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How to Help My Daughter Face Climate Change With an Open Heart

Sat, 12/09/2017 - 05:00

What happens to a child's psyche as they gradually absorb the knowledge that our planet is warming at a terrifying rate and to an unimaginably dangerous degree, then quietly observe the adults in their life, particularly those most responsible for caring for and protecting them, doing the very things that are causing the emergency?

 RINGO CHIU/AFP/Getty Images)A firefighter battles a wildfire as it burns along a hillside near homes in Santa Paula, California, on December 5, 2017. (Photo: RINGO CHIU / AFP / Getty Images)

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You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

~Kahlil Gibran

When the wildfires were still raging in California, my 12-year-old daughter and I rode Amtrak north from Oakland to Sacramento. Nearing Berkeley, we caught our first glimpse of the gray-brown wall of smoke issuing in from Sonoma, Napa, Lake, Mendocino, Butte, and Solano counties. After riding 10 or so miles further on, the illusion of the wall suddenly dissipated, and we found ourselves speeding along in a fog of fine ash, our train blanketed in its opaque haze.

Gazing into the smoke, my daughter seated beside me, I considered the stark difference our awareness of global warming created between my childhood and hers. And I felt a deep anxiety stir in my belly.

What happens to a child's psyche, I asked myself, as she gradually absorbs the knowledge that our planet is warming at a terrifying rate and to an unimaginably dangerous degree, then quietly observes the adults in her life, particularly those most responsible for caring for and protecting her, doing the very things that are causing the emergency? What happens as she observes the mundane spectrum of everyday life in the United States amid climate chaos: as dad pulls the car up to the pump, as mom comes home from the airport after a business trip, as the family sits down to another meat and factory farm-based dinner, iPhones at the ready and the thermostat cranked to 70?

I turned my gaze from the smoke and looked again at the book in my lap, Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution, by climate scientist Peter Kalmus. The page I had been reading would eventually lead to here: "Few people respond to facts… While intellect certainly plays a role, it's a rather small one. Our dire ecological crisis calls us to go deeper."

***

In his famous meditation on children, Kahlil Gibran likens parents to the bows of the divine archer, from which children, like arrows, are sent forth into the mystery of their own souls and futures. The beloved bow, Gibran attests, sends the arrow swift and far, by bending to the archer's strength, while at the same time remaining stable. Such flexible stability is what I long to achieve as a parent -- a certain rootedness and strength of purpose, mediated by gentleness. It's what I believe I need if I'm going to accompany my daughter as she learns to face the coming storms -- and fires -- with her eyes and heart open.

So it is that I'm gravitating toward the solace and instruction of other dads these days, the more humble and down-to-earth the better. Kalmus, father of two young sons, is one such dad.

"At first, we didn't know what we were doing. It was reasonable for us to start burning fossil fuels," Kalmus says early on in Being the Change. "However, now we do know what we're doing."

It's an exquisitely sane point of departure for the author's first book, which reads as an openhearted letter to anyone deeply concerned about global warming and at all cognizant of how quickly the climate change clock is ticking. Being the Change details Kalmus' process of bringing his daily life into alignment with his conscience -- a process that carries some very welcome side effects: namely, a carbon footprint weighing in at one-tenth the US average, greater happiness, and deepened connections with loved ones and life itself.

As a climate expert utterly in the know about humanity's devastating impact on the health of the biosphere (see Chapter 3), and with as clear a picture as can be had about where our civilization's carbon addiction is leading (see Chapter 4), Kalmus eventually proves no match for the cognitive dissonance he experiences because of his own outsized carbon footprint. His chosen response is refreshingly straightforward: "If fossil fuels cause global warming, and I don't want global warming," he writes, "then I should reduce my fossil fuel use."

Although there's zero evidence that Gandhi ever wrote or uttered the most popular phrase attributed to him -- "Be the change you wish to see in the world" -- the sentiment is distinctly Gandhian. Finding congruence between our deepest convictions and our outward behavior, according to this adage, is the true measure of our genuine happiness, and of our contribution to the world. It's an old and simple idea: When it comes to social change, how we live our lives is of paramount importance. In India, Gandhi captured the heart of a massive social movement with his own rendering of this basic philosophy. "Nobility of soul," he summarized in a letter to his cousin, "consists in realizing that you are yourself India. In your emancipation is the emancipation of India. All else is make believe."

What makes Being the Change important is not Kalmus' restatement of this age-old tenet, but his plainspoken description of putting it into concrete practice. He offers thorough, humbly stated guidance on establishing new daily practices which, step by step, can break a person free from the carbon-heavy status quo. What's more, through his inspiring and often funny anecdotes about his homespun experiments aimed at paring down -- things like bicycling , growing food, meditating, embracing a vegetarian diet, and renouncing air travel -- Kalmus illustrates that overcoming our addiction to fossil fuels isn't a path of puritanical self-mortification. Rather, low-energy living (low-energy being Kalmus' corrective for green, because of its insidious consumerist implications) can be a deeply satisfying adventure, calling for equal parts creativity and fun.

Boiled down, the path Kalmus advocates is based on two simple and, if we're open to them, life-changing premises.

The first is that burning fossil fuel causes harm. According to Kalmus, this harm will last for around 100,000 years -- 10 million years if we count reduced biodiversity (and why shouldn't we?). The reason he has taken what to many people looks like radical steps to avoid burning fossil fuel is that he doesn't like causing harm. This connection is obvious intellectually, but most people, and society, have not taken this in deeply enough to change their actions to any significant degree. Kalmus, the dad, however, feels this connection in his gut. "Burning fossil fuels should be unacceptable socially," he says, "the way physical assault is unacceptable. The harm it does is less immediate, but just as real." Who could argue that future generations -- likely our own children and grandchildren -- as they suffer the consequences of our negligence, will see this as plainly as we see the immorality of chattel slavery today.

The second basic premise of Being the Change is that burning less fossil fuel makes for a happier life. Despite every message to the contrary trumpeted by our consumption-driven society, this appears to be the normal experience of those following similar paths, not the exception.

On these two premises rests a path of radical personal transformation with deep implications for the collective. "Using less energy at the global scale would reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and serve as a bridge to a future without fossil fuels," Kalmus says. "Using less energy in our individual lives," he further (and to my mind most importantly) asserts, "would equip us with the mindset, skills, and the systems we'll need in this post-fossil-fuel world."

***

Returning my gaze to the smoke, it occurred to me: As soon as the wildfires ran their deadly course, clean up, then construction, would immediately follow. The set would be quickly and efficiently reconstructed according to the same basic blueprint used before. And the reconstruction would undoubtedly be touted as evidence of inspiring community-resiliency, and probably of a certain American spirit, rugged and purportedly unique to us.

It occurred to me also, holding Being the Change in my hands on that smoke-immersed train with my beloved child beside me, that Peter Kalmus has provided us with a different blueprint, and he's shown through his own experimentation that we have the capacity to choose it, and to use it. On the cusp of climate catastrophe, we are neither choiceless nor powerless.

At bottom, I read Being the Change as the testament of a father trying to do right by his kids -- a testament that leaves me with a much different set of questions about the psychic wellness of our children: In the face of the climate emergency, what would it do to their psyches to see us, their parents and other adult caregivers, pouring our hearts into the work of personal and societal transformation, on behalf of people we will never meet? On behalf of all other living beings, the rivers and trees and soil? What if our children saw us respond to this crisis with maturity, sanity, and integrity? With the flexible stability of Gibran's bow? What would it do to them, for them, if we came into resonance with our own souls?

Categories: News

Moore Is Less: Alabama, the Senate and the Nation Will Suffer

Fri, 12/08/2017 - 14:11
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Amid all the craziness surrounding Roy Moore's race for the US Senate and the seeming willingness of Alabama's likely voters to send a man of such dubious merit and morality to Capitol Hill (where, admittedly, the bar already is pretty damned low), I keep thinking of a line from the Randy Newman song "Rednecks."

It's the lead piece on his classic '70s album Good Old Boys, and begins with a Southern man lamenting how the north-of-the-Mason-Dixon-line media types make fun of former Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox, the arch-segregationist notorious for using an ax handle to threaten those who tried to integrate his fried chicken restaurant.

To see more stories like this, visit Moyers & Company at Truthout.

"Well, he may be a fool but he's our fool," Newman sings, and yep, there's the upcoming Alabama election in a nutshell. Outsiders are resented and tribalism reigns, no matter how irrational or destructive to self-interest.

Instead of campaigning about how to get the federal government to help his state pull itself from the clutches of such poverty, hunger and addiction, Roy Moore acts like a crackpot false prophet, preaching Islamophobia, homophobia and the dominance of "God's law" over the Constitution.

"Thank God for Mississippi" is the old joke: No matter how bad things were in Alabama, there always was a state right next door where things were often worse. Alabama is the third "hungriest" state in the nation, with 18 percent of its population food insecure, behind Louisiana and, yes, Mississippi. It's the sixth-poorest state, with some 18.5 percent living in poverty, and the third-highest state when it comes both to murders and the number of citizens behind bars per 100,000 members of population. According to the Centers for Disease Control, opioids are prescribed in Alabama more than in any other state, and a Center for Health Statistics report notes that Alabama's rate of overdose deaths from opioids has doubled since 2011.

But no, instead of campaigning about how to get the federal government to help his state pull itself from the clutches of such poverty, hunger and addiction, Roy Moore acts like a crackpot false prophet, preaching Islamophobia, homophobia and the dominance of "God's law" over the Constitution; denying the allegations of the many women who say he assaulted or harassed or stalked them when they were teenagers (on Tuesday, a Moore spokesperson described the accusers as "criminals") and all the time hammering away at his Democratic opponent Doug Jones on abortion.

Moore wants all abortion to be illegal and supports the reversal of Roe v. Wade. Jones has declared he is against "anything that is going to infringe on a woman's right and her freedom to choose," but also has said that he supports "current law" that restricts abortion after 20 weeks unless pregnancy threatens the health of the mother.

Moore's wife has attacked Jones for supporting "full-term" abortion, which is wildly and deliberately misleading. What's more, the website AL.com reports, "An examination of statistics compiled by the Alabama Department of Public Health shows that late-term procedures are almost nonexistent in the state. Three out of 6,642 abortions performed in Alabama in 2016 occurred after 20 weeks, according to the agency."

Admittedly, I write all this as one of those Northern media types, but also as one with a Southern mother and at least one great-grandfather from Alabama. Not that it grants me much immunity, if any, from my innate damn Yankee-ness, but I put it out there just to suggest that genetically at least I may not be a total hostage to Eastern seaboard prejudices and pointy-headed intellectualism.

National Republicans pay far more heed to poll numbers than Moore's Ten Commandments.

Besides, these symptoms of self-righteous bigotry and callousness hardly are limited to Alabama. This knee-jerk tribal impulse that afflicts so much of the state's politics is just a pure, concentrated and poisonous microcosm of the Republican Party's Trumpism, right up to and including the race and gender prejudice, religious bias and sheer chutzpah, although that's not a word one imagines in Moore's Jesus-wants-me-for-a-sunbeam vocabulary.

And let's not forget opportunism. National Republicans pay far more heed to poll numbers than Moore's Ten Commandments. That's why we've witnessed the appallingly cynical backflips on his behalf from Donald Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican National Committee (RNC) as Moore's percentages seem to have bounced back from an initial drop after the first allegations of his unchristian-like behavior with teenagers.

And so you have a morally compromised president who now shouts "Go get 'em, Roy," to a fellow misogynist and birther, as well as an RNC that has resumed cash transfusions for the Moore campaign. You have a woman governor in Alabama, Kay Ivey, who says, "There's never an excuse for or rationale for sexual misconduct or sexual abuse" but who will vote for Moore anyway because "we need to have a Republican in the United States Senate to… make major decisions."

 

Then there's Tully Borland, philosophy professor at a Baptist university in Arkansas, convolutedly writing in The Federalist that relations between older men and teenage girls are "not without some merit if one wants to raise a large family," but adding, "Moore was a dirtbag and is currently lying about his actions rather than confessing the truth and asking for forgiveness." And then adding, "That being said, I don't think it's wrong to vote for Moore." As they used to say on Monty Python, "There! I've run rings around you logically."

No wonder my head hurts. Conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin recently wrote that the GOP contortions are "the final result of years of win-at-all-cost politics in which no evil (Child molestation? Murder?) compares to the 'evil' of electing a perfectly competent, patriotic member of the other party to office."

… Republicans will tell you they support Moore and Trump as vehicles to policy goals. That assumes (falsely) that their policy goals are noble when they are actually unrealistic, unpopular, inconsistent and unconservative… In truth, the goals these Republicans care about, if they ever did, have long ago been sublimated (they certainly changed them entirely) to the goal of holding power, of winning. When that is the highest calling they'll vote for alleged child predators, racists and just about anyone else with an "R" next to his or her name.

According to Greg Sargent at The Washington Post, Democrats are planning to publicly hold Republicans responsible for supporting Moore. GOP Senate candidates will be asked if they agree with the decision and whether they're willing to serve with Moore if he wins. Well-clad feet will be held to fires.

But it could be too late. Sargent suggests Trump's behavior may already have degraded all of our politics beyond the point of no return. And he has given right-wing Republicans the chance they've sought for years: trying to gut every social policy achievement of the last eight decades while further enriching the oligarchs (including the Trump clan) as he distracts the rest of us with his unhinged, oafish behavior.

He may be a fool but he's our fool. Trump and his many accomplices, including and especially Roy Moore, only succeed if we keep letting them.

Categories: News

Man Denied Marriage License by Kim Davis Will Try to Unseat Her in 2018

Fri, 12/08/2017 - 05:00

Local elections are heating up, including one for Rowan county clerk in Kentucky. The position, currently held by gay marriage opponent Kim Davis, is being challenged by one of the men to whom she denied a marriage license in 2015. This continues a trend of everyday people defiantly challenging incumbents with whom they have personal scores to settle, which began in the Virginia elections this November.

