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Transforming the Jewish Community Away From Supporting Israeli Occupation and Trump's Jerusalem Move

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 05:00

We have a different future in mind for the Jewish community, and it's not one that supports endless occupation, says Sarah Brammer-Shlay, a member of IfNotNow, a movement to end the American Jewish community's support for the occupation of Palestine. The organization is on a mission to keep US Jews from being pawns of white supremacists.

IfNotNow members marching to the White House on December 8 to protest Trump’s decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. (Photo courtesy of IfNotNow)IfNotNow members marching to the White House on December 8 to protest Trump's decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. (Photo courtesy of IfNotNow)

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Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. We're now nearly a year into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators and educators, not only about how to resist, but how to build a better world. Today's interview is the 99th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

Today we bring you a conversation with Sarah Brammer-Shlay, a member of IfNotNow, a movement to end the American Jewish community's support for the occupation of Palestine. Brammer-Shlay discusses how Trump's decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem will inflame tensions in the region, and how IfNotNow is working to transform the Jewish community in order to move it away from supporting Israeli occupation.

Sarah Jaffe: This weekend, you had several actions protesting the Trump administration's decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. Tell us how the actions went.

Sarah Brammer-Shlay: The actions were great, they were very powerful. We had actions in Boston, Washington, DC, New York City, Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Minnesota, Chicago ... hope I'm not forgetting any. Our movement was really prepared to take action on this ... cities all across the country stood up to say, Hey, we do not support this move, this is a dangerous move for Palestinians and Israelis, and as American Jews, we need to be on the forefront of opposing this, and we're refusing to be political pawns for Trump's horrible foreign policy decisions.

You said you were prepared as an organization for this to happen. Give people who may not follow this that closely some background on why and how this administration decided to do this, and why it's such a bad idea.

This is a really wonky issue. So, in 1995, Congress passed a bill that was written by AIPAC -- the American Israel Public Affairs Committee -- that said that the US Embassy would move to Jerusalem. For the past 22 years, every six months, the president has signed a waiver to delay this. What Donald Trump did on Wednesday, he did sign the waiver and he said, "We have a plan to move the embassy to Jerusalem once we get all the logistics worked out. But I'm going to do something that has never happened before, I'm going to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel."

Trump is further cementing the occupation and land takeover in East Jerusalem.

Why is he doing this? This is a push from major donors, such as Christian evangelical organizations, Sheldon Adelson, other members of the Jewish establishment and from the Israeli government ... Jerusalem, in Israel's mind, is its capital, but no country has their embassy in Jerusalem.... Jerusalem is a really contentious issue for achieving any sort of peace agreement in the region, because this is a really important city and place to both Israelis and Palestinians.... Anyone who knows anything about this issue would say that this is obviously an act of incitement and there's going to be violence in the region because of this decision.

It's also a major slap in the face to Palestinians to say, We do not recognize your connection to this city, a city that is not only holy to Jews, but also to Muslims and Christians; and this is also further cementing the occupation and land takeover in East Jerusalem.... Even people who talk about the occupation often really focus on the West Bank, and Jerusalem is really forgotten about. In East Jerusalem, Palestinian families are being kicked out of their homes in increasing numbers, and it's just something we're not talking about. This further cements the land takeover by Israel of Palestinian land.

IfNotNow members marching to the White House on December 8 to protest Trump’s decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. (Photo courtesy of IfNotNow)(Photo courtesy of IfNotNow)

IfNotNow members at the Jewish Federations of North America office in Washington, DC, on December 8. (Photo courtesy of IfNotNow) IfNotNow members at the Jewish Federations of North America office in Washington, DC, on December 8. (Photo courtesy of IfNotNow)

Let's talk a little bit about the history of IfNotNow. Tell us about the founding and the work that you've done as an organization over the past couple of years.

IfNotNow was founded in 2014, during Operation Protective Edge, which was a major war on Gaza. What our community was seeing was ... establishment Jewish organizations overwhelmingly supporting Israel at all costs during this war -- a war that killed over 2,000 Palestinians, including over 500 children. And we saw that our ... community was not siding with the values that we grew up with. And so, a group of young Jews in New York City decided to hold actions reciting the Mourner's Kaddish, which is a prayer for the dead in Jewish tradition.

What we saw in that moment was actually major resonance across the country of young Jews saying, I'm also really upset with my community's response to this, and so it naturally spread across the country, and cities all over were doing these Mourner's Kaddish actions. And then the war ended and the siege on Gaza did not end and we saw that there was actually a major void we were filling by really targeting the American Jewish community and saying, We deeply care about the Jewish community, but we cannot support a community and be a part of a community that supports endless occupation.

And so, we paused for a year. About 15-20 people that I was a part of ... came up with a long-term strategy for the movement and relaunched in December 2015. We take a direct-action approach and also community-building and do a lot of training to get people on board with the strategy and to be able to enact it themselves. In December 2015 we started these trainings to relaunch our movement, and after Trump was elected, this was a time where people really wanted to act politically. And then Steve Bannon was announced as chief strategist of the Trump administration. What we saw was our community, the establishment of our community, not saying, Hey, this is really messed up, even though this is a known white supremacist.

And that's because our community has gone overboard with our pro-Israel-at-all-costs politics. So, we launched a series of actions using the "#FireBannon" hashtag to say our community needs to oppose this nomination of Bannon and actually side with Jews -- why would we, as a Jewish community, be supporting someone who is an anti-Semite? It makes no sense at all.

We are actually working to transform the Jewish community.

What we saw was ... our membership actually tripled because there was such a void for Jewish organizations taking actions on this. IfNotNow was not the only one, by any means, but what we saw was the establishment really not standing on the right side of history.

We've seen that continue this year, with Bannon, with [former deputy assistant to Trump Sebastian] Gorka, with other people who have histories of anti-Semitism who are part of this administration. And then, on the other hand, you have not just [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, but right-wing Jewish organizations that embrace people like this. For a long time, criticism of Israel has been accused of being anti-Semitic, so I wonder if you can talk about this really tangled moment we're in, in terms of anti-Semitism and the politics of Israel.

It's pretty wild. I think a pretty frequent question that's been asked is, "Wait, can someone be a supporter of Israel and still be an anti-Semite?" And the answer is, yes. We've seen that.

There's a lot of different layers. I think it's important for us to note that the US government -- and we see this with the embassy move -- the US government has its own reasons for supporting the occupation. We, as Jews need to say, We're not your pawns for doing this.

Christian evangelical organizations that our community ... would totally not align with in situation[s] where they're supporting Israel, give them our support. There ... was a synagogue in California recently that hosted an event with the head of Christians United for Israel, which is the biggest pro-Israel lobbying group, and this is an organization for which the idea behind supporting Israel is so that the Rapture will come, and that's not a good situation for Jews. This is not a love for Jews, but we're seeing a conflation of supporting Israel at all costs with saying they side with Jews, and that's not actually true.

This is also really connected to Islamophobia as well.

Can you say a little more about that?

Yes, I think what we're seeing here is that Israel is seen as a Western country in this region, and ... especially with these Christian evangelical organizations, it's an anti-Muslim effort to say, "We support Israel and we support Jews, we don't support the Arabs in the region."

IfNotNow members at Trump Tower on December 7, protesting Trump’s decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. (Photo courtesy of IfNotNow)IfNotNow members at Trump Tower on December 7, protesting Trump's decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. (Photo courtesy of IfNotNow)

Talk a little bit then about using a direct-action approach, as well as the organizing you've been doing in the community. What are some of the actions that you've taken, the successes that you've had?

Why direct action? We believe that this is a crisis and that we need to raise attention on it, and ... we are actually working to transform the Jewish community. What that means is that we deeply care about it. Our actions are almost always rooted in Jewish ritual and really are demonstrating ourselves as a Jewish movement with the goal of transforming our community and not having our community be one that supports occupation....

A poll found that 80 percent of Jews in the US do not support an embassy move.

Bannon is no longer the chief strategist and we were really able to push that narrative -- that Steve Bannon is a danger for all people in our country and Jews, too. That's been a major victory.

We had the largest-ever Jewish protest outside of the AIPAC conference last spring and this was a major thing. We had a thousand people there protesting AIPAC saying, Hey, we have a different future in mind for the Jewish community, and it's not one that supports endless occupation. We're going to demonstrate to our community that we deeply care about it, but our community is in need of a redirection right now, and we are going to help lead that redirection.

Moving forward from this moment, what are next steps around this -- what are the plans to put pressure on them and to further challenge the narrative that to be Jewish is to be pro-Israel at all costs?

I think we're also figuring out what is the best approach for this. Like I said, the waiver has been signed, so we do have work to do over the next six months. A lot of it is that this is actually an issue that people don't really understand. There actually needs to be a lot of education around this.

The violence in the region has already started ... we're seeing an increase in violence and repression already. We need to get the message out there that this is a condition that is going to lead to violence and unsafety -- for Palestinians, especially, and also Israelis, too -- and our community cannot support that.

We also have to call out politicians who are supporting this, too. Chuck Schumer was actually someone who really encouraged Donald Trump to push this forward. In a time where people are really focused on electoral politics and we're seeing Democrats so openly side with the president, we have to ask ourselves: What is the reason for this? It's really unacceptable.

How can people keep up with you and IfNotNow and join if they're interested?

You should go to IfNotNowMovement.org and you can sign up there to see what actions are coming up next, as well as signing up for trainings which give you an in-depth look at our long-term strategy. I'm praying that violence does not intensify, and I'm not hopeful for that, so we're going to be out in the street demonstrating that Jews do not universally support this decision. In fact, AJC [American Jewish Committee] released a poll [which found that] 80 percent of Jews do not support an embassy move. So, one thing that's really important for us to do is actually show that the numbers are not on the side of our community supporting the embassy move. It's really important that we make our voices heard so that that is not conflated. Joining us in the streets is our first ask, and getting to a training, supporting us, if you want to make a donation that's wonderful. And you can find us on Facebook or on our website.

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

Categories: News

Cecile Richards: VP Pence Is Installing Authorities to Repeal Women's Rights With No Public Oversight

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 05:00

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards says the first year of President Trump's administration may be the worst year for women of any administration in United States history. But, she notes, it has also been a year of organizing and resistance by women and their allies.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

Meet the Miss USA Contestant Accusing Trump of Sexual Misconduct as Senators Call for Him to Resign

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 05:00

Five senators are now calling on President Trump to resign over allegations that he sexually harassed or assaulted women, and 56 House lawmakers with the Democratic Women's Working Group are calling for a congressional investigation into the allegations. This comes as three of the 16 women who have publicly accused Trump of sexual harassment held a press conference Monday in New York, demanding that Congress take action. We speak with one of them: Samantha Holvey, a former Miss USA contestant for North Carolina when Trump owned the pageant. We are also joined by Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and we play an excerpt from the Brave New Films documentary 16 Women and Donald Trump.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

The Fempire Strikes Back: #MeToo

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 05:00
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First, for the record, let me tell you my story about another of those perversely creepy Hollywood predators, a sort of cut-rate Harvey Weinstein: the screenwriter and film director James Toback. As I read now of women he preyed upon year after year, I feel the rage that's bubbled in the back of my brain for decades reaching the boiling point. I should be elated that Toback has been exposed again as the loathsome predator he's been for half a century. But I'm stuck on the fact of elapsed time, all these decades that male predators roamed at large, efficiently sidelining and silencing women.

Toback could have been picked up by New York's Finest when he hit on me in or around 1972. But I didn't call the cops, knowing it would come to nothing. Nor did I tell our mutual employer, the City College of the City University of New York. I had no doubt about which one of us our male bosses would believe. I had already been labeled an agitator for campaigning to add a program in women's studies to the curriculum. Besides, to any normal person, the story of what happened would sound too inconsequential to seem anything but ridiculous: not a crime but a farce.

I didn't know Toback. I must have seen him at infrequent faculty meetings, but we taught in different writing programs. There was no reason for our paths to cross. Ever. So I have no memory of him until the day I flung open the door of my Chinatown loft in response to a knock, expecting to greet my downstairs neighbor, and in walked Toback. My antennae went up. How had he managed to get past the locked street door? I remember talking fast, trying to get him out of my place without provoking a confrontation. He agreed to leave with me -- to go out for tea or lunch or some little excursion I proposed -- but first he insisted on using my bathroom, from which he soon emerged naked. I remember the way he listed the many things he had in mind for me to do for him. Among them, one demand persists in memory, perhaps because it was at once so specific and so bizarre: that I suck and pinch his nipples.

I beat him to the door, furious at being driven from my own loft. I think I threatened to come back with the cops. Something scared him anyway. From a shop on the street, I watched as he left my building on the run, waddling away at top speed.

Reader, if you think that nothing really happened, then you are mistaken. This incident took place almost 50 years ago and though I hadn't thought of it in ages -- not until his name popped up in the media -- the memory remains remarkably raw. I still want to see him marched naked through the streets of Manhattan and Los Angeles to the jeers and uproarious laughter of women. 

At the time, Toback was no more than 25 years old, while I was nearly 10 years older, a thoroughgoing feminist, and luckily faster on my feet than him. But recent reports say that, in the 1980s and later, Toback routinely focused his attacks on very young women, some of them teenagers, using promises of film stardom (sound familiar?) to lure them into encounters that left them sodden with shame. He is now in his seventies and, although women have reported his predation several times in major magazines, he was still on the prowl last month and had never before been called to account for his actions.

What could be more despicable than this: that for more than four decades, while he and his kind were allowed to practice undeterred, he only got better at his game of assaulting women.

A Catalogue of Violations

Not long after my run-in with Toback, a university professor from whom I was taking a writing course came calling to discuss my "extraordinary work" and emerged from that same Chinatown bathroom in a similar state of nakedness. (Do they follow some instruction manual I've never seen?) By then I was writing and photographing as a freelancer for the travel section of the New York Times, an unpaid task that entitled me to receive midnight phone calls from the drunken travel editor detailing the things I might do for him to insure a "real job" with the Times. That's when I became a freelancer elsewhere, always ready to cut and run. I've been a loner ever since. 

I could tell you stories of other professors, editors, journalists, and TV hosts. But they would be much the same as those we read almost every day now as women go public with their own stories of sexual harassment and worse at the hands of powerful men in the film industry, major media outlets, Silicon Valley, and Congress, among other places. In response, almost every day come new denials, excuses, or half-baked apologies. 

Some commentators are now reconsidering Bill Clinton's record in the sharper light of the present moment. Others ask if the current "witch hunt" for sexual predators has gone too far. Expecting inevitable backlash, some recommend that women exercise restraint -- as all of us have been taught to do for so many eons -- lest some unsubstantiated accusation discredit the stories of thousands of women reporting #MeToo. I don't share such tender concern for the reputations of men, especially not that of the president, the self-congratulatory pussy-grabber-in-chief whose followers seem to mistake his behavior for the norm, if not an aspirational ideal.

Discussion of these matters quickly becomes political, eliciting erratic, gender-bending partisan judgments. Some prominent Republican men called for former judge Roy Moore of Alabama, accused of harassing and assaulting teenaged girls when he was a 30-something assistant district attorney, to end his campaign for the Senate, while many Republican women in that state, including many who are presumably the mothers of daughters, continue to stand behind him.

