kavanaugh argued to remove a group of employees from the protection of the anti-discrimination statutes. In that case, the State Department conceded that it had fired a worker employed abroad expressly because of his age – imposing mandatory retirement for employees who reached sixty-five. The majority rejected the State Department’s position.  Kavanaugh dissented, holding that the State Department was free to impose a mandatory retirement age.  The majority noted – and Kavanaugh did not disagree – that Kavanaugh’s position would free the State Department from “any statutory bar against terminating an employee like Miller solely on account of his disability or race or religion or sex.”  Kavanaugh argued that workers’ rights under constitution were sufficient to protect them from discrimination on the basis of race, sex and religion, even as he conceded that they would be entitled only to equitable remedies without the protection of the federal anti-discrimination statutes and have no protection from age discrimination.
  • Seaworld of Fla., LLC v. Perez involved the death of a worker who trained killer whales who performed for the public at the theme park. One of the performing whales dragged the trainer under the water and drowned her during a performance. The record showed that killer whales at Seaworld had killed three trainers previously.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration had found that Sea World failed to take the necessary steps to protect trainers from the known hazard posed by close contact between trainers and killer whales. The majority agreed that ample evidence supported OSHA’s citation.  Kavanaugh dissented, questioning the basic premise of OSHA’s mission to determine appropriate levels of risk for workers.  He accused OSHA of “paternalistically” deciding whether entertainers must be protected from themselves.  Instead, he argued, employers – at least those who provide public entertainment – should be free from addressing known risks for their workers and workers should decide whether they think the risks are worth undertaking. He argued that the majority’s decision would lay a foundation for OSHA outlawing NASCAR races and NFL games.

Labor unions and their progressive allies already have pledged to wage a fierce campaign against Kavanaugh’s confirmation.  As many of the headlines about the nomination note Kavanaugh’s strong pro-business stance (see here and here and here), we should expect that much of the debate over confirmation will focus not only on abortion and LBGTQ rights, but also on labor and employment issues.

This piece was originally published by On Labor.

The post The Kavanaugh Nomination and Labor appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The Importance of Being Uncivil

Sun, 07/15/2018 - 15:10

Some years ago when the top administrator at my university passed me in a hallway and, smiling, said hello, I replied, “Don’t expect civility from me.”

My breach of academic decorum was as startling to me in that moment as it was to the colleagues who witnessed it. But even more startling was that I was expected to bid this administrator — whose financial scandals and excesses were paid for with staff layoffs and the cancellation of retiree health care — a good morning.

It’s no surprise, then, that I cheered the staff of the Red Hen restaurant in Virginia for refusing White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders a place at their tables. I likewise applauded the protesters whose chants of “If kids don’t eat in peace, you don’t eat in peace” drove Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen from a high-end Mexican restaurant.

Amid the horrors of a president and his very own Aunt Lydias caging children and jailing their parents, I also find hope in resistance-defending op-eds like Sarah Leonard’s “Against Civility: You Can’t Fight Injustice with Decorum” and Gary Younge’s “Donald Trump’s Enforcers Have Lost the Right to Civil Courtesy” that crack open the threat to democracy posed by the elevation of manners over justice.

It’s high time we took W.H. Auden’s upside-down adage “If you would civil your land, first civil your speech,” and put it back on its feet: No civility in our speech so long as the incivilities of internment camps, travel bans, police murder and more rule our land.

* * *

Here, though, I also want to probe just why it is that wherever there is resistance to social injustice, civility enforcement clicks into top gear — and does so not only to prescribe politeness and restraint, but to change the subject altogether.

Consider: When the U.S. Congress passed its 1836 gag rule, banning any debate of slavery and abolition on the House and Senate floors, its proponents attempted to redefine the fundamental problem — and the fundamental peril to democracy — from slavery to incivility.

A little more than a century later, as historian William Chaffe details in Civilities and Civil Rights, white progressives in Greensboro, North Carolina, placed such a premium on being open to “discussion” about school desegregation that they crowned tolerance, not racial integration and justice, as a democracy’s highest ideal.

And just a few years ago, when students marched at the University of Missouri, former President Barack Obama proclaimed that the crisis on college campuses wasn’t racism and rape culture, but “an unwillingness to hear other points of view.”

Like the “white moderates” Martin Luther King Jr. despaired of in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” such champions of civility are “more devoted to order than to justice,” favoring a “negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

But why such devotion? And what exactly is so threatening about the tension created when restaurant workers withhold their labor from the White House’s apologist-in-chief or when students unite against separate and unequal education at a plantation-style university like Mizzou?

The answer can be found once we grasp that under capitalism, civility codes function not to facilitate and expand democracy but to enforce its strict limits. “[V]ast areas of our daily lives,” Ellen Meiksins Wood points out in Democracy Against Capitalism, “are not subject to democratic accountability but governed by the powers of property and the ‘laws’ of the market, the imperatives of profit maximization.”

Negative peace — freedom from what Wood sums up as “rule by the demos” — is essential to capitalism’s ability to divide, control and exploit the multiracial, multigendered working-class majority. The tension created by even the most seemingly peaceful forms of protest against exploitation and oppression stems from the disturbance of this negative peace.

* * *

It is hard to imagine, for instance, a more restrained scene than that which took place last month in the Red Hen restaurant: Owner Stephanie Wilkinson quietly informing Sanders of her staff’s decision not to serve her, inviting the rest of the party to remain and declining to present them with a bill for the cheese plates they’d already consumed.

But the danger of this moment to the existing social order is found not in tone, but in content. By polling her employees and honoring their democratic decision not to serve Sanders, Wilkinson transgressed two boundaries on which capitalist social relations depend: the market should operate free and amorally; and the workplace must remain a realm free from workers’ democratic decision-making and control.

When subordinated and oppressed groups encroach upon the rights of profit and the unjust social institutions designed to safeguard those rights, they suggest the possibility — the threat — of rule by the demos.

A vast coercive apparatus exists to curtail such threats, from the Black Codes and Jim Crow laws borne of the post-Civil War danger of Black and white workers and sharecroppers organizing together, to 21st-century restrictions on speech, assembly and union rights.

But as Leon Trotsky pointed out in his classic pamphlet Their Morals and Ours, a society that “pursues the idea of the ‘greatest possible happiness’ not for the majority, but for a small and ever diminishing minority…could not have endured for even a week through force alone.”

To manage the conflict between capitalism and democracy, society “needs the cement of morality,” of which the norms of civility — turning the other cheek, taking the high road, hospitably entertaining all viewpoints and so forth — are a part. Through “official morality,” Trotsky argued, “the ruling class forces its ends upon society and habituates it into considering all those means which contradict its ends as immoral.”

This enforcement of official morality and civil manners doesn’t come from the ruling class alone.

Relied upon are legions of “petty bourgeois moralizers” — the liberal moderates who, in Trotsky’s time, shuddered at the idea of siding with the Spanish proletariat in armed struggle against the rise of Franco and fascism, and who today equate upsetting Trump White House officials trying to dine in upscale restaurants with state-sanctioned abuse of African Americans seated at Woolworth’s lunch counters.

* * *

A case in point of middle-class moderates enlisted by capital to denounce an overwhelmingly peaceful and highly organized democratic upsurge can be found in the response of Progressive-era reformers to the 1912 Bread and Roses strike.

Today, that strike is celebrated as an example of mass nonviolent resistance against dehumanizing Gilded Age excess. But when the mill workers of Lawrence, Massachusetts, shut down their looms, the era’s chief reformers chastised them for, as Edward Devine put it, threatening “the fundamental idea of law and order” through the “violence” of refusing to work.

The workers had “traded oceans of sympathy” for “an ounce of working-class revolt,” mourned Walter Weyl. He did so in an issue of the Settlement Movement’s publication The Survey, which largely condemned the strike, with its inspiring singing picket lines and efficient worker-run kitchens, as a “riot of confusion,” even though the strike won some of the very improvements these middle-class reformers claimed to champion.

Of course, the mill owners should rethink their “work and starve” terms of work, opined Theodore Roosevelt in another leading progressive journal, The Outlook. But workers must also “understand and sympathize with management.”

Similarly, reformer Jane Addams offered in her still widely taught essay “A Modern Lear” (written after the Pullman Strike of 1894, but first published in a 1912 Bread and Roses strike issue of The Survey) an allegorical reading of class struggle, with owners and workers represented as father and daughters neglecting their duties to each other.

The largely female and immigrant workforce of Lawrence had pushed to make the conditions of mill and home public and subject to worker-led democratic accountability. Addams’ essay, conversely, served as an argument for leave-it-to-the-family, up-to-the-father privatization — the workplace, like a patriarchal family, a realm too sacred for public scrutiny and democratic interference.

In the case of Bread and Roses, coercion — including a troop of Harvard students excused from class and equipped with lethal bayonets for strike suppression — failed. But the moralizing of Devine, Weyl, Addams and others provided cover as the ruling class regrouped to undo the mill workers’ gains.

Like the white moderates King called out in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” the allegiance of these reformers was to order, not to justice. Further, they made no distinction between “peaceful” and “violent” means used against that order.

