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Tech Industry’s Push to Hire Autistic Workers Could Lead to Hyper-Exploitation

Fri, 07/13/2018 - 15:18

For autistic people, employment prospects are grim. Using data collected in 2014 and 2015, a Drexel University study found that only 14 percent of autistic adults in the United States hold paying jobs. In 2016, the university reported that while 60 percent of autistic adults who complete vocational training secure jobs, the majority earn poverty-level wages. The issue isn’t limited to the United States: Gainful employment rates for autistic people remain comparatively low in a number of other nations, including the United Kingdom and Australia.

In recent years, major corporations — particularly those in tech — have purported to offer an antidote. Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Google, Yahoo and German software company SAP, among others, have demonstrated a mounting interest in hiring autistic candidates, introducing programs ostensibly designed to recruit them. The logic: At once, these companies address an employment crisis and avail themselves of what Microsoft calls an “untapped” pool of talent.

Efforts to engage people on the autism spectrum interested in pursuing tech careers are, in theory, laudable, especially in light of the current labor landscape. What the work-in-tech narrative elides, however, is these initiatives’ exploitative, paternalistic treatment of the people they claim to exalt.

Conceived as a vehicle of self-actualization in the 1990s, the neurodiversity movement contends that neurological differences such as dyslexia and autism aren’t “disorders,” as much scientific literature classifies them, but natural human variations. More recently, some media outlets have appropriated neurodiversity as a corporate boon. Last year, the Harvard Business Review deemed workers on the autism spectrum a “competitive advantage” for companies, touting such reductive qualities as “loyalty” and “appreciativeness of having been given a chance,” while citing productivity growth and public relations boosts. In 2016, the BBC characterized autistic people as model employees, apt to be “immersed in their work” and attentive to detail. Relatedly, Peter Thiel’s 2014 book Zero to One exhorts companies to hire people on the autism spectrum in order to stimulate “innovation” and thwart “herd-like thinking and behavior.”

These claims, however, serve as a pretext for predatory business practices. Autistic rights activist Elena Chandler told In These Times that the celebration of autistic workers’ putative fealty has an ulterior motive: curtailing turnover. The tech industry has notoriously low rates of employee retention; at Microsoft and Google, the average worker’s tenure falls short of two years, amid such factors as stress and discrimination. Neurotypical people, said Chandler, are commonly “hired at companies like SAP and Microsoft. The company trains them up and helps them develop in the field, and after a few years, they leave and create a competing startup.” Companies seeking autistic people, she added, bank on those candidates’ low likelihood of leaving or asserting their rights as workers — from pay to intellectual property — due in large part to a dearth of alternative job options and limited work experience.

Game developer Ryan Holtz, who has worked for a company acquired by Microsoft, has further concerns. Microsoft, SAP and other companies, he maintains, assume “that people on the autism spectrum will happily work unpaid overtime as long as we’re enjoying ourselves, because we don’t have a social life and so don’t know any better. It belies a patronizing understanding of the autism spectrum.”

Chandler and Shaun Bryan Ford, who are both autistic, have  sought work in the tech industry. After applying for technical writing positions at Microsoft and SAP, Chandler said she heard nothing from either company, despite her Ph.D. and history of working in the field. Ford, a media scholar whose mathematical learning disability precludes him from coding jobs, recently participated in a virtual career fair held by Autism at Work, a hiring initiative spearheaded by SAP and adopted by a number of corporations including Microsoft. In a Medium essay, he detailed what he found to be apathy toward aspirants who weren’t white, male computer scientists. The reason, Ford posits, is that recruiting programs and companies such as Autism at Work and Danish company Specialisterne favor statistically well-paid demographics.

“It’s based on profit for them,” Ford told In These Times. “If they recruit high-wage-earning people from the very beginning to come to Microsoft or these other companies, SAP, etc. … they will get a share of this employee’s productivity from the very beginning.” (Microsoft declined to comment, and SAP didn’t respond to requests for comment.)

Those who progress to the interview incur a separate set of problems. Bucking the conventional approach of formal, conversation-oriented meetings, which may be challenging for people on the autism spectrum, a number of companies have designed formats wherein applicants complete engineering projects with materials like Legos and marshmallows on campus over the course of two or more weeks. While Microsoft and other corporations have garnered plaudits for heeding the needs of autistic people, the companies’ apparent lack of compensation for multiple weeks’ worth of labor goes unaddressed. (This issue has gained increased attention regarding more traditional tech interviews.)

According to Chandler, prospective tech employers place pressure on autistic applicants not only to perform a task competently, but to distinguish themselves via the aforementioned stereotype invoked by Thiel: what she calls a “magic autistic” tendency to “think outside the box.” This expectation thus begets a narrow hiring focus that sets a significantly high bar of ingenuity for people who already struggle to secure work.