David Ermold formally announced his plans to run against Davis Wednesday, and submitted the documents directly to Davis.

Ermold, a professor and activist, married David Moore in 2015, despite Davis' attempts to block the couple's marriage. Though the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex marriage was protected under law, Ermold and Moore's attempts to get a marriage license were denied multiple times. Davis' refusal to sign the license drew national attention to the enforcement of Supreme Court decisions on a local level, as well as the ongoing struggle for LGBTQ equality against the religious right.

Kim Davis is seeking re-election (she changed parties and is now a Republican) and has stayed busy since 2015, including her brief time in jail after refusing to grant the marriage licenses, and a recent trip to Romania to speak out against gay marriage.

Ermold is one of four Democratic candidates looking to obtain the nomination and run in 2018. There was attention paid to his speculative run in November, especially on Twitter after he shared content about his run and also tweeted:

According to his website, Ermold's platform is based on leadership, fairness and responsibility, and he's focused on issues relating to voting accessibility and the fact that the "county clerk's office has been in the hands of the same family for almost 35 years." As the Lexington Herald Leader reported, Davis previously worked for her mother while she was county clerk, and Davis' son is also employed in the office.

Ermold said in a statement, "We must recommit ourselves to embracing the diversity within our community, and we must stand strong against those who have turned their backs on our people to pursue the divisive agenda of outside politicians and organizations."

One of the bright spots of 2017 politics has been local elections in which people are standing up to those who oppose their values. This includes women who have won races against GOP members who opposed the Women's March and reproductive justice, like Ashley Bennett who unseated Atlantic County Freeholder John Carman. Carman shared a sexist meme on Facebook about the Women's March early in 2017, and this, plus Carman's failure to apologize at a meeting, pushed Bennett to run. In Virginia's state legislature race, Danica Roem, a transgender woman, won against incumbent Bob Marshall, a leader of Virginia's discriminatory bathroom bill.

It'll be a long road to election day 2018 for David Ermold, especially in a county Trump won with more than 50 percent of the vote. However, as Ermold told Newsweek, "I just cannot sit by and just let her take that seat without a fight."

Categories: News

Strong Job Growth Continues in November, Prime Age Employment Rate Hits New High for Recovery

Fri, 12/08/2017 - 05:00
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The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported somewhat stronger than expected job growth in November, with employers adding 228,000 jobs. This brought the average for the last three months to 170,000. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.1 percent.

While the overall employment-to-population ratio (EPOP) ticked down by 0.1 percentage point, the EPOP for prime age workers rose by 0.2 percentage points, to 79.0 percent. This is an increase of 0.8 percentage points from the year-ago level, but is still 1.3 percentage points below the pre-recession peak.

In spite of measures indicating a continued tightening of the labor market, there is still little evidence of any notable acceleration in wage growth. The annualized growth rate of wages for the last three months, compared with the prior three months, is 2.6 percent, virtually identical to the 2.5 percent rate of increase over the last year.

The relatively low percentage of unemployment due to workers voluntarily quitting their jobs (11.3 percent) suggests that workers still do not feel very confident about their job prospects. This number was 12.3 percent a year ago and had peaked at more than 15.0 percent in 2000.

On the whole, this is a positive report, but one that indicates that the labor market can still tighten further without any major concerns about inflation.

Categories: News

Ousted Honduran President Zelaya Says 2009 US-Backed Coup Led to Election Crisis

Fri, 12/08/2017 - 05:00

In an exclusive interview, former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a 2009 US-backed coup, says US actions led to the current political crisis in Honduras. The government continues to withhold the results of the November presidential election, which pitted US-backed President Juan Orlando Hernández against opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla. Massive protests erupted after the government-controlled electoral commission stopped tallying votes when the count showed Nasralla ahead. Zelaya now heads the opposition LIBRE party, which is part of the Alliance Against the Dictatorship coalition led by Nasralla.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: In Honduras, the political crisis continues as the government is still refusing to release the results of the November 26 presidential election, held almost two weeks ago. The election pits US-backed President Juan Orlando Hernández against opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla, head of the National Alliance Against the Dictatorship. Massive protests erupted over the weekend, after the government-controlled electoral commission stopped tallying votes when the count showed Nasralla ahead of Hernández by more than 5 percentage points. After the delay, the electoral commission then claimed Hernández was ahead, sparking protests in which as many as 11 people were killed and more than 1,200 detained. Earlier this week, the Honduran police mutinied against the government, saying they would no longer enforce a curfew and crackdown against protesters.

Well, on Wednesday, in a Democracy Now! exclusive, I spoke with President Manuel Zelaya. He was president of Honduras from 2006 to 2009, before he was ousted in a US-backed coup on June 28th, 2009. He's now head of the opposition LIBRE party, part of the coalition of the Alliance Against the Dictatorship, which is led by the opposition presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla. We spoke via Democracy Now!video stream. President Zelaya was in Tegucigalpa. I began by asking him to describe the situation in Honduras right now.

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] Look, people are in the streets. There are a million people in the streets. There are takeovers. There are checkpoints. There are demonstrations. People are also being killed, assassinated by the repressive apparatuses of the state. There is a massive protest of society because of the lack of transparency in the electoral system.

Today, we are calling our candidate, who is now president-elect -- we are calling for a count of all polling places. There are only 18,000 polling places. It's not such a large number. That can be done in a matter of four days. So that the people can regain calm, because based on the data that the state itself put out, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, the Alliance of Opposition Against the Dictatorship, on the day of the election, the tribunal said that we had a 5 percent lead, with 71 percent of the votes counted. They said, with 57 percent counted, the alliance already had a 5 percent advantage, and then, with 71 percent counted, the 5 percent trend was maintained -- 71 percent. It was a 5 percent lead and growing.

Then, the system went down for three days. They say that the server was overloaded. That's like putting three needles into a room. How is a server going to be overloaded with so little data. The server can take billions and billions of pieces of data. So, three days, it was the -- the vote count was stopped. And then there was a change in service, in the server. And we were told that they had reset, when we asked for the backup, and it was all lost. And then it was resumed, and we're told, with 29 percent of the vote left to be counted, that we were losing. And so people were indignant, felt bothered.

And we resent the fact that the United States has this duplicitous discourse with respect to Honduras. They control the country. I was the president. They control the media, the private enterprise, the churches, the military. And they are silent. It's very striking that there's a twofold discourse, a duplicitous discourse, here on the part of the State Department.

AMY GOODMAN: President Zelaya, what are you calling for right now?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] At this time, we are asking for two things. First, for people to stay firm and stay in the streets, because if we don't defend what we've won at the polls in the streets -- the Honduran institutions have been coopted from the coup d'état to date. There's no democracy here. There's no rule of law here. We are suffering repression here. People are being persecuted. There are human rights violations every day. Every day. There's no due process. There's nothing. Since the coup d'état, the United States has done what it wants with this country. They changed all the laws. This is a military state, with laws like Plan Colombia, like the laws in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is what's happening in Honduras. And they've done away with guarantees and with respect. What's being done in this country is unjust. We are calling for people to defend themselves in the streets, so that what we won at the polls, we defend in the streets.

And second, the little bit of institutional framework that the state has -- well, the OAS is calling for this, the European Union. Let's count the 18,000 polling places. They say let's count or let's review the reports on the votes. But that's manipulated. Let's actually look at the votes. Let's see where the voters signed. And let's see if the signatures on the reports of the votes coincide with what's on the actual vote. We're asking for something -- this is a very sensitive demand. And we think that the international community should support democracy in Honduras. We want peace in Honduras.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you calling for a full recount or a new election?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] We know that Salvador Nasralla won the election. Salvador Nasralla, in a matter of six months. We had an alliance with the LIBRE party, which was founded after the coup d'état. We entered into an alliance with him. He's practically a TV personality and sports journalist. And in a matter of six months -- with happiness, dancing in all of the towns, with music -- he won the elections. We won.

We defeated 130 years of bipartisan rule in Honduras. We defeated them. The people defeated them, because of the poverty, the misery and the violence. The people cannot put up with it anymore. So, the elections were won. They recognized it the day of the elections. It was in the press worldwide that the alliance had won the election. And today, silence. Let's hear the voice of the church, the voice the military. Well, they react only when the United States gives them the order.

AMY GOODMAN: President Zelaya, the US State Department certified the Honduran government has been fighting corruption and supporting human rights, clearing the way for Honduras to receive millions of dollars in US aid. This came just a few days after the election took place on November 26th, in the midst of the dispute. Can you talk about the significance of this?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] Well, one month ago, the United Nations in Geneva, which looks out for human rights, directly introduced Honduras in the list of countries that violate human rights. One month ago, the United Nations organization in Geneva that looks out for human rights involved Honduras and put it directly on the list of countries that violate human rights. Just one year ago, they assassinated Berta Cáceres, a defender of nature, a defender of the rivers. They went to assassinate her. And the indicia indicate that the masterminds of this crime are being protected by the state.

Nonetheless, the State Department comes out with these things. The State Department is a very political organization. They protect the dictators who are their friends. Nonetheless, in Honduras, it has been clear -- well, in the last six months, there's not been an ambassador of the United States. The ambassador of the United States is like a governor. It's like a state that is under the dollar. And we find it shameful that the State Department is so indifferent to the Honduran people, who are suffering. There have been 12 assassinations in the last 48 hours. We're under a state of siege. You know, they've declared a state of siege against the protests. They are counting the votes under a state of siege, with a military highly repressive state in Honduras.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the United States doing behind the scenes, President Zelaya?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] They want to leave the dictator in, endorsing a fraud, endorsing a dictator.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is it doing? How do you know that? What is it doing to ensure that?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] The Organization of American States put out a report yesterday, which is mostly satisfactory, about how the operational side of the elections are being held. And the OAS -- well, this is a report that must be analyzed with the State Department, as well. And they say clearly that the OAScannot consider the results of the -- put out by the election tribunal, to be reliable. They're saying that the current president is being illegally re-elected. They've violated the Constitution. They've assaulted the institutions of the state. They carried out a fraud. They did not want to carry out the national election census. And now, since they were not able to win at the ballot box, they're now manipulating the system, the count system. The OAS already put out a report that we find very satisfactory.

Based on that report, today we will be presenting challenges to the election. We will be calling for a general count of all the votes. Now, if the State Department would like to rectify its position, it should go along with us in this, that there should be a count. If the current president won, what's the problem with having a recount? If they say he won, well, Mr. President, let's have a count. You or the United States, let us look. Let's have a count in Europe. Let's have a count. What's the problem? If the electoral tribunal says that you won -- well, they're all employees of the presidency -- let's have a public count, in front of cameras and television and international organizations. The three parties that participated, the main parties, let's be there. And they say everything is transparent. I would hope it would be. And I would hope that that can happen in coming hours.

AMY GOODMAN: That's former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, ousted in 2009 in a US-backed coup. We'll be back with our exclusive interview with him, and then we'll talk about The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assessing a President. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Honduran band Café Guancasco, one of the most politically outspoken bands in Honduras. After the 2009 US-backed coup, they became known as the "Band of the Resistance." This is Democracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman, as we return to Democracy Now!'s exclusive interview with the former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, ousted in the 2009 US-backed coup. The political crisis in Honduras today is continuing as the government still refuses to release the results of the November 26 presidential election, that pit the US-backed President Juan Orlando Hernández against the opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla, head of the Alliance Against the Dictatorship. Massive protests erupted over the weekend, after the government-controlled electoral commission stopped tallying votes when the count showed Nasralla ahead of Hernández. I asked President Zelaya whether he's suggesting the US is still running the show right now in Honduras.

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] I have no doubt about it, Amy. And you know why? Because I was president of the country, and they tried to run everything. And their opposition is what took me out of power. The coup d'état against me was planned in Miami at the Southern Command. So I know, here, they run the churches -- not all of them, not all of the pastors or all of the priests, but the main heads. They finance the main churches, evangelical churches, as well -- not all of them, but most of them. They run the large owners of the media corporations. They feed them a line, day after day. And the military obey them, because they were trained by them at the School of the Americas. It now has another name, but the graduates are throughout Latin America. The private business -- well, if you're going to be a businessperson and make money in Honduras, you need to export to the United States, and so you have to have a good relationship, you have to have a visa. So, anything the United States says is the law for the private sector here. If they say, "Go into the abyssum," they will. That's how the history of this country has been. They run the transnationals, private sector, the churches, the major media -- not just here, around the world. The major media conglomerates answer to the US line.

And that is why it's necessary for them to reflect upon the harm that they're doing to a small country like this. It's incredible. But they're not going to be able to govern here. If Juan Orlando is imposed in the next four years, they're not going to be able to govern. The people will be in the streets. Everyone is shouting "Fuera JOH," which means, "Out, [Juan] Orlando Hernández," the president.

AMY GOODMAN: Has the United States reached out to Salvador Nasralla? Has he been speaking to the US government?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] Yes, quite a bit. They have been meeting with him. But they want Salvador to sign an agreement with the president to review only some of the vote reports. They're asking him to sign that. Salvador has refused, because he knows that it's a trap that they're trying to lead him into. They want just a partial review, and that is obviously not enough.