At the same time, Democrats parse which of Bill Clinton's accusers to believe and which not. And who hasn't thought again about Clarence Thomas? He was elevated to the Supreme Court by an all-white male Congressional committee despite the thoroughly credible testimony of harassed law professor Anita Hill and the accounts of many other women, similarly violated and ready to testify against Thomas, but never called. Given his long misogynistic history on the court, isn't it time to look at his testimony again? Did he commit perjury to gain his seat? And if so, what's to be done about his consistent judicial record inimical to the common interests of women?

It's Not Just Sex 

Little or none of male harassment and predation is truly about sex, except insofar as men weaponize their sad libidos to pin women to the floor. Monstrous men commit what's called sexual harassment and sexual assault not because women are irresistible but because they can't resist the rush of power that rises from using, dominating, degrading, humiliating, shaming, and in some cases even murdering another human being. (Sexist, not sexual, may be a more accurate adjective.)

Often -- especially when the woman is better looking and more talented or qualified than her assailant -- he gets an additional powerful kick from having "taught the bitch a lesson." A smug sense of power ("When you're a star... you can do anything") colors the phony apologies of accused predators. ("It was never my intention to leave the impression I was making an inappropriate advance on anyone.") Though a man may be truly sorry to be found out, it's next to impossible for him, after that blast of solid-gold supremacy, to pretend to even a particle of remorse.

The times call for accusations to be scrupulously accurate. Yet it's misleading to think of sexual harassment and sexual assault as separate and isolated indignities when in real life one so often segues into the other. Such terms arose in the course of intensive work by feminists of the so-called second wave, which is to say feminists like me who began work in the 1960s and 1970s. One of our tasks was to expose and document the extent of violence against women in the United States. At that time, misogyny emanated from the pores of patriarchal men, poisoning the very air we breathed. We found overwhelming the violence such men committed against women and girls of all colors who did not conform to their notions of decorative and deferential "femininity."  

The fact that male violence methodically constricts female lives is so appalling that most women simply couldn't acknowledge it. Psychiatrist Judith Lewis Herman, in her landmark study Trauma and Recovery (1992), described things as they were at the time: "Most women do not... recognize the degree of male hostility toward them, preferring to view the relations of the sexes as more benign than they are in fact. Similarly, women like to believe that they have greater freedom and higher status than they do in reality." Beneath the revelations of sexual harassment and assault today lie the same hard-rock foundations of male hostility that Herman described a quarter century ago.

To document male violence and depict how it works in daily life, second-wave feminists tried to break it down into its component parts: discrimination and domination -- psychological, sexual, and physical -- in the home, the schools, the workplace, the church, the courts, the prisons, and public life. We wrote the history of male violence against women, while exploring its effects at that time and its future prospects. Our generation produced groundbreaking books on patriarchy (Kate Millet, Sexual Politics, 1970), rape (Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will, 1975), sexual harassment (Catherine McKinnon, Sexual Harassment of Working Women, 1979), pornography (Andrea Dworkin, Pornography: Men Possessing Women, 1981), the battered women's movement (Susan Schechter, Women and Male Violence, 1982), men murdering women (Diana Russell, Femicide, 1992), and feminist consciousness (Gloria Steinem, Revolution from Within, 1993). I wrote a history of American women who did not conform: Women Who Kill (1980). For countless women of my generation, this documentation and the movement for change became our life's work. 

The next generation of women thought differently. Many younger women, even some who call themselves feminists today, were persuaded by the hostile counterattack against the women's movement (meticulously deconstructed by Susan Faludi in Backlash, 1991) that we uptight "man-haters" had wildly exaggerated the violence women face. They, on the other hand, proudly proclaimed their youth, intelligence, ambition, and control of their own lives. They would not be victims or feminists either. We knew how they felt, for we had felt that way, too, when we were young. Then they went out to work and met the monsters.

To understand what actually happens to women, you only have to listen to or read any of the accounts pouring forth right now to denounce "sexual harassment." The stories are laced with fear about immediate physical threats and, more pointedly, with anger and despair about the potential demolition of their jobs, future careers, and life as they had envisioned it for themselves.

From the stories of individual women, it's clear that predators violate the neat categories of feminist scholarship, shifting seamlessly from harassment to coercion to physical assault, rape, and worse. The "sexual" strategies exposed by these repetitive accounts are similar to those described in police reports on battered women, seasoned prostitutes, and women subjected to incest, trafficking, rape, and femicide. These are stories of the lives and deaths of millions of women and girls in America.

Behind all of them is the deafening sound of a silence that has persisted throughout my long life. But these past weeks have been startlingly different. By now, we -- both women and men -- should have heard enough to never again ask: "Why didn't she come forward?" Let this be our own "open secret." We all know now that a man who assaults a woman does so because he can, while a woman who comes forward, even with our support, is likely to be violated and shamed again -- as were the women who came forward to accuse presidential candidate Donald J. Trump.

Now What?

None of this is new, though we tend to act as if it were. Just last week, for instance, I heard three young women radio reporters explain that women back in the 1970s or 1980s accepted "unwanted male attention" in the office and in life "because that's just the way things were." (Harvey Weinstein offered the same excuse: "All the rules about workplaces and behavior were different. That was the culture then.")

Please, can we get this straight? Back in those ancient times -- the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s -- we did not accept violence against women in the workplace or any place else. It's true we hesitated to report it to employers or the police, because when we did, we had to watch them laugh it off or send us packing. But we did call it out. We named it. We described it. We wrote books about all forms of violence against women -- all those "man-hating" books that these days, if anyone cares to look, may not seem quite so obsolete.

We worked for change. And now only 40 or so years later, here it seems to be. Los Angeles Times reporter Glenn Whipp broke the story of James Toback's predation based on the complaints of 38 women. Within days that number had grown to 200. By the time I emailed him my story, the number reporting Toback assaults had hit 310. In a follow-up article, Whipp mentioned that the Manhattan District Attorney's Sex Crimes Unit wanted to hear from women Toback had attacked in their jurisdiction. I called and left a message, making good my threat to bring in the law after only about 45 years.

For the first time, someone other than my best friends might listen. Somebody might even call me back. But today, as I write, New York Times reporters Megan Twohey, Jodi Kantor, Susan Dominus and their colleagues describe in hair-raising detail "Harvey Weinstein's Complicity Machine," a catalogue of "enablers, silencers, and spies, warning others who discovered [Weinstein's] secret to say nothing." With their collaboration, Weinstein, like Toback, has preyed upon women since the 1970s. 

The Times reports that among Weinstein's closest media pals is David J. Pecker, the chief executive of American Media Inc., which owns The National Enquirer, a gossip rag whose reporters Weinstein could use to dig up dirt on his accusers. Reportedly, Weinstein was "known in the tabloid industry as an untouchable 'F.O.P.,' or 'friend of Pecker.'" It's no surprise to learn that another predator who shares that untouchable F.O.P. status in the tabloids is Donald "grab 'em by the pussy" Trump.

The question is unavoidable: If serial sexual predation disqualifies a man from being a film producer, screen writer, movie star, network newsman, talk show host, journalist, venture capitalist, comedian, actor, network news director, magazine editor, publisher, photographer, CEO, congressman, or senator, why shouldn't it disqualify a man from being president of the United States? Shouldn't sexist serial sexual assault constitute an impeachable high crime or misdemeanor? 

We may find out. Time magazine passed over the president as its "person of the year" to name instead the "Silence Breakers" -- the brave, outspoken women who inspired the #MeToo campaign. Pictured on the cover along with actress Ashley Judd and pop star Taylor Swift is a Mexican strawberry picker, using a pseudonym for her safety. Her presence and the arm of an unidentified hospital worker seated just out of the frame signal that we might yet learn how this cultural awakening is playing out in ordinary America for women working in the far less glamorous worlds of fast-food chains, nursing homes, hospitals, factories, restaurants, bars, hotels, truck stops, and yes, strawberry fields.

So where do we go from here? This train has left the station and rolls on. In some photos of those smart young relentless women journalists at the Times, I've noticed that their footwear tends not to stilettos, but to boots, which as every woman knows, are good for marching and for kicking ass. That's promising.

But since I've traveled this route before, you'll have to excuse me for thinking that when this big train passes, it could leave behind a system -- predators, enablers, silencers, spies, and thoroughly entrenched sex discrimination -- not so very different from that of the 1970s. And if that happens, no doubt those lying dead on the tracks will prove, upon official examination, to be female.

Categories: News

Mr. and Mrs. Perkins Go Gift Shopping 2017

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 05:00

and

Christma 

Categories: News

Was the Heated 2016 Democratic Primary Rigged for Debbie Wasserman Schultz?

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 05:00

In August 2016, Wasserman Schultz faced off against progressive Tim Canova. Canova focused the national outrage against her, turning the election into a referendum on her ethics. But with a 13.5 percent victory, she overcame questions about her political viability. Now new evidence of original ballots being destroyed and cast ballots not matching voter lists calls into question the results.

Newly uncovered data on the race won by Debbie Wasserman Schultz in 2016 have shocked election experts.Newly uncovered data on the race won by Debbie Wasserman Schultz in 2016 have shocked election experts. (Photo: Church World Service)

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In August 2016, Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz faced off against progressive maverick and Bernie Sanders supporter Tim Canova -- her first-ever primary challenger -- after six terms in Congress.

Just weeks earlier she had been forced to resign as head of the Democratic National Committee after stolen emails showed her talking smack about Senator Sanders and leaning on the scales in favor of her ally Hillary Clinton. Canova focused the national outrage against her, raising over $3 million, and turning the congressional election into a referendum on her policies and ethics. But with a 13.5% victory she overcame questions about her political viability and returned triumphantly to her job in Washington.

Now new evidence of original ballots being destroyed and cast ballots not matching voter lists calls into question the results of that election. 

With the nation fixated on the Alabama Senate special election and daily talk of interference in the 2016 presidential race, securing elections and verifying the accuracy of the vote has captivated the public.

On Thursday, an election transparency lawsuit was filed to preserve digital images of the ballots in the Alabama Senate race. And in a hearing in Broward County Florida, last month, a year-long battle to view the ballots in the race between Wasserman Schultz and Canova came to a head with a surprising admission by the Broward County Supervisor of Elections' office. In violation of both federal and state statutes that require federal election materials be preserved for 22 months, their office destroyed the ballots from the Wasserman Schultz/Canova race after only 12 months. Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes personally signed off on the ballots' destruction.

The county was in court because of a lawsuit that emerged from a public records request I filed in March 2017. It was the third public records request I filed with Broward County in a year. They did not provide the items requested in the first two public records request, so with the help of an attorney hired by Canova, who was also interested in seeing the ballots, I filed a third request. The county refused to comply with many items in the third request, and in June 2017 Canova, who is running for Congress against Wasserman Schultz again, took them to court. I am an expert witness in the case.

According to a transcript of the November hearing, the attorney for the Supervisor's office Burnadette Norris-Weeks claimed the ballots were destroyed, "Because they can't just store hundreds and hundreds of thousands of boxes.

It's possible that lack of storage space is not the only reason Broward County officials wanted to destroy the ballots. Months of investigating the Supervisor's office and analyzing election data reveal that in the vast majority of precincts in the race, the number of cast ballots does not match the number of voters who voted.

The discrepancies are large and all over the map. Some precincts show 10 to 20 more cast ballots than voters. In one precinct alone, M030, there are 24 more cast ballots than voters. Other precincts are missing ballots. Less than 10% of the precincts have the same number of cast ballots as voters; and in all the precincts combined, there are more than 1,000 discrepancies. Election experts and administrators who reviewed the data were shocked and concerned.

Duncan Buell, a professor of computer science at the University of South Carolina, said, "I see what I would call a high likelihood of massive incompetence. Either that or there is fraud. I don't think you should see numbers this big in this many precincts." Buell has examined election records extensively in South Carolina. 

Douglas Jones, a computer science professor at the University of Iowa sputtered in disbelief at the data. "This is really weird." He continued that they ought to be reconciling the number of voters with ballots and if they're not doing it, "they're grossly negligent." Jones served on the Election Assistance Commission's Technical Guidelines Development Committee for four years, but said "I've never seen a county that looks like this."

Canova is not the first one to take the Broward County Supervisor of Elections' office to court. He is in line behind the Republican Party that sued in November of 2016 over absentee ballots being opened in secret, and a not-for-profit that sued in October last year when Broward County left a medical marijuana amendment off some ballots. 

Problems with the county's elections go further back than that. In 2006, according to documents provided by the Florida Fair Elections Coalition, the Broward County Supervisor of Elections' office admitted to a "loss of data" that included over 100,000 ballot images. 

Ballots not matching the number of voters has surfaced in other states. In Wisconsin, the issue happens frequently enough that there is a statute (7.51 (2)(e)) on how to handle it, and the solution might surprise you. If there are more ballots than voters, officials are instructed to randomly pull out and throw away ballots until the numbers match.

Explanations

After almost a year of wrangling with the Supervisor of Elections' office, we were allowed a ballot inspection on November 1st and 2nd.  We arrived to find that there were no actual ballots to be inspected. The county instead insisted on showing us digital scans of ballots. In the subsequent court hearing they admitted they destroyed the originals.

We had already looked at the voter lists. The point of the ballot inspection was to see if there were also disparities in the vote count itself. We received printouts of scans for five precincts. In three of the five precincts, there were differences between the scans and the certified totals. In one case the difference was more than 1%. Based on the margins in this race, that type of shift is not large enough to change the outcome. However, since the original ballots, the totals tapes, and all associated paperwork have been destroyed, there is no way now to verify that these scans, or the votes on them, match the original ballots. The county hired an outside agency, Clear Ballot, to do the scanning -- raising chain of custody and security issues as well. Who had access to the ballots? Who had access to the scans?

The large discrepancies between the number of voters and the cast ballots, plus the inability or refusal of the Supervisor of Elections' office to produce the original ballots, all raise questions about what the true totals for the race may have been. Experts we consulted concurred that the certified results must be considered suspect. "They destroyed the evidence," said Karen McKim, a member of the Wisconsin Election Integrity Action Team and a veteran of handcounts in that state. "They can't defend their results."

The Broward County Supervisor of Elections' staff refused to answer questions during the ballot inspection, so it was not possible to ask them to explain the problems with their data. They are being deposed in regard to the destruction of ballots, and could be subject to criminal prosecution. The printouts of the scans were sealed and sent to Columbia County, New York, in case further examination is useful. 

Academics and election officials who regularly examine this type of data offered a myriad of potential reasons for the large discrepancies between the voters and the ballots, but were universally dismayed.

When asked if there was a reason for that type of gap Columbia County New York Election Commissioner Virginia Martin replied, "Not a good one." She suggested that a crush of new voters at the polls could result in a lot of spoiled ballots, but said "If this were happening in my county I'd want to investigate it."