If the experiences of Chandler, Holtz and Ford are any indication, these initiatives seek to include only a small fraction of the autistic population. People on the autism spectrum, then, aren’t spared by capitalism’s value system — they’re among those it harms the most profoundly. The agency and liberation of people of marginalized neurotypes doesn’t, and never will, depend on corporate campaigns to turn a chosen few into a new technical underclass, but on a holistic understanding of what it means to have a dignified, fulfilling existence that doesn’t hinge on corporate approval.

“If a corporation can’t use us to make money, we aren’t useful to society. That’s all of us,” said Ford. “Regardless of what it is their capabilities and ‘productivity’ are,” he added, autistic people “should be able to live a good life.”

The post Tech Industry’s Push to Hire Autistic Workers Could Lead to Hyper-Exploitation appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Backfire

Fri, 07/13/2018 - 15:13

The post Backfire appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Caravan of Grandmothers Heads to Mexico Border

Fri, 07/13/2018 - 15:05

Tina Bernstein remembers the Birmingham Church bombings in 1963 that killed four young school girls. She remembers the fear she felt during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

“I remember nightmares of being separated from my family, unable to reach them,” the Beacon, New York, resident recalls. “In recent months, those nightmares have come back… they are nightmares of losing my children and granddaughter.”

When she learned about a caravan of concerned grandmothers heading to the Mexico border to deliver grandmotherly love to the migrant families there, she saw an opportunity to challenge this nightmare.

Grannies Respond/Abuelas Responden is a movement of grandmothers and their allies who have been similarly spurred to action by the humanitarian crisis unfolding on the southern border. Over six days, beginning July 31, their caravan will journey more than 2,000 miles, onboarding other “grannies” along the way. They will host rallies in strategic political districts in cities along the way to protest the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy for immigrants and asylum seekers.

Beginning with a rally in New York City, Grannies Respond will make stops in Reading and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Louisville, Kentucky; Montgomery, Alabama; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Houston, Texas; before finally reaching a detainment facility in either McAllen or Brownsville, Texas.

“We wanted to do something to stand apart,” Dan Aymar-Blair, an organizer who is executive director and co-founder of The Article 20 Network, which advocates for the freedom of peaceful assembly. “We wanted to push the message that this was more than just left versus right. It’s beyond politics. It’s a matter of basic common sense and humanity and things that are deep, deep in our hearts, not our minds.”

Aymar-Blair said that after learning about the separation and detention of migrant families brought about by Trump’s new policy, a group of like-minded activists began talking about effective ways to respond. They quickly ruled out the traditional sign-waving demonstrations: “Nothing scares them more than people with idle hands.”

Someone suggested putting the idea of grandmotherly concern — and literally grandmothers — at the front of the movement. The idea of the cross-country journey spread in much the way other movements have, taking root on social media and growing from there.

“It can be like a Richard Scarry book: anybody can come in any vehicle with us,” he said. “Bring their own bus, their own van, their own car,” he said. They are encouraging those coming from other parts of the country to start their own caravans and meet up at the final destination on Aug. 6.

“For us, in the beginning, this was just a bus full of grannies heading to the border. But there’s the potential, if we can make it go viral, for a lot of people to be part of it. That would be a pretty powerful summer protest.”

Bernstein said it took her a while to come around to the idea. She worried about it seeming like merely a “do-gooder” gesture. 

But then the reality of what’s happening to families who fled violence in their home countries only to be separated or prosecuted as criminals once they got here, hit a raw nerve, she said. “As a secular Jew, it was instilled in me that my freedom isn’t guaranteed if other people aren’t free,” she said. “If I don’t stand up for others, who will stand up for me? That principle is very strong.

“I don’t want to feel that my only role is to support what someone else is doing. I have an activist role to play.”

So she’s riding down to the Texas border not just as an ally, but because she believes the future of her own grandchild and others she loves is inextricably linked to a diverse and interwoven fabric of people in this country.

Organizers envision the caravan growing along the way, as momentum builds with each new stop. “There are people all across the country who are outraged about what is happening. We need to support each other and tell the stories of why this is not OK,” Bernstein said.

“It’s not like our movement or what we’re doing will locate the kids that are missing,” she said. “The intention is to motivate more people…to reinforce the idea that what is happening is unjust and encourage them to support those working toward justice. I’m not sure we’ll be able to impact policies, but maybe we can make an impression on the people we meet along the way.”

The group is keeping a close eye on news coming from the border, with plans to shift and adjust to reflect changes unfolding there. Most of the six planned rallies are in political districts with important political races for the upcoming mid-term election or with detention centers — or both.

At the stop in Louisville, Kentucky, Aymar-Blair said, they plan “to give Mitch McConnell hell.” The Senate majority leader is from Louisville, and in recent weeks has been hounded by protesters there over the immigration policies.