AMY GOODMAN: And what does Nasralla say to that? What's his response?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] The answer is the same that I'm giving you. I've spoken with him. We're in coordination. I'm the coordinator of the alliance. He is the candidate and the president-elect. The answer is: Let's have a general count, and let's have the people in the streets.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about General Kelly, General Kelly who is this White House chief of staff right now, formerly head of SouthCom, certainly involved with matters relating to the United States in Honduras? Do you see him playing a role in the Honduran election?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] Well, please extend my greetings to General Kelly. He came here several times. I did not meet him personally, but I know who he is. When he was the head of the Southern Command, head of SouthCom, he was given responsibility over Honduras, and he exercised a great deal of influence in the changes in the country. President Obama said it's a mistake to put the military in charge of drug trafficking, because their armed forces are going to become contaminated. Well, here, General Kelly made that mistake of getting the armed forces involved. Instead of involved in defense, they're involved in security. That's a big mistake, because the military have a patriotic function to defend and support security, but not to be the first line on security. And so, he is, in large measure, responsible for the tragedy that the country is experiencing.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see a difference between the Trump administration's involvement in Honduras today and the Obama administration, clearly involved in the coup against you, that toppled you, President Zelaya, in 2009?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] There's less hypocrisy with Trump. He's more direct about what he's going to do, and he does it. Under the previous administration, there was a lack of sincerity in the words. And so, in a way, we like this. But Trump is very repressive. He's very cold and harsh. He only sees the world from the standpoint of business. I think that we, human beings, be it in the eyes of God or in the eyes of the law, have the same value. This is what Jefferson said. It's what Washington said. It's what the US Constitution says. He lacks humanity.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see a connection between the coup against you in 2009 and the violence that has grown in Honduras, leading up to, for example, the assassination of Berta Cáceres in 2015?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] The world is a global village. Everything is interrelated. You were here after the coup d'état, and you experienced that tragedy in Honduras. Since then, those who carried out the coup and removed me have been governing. I organized the people, and we've now defeated them. At the polls, in a civic manner, without violence, we defeated them. They have the weapons and all.

And, of course, they changed the state. They turned it into a military repressive state, violator of human rights. And there's no more respect for due process. They've introduced new laws. There's a law on secrecy, for example. I had a law called law for access to public information and law for transparency and a law on citizen participation. Now, these are prohibited. Public -- popular consultations are provided by this tyrannical government.

They say there can be elections, but the elections are not the essence of democracy. Elections are: You're presented a piece of paper with a bunch of photos, and you mark it. That is not the full extent of democracy. People making decisions is democracy, and it's not accepted here now, almost 10 years after the coup d'état.

There's a tie-in of death squads. People are being massacred, killed in series. We hadn't seen that before in this country. That is a result of the state. Instead of seeking to be democratic, well, it simply centralized power and made it authoritarian and military. In addition, as indicated in State Department reports, the amount of drugs coming through Honduras has tripled. Of course, now there is directly military control of all movement of the country, and so it's easier for the drug traffickers than in an open democratic system. Now, there is too much control by the security forces, and therefore the drugs go through very openly through Honduras.

Of course, all of that has been the result of the control that the United States came to acquire after the coup d'état. First, remember, Otto Reich came through with accusations against Honduras and so forth. But even so, we won the elections. Roberto Carmona, a Venezuelan CIA agent, came through. The United States took possession of Honduras after the coup d'état. And they've done a very bad job running the country. The economy has been low. The poverty has grown. Violence has grown.

Let me cite one datum: Violence went down in the six months leading up to the elections. Well, that was clearly an indicator that those who are running the violence and control those who are producing the violence are those who reduce the levels of violence. Why? Because there's elections. And then, after the elections, the violence will come back. They are the ones who are running it. It's like a Plan Colombia for Honduras. That is what we have called it.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you for the passage of the Berta Cáceres Human Rights Act in the US Congress that would cut off military aid to Honduras until human rights violations stop?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] Yes, I agree with passage of the Berta Cáceres Human Rights Act, because the United States is financing a repressive state, violating human rights, and we need to have an in-depth investigation into all of that.

AMY GOODMAN: The former Bolivian President Jorge Quiroga is heading the Organization of American States, the OAS, election observation mission in Honduras. He said the tight margin, along with the irregularities, errors and systematic problems that have surrounded this election, does not allow the mission to be certain about the results. President Zelaya, what's your response to the former Bolivian president?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] Look, Tuto Quiroga, as we know him in Latin America, is a man from the far right. He's a peon of the CIA. He works with them. He informs them. He was vice president of a dictator in Bolivia. In Bolivia, he appears to be critical of the system and of Evo Morales. Here, he has come to defend a dictator. So I don't believe him. A traitor once, a traitor forever.

AMY GOODMAN: In The Wall Street Journal, there was an opinion piece that said that you are doing the bidding of Venezuela, President Zelaya. It's also what the PR firms in Washington that represent the Honduran right are trying to say. What is your response to that?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] I didn't know the Venezuelans until I became president of Honduras and I met Hugo Chávez. My record as a citizen is well known throughout my entire life in Honduras. I am a democratic-minded man. I am a pacifist. I don't use weapons. Plus, I have a clean record, throughout my life, my private life, my public life, my administrative life. No one can have any doubts about me.

Now, in terms of my thinking and my ideology and my ways of thinking, I share directly with all peoples struggling for justice -- Venezuela, the people of Bolívar, the people of Central America, of Morazán, the people of Cuba, Martí, and Artigas in Ecuador, the people of Mexico, the people of Farabundo Martí, the Sandinistas. All have struggled against dictatorships, opprobrious dictatorships, for centuries. That is consistent with my way of being. I defend the Bolivarian Revolution and the revolution of Martí and Morazán here, and the revolutions in the African countries and the Middle East, who are putting up with so much pressure by the empire. I am the defender of just causes, and I identify with that.

Now, if because of that they say that I have some affinity with the people, tell them it's true. It's true. The struggle being carried out by Nicolás Maduro to defend his natural resources, that the United States wants to recover -- oil, the oil wells -- and the European countries' companies, as well, is a just struggle of the Venezuelan people. And I am with Nicolás Maduro in that struggle, because the actions carried out by the United States against Venezuela are public. The Obama decrees against Venezuela, declaring it to be an enemy of the world, is public. The aggression by Trump, saying he's going to invade Venezuela, is public.

We Latin Americans and Caribbeans, Hispanic Americans who are here, just as we defend immigrants in the United States, we also defend peoples who fight for change. Here in Honduras, I began a process of change, and they took us out by bullets. And it was the Latin American left that defended me. At that time, the right united, but as a matter of hypocrisy, because within months they were with those who carried out the coups here, so they don't want changes in Latin America, the Caribbean or anywhere in the world. Not even in the United States do they want changes. There was a candidate proposing democratic socialism. And similarly, we have a proposal along the same lines at the opposition alliance. So, the United States is denying reality. They might stop changes momentarily, but changes of humankind cannot be stopped. We continue going forward. Despite all of the forces that historically try to keep things as they are, humankind has gone through all sorts of change -- war, revolution, peaceful demonstrations, like Gandhi, as Jesus Christ taught us. And we're involved in that process. So, my identification with those causes is a matter of public record.

I come from a right-wing party. But in exercising power at the top level of the public life of any human being holding power, we realized we needed to help the workers, the campesinos, the teachers. I wanted this country to have relations with the world. I brought Lula. I brought Chávez. I brought President Bachelet, presidents of Mexico. I maintained good relations with the United States. You might not believe me, but they had a center with Chávez. They wanted to destroy Chávez because he wanted to free these peoples from the oppression of the big transnationals, the military and the transnationals. It's the US and European military-industrial complex. With that, they've gone to destroy the Middle East.

We have anti-imperialist principles and anti-capitalist principles, because capital is good. Capital needs to be developed. Private enterprise plays a fundamental role in the history of our peoples, the private sector. I, myself, own agricultural businesses and so on. But capital was created by man, and it's not possible that now capital is dominating human beings. Here, they want to run the nations. They want to run the states. They want to oppress and exploit the peoples. I'm a businessperson, but the role of a businessperson is to drive the economy, but not to guide the nation. The nation should be guided by common sense and reason. And that is democracy.

And I am grateful for this opportunity. I see this is not coming from the coup d'état. We are resisting with force, so we will maintain this position the rest of our lives. And we see that the people are the ones who are on the right side of history. The people is like the concept of God. The people is justice. The people is transparency. The people is calling for justice, demanding justice. So, if they want to judge me or criticize me for these views, they may do so.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you say that Salvador Nasralla shares your views?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] In large measure. Salvador is a fair man. He is a man of the right, but he is a fair man. And we entered into an alliance, and we signed this, and we said we're going for a participatory democracy because representative democracy is a betrayal. It represents betrayal of the people, who need to be involved in referendums and in popular consultations. We consider him to be an advanced and progressive man. He's not a socialist, but he is a progressive man. And that's why he was our candidate. And that's why we won the election. The people were able to pick up on his message.

AMY GOODMAN: President Zelaya, the significance of the police refusing to impose the curfew, enforce the curfew, for President Hernández?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] There was a mutiny in the COBRA Group, which is a special commando group, a rebellion. And that then spread to all of the civilian police. There was like 24 hours of rebellion. Logically, these are disciplined bodies that have their esprit de corps, and they defend their own integrity at the end of the day.

But it sends two messages to the nation: You are governing poorly, we want clean elections, and we want the winner to be recognized as the winner. We don't want impositions. We're not going to accept impositions. And we're not going to obey the president when he orders us to lash out against the people. They are our sisters and brothers. And they said, "We are not going to repress the people. The people demand transparent elections and a transparent vote count." And it was won. And the police now have stepped back. They reached a specific agreement. But they really left a revolutionary message with the people. It's a group that is with the people. And we have confidence, and we're grateful for this historic gesture on the part of the police, unlike the military. The military are the ones who are killing us. They are the ones who are assassinating. And they should reflect upon this, because they, too, are persons of the people.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, what do you see happening from this point on, President Zelaya?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] Ask General Kelly. I already told you what we are going to do. And we are going to uphold the will of the people. I've told you what Salvador Nasralla is doing. We're calling on the people to defend themselves in the streets, to take to the streets. If they do not defend their triumph, if we -- what we don't defend in the streets, we're not going to be able to defend in the institutions, which are totally coopted and controlled by the tyranny that has been established in Honduras and with the support of the State Department.

And the State Department, to conclude, I ask you, look, you, in the United States, you have a major responsibility in the world. You have the money, the weapons, power in the world. You have the technology, some of the greatest strides in science. Don't do this to this people. Stop supporting a fraud in Honduras. Please, allow us to act democratically. We're a peaceful people, and we want to have a good relationship with the United States. But in this way, all that is done is for the United States to get a poor image, worse than it already might be.

AMY GOODMAN: That's former Honduras President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a 2009 US-backed coup. He was speaking to us from Tegucigalpa, Honduras. He heads the operation LIBRE party, part of the Alliance Against the Dictatorship, which is led by Salvador Nasralla, the opposition presidential candidate. The Honduran government-controlled election commission still refuses to release the final results from the election nearly two weeks ago. You can go to democracynow.org to see all of our coverage of Honduras, including our coverage of his return to Honduras in 2011 on a plane from Nicaragua. This was after he was deposed and then returning to Honduras after the US-backed coup.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we'll be talking about The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assessing a President. Stay with us.

Categories: News

Sinking Flynn

Fri, 12/08/2017 - 05:00
Categories: News

Economic Update: Revolt Against Sexual Abuse

Fri, 12/08/2017 - 05:00
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This week's episode includes updates on other countries undercut US tax changes, US graduate students: fewer and taxed more, "recovery" myth vs foreclosure stats, Valve Corp: worker coops better for innovation, 2017 Nobel Peace Prize snubbed, Starbucks: not really worker-friendly. This week's episode also includes an interview with Dr. Harriet Fraad on the revolt against sexual abuse.

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Categories: News

Jeff Sessions Wants to Crack Down on Legal Weed -- Will Congress Let Him?

Fri, 12/08/2017 - 05:00
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UPDATE: Congress gave the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment a temporary reprieve after this piece was originally published, extending protections until Dec. 22. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-OR, responded by saying, "[T]wo weeks is not enough certainty," and adding, "Congress must act to put an end to the cycle of uncertainty and permanently protect state medical marijuana programs -- and adult use -- from federal interference."

In all the budget and tax negotiations frantically being hammered out on Capitol Hill, one small amendment that might get lost in the shuffle could have huge ramifications. The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment was originally set to expire on Friday (see update above), which would open the door for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to do what he's been hinting he wants to: Launch a federal war on states that have partly or completely legalized marijuana use.

The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, originally passed as the the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment in 2014, bars the Department of Justice from using federal funds to prosecute people buying or selling medical marijuana in states that have legalized it. It's a popular bipartisan amendment that protects 46 states, but there have been concerns about whether it will be renewed after Sessions exerted pressure in May on Congress to let the amendment die.

Sessions argued that the DOJ's hands need to be untied when it comes to prosecuting marijuana dispensaries, "particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime." There is, of course, no evidence that marijuana use is contributing to the opioid crisis and, in fact, there's a significant link between legalized medical marijuana and a decrease in opioid overdoses.

The amendment survived, despite Sessions' pressure, through a couple rounds of budget debate in Congress this year, but as Ames Grawert of the Brennan Center for Justice told Salon, "Every time, there’s sort of a dance around whether it will actually get cut this time or not." It’s reasonable to be at least "a little concerned," Grawert said, that Sessions' pressure will eventually convince congressional Republicans to dump the amendment. 

This will-they-or-won't-they game is why Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican, and a bipartisan group of 24 other lawmakers have introduced the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017, which would prevent the federal government from prosecuting any marijuana users, growers or distributors who are in compliance with state laws.

“You have booming economies in several states, some of whom allow the recreational use of marijuana but many also just for medical purposes, and no real data linking that to a public safety problem," Grawert said, noting that the Brennan Center objects to using federal resources to prosecute people or break up thriving economies without any data to show that doing so would improve public safety.

In March, Sessions argued that marijuana use is "only slightly less awful" than heroin addiction, making it clear that his priority was to aggressively prosecute marijuana users and distributors. He's been stymied by both the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment and a memo issued by then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole that discouraged the Justice Department from prosecuting people who were following state-level marijuana laws. The obvious concern here, however, is that Sessions would seize upon the first political opening available to reinvigorate the federal war on pot.