Professor Buell described a packed election with seven-hour wait times in South Carolina where he had witnessed voters leaving after signing in. That resulted in more signatures than ballots in some precincts. But he could not recall seeing anything comparable to the numbers from Broward. He also noted the light turnout in this race and said the discrepancies were "unlikely to be attributable to long lines."

Susan Pynchon, executive director of the Florida Fair Elections Coalition, expressed frustration that when conducting citizen audits on elections, it was not unusual for them to see counties where the numbers did not add up. One explanation she had received in Volusia County was that they don't put police officers, firefighters, and judges on the disk of voters. Jones was uncomfortable with that practice saying, "Reconciling the number of ballots with the number of votes is such a fundamental protection of democracy that that is just giving the government the right to rig elections." 

A November article in the Christian Science Monitor brought to light some disturbing facts about the Broward County voter database: 

• It's estimated there are 61,000 more registered voters than eligible voters.

• It's estimated there are 560 centenarians currently living in Broward County, but there are 3,044 centenarians registered to vote there. 

The Monitor explored various security risks facing Broward County elections -- including the fact that its election systems and registration database are provided by VR Systems, a company that was compromised by hackers in 2016. Russia, North Korea, Iran and China were all put forward as foreign adversaries that could potentially disrupt or manipulate an election. But Pynchon offered a more mundane risk, closer to home. She pointed to a "ballot on demand" machine available at every early voting site that is capable of printing out ballots for any voter in any precinct.

The machines solved a major logistics problem for early voting, but she is concerned that there are not enough safeguards in place to protect against their abuse. She described how multiple ballots can be printed with the bubbles already filled in for candidates, and ended by saying, "An inside job would always be easier because you have access to all the tools you need."

The Rematch

Wasserman Schultz claims she is looking forward to the upcoming contest against Canova, saying in a June email, "I embrace it as a chance to continue to talk directly with voters." Canova has made no secret of his opinion of Wasserman Schultz. Following the election, he refused to make a concession call saying, "I'll concede that Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a corporate stooge." 

Snipes, the current Broward County Supervisor of Elections presided over the first race. She has a four-year term, so unless she is removed from office for misconduct (something the Florida constitution allows the governor to do) she will also preside over the rematch.

Categories: News

Activists Demand Congress Halt Net Neutrality Repeal as Protests Erupt Nationwide

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 05:00

With just two days left before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) vote to repeal net neutrality, activists are making sure the wishes of over 23 million Open Internet supporters are heard. But with both Republicans and Democrats beholden to telecommunications providers, can Congress be persuaded to thwart FCC Chairman Pai's plans and deal a major blow to Trump's deregulatory agenda?

 Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)Demonstrators gather outside of the 31st Annual Chairman's Dinner to show their support for net neutrality at the Washington Hilton December 7, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

​With the Federal Communications Commission scheduled to vote on repealing its popular net neutrality rules on December 14, the campaign to save them is going into hyperdrive both online and in the streets. Protests are erupting across the country, including a major rally outside the FCC headquarters in Washington, DC, on Thursday.

Activists are focusing their efforts on Congress, which could still step in and demand that the vote be delayed.

A group of tech leaders and pioneering internet developers, including Tim Berners-Lee, an MIT professor credited with inventing the original World Wide Web back in 1989, sent a letter on Monday to members of Congress who oversee the FCC requesting that they intervene and halt the vote.

"Over 23 million comments have been submitted by a public that is clearly passionate about protecting the Internet," the experts wrote. "The FCC could not possibly have considered these adequately. Indeed, breaking with established practice, the FCC has not held a single open public meeting to hear from citizens and experts about the proposed Order."

One of those comments came from authors of the letter, who submitted a 43-page joint comment on behalf of 200 prominent internet developers and pioneers back in July. The comment, which can be read here, claims that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's repeal proposal is based on "a flawed and factually inaccurate understanding of Internet technology," according to the letter.

Pai, a Republican appointed FCC chairman by president Trump, has proposed a sweeping repeal of the 2015 Open Internet Order that gave the FCC power to prevent Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as AT&T and Comcast, from blocking, slowing and playing favorites with online content. The rules also allow the FCC to regulate the internet more like a public utility that everyone needs to use rather than a luxury for those who can afford it.

Pai says lifting the rules will allow ISPs to offer "innovative" service packages and put more money into infrastructure, but digital rights activists say they are needed to prevent big telecom companies from shaping the internet in a way that would maximize profits and construct barriers to internet access for low-income consumers and minorities.  

ISPs tend to be unpopular among consumers, and the same goes for Pai's repeal proposal, but that has not kept the free-market ideologue from going forward with plans to gut the rules, along with a long list of consumer protections established under the Obama administration.

Republicans in Congress have already used their majority to repeal popular online privacy protections for consumers at the behest of big telecom companies, so it appears unlikely that they would step in to save net neutrality at the last minute. However, lawmakers are more susceptible to public pressure than appointees like Pai. Could Congress be convinced to thwart Pai's plans, dealing a major blow to Trump's deregulatory agenda in the process?

The digital rights group Fight for the Future, which has successfully influenced Congress with massive online mobilizations in the past, says net neutrality can still be saved if enough people join online protests and call their representatives in Washington.

"We're already seeing key lawmakers crack under the pressure and come out in support of net neutrality," Fight for the Future co-director Holmes Wilson told supporters in a recent email. "We're organizing a mass online action for the 48 hours before the vote to drive hundreds of thousands more phone calls when we need them most."

Some members of Congress are speaking out against the repeal, including Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine. Several progressive house members, including Rep. Maxine Waters and Rep. Keith Ellison, are scheduled to speak at the rally outside the FCC on Thursday. Organizers expect hundreds to attend.

Democrats are calling for a delay of the vote because the FCC has yet to resolve disputes over a large volume of fake comments supporting the repeal supporting the repeal proposal that were submitted to the agency's docket along with stolen personal information, and activists stay there is still a chance to push lawmakers into action.

Some net neutrality proponents say that Congress could settle the debate by passing a law establishing net neutrality rules, but critics point out that ISPs make donations to members of Congress from both parties. Data from the Center for Responsive Politics shows that $101 million in campaign donations have flowed from ISPs to the coffers of current lawmakers since 1989. ISPs tend to favor Republicans, but Democrats have received 44 percent of donations.

Fight for the Future is planning a massive online protest on December 12. More information, along with details about contacting lawmakers, can be found at www.battleforthenet.com.

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Categories: News

A Movement for the Toughest Among Us

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 05:00
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My name is Mashyla Buckmaster. I'm 28 years old. I'm the proud single mom of a beautiful one-year-old named Ella. As of today, I'm celebrating almost two years clean and sober. I live in Westport -- in Grays Harbor County, Washington. I've spent five years of my life homeless. Once during my homelessness, a neighbor tried to assault me by throwing a log through the window of the empty building where I was squatting, because he was so enraged that homeless people were living on his block.

I got Section 8 housing after my daughter was born, just before my organization began providing cold weather shelter to our homeless members. For 110 days last winter, Chaplains on the Harbor hosted about 20 people in our church -- most of them millennials who caught a record trying to survive in a county with no good jobs, no decent affordable housing, horrible healthcare, and plenty of heroin.

Business and property owners were outraged by our cold weather shelter. Our homeless members were stalked by police. Our pastor was threatened with vigilante violence. The same man who'd tried to attack me during my own time squatting also assaulted a 19-year-old homeless member of our community, on church property, and later attempted to run him over with a truck.

I volunteered to stay overnight at our church and keep people safe while they slept. I stayed there through the nights while the threats continued to pour in. I stayed because my community stepped up to save my life, when the rest of society didn't care whether I lived or died, and now it was my turn to protect my community.

I volunteered to stay overnight at our church and keep people safe while they slept. I stayed there through the nights while the threats continued to pour in. I stayed because my community stepped up to save my life, when the rest of society didn't care whether I lived or died, and now it was my turn to protect my community. I'm joining the Poor People's Campaign because I need a movement that's as tough as I am. Poor and homeless people get stereotyped like we're too stupid and lazy to solve our own problems. I wasn't homeless because I was stupid and lazy. I was homeless because our country has no problem with pregnant mothers being homeless in the dead of winter while just two hours away, in Seattle, the founders of Microsoft and Amazon have made themselves the richest individuals on the planet. You tell me who's messed up in this situation.

Some of you might be suspicious about a Grays Harbor County person getting up in front of this crowd, thinking, "aren't they just a bunch of rednecks out there?" Hell yes, we're rednecks. We're radical rednecks. We're hillbillies for the liberation of all people. "We are the living reminder that when they threw out their white trash, they didn't burn it." We're here to stand shoulder to shoulder with anybody taking up this campaign, and trust me, we are the kind of scrappy you want on your side in a fight."

Categories: News

Black Snake Chronicles: Wiindigoo Economics and the Return of Keystone XL

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 05:00
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As the plauged Keystone Pipeline spilled 200,000 gallons of oil near the Sisseton Dakota reservation, on November 20, the Nebraska Public Service Commission issued a convoluted permit approval, allowing TransCanada to route the line through part of the state. In the meantime, the Dakota, Lakota and their allies stand strong.

That same day hundreds gathered for the Gathering to Protect the Sacred -- a reaffirmation of the international agreement among sovereign indigenous nations to protect the environment from tar-sands projects. The Treaty to Protect the Sacred, first signed in 2013, was signed again. "Nothing has changed at all in our defense of land, air and water of the Oceti Sakowin," Faith Spotted Eagle told the crowd. "If anything, it has become more focused, stronger and more adamant after Standing Rock."

The assembly -- sponsored by the Braveheart Society of Women, Wiconi Un Tipi, Ihanktonwan Treaty Committee and Dakota Rural Action -- brought together 200 water protectors. Oyate Win Brushbreaker, a 97-year-old elder reminded those present, "Reaffirm the boundaries of that treaty. Keep out that black snake you have been talking about."

The Keystone and Its Spill(s)

This is a story about Wiindigoo Economics -- Cannibal or Wasichu economics, if you like -- an economic system that destroys the source of its wealth, Mother Earth.

We can say that it begins in the United States, where a fossil-fuel economy rules, or we can say that it begins in Canada, where 90 percent of the value of the Canadian dollar, the loonie, is based on tar sands. Regardless, an undiversified economy is a stupid idea. Even with all its oil company allies, Canada has a problem. Alberta is a land locked province and there's no sane way to get all that oil to market. Things are unlikely to work out for Canadian tar sands interests, because at every turn they are being stopped by citizen opposition.

The Keystone Pipeline, which is not even fully operational, just showed us that it cannot operate safely. The mid-November spill in South Dakota was not supposed to happen -- neither were the last five oil spills. After all, they tell us, it's brand new pipe and TransCanada's June 2006 pipeline risk assessment found no reason for alarm:

[T]he estimated occurrence intervals for a spill of 50 barrels or less occurring anywhere along the entire pipeline system is once every 65 years. …  Applying these statistics to a 1-mile section, the chances of a larger spill (greater than 10,000 barrels) would be less than once every 67,000 years. 

To be clear, Keystone has now had at least a dozen spills. They keep moving down the line. One journalist speculated the pipeline was passing a kidney stone. In a 2011 analysis, University of Nebraska engineering professor John Stansbury estimated there would be at least two major spills per year, some potentially releasing as much as 180,000 barrels. (Told you so.)  

One could argue that the normalizing of pipeline spills and an impossible regulatory framework (especially in Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota) are to blame. But this is, in fact, the new norm. In 2016, there were 220 significant incidents, or pipeline spills in the United States, with 3,032 since 2006 -- those provide a stark reminder of the environmental hazards of an aging pipeline infrastructure carrying fossil fuels. But new pipes have catastrophic leaks too. The total cost of these accidents since 2006 is $4.7 billion.

As for the watchdogs? Inspectors for leaks are few and far between and they have unclear regulatory jurisdiction. The United States currently has 553 pipeline inspectors (208 federal and 345 state) and each is responsible for nearly 5,000 miles of line. These inspectors work for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). As the number of pipelines increases, and their age increases, we are playing high-risk pipeline roulette.

Wiindigoo Economics and Mni Wiconi

While Donald Trump is busy approving these projects, another reality continues. Water Protectors challenge pipeline viability, as does oil economics.

A few months ago, four massive pipelines were being planned to bring Canada's tar sands out of Alberta. On October 5, the longest of these proposals -- the $15.7 billion Energy East -- was scrapped by TransCanada. Canadian oil economists pointed to the decline of oil prices and the corresponding drop in tar-sands extraction as the driving force for project cancellation, augmented by Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau's more stringent review of pipeline projects to include greenhouse gas emissions and downstream impacts.

One down, three to go.

While TransCanada received approval this past month for the Keystone pipeline, it still does not have a route. The Nebraska Public Service Commission voted 3-2 to give the project the go ahead, but rejected the company's preferred route. TransCanada must now submit an application for an alternative route or appeal the decision -- a process that could take up to two years. That is catastrophic in itself for a pipeline company. One thing is also for sure: any new route will face fresh opposition.

Wiindigoo Economics marches on, but tar-sands divestment is climbing, electric cars are coming online and even Fox News reported in June, "Keystone XL is facing a basic challenge. The oil producers and refiners the pipeline was originally meant to serve aren't interested in it anymore." In other words, the company has no customers for the pipeline, and a pipeline without shippers is unlikely to be built.

The companies are hedging bets, as is the Canadian government.

In mid-November, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission held evidentiary hearings on Enbridge Line 3 (the 915,000-barrel-a-day tar-sands pipeline). In the back of the room, a Canadian official sat quietly in the audience, worried and watching. At the end of the day, he approached one of the tribal attorneys and asked if the tribes were likely to sue and stop the pipeline. It turns out TransCanada had asked the Alberta government to buy some oil shipping space on the proposed KXL Line because there were no shippers. The Wiindigoo Economics wizards of Alberta seem to be hedging their bets.

It's an uncertain time.

"If I was South Dakota..."

If I was South Dakota, I would be making sure that this catastrophic spill was completely cleaned up before anything else moves ahead, and maybe before TransCanada goes bankrupt. Indeed, the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission issued the Keystone permit in 2007 with 57 conditions, ranging from construction standards to environmental requirements.

The Commission may revoke or suspend that permit if the company is found to have made misstatements in its application or does not comply with the conditions. "If it was knowingly operating in a fashion not allowed under the permit or if construction was done in a fashion that was not acceptable, that should cause the closure of the pipe for at least a period of time until those challenges are rectified," said Gary Hanson, one South Dakota PUC commissioner.

In the meantime, the Dakota and their allies remain committed to Mni Wiconi -- water is life.

"The coming battles are going to be new, not like the ones in the past, and will demand all our strength," Lakota organizer Judith LeBlanc writes on OurFuture.org. "The traditional indigenous practice is that you must respond to adversity with courage, humility, compassion and love of community as we always have. The NO KXL movement is being built from a spiritual starting point that's rooted in the traditional Lakota, Dakota culture and origin stories, in the grassroots and in sovereign treaty rights. … Native peoples have a legal, moral, spiritual and inherent right to be caretakers of the planet."

At the Gathering to Protect the Sacred, Arvol Looking Horse tells the crowd, "We have been here before. Time and time again we have faced this invasion in our camps and our communities. But we always prevail."