For example, Wellesley professor Vida Scudder delivered a measured and moderate speech defending the strikers — and nearly lost her job for it.

What was so dangerous about this “singing” strike? By “folding their hands” and withholding their labor, warned John Graham Brooks in his Survey contribution “The Shadow of Anarchy,” the Lawrence mill workers revealed “an inveterate hostility to society as it now exists.”

On this point, Brooks and other enforcers of official morality are exactly right. The Lawrence workers were indeed hostile to (or at least had no illusions about) the civil institutions of their society — for instance, the state’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, whose director praised the police for clubbing children attempting to leave the strike zone — aligned against them.

* * *

Today’s protesters are hostile to a so-called justice system that upholds racist travel bans and lets killer cops walk free. The teachers of the Red for Ed strike wave have unleashed in presumed Trump country deep hostility to the legislatures defunding public education and the vast moneyed interests they serve.

And although my refusal to say “Good morning” to the contemporary university’s version of the Gilded Age’s robber baron was not a large (or particularly effective or strategic) act of resistance, it too revealed my hostility toward the idea of carrying out university business as usual while the university’s administrators were in the business of laying off workers.

“There is,” argued Trotsky, “no impervious demarcation between ‘peaceful’ class struggle and revolution. Every strike embodies in an unexpanded form all the elements of civil war.”

Mass strikes, mass social justice protests and other forms of resistance to exploitation and oppression all contain the elements of civil war — and are predictably and repetitively denounced as uncivil, immoral and extreme — because they suggest the possibility of dissolving the glue that binds the ideals of democracy to the rapacious, undemocratic practices of capitalism.

More, they suggest the glue of solidarity on which a genuinely democratic society might be realized. “It was the spirit of the strikers that seemed dangerous,” wrote left labor journalist Mary Heaton Vorse about the Bread and Roses strike. “They were confident, gay, released and they sang.”

Across the mill workers’ dozens of nationalities and national languages, Vorse reflected, “[h]armony, not disorder, was being established…a collective harmony.”

As Vorse makes clear, hostility to society as it now exists doesn’t mean that social justice activists show terms like understanding, patience and even compromise the door. Mass social movements depend on mass cooperation — on the exploited and oppressed creating, however tenuously and imperfectly, the plane of equality that is otherwise denied under capitalism.

Whatever their form, whatever their tone, such movements will also always be denounced in official circles as dangerous because, above all, they advance what Trotsky called a “revolutionary morality,” one that “[p]rimarily and irreconcilably…rejects servility in relation to the bourgeoisie and haughtiness in relation to the toilers.”

* * *

I caught a glimpse of such “collective harmony” and “revolutionary morality” — and witnessed the inveterate hostility of ruling powers against it — some years ago when students on my campus organized a large tent-city demonstration against the poverty wages paid to custodial and cafeteria workers and the denial of health care coverage to construction workers building a new student center.

On what turned out to be the tent city’s final night, the students invited faculty and staff to a potluck, and for the hour or two that we shared a meal — and shared meal preparation and cleanup, too — we experienced a university freed from relations of servility and haughtiness.

That night, staff and faculty returning to their homes and students retiring to their tents, the same administrator I later refused to greet called for police paddy wagons to descend on the green and round up the students. And no wonder.

While this tent-city potluck wasn’t a revolution, it suspended the decorum and deference that ordinarily rule academic life. It enabled students, staff and faculty to explore solidarity bonds that could mount a real resistance to university business as usual.

By civiling the campus green, these students were raising the possibility of genuine democracy — the genuine democracy that capitalism will oppose with civility when it can and coercion when it must.

The post The Importance of Being Uncivil appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

With Anti-China Protectionism, the Left Is Aiding Trump’s Xenophobic Agenda

Sun, 07/15/2018 - 15:04

Because China is increasingly seen as a threat to U.S. global hegemony, anti-China nationalism is on the rise in American politics. Late last summer, Steve Bannon spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations and discovered—much to his surprise—that his hawkish approach to China had gone mainstream. Early this year, Defense Secretary James Mattis, who is in what passes as the moderate faction in the Donald Trump White House, released the 2018 National Defense Strategy, stating that “Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.” China leads the list of “strategic competitors” cited by the Department of Defense. In May, Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei warned at Axios that “China is the greatest, growing threat to America” and suggested that “a smart politician could turn China into a unifying villain on virtually every topic.” Earlier this month, the pundit Matt Yglesias appeared to agree, tweeting, “I’m sort of coming around to the view that anti-China politics could be the unifying national project we need.”

This mounting anti-China nationalism is bringing the United States to the brink of a potentially disastrous trade war between the world’s two largest economies, with bipartisan support. The Trump administration, after months of threatening a trade war with China, imposed tariffs on $34 billion of imports from China last Friday, and threatened to extend this to cover all $500 billion of imports.

This emerging trade war with China will lead to job loss in the U.S. agriculture, oil and auto industries that are concentrated in counties that voted for Trump. This is a tremendous opportunity for Democrats to attack the tariffs in order to split Trump’s base among business leaders and blue-collar workers, but they show no sign of doing so. To the contrary, Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), the top Democrat in the Senate, responded with strong approval when the first round of tariffs were originally announced, tweeting on June 15 that the president’s actions on China are “on the money.” So far, Democrats have saved their sharpest criticism of Trump’s approach to China for when he called for an ease of sanctions on Chinese telecom giant ZTE in order to save it from going out of business entirely, an act which Democrats from both centrist and progressive wings of the party saw as too lenient. In other words, top Democrats are competing with Trump to see who can be the most hawkish anti-China nationalist.

The  official justification for the tariffs centers on accusations of intellectual property theft, yet the leaders of the two parties are not pausing to evaluate the strength of the theft accusations. Some commentators are raising objections, including Yale’s Stephen Roach, who has argued that the Trump administration’s case is flawed and comes out of a “scapegoat mentality.” But these arguments are beside the point. The official case does not need to be logical in order to be politically effective, if it is just a political tool in the service of already agreed-upon goals.

Leaders in both parties share the fundamental goal of halting China’s rise relative to the United States as an economic power and, in particular, as a leader in global tech industries. Neither party seems to be grappling with the fact that this is something that the Chinese government has little choice but to maintain its economic growth and rise up the value chain from lower-productivity manufacturing to tech industries, which is the government’s only hope of delivering poverty reduction and continued upward mobility to the Chinese people. This is the regime’s side of an “unwritten contract” with its populace, without which it is at risk of losing popular legitimacy. It is therefore unreasonable and futile to expect the Chinese government to agree to measures that would slow China’s rise in the global economy or the global tech sector. U.S. political leaders have adopted a goal to contain China’s rise that will demand escalating conflict with China.

Anti-Chinese Racial Profiling on the Rise

These political efforts to hedge against China are fueling anti-Chinese racism within the United States. The tenor of this racism, and its grip in mainstream politics, is expressed well by Christian Caryl, an opinions editor at The Washington Post, who warns that China has a “strategy to tap the huge ethnic Chinese diaspora in the United States and elsewhere as foot soldiers in China’s influence campaigns.” This image of an entire “ethnic diaspora” as a potential fifth column within U.S. society recalls the internment of Japanese-Americans in WWII.

This racist stereotype is reflected in recent policies and the statements of political leaders. According to a white paper published by the Committee of 100, there is evidence that the FBI engages in racial profiling against people of Chinese and other Asian descent in economic espionage cases. In two high-profile cases, naturalized Chinese-American citizens, Sherry Chen and Xiaoxing Xi, were falsely accused of being Chinese spies stealing intellectual property from the United States. In both cases, the charges were later dropped. Chen’s charges were dropped without explanation, while in Xi’s case the investigators admitted that they had simply misunderstood the technology that Xi works with. In February, Trump’s FBI Director Chris Wray confirmed this institutionalized racism when he declared in a hearing that “the Chinese threat” is “not just a whole of government threat, but a whole-of-society threat.”

More recently, the Trump administration announced new restrictions on visas for people from China, including on international students studying in some fields of science and technology. This is also meant to be a measure to counter “economic espionage” and the theft of intellectual property. This policy again assumes everyone from China to be a potential threat to the U.S. economy and national security. Senator Marco Rubio welcomed this new policy, tweeting, “Imposing limits on some Chinese visas may seem harsh, but it’s necessary. #China poses unprecedented threat. Student & academic visas are another weapon they use against us in their campaign to steal & cheat their way to world dominance.” These visa restrictions have been criticized by university lobby groups, because tuition from Chinese international students has become a financial lifeline for many U.S. universities in the face of reduced public funding for higher education. The restrictions, however, have been largely overlooked by the progressive movement—and the lack of resistance is an open invitation to escalation against this population.

These trends must be examined in light of long-standing racist stereotypes about Chinese people and other Asians. In the United States and much of the Western world, Asians are seen as sources of pure labor power—maximally efficient workers in whom all human capacities that are useful for work (obedience, efficiency, self-discipline, self-denial, studiousness) are overdeveloped, while all other aspects of humanity that do not directly contribute to work (family life, play, creativity, emotion, friendship, autonomy) are degraded, underdeveloped or non-existent. This framework portrays Asians as a step removed from robots. This is especially true of East Asians, who are at the center of the ambiguous and inconsistent category of “Asian” in the U.S. racial imagination.