As Sadie Gurman of the AP reported in August, Sessions tried to create such an opportunity by convening a Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety that he reportedly expected would give him legal cover to reverse the Cole memo. Instead, as Gurman reports, they came up "with no new policy recommendations to advance the attorney general’s aggres

Sessions clearly hasn't given up hope of creating a pretense for a crackdown on legal weed, however. As BuzzFeed's Dominic Holden reported on Twitter, Sessions is holding a roundtable discussion on drug policy at the hyper-conservative Heritage Foundation. No press will be allowed to ask questions. Heritage has been aggressively fighting back against the bipartisan efforts to relax marijuana laws, falsely claiming that pot is more addictive and dangerous than alcohol. In fact, the opposite is true: Marijuana is less addictive than booze and significantly less dangerous.

In November, Sessions was hauled in front of the House Judiciary Committee to answer questions about the Donald Trump-Russia scandal, but as is typical with these sorts of hearings, a lot of congressmen wedged in to ask some off-topic questions. Rep. Steve Chabot, a Republican from Ohio, asked Sessions about the DOJ's marijuana policies.

"Our policy is the same, really, fundamentally as the Holder-Lynch policy, which is that the federal law remains in effect and a state can legalize marijuana for its law enforcement purposes but it still remains illegal with regard to federal purposes," Sessions said.

If that sounds comforting, it shouldn't. The DOJ approach to marijuana under the Obama administration was all over the place. On one hand, the Cole memo helped dial back federal prosecutions of marijuana. On the other, Justice under Attorney General Eric Holder did what it could to ignore the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, prosecuting marijuana dispensaries in at least one prominent case that was overturned in court. The fact of the matter is Obama's administration was pretty bad for a long time on marijuana, a fact that Sessions is now eager to use as political cover to do more of the same. 

Ultimately, the legal limbo around this question has to end. There's already a surprising amount of bipartisan support for medical marijuana in Congress. A recent CBS poll shows that 61 percent of Americans believe recreational marijuana should be legal, while 88 percent support legalized medical marijuana. Seven out of 10 Americans believe the federal government should not interfere with marijuana sales in states where it's legal. Ideally, Congress should simply pass a bill removing marijuana from the controlled substances list. In lieu of that, a bill compelling the Department of Justice to respect state marijuana laws will finally clarify the murky legal status of people who sell or use pot in states where getting high is not a crime.

Categories: News

Watchdogs Say US Chemical Safety Board Is "Flying Blind"

Fri, 12/08/2017 - 05:00

As per a 1990 Congress mandate, chemical plants must report any dangerous substance releases during accidents, so first responders and others in the vicinity can take precautions. But the federal watchdog agency charged with investigating chemical accidents never finished instituting the rule under pressure from the industry. The agency has also failed to investigate the vast majority of accidents that fall under its jurisdiction.

 Cultura RM Exclusive / Matt Lincoln / Getty Images)(Photo: Cultura RM Exclusive / Matt Lincoln / Getty Images)

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In the early hours of August 31, explosions erupted at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, where floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey had cut off the power supply to refrigerated containers containing organic peroxide. Residences in a 1.5-mile radius had been evacuated, and deputies manning barricades began falling ill in the middle of the road one by one. Medics were called, but no further warning was given as columns of black smoke filled the air.

Arkema knew the fires were coming -- organic peroxides burst into flames unless they are kept cool -- but company officials had insisted in a press conference prior to the explosions that the chemicals were not toxic or harmful to people, according to a lawsuit filed in October by emergency workers injured at the scene.

The lawsuit describes the scene near the plant as "nothing less than chaos," with police officers doubled over vomiting and medics gasping for air on their way to assist them. At least 15 people were hospitalized. Arkema initially told authorities the victims had inhaled a "non-toxic irritant," but residues obtained from nearby residences tested positive for dangerous toxins, such as dioxins and heavy metals, according to a separate lawsuit filed by people living nearby.

What else is Arkema hiding? For answers to that question, the public is turning to the US Chemical Safety Board, where an investigation of the Arkema incident is ongoing. However, the federal agency has failed to implement a rule requiring chemical plant operators to report dangerous releases during accidents to its investigators. Congress mandated this provision back in 1990.

Had Arkema been required to report the looming chemical fires to the Chemical Safety Board, the government and emergency workers would have had more to go on than the "vague" disclosure offered by the company during the storm, according to Adam Carlesco, a staff attorney at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. The watchdog group filed a lawsuit on Thursday challenging the chemical board's inaction on the reporting rule. Other plaintiffs include the Memorial for Workplace Fatalities and two Gulf South environmental groups.

"America's sole industrial safety monitor is currently flying blind and placing the health of the public at risk," Carlesco said.

The Chemical Safety Board is the only federal body charged with investigating chemical accidents and making safety recommendations to improve the industry, but a 2016 report by the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) inspector general determined that the agency faces several "management challenges," including low employee morale. The agency has also failed to investigate a number of accidents that fall under its jurisdiction.

The EPA also called out the agency for failing to implement the rule requiring plant operators to report dangerous chemical releases, which Congress mandated with an amendment to the Clean Air Act 27 years ago. The Chemical Safety Board began the process of instituting the rule back in 2009, but never finished the job after receiving a number of public comments from chemical manufacturers and industry groups.

Carlesco told Truthout that Congress gave the EPA administrator authority to enforce the regulation and require chemical companies to start reporting to the safety board. However, the agency's current administrator, Scott Pruitt, is a right-wing Trump appointee who is dedicated to repealing environmental regulations rather than strengthening them. In fact, a Truthout investigation revealed that Pruitt delayed implementation of federal rules designed to prevent accidents at chemical plants just months before the Arkema accident, despite protests from first responders.

Chemical plant operators are required to file reports with the Coast Guard's National Response Center when accidents occur and pollutants are released into the environment. The Chemical Safety Board currently uses that database along with "media monitoring services" to monitor chemical accidents nationwide, according to Hillary Cohen, a spokesperson for the agency.

Yet advocates say this level of monitoring is not sufficient.

"A news clipping service is not an adequate safeguard for the health of communities, workers and first responders," Carlesco said. "American communities are forced into a game of Russian roulette, never knowing when an explosive round will go off – or what it contains."

Dangerous chemical accidents are quite common across the industrial corridors of the United States, and the Chemical Safety Board is currently investigating the Arkema fires along with eight other high-profile accidents that resulted in injuries and deaths at chemical plants and refineries nationwide. However, the agency's resources and staff are limited.

"With an investigative staff of 20, the board cannot investigate all incidents across the country -- internally we evaluate each event and determine if we have the appropriate resources to deploy a team," Cohen said.

Cohen said the board would once again consider implementing the chemical reporting rule in the coming year. There are signs of improvement at the agency -- a recent federal survey found that employee satisfaction at the Chemical Safety Board increased by 22 points this year. However, it remains to be seen whether improved working conditions will help the agency conduct more investigations and meet other "management challenges" identified by the EPA. 

The board's investigators recently released this animation explaining the events leading up to the chemical fires at Arkema, including an attempt by employees to move the unstable organic peroxide from the flooding storage containers to refrigerated truck trailers on higher ground as flood waters rose -- even moving one-gallon containers of the chemical by hand after their forklifts stopped working. The workers were evacuated before the facility lost power.

Categories: News

In the Face of the GOP's Class-War Tax Bill, Chicago Activists Voice Outrage in the Streets

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 14:03
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Chicago -- It's an unseasonably warm December 4 evening and a crowd of about 500 people, some wearing knitted pussy hats and recycled signs from previous rallies, are gathered at the plaza in front of the Chicago Board of Trade. Two days earlier the Senate passed its version of the GOP's tax plan, which gives lavish tax breaks to the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. 

"Everyone I talk to in my church and in my seminary community is terrified of what this bill and other pieces of legislation mean for us," says Samantha Nichols, a 24-year-old seminary student who attended the event.

Nichols wore her clerical collar under a grey coat as she marched in the December 4 protest. With almost $50,000 in debt and one year left on her parents' health insurance, she worries both about her future and that of the parishioners at the Bridgeport church where she is a vicar.

In the city that launched Barack Obama, home to one of the most diverse and most segregated urban populations in the country, street protests have become both an expression of popular outrage and a chance for political attention. Notice of Chicago's protest against the GOP tax plan was posted online December 2 by The People's Lobby and co-hosted by a dozen other organizations. By December 4, around 700 people had RSVP'd on Facebook.

Hundreds of rallies and protests have erupted around the country as the GOP tax bill made its way out of the Senate committee. Last Wednesday, graduate students at more than 40 university campuses walked out of class, and protesters took to the streets around the country as the bill made its way out of the Senate Budget Committee. According to Indivisible, dozens more rallies and events are planned this week in California, Colorado, Louisiana, Montana, Maine, New York, New Jersey, Florida, Virginia, Ohio, and Michigan.  

At the Chicago protest, the crowd chanted, "Love thy neighbor as thyself! Tax the rich and share the wealth!" One man held a sign illustrated with a pitchfork.

While many of the mostly white protesters walked straight from their Loop offices to join the march, 34-year-old Reid McCollum came in from the western suburb of Hinsdale to participate. He leads the Coalition for a Better Illinois 6th, a network of 25 grassroots groups advocating for local civic engagement.

McCollum's congressional district is represented Republican Peter Roskam, one of only two dozen red districts in the country won by Hillary Clinton in November 2016. About an hour before crowds gathered in downtown Chicago, Roskam had been selected to reconcile the current versions of the Senate and House GOP tax bills before they're sent to President Donald Trump.

The House has named its conferees (though not without a tantrum from the conservative Freedom Caucus), and the Senate is expected to do so on Wednesday. The timeline is unknown and the process to reconcile the House and Senate versions will take place behind closed doors, but GOP lawmakers are eager to get the law passed before Congress goes on holiday break after December 15.

One of the major sticking points is expected to be the late addition of the corporate alternative minimum tax (AMT) into the Senate proposal. Removing it in conference would add $40 billion to the cost of the bill. And while the Senate version guts the Obamacare individual mandate, the House proposal leaves it untouched. Other differences that will need to be ironed out include whether graduate students' tuition waivers are taxable income, estate taxes, the mortgage interest deduction, and the child tax credit.

"Peter Roskam is the most culpable politician in the entire state of Illinois for this tax bill," says McCollum. "He wrote this thing and right now he's sitting in a room with lobbyists and billionaires writing a version that's going to probably pass, and constituents in my district need to know about it. ... No Democrat has voted for this thing. The fact is that only one Republican senator had the courage to say this is wrong, this is not what we believe in -- it's not even what the Republican Party believes in, its what the libertarian extreme donors believe in, and they're working for them not the American people."

McCollum wants people to focus on street protests, canvassing, and turning out for the next election to oust lawmakers like Roskam.

Max Romero works as an independent publishing contractor in Uptown and organizes with ONE Northside. He worries that without the deductions he relies on, he will not be able to continue working independently, and that finding a job as a 47-year-old in media will be nearly impossible. Until six months ago, he and his wife went on Obamacare, and he now worries about how further financial instability may affect his family.

"I do put some of the blame on establishment Democrats. They for too long have been almost like the less conservative arm of one party that runs this country," he says. But, Romero adds, a lot of people are waking up, and many are running for office or entering politics who would never have thought about it otherwise. "I think that's where our real hope is."

At a few minutes past 5 p.m. Illinois State Senator and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Daniel Biss shouts through a megaphone, "Do you know what kinds of untold wealth come in and out of that building on a daily basis?" asks Biss, nodding at the towering Chicago Board of Trade.

"As a student teacher what really concerns me is the fact that they're taking out the deduction for teachers [in the house bill]," says Joe Padilla, a student teacher. "We have to buy our own supplies because we don't have fully funded schools, and now they're taking our deductions so we're paying more."

Padilla, is from the  western suburbs and is a senior at the University of Illinois in Chicago where he's studying to be a history teacher. While on campus he got involved in the fight for student workers to be paid minimum wage and became a coordinator with UIC Student Action.

Padilla has attended public schools his whole life, and his mother is a public school teacher. He joined the protest because the House version of the GOP tax plan includes a voucher for charter schools to allow a families to withdraw up to $10,000 a year from tax-free college savings and use it for tuition and expenses at K-12 schools, including private and religious schools.

"What gives me hope is seeing things like this," he says, "being able to go into legislative meetings and demand that our elected officials support a budget not just in Illinois, but across the country that puts people and planet first, over profits and corporations."

Renato Mariotti, a  former federal prosecutor running in the crowded race for Illinois attorney general says the blame for the tax bill lies on "people I know who stayed home and didn't care when I asked them to get energized for this last election."

Biss and Mariotti are not the only political hopefuls attending the rally. Ra Joy who is running for lieutenant governor as the running mate of gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy (Bobby Kennedy's son)  is also there.

"This billionaires' tax scam is completely and totally morally bankrupt," he says. "It's probably the most regressive and unfair piece of legislation to move through Congress in my lifetime."

Editor's Note from In These Times: A previous version listed Indivisible Chicago as the organization that posted the event to Facebook. The article has been updated to show that The People's Lobby​ posted the notice.

Categories: News

Understanding Retail's Volatile Moment

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 14:02
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When you do your holiday shopping this year, keep this in mind: the cashier ringing up your purchase likely worked part time at some point in their career. There's a chance they're borrowing money or using credit cards to pay their bills. Their income and schedules can be volatile. And it's incredibly difficult for them to move up the career chain.

Thanks to the Fair Workweek Initiative, a project anchored at the Center for Popular Democracy, we now have a better picture of the lives of retail workers around the country. The group published their survey, "Job Quality and Economic Opportunity in Retail," earlier this November.