Julian Brave Noisecat was there as well: "After the Treaty to Protect the Sacred was signed, we came together to dance in victory. As the drummers hit the honor beats, we raise defiant hands. Women clutch red scarves symbolizing scalps and emblematic of the victory our people and planet so desperately need right now."

The path forward for Keystone XL remains full of peril. Landowners, tribes and opponents of the pipeline have time to organize an appeal, and more than 5,000 people have signed up to join indigenous people in acts of civil disobedience when and if construction begins.

This Black Snake faces some very strong, committed opponents.

Categories: News

A Massive Blow to Social Movements if Our Voices Are Able to Be Blocked

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 05:00
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Janine Jackson: The Boston Globe technology writer says concerns about the FCC's plan to repeal net neutrality are "overhyped": Probably what will happen, if the agency eliminates the rules that keep the internet a level playing field, as it seems set to do, is…not much. In the same column, Hiawatha Bray describes net neutrality as "regulatory overkill on a massive scale." So, a "massive scale" thing whose elimination will nevertheless not mean much.

Should, for example, a company like Comcast block access to, say, Amazon Prime video, so subscribers have to use Comcast's service, Bray says, "millions of angry customers" would just "switch to a rival service." So your head's already well-scratched before Bray gets to the presumably ingenuous question: "What internet company would put itself in the crosshairs of public outrage just to gain a slight and temporary advantage over a rival?"

You may chuckle, but this is the level of argument in support of the FCC's effort to repeal net neutrality rules. The truth is, advocates have everything on our side -- public opinion, legal precedent, actual understanding of how the internet works. What opponents have, though, is corporate power, and its government supporters. So what now? Joining us to discuss where we are in this critical fight is Erin Shields, national field organizer for internet rights at the Center for Media Justice, one of the front-line groups on the issue. Welcome to CounterSpin, Erin Shields.

Erin Shields: Thank you for having me.

I suspect CounterSpin listeners have a healthy mistrust of media corporations claiming that they would never go against the public interest for a silly little thing like profit, but some might be persuaded that the effect of a repeal just might not be so bad, or might not mean so much. You bring people to Capitol Hill to talk with lawmakers. What sorts of concerns do they have, what kinds of stories do they tell?

So a lot of my work is bringing people from the field who are doing work with media, organizing in movements, working in their communities, to talk about what net neutrality repeal would mean for them personally. And what you hear, over and over again, is this underlying issue around being able to control your own narrative.

There are a lot of other things that net neutrality repeal would impact, such as people's access to online education or to health information online. A lot of people in low-income communities and communities of color access education through the internet, or are doing their homework through the internet.

But also, on a larger social scale, the internet has been critical to getting around larger media corporation's control of our narratives. And so a lot of times when we're talking with lawmakers and decision makers, what we're emphasizing is the internet's impact on our communities being able to tell our own stories. I'm thinking about Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock, and a lot of the work that was being done by ADAPT up on Capitol Hill to stop the repeal of the ACA. A lot of that was powered by the internet, and our ability to push back on these dominant narratives that are often pushed in mainstream media.

And in these mainstream media arenas, oftentimes we're not even invited to the table, and so it's critical for us to be able to use blogs and Twitter and Facebook to share information, to talk about what's really happening on the ground. And I think that will be a massive blow to social movements moving forward, if our voices are able to be blocked and censored in those ways.

The FCC has three Republicans and two Democrats, and they often vote along party lines, and so it seems as though this move to repeal may go through in this December vote. But that's not the end of it. What would happen, what happens then?

We're anticipating, as much as we hate to discuss it, that the repeal will happen. But what's next is, likely, many organizations, like Center for Media Justice and EFF, will take the FCC to court. And we feel like we have a great chance at winning, because we've won in the past. I think you were touching on it earlier. The 2015 open internet rules have been upheld twice in court. And we believe that, based on what we've seen, orders that we've seen come out of the FCC around this repeal, that they don't have a very good standing if we were to challenge this in court.

On the other side of that, there's a move to pressure lawmakers to introduce some sort of net neutrality legislation. And while that may seem good on the surface level, what we're concerned about is -- I mean, as everyone, as I'm sure your listeners know, the state of this Congress is not hospitable to a net neutrality order that would keep the 2015 open internet rules as the floor. Of course there are going to be ISP lobbyists in the room when that bill is being made. And so what we're asking congressional members to do now is to speak out publicly against this repeal and for the rules that we already have, and to demand that Chairman Pai do his job and enforce the rules that have been upheld by courts, that were come to in a democratic way, millions of comments submitted supporting these rules, and to not be beholden to his prior employers and to these four ISP companies who would benefit most from this repeal.

So there's still a battle to be had, and we don't want to lose organizing energy; we don't want people to take their ball and go home after the repeal. There's a lot that we can be doing to pressure Congress into standing publicly for the 2015 rules. And if there is any legislation put forward, to make sure that it codifies the 2015 open internet rules, and nothing less. We actually can't take anything less than that.

So not that we are giving up on other channels, like contacting legislators, like contacting the FCC. All of that is necessary, but I know that we're also talking about going back to the street again, aren't we?

Yeah, absolutely. We're planning on December 14, the day of the vote, to have a massive rally, in order to keep the energy up around this issue, right outside of the FCC. We really don't want Chairman Pai to be able to repeal this without there being some sort of visible pushback, and letting him know who exactly is going to be impacted by this repeal. I mean, I think a lot of times people think net neutrality is like this fight between internet companies, and it's really important for us, for CMJ in particular, to say, actually, hold on, the repeal of these [rules] is not just going to cost more for Netflix, but it will actually cost more for our communities, the ways that we're able to talk with each other, to organize, to access job opportunities, to access education. It's a real human impact, not just an impact on a corporation's bottom line.

And so I think that's why you'll see in the coming weeks a number of demonstrations, actions, and really disruptions to business as usual, because we really can't let this repeal happen without letting our communities, the media, general public writ large, know that we disagree, and that we disagree staunchly.

We've been speaking with Erin Shields, who's national field organizer for internet rights at the Center for Media Justice. They are online at MediaJustice.org. Erin Shields, thank you very much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

Thank you so much for having me

Categories: News

Amid Worst Winter Wildfires in California History, Concern Farmworkers Are Laboring in Hazardous Air

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 16:10

In California, drought-fueled wildfires raged toward Southern California's coastal cities over the weekend. The fires have scorched some 230,000 acres of land and forced nearly 200,000 people to evacuate. At least one woman has died so far. The wildfires are already the fifth largest on record in California history. Climate experts say the intensity of the winter blazes is linked to climate change. Authorities have warned residents to stay inside because of the dangerous air quality caused by smoke and carcinogenic ash from the fires. But a number of farms have stayed open, sparking concerns that farmworkers are laboring in hazardous conditions without proper equipment. Last week, volunteers handing out free protective masks to farmworkers say they were kicked off some farms, despite the fact that the pickers were asking for the safety equipment. For more, we speak with Lucas Zucker, who was evacuated last week due to the wildfires. Zucker is the policy and communications director for CAUSE -- Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy -- and he helped distribute respirator masks to farmworkers who had to continue working despite the hazardous air quality conditions. We also speak with Democratic California State Assemblymember Monique Limón, who represents Santa Barbara and Ventura County.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

On Eve of Alabama Senate Election, a Look at Roy Moore's Racism, Homophobia and Religious Fanaticism

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 16:07

Democrat Doug Jones and Republican Roy Moore are locked in a tight and increasingly controversial race to fill the Alabama Senate seat left vacant by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The election is on Tuesday. A Democrat hasn't won a US Senate race in Alabama for 20 years. Polling shows the two candidates are neck and neck, despite Moore being accused by at least nine women of sexually harassing or assaulting them when they were teenagers. President Donald Trump has repeatedly endorsed Roy Moore, including on Friday, when he held a rally in Pensacola, Florida, which is 20 miles from the Alabama border and in the same media market as Mobile, Alabama. Roy Moore has had a long and highly controversial political career in Alabama that's been marked by racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and religious fanaticism. Over the weekend, the Doug Jones campaign orchestrated a massive get-out-the-vote effort, particularly targeting African-American voters. A number of prominent African-American politicians, including New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, Alabama Congressmember Terri Sewell and former Massachusetts Democratic Governor Deval Patrick, all campaigned for Jones over the weekend. For more, we speak with Peter Montgomery, senior fellow at People for the American Way. His most recent piece is headlined "There's More Than One Roy Moore Scandal."

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

As Mueller Closes in on Trump, the Right Pushes Back: Will He Be Fired?

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 15:42

 Alex Wong / Getty Images) Special counsel Robert Mueller arrives at the US Capitol for closed meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee June 21, 2017, in Washington, DC. The committee meets with Mueller to discuss the firing of former FBI Director James Comey. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., appeared on CNN on Sunday and laid out the state of the investigation into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign in stark, simple terms:

Here is what we know:

The Russians offered help.
The Campaign accepted help.
The Russians gave help.
The President made full use of that help.

That's pretty damning. pic.twitter.com/kRo9NrdQq4

— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) December 10, 2017

It is. I would also add, as I wrote last week, that numerous members of the Trump transition team apparently knew that Michael Flynn told the Russian ambassador to tell his government not to react to the sanctions the Obama administration had just imposed upon them. That's damning too. The Russians were essentially told, "Don't worry, we'll make sure you aren't punished for helping us win the presidency."

Whether laws were broken, beyond the charges filed so far against four top Trump advisers, we don't yet know. But it's clear that special counsel Robert Mueller is pursuing leads in a number of directions, from possible financial crimes to obstruction of justice to conspiracy. With former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleading guilty to lying and agreeing to cooperate, this investigation has moved beyond the campaign to the transition and the White House. It's very serious.

And as anyone could have predicted, it was inevitable that the president's supporters in the media and the Republican Party would start to push back and try to delegitimize the investigation by attacking Mueller. This is the usual pattern in these presidential scandals.

Everyone in politics knows about the "Saturday Night Massacre" of 1973, when Richard Nixon demanded that Attorney General Elliot Richardson fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox, after the US Court of Appeals overruled the president's claim of executive privilege. Richardson refused and resigned, as did his deputy, William Ruckelshaus. It was left to Solicitor General Robert Bork, third in line at the Department of Justice, to do the deed. Ten months later Nixon was forced to resign in the face of certain impeachment. His successor, Gerald Ford, pardoned him shortly thereafter.

In the Iran-Contra scandal, the Republicans went after independent counsel Lawrence Walsh with everything they had, even granting immunity to the Reagan administration's henchman, Lt. Col. Oliver North, so he could arrogantly testify before the whole  country that he was proud to have broken the law on behalf of the United States of America. That investigation was finally ended when President George H.W. Bush preemptively pardoned former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and five other government officials on Christmas Eve 1992, as Bush was on his way out the door.

Democrats mercilessly battered conservative Republican judge Ken Starr, who was appointed independent counsel in the Whitewater investigation when his predecessor failed to turn up any crimes. This was a key to the Democrats' success in maintaining public opinion during the Lewinsky sex scandal, because it seemed that Starr had gone far afield from his original mandate to investigate an Arkansas real estate transaction from the 1980s.

So now we have Mueller, a former US attorney and the longest-serving FBI director after J. Edgar Hoover, investigating President Trump and the 2016 election. If it is true that Trump coordinated with the Russian government during the election and then obstructed justice to cover it up, it is the most serious presidential scandal in American history. Nixon horrifically abused his power, the Reagan administration defied the will of Congress and Bill Clinton lied about an extramarital affair.  This is of a different magnitude altogether.

The Republicans are obviously aware of the danger and are frantically circling the wagons. They spent months throwing various ideas at the wall, including the obscure (and largely fictitious) Uranium One scandal and other Clinton Foundation matters, in an attempt to force Mueller to resign on the grounds that he was FBI director at the time. Now they've finally settled on a grand unifying theory: the Justice Department, the FBI and the special counsel's office are all hopelessly corrupt and compromised due to their fealty to Hillary Clinton and hostility to Trump.

The theory goes like this: James Comey and his men covered up Hillary Clinton's crimes and Mueller and his team are now trying to railroad Trump. This thesis is based on the fact that an FBI agent who was involved in both cases sent some texts to his girlfriend which were allegedly anti-Trump. Muller fired him last summer and he

Trump's most ardent media advocate, Sean Hannity, came out with guns blazing last week. He condemned Mueller's "partisan, extremely biased, hyper-partisan attack team" as "an utter disgrace." He said "they now pose a direct threat to you, the American people, and our American republic."

Fox legal analyst Gregg Jarrett said "I think we now know that the Mueller investigation is illegitimate and corrupt. And Mueller has been using the FBI as a political weapon. And the FBI has become America's secret police. Secret surveillance, wiretapping, intimidation, harassment and threats. It's like the old KGB that comes for you in the dark of the night banging through your door."

Here is Fox News' Jeanine Pirro over the weekend:

.@JudgeJeanine: "There have been times in our history where corruption and lawlessness were so pervasive, that examples had to be made. This is one of those times." pic.twitter.com/rvCKHYhKQ9

— Fox News (@FoxNews) December 10, 2017

Meanwhile, Trump's allies in Congress are also ratcheting up the crazy:

Was there collusion between DOJ and Fusion GPS to use Democratic funded dossier for political and legal purposes?

We need to know the answer to those questions. https://t.co/z8wKjcvxiT

— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) December 8, 2017

I will be challenging Rs and Ds on Senate Judiciary Committee to support a Special Counsel to investigate ALL THINGS 2016 -- not just Trump and Russia.

— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) December 8, 2017

People wonder why Graham has suddenly become such an obsequious Trump lapdog. My suspicion is that Graham thinks he can distract Trump from doing something that will totally destroy his presidency with Clinton bait and unctuous flattery. It won't work, of course.

Trump's allies in the House have escalated their attacks as well, notably Rep. Matt Gaetz and Rep. Ron DeSantis, a pair of Florida Republicans Trump huddled with aboard Air Force One on his way to the Roy Moore rally in Pensacola last Friday night. DeSantis has been pushing legislation to cut off Mueller's funding and Gaetz has said that America is "at risk of a coup" from Mueller, and has introduced a resolution calling for him to be fired.

All of this, from the right-wing media to the GOP Congress, is designed to push Trump to fire Mueller -- and if that fails to discredit Mueller's findings among their followers, as Paul Waldman argues here. But considering the history of partisan attacks on special prosecutors and independent counsels, this can hardly come as a surprise to Mueller and his team. Mueller has been in high levels of government for many years; he's not a political naif. He undoubtedly knew this was coming.

We don't know whether or not Mueller has laid enough landmines to protect his investigation, although there are some indications that he's made the effort. But if Trump's rhetoric on Friday night is any indication, when he called the system "rigged" and "sick," we may be about to find out.

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Categories: News

Trump Takes a Stand for Corruption -- by Withdrawing the US From Anti-Corruption Pact

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 14:12
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The degree of corruption displayed by the Trump administration is on a scale that is hard to keep track of, and hits so close to home that we often forget about the wider global implications of having an incompetent, at best, and more likely a traitorous "president". As many of us have realized since Day 1, the antics of the Distractor-in-Chief have served as excellent cover for his real agenda: covertly implementing pro-corporate policies.