These racist ideas show up throughout these anti-Chinese trends in both domestic and foreign policy. The racist image of Chinese people as a source of pure economic efficiency makes it easy to see them as little more than a competitive threat to other workers. The racist assumption that Chinese people lack capacities for autonomy or creativity makes it easy to see them as little more than appendages of the Chinese government. As we see in the quotes above, it is common to make Chinese people invisible as individuals, and to imagine them instead as parts of a faceless mass called “China.”

Racism and Foreign Policy

These racist ideas also impact the approach the U.S. government’s foreign policy approach to China, and help explain why China (and by extension, the Chinese diaspora) is seen as such a fundamental threat. A deep and subtle form of racism is at work when U.S. elites try to understand China’s present actions as the repetition of unchanging patterns established during premodern times. Foreign policy analysts claim that President Xi Jinping is “simply another emperor in a long line spanning over 2,000 years,” or that “Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive mimics a Ming obsession.” Defense Secretary James Mattis recently echoed this framework, asserting that, “The Ming Dynasty appears to be their model, albeit in a more muscular manner, demanding other nations become tribute states kowtowing to Beijing.” This is an expression of a racist notion that Chinese leaders are—and always have been—incapable of the autonomy or creativity, and cannot help but remain stuck in an antiquated political culture that has remained fundamentally unchanged for centuries or millennia. Thus, China is portrayed as foreign not just to the United States, but to the modern world as a whole.

The racist tendency to deny the autonomy and agency of Chinese people as individuals also undermines progressive principles of solidarity with all poor and working people and thereby locks many U.S. progressives in nationalism. Chinese workers have been striking in large numbers, including in Walmart retail stores and in factories supplying the Walmart supply chain. These workers are challenging the same corporations as American workers, and militant labor movements in China and other export-driven economies have the potential to contribute a great deal to the strategy of U.S. progressives who feel out-maneuvered by globalization. Greater solidarity between activist workers in the United States and in China could greatly increase the power of movements in both countries. Tragically, progressive leaders in the United States rarely recognize Chinese workers as potential comrades in a shared struggle against global corporate power, and instead rob Chinese workers of their agency, objectify them as faceless competition to U.S. workers or disregard them entirely.

Even leading progressives like Bernie Sanders can fall short of full-throated solidarity with Chinese workers. In response to Trump’s decision to impose tariffs against Canada and the European Union, Sanders urged the White House to refocus tariffs on China and other low-income countries, saying on June 1, “We need a trade policy that is fair to American workers, not just large multi-national corporations.” This frames anti-China protectionism as a way to “punch up” against corporate power. Yet, don’t Chinese workers also deserve a fair trade policy? In a 2015 interview with Ezra Klein, Sanders did expresses sympathy for Chinese workers and a desire for them to achieve a “higher standard of living.” Yet, he also described them as competitors, saying, “I don’t think decent-paying jobs in this country have got to be lost as companies shut down here and move to China.” Sanders vocalizing these positions despite, at other times, expressing principles of internationalism: In the same 2015 interview, he asserted that the United States must work more closely with China to combat climate change.

Some leading U.S. unions, meanwhile, embrace overtly protectionist policies. This spring, United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard argued in favor of steel tariffs, casting Chinese workers as competitors against their U.S. counterparts. Gerard cited China’s “dangerous and environmentally toxic mills,” as well as the construction of new ones, as playing a key role in throwing “tens of thousands” of Americans out of work. Also this spring, the AFL-CIO released a statement titled, “Strategic Tariffs Against China Are Critical Part of Trade Reform to Create More Jobs and Better Pay.” The statement argues, “Tariffs aren’t an end goal, but an important tool to end trade practices that kill American jobs and drive down American pay.”

It is true that the global economy pits workers everywhere against each other in zero-sum competition for jobs and investment, and locks everyone in a race to the bottom in wages and working conditions. The relocation of factories and deindustrialization have been part of this dynamic, and some of this has taken place between the United States and China. But the role of U.S.-China competition is exaggerated and deeply misunderstood.

As Pun Ngai and Sam Austin write in the Introduction to Striking to Survive, a new book on worker resistance in China to factory relocations:

[R]elatively few manufacturing jobs have moved from the United States to China. The high tide of outsourcing took place in the 1980s, when many manufacturing jobs moved from cities in the northern United States to places such as Mexico, Taiwan, and other parts or the United States with weaker unions and lower wages. Many other jobs were replaced by automation. If mainland China ‘stole’ jobs from anyone, it was not from the United States but from Mexico and parts of East Asia in the 1990s and 2000s.

Automation is a larger factor in manufacturing job losses than relocations to all other countries put together. The U.S. manufacturing sector is doing well, it’s just producing much more with much fewer workers, including in the steel industry. Meanwhile, China has been hit by its own factory relocations to countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. China also has its own “Rust Belt” in the northeast which has suffered massive deindustrialization in steel and coal industries. In other words, deindustrialization and factory relocations to poorer regions is a global economic trend that affects workers in all countries. This is a shared problem which demands that we come together across borders around shared solutions. But the erasure of workers in China and elsewhere makes this impossible to see.

The Way Forward

Progressives need to embrace internationalism, rather than nationalism. Instead of the mainstream vision of uniting the left and right in the United States against China, progressive internationalists should propose a vision of uniting the workers of the world against the power of multinational corporations that are hurting poor and working people in all countries. It is vital to show a way beyond the impossible ambition to maintain U.S. hegemony forever.

There are many ways to pursue these goals. One is to organize between the United States and China against shared corporate targets—that is, corporations that are responsible for exploitation and oppression both here and there. There is no shortage of abusive corporations whose supply chains and retail chains are shared between the two countries, including high-profile corporate targets like WalmartAmazon and Apple. International solidarity is, in fact, the only way to successfully confront the power of corporations whose sales, assets and workforces are mostly located in China and other countries outside of the United States. To try to fight them just within the United States is like trying to defeat a hydra by fighting just one of its heads.

Progressives can also propagate stories of progressives and worker activists in China, ideally in their own words. This is a way to reveal to Western progressives that there are counterparts in China who are potential comrades, and to fight back against the racist tendency to see them as faceless competition. There are a number of translated stories and interviews that give a sense of the spirit of workers and activists in China: interviews with Chinese worker activists, the stories collected in the books China on Strike and Striking to Survive, the writings of persecuted student activists like feminist Yue Xin or the “Eight Young Leftists,” the poetry of Foxconn worker Xu Lizhi, satirical works like “Marx pays a visit to Foxconn” and more. Progressives can do more through both traditional and social media to popularize such stories.

Cooperation with the labor movement and progressive forces in China is currently difficult. In order to maintain social stability in the face of threats to economic growth, President Xi has led severe crackdowns on civil society, which especially target independent labor organizations and groups with connections to the United States. But as stories of Chinese activists show, Xi’s hold on Chinese society is not as total as most westerners assume. And there are larger openings in Hong Kong where civil society groups remain much freer than in mainland China and also retain connections with the mainland. Replacing antagonistic nationalism with a posture of international solidarity will create new opportunities for progressive forces in China.

Progressives can also propose and lobby for policy solutions that provide alternatives to the existing global economy, which pressures countries to confront each other in a race to the bottom. The solution is relatively straightforward: global standards that will protect poor and working people across borders. This includes a global minimum wage that lifts up wages across borders, global standards on corporate taxes to stop global tax evasion, and binding climate change standards. To help enforce these standards, we can also create cross-border mechanisms for corporate accountability, giving Chinese workers the power to confront U.S. companies for their abuses over there and giving U.S. workers in Chinese-owned companies the same power. These can be built into existing trade agreements, using the power that already exists in those agreements and turning it toward progressive ends. This will create a fairer global economy, halt race to the bottom and reduce competition between national economies. This will also increase global demand, by giving Chinese and other foreign workers the ability to afford the products that they can currently sell only in the U.S. consumer market, which will fuel a new and more equitable era of job creation.

Progressives need a foreign policy strategy that opens up a path to peaceful and constructive collaboration with a rising China and accepts the decline of U.S. hegemony. This is an area where much more research is necessary. Consider, for example, the highly contentious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an immensely ambitious global infrastructure plan that calls for hundreds of billions of dollars of investment per year in at least 65 countries. Improved global infrastructure is in principle a progressive goal, but BRI includes many exploitative and  oppressive practices that are far from progressive. There could be a progressive approach that involves offering to collaborate with China on BRI while also demanding an end to abuses.

Progressives must also accept that China’s economy is likely to become dominant, and that eventually this will include the tech sector that the U.S. ruling class is currently so jealously protecting. The current system of intellectual property rights is fundamentally a form of class war that increases the power of corporations to extract profits from consumers. This is becoming increasingly clear when it comes to drug price gouging, but it is true of intellectual property rights in technology more generally. The progressive position is not to pick fights with foreign governments over intellectual property, but rather to promote technology transfers to poorer countries, prioritizing the well-being of all people rather than corporate profits.