Inequality.org spoke with Carrie Gleason, the director of the Fair Workweek Initiative, to talk more about the survey. "There's this moment of disruption that's happening right now in retail, and we wanted to get insights into where we are right now, and also understand how people are imagining the future," Gleason told Inequality.org.

Gleason's been organizing retail workers since 2005, and has seen a lot of trends unfold over the past decade. One of the biggest waves she noticed? The move towards a part-time workforce. "I saw this massive shift to a low road," Gleason said. "I saw the chaos that unfolded in a lot of people's lives who I was working very closely with."

The survey confirmed that part-time workers are far more vulnerable to erratic incomes and hours, and see fewer opportunities for growth. But Gleason also noted that 60 percent of the full-time workers they interviewed had worked part-time jobs in the past -- a statistic she found troubling.

"What we've seen in retail is that actually there's a lower rung. And it starts now with a part-time job. And it's not just, ok I'm going to work part time and work my way up to a full-time job. It's like an obstacle course to get to a full-time job. So you have to be available all the time to really just get a few hours a week." For workers with families, that means kids often have to adapt to ever-changing workweeks, which worries Gleason. "It's super important to set up healthy, stable routines, but for people who are working in the retail economy, it's impossible."

The survey also painted a picture of financial insecurity among workers. Nearly half of their survey respondents said they borrowed money from family and friends in the past year. Meanwhile, some companies are profiting off the financial instability of the retail workforce: 39 percent of retail workers say they use a credit card to pay off bills, 25 percent purchased a money order, and 12 percent used payday loans. "The financialization of the poverty of people working in retail is a huge industry," Gleason says.

The survey makes it clear that the finance industry is playing an outsized role in the lives of retail workers. That parallels with the stake it holds in the industry as a whole. The backdrop to this study has been the often-mentioned "retail apocalypse." This mantra has become a regular fixture in the news cycle: retail stores are closing. Online shopping has taken over. Millennials would rather buy experiences than things. But Gleason says the truth is more complicated.

"If we look at the reason for the most recent wave of store closings, I would argue that private equity has more to do with 100,000 people losing their jobs than Amazon," Gleason says. "People lost their jobs because Wall Street got greedy and put too much debt on these companies."

Recent reporting supports Gleason's claim. Private equity firms have bought up retail companies and loaded them up with billions in debt in risky business schemes, as a recent Bloomberg feature shows. The biggest payers of the burden, they anticipate, will be the low-income workers employed by the chains. Meanwhile, the mismanagers of America's retail crisis will likely come out ahead.

But despite the numbers, it takes work to change the narrative. "That story hasn't been told, because it's invisible," Gleason says. You just see Toys 'R' Us closing. You don't see the myriad of private equity firms that set them up to fail."

But workers who bear the consequences know what's happening. "I think there's a ton of growing awareness about how things actually work. It's not a shock to someone who works at Toys 'R' Us that bankers might be at fault for why they lost their job."

Hopefully, that awareness will help compound some of the legislative successes that retail workers have won in recent years. Cities and states are passing a range of policies to improve working conditions in the retail industry, from higher minimum wages to paid sick leave. Gleason emphasized new regulations in several cities and states that require companies to provide transparent, reliable schedules, and to confront underemployment by offering more shifts to part-time workers before hiring new staff.  

"There's been unbelievable momentum these last few years. For a labor standard that basically did not exist three years ago, we've seen six cities, the state of Oregon, and soon the state of New York pass new standards around work hours," Gleason says.

Now, the Fair Workweek Initiative is looking to expand to a more integrated approach. "It's no longer just a question about labor standards. We need to have guardrails on Wall Street, and we need guardrails around technology. The next round of store closings is not just going to just be private equity, it'll be private equity joined by robots."

One factor complicating that fight: some companies are also pushing back against the victories that organizing groups have already had at the ballot box. Businesses are already asking Congress to shield them from local paid leave laws. "There's a battle right now where cities and states actually are stepping up and recognizing that all of their hard work -- there are people in Congress right now are trying to take that away."

But Gleason still sees opportunity in this political moment. "In this crisis there's actually a lot of hope that people are getting more active and recognizing that we can't take what we won for granted, but that also there's a lot that we can do to protect people's lives right now."

Categories: News

Washington, DC: Where the Abusers Make the Rules

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 14:00
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After women stepped forward to tell their stories of how they had been sexually abused and harassed by members of Congress, it didn't take long for political leaders from both sides of the aisle to talk about how serious this all was.

But when the rules and regulations surrounding sexual assault allegations in Congress were finally made public, revealing all the ways that women are forced into silence, it became very clear that talk is cheap -- and that neither of the two parties that rule in Washington are prepared to act with seriousness about sexual assault.

Confidentiality agreements that prevent women from speaking in public, a process that bars women from getting co-workers to corroborate evidence, secret settlements paid out of the federal treasury -- all are part of a process where sexual assault claims never see the light of day, remaining confined to a rigged in-house system, with rules that Congress made up for itself.

Thanks to the #MeToo movement that began with women in the entertainment industry revealing producer Harvey Weinstein to be a sexual predator, accusations against men in positions of power are at least being taken seriously, including in Washington.

In politics, the spotlight has fallen mainly on Roy Moore, the bible-thumping Republican running for a crucial Senate seat from Alabama, and liberal favorite Al Franken, the senator from Minnesota.

When it was revealed that Moore had sexually assaulted and harassed women and girls who were teenagers at the time, some top Republicans called on Moore to step down as a Senate candidate -- but plenty of others, including the sexual harasser-in-chief Donald Trump, circled the wagons around a fellow reactionary and joined in smearing the women who accused him.

Several women have also come forward with allegations against Franken, and the response among liberals was tellingly similar: Some suggested Franken should pay a price, but for others, the first concern was naked political calculation about giving the Republicans a further advantage in the Senate if Franken had to step down.

The Republican reactionaries have been more openly vile in their defense of Moore, but more than a few members of the Democratic Party -- which claims to champion the oppressed against the horrible Republicans -- stooped to slandering accusers to back up one of their own.

What unites the two parties' callous and cynical attitude toward sexual abuse in the corridors of power in Washington is a shared commitment to the status quo -- something illustrated by the unsolvable maze that confronts anyone who dares to raise an allegation of sexual harassment or assault on Capitol Hill.

***

Most women who work on Capitol Hill know little about the Office of Compliance, which is charged with adjudicating complaints, or about the twisted mess of rules and regulations it is supposed to follow.

A complaint must be filed with the office within 180 days of the incident. In order make an official complaint, the accuser must submit to mandatory counseling, which usually takes 30 days, and then, if they continue with their complaint, they must complete another 30 days of mediation.

During the mediation process, women must follow strict rules of secrecy, including agreeing to a non-disclosure agreement that bind victims from talking.

"The trappings of confidentiality, they permeate the process," Alexis Ronickher, an attorney who has represented several people pursuing harassment claims, told Politico. "The law is written to create a system to disincentivize staffers from coming forward."

Maybe "Office of Silence" would be a better name.

If mediation fails, the person must wait 30 more days before seeking an administrative hearing or filing a lawsuit in federal court against their harasser.

If there is a settlement, any financial award comes from a special US Treasury fund. The Office of Compliance reports that it has paid out more than $17 million since 1997 to settle workplace disputes on Capitol Hill.

As Politico's Elana Schorr points out, there's no way to know how much was spent on sexual misconduct claims, because the $17 million includes payments over pay and workplace safety.

We also have no idea how much money has been spent by the offices of individual members of Congress, who may decide to settle harassment allegations using their own office budgets.

That was the case with a former aide who negotiated a settlement with Rep. John Conyers of Michigan -- one of the most powerful Democrats in the House, with close relationships to the party's establishment -- in 2015. Like Compliance Office payouts, these individual settlements are also funded by taxpayer money.

The identities of members of Congress or aides who reach settlements over misconduct allegations are kept secret -- so there's no warning system for potential victims. During congressional testimony, Rep. Jackie Speier of California described the Compliance Office as "an enabler of sexual harassment."

"This is not a victim-friendly process," Speier said in an interview on ABC News' "This Week". "One victim who I spoke with said, 'You know, the process was almost worse than the harassment.'"

***

Speier, who initiated a #MeTooCongress campaign at the end of October, also points to a larger problem of a work environment where sexual abuse is not only tolerated, but encouraged.

Only about 20 percent of members of Congress are women. Although almost half of congressional staffers are female, women are far more likely to hold lower-ranking positions, like office manager or constituent representative, than to serve as chief of staff or legislative director, according to FiveThirtyEight.org.

Men occupy the more powerful positions -- and there are few positions more powerful than the office of senator or representative. "The power disparities in Congress are enormous," Debra Katz, an attorney who specializes in sexual harassment and has represented congressional aides, told FiveThirtyEight.org.

Katz pointed to a 2016 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report that discussed "superstar harassers" or employees who are especially powerful or valuable to an organization, and therefore believe they are above the rules. "Members of Congress are, by definition, superstars," Katz said. "And many believe the rules do not apply to them."

For decades, sexual assault and harassment has been a sometimes open, sometimes closed secret on Capital Hill.

The Office of Compliance was put into effect as part of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 -- the year that Republican Sen. Bob Packwood of Oregon was forced to resign after multiple women stepped forward with allegations of sexual assault.

Two years before, amid several public allegations against Packwood, a Washington Post survey showed that one-third of female congressional employees said they were sexually harassed by members, supervisors, lobbyists or fellow aides.

Since then, there have been other high-profile cases, such as Florida Republican Rep. Mark Foley, who resigned in 2006 after it was revealed that he repeatedly made sexual advances to several congressional pages. The page program was suspended as a result.

But there were many more cases over the years that didn't seem to merit the front pages.

That changed with #MeToo. Since the campaign began with claims against Harvey Weinstein, dozens more women who work on Capital Hill have stepped forward to tell their stories and reveal the sexism that permeates the halls of government.

Some 1,500 former Capitol Hill aides signed an open letter to House and Senate leaders to demand that Congress put in place mandatory harassment training and revamp the Office of Compliance. Right now, training isn't mandatory and can be completed online -- and only one employee at the Compliance Office is dedicated to in-person harassment training.

***

Even if the rules are changed, a bigger problem remains, however -- the fact that the people who hold government office act as if they are above the law.

That's because they are -- the laws regarding Congress are mostly there to protect them from their victims, not the other way around. As a result, men who were known to be repeat offenders were given a pass, and the process itself kept women's stories hidden.

When allegations of misconduct do see the light of day, members of Congress and the media typically look at them through the lens of partisan political point-scoring, not as a wake-up call to the sexism that goes unconfronted in the halls of government.

It was certainly no surprise when a White House led by Donald Trump stood by Moore. But the behavior of liberals toward Franken -- with column after of column of hand-wringing about whether to stand by him as a "lesser evil" to the Republicans -- should especially anger anyone who cares about confronting sexism and sexual abuse.

Both political parties are showing themselves incapable of taking on the sexism that permeates the Washington political system. It was the millions of women stepping forward to say #MeToo that even forced a conversation about sexual harassment in Congress -- out in public, where it should be.

As Briony Whitehouse, who was a 19-year-old intern when she was groped in an elevator by a Republican senator in 2003, told the Washington Post: "At the time, I didn't know what to do, so I did nothing at all. Because this happened so early on for me, I just assumed this was the way things worked, and that I'd have to accept it."

She doesn't accept it anymore, and neither should anyone else.

Categories: News

Republican Politicians Got Away With Ridiculous Claims to Defend Their Tax Bill -- and It's Trump's Fault

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 05:00

Donald Trump has paved the way for Republicans to get away with statements that are nearly as outrageous as his own. Take the shameless claims the Republicans have used to push for the tax bill over the past two months. The only question that remains is, are GOP lawmakers saying these things because they truly believe them? Or are they pandering to the same base that gave Trump the White House?

 Mark Wilson / Getty Images)Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, listens to reporters questions about the tax reform bill the Senate passed last week, at US Capitol on december 5, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)   In these troubling and surreal times, honest journalism is more important than ever. Help us keep real news flowing: Make a donation to Truthout today.

Increasingly, it seems like Donald Trump has paved the way for Republicans to get away with statements that are nearly as outrageous as his own. Take the shameless claims the Republicans have used to push for the tax bill over the past two months. In case you're having trouble keeping up, here's a brief rundown of a few times Republican officials made it perfectly clear they prioritize the wealthy over the poor:

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham claimed that "financial contributions" to the GOP "will stop" if the party couldn't push through a tax rewrite.

  • Sen. Chuck. Grassley said he was tired of government assistance programs aiding Americans who are stuck in poverty because they're "spending every darn penny they have, whether it's on booze or women or movies."

  • Congressman Chris Collins admitted, "My donors are basically saying, 'Get it done or don't ever call me again'."

  • Sen. Orrin Hatch stated, "I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won't help themselves, won't lift a finger and expect the federal government to do everything."

In the good old days, politicians used to pretend they served their constituents. What happened? Why are our elected officials now so emboldened to make statements that outright insult the American people? Because of our president, of course. It may be that, amidst Trump's tweets baiting Kim Jong-un to launch a nuclear bomb, or his endorsements of white supremacist groups in the UK, Republicans know that the news cycle will drown out any of their especially dicey comments. Or, more ominously, it could be that Trump's election has made politicians feel they can truly say and do anything without fear of losing their seats. It isn't that the bar has dropped to a new low; it's that the bar to hold our politicians accountable has completely disappeared.

In our new Trump era, the president has paved the way for GOPers to publicly proclaim their disdain for the poor and their preference for the wealthy.