In this vein, another international issue that flew under the radar recently was the withdrawal of the US last month from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) as an implementing country. Through President Barack Obama, the US joined the "Anti-Corruption Pact," as it has been called, in 2011.

Now, Trump's hasty decision to pull out sends an unmistakable signal: corruption is tolerated if it helps line corporate pockets. According to Trump and lots of Republicans, anything regulating business is bad, even transparency. But the reality is that removing the US from EITI benefits no one.

Launched in 2002 by then UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, EITI helps address the systemic corruption in countries whose GDP relies primarily on resource extraction. More than 52 countries across the world have joined the pact, which imposes international standards on business transparency so as to hinder illicit payments such as bribes or other forms of corruption. The basic idea of the Anti-Corruption Pact is simple: if extractive firms and corporations are forced to publicly disclose their contributions to government, then citizens can hold them accountable. The agreement is designed to help countries avoid the perils of the so-called "resource curse" often faced by undeveloped, resource-rich nations.

It's little surprise that the countries that have benefited from the EITI regulations are among the poorest and most corrupt in the world, for example, Ghana and Azerbaijan.

The Chairman of the initiative, Fredrik Reinfeldt, responded to Trump's decision in a prepared statement, saying, "This is a disappointing, backwards step. The EITI is making important gains in global efforts to address corruption and illicit financial flows." Some have interpreted the US withdrawal from the EITI as part of the country's indiscriminate and large-scale gutting of regulations, treaties and international agreements. But there is also concern that the Trump administration is giving extractive industries too much control over their own regulations.

In a resignation letter written by a Department of Interior official-turned-whistleblower, Joel Clement stated: "Secretary Zinke: It is well known that you, Secretary David Burnhardt, and President Trump are shackled to special interests such as oil, gas, and mining." In light of the recent news, the fact that Interior Secretary Zinke oversees the Department of Natural Resources Revenue is indeed troubling.

During his time in Congress, Zinke, then a representative from Montana, consistently voted and legislated in favor of extractive industries. Watchdog groups have raised concerns about contributions Zinke received from those industries, totaling at least $345,000 since 2003. Other members of the Trump administration also have ties to extraction industries, notably Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil.

It's no secret that the "fox guarding the henhouse" approach has typified the Trump administration's approach to governance from the start. And given Trump's long history of favoring Big Oil and non-renewable resources, protecting oil companies from having to declare foreign payments on their taxes may now be at the root of the US's withdrawal from the EITI.

The Department of Natural Resources Extraction contends that the EITI didn't take account of the complex US legal framework, explaining that laws such as the Trade Secrets Act prevent the US from participating. The department put forward industry research -- which was itself funded by the extractive industry -- arguing that there is no clear relationship between "good governance" and the EITI.

However, even this research has acknowledged that the pact may ultimately prove effective in some countries. Meanwhile, other research has shown that although the EITI doesn't have a clearly positive effect on the rule of law and control of corruption, it has had a positive effect on government effectiveness, economic development and regulatory quality.

The specious argument made by Big Oil is that the EITI isn't 100 percent successful in eradicating corruption, therefore we shouldn't engage in it at all. However, none of the research shows that the EITI does any demonstrable harm or provides a justifiable reason not to participate. The real reason for US withdrawal from the EITI, it seems, is so that the extraction industry can hide its contributions to foreign governments, including bribes.

Strangely, Exxon itself last month came out in support for the EITI, saying it will voluntarily participate in the pact despite the US's withdrawal. This draws into question the real motives behind Trump's move to bring down 15 years of anti-corruption negotiations. Is it solely for corporate interests? Or perhaps it is just another example of Trump's hatred of anything Obama touched, and succeeded in accomplishing.

The decision to pull the US out of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative may not affect our everyday lives as Americans. But it destroys hope for reform in the world's darkest corners, and further damages America's credibility as an international mediator or fair player on the world stage. While the country's withdrawal from the global Anti-Corruption Pact may have slipped through the autumn news cycle, it will have repercussions on international relations for decades to come.

Categories: News

"Cheated and Lied to": How Insurers and Manufacturers Mask the Truth About High Drug Prices

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 05:00

 AndrijTer / Getty Images)(Photo: AndrijTer / Getty Images)

Frustrated by the ever-increasing price of insulin, advocates for people living with diabetes decided to educate themselves about the pricing system for pharmaceuticals in order to hold the profiteers accountable. They discovered a complex and secretive system of kickbacks and backroom negotiations that have sent drug prices skyrocketing while manufacturers and insurers deflect the blame on each other.

 AndrijTer / Getty Images)(Photo: AndrijTer / Getty Images)

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Julia Boss's daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2015, just before her ninth birthday. Like many people who are self-employed, Boss purchased a health insurance plan through the federal marketplace with high out-of-pocket costs. Until she reached a $6,000 deductible, Boss paid $251 for a vial of insulin and $381 for a box of cartridges for an insulin injection pen that her daughter uses at school. Boss also paid $198 for emergency glucagon kits that could save her daughter's life should her blood sugar levels suddenly drop.

Boss had no choice but to pay huge costs to keep her daughter alive. Her story echoes many that have emerged in media coverage over the past year as public outcry grows over rising prescription drug prices. Notorious cases of price gouging by the likes of Valeant PharmaceuticalsMylan and Martin Shkreli have drawn plenty of media attention and left the public fuming, but greedy pharmaceutical executives are not the sole focus of Boss's frustration. Boss says insurance companies have been lying to her -- and the rest of us -- about drug prices, and she found herself paying more than her insurance plan does for insulin before hitting her deductible.

"[I feel] cheated and lied to, yes," Boss told Truthout. "Though devastated might be the best word."

When it comes to insulin and other pharmaceuticals, drug companies are not competing to offer consumers the lowest price, they are competing to offer benefit managers the highest rebate on wholesale prices.

In 2016, Boss switched from a "bronze" to a "silver" insurance plan with a higher premium and lower deductibles, but drug companies had also raised the price of insulin and glucagon, so she still paid hundreds of dollars out of pocket each month until hitting a $4,100 maximum. After moving her family from Washington to Oregon, Boss briefly paid a $50 copay for insulin cartridges before her daughter developed an allergy to the product and was forced to switch to another brand that was not preferred by the insurance company.

"By then I had started to notice how uncomfortable the pharmacists looked when I picked up my daughter's prescriptions, and I had started following #insulin4all activists on Twitter -- people who have been working hard for years to bring public attention to insulin prices," Boss said. A storm was certainly brewing on social media, where diabetes patients were regularly posting pictures of their receipts from the pharmacy.

"I've seen [social media] posts from people who go to pick up insulin at the pharmacy, field the pharmacist's inevitable, 'you do know the price on this?' question, and then go out to cry in the car," Boss said. "Every one of those people feels cheated, especially when they know insulin prices have increased by over 1,000 percent in 20 years."

In November 2015, Boss founded the Type 1 Diabetes Defense Fund (T1DF), a group determined to get to the bottom of high insulin prices and hold the profiteers accountable.

Secret Drug-Pricing Deals Keep Consumers in the Dark

Like other specialty drugs, insulin prices have risen dramatically in recent years and continue to go up like clockwork. For example, Eli Lilly and Co. raised the price of Humalog, a fast-acting form of insulin that Boss's daughter used before developing an allergy to it, from $2,657 per year to $9,172 from 2009 to 2017: a 345 percent increase. Along with competing insulin manufacturer Novo Nordisk, Eli Lilly raised the price of its flagship insulin product again this year, despite government investigations into pricing schemes and class-action lawsuits accusing the companies of price-fixing.

Why are insulin prices so high? Boss says that in order to answer this question, we must examine the relationship between drug manufacturers and insurance companies. There are actually two prices set for insulin and other specialty drugs: the "list price" put on the open market by manufacturers like Eli Lilly, and the "net price" insurance plans pay after extracting fees and hefty rebates from manufacturers. T1DF estimates these backroom deals cut between 50 to 75 percent off the list price of various insulin products, based on market reports and public statements by pharmaceutical companies. That means Boss's insurance plan was paying much less for insulin than Boss paid out of pocket before meeting her deductible.

This isn't just the case for insulin. Data compiled by the IQVIA Institute of Human Data Science shows that the net prices insurance companies pay for most drugs are increasing at much slower rates than the list prices that consumers without insurance (or consumers who haven't yet met a deductible) would pay out-of-pocket at the pharmacy.

Rebates lowering the net price of a drug much lower than its original list price are negotiated by companies called "pharmacy benefit managers," which oversee prescription drug plans for employers and insurers. Benefit managers like CVS Caremark and Express Scripts control the formularies, or lists of specific brand name and generic drugs, offered to members under insurance plans, so they can demand fees and deep rebates from manufacturers in exchange for access to millions of customers.

Pharmacy benefit mangers typically profit from a percentage of the rebates they pass on to insurers, and a lack of transparency in their pricing systems has generated controversy in recent years as observers raise questions about whether savings are actually passed on to patients that need them. The federal government and several states have launched investigations into deals struck between manufacturers and pharmacy benefit managers.

So, when it comes to insulin and other pharmaceuticals, drug companies are not competing to offer consumers the lowest price, according to TIDF. Instead, they are competing to offer benefit managers the highest rebate on wholesale prices. The higher drug companies set their list prices, the higher the rebate they can offer benefit managers. This feedback loop explains why the price of insulin keeps going up even though the drug has been around for decades.

trio of lawsuits filed by T1DF earlier this year goes even further, alleging that manufacturers and pharmacy benefits managers acting on behalf of insurers have illegally conspired to use this "kickback scheme" to inflate the price of insulin, blood sugar test strips and emergency glucagon kits under secret agreements in order to maximize profits on both sides. Patients with high deductibles and copays are gouged as a result. A separate lawsuit alleging the insulin manufacturer Novo Nordisk misled investors about secret rebate deals with pharmacy benefit managers makes similar claims.

How Insurance Companies Mislead Their Customers

Drug manufacturers paid about $179 billion in rebates in 2016, with 30 percent going to government programs like Medicare and 50 percent used to place drugs on insurance formularies, according to analysts at Credit Suisse. Analysts estimate about 90 percent of the rebates secured for insurers by pharmacy benefit managers are "recycled" back into the system in order to reduce insurance premiums. However, the amount that actually trickles down to consumers is currently up for debate because insurers tend to use high list prices to calculate pharmacy benefits rather than the lower net prices secured with rebates. Meanwhile, the rebating system is pushing list prices of specialty drugs like insulin higher and higher.

Insurance plans with low copays and deductibles shield many people from ever-increasing drug prices, but people with no insurance or plans with high out-of-pocket costs like Julia Boss face excruciating prices when they go to the pharmacy. In fact, T1DF claims this system leaves some people living with diabetes and other chronic conditions paying more for drugs than insurance companies do -- even if they have insurance. Alex Azar, a former Eli Lilly executive and President's Trump's latest nominee for health secretary, admitted as much in a speech at the conservative Manhattan Institute last year.

Boss says insurance companies get away with this because price negotiations between manufacturers, benefit managers and insurers are done in secret, and insurance plans do not disclose the post-rebate "net price" they actually pay for drugs to their customers. Instead, when patients check their insurance drug benefits, they see drug prices that are much closer to the wholesale list price that manufacturers start with before the backroom negotiations and rebates bring the net price down.

"In the current system, insurers are misleading all their customers, even those who don't pay based on list price," Boss says.

Under this system, Boss explains, both consumers with great insurance (low deductibles and copays) and those with barebones coverage see a higher drug price than their insurer actually pays when they check their benefits. Here's how Boss put it in an email to Truthout. Remember, the "list price" is the original cost of a drug set by manufacturers, and "net price" is the price insurers actually pay after secret rebates:

Imagine what would happen if insurers instead reported net cost to plan in that column (that's possibly $70 or less for a 10 ml vial of analog insulin with list price $270, based on current rebating estimates). The marketing executive would know her insulin prices aren't breaking the employer's bank, and would keep that in mind when she's asking for a raise. The Affordable Care Act-insured freelancer who's paying $270 for every vial of insulin that keeps her child alive would ask, "what in the world is happening to the other $200?" And the landscaping worker with no health insurance would ask why he's paying a $300 cash price for a life-saving medicine that costs insurers only $70.

This is particularly harmful for people with diabetes, and not just because some patients cannot afford drugs they need to survive. Under this system, it's easy for people to blame their co-workers with chronic conditions for driving up insurance prices for everyone else on an employer's plan, when in fact drug prices have been inflated by a secret system of kickbacks negotiated behind closed doors by wealthy corporations. This has also allowed conservatives to blame rising premiums under the Affordable Care Act on the same people who have been devastated by discriminatory drug pricing, according to T1DF.

Meanwhile, when people living with diabetes and other chronic illnesses cannot afford the medicines that keep them healthy, they are more likely to end up in the hospital with severe complications, driving up health care prices and premiums for everyone else.

The sheer opacity of the drug-pricing system allows all the players to deflect blame onto each other while protecting their individual profit margins. Pharmaceutical companies have received the most heat from lawmakers and the media, but they say they need to set high prices to pay for rebates negotiated by pharmacy benefit managers on behalf of insurance companies. Pharmacy benefit managers claim they save consumers billions, but last week the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry's main lobbying group released a report suggesting that insurance companies are not passing these savings on to their customers. Rebates and discounts have grown over the past decade, but workers with employer-sponsored coverage have seen out-of-pocket spending on deductibles and coinsurance rise by 230 percent and 89 percent, respectively.

When Truthout asked insurance industry group America's Health Insurance Plans about the report, spokeswoman Cathryn Donaldson pointed a finger back at manufacturers.

"The bottom line is, the original list price of a drug -- which for many drugs is set not by the market, but solely determined by the drug company -- drives the entire pricing process," Donaldson said. "And if the original list price is high, the final cost that a consumer pays will be high. It is that simple: The problem is the price."

The focus on rebates, Donaldson said, is a "deliberate tactic" to obscure more serious issues around transparency and lack of competition among drug companies. However, she did not address questions about the insurance industry's practice of reporting those high list prices to their own customers, even when insurers are not paying them.

Of course, the pricing scheme that drives up the price of insulin and other drugs is not the only reason why people in the United States pay some of the highest drug prices in the world. Pharmaceutical companies are always looking for ways to extend the life of their patents, and laws barring the re-importation of drugs prevent US customers from finding cheaper options in neighboring countries. Expect all of these issues -- including secret rebate negotiations -- to come up this week when the House Energy and Commerce Committee calls insurers, manufacturers and benefit managers into a hearing examining the drug supply chain. An emerging debate over proposed reforms aimed at increasing transparency in Medicare's drug program is also expected to thrust the issue into the limelight.

If policymakers do their homework, it may only be a matter of time before consumers learn the truth about high drug prices. 