Finally, progressives must directly resist anti-China racism as it appears in both domestic and international policy, beginning by rallying progressive and liberal forces against practices of racial profiling at the FBI and in immigration law. Asians must lead this agenda, and must add it to existing struggles around racial justice and justice for immigrants.

The mainstream, bipartisan trend of anti-China politics leads in the wrong direction both domestically and abroad. As I have written elsewhere, when progressives embrace this form of politics it puts them on the ideological terrain of the Right. But progressives cannot compete with the Right when it comes to nationalism. When progressives erase foreign workers and embrace nationalist ideologies which pit U.S. workers against their counterparts in China and elsewhere, they make a strategic mistake by foreclosing on any possibility of truly challenging global corporate power through international solidarity. To make matters worse, the anti-China approach will only end up undermining comrades in China by further threatening China’s economy and provoking further crackdowns from the government.

There is a better path forward into a better future, and the needs of working people and progressives in the United States and around the world demand that we take it.

The post With Anti-China Protectionism, the Left Is Aiding Trump’s Xenophobic Agenda appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

To Combat Gentrification, One City Is Changing How Homes Are Bought and Sold

Sun, 07/15/2018 - 14:58

India Walton likes to recall the summers she spent at her uncle’s house on Mulberry Street in the Fruit Belt neighborhood of Buffalo, New York, when family and neighbors would gather for block parties, barbecues, and picnics. When the 35-year-old mother of four was looking for a home to rent a few years ago, she wandered through streets with names like Grape and Peach, thinking how nice it would be to recapture that long-ago experience for her own children.

In 2015, Walton moved into a rented house on Lemon Street and into one of the most visible demonstrations of neighborhood gentrification underway in the city.

It had been unfolding for a decade, as Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus expanded on the western doorstep of the neighborhood, leaving developers and land speculators full of anticipation.

And it is taking the collective power of Fruit Belt residents-turned-activists like Walton and a broad coalition of neighborhood-based and region-wide organizations to attempt what communities from New York’s Harlem to Washington, D.C.’s, U Street Corridor couldn’t do: push back against development to stem the displacement of generations of residents.

In 2017, the neighbors established the city’s first community land trust, a nonprofit designed to give residents control over the land within the neighborhood boundaries and keep housing there affordable. The city of Buffalo, the largest land owner in the Fruit Belt, has placed a moratorium on the sale of the 200 lots it owns there until a strategic plan for the neighborhood can be developed. And in January, it announced it would dedicate 20 of those lots to the Fruit Belt Community Land Trust, to get it going.

“It feels amazing to be part of something that is bigger than myself,” says Walton, who is vice president of the Fruit Belt Advisory Council and a member of Community First Alliance, all part of the coalition. “I’m doing legacy work that will be here long after I’m gone, providing opportunities for both the neighborhood and for my children and their children. That’s a big deal to me.”

A historically Black neighborhood of about 2,600 residents on Buffalo’s East Side, the Fruit Belt is bisected by streets that derived their names from orchards planted by early German immigrants in the 1800s. The area later fell into disrepair. In a city with some of the nation’s oldest housing stock, historic and well-tended homes share space with abandoned and vacant dwellings and urban prairies.

Developers saw opportunity with the continued expansion of the Medical Campus, which covers 120 acres and has 17,000 employees. While some longtime residents sold their homes and moved out, others were pushed out when their rents rose. More people has meant more traffic and a parking crunch. Fruit Belt residents have listed gentrification and fear of displacement as top concerns, Bishop said.

When she moved there three years ago, Walton, a registered nurse who works at Children’s Hospital on the medical campus, was shocked to find the rent she would pay was double what she expected. Even after she persuaded the landlord to lower the price because she was bringing her own appliances, rentals half the size of hers were going for even more, she said.

There was no doubt gentrification had taken hold.

Buffalo Common Council President Darius Pridgen, whose district includes the Fruit Belt, has been a powerful advocate for the project. In his radio program, announcing the city’s commitment of the 20 lots, he said the lots are being put into the hands of low-income and working-class people. “Whatever … the community land trust builds there as far as housing,” Pridgen said, “for 99 years, it cannot be transferred to wealthy people, it can’t be sold to wealthy people.”

With more than 250 of them nationwide, community land trusts are not new to the gentrification fight. They were first used in the U.S to protect rural lands for Black farmers in Georgia in the late 1960s. In Buffalo, the Fruit Belt Community Land Trust will acquire and own land, building and rehabbing homes and selling them at an affordable rate. When a house is sold, a cap will be placed on the allowable profit so it remains affordable for the next buyer.

The trust is set to seat its full nine-member board in June—six neighborhood residents and three specialists in the areas of engineering, real estate law, and development. Meanwhile, it is negotiating with the city on the location of the 20 lots. Bishop said preference is for land along the commercial corridor—between the residential area and the medical campus—to better control and slow development.

To be sure, the idea of a land trust for the Fruit Belt hasn’t been fully embraced. Whether gentrification has even arrived is still an open debate, particularly within the city, which has started to rebrand the neighborhood as Medical Park. And even within the neighborhood itself, there’s opposition by those who worry a trust will limit the value of their property. Funding is also a concern: While the trust has raised just under $100,000, it will need at least three times that to get rolling.

Open Buffalo, a social and economic justice movement, has been working with the community in its fight against gentrification for three years. But Harper Bishop, the economic and climate justice coordinator with the nonprofit, said that ideally a land trust should have been put in place there a decade ago. Home ownership, he said, is key to generational wealth for many families and he doesn’t blame any homeowner who chooses to sell.

“It’s a mind shift we are trying to create,” Bishop said. “Our hope is we can continue to normalize the idea of a community land trust so people know that community wealth and community control is uttermost, and that we are all stronger together in this fight than we are individually.”

And there’s growing momentum. “Land trust, not land rush” has become a common refrain. It’s less about having a seat at the decision-making table, residents say, and more about community control of the decision-making.

Fruit Belt residents who support a land trust say they are not anti-growth. “What we want is smart development that is inclusive and that allows people who have been here to prosper right along with it,” Walton said.

“There’s a spirit of unity here; that’s the unique thing about the Fruit Belt. The message of the land trust is we are here to promote development without displacement and for the community to have control over the kind of development that takes place.”

She has been an outspoken neighborhood and land trust advocate and is among residents featured in a promotional marketing video. But she knows that as a renter she’s vulnerable and that her landlord can probably fetch more for her home.

“But the work we are trying to do depends on my connection to the neighborhood, especially when it comes to dealing with city officials,” she said. “So I’m going to hang on as long as is possible. And perhaps one day the land trust will make a way for me to have a home here for me and my children.”

Last year she and several community advocates traveled to Boston to visit one of the nation’s most successful urban community land trusts. Dudley Neighbors, in the Roxbury section of Boston, acquired 1,300 parcels of abandoned land in the 1980s and transformed a once-blighted neighborhood without displacing residents. Nearly 30 years later, the trust oversees 225 units of affordable housing, as well as a playground, a mini-orchard, and community garden.

Bishop believes a successful land trust is also possible in the Fruit Belt, particularly given the city’s ownership of so much land in the neighborhood. The Fruit Belt, he believes, could serve as a model for Buffalo. “There’s opportunity to go into other neighborhoods in the city and create … community wealth and generational wealth and community control.”

The post To Combat Gentrification, One City Is Changing How Homes Are Bought and Sold appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

A “Happy” World Requires Institutional Change

Sun, 07/15/2018 - 14:17

Happiness is hot it seems. The United Nations has an International Day of Happiness, conferences and summits on the subject abound, and the most popular class at Yale is Laurie Santos’s lecture course on happiness. Author Adam Sternbergh provides a “cheat sheet” for the class and observes that:

The very fact that Santos’s new course, PSYC 157: Psychology and the Good Life, is so wildly popular, with over 1,200 enrolled students, suggests that she’s on to something when she tells me one day, pre-lecture, “College students are much more overwhelmed, much more stressed, much more anxious, and much more depressed than they’ve ever been. I think we really have a crisis writ large at colleges in how students are doing in terms of self-care and mental health.”

It would be snarky, I suppose, to suggest that this might have anything to do with the man in the White House, and the 38-year effort to widen inequality and strip the safety net to the bones that started with trickle-down economics, since after all, it’s even true at so privileged a bastion of higher learning as Yale. Yet it’s not completely surprising, considering that when I entered college in 1964, tuition was practically free, grade pressures were far less intense, few students emerged with the shocking debt loads that are now commonplace, and even if you didn’t land a cushy job right off the bat, rents were affordable. 

But no, that’s not the problem, says Sternbergh. If you’re not happy, he suggests, it turns out it’s almost all in your genes and your head. 

In her second lecture, Santos looks at the work of Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychologist at the University of California, Riverside, and the author of The How of Happiness. Lyubomirsky is well known for her thought experiment about what affects our happiness, which she expresses in a pie chart: She proposes that roughly 50 percent of happiness is determined by genes (i.e., totally out of your control), roughly 10 percent is determined by circumstance (i.e., somewhat out of your control), and the final 40 percent is determined by your thoughts, actions, and attitudes (i.e., entirely within your control).