A Spanish music teacher onboard the bus will teach demonstrators Spanish songs that they might sing outside the detainment facility once they reach the border so that migrants inside know they are there. “The more people come, the louder it will be and the more families will hear us.” Protesters recognize that the disruption could be jarring for children so the idea is still being developed.

Sharon Kutz-Mellem of Louisville has two grandsons who sometimes refer to her as the “grammanator” when she’s being tough on them. She plans to join the caravan when it gets to town.

She volunteers with the Kentucky Refugee Ministries, which helps resettle refugees. Until a year ago, she was a ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church USA, serving two small congregations in rural Indiana. One Sunday in August 2016, after delivering a message about justice and humility, Kutz-Mellem overheard a group of parishioners discussing where to get their Trump yard signs.

She heard a different calling. She retired early and left the church, losing her religion, she said, but not her faith. “I felt like I had failed to teach them the message that Jesus brought to this world, the one that wasn’t about building a wall but about welcoming the stranger, taking care of the sick and poor and widowed and visiting the prisoner; the Jesus who welcomed the little children instead of separating them from their parents and imprisoning them,” she said.

She’s not sure what will happen once she reaches the border, but she’s prepared to get arrested if that’s what it takes to make people pay attention.

“I’m not doing any more marches…I’ve done them all. I’m done,” she said. “We gotta step it up…we’re too deep into the fascism here. And if it means arresting a bunch of old people, fine. Whatever.”

The post Caravan of Grandmothers Heads to Mexico Border appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Out-of-Pocket Costs Put HIV Prevention Drug Out of Reach for Many at Risk

Fri, 07/13/2018 - 15:00

Public health officials are expanding efforts to get the HIV prevention pill into the hands of those at risk, in a nationwide effort to curb infections. But the officials are hitting roadblocks — the drug’s price tag, which has surged in recent years, and changes in insurance coverage that put a heftier financial burden on patients.

Since brand-name Truvada was approved for HIV prevention six years ago, its average wholesale price has increased by about 45 percent. Now, the drug — which rakes in billions of dollars in annual global revenue for its manufacturer, Gilead Sciences — carries a list price of close to $2,000 for a 30-day supply.

Most insurers cover the pill, also known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. It has been shown to be more than 90 percent effective in HIV prevention when taken daily.

But patients can get stuck with out-of-pocket costs that make it unaffordable.

“If there is any example of the dysfunction in the American pharmaceutical system, it is this case,” said James Krellenstein, a member of the AIDS advocacy group ACT UP New York. “We have the most effective tool for ending the HIV epidemic, and one reason we’re unable to scale up is because it costs so [much] unnecessarily.”

As policymakers and the health system debate how to control ever-climbing drug prices, experts say this case underscores how patients are left holding the bag.

Private health plans are making patients responsible for a larger share of drug costs. And more are restricting use of the “copay coupons” pharmaceutical companies have used to shield patients from out-of-pocket expenses. Insurers say the drug companies use coupons to steer consumers toward pricier meds. One way health plans are limiting their use is by no longer allowing them to count toward patients’ deductibles.

“This is one more thing that is going to push people off their medications,” said Jim Pickett, a senior director at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago.

Jared Wile, who lives in Chicago, started taking PrEP about three years ago, when he was dating someone with HIV. Wile, who has a $2,750 deductible, used a coupon to obtain the drug. He never paid anything out-of-pocket, he said.

Gilead waives up to $4,800 in out-of-pocket expenses for commercially insured patients.

That changed for Wile this past May, when Wile learned the coupon no longer counted toward his deductible and that he would have to pay the full cost of the prescription — $1,600 per month — until he hit his deductible. Wile said he felt “blindsided” and stopped taking the medication.

Gilead spokesman Ryan McKeel said the company has made extra efforts to help patients overcome financial barriers. He cited assistance programs for uninsured and underinsured people.

“We have designed our assistance programs with the intent that people can benefit from their full value, and we cannot control the actions or decisions of health insurers,” McKeel said in an emailed statement.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 1 million people are at high risk of contracting HIV, but Gilead says only about 167,000 people currently take PrEP.

Beyond the Money Crunch

Price is one of many barriers — alongside patients’ lack of awareness and doctors’ hesitation to prescribe — that threaten to exacerbate the already stark disparities in PrEP use and HIV infection rates.

One major disparity is along geographic lines. The South, for example, accounts for over half of new HIV diagnoses but only about 30 percent of new PrEP users, according to data from AIDSVu, which maps HIV disease and PrEP use. HIV rates and PrEP use also vary by race and ethnicity.

“We are not necessarily seeing that those most at risk are the ones starting PrEP,” said Kristin Keglovitz Baker, chief operating officer of Howard Brown Health, a Chicago health center.

Gilead has recently gone all-in with advertising to reach people at risk, including print campaigns and TV ads that will air through the summer. Since 2012, it has spent $28 million to fund US organizations that seek to raise awareness of HIV, McKeel, the company spokesman, said.