Categories: News

Mick Mulvaney and the Bad Actors Club

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 05:00

 Gage Skidmore)Congressman Mick Mulvaney speaks to supporters of Sen. Rand Paul at a meet and greet in Rock Hill, South Carolina, on September 23, 2015. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

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Most people have probably heard about Mick Mulvaney's seizure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) as Donald Trump's appointed "acting director." They probably don't realize quite how outrageous this move is.

First, it is worth noting that Mulvaney openly holds the CFPB in contempt. When he was still in the House of Representatives, he referred to it as a "joke." Mulvaney has made it clear that he would be happier if the CFPB did not exist. Appointing him as acting director is a bit like selecting a hardcore atheist as the next pope.

It is also worth placing the CFPB in a larger economic context. The CFPB's general purpose is to protect people who are less financially sophisticated from predation by the financial industry. While it does perform this purpose, it also is working to make the financial industry more efficient, insofar as it succeeds in this effort.

Remember, the economic purpose of the financial industry is allocate credit to those who need it. In principle, we want to use as few resources as possible in this process. If we only need 1 million people rather than 2 million people to issue and service loans and perform other financial operations, then we have freed up a million people to work in health care, education or other productive sectors of the economy.

If financial corporations think they can make lots of money by writing deceptive contracts and abusive practices towards their customers, we know they will devote lots of resources to writing deceptive contracts and engaging in abusive practices. If the CFPB can shut down this avenue for making profits, then the people working in the financial sector will actually be focused on providing customers a service, rather than ripping them off. This is a gain to the economy as a whole.

Trump's decision to appoint Mulvaney was obviously intended to neuter the CFPB and reopen the door to all sorts of predatory practices. In carrying through this appointment, Trump was not only circumventing the order of succession laid out in the law creating the CFPB, he was also undermining the explicit intention of Congress for the CFPB to be an independent bureau.

No one disputes that President Trump has the right to appoint the replacement for outgoing director Richard Cordray. However the law is written so that he would have to nominate someone who would go through the Senate approval process. This means that Trump's candidate would have to make various disclosures and undergo questioning by members of the Senate.

Furthermore, once the nominee was approved by the Senate, he or she could only be removed for cause. Trump would not have the authority to remove his pick to the head the Bureau simply because he disapproved of their decisions in this capacity.

By contrast, Mulvaney has made no disclosures and was not subject to any questions from the Senate. He also has no independence from President Trump. He can be removed any day of the week for any reason. In fact, since Mulvaney's day job is running the Office of Management and Budget, where he also serves at the will of the president, he risks being fired from two jobs if he does anything that gets Donald Trump angry.

The use of an acting director, in this case, is not an accident. Cordray's plans to leave the CFPB before his term ends next summer were widely reported in the media. There is no reason that Trump could not have had a successor already selected whose name could be given to the Senate as soon as Cordray formally announced his resignation. Trump chose to go the Mulvaney acting director route precisely to circumvent this process.

Unfortunately, this is not the only case where Trump has appointed "acting" officials to head nominally independent agencies, thereby avoiding the constitutional requirement for the Senate to give its "advice and consent." Keith Norieka, a person who had a career in the financial industry, with no regulatory experience, served as acting comptroller of the currency for six months, just recently being replaced by Trump's nominee for this position.

Perhaps even more disconcerting is Trump's selection of David Kautter as acting director of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) when the term of the previous director ended November 13. Here also, there is no excuse for not having a nominee to submit to the Senate. The expiration of the IRS director's term is set in law, so Trump's team knew about this opening the day he was elected.

As is the case with Norieka, Kautter has no experience in enforcement. His background was in running tax avoidance scams at one of the country's largest accounting firms. And, this acting director of an ostensibly independent agency, like the other acting agency heads, can be fired by Trump any day of the week for any reason.

Congress could put a stop to this abuse of the authority to appoint "acting" heads of agencies and departments. There is not much ambiguity about the words "advice and consent," and there is neither with these and other acting appointees. But the Republicans in Congress don't really care much about the Constitution because right now, rich people need tax cuts.

Categories: News

How Northwest Communities Are Stopping Big Oil Projects

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 05:00
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"This is more fun than I've ever had in my life," Don Steinke told me when I called him this month. Steinke, a retired science teacher, is a leader in the fight to stop what would be the nation's largest oil-by-rail terminal. This month, the state agency in charge of reviewing the application voted unanimously to oppose the terminal -- a vote that could spell the end of the project.

First proposed in 2013 by Vancouver Energy, the terminal would have been built along the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington; 360,000 barrels of oil a day were to be brought by rail and then loaded on ships for transport to West Coast refineries. But the project quickly ran into local opposition.

The power of local organizing to stop this project got my attention. The opposition is fueled both by local impacts on water and air, and by the fact that building new oil-transport infrastructure is a terrible idea at a time when we must phase out the use of fossil fuel if we are to avert climate catastrophe.

Communities throughout the Northwest, often led by Native American tribes, have been stopping one project after another.

Just last year, for example, what would have been the largest coal export terminal in the United States was cancelled in response to opposition from the Lummi Tribe, which holds treaty fishing rights to the nearby waters. The Otter Creek mine in southeast Montana was also canceled in the face of opposition from the Northern Cheyenne Tribe and area ranchers. Early this year, Washington state Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark rejected a lease for a coal export facility in Longview, Washington, along the Columbia River; a county hearing examiner later denied the plant shoreline permits. Also this year, plans for a large oil terminal on the Washington coast were set back by a state Supreme Court ruling. The proposed terminal, which was opposed by the Quinault Tribe, would have shipped 17.8 million barrels of oil a year.

Seattle-based think tank Sightline Institute calls this opposition the "thin green line" separating tar sands oil, Powder River Basin coal, and Bakken fracked gas and oil from Asian markets. If these projects go through, Sightline estimates, they will release the carbon equivalent of five KXL pipelines.

How are these local groups able to succeed in the face of the power and money of huge energy corporations? What is it about place-based work that succeeds?

There are many answers to this question, and the leadership of Northwest tribes is among the most important. But I was intrigued by Steinke's continued enthusiasm after years of mobilizing opposition to oil transport, and before that, to coal trains.

"I made a thousand friends!" Steinke told me. "I'm feeling overwhelmed with the blessing of knowing so many people will show up over and over again."

And show up they did. On November 28, when the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council rejected the terminal, council chairwoman Roselyn Marcus noted the quarter million comments they'd received on the project, calling it "probably the longest process in the council's history."

Residents objected to the risk of fire, explosions, and water pollution associated with having thousands of oil-filled rail cars traveling through the Columbia Gorge and through their towns and cities. The Yakama Nation, a Native American tribe, noted their right to fish and practice cultural and religious traditions along the Columbia River, "including the area threatened by the proposed Tesoro-Savage [a joint venture of Vancouver Energy] project site," Yakama chairman JoDe Goudy said in a statement. "We cannot allow any further pollution to our river."

Others spoke of the terminal's impact on the climate.

"This is on my watch," Steinke told me. "I can't sit idly by."

After years of disappointment at U.S. government inaction on the climate crisis, Steinke had nearly given up. But then he learned of plans for new fossil fuel infrastructure in his own community.

"It may be too late," he said. "But it might not be. I'm morally obligated to do everything I can to avert the worst."

Steinke began by speaking at neighborhood meetings and submitting comments on the proposed terminal to the local newspaper's website. He stood outside the library with a clipboard and a petition, and gradually built up an email list of 1,500 people; many showed up to testify and comment on the proposal.

Another opponent of the terminal, Don Orange, owner of a local auto repair shop, organized dozens of small business owners to oppose the terminal before declaring his candidacy for the Port of Vancouver commission. His Republican opponent, insurance agent Kris Greene, who was running for office for the first time, received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the companies backing the terminal -- 87 percent of his campaign contributions, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Although he had far less money to spend, Orange won the November election with 65 percent of the vote.

It's up to Washington Governor Jay Inslee now to make the final decision.

Meanwhile, Steinke is thinking about his next moves. There are other proposed fossil fuel infrastructure projects to be stopped. He wants to convince local school districts to use heat pumps, not natural gas, in school construction. And he wants the city of Vancouver to adopt a climate action plan as ambitious as Portland's.

His advice for others who want to make a difference: "Show up, speak up, and make your case repeatedly. Without advocates, nothing happens. Elected officials don't want to rock the boat, but if you rock it, they will be receptive."

And, if Steinke's experience is any indication, the deeper sense of community and commitment that results could be oxygen for local revolution.

Categories: News

The Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen Is Very Much the Result of a US-Saudi War

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 05:00

 Mohammed Hamoud / Getty Images)A boy walks on rubble of Yemen's State Satellite Television Station after it was targeted by airstrikes of the Saudi-led coalition on December 09, 2017 in Sana'a, Yemen. At least four journalists were killed by airstrikes hit the Yemen's State Satellite Television Station. (Photo: Mohammed Hamoud / Getty Images)

Janine Jackson: The enormity of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is staggering. At least 10,000 people have died in the last two years of Saudi war in the country, already among the poorest in the region. The UN says Yemen faces the worst famine the world has seen for decades, with at least 7 million people in need of immediate food aid. More than a half million children suffer from severe acute malnutrition, and millions more lack access to any healthcare at all. This while Yemen faces an outbreak of cholera that's being called possibly the worst in history.

Yet Americans have heard little about what's happening in Yemen, and still less about how it relates to us. Shireen Al-Adeimi is a doctoral candidate and instructor at Harvard University, working to bring attention to the crisis. She joins us now by phone. Welcome to CounterSpin, Shireen Al-Adeimi.

Shireen Al-Adeimi: Thanks for having me.

It has been noted that US media are doing really very little, particularly television, on the ongoing disaster in Yemen. One outlet that did, CBS's 60 Minutes, reported compellingly, and under difficult journalistic conditions, about the famine and the bombing victims, and they indicated the Saudis as aggressors. But despite being a US program aimed at a US audience, 60 Minutes said not one word about US involvement, leaving the impression of a regional conflict, fitted into this familiar, reductive "Sunni versus Shia" framework. What would you have Americans understand about this country's role in the Yemen crisis?

Thanks for bringing up the CBS report, because that was a huge disappointment. It was just one opportunity for a mainstream audience in the US to learn, for the first time, perhaps, what is going on in Yemen, and what our role is especially. But it was quickly, like you said, characterized as a Sunni/Shia conflict, which is far from the truth. And not once was it mentioned that the US is, in fact, very much involved in Yemen, and has been from the onset of the war.

So when the Saudis decided to attack Yemen in March 2015, the Americans, under Obama's administration, were right there along with them in the command room, helping them with targeting practice, helping them with logistics and training. The US military refuels Saudi jets midair as they're bombing. And so we have been heavily involved, we've continued to be involved under Trump's administration, and this is, of course, in addition to the billions in weapons sales that have occurred over the past couple of years.

There also is the role that the US plays in shielding Saudi Arabia at the UN, isn't there?

Exactly. Over and over, the UN has failed to really take any decisive stance against Saudi Arabia. In fact, there have been some really outrageous moves. For example, they've been allowed to investigate their own crimes in Yemen, and of course they come out, months later, saying that they were cleared. So it's just been an absurd game that they're playing in the UN, and people's lives are at stake here. And we've been shielding them from any independent investigation.

The latest headlines are about an easing of the Saudi blockade, with some food and vaccines coming through, but we're told not really to take that as a sign of real easing of the hardship there.

Not at all. So it's trickling in; whatever aid is coming right now is trickling in. And like you mentioned, 7 million people are in desperate need of that aid. You know, they need it immediately. But then you also have 20 million people who need food who can't afford what little food remains in the country. And so we don't only need aid coming in, but we need trade. And in fact we can't be begging the Saudi-led coalition to make these positions and [allow them] to hold an entire country hostage and to use starvation as a war tactic. In fact, we should be demanding that they end this intervention in Yemen, so that people can go back to their lives, and try to rebuild and deal with their internal conflicts.

The New York Times had a piece on November 22 that talked about how this isn't any sort of natural disaster. It used the phrases "when food is a weapon," "when disease is no accident," and "when civilians are targeted." And it even noted:

United Nations experts have warned that some of the actions carried out by the warring parties, the Saudi-led coalition and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, could amount to crimes against humanity because of their systematic and widespread execution.

Still, that seems to me to be, at most, talking about the US pressing the Saudis, and not about US citizens pressing their own lawmakers here.

Exactly. This is presented as an equivalent war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and again it couldn't be further from the truth. There's very little evidence that Iran is involved at all in Yemen. And the way Yemenis see it is that this is very much a US/Saudi war on Yemen, with the help of other regional powers. And so to characterize this as something that's just happening over there in a foreign land, and we're trying to put an end to it, that's really not the case. We are at the center of this, and if our citizens don't really know our involvement, then there's no hope for us to be politically involved to try to push our elected officials to do something about our role in Yemen.

We have of course Donald Trump bragging about $110 billion of arm sales to Saudi Arabia, which the best thing you can say is that he's probably lying about that amount. But at the same time, the House of Representatives, they passed this resolution stating that US military assistance to Saudi Arabia in the war in Yemen is not authorized under this authorization for use of military force, this post-9/11 legislation. Now, it's nonbinding, it doesn't actually stop the support, but it does acknowledge the US role. How meaningful do you think that resolution is?

So the problem with that resolution is that it was a compromise resolution. The previous resolution was House Concurrent Resolution 81, which actually called for the US to stop helping Saudi Arabia in any way, shape or form. And that was proposed by Congressman Ro Khanna in California. Basically he had invoked the War Powers Resolution, which meant that it had to go to vote, and they had to debate it in the House. But it was quickly stripped of its privileged status, and they had to negotiate this compromise bill that was, like you said, nonbinding. And, yes, it acknowledged that this war is unauthorized, but it doesn't mean anything for US involvement in Yemen; nothing changes. We continue helping the Saudis without any repercussions.

And am I right that there is nothing in the Senate that's comparable?

There's nothing in the Senate right now. There are a couple of senators who've been vocal against this, so Sen. Chris Murphy, for example. We need senators to introduce legislation that would extricate the US from the war on Yemen.

I read some of the comments after your appearance on the Real News, and one of them said, well, yes, you've outlined the suffering in Yemen, but what about the root causes? And what I hear in that is a suggestion that there could be some political or strategic consideration that would somehow make 7 million starving people make sense.

Of course the US has interests in the region. Yemen is at a strategic location at the Red Sea and it's at the Bab al Mandab Strait, and there's some oil barrels that go through there every day; not many in the grand scheme of things, but still, the US has interests there. And Saudi Arabia, of course, has always wanted to maintain control in Yemen, and they've been involved in Yemen's various wars and internal politics over the years.

But this comes down to this alliance between Saudi Arabia and the United States that we refuse to even reconsider given the tremendous humanitarian impact in Yemen. This is not just, as I think the Saudis had imagined, a war that was going to end in a couple of weeks, where they were going to come bomb, and leave, and things were going to go back to normal for them. They didn't anticipate that this was going to drag on for two years and eight months now.

So we should be reconsidering our help with the Saudis. We're not just selling weapons; like you said, we're so involved in many ways. And every ten minutes, a child is dying, 130 children are dying every single day. Sixty-three thousand children died last year, 50,000 more died this year. So the numbers are incredible, and the suffering is just horrendous. At what point do we stop and say, well, maybe we should reconsider this alliance, because it's not helping anyone?