If only 10 percent of happiness is attributable to life conditions, then it’s pretty simple: You don’t need to alter them that much; political and economic change is actually an afterthought and may not be worth the effort. And you can’t do anything about your genetics. What you can do, the theory suggests, is change your attitudes and behaviors, more important by a factor of four than making ends meet, apparently.

The Meme as Myth

However, this idea, no matter how popular, is demonstrably false. The World Happiness Report ranks happiness or life satisfaction in 156 of the world’s countries. The data comes from Gallup, which polls about 1,000 people in each of these countries every year. Subjects are asked to report how satisfied they are with their lives using a popular long-running measure called the Cantril Scale and two other similar questions.

There is remarkable consistency to Gallup’s findings as reported by the UN.  The highest-scoring countries’ mean results fall in the high sevens, and essentially the same ones show up each year in slightly different order. This year, it’s Finland at 7.6, last year Norway, and, in most years since the report first came out in 2012, it was Denmark. The United States usually shows up in the mid-teens; this year it was number 18 (at 6.9, a sizeable drop from its 7.2 score in the period 2008-2010, the height of the recession; meanwhile 106 countries showed improvement or slipped less than the US did between 2010 and 2017). 

The top countries always include the Nordic nations, plus the Netherlands, Switzerland, Australia and Canada. By contrast, the lowest-scoring countries are consistently in sub-Saharan Africa. This year, Burundi bottomed out at 2.9. 

The 2016 UN report often also measured standard deviation — the variance in countries from their own mean — which tells us how widely distributed happiness is within a nation. It might not come as a shock that the standard deviation is very wide for the United States, whose income gap is the widest among rich countries; in 2016, we were number 85 in the world by that measure. Number 1 was a small, poor, but egalitarian country — Bhutan — where the idea of measuring happiness is national policy. Most Bhutanese have scores close to its mean of 5.1 

Now, to get back to Lyubomirsky’s 50/40/10 meme. It seems a stretch to say that only 10 percent of the vast gap between the 7.6 and 2.9 scores in life satisfaction that separate Finland and Burundi can be attributed to life conditions. Such a view is not only statistically inconceivable, it could well be considered racist. Are the people of Burundi genetically inferior to the Finns, or are their behaviors and attitudes dramatically different (again not very likely)? 

What seems evident from this data is that life conditions account for almost all of the difference between the two countries — these include incomes, but also social support, health, freedom, generosity and perceived levels of corruption and trust, according to the UN report. The latest UN report shows that immigrants report roughly the same levels of life satisfaction as the native-born — in Finland, immigrants also score 7.6, and in the US, they also score 6.9 — itself an indication that as their life conditions improve, so does their happiness. Of course, immigrants aren’t flocking to Burundi.

And if this were not evidence enough that the 50/40/10 meme is deficient, two scholars, Nicholas Brown and Julia Rohrer, have recently pointed out that the survey data that was the basis for Lyubomirsky’s calculations is itself suspect, having been gathered from a US-only sample conducted in 1972 and 1973, at a time when the United States was far more egalitarian than it is today.

I certainly would have no problem if Lyubomirsky suggested that in relatively homogenous samples her 50/40/10 pie does predict most differences in happiness; indeed, I suspect that in egalitarian nations such as the Nordic countries or Japan, her numbers hold up well. But that’s a far cry from extending the meme to the entire world (or even to the sharply unequal United States), where conditions of life seem to make up most of the differences.

Hijacking Happiness

While Lyubomirsky’s more global theory of the “happiness pie” succumbs to scrutiny and carries the danger of making political and economic change seem irrelevant, her suggestions for increasing personal happiness — don’t focus on money, cultivate your spiritual being, be generous, help others, do work that is meaningful, and so forth — aren’t at all objectionable. Without question, they can help make individuals happier, but their validity isn’t dependent on the big 50/40/10 theory behind them and should not be considered a substitute for institutional change.

Yet there are other ways in which the newfound focus on happiness is being co-opted or hijacked. Some of the most popular happiness gurus, such as Harvard’s Shawn Achor, suggest that just the practice of smiling is an effective way to get happier. He earns a living from encouraging corporate leaders to improve productivity and the bottom line by the equivalent of passing out smile buttons. No need to pay people more or reduce organizational hierarchy or offer significant time off when you can just cajole employees into happiness. In return, they will reward you with more profit.

At a global happiness meeting in Dubai, I winced when I heard Achor make these points. Yet even more disturbing were the remarks of Martin Seligman, often called the “father of Positive Psychology.”

He started by claiming that survey results were not to be trusted since people don’t always tell the truth in surveys. This surprised me for two reasons: First, Seligman uses surveys frequently; his own website offers many that anyone can take. Secondly, when sample sizes are large, surveys are generally quite accurate; national political polling, for example, has consistently been within a couple of percentage points of actual results. Even the polls that showed Hillary Clinton ahead in 2016 were quite accurate; she won by three million votes, the mistakes came in very close states — Wisconsin, Michigan, etc. — that tilted the Electoral College in Trump’s favor. 

Gallup surveys of life satisfaction in various countries are excellent snapshots that accurately capture national moods and life conditions in those countries.

But no, Seligman said, you can’t trust surveys. If governments like that of the United Arab Emirates, which had invited all of us to its Global Happiness Summit, want to really assess how happy their people are, he suggested they study “big data” instead.  

Here’s how it works: First, you select a few dozen key words (or short phrases) commonly used to describe experiences. If people engaged in these experiences say they are “happy” or “very happy,” the words are considered positive indicators of happiness. If people describe themselves as “unhappy” during the experience, the word is considered a negative. What we are describing is solely the immediate affect — positive or negative — that most say they feel while having the experience. 

Seligman argues that leaders can tell if their people are happy by using big data to see how often the positive key words appear in social media such as Facebook or Twitter, or by contrast, how often the negative key words or phrases appear — traffic jam, for example. Because computers can handle massive amounts of data and billions of people use social media, Seligman suggests these key words or phrases, rather than surveys, give an accurate picture of localized satisfaction, whether the locality be a neighborhood or a country.

As he spoke, Seligman presented a series of Power Point slides. When he came to which words were positive, he offered a slide with a “word cloud” with the size of each word a reflection of its importance for gauging happiness. He started with women. Some of the words were obvious and certainly unobjectionable — love, family, friends. 

But the biggest of all the words in the cloud was “shopping.” When women used the word “shopping” on social media, it was an indication that they were happy.

But that’s only an immediate affect. It tells us very little about their actual life satisfaction. We know, for example, that many people actually go shopping because they are unhappy. It’s an immediate pick-me-up for them to be surrounded by bright, shiny items and they are excited by their purchases. But soon, the joy wears off, the credit card bills come due, the magnificent purchase joins others in the storage locker and the same dissatisfaction with life reasserts itself. 

Seligman, a smart man and a well-trained psychologist, must know this. And yet he came to glitzy Dubai, the world’s shopping capital, and told its leaders they could infer that their people are happy if the word “shopping” turns up a lot in local social media. There’s a word for this: pandering. I don’t know if it’s a happy word or a sad one. Meanwhile, when I spoke to members of the UAE prime minister’s staff while in Dubai, many expressed reservations about their country’s embrace of conspicuous consumption; they were particularly troubled by its impact on their children.

Seligman has earned a sizeable income by this kind of pandering, which asks nothing of countries or companies in terms of justice or reform. He gets paid a lot. In the days when I still believed that he was a credible guru, I once invited him to speak at a happiness conference. His minimum price was $25,000. We didn’t have it. 

In Praise of Happiness

The science of positive psychology offers a welcome and valuable counter to the commonly-held idea in the United States that more money (even for the wealthy), economic growth and consumerism are keys to happiness. The United States is certainly richer now than in the 2008-2010 period (the heart of the great recession) but it is measurably less happy.

The UN World Happiness report and UNICEF data about the happiness or well-being of children make clear that the world’s happiest countries are the so-called “welfare states,” social democratic countries with a strong concern for equity, compassion, generous health, education and social provisions, urban design that favors community over cars, transparent, honest and representative government, and protection of the environment. On this, the real big data are clear.

If we want a happier world, there is no escaping the need for political and social reform, which must include far greater sharing of wealth among nations.  Following the personal suggestions for greater happiness offered by Sonja Lyubomirsky and the positive psychologists — including greater altruism, less focus on money and achievement, more emphasis on friends and social connections, meditation or mindfulness practices — is both helpful and necessary even if it can’t explain global differences in life satisfaction. But it is no substitute for efforts to change the conditions of life as well as the habits of individuals. 

NOTE: For an excellent measure of your own life satisfaction and quality of life in many of the domains measured by Bhutan and by the UN, and for excellent information on both personal and social happiness, check out the website www.happycounts.org and take the 15-minute survey it offers. You can also use the survey to begin a happiness campaign in your community.