It's well documented that Trump's lies -- which now number over 1,600 since the beginning of his time in office -- have created a new normal in American politics. His campaign demonstrated an unprecedented level of hostility toward women, people of color, religious minorities and immigrants -- and it worked. In a way, he's flipped the script on the stereotypical dishonest politician. Since Watergate, Americans have been suspicious of politicians and their closed-door motives. Elected officials have always lied and made false promises, and that's been considered a staple of our flawed democracy. They've always taken money from private interests and corporate lobbyists. What's remarkable is that in 2017, Republicans seem to be turning against their old ways, taking on a Trump-like brazenness as they make bold claims like the ones we saw around their push for the tax bill. They're not merely lying: now they're telling us outright the harsh truth of the wheeling-and-dealing that takes place on Capitol Hill.

Sometimes, this bold new honesty works to their advantage, making them seem more trustworthy. When the repeal debates over the Affordable Care Act were underway in June and July, liberals lauded "brave voices" like John McCain and Suzanne Collins who opposed Mitch McConnell's plot to undo Obama's health care expansion without any plan for its replacement.

Those on the left thanked heaven for moderate Republican voices, as they celebrated the repeal's failure. Now, those esteemed "moderate voices" have turned against their constituents. Of all the Republican senators, only lame duck Sen. Bob Corker voted against the Senate's version of the tax bill.

"I wanted to get to yes," Corker said of his vote against the Senate's tax bill. "But at the end of the day, I am not able to cast aside my fiscal concerns and vote for legislation that I believe, based on the information I currently have, could deepen the debt burden on future generations."

This is a boldness we don't normally see in Republican lawmakers. Corker has similarly been praised for his honest remarks about Trump's outlandish lies, claiming that "when his term is over, I think the debasing of our nation, the constant non-truth telling and the name calling" will be Trump's legacy. Of course, it's easy for Corker to be brave. He's not up for re-election.

What Trump supporters think they love about their man is his willingness to tell it like it is. Political correctness culture has made it dangerous for Republican elected officials to say what's really on their (and their constituents') minds. They dance around their homophobia by talking about an assault on religious values; they skirt past their xenophobia by claiming undocumented immigrants are taking away American jobs. Trump's election showed them that a certain veil has been lifted. Not only is it no longer dangerous, it's now politically advantageous to trash-talk poor Americans, black athletes or you name it: anyone whom their white conservative base despises and vilifies. Trump hasn't made America great again, but he's made it acceptable for Republican politicians to be honest about their racism and classism on a level this country hasn't seen since the Jim Crow era.

The only question that remains is, are GOP lawmakers saying these vile things because they truly believe them? Or because they are pandering to the same base that gave Donald Trump the White House? The answer depends on whom you ask. Either way, there's a new normal for elected officials in Trump's America, that openly welcomes oligarchy and no longer bothers to pretend that democracy is at work.

Categories: News

Hey, Trump: Navajo Elders Aren’t Your Political Props

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 05:00
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Acting by fiat and claiming the opposite has been a hallmark of this presidency.

On Monday in Salt Lake City, President Trump announced he was reducing the Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent, from 1.3 million acres to 201,876 acres -- despite it being unclear whether he has the legal right to do so under the Antiquities Act.

"Your timeless bond with the outdoors should not be replaced with the whims of regulators thousands and thousands of miles away," he assured supporters inside the state Capitol as hundreds protested outside (an estimated 5,000 had protested the expected reduction of Bears Ears and Grand Escalante National Monuments at the Capitol the day before).

And yet, strangely, fellow heads of state from five indigenous nations (Navajo Nation, Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute, and Uintah and Ouray Ute) which have a "timeless bond" with the area in question and who wrote the national monument proposal for Bears Ears were nowhere to be seen in the Capitol. Instead, tribal leaders could be found outside protesting. These included the vice president of the Navajo Nation -- an indigenous nation the size of Ireland -- which has 350,000 members.

"The Navajo Nation has made repeated requests to meet with President Trump on this issue. The Bears Ears Monument is of critical importance, not only to the Navajo Nation, but to many tribes in the region," Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said in a statement to the press. "The decision to reduce the size of the monument is being made with no tribal consultation."

Instead, Secretary Ryan Zinke brought onstage to stand behind Trump a diminutive and traditionally dressed Navajo grandmother, Betty Jones of McCracken Mesa in San Juan County, Utah. Zinke, who's over 6 feet tall, held her by her shoulders, and Trump turned to engage her awkwardly from time to time.

This is the second time in as many weeks that Trump has used Navajo elders as what can only be called political props. Last week he caused a furor during a ceremony honoring Navajo Code Talkers from WWII, men in their 90s, when he took a potshot at potential presidential contender Sen. Elizabeth Warren, calling her "Pocahontas."

The Bears Ears National Monument signed into law in December 2016 by former President Obama was heralded as an advance in nation-to-nation relations between the US government and indigenous nations. The monument proclamation not only recognizes these tribes' inherent national interests and ancient connections to the Bears Ears area, but gives them a seat at the table to co-manage the monument, which contains an estimated 100,000 archaeological sites.

Tribal leaders chose to pursue national monument status for Bears Ears in 2015 when discussions with Utah Republican politicians, including Rep. Rob Bishop (who stood beside Trump when he made his announcement), broke down. Looting and vandalism of ancient petroglyphs and stunning cliff dwellings have been ongoing in the area, even since the monument's designation last year.

San Juan County, which is one of the largest counties in the country, has a history of suppressing the Navajo vote. The county, which has a population that is over 50 percent Navajo, was sued by the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission and in 2016 was found in violation of the Voting Rights Act by racially segregating Navajo voters into a single district.

Before Trump spoke on Monday, San Juan County Commissioner Rebecca Benally spoke, claiming the creation of the Bears Ears National Monument "was disheartening for my community." But while Benally is a Navajo woman, she's not a tribal leader, and San Juan County's stance opposing the monument is not shared by the Navajo Nation.

Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch pointed out that consulting with one Navajo person is not the same as consulting with the nation. "He's ignoring the fact that we are sovereigns, we are governments, and expect to be engaged on a nation-to-nation basis," said Branch in an interview with MSNBC. "If they think talking to one Navajo person constitutes talking to the Navajo Nation, then [Zinke and Trump] are both gravely mistaken." 

In fact, it's been reported that in the past few months 98 percent of Navajo community members bordering Bears Ears have voted in favor of the monument designation at chapter house meetings (similar to counties on the Navajo Nation).

Echoing Trump, Benally added, "It was insulting that bureaucrats thousands of miles away didn't believe we were capable of protecting our land."

In contrast, Begaye seemed confident that his nation was doing just that.

"The Navajo Nation will defend Bears Ears. The reduction in the size of the monument leaves us no choice but to litigate this decision."

Categories: News

High-Profile Women Break the Silence on Sex Assaults, but Low-Wage Workers Are Still Vulnerable to Abuse

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 05:00

On Wednesday, Time magazine announced the 2017 "Person of the Year" goes to the women who have spoken out against sexual assault and harassment, sparking an international movement. It called the group "the Silence Breakers" and included Hollywood actresses, journalists, farmworkers and hotel cleaners. We look at how sexual abuse also thrives in low-wage sectors like farm work, hotel cleaning and domestic work, where workers are disproportionately women of color and immigrant women and are highly vulnerable to sexual harassment and sexual violence. We speak with Tarana Burke, founder of the "Me Too" movement and one of the women featured in Time’s new issue. She founded the organization in 2006 to focus on young women who have endured sexual abuse, assault or exploitation. She is now a senior director at Girls for Gender Equity. We are also joined by Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter and strategy and partnership director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and by Mily Treviño-Sauceda, co-founder and vice president of the National Alliance of Women Farmworkers. She is a former farmworker and union organizer with the United Farm Workers.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

"Settlers in the White House": Palestinians Denounce Trump Jerusalem Order and Protest in Day of Rage

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 05:00

As Palestinians protest President Trump's announcement that he would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and begin moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, we go to East Jerusalem to speak with Budour Hassan, a Palestinian writer and project coordinator for the Jerusalem Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights, and speak with Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace. We are also joined in Ramallah by Hanan Ashrawi, Palestinian politician and scholar.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

Anti-Muslim Violence Is Being Perpetrated at the Highest Levels of Government

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 05:00

 Drew Angerer / Getty Images)A woman wearing a hijab stands outside the US Supreme Court, October 11, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

The Supreme Court decision to uphold Trump's Muslim Ban is a reminder of the high court's history of institutionalizing, legitimizing and normalizing racism. In upholding systemic anti-Muslim racism, the Court has emboldened Customs and Border Protection officers, validated anti-Muslim violence and further threatened the safety and security of Muslims around the country.

 Drew Angerer / Getty Images) A woman wearing a hijab stands outside the US Supreme Court, October 11, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

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Two days before Trump officially recognized illegally occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and five days after he retweeted a string of false, anti-Muslim videos from the deputy leader of British white supremacist group Britain First, the US Supreme Court ruled that Trump's Muslim ban does not unfairly discriminate against Muslims and should be fully enforced. The small but significant exemptions from the ban that lower courts had allowed -- such as for those with "bone fide" relationships to US institutions or grandparents and cousins -- are now no longer valid.

The ruling reminds us that anti-Muslim racism is systemic.

Supporters of the ban argue that the ban does not singularly target Muslims, as the addition of Venezuela and North Korea to the list of six Muslim-majority countries underlines its goal of "national security" rather than Trump's obsession with what he regularly labels a "Muslim problem." Solicitor General Noel Francisco, for example, notes that "... these differences confirm that the Proclamation is based on national-security and foreign-affairs objectives, not religious animus." But history would disagree: Notwithstanding that "protecting national security" and establishing anti-Muslim policies have become virtually synonymous, such policies and the "war on terror" framework itself are regularly expanded to target other communities of color.

Acknowledging that the ban is still a Muslim ban, what can be learned from this Supreme Court decision?

Most clearly, the ruling reminds us that Islamophobia, or, more accurately, anti-Muslim racism, is systemic. Created, upheld and enforced by the state, the Muslim ban has emboldened Customs and Border Protections officers, validated anti-Muslim violence and added to a further loss of already minimal feelings of safety for Muslims across the country.

The Supreme Court maintains a history of institutionalizing, legitimizing and normalizing racism.

In practical terms, this means that symbolic gestures like wearing Hijabs for a day in solidarity, fast-fashion brands' attempts at surface-level representation, visionless interfaith work and campaigns to "humanize" Muslims aren't going to cut it. These inadequate steps address anti-Muslim racism as simply "individual bias" that necessitates little more than "love over hate" to solve. This oversimplification of the internationally funded anti-Muslim machine, which is driven by both profit and ideology, allows for simplified understandings of solidarity and organizing. It allows people to pretend that police militarization is not intimately tied to the "war on terror" framework, that Trump is unique in being a racist head of state, and that the ban does not have historical precedent. Moreover, it allows for the belief that the same systems that enact anti-Muslim violence (such as the police, military industry and Countering Violence Extremism programs) can be primary actors in its alleviation.

For Muslims, challenging the ban means moving beyond a reliance on institutions for liberation.

Rather, if the Supreme Court's decision teaches us anything, it is that we cannot rely on the systems that oppress us to free us. In fact, the decision follows a long legacy of racist and oppressive Supreme Court decisions, including the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford case enforcing slavery and excluding African Americans from the Bill of Rights, the 1883 Pace v. Alabama case upholding state laws criminalizing interracial marriage, the infamous "separate but equal" ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, and the more recent rulings in the mid-20th century backing Executive Order 9066, which created internment camps for over 120,000 Japanese Americans. The Supreme Court maintains a history of institutionalizing, legitimizing and normalizing racism.

For Muslims, this serves as yet another reminder that assimilation is not a liberation strategy when the system one is being assimilated into is white supremacy.

Challenging the ban means challenging the attempted establishment of new norms of violence, and moving beyond a reliance on institutions for liberation. Understanding the legacies of systemic discrimination upon which such executive orders and Supreme Court rulings are built -- and will continue to be built -- is integral for developing a strategy to truly move forward.

Categories: News

The Corporate Ruler

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 05:00
Categories: News

The Era of Walls: Greeting Climate-Change Victims With a Man-Made Dystopia

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 05:00
 LW / TO)(Photo: Alan Levine; Edited: LW / TO)   In times of great injustice, independent media is crucial to fighting back against misinformation. Support grassroots journalism: Make a donation to Truthout.

When I first talked to the three Honduran men in the train yard in the southern Mexican town of Tenosique, I had no idea that they were climate-change refugees. We were 20 miles from the border with Guatemala at a rail yard where Central American refugees often congregated to try to board La Bestia ("the Beast"), the nickname given to the infamous train that has proven so deadly for those traveling north toward the United States.

The men hid momentarily as a Mexican army truck with masked, heavily armed soldiers drove by. Given Washington's pressure on Mexico to fortify its southern border, US Border Patrol agents might have trained those very soldiers. As soon as they were gone, the Hondurans told me that they had been stuck here for six long days. The night before, they had tried to jump on La Bestia, but it was moving too fast.

When I asked why they were heading for the United States, one responded simply, "No hubo lluvia." ("There was no rain.") In their community, without rain, there had been neither crops, nor a harvest, nor food for their families, an increasingly common phenomenon in Central America. In 2015, for instance, 400,000 people living in what has become Honduras's "dry corridor" planted their seeds and waited for rain that never came. As in a number of other places on this planet in this century, what came instead was an extreme drought that stole their livelihoods.

For Central America, this was not an anomaly. Not only had the region been experiencing increasing mid-summer droughts, but also, as the best climate forecasting models predict, a "much greater occurrence of very dry seasons" lies in its future. Central America is, in fact, "ground zero" for climate change in the Americas, as University of Arizona hydrology and atmospheric sciences professor Chris Castro told me. And on that isthmus, the scrambling of the seasons, an increasingly deadly combination of drenching hurricanes and parching droughts, will hit people already living in the most precarious economic and political situations. Across Honduras, for example, more than 76% of the population lives in conditions of acute poverty. The coming climate breakdowns will only worsen that or will, as Castro put it, be part of a global situation in which "the wet gets wetter, the dry gets drier, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Everything gets more extreme."