To the extent that that 60 Minutes segment referenced a US role, it was by spotlighting the American who heads the UN's World Food Program. So if anything, we're sort of the heroes of the piece. I have a concern that even as headlines come in about people dying, about cholera, that Americans will then talk about the need for the US to "take action," you know, as if we weren't taking action now. So to be clear, if the US were to cut off the refueling and the targeting aid and the shielding at the UN, it would change the situation here?

Absolutely. Yemenis are not asking the US to come and save them from Saudi Arabia. We have to be very clear about that. We're not asking for intervention. We're asking for them to stop this intervention, to remove themselves from this conflict, to stop interfering in the politics of Yemen and causing this egregious humanitarian suffering by helping the Saudis at all these levels.

And so if the US were to stop, like you said, refueling, shielding the UN -- there are even reports that they're helping impose the blockade -- if we stop all of this, then there's no way that the Saudis can continue this war much longer, because they're so incredibly dependent on the US's support.

So if people are looking for something to do right now, in response to this information, what would you recommend?

I'd recommend that people call their senators and their congressmen, email them, visit their local offices, and really urge them to introduce or support legislation like House Concurrent Resolution 81, that really pushes the US to stop its support of the Saudi Arabians in their war against Yemen.

We've been speaking with Shireen Al-Adeimi. Her October article, "Only Americans Can Stop America's War on Yemen," can be found on Common Dreams. Shireen Al-Adeimi, thank you very much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

Thank you so much for having me.

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Categories: News

Henry A. Giroux on Developing a Language of Liberation for Radical Transformation

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 05:00

At the moment, people in the US are enduring a numbing assault from an authoritarianism brought to full fruition under Donald Trump. However, a galvanizing hope can shape a new vision and activism that will be transformative in the battle against an oppressive capitalism, says author and scholar Henry A. Giroux, who talked to Truthout about his new book, The Public in Peril.

Hundreds of University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee students protest a Trump campaign rally on their campus, January 1, 2014. Protests by young people could become illegal in the future, according to Henry A. Giroux.Hundreds of University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee students protest a Trump campaign rally on their campus, January 1, 2014. Protests by young people could become illegal in the future, according to Henry A. Giroux. (Image: Joe Brusky / Flickr)

What are the longer-term trends that gave rise to the presidency of Donald Trump? What will be the national and global impacts? And what do we need to do to resist? Henry A. Giroux tackles these questions in The Public in Peril: Trump and the Menace of American Authoritarianism. "This courageous and timely book is the first and best book on Trump's neo-fascism in the making," says Cornel West. To order your copy, click here and make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout now!

Confronted with the rise of an authoritarian society affecting all institutions and individuals, there is a need for resistance based on radical transformation, says Henry A. Giroux in this interview about The Public in Peril. This resistance is embodied in mass action and a vision to achieve the hope of a life beyond capitalism.

Mark Karlin: What is the impact of domestic terrorism and authoritarianism on young people?

Henry A. Giroux: Under the authoritarian reign of Donald Trump, finance capitalism now drives politics, governance and policy in unprecedented ways and is more than willing to sacrifice the future of young people for short-term political and economic gains, regardless of the talk in the mainstream media about the need to not burden future generations with heavy tuition debt and a future of low-wage jobs. American society has declared war on its children, offering a disturbing index of a social order in the midst of a deep moral and political crisis. Too many young people today live in an era of foreclosed hope, an era in which it is difficult either to imagine a life beyond the tenets of a market-driven society or to transcend the fear that any attempt to do so can only result in a more dreadful nightmare.

Young people are not only written out of the future ... but are now considered a threat to the future.

Youth today are not only plagued by the fragility and uncertainty of the present, they are, as the late Zygmunt Bauman has argued, "the first post war generation facing the prospect of downward mobility [in which the] plight of the outcast stretches to embrace a generation as a whole." It is little wonder that "these youngsters are called Generation Zero: A generation with Zero opportunities, Zero future," and Zero expectations. Youth have become the new precariat, whose future has been sacrificed to the commands of capital and the financial elite. Moreover, as the social state is decimated, youth, especially those marginalized by race and class, are also subject to the dictates of the punishing state. Not only is their behavior being criminalized in the schools and on the streets, they are also subject to repressive forms of legislation aimed at removing crucial social provisions. At the same time, undocumented immigrant youth called Dreamers, brought to the United States by their parents as children, are now being threatened by legislation designed to expel them from the United States, the only home they have known since early childhood.

 Courtesy of the author)Henry A. Giroux. (Photo: Courtesy of the author)

Beyond exposing the moral depravity of a society that fails to provide for its youth, the symbolic and real violence waged against many young people bespeaks to nothing less than a perverse collective death-wish -- especially visible when youth protest their conditions. We live in an era in which there is near zero tolerance for peaceful demonstrations on the part of young and a willingness by the government to overlook the crimes of bankers, hedge fund managers, and other members of the corporate elite who steal untold amounts of wealth, affecting the lives of millions. How else to explain the fact that at least 25 states are sponsoring legislation that would make perfectly legal forms of protest a crime that carries a huge fine or subjects young people to possible felony charges?

The Trump administration needs education to fail because it fears the possibility of educated citizens developing the capacities necessary to meet the challenges of authoritarianism.

If youth were once the repository of society's dreams, that is no longer true. Increasingly, young people are viewed as a public disorder, a dream now turned into a nightmare. Many youth live in a post-9/11 social order that positions them as a prime target of its governing through [the] crime complex. This is made obvious by the many "get tough" policies that now render young people as criminals, while depriving them of basic health care, education and social services. Punishment and fear have replaced compassion and social responsibility as the most important modalities for mediating the relationship of youth to the larger social order, all too evident by the upsurge of zero tolerance laws along with the expanding reach of the punishing state. When the criminalization of social problems becomes a mode of governance and war its default strategy, youth are reduced to soldiers or targets -- not social investments. Young people are not only written out of the future ... but are now considered a threat to the future. Too many youth are now removed from any discourse about democracy and increasingly fall prey to what I call the "war on youth." The war on youth can best be understood through two concepts: the soft war and the hard war, [both] of which have been intensified under Trump's presidency.

The soft war involves the temptation and manufactured seductions of desire, and refers to the unyielding depoliticization and commodification of youth, waged through the unrelenting expansion of a global market society. Partnered with a massive advertising machinery, the soft war targets all children and youth, treating them as yet another "market" to be commodified and exploited, and conscripting them into the system through relentless attempts to create a new generation of hyper-consumers. In this instance, young people are not only viewed as consumers but also as embodied brands. Caught in the intrusive new technologies of advertising and public relations, there is no space for young people to be free of the commercial carpet-bombing they are forced to endure. Hence, their subjectivity, desires and ways of relating to others are endlessly commodified so that their presence in the world is marked by the fact that they are either selling a product (which they inhabit) or buying one. The soft war is rooted in neoliberal disimagination zones, which makes it more difficult for young people to find public spheres where they can locate themselves and translate metaphors of hope into meaningful action. The dystopian dreamscapes that make up a neoliberal society are built on the promises of uncomplicated consumption, an assumption that is both dehumanizing and central to the war waged by an authoritarian society on critical agency, the radical imagination, and visions of a more just society. Agency and self-renewal are increasingly limited to a sphere of raw consumption and change to the empty vocabulary of fashion and lifestyles. In a society of mass consumption, shallowness becomes a strength and the mythology of American innocence becomes a blinding storm.

Under Donald Trump, the ideology and violence associated with white supremacy has been moved from the margins to the center of power in the United States.

The hard war is about coercion and is a more serious and dangerous development for young people, especially those who are marginalized by their ethnicity, race and class. The hard war refers to the harshest elements of a growing youth-crime-control complex that operates through a logic of punishment, surveillance and repression. The young people targeted by its punitive measures are often poor minority youth who are considered failed consumers and who can only afford to live on the margins of a commercial culture that excludes anyone who lacks money, resources and leisure time to spare. Or they are youth considered uneducable and unemployable, therefore troublesome. The imprint of the youth-crime-control complex can be traced to the increasingly popular practice of organizing schools through disciplinary practices that subject students to constant surveillance through high-tech security devices while imposing on them harsh, and often thoughtless, zero-tolerance policies that closely resemble measures used currently by the criminal [legal] system. In this instance, poor and minority youth become objects of a new mode of governance based on decisions made by a visionless managerial elite. Punished if they don't show up at school, and punished even if they do attend school, many of these students are funneled into what has been ominously called the "school-to-prison pipeline." If middle- and upper-class kids are subject to the seductions of market-driven public relations, working class youth are caught in the crosshairs between the arousal of commercial desire and the harsh impositions of securitization, surveillance and policing.

How does neoliberalism affect higher education?

Higher education in our politically desperate age is threatened by a legacy that it does not dare to name and that legacy with its eerie resonance with an authoritarian past asserts itself, in part, with the claim that education is failing and democracy is an excess. The Trump administration needs education to fail in a very particular way, because it fears the possibility of educated citizens developing the capacities, intellectual and ethical, necessary to meet the challenges of authoritarianism. Hostile to its role as a public good and democratic sphere, it is attempting to reshape education according to the market-driven logic of neoliberalism with its emphasis on privatization, commodification, deregulation, fear and managerialism. Under neoliberalism, the market becomes a template for all of social life and not just the economy. Commercial values are the only values that matter, and the only stories that matter are written in the language of finance, profit and the economy. Under such circumstances, higher education is threatened for its potential role as a public sphere capable of educating students as informed, critical thinkers capable of not only holding power accountable but also fulfilling the role of critical agents who can act against injustice and resist diverse forms of oppression. The criminogenic machinery of power has now reached the highest levels of the US government, and in doing so, it is changing not just the language of educational reform, but also making it difficult for faculty and students to resist their own erasure from modes of self-governance and a critical education.

To read more articles by Henry A. Giroux and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

The killing of people abroad based on race is paralleled by (and connected with) the killing of Black people at home.

New forms of exclusion, unbridled commodification, and exclusion rooted in a retreat from ethics, the social imagination, and democracy itself weakens the role higher education might take in an age of increasing tyranny. Against the force of a highly militarized mode of casino capitalism in which violence is at the center of power, higher education is being weakened in its ability to resist the authoritarian machinery of social death now shaping American society. Neoliberalism views higher education in strictly economic terms and rejects any notion of higher education as a democratic public sphere -- as a space in which education enables students to be critical thinkers, learn how to take risks, hold power accountable, and develop a sense of moral and political agency through which they learn to respect the rights and perspectives of others. Under the regime of neoliberalism in the United States and in many other countries, many of the problems facing higher education can be linked to eviscerated funding models, the domination of these institutions by market mechanisms, the rise of for-profit colleges, the rise of charter schools, the intrusion of the national security state, and the slow demise of faculty self-governance, all of which make a mockery of the meaning and mission of the university as a democratic public sphere. With the onslaught of neoliberal austerity measures, the mission of higher education has been transformed from educating citizens to training students for the workforce. Students are viewed as clients and customers, and the culture of business replaces any vestige of democratic governance. At the same time, faculty are reduced to degrading labor practices and part-time contracts, administrators are reduced to a visionless managerial class, the college and university presidents inhabit the role of CEOs.

Rather than enlarge the moral imagination and critical capacities of students, too many universities are now wedded to producing would-be hedge fund managers and depoliticized workers, and creating modes of education that promote a "technically trained docility." Strapped for money and increasingly defined in the language of corporate culture, many universities are now driven principally by vocational, military and economic considerations while increasingly removing academic knowledge production from democratic values and projects. The ideals of higher education as a place to think, to promote critical dialogue and teach students to cultivate their ethical relation with others are viewed as a threat to neoliberal modes of governance. At the same time, education is seen by the apostles of market fundamentalism as a space for producing profits and educating a supine and fearful labor force that will exhibit the obedience demanded by the corporate order. The modern loss of faith in the marriage of education and democracy needs to be reclaimed, but that will only happen if the long legacy of struggle over education is once again brought to life as part of a more comprehensive understanding of education as being central to politics, and learning as a vital component of social change.

What has been the impact of the political triumph of white supremacism and racial cleansing?

Under Donald Trump, the ideology and violence associated with white supremacy has been moved from the margins to the center of power in the United States. Trump not only courts the favor of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, militiamen and other right-wing racist groups, he panders to them as central elements of his base. How else to explain his racist travel bans, his unremitting attacks on Black athletes and his constant equating of Black communities with the culture of violence and criminality? Or, for that matter, Trump's ramping up of the police state and his ongoing assertion that his presidency strongly endorses a platform of law and order. The current mobilization of fear and moral panics has its roots in and feeds off of a legacy of white supremacy that is used to divert anger over dire economic and political conditions into the diversionary cesspool of racial hatred. It might be best to understand Trump's racism as part of a broader movement of white supremacy across the globe, with its attack on immigrants and its emulation of fascist ideology and social relations. Throughout Europe, fascism and white supremacy in their diverse forms are on the rise. In Greece, France, Poland, Austria and Germany, among other nations, right-wing extremists have used the hateful discourse of racism, xenophobia and white nationalism to demonize immigrants and undermine democratic modes of rule and policies.

Much of the right-wing, racist rhetoric coming out of these countries mimics what Trump and his followers are saying in the United States. One outcome is that the public spheres that produce a critically engaged citizenry and make a democracy possible are under siege and in rapid retreat. Economic stagnation, massive inequality, the rise of religious fundamentalism and growing forms of ultra-nationalism now aim to put democratic nations to rest. Echoes of the right-wing movements in Europe have come home with a vengeance. Demagogues wrapped in xenophobia, white supremacy and the false appeal to a lost past echo a brutally familiar fascism, with slogans similar to Donald Trump's call to "Make America Great Again" and "Make America Safe Again."

Fascism in its various forms is about social and racial cleansing.

Trump's insistence on racial profiling echoes increasing calls among European right-wing extremists to legitimate a police state where refugees and others are viewed as a threat, unwanted and disposable. How else to explain Trump's insistence on reintroducing nationwide "stop and frisk policies" after the demonstrations in Charlottesville, North Carolina over the police killing of an African American, Keith Lamont Scott, in September of 2016? Trump willingly reproduces similar right-wing ideologies such as those condemning and demonizing Syrian and other immigrants trying to reach Europe. He does so by producing panic-ridden taunts, tweets and executive orders whose aim is to generate mass anxiety and legitimate policies that mimic forms of ethnic and social cleansing. Trump joins a growing global movement of racial exclusion, one that is on the march spewing hatred, embracing forms of anti-Semitism, white supremacy and a deep-seated disdain for any form of justice on the side of democracy.