The post A “Happy” World Requires Institutional Change appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Keeping the “Public” in Public Art

Sun, 07/15/2018 - 13:57
The Harriet Tubman Memorial Statue in Harlem, New York, is an example of public art commissioned by the Percent for Art program.The Harriet Tubman Memorial Statue in Harlem, New York, is an example of public art commissioned by the Percent for Art program.Felix Lipov / Shutterstock.com

Money for the arts: Where does it come from and where does it go to? Every day there is another multimillion-dollar art auction some place. In New York City, the Metropolitan Museum — where entry had been on a contribution basis — recently instituted a hefty ticket price for non-New Yorkers. Just recently, the appointment of two white curators to the Brooklyn Museum’s African Art exhibit caused a furor.

Then, there’s public art. Starting in the 1930s, the US Treasury required 1 percent of the cost of federal buildings to be applied to art and what they called “decoration.” Now, more than half of the states maintain 1 percent for their art programs. In New York, the Percent for Art program has commissioned hundreds of site-specific projects by artists whose work they believe reflects the city’s diversity. But who decides where that 1 percent goes? If we all agree that arts and creativity are important ingredients of life, including city life, are we doing everything we can to support not just art, but also artists, including the ones that live in our midst?

I spoke to three guests who make it their job to figure out how we democratize access to art and art-making. Betty Yu is an artist and organizer of the Chinatown Art Brigade. Amin Husain is co-founder of the MTL Collective and professor at NYU. Charlotte Cohen is executive director of the Brooklyn Arts Council. For more forward-thinking interviews, go to www.lauraflanders.org.

Laura Flanders: There’s so many places we could begin, but let’s just start with the public part of art. In your view, Charlotte, what is public art and why do we need it?

Charlotte Cohen: We can talk about public art objects. That’s one place to start and that’s what the Percent for Art programs that you just mentioned, Laura, fund. That’s funding that comes from capital budgets for construction in the city. There’s temporary public art that happens by individual artists in many different places and by city agencies, private companies, you name it. Then, there’s the work that Brooklyn Arts Council does, which is in funding individual artists, collectives and very small nonprofit organizations with grant money that is mostly from public sources like the city and state. Those are in the amounts of $2,000 to $5,000. They often make or break an artist’s project. That money is really designated for the public part of that work. It’s not to buy the paint or the studio rent. It’s really to bring that artwork out to the public realm.

Betty, why is it important to you?

Betty Yu: For Chinatown, our brigade, I think public art is an incredible opportunity to really reflect on what’s happening in certain communities. When we first launched, we launched because [CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities (formerly known as the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence)] had an organization that they started to call “Chinatown Tenants Union.” After 9/11, there was a lot of massive displacement in Chinatown. They’ve been doing lots of organizing to prevent eviction. They realize they were really strong on their organizing strategies and direct action, but they really wanted to incorporate art and culture and wanted to do these outdoor projections at night. We collaborated with the illuminator that came out of Occupy Wall Street and we started to project these messages.

What were the messages?

Yu: Tenants were very clear about the three target audiences. One was reaching other immigrant tenants to get involved with the anti-eviction organizing. We’ve lost already 30,000 units of affordable housing in Chinatown or Lower East Side alone since 9/11, and 30 percent of the Asian population has declined. It’s a dire situation. We had messages like “Tenants unite,” “Get organized,” “Do you know your rights?” [and] “Do you know landlord harassment is [illegal]?” Different things like that in Chinese and in English and even Spanish. They also wanted to reach policy makers.

The third audience was artists and galleries who have been playing the role of the gentrifiers in Chinatown. The real estate developers know that they need to bring these galleries and artists in to raise the real estate level — what we talk about as the “Trojan horse.” These real estate developers have gotten so sophisticated in using artists — maybe artists that look like me in Chinatown — to come in with the 130 galleries that used to be mom-and-pop places and bakeries. They then raise the real estate. In about eight to 10 years, and then they’re big box stores. Then, even those galleries can’t afford it any more.

How do we prevent artists being [pitted] against one another, especially working-class, low-income artists like myself who are trying to survive doing the work that we do? When we talk about public art, we have to talk about accountability. Public art for who and for what? If it’s in a community, it must not, it cannot be used to displace people.

We have many things on the table here, from public funding of public art to how artists and art are sometimes used to “art wash” development that might displace artists. Part of your project is to democratize some of this decision-making.

Amin Husain: We collaborated with Chinatown Art Brigade as part of Decolonize This Place. For three months, we were in Tribeca. We got offered an exhibition and we said we’d take up the space and make it a movement space, a commons, where we could incorporate art and culture and these communities that are participating as a way to take a stand and have a conversation amongst ourselves as artists, cultural producers in the city, recognizing that we are complicit in the gentrifying, displacement and dispossession that’s happening. We have to build power in the process while recognizing our complicity.

Public art cannot be used to displace people.

It’s very difficult to live in New York City at all. But it’s impossible to live and not be a gentrifier, recognizing that we’re already on stolen land. We have a [Christopher] Columbus statue that’s public art that’s barricaded. Monuments in this city for whom? Public art for any purpose? Especially in a time when ICE is bordering our communities and taking immigrants from their homes. What’s the point right now?

Tom Finkelpearl is de Blasio’s appointed [commissioner] of the Department of Cultural Affairs. De Blasio is a progressive mayor who came in with a cultural agenda, which was kind of exciting in and of itself. Create New York brought in some $18 million, but also got a lot of grief. Charlotte, tell us a little bit about what you understand to be the agenda and then I want to hear some of the critique and where this could go.

Cohen: There has been a lot of critique of the plan and rightfully so. The plan is very aspirational as most strategic plans are. It lays out a whole series of potential ways to support individual artists, artists’ communities in different forms, collectives and neighborhoods. Part of that plan is about really providing access to the arts and culture in a way that probably hasn’t had a light shined on it in other administrations. The five arts councils — one in each borough of New York City — received more funding this year to re-grant to individual artists very specifically. That was a directive from the Department of Cultural Affairs. That was one way to try to get a flow of money out to individual artists. The city just appointed a nightlife mayor, which is a way to really take very seriously the challenges of DIY spaces that pertain to arts and culture and how they can remain in their spaces without being succumbed to the kinds of raids by the Fire Department and the Department of Buildings.

When you say “DIY spaces,” are these squatted buildings?

Cohen: No. They’re typically artists’ collectives or possibly nonprofits, 501(c)3s or even individual artists who have leases, but those leases are jeopardized by the incredible cost of running those spaces. Sometimes they have to sell liquor at shows that they would prefer to be all ages. That counts people out who would otherwise have access to that work. This has been really a very important case in Bushwick, for example, the Brooklyn neighborhood, and many other neighborhoods across the city where artists have been really challenged in regard to maintaining real estate, which is the biggest challenge of all in New York City, as we all know.

Amin, what’s your vision of how we move forward in a better way? This can’t just be a city of high-priced art auctions and high-ticket museums and then everybody else living as well as they can, stepping on each other’s necks.

Husain: In a way, we need to reorient towards each other. I think that the idea of galleries and the idea of people moving in as gentrifiers is a reality that we’re living in. It’s not about trying to create sides and demonize and not be productive. We need to move from an economy of scarcity to one of abundance.

The issue with art is that it creates spaces for people to care for one another at a time when we’re not allowed to. You saw this during Occupy. The previous administration moved everyone out of a park based on sanitation reasons when it was actually an issue of dissent in relation to the conditions — our economic conditions.

Are there pressures that we can put, not just on our public budgets, but on private developers and private industry, too? Betty?

Yu: In Chinatown, we’re in the front lines of ground zero in many ways, of art-washing. In terms of these private galleries and the insidious nature of how developers are using these galleries, we had Artist Space [and] Decolonize This Place organize a town hall meeting where a lot of galleries came out and they didn’t want to be the ones to be picked on, but we said, “It’s not about you as an individual. It’s about the system of gentrification. We understand that you’re a part of it, you’re complicit, but you’re obviously the little cog in the machine.” How do we figure this out together, and [give] them an opportunity to figure out how do you not be the A-hole in the community that only sees Chinatown as a cheap food and cheap rent and a place to sell your $10,000 paintings, but that you’re a part of community?

If you want to create equity within art in the city, you can’t do that without addressing the fundamental issues that working people are facing: gentrification, police violence, economic instability. What we’re seeing in our communities is an increase of police violence toward people who are actually from the neighborhood who’ve been living in the neighborhood, and the police are there to protect the newcomers and industry city, for instance.

Is there an example where a city program has really worked, Charlotte, in your view, on both a displacement and the art creation side?

Cohen: That’s a really big question. City programs really tend often to address very focused areas; for instance, arts education. The Su Casa program … funds creative aging programs all over the city. With many, many different disciplines in art, I think art’s education is a very grounding place to start in terms of then building up to communities that can be more vibrant and aware of the arts that exist right in their neighborhoods.

If you could do one thing, what would it be?

Husain: It would be for the galleries to open up their spaces for the communities in their neighborhoods to actually organize, make art, be that space.

The post Keeping the “Public” in Public Art appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Wealth Can’t Protect Environmentally-Ravaged Silicon Valley From Climate Change

Sun, 07/15/2018 - 13:16

Much has been written about how the tech boom has contributed to exorbitant housing costs in the San Francisco Bay Area. Less reported has been the environmental impact of this boom, which includes suburban sprawl, severe traffic congestion and other impending menaces. This is not surprising. PM Press, located in Oakland, California, has called its neighbor Silicon Valley the “crown jewel” of hypercapitalism, and one thing capitalism does is pollute.