Talking with those farmers in the Tenosique train yard felt, in a way, like a scene from a sequel to the movie The Road in which a father and son walk across a post-apocalyptic North America devastated by an unknown cataclysm. In reality, though, I was just in a typical border zone of the Anthropocene, the proposed new geologic era characterized by human activity as the dominant force on the climate and environment. And these young, unarmed farmers with failing harvests are now facing the only welcome this planet presently has to offer for such victims of climate change: expanding border regimes of surveillance, razor-wire walls, guns, and incarceration centers.

As they keep heading north, they will have to be on guard against ever more army and police patrols, while enduring hunger and thirst as well as painful separations from their families. They will have to evade endless roadside checkpoints, which Fray Tomás Tómas González Castillo, director of a nearby shelter for migrants in Tenosique, told me were almost "impossible" to avoid, at a time when, he noted, "organized crime" controlled the trains.

Such a predicament is hardly unique to the Mexico-Guatemalan border region or even the US-Mexican version of the same. Think of the maritime divide between North Africa and the European Union or the Jordanian border where patrols now reportedly shoot at "anything that moves" coming from Syria -- or so a Jordanian official who prefers to remain anonymous told me. And Syria was just one of the places where the ever-increasing impacts of climate change, migration, and tightly enforced border zones intersected. 

Now, homeland security regimes are increasingly unleashing their wrath on the world's growing numbers of displaced people, sharpening the divide between the secure and the dispossessed. Whether in Mexico or on the Mediterranean Sea, as ever more human beings find themselves uprooted from their homes and desperate, such dynamics will only intensify in the decades to come. In the process, the geopolitics and potentially the very geography of the globe will be reshaped. It's not just Donald Trump. Everywhere on Planet Earth, we seem to be entering the era of the wall.

The Displaced

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, the "impact and threat of climate-related hazards" displaced an average of 21.5 million people annually between 2008 and 2015. The growing impact of the Anthropocene -- of intensifying droughts, rising seas, and mega-storms -- is already adding to a host of other factors, including poverty, war, and persecution, that in these years have unsettled record numbers of people. While many of the climate-displaced stay close to home, hoping to salvage both their lives and livelihoods, ever more are crossing international borders in what many are now calling a "refugee crisis."

"Catastrophic convergence" is the term sociologist Christian Parenti uses to describe this twenty-first-century turmoil, since many of these factors combine to displace staggering numbers of people. As Camila Minerva of Oxfam puts it, "The poorest and the most marginalized are five times more likely to be displaced and to remain so for a longer time than people in higher income countries and it is increasing with climate change."

Though the numbers are often debated, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees suggests that climate breakdowns will displace 250 million people by 2050. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre suggests that those numbers could actually range from 150 million to a staggering 350 million by that year. In reporting on how climate change is already affecting Mexico City, Michael Kimmelman, the architecture critic of the New York Times, cited a report suggesting that the number may be far higher than that, possibly reaching 700 million -- and that, by 2050, 10% percent of all Mexicans between 15 and 65 might be heading north, thanks to rising temperatures, droughts, and floods.

"Although the exact number of people that will be on the move by mid-century is uncertain," wrote the authors of the report In Search of Shelter: Mapping the Effects of Climate Change on Human Migration and Displacement, "the scope and scale could vastly exceed anything that has occurred before." And here's the sad reality of our moment: for such developments, the world is remarkably unprepared. There isn't even a legal framework for dealing with climate refugees, either in international law or the laws of specific countries. The only possible exception: New Zealand's "special refugee visas" for small numbers of Pacific Islanders displaced by rising seas.

The only real preparations for such a world are grim ones: walls and the surveillance technology that goes with them. Most climate-displaced people travelling internationally without authorization will sooner or later run up against those walls and the armed border guards meant to turn them back. And if the United States or the European Union is their destination, any possible doors such migrants might enter will be slammed shut by countries that, historically, are the world's largest greenhouse gas polluters and so most implicated in climate change. (Between 1850 and 2011, the United States was responsible for 27% of the world's emissions and the countries of the European Union, 25%.)

A Booming Market in Walls

I have no idea what happened to those three farmers after our brief meeting in Tenosique. I did, however, think of them again a couple of months later when I was 1,000 miles to the north. Under a mesquite tree in northern Mexico, there was a lonely plastic bottle with a few droplets of water still in it. Somebody had left it as they crossed into the United States.

I was just east of Agua Prieta in the Mexican state of Sonora, a mere 25 feet from the US-Mexican border. I could clearly see the barrier there and a US Border Patrol agent in a green-striped truck looking back at me from the other side of the divide. Perhaps a quarter mile from where I stood, I could also spot an Integrated Fixed Tower, one of 52 new high-tech surveillance platforms built in the last two years in southern Arizona by the Israeli company Elbit Systems. Since that tower's cameras are capable of spotting objects and people seven miles away, I had little doubt that agents in a nearby command and control center were watching me as well. There, they would also have had access to the video feeds from Predator B drones, once used on the battlefields of the Greater Middle East, but now flying surveillance missions in the skies above the border. There, too, the beeping alarms of thousands of motion sensors implanted throughout the US border zone would ring if you dared cross the international divide.

Only 15 years ago, very little of this existed. Now, the whole region -- and most of this preceded Donald Trump's election victory -- has become a de facto war zone. Climate refugees, having made their way through the checkpoints and perils of Mexico, will now enter a land where people without papers are tracked in complex, high-tech electronic ways, hunted, arrested, incarcerated, and expelled, sometimes with unfathomable cruelty. To a border agent, the circumstances behind the flight of those three Honduran farmers would not matter. Only one thing would -- not how or why you had come, but if you were in the United States without the proper documentation.

Climate change, increased global migration, and expanding border enforcement are three linked phenomena guaranteed to come to an explosive head in this century. In the United States, the annual budgets for border and immigration policing regimes have already skyrocketed from about $1.5 billion in the early 1990s to $20 billion in 2017, a number that represents the combined budgets of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. During that period, the number of Border Patrol agents quintupled, 700 miles of walls and barriers were constructed (long before Donald Trump began talking about his "big, fat, beautiful wall"), and billions of dollars of technology were deployed in the border region.

Such massive border fortification isn't just a US phenomenon. In 1988, when the Berlin Wall fell, there were 15 border walls in the world. Now, according to border scholar Elisabeth Vallet, there are 70. These walls generally have risen between the richer countries and the poorer ones, between those that have the heavier carbon footprints and those plunged into Parenti's "catastrophic convergence" of political, economic, and ecological crises. This is true whether you're talking about the Americas, Africa, the Middle East, or Asia.

As Paul Currion points out, even some countries that are only comparatively wealthy are building such "walls," often under pressure and with considerable financial help. Take Turkey. Its new "smart border" with drought-stricken and conflict-embroiled Syria is one of many examples globally. It now has a new tower every 1,000 feet, a three-language alarm system, and "automated firing zones" supported by hovering zeppelin drones. "It appears that we've entered a new arms race," writes Currion, "one appropriate for an age of asymmetric warfare, with border walls replacing ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles]."

India is typical in constructing a steel wall along its lengthy border with Bangladesh, a country expected to have millions of displaced people in the decades to come, thanks to sea level rise and storm surges. In these years, with so many people on the move from the embattled Greater Middle East and Africa, the countries of the European Union have also been doubling down on border protection, with enforcement budgets soaring to 50 times what they were in 2005.

The trends are already clear: the world will be increasingly carved up into highly monitored border surveillance zones. Market projections show that global border and homeland security industries are already booming across the planet. The broader global security market is poised to nearly double between 2011 and 2022 (from $305 billion to $546 billion). And, not so surprisingly, a market geared to climate-related catastrophes is already on the verge of surpassing $150 billion.

Climate Change as a National Security Threat (and Bonanza)

Don't just take my word for it when it comes to predictions about this planet's increasingly bordered future. Consider the forecasts of the US military and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). One of the first crude assessments of such a walled-in world appeared in a 2003 Pentagon-commissioned reportAn Abrupt Climate Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security, and it already had a distinctly Trumpian ring to it:

"The United States and Australia are likely to build defensive fortresses around their countries because they have the resources and reserves to achieve self-sufficiency... Borders will be strengthened around [the United States] to hold back unwanted starving immigrants from the Caribbean islands (an especially severe problem), Mexico, and South America."

That identification of the Caribbean as "an especially severe problem" almost a decade and a half ago was prescient indeed in this year of super-storms Irma and Maria that left Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands in shambles and the island of Barbuda "extinguished."

While the Trump administration is scrubbing government websites and policies clean of climate change, other parts of the government are still in the business of preparing for it, big time, rather than denying its existence. At both the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security, global warming is seen as a "threat multiplier" that must be factored into any long-term planning -- and that should surprise no one. After all, the future time frame of a national security planner can be as much as 30 years. It sometimes takes that long for a major weapons system to go "from the drawing board to the battlefield," according to former Assistant Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, editor of Climatic Cataclysm: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Climate Change, a 2008 report coordinated by the Center for a New American Security and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Unlike the president and the present heads of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, US military and homeland security risk assessors aren't likely to deny the 97% consensus of scientists on climate change. In Climatic Cataclysm, Campbell wrote that the "sheer numbers of potentially displaced people" are prospectively "staggering." In one assessment of what a possible 2.6 degree Celsius rise in the global temperature by 2040 might mean, Leon Fuerth, a former security adviser to Al Gore, concluded that "border problems" would overwhelm US capabilities "beyond the possibility of control, except by drastic methods and perhaps not even then."

In 2009, the Obama administration declared climate change a top national security threat. This prompted both the Pentagon and the DHS to prepare climate-change adaptation "roadmaps" and action plans. In 2014, the DHS added climate change as a top threat to its Quadrennial Homeland Security Review, its main public mission document. During a 2015 congressional hearing, Thomas Smith, one of that review's authors, testified that climate change was "a major area of homeland security risk," and that "more frequent severe droughts and tropical storms, especially in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, could increase population movements, both legal and illegal, toward or across the US border."

In other words, you don't have to turn to climate-change activists and experts like Bill McKibben or Naomi Klein to understand why those Central American droughts are getting worse and why those three Honduran men were in that train yard. All of this was predicted by the Department of Homeland Security.

Those in the DHS, like those in the Pentagon, grasp what's coming and they're going to meet it with what they know how to do best, what Donald Trump himself would approve of if he weren't ignoring the potentially most devastating phenomenon on this planet: hardened enforced borders, big brother biometrics, and high tech surveillance systems. In other words, they will face the victims of climate change with a man-made dystopia.

The Alternative Border Wall

Now, remember that water bottle under the mesquite tree near the US-Mexico border? I came across it while being taken on a tour by Juan Manuel Pérez, the project manager of Cuenca Los Ojos, an organization dedicated to the preservation and restoration of biological diversity along those same borderlands. I was there to see a water-harvesting project. But first, Pérez took me to a spot where a portion of a barrier wall the CBP had once built across this part of the border lay wrecked like some ancient archeological ruin. It had been swept into Mexican territory in 2014 by a deluge of water, as the remnants of Hurricane Odile lashed the washes of the Chiricahua Mountains in Eastern Arizona. Now, planet Earth was devouring the carcass of that former wall, those hundreds of pounds of metal. Three years after it was deposited here, that wall fragment was already partially covered with soil. Purple flowers sprouted from its crevasses. When I got close enough, I could see spiders hanging from their webs on it. If the rest of that $20 billion in border infrastructure were left alone, in the end this is what would happen to it. This is how the earth would welcome it back.

From there, I could see where DHS had built a new barrier to replace the destroyed one. Near it, that same border patrol vehicle was idling and that same surveillance tower stuck up in the distance, all part of a desperate attempt to keep that "catastrophic convergence" at bay, to keep the world of such hurricanes and the climate-change displaced who will go with it, from the United States.

Nearby, I also saw what Pérez told me were gabions -- steel cages filled with rocks embedded in the nearby streambed on the Mexican side of the border. They were there, he explained to me, to slow down the rushing rainwaters during the summer monsoon season so the soil could drink them in and be replenished. Remarkably, they had done their job. In this parched territory, in the middle of a 15-year drought, the water table had risen 30 feet.

It was, I said, a miracle.

Native grasses were growing back, as were the desert willows. The rising water, no respecter of borders or border patrols, had similarly begun to replenish the aquifers on the Arizona side and water was appearing in places that hadn't seen anything like this before. Mind you, national security assessments stress that in Mexico and Central America water scarcity issues will be a factor driving climate breakdowns and increased migration. That was certainly the case for those three Honduran farmers.

Here, however, those gabions, embedded in the dry river, were bringing water back to places where it had become scarce. Remarkably, from my vantage point in that border landscape, the cages of rocks began to look like parts of some intricately carved stonewall. It was a strange illusion and it made me think that in a world of the grimmest sorts of walls meant to turn back everyone and offer greetings to no one, perhaps this was the real "border wall" that people needed, that planet earth needed, something that welcomed us to a better, not a desperately worse world.

Categories: News

Challenging the Neoliberalism at the Root of Trump's Authoritarianism

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 05:00

Donald Trump's election marked a perilous watershed for the descent of democracy in the United States into authoritarianism. Not only is the public in peril, it is on the brink of collapse as the economic, political and cultural institutions necessary for democracy to survive are being aggressively undermined. There is hope, however: A robust intersectional resistance can result in radical social and political change. 

 Gage Skidmore)Donald Trump speaks to supporters at a campaign rally at the Prescott Valley Event Center in Prescott Valley, Arizona, on October 4, 2016. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

What are the longer term trends that give 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 undermining of constitutional democracy, Henry A. Giroux argues for a radical social transformation in The Public in Peril. In the following excerpt, he argues that in order to succeed, the uprising must include both "a change of consciousness and structural change."