State-manufactured lawlessness has become normalized and extends from the ongoing and often brutalizing, and sometimes lethal, police violence against Black people and other vulnerable groups to a criminogenic market-based system run by a financial elite that strips everyone but the upper 1 percent of a future by stealing not only their possessions but also by condemning them to a life in which the only available option is to fall back on one's individual resources in order to barely survive. At the national level, lawlessness now drives a militarized foreign policy intent on assassinating alleged enemies rather than using traditional forms of interrogation, arrest and conviction. The killing of people abroad based on race is paralleled by (and connected with) the killing of Black people at home. Trump is now a major player in shaping a world that has become a battlefield driven by racism and a stark celebration of apocalyptic nationalism -- a zone of social abandonment where lethal violence replaces the protocols of justice, civil rights and democracy.

Fear is the reigning ideology, and war its operative mode of action, pitting different groups against each other, shutting down the possibilities of shared responsibilities, and legitimating the growth of a paramilitary police force that kills Black people with impunity. State-manufactured fear offers up new forms of domestic terrorism embodied in the rise of a surveillance state while providing a powerful platform for militarizing many aspects of society. One result is that [the US] has become a warrior society in which the state and civil society are organized through the practice of violence. One consequence is that Trump's white supremacist attitudes have emboldened violence against minorities ... and has given new life to neo-Nazi groups throughout the United States. As the culture of fear is racialized, compassion gives way to suspicion and a demonstration of revulsion accorded to those others who are demonized as monsters, criminals, or even worse, bloodthirsty terrorists. Under such circumstance, the bonds of trust dissolve, while hating the other becomes normalized and lawlessness is elevated to a matter of common sense.

Hannah Arendt once wrote that terror was the essence of totalitarianism. She was right, and we are now witnessing the dystopian visions of the new authoritarians who trade in terror, fear, hatred, demonization, violence and racism. Trump and his neo-Nazi bulldogs are no longer on the fringe of political life and they have no interests in instilling values that will "make America great" (code for white). On the contrary, they are deeply concerned with creating expanding constellations of force and fear, while inculcating convictions that will destroy the ability to form the formative cultures that make a democracy possible. Fascism in its various forms is about social and racial cleansing, and its end point is the prison, gated communities, walls and all the murderous detritus that accompanies the discourse of national greatness and racial purity. This will be Trump's legacy.

What is the impact of a war culture on society?

War culture has been transformed in American culture -- moving from a source of alarm to a celebrated source of pride and national identity. War has been redefined in the United States in the age of global neoliberal capitalism. No longer defined exclusively as a military issue, it has replaced democratic idealism and expanded its boundaries, shaping all aspects of society. Evidence of a war culture can be seen in the war on civil liberties, youth, voting rights, civic institutions, the poor, immigrants, Muslims and poor Black communities. The distinction between war and peace, the military and civil society, soldiers and the police, criminal behavior and military transgression, internal and external security, and violence and entertainment are collapsing.

As violence and politics merge to produce an accelerating and lethal mix of bloodshed, pain, suffering, grief and death, the US has morphed into a war culture and reached a point where politics becomes an extension of war and war culture the foundation for politics itself. The violence produced by a war culture has become a defining feature of American society, providing a common ground for the production of violence at home and abroad. Militarism now pervades American society and increasingly organizes civil society mostly for the production of violence. Entrenched militarism now exercises a powerful influence on schools, an expanding police state, airports, a ballooning military budget and a foreign policy saturated in war and violence. Even universities are now intimately linked through research with the military.

What Steve Martinot calls a "political culture of hyper punitiveness" serves not only to legitimate a neoliberal culture in which cruelty is viewed as virtue, but also a racist system of mass incarceration that functions as a default welfare program and the chief mechanism to "institutionalize obedience." It should come as no surprise that many states, including California, spend more on prison construction than on higher education. The police state increasingly targets poor people of color, turning their neighborhoods into war zones, all the while serving a corporate state that has no concern whatsoever for the social costs inflicted on millions because of its predatory policies and practices.

At a policy level, a defense and arms industry fuels violence abroad, while domestically, a toxic gun culture profits from the endless maiming and deaths of individuals at home. Similarly, a militaristic foreign policy has its domestic counterpart in the growth of a carceral state used to enforce a hyped-up brand of domestic terrorism, especially against Black youth and various emerging protest movements in the United States. At the current moment, the United States is circling the globe with air bases and using its military power to bully and threaten other nations. War culture is the new normal, especially under Trump, and is sustained by media apparatuses that spectacularize the violence of a war culture while turning it into the defining feature of mass entertainment. At the same time, the extreme violence produced by a gun culture no longer becomes a source of alarm but is privileged as a source of profit for arms manufactures and the entertainment industries which extend from Hollywood films to the selling of violent video games to teenagers.

The US has morphed into a war culture and reached a point where politics becomes an extension of war and war culture the foundation for politics itself.

Americans are terrified by the threat of terrorism and its ensuing violence; yet, they are more than willing to protect laws that privilege the largely unchecked circulation of guns and the toxic militarized culture of violence that amounts to "58 people who die a day because of firearms." Moreover, as the important distinctions between war and civil society collapse, contemporary institutions become more militarized. For instance, the prison becomes a model for other institutions in which the boundaries disappear between the innocent and guilty, and public safety is defined increasingly as a police matter. At the same time, policies are militarized so as to suggest that state violence is the most important way to address an increasing range of problems extending from drug addiction and homelessness to school truancy. The police are militarized and now function as soldiers; students are viewed as criminals; and cities are transformed into combat zones. Under a war culture, neoliberal society not only creates numerous spaces of repression, insecurity and violence, it also functions as a kind of delegated vigilantism policing both bodies of the Other and boundaries of thought, while limiting questions that can be raised about the use of power in the United States and its role in expanding the reach of a punishing state and domestic violence.        

What do you recommend to instill courage in people who are dismayed and dejected in an age of full-blown state violence?

It is easy to despair in times of tyranny, but it is much more productive to be politically and morally outraged and to draw upon such anger as a source of hope and action. Without hope, even in the most dire of times, there is no possibility for resistance, dissent and struggle. A critical consciousness is the prerequisite for informed agency and hope is the basis for individual and collective resistance. Moreover, when combined with collective action, hope translates into a dynamic sense of possibility, enabling one to join with others for the long haul of fighting systemic forms of domination. Courage in the face of tyranny is a necessity and not an option, and we can learn both from the past and the present about resistance movements and the power of civic courage and collective struggle, and how such modes of resistance are emerging among a number of groups across a wide variety of landscapes. What is crucial is the need not to face such struggles alone, not allow ourselves to feel defeated in our isolation, and to refuse a crippling neoliberal survival-of-the-fittest ethos that dominates everyday relations.

Radical politics begins when one refuses to face one's fate alone, learns about the workings and mechanisms of power, and rejects the dominant mantra of social isolation. There is strength in numbers. One of the most important things we can do to sustain a sense of courage and dignity is to imagine a new social order. That is, we must constantly work to revive the radical imagination by talking with others in order to rethink politics anew, imagine what a new politics and society would look like, one that is fundamentally anti-capitalist, and dedicated to creating the conditions for new democratic political and social formations. This suggests contending with and struggling against the forces that gave rise to Trump, particularly those that suggest that totalitarian forms are still with us. Rethinking politics anew also suggests the possibility of building broad-based alliances in order to create a robust economic and political agenda that connects democracy with a serious effort to interrogate the sources and structures of inequality, racism and authoritarianism that now plague the United States. This points to opening up new lines of understanding, dialogue and radical empathy. It means, as the philosopher George Yancy suggests, "learning how to love with courage." A nonviolent movement for democratic socialism does not need vanguards, political purity or the seductions of ideological orthodoxy. On the contrary, it needs a politics without guarantees, one that is open to new ideas, self-reflection and understanding. Instead of ideologies of certainty, unchecked moralism and a politics of shaming, we need to understand the conditions that make it possible for people to internalize forms of domination, and that means interrogating forgotten histories and existing pedagogies of oppression. Recent polls indicate that two-thirds of Americans say this is the lowest point in American politics that they can recall. Such despair offers the possibility of a pedagogical intervention, one that provides a political opening to create a massive movement for resistance in the United States.

Rebecca Solnit has rightly argued that while we live in an age of despair, hope is a gift that we cannot surrender because it amplifies the power of alternative visions, offers up stories in which we can imagine the unimaginable, enables people to "move from depression to outrage," and positions people to take seriously what they are for and what they are against. This suggests trying to understand how the very processes of learning constitute the political mechanisms through which identities -- individual and collective -- are shaped, desired, mobilized and take on the worldly practices of autonomy, self-reflection and self-determination as part of a larger struggle for economic and social justice. 

How do we develop a new "language of liberation"?

First, it is crucial to develop a language in which it becomes possible to both imagine a future much different from the present. Second, it is crucial to develop a discourse of critique and possibility that refuses both to normalize existing relations of domination and control, and rejects the notion that capitalism and democracy are viewed as synonymous. It would be wise to heed the words of National Book Award winner Ursula K. Le Guin when she says, "We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable -- but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings." Third, it is imperative to reject the notion that all problems are individual issues and can only be solved as a matter of individual action and responsibility. All three of these assumptions serve to depoliticize people and erase both what it means to make power visible and to organize collectively to address such problems. Fourth, there is a need, I believe, for a discourse that is historical, relational and comprehensive. Memory matters both in terms of reclaiming lost narratives of struggle and for assessing visions, strategies and tactics that still hold enormous possibilities in the present.

Developing a relational discourse means connecting the dots around issues that are often viewed in isolated terms. For instance, one cannot study the attack on public schools and higher education as sutured internal issues that focus exclusively on the teaching methods and strategies. What is needed are analyses that link such attacks to the broader issue of inequality, the dynamics of casino capitalism and the pervasive racism active in promoting new forms of segregation both within and outside of schools. A comprehensive politics is one that does at least two things. On the one hand, it tries to understand a plethora of problems, from massive poverty to the despoiling of the planet, within a broader understanding of politics. That is, it connects the dots among diverse forms of oppression. In this instance, the focus is on the totality of politics, one that focuses on the power relations of global capitalism, the rise of illiberal democracy, the archives of authoritarianism and the rise of financial capital. A totalizing view of oppression allows the development of a language that is capable of making visible the ideological and structural forces of the new forms of domination at work in the United States and across the globe. On the other hand, such a comprehensive understanding of politics makes it possible to bring together a range of crucial issues and movements so as to expand the range of oppressions, while at the same time, providing a common ground for these diverse groups to be able to work together in the interest of the common good and a broad struggle for democratic socialism.

Finally, any viable language of emancipation needs to develop a discourse of educated hope. Naming what is wrong in a society is important, but it is not enough, because such criticism can sometimes be overpowering and lead to a paralyzing despair or, even worse, a crippling cynicism. Hope speaks to imagining a life beyond capitalism, and combines a realistic sense of limits with a lofty vision of demanding the impossible. As Ariel Dorfman has argued, progressives need a language that is missing from our political vocabulary, one that insists that "alternative worlds are possible, that they are within reach if we're courageous enough, and smart enough, and daring enough to take control of our own lives." Reason, justice and change cannot blossom without hope because educated hope taps into our deepest experiences and longing for a life of dignity with others, a life in which it becomes possible to imagine a future that does not mimic the present.

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I am not referring to a romanticized and empty notion of hope, but to a notion of informed hope that faces the concrete obstacles and realities of domination, [that] continues the ongoing task of realizing a future in which matters of justice, equality, freedom and joy matter. Casino capitalism is a toxin that has created a predatory class of unethical zombies -- who are producing dead zones of the imagination and massive ecologies of immiseration that even Orwell could not have envisioned, while waging a fierce fight against the possibilities of a democratic future. The time has come to develop a political language in which civic values, social responsibility and the institutions that support them become central to invigorating and fortifying a new era of civic imagination, a renewed sense of social agency and an impassioned international social movement with a vision, organization and set of strategies to challenge the neoliberal nightmare engulfing the planet. Such a strategy would have to revive the radical imagination and the task of thinking about a future without capitalism and oppression, launch a comprehensive education program to provide alternative narratives, memories and histories that enable the capacities for informed judgment, ethical responsibilities and civic courage, and last but not least, create those alternative public spheres where a new conversation can be opened up about the creation of a new progressive and socialist political formation. As Marx said, there is nothing to lose but our chains.

Categories: News

The Most Dire Climate Change Predictions Are Also the Most Accurate, Warns New Study

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 05:00

 Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)A resident packs her car as the Thomas Fire approaches the town of La Conchita early on December 7, 2017. A new study suggests that the planet is far likelier to become four degrees Celsius warmer by 2100 than previously thought. (Photo: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

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Climate change is occurring at a faster rate than has previously been predicted, according to a new study which suggests that the most extreme estimates of the effects of global warming are likelier than more optimistic predictions.

With the current level of greenhouse gas emissions remaining steady, researchers say, there is a 93 percent chance that the planet will be more than four degrees Celsius warmer than it is now by 2100. Earlier estimates held that there was about a 62 percent chance of this level of warming.

An earth that's four degrees warmer than it is today would bring severe prolonged heat waves and would likely eliminate coral reefs and small islands as a result of sea levels rising.

The study, published in Nature and completed by Patrick Brown and Ken Caldeira at the Carnegie Institution for Science, suggests that the world's "carbon budget" is smaller than has previously been thought and that carbon emissions must go down faster than previous studies have found.

The Paris Agreement on climate change, reached in 2015 by nearly 200 countries, holds that the governments must do their part to keep the earth from warming more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels—but according to Brown and Caldeira, the possibility that this goal is achievable is overly ambitious.

As Professor Mark Maslin, a climatologist at University College London, told the Independent in response to the study, "To achieve these targets the climate negotiations must ensure that the global emissions-cuts start as planned in 2020 and continue every single year thereafter."

Brown and Caldeira examined climate change models that have been used to predict the future of the planet based on its atmospheric conditions and compared them with recent satellite images of the atmosphere. The models that gave the most accurate predictions tended to show more warming of the planet in the future compared to those with more optimistic estimates.

"The basic idea is that we have a range of projections on future warming that came from these climate models, and for scientific interest and political interest, we wanted to narrow this range," said Brown. "We find that the models that do the best at simulating the recent past project more warming."

The researchers say their findings challenge the objections climate change deniers have put forth regarding the climate models that are used to predict global warming. Some have argued that since not all of the models have the same predictions, the science of climate change is up for debate.

"This study undermines that logic," Brown told the MIT Technology Review. "There are problems with climate models, but the ones that are most accurate are the ones that produce the most warming in the future."

On social media, observers highlighted the urgency of the study and called for an end to right-wing denials of climate science.

Yup, climate science is biased - it has consistently underestimated the risks. Time to wake up people! #climatechange https://t.co/8Esf3tCrb7

— Eric Beinhocker (@EricBeinhocker) December 7, 2017

Oh dear, 93% chance that global warming will exceed 4C by end of century! We need to act fast rather than just continuing ignoring it. #ClimateChange #GlobalWarming https://t.co/7j111JAFxP

— Laurie Ison (@Laurie_Ison) December 7, 2017

Every time scientists re-evaluate #globalwarming, things are worse than their previous worst case scenarios. https://t.co/KPXWHK1wID Yet #Trump wants to help out one of his donors by allowing him to restart his old outdated coal-powered power plants.

— TruthBwana (@TruthBwana) December 7, 2017
Categories: News

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