The question here is whether the tech empire’s power, money, governance and green solutions can match the environmental challenge of Silicon Valley’s smoggy sprawl. The challenge includes the need for an end to low-density development (fewer McMansions surrounded by acres of cosmetically sculpted land, more apartment buildings), pollution controls, cleaner cars, inland parks and dealing with water shortages and climate change in one of its most drastic forms – wildfires, according to Pictures of a Gone City: Tech and the Dark Side of Prosperity in the San Francisco Bay Area, by Richard Walker. This book portrays a region where “boom and bust cycles are written into the landscape.”

Tech Empire’s Environmental Degradation

Although air pollution from traffic congestion and sprawl is the most visible environmental problem caused by Silicon Valley, there are others, according to Walker. Groundwater plumes of solvents have moved under working-class housing areas near industrial zones, as Walker explains in a recent email to Truthout. However, these plumes of solvents do not migrate to affluent Palo Alto or Menlo Park. It is the old story of proximity to environmentally hazardous industry causing working-class neighborhoods and communities of color to be far more exposed to pollution than whiter and wealthier areas.

“There are hundreds of sites in Santa Clara County [Silicon Valley] where solvents or other contaminants have been released to shallow soils and/or groundwater,” explains Vanessa De La Piedra, manager of the Santa Clara Valley Water District groundwater management unit, in an email to Truthout. “However, cleanup at these sites is overseen by various regulatory agencies … where these contaminant releases are located near residential areas, regulatory agencies may require additional monitoring and/or mitigation to ensure residents are protected.” She adds that these contaminated sites have limited impact on drinking water aquifers and that contaminant and solvent plumes “are not unique to Silicon Valley and groundwater can be impacted by various land use activities.”

Meanwhile, an area most affected by Silicon Valley’s traffic-caused air pollution is the Central Valley to the east. In addition to an incoming tidal wave of middle- and working-class residents fleeing sky-high housing costs in Silicon Valley, the Central Valley absorbs emissions from mammoth traffic jams to the west. The Bay Area metropolitan region extends more than 150 miles north to south, and 50 miles east to west, “or around 7500 square miles – an area larger than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined,” according to Pictures of a Gone City. Most of this is sprawl, and Walker argues that sprawl pays its real estate investors, delivering profits through property investment and capital accumulation, rather than fulfilling the American suburban dream. He explains that property capital aims to stretch suburbia as far as possible, “because the highest profits come from land value appreciation, not from building houses.”

Sprawl causes traffic jams, and California emits vast amounts of carbon dioxide, second only to Texas in the US, according to Walker. In Silicon Valley, cars and trucks are the dirty mainstay of transportation, and they burn huge quantities of fuel, idling in traffic. Sprawl worsens things by causing long commutes. The bus and rail systems are inadequate in a region where housing “is far too dispersed in the low-rise metropolis.”

Meanwhile, construction in Silicon Valley just continues; the building boom caused by the tech explosion of the 2010s surpassed the dot-com era, Walker writes, which added “about 7.5 million square feet of new office space, the latest wave is depositing a square footage twice that thick.” For Walker, Silicon Valley has been planned sprawl, while its core is an industrial district from Stanford south to San Jose, west to Cupertino – an area composed of “endless drifts of tract housing, windswept deserts of asphalt, replicant shopping centers, and ribbons of freeways and expressways.”

Another problem is tech production pollutants from precious metals, rare earth elements and plastics, though Walker writes that most of that blight is felt elsewhere in the world, due to globally far-flung supply chains. In the past, Silicon Valley used solvents to clean chips, but less so now. These days, soap and water are preferred.

Finally, the waterways are polluted. Walker singles out the San Francisco Bay Delta, although he explains that for purposes of pollution, it is difficult to consider Silicon Valley apart from the larger metropolitan area, because run-off carries gasoline, oil and brake dust from vehicles, soil from construction sites, pesticides and fertilizers from landscaping, and toxins from emissions to the air that settle on the ground. He also cites industrial production and refinery emissions as contributors to water pollution.

According to Pictures of a Gone City, the Bay Area “rolls in its own effluent … beginning with garbage.” Trash was dumped in Guadalupe Canyon, south of San Jose and other places. Bay Area waters are degraded by toxic metals (“washed out from mining and smelting in the nineteenth century”), toxins from past industry (“oil refineries, steel mills, pesticide plants and the U.S. Navy”), current surface run-off, and from ships and boats.

Although e-waste is also a problem, California does have mandated e-waste recycling. “Nine companies in Silicon Valley,” explains Russ Edmondson, public information officer of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), “have notified DTSC of their intent to recycle e-waste on site. Of these nine companies, six reported to DTSC that they shipped electronic devices or e-waste residuals (component parts) offsite in 2017.” Within Silicon Valley, the reported destinations of these residuals were San Jose and Gilroy. So, a good bit of e-waste recycling goes on in Silicon Valley, and some residuals remain there.

But the tech empire’s corporate leaders seem as unconcerned with the pollution the industry produces as with its vulnerability to climate change.

Climate Change Won’t Spare Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley “has swallowed its urban host, as the tech economy spreads throughout the larger metropolis,” Walker writes. The Bay Area “has more tech corporations, more web portals, more IT startups, more venture capital and a more complex tech ecosystem than anyplace else on Earth.” He sardonically calls it “capitalism’s shining star.”

Regarding the environment, the Silicon Valley “capitalist behemoth” overall espouses green tech and green solutions to environmental problems. Witness Elon Musk with Tesla. But self-driving electric cars will only resolve so much of our carbon pollution problems, while other theoretical tech solutions to climate change – such as seeding the atmosphere with sulfuric acid to reflect back sunlight – could be catastrophically dangerous.

But with climate change roaring apace, fueling California’s drought, hypercapitalism’s home base in Silicon Valley is bound to feel two major effects: out of control wildfires and water shortages. A lesson of wildfires is that exurbia should not be developed all the way into wildlands or canyons, Walker writes, and after a wildfire, houses and communities should not be rebuilt. That will be bitter medicine for billionaires with mansions lost to the flames. But real estate developers’ demand for land is voracious. If Silicon Valley can’t control its sprawl, wildfires may very well do so. And there are other, related environmental problems – the metropolitan outskirts reach way into central California, to “a very different landscape that has been reworked and degraded for 150 years … and into a stagnant mass of air pollution – much of it blown in from the Bay area itself.”

Already very dry most of the year, this region has irregular winter rains. Nevertheless, developers and their local government boosters have demanded more and more water. Walker reports how San Francisco sold the water of the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite to the suburbs of Silicon Valley and the peninsula. This does not sound like a wise water policy in the face of probable drought. Meanwhile, the worst abusers during the last drought “were the very rich living on large estates in the far suburbs.”

The Bay Area, including Silicon Valley, has another looming water problem: sea level rise. With much urban development around San Francisco Bay on the low ground, warehouses, offices, transportation and industry have covered the Bay’s flatlands, Walker reports, and gone are many of the tidal marshes, mudflats and sloughs, all diked and reigned. Natural barriers removed, the Union of Concerned Scientists predicts chronic inundation all around San Francisco Bay by the end of the century. Sea level rise threatens the built-up bay shore.

Unfortunately, according to Walker, bay fill has always been a cheap way for developers to create more land, and such places flood easily. That is because land filled in where water used to be tends to be quite low-lying. Inundation of airports, railways and highways can, he writes, shut the region down, while flooding into sewers would overwhelm treatment systems. A 2009 report estimates potential damage from storm surges with rising sea levels at “$100 billion in property risk and a half a million people forced from their homes” in a 100-year coastal flood, if sea levels rise five feet.

Pictures of a Gone City discusses the Netherlands’ model for dealing with sea level rise: “shore defenses, which have converted the ancient estuary of the Rhine and the Scheldt to mostly dry land and completely reengineered the rivers’ flow.” But Walker argues that this will not work for the San Francisco Bay, and that even the Dutch have learned that higher levees are not the solution. Instead, Walker advocates for expanded wetlands to help absorb storm surges, argues that urban retreat from the coast is necessary to avoid flooding and calls for “raising the land – or even putting structures on pilings, as is done in tropical zones.” One regional agency director is quoted in the book as saying: “The challenge ahead is to protect the Bay Area from the bay, not the other way around.”

Several agencies have united to assess the shoreline. But many are unprepared. Walker reports that Bay Area Rapid Transit has not readied for climate change, while the Metropolitan Transportation Commission has not incorporated sea level rise into its oversight of local transportation and housing plans. He cites local nonprofit Save the Bay’s efforts to restore marshlands, but notes that those only counter a foot or two of seal level rise.

Given how much warming is already locked in, green tech can only accomplish so much. Tech titans may find it hard to accept abandoning estates to wildfires or office parks in low-lying areas to floods, but climate change will not spare them. They do, however, have the political and economic clout to blunt its effects. If they wanted, they could promote smarter building, smarter development and a more thoughtful use of resources. So far, however, the will for this has been lacking, leaving capitalism’s prized tech empire belching out air pollution and exposed to fire and flood.