 "To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair inevitable." -- Raymond Williams 

The United States stands at the endpoint of a long series of attacks on democracy, and the choices faced by the American public today point to the divide between those who are committed to democracy and those who are not. Debates over whether Donald Trump was a fascist or Hillary Clinton was a right-wing warmonger and tool of Wall Street were a tactical diversion. The real questions that should have been debated include: What measures could have been taken to prevent the United States from sliding further into a distinctive form of authoritarianism? And what could have been done to imagine a mode of civic courage and militant hope needed to enable the promise of a democracy as a governing principle? Such questions take on a significant urgency in light of the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. Under such circumstances, not only is the public in peril, it is on the brink of collapse as the economic, political, and cultural institutions necessary for democracy to survive are being aggressively undermined. As Robert Kuttner observes:

It is hard to contemplate the new administration without experiencing alarm bordering on despair: Alarm about the risks of war, the fate of constitutional democracy, the devastation of a century of social progress. Trump’s populism was a total fraud. Every single Trump appointment has come from the pool of far-right conservatives, crackpots, and billionaire kleptocrats. More alarming still is the man himself -- his vanity, impulsivity, and willful ignorance, combined with an intuitive genius as a demagogue. A petulant fifth-grader with nuclear weapons will now control the awesome power of the U.S. government. One has to nourish the hope that Trump can yet be contained. Above all, that will take passionate and strategic engagement, not just to resist but to win, to discredit him and get him out of office while this is still a democracy. We can feel sick at heart -- we would be fools not to -- but despair is not an option.[1]

Kuttner rightly mitigates such despair with a call for resistance. Yet, such deep-seated anxiety is not unwarranted given the willingness of contemporary politicians and pundits during the 2016 presidential battle to use themes that echoed alarmingly fascist and totalitarian elements of the past. According to Drucilla Cornell and Stephen D. Seely, Trump’s campaign mobilized a movement that was "unambiguously fascist."[2] They write:

We are not using the word "fascist" glibly here. Nor are we referencing only the so-called "alt-right" contingent of his supporters. No, Trump’s entire movement is rooted in an ethnic, racial, and linguistic nationalism that sanctions and glorifies violence against designated enemies and outsiders, is animated by a myth of decline and nostalgic renewal and centered on a masculine cult of personality.[3]

 Large segments of the American public have been written out of politics over what they view as a failed state and the inability of the basic machinery of government to serve their interests.[4] As market mentalities and moralities tighten their grip on all aspects of society, democratic institutions and public spheres are being downsized, if not altogether disappearing. As these institutions vanish -- from public schools to health-care centers -- there is also a serious erosion of the discourses of community, justice, equality, public values, and the common good. This grim reality has been called a "failed sociality" -- a failure in the power of the civic imagination, political will, and open democracy.[5] As the consolidation of power by the corporate and financial elite empties politics of any substance, the political realm merges elements of Monty Python, Kafka, and Aldous Huxley. Mainstream politics is now dominated by hard-right extremists who have brought to the center of politics a shameful white supremacist ideology, poisonous xenophobic ideas, and the blunt, malicious tenets and practices of Islamophobia.

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

On the other side of the political spectrum, the Democratic Party operates in the service of the war machine, financial elite, and various registers of the military-industrial-academic-surveillance complex. In the current political climate, centrism and extremism increasingly become indistinguishable. The older political establishment’s calls for regime change and war are now supplemented by the discourse of state-sanctioned torture, armed ignorance, and a deep hatred of democracy. One consequence is that both parties have thrown, in different degrees, immigrants, poor minorities of class and color, refugees, the working class, and especially young people under the bus. Neoliberalism, with its full-fledged assault on the welfare state and public goods, the destruction of the manufacturing sector, and a dramatic shift in wealth to the upper 1 percent, has destroyed the faith of millions in democracy, which lost its power to contain the rich in a runaway form of casino capitalism. With the erosion of the social contract and the increasing power of the rich to control both the commanding institutions of society and politics itself, democracy has lost any legitimacy as a counterweight to protect the ever widening sphere of people considered vulnerable and disposable. One consequence has been that the dangerous playbook to neo-fascist appeals has gained more and more credence. In addition, large portions of the American public have turned willingly to Trump’s brand of authoritarianism.

Trump’s election has produced widespread despair, fear, and anxiety in the most vulnerable, largely confirmed by the fact that "over a thousand hate crimes have been reported since Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election."[6] Even more foreboding is the fact that not only does Trump inherit the repressive policies and practices that followed 9/11 such as a growing national security state, the National Defense Authorization Act, a permanent war culture, the paramilitarization of the police, widespread intrusive surveillance, and the illegality of drone assassinations, but he has at his disposal the ability to wield a massive degree of executive power. As Kuttner makes clear:

But one should not minimize the perils. Trump will wield a massive amount of executive power. This is a man with a short fuse and a long enemies list . . . he can use the power of the presidency to conduct vast surveillance, threaten the commercial interests of the free press, selectively prosecute, and further weaken the labor movement while his allies in Congress change the ground rules of federalism to undermine progressive policies of blue states and cities. Trump will float above cadres of conservative professionals with detailed playbooks. They will try to back-load the impact of unpopular policies such as deep cuts in Social Security and Medicare.[7]

The future looks bleak, especially for youth as they are burdened with debt, dead-end jobs, unemployment, and, if you are black and poor, the increasing possibility of being either incarcerated or shot by the police.[8] Trump has redefined government as the enemy of economic and social justice and in doing so has created a number of cabinet positions that will run what might be called ministries of repression and injustice. The United States has become a war culture and immediate massive forms of resistance and civil disobedience are essential if the planet and human life is going to survive.[9] Domestic terrorism defined as intentional and criminal acts of violence by the state against civilian populations has become the new norm in the United  States.

The savagery of a war culture and its sundry forms of domestic terrorism was on full display in the United States with the September 13, 2016 shooting of Tyre King in Columbus, Ohio, a 13-year-old child who ran from the police while holding a BB gun. Tyre was "5ft tall and weighed less than 100lbs . . . [and was an] eighth-grader [who] played football and other sports, and was in a young scholars program."[10] After this innocent child was killed, there were more shootings of unarmed African Americans in spite of growing public protest against police violence. For example, Keith Lamont Scott, 43, of Charlotte, North Carolina, was shot dead while sitting in his truck while waiting for his son to return home on a bus from school. On May 2, 2017, a Texas police officer in Balch Springs, Texas shot into a car killing 15-year-old Jordan Edwards. These shootings barely scratch the surface of the workings of a police state and the increasing number of assaults waged against poor communities of color. As Nicholas Powers points out,

The old racial line between "Black" and "White" has been redrawn as the line between criminal and citizen. Up and down the class hierarchy from poor to wealthy, Black people have to dodge violence, from macroaggressions to economic sabotage and from public shaming to physical attacks . . . every day another person of color is shot by police, and the hole left inside families are where loved ones used to breathe. The cops not only steal the lives of our children; they steal the lives of everyone who loved them. A part of us freezes, goes numb.[11]

There can be little doubt that America is at war with its own ideals and that war is being waged against minorities of color and class, immigrants, Muslims, and Syrian refugees. Such brutality amounts to acts of domestic terrorism and demands not only massive collective opposition but also a new understanding of the conditions that are causing such sanctioned violence and the need for a fresh notion of politics to resist it. This suggests putting democratic socialism on the agenda for change.

The struggle for democratic socialism is an important goal, especially in light of the reign of terror of the existing neoliberal mode of governance. It is crucial to remember that as a firm defender of the harsh politics and values of neoliberalism, Trump preyed on the atomization and loneliness many people felt in a neoliberal social order that derides dependency, solidarity, community, and any viable notion of the commons. He encouraged both the fantasy of a rugged individualism and the toxic discourse of a hyper-masculine notion of nativism, while at the same time offering his followers the swindle of a community rooted in an embrace of white supremacy, a white public sphere, and a hatred of those deemed irrevocably other. The ideology and public pedagogy of neoliberalism at the root of Trump’s embrace of a new authoritarianism must be challenged and dismantled ideologically and politically.

Yet, the task of challenging the new authoritarianism will only succeed if progressives embrace an expansive understanding of politics. This means, among other things, refusing to view elections as the ultimate litmus test of democratic participation and rejecting the assumption that capitalism and democracy are synonymous. The demise of democracy must be challenged at all levels of public participation and must serve as a rallying cry to call into question the power and control of all institutions that bear down on everyday life. Moreover, any progressive struggle must move beyond the fragmentation that has undermined the left for decades. This suggests moving beyond single-issue movements in order to develop and emphasize the connections between diverse social formations. At stake here is the struggle for building a broad alliance that brings together different political movements and, as Cornell and Seely observe, a political formation willing to promote an ethical revolution whose goal "is not only socialism as an economic form of organization but a new way of being together with others that could begin to provide a collectively shared horizon of meaning."[12]

Truthout Progressive Pick  Trump and the Menace of American Authoritarianism

A critical analysis of Trumpism in the context of longer term trends.

Click here now to get the book!

Central to The Public in Peril is a refusal of the mainstream politics of disconnect. In its place is a plea for expansive social movements and a more comprehensive understanding of politics in order to connect the dots between, for instance, police brutality and mass incarceration, on the one hand, and the diverse crises producing massive poverty, the destruction of the welfare state, and the assaults on the environment, workers, young people, and women on the other. As Peter Bohmer observes, the call for a meaningful living wage and full employment cannot be separated from demands "for access to quality education, affordable and quality housing and medical care, for quality child care, for reproductive rights and for clean air, drinkable water," and the pillaging of the environment by the ultra-rich and mega corporations.[13] He rightly argues:

Connecting issues and social movements and organizations to each other has the potential to build a powerful movement of movements that is stronger than any of its individual parts. This means educating ourselves and in our groups about these issues and their causes and their interconnection.[14]

One approach to such a task would be to develop an expansive understanding of politics that necessarily links the calls for a living wage and environmental justice to demands for accessible quality health care and the elimination of conditions that enable the state to wage assaults against Black people, immigrants, workers, and women. Such relational analyses also suggest the merging of labor unions and social movements. In addition, progressives must address the crucial challenge of producing cultural apparatuses such as alternative media, think tanks, and social services in order to provide models of education that enhance the ability of individuals to make informed judgments and discriminate between evidence-based arguments and opinions, and to provide theoretical and political frameworks for rethinking the relationship between the self and others based on notions of compassion, justice, and solidarity.

Crucial to rethinking the space and meaning of the political imagination is the need to reach across specific identities and to move beyond single-issue movements and their specific agendas. This is not a matter of dismissing such movements, but creating new alliances that allow them to become stronger in the fight to succeed both in advancing their specific concerns and in enlarging the possibility of developing a radical democracy that benefits not just specific but general interests. As the Fifteenth Street Manifesto group expressed in its 2008 piece, "Left Turn: An Open Letter to U.S. Radicals," many groups on the left would grow stronger if they were to "perceive and refocus their struggles as part of a larger movement for social transformation."[15] Any feasible political agenda must merge the pedagogical and the political by employing a language and mode of analysis that resonates with people’s needs while making social change a crucial element of the political and public imagination. At the same time, any politics that is going to take real change seriously must be highly critical of any reformist politics that does not include both a change of consciousness and structural change.

Copyright (2017) by Henry A. Giroux. Not to be reprinted without permission of the publisher,  Routledge.

[1] Robert Kuttner, "The Audacity of Hope," American Prospect (December 16, 2016). Online:  http://prospect.org/article/audacity-hope

[2] Drucilla Cornell and Stephen D. Seely, "Seven Theses on Trump," Critical Legal Thinking (November 28, 2016). Online: http://criticallegalthinking.com/2016/11/28/seven-theses-trump/

[3] Ibid

[4] For a brilliant analysis of the anger and fears among those working-class individuals and groups written out of the American Dream, see Arlie Russell Hochschild, Strangers in Their Own Land (New York: New Press, 2016). See also, George Packer, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014).

[5] Alex Honneth, Pathologies of Reason (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), p. 188.

[6] TelSur, "In Aftermath of Trump’s Win, We Are Witnessing More than 1,000 Hate Crimes in a Month," AlterNet (December 19, 2016). Online: www.alternet.org/human-rights/aftermath-trumps-win-we-are-witnessing-more-1000-hate-crimes-month

[7] Kuttner, "The Audacity of Hope."

[8] See, for instance, a number of insightful articles on police violence against people of color in Maya Schenwar, Joe Macaré, and Alana Yu-lan Price, eds, Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016).

[9] On the militarization of everyday life, see: Rosa Brooks, How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon (New York: Simon and Fraser, 2016); Radley Balko, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces (New York: Public Affairs, 2014); Nick Turse, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008).

[10] Guardian staff, "Tyre King, 13-Year-Old Boy Shot Dead by Columbus Police, Laid  to Rest in Ohio," Guardian (September 24, 2016). Online: www.theguardian.com/us- news/2016/sep/24/tyre-king-shooting-funeral-columbus-police-officer-bryan-mason

[11] Nicholas Powers, "Killing the Future: The Theft of Black Life." In Maya Schenwar, Joe Macaré, and Alana Yu-lan Price, eds, Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016), p. 14.

[12] Cornell and Seely, "Seven Theses on Trump."

[13] Peter Bohmer, "Connecting $15 an Hour Movement to Other Social Movements," CounterPunch (September 28, 2015). Online: www.counterpunch.org/2015/09/28/connecting-15-an-hour-movement-to-other-social-movements/; see also, Charles Derber, Welcome to the Revolution: Universalizing Resistance for Social Justice and Democracy in Perilous Times (New York: Routledge, 2018)

[14] Ibid.

[15] Situations, Left Turn: An Open Letter to U.S. Radicals (New York: Fifteenth Street Manifesto Group, March 2008), p.  1.

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