The post Wealth Can’t Protect Environmentally-Ravaged Silicon Valley From Climate Change appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

“They’ve Been Doing This Massive, Anti-Democratic Model of Education Reform”

Sat, 07/14/2018 - 17:09
Janine Jackson interviewed Wayne Au about the failure of Bill Gates’ educational initiatives for the July 6, 2018, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

Janine Jackson: A new report from the RAND Corporation concludes that the multi-million-dollar teacher evaluation project, championed and partially bankrolled by Bill Gates, did not increase teachers’ effectiveness or improve students’ academic performance, including the low-income minority students that were presented as the initiative’s major beneficiaries.

The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss, a generally critical assessor of what’s called “education philanthropy,” covered this new report. But most corporate media appear uninterested in this challenge to a set of ideas about “failing public schools” and how to fix them, that they themselves play a notable role in promoting.

Our next guest has critically engaged the Gates Foundation’s educational forays for years now. Wayne Au is professor at the University of Washington/Bothell Campus, and interim dean for diversity and equity on campus. He’s also editor at Rethinking Schools. He joins us now by phone from Seattle. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Wayne Au.

Wayne Au: Thanks for having me.

It’s important to note that while the Gates Foundation underwrote a reported $215 million of this project, that was less than half; school districts supplied the rest. So we’re not talking about an episode of perhaps naïve corporate noblesse oblige, troubling as that would be. But a lot of public resources were put into this “use test scores to evaluate teachers” project, that many, many educators knew from the get-go was misdirected.

That’s really unfortunate, but I think it makes sense if you look at things in the current context. The same thing happened with Common Core and Race to the Top as well. And we have a situation where public school districts are totally strapped for cash, we have class sizes that are just exploding, teachers paying out of pocket for classroom resources, and so school districts are really just hurting for money.

And what often happens is philanthropists like the Gates Foundation say, “Hey, we have this project. Would you partner with us on this? And we’re investing this much money in doing this thing, but you need to come and give X amount of dollars to this project as well, and devote your resources.” It’s within this context of what I would actually characterize as austerity funding for public education that many districts agree to partner with these foundations, because it looks like they’re bringing money in.

Unfortunately, what happens is that many of the districts end up finding that—this was the case with Common Core as well—that the money coming in for these new programs actually pales in comparison to what it took to implement the programs, or to cooperate with the research, and with these different kinds of programs.

And so in the end, it’s one of those things where we end up having our public dollars, public tax dollars, just being essentially sucked away into this whole other enterprise, and which often—and this is the sad part of it—even though there is this philanthropic money coming from, like, the Gates Foundation, and this public money coming from the school districts, often either nonprofits or for-profit corporations that are, like, creating the data tools for these things, they’re the ones who are actually getting this money, and essentially making money off of this kind of research project.

Right, it seems as though it’s ultimately—and if you scratch, you can see it, and they sometimes even admit to it—I mean, it’s ultimately about privatization, isn’t it, this gospel of the private sector and market forces being the right response to everything?

Oh, absolutely, and you get that from the Gates Foundation all the time. Gates is very clear. He’s trying to create, and he’s said this before, market conditions and market forces where everybody’s working to make money, but this will be in the best interest of kids and education; and that’s how he frames this whole entire agenda. For me, that’s the greatest fallacy of this whole idea of researching teachers in the way that the Gates Foundation did, and unfortunately in concert with the school districts, is that we’ve known for decades, from the research base, that teachers arecritically important in terms of how students learn things, how students experience classrooms. However, we also know that test scores are very limited measures of student performance, what students know, what students learn. Therefore, they are very minimal in terms of measuring what teachers teach.

But here we have the Gates Foundation essentially pushing high-stakes standardized testing, which teachers have actually very little effect on; the research has shown this for a very long time, that if you take any standardized test score, a teacher actually influences somewhere between 18 to 25 percent, depending on the study you’re looking at, and everything else is actually external factors. There’s all this stuff outside of schools that account for 75 percent of a test score. This is if you want to believe the test scores, right? So we’re talking things like food security, housing security, access to adequate healthcare, dental care, livable wages for their parents; these are the things that actually impact test scores, but this is only if you’re going after test scores as your main measure.

Again, they’re super limited, and honestly they don’t really measure what the students learn, and therefore also don’t really measure what teachers are teaching. And so here we have this massive investment of hundreds of millions of dollars, underwritten by the Gates Foundation, these districts and politicians and policymakers investing in it on the public education side, really trying to go after something that we’ve known has been fake, and it’s been a rabbit hole that we knew wouldn’t increase student performance. We’ve known that for a long time.

Yeah, and all of those other factors—like food security, likeousing—that of course, if you think about it, have an impact on test scores. That, to me, makes the making of props of black and brown kids and underserved kids especially cynical, and suggesting that this kind of scheme is going to uplift them and help them in particular.

Oh, for sure. In a way, I really see this as a colonizing agenda, in a sense, because essentially what we have are predominantly white, super-wealthy elite philanthropies, like the Gates Foundation, putting these programs into mostly black and brown, working-class communities, right? And it creates this dynamic where you essentially have these rich missionaries saying, “We know what’s best for you and your kids, we’re going to do these things.” Meanwhile, it sort of treats these children, these black and brown children, as experiments, right? And so the power dynamics are really, really skewed.

All at the same time that folks like Gates, here in Washington state, he’s very opposed to a more progressive tax structure. He’s actively fought against efforts here in our state to improve our tax structure so that we could give more basic services to more people in the state. We have one of the most regressive tax structures. And so to me there’s a great irony in—maybe irony is the wrong word—but you can just see the problems with these super-elite, white corporate folks just saying, “Hey, we know what’s best for these communities.”

And that’s also illustrated by the fact that all these reforms…. You know Gates wasn’t using these measures to study the teachers of his kids at the elite rich private schools in the Seattle area. None of these reforms are for his kids. These are reforms for everyone else’s kids.

Right. Well, the Gates Foundation, like others, has a strategy. They make their own echo effect, and part of that, as you know, is funding education journalism. That’s something else that you have, as one headline had it, “tangled with” — Gates-funded education blogs, so there’s an impact in the way these things are covered.

There’s no mistake that mainstream media has basically not followed up on the failure of the Gates study and interventions into teacher evaluation, because, again, here in Seattle, the Seattle Times’ education reporting is partially funded by the Gates Foundation, like this ”focus on solutions,” and there was a whole granting programming around that, but when you talk to those reporters about what they’re allowed to report on, they say, “Well, Gates doesn’t control us.” But then I’ll ask a follow-up and say, “Well, how come you’re not reporting on this, like we know ethnic studies helps kids do better in school, particularly low-income black and brown kids.” And they’ll say, “Well, it’s complicated.”

And so it’s clear that there’s this agenda that happens, that the Gates Foundation is going to fund, we used to see it with Education Nation and stuff every fall, on NBC or whatever, and they would promote this particular agenda, and at the same time, unwilling to promote things that don’t align with that agenda.

And we see the same thing in educational research as well. So it’s not just these major philanthropies impacting reporting; they’re also impacting what kind of research gets done, because they have their own whole funding machine that funds particular kinds of research. And so they are funding research on teacher evaluation and then, in turn, everyone who is chasing after grants starts trying to build their agendas around that so they can get the Gates money, but Gates only funds stuff that falls in line with standardized testing, and everything else that’s part of their neoliberal choice/market agenda.

And another frustration from the media perspective is that all of those sources who pointed out the flaws in this teacher-evaluation agenda from the beginning, and who were able to say quite clearly what the problems were, those sources—and now RAND is coming along, essentially certifying that point of view—those sources are still not going to be the ones who get to weigh in when the next big-money idea for education comes along, even though their concerns have borne out in this case.

Oh yes, no one ever talks to teachers. No one ever talks to parents. None of these big philanthropies go to communities to engage them, really. They like to pretend they are, and they say, “Well, look, we’re working with this nonprofit or this nonprofit,” right? But all of that is also a little bit fuzzy and a little shady, because maybe the nonprofits that they use are also themselves funded by the Gates Foundation, and are about promoting a particular agenda.

Versus there’s social justice–minded community activists committed to public education, parent activists; these folks need to be brought into the conversation, along with teachers, along with unions, frankly, as well. They should be involved in the decision-making, in the agenda-setting. Because we know what’s wrong on the ground level, we know what’s going on.

And we know that all these major reforms—from small schools, to even Common Core, to the teacher- evaluation stuff that Gates has been doing, those three major projects that they funded—they’ve been failing everywhere. And in part because they’ve been doing this massive, anti-democratic, top-down model of education reform, and they only pretend to talk to the folks down on the ground, and instead really focus on—they believe they know what’s right, and they’re just going to work their power and their money to get that implemented, until it doesn’t work.

We’ve been speaking with Wayne Au, professor at the University of Washington/Bothell, where he is also interim dean for diversity and equity, and he’s an editor at Rethinking Schools. Wayne Au, thank you so much for joining this week on CounterSpin.

Right on. Thanks for having me.

The post “They’ve Been Doing This Massive, Anti-Democratic Model of Education Reform” appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Pages