“We recognize that many people who are at high risk for HIV infection still face challenges in accessing Truvada for PrEP, and we are in regular dialogue with public health officials, advocates and physicians to better understand and, where possible, help to address these challenges,” he added.

But price is also an impediment for publicly funded programs, which have limited budgets and are now shelling out more cash for the prevention effort.

“If it was only pennies … we would be throwing it around,” said Joey Mattingly, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. “Because of how costly it is, we have to control it.”

Some states — California and Florida among them — have launched PrEP assistance programs that can help patients cover the cost of the medication, along with required lab work and medical visits.

Beyond these state-based programs, some public health departments and HIV service organizations are hiring PrEP navigators to help patients navigate the maze of copays and deductibles, and to improve recruitment and retention of new PrEP users.

Washington, DC’s health department has doubled down on prevention, and Truvada is key in that effort, said Michael Kharfen, the department’s senior deputy director for HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD and TB Administration.

Insurance usually covers PrEP, and patient assistance programs should fill any financial gaps, he said. But when that isn’t feasible, the department steps in, distributing free Truvada starter packs to at-risk patients.

Kharfen said the city has in the past three years spent almost a million dollars just on Truvada pills, which it purchases at a discounted rate through the federal 340B program, which benefits certain health care providers that treat low-income people. And because of new publicity efforts, he expects the department will need to buy and distribute more pills — posing a conundrum.

Treating more people is net positive, he said. But “how do we sustain this?”

Medicaid programs generally cover PrEP, so they confront a similar situation. Outreach efforts lead to more beneficiaries who take the drug, but that, in turn, could subject the states’ Medicaid budgets to financial hardship.

States are spending millions of dollars on the drug. California’s Medicaid program, for example, spent about $50 million in 2017 and expects the costs to continue climbing. But officials said the expense is offset by long-term savings in preventing new HIV cases.

Massachusetts’ Medicaid program spent about $22 million on Truvada that same year — about $18,000 per beneficiary, according to a spokeswoman for the agency’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services. Those figures don’t account for rebates the state receives from Gilead, which are undisclosed and considered proprietary information.

A Complex Solution, and No Competition

PrEP is only one part of HIV prevention, so help paying for the pill is only one piece of the puzzle.

Patients also need regular HIV testing and medical care, which add to the cost borne both by patients and the health system. Some experts warn that Truvada’s high price point could financially undermine such broad prevention efforts.

Competition could help.

A generic version of the drug, manufactured by Teva Pharmaceuticals, is available abroad and gained approval for use last year from the federal Food and Drug Administration. When it becomes available in the United States, it could bring down prices, though it’s unclear when that will happen. Gilead’s own forecasts reflect that expectation, showing declines in future revenue from Truvada.

“When generics enter, brands lose market share,” said David Howard, a health economist and professor at Emory University, who previously worked in the pharmaceutical industry.

For now, though, Truvada is the only PrEP option available in the US, he said. “From a company standpoint … their best strategy is to make as much money as they can.”

KHN’s coverage of these topics is supported by Laura and John Arnold Foundation and Blue Shield of California Foundation.

The post Out-of-Pocket Costs Put HIV Prevention Drug Out of Reach for Many at Risk appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Exploiting Pensions, Wall Street Cost Taxpayers $600 Billion Over Last Decade

Fri, 07/13/2018 - 14:48

In a frenzied bid for higher profits in the decade following the 2008 financial crisis, Wall Street pension fund managers have siphoned as much as $624 billion from Americans’ retirement savings — and, as a direct result, taxpayer coffers — through a vicious combination of high fees and foolish investment strategies, according to an analysis published Thursday by Yahoo Finance.

The steepest costs to taxpayers have stemmed from Wall Street pension managers’ commitment to so-called alternative funds, which invest in private equity and hedge funds rather than traditional stocks and bonds.

“The total amount pension funds could have saved by simply investing in index funds could be more than $1 trillion,” notes Yahoo Finance reporter Dion Rabouin. “Because pensions are guaranteed, the underperformance has hit taxpayers in the form of budget cuts for schools, hospitals, and libraries and decreased spending on infrastructure, healthcare, and other public projects.”

Responding to Yahoo’s analysis in a series of tweets on Thursday, Capital & Main journalist David Sirota observed that in five years of reporting on Wall Street’s investment tactics, he has found that “most people (including policymakers) still have no idea that skimming fees off public employees’ retirement savings has become one of the largest sources of profits for Wall Street moguls.”

Wall Street executives have sucked $600 billion out of public employees’ retirement savings in the last decade — and yet the political conversation over public pension shortfalls basically blames ripped-off public employees for being greedy. https://t.co/npxkzos9Ti

— David Sirota (@davidsirota) July 12, 2018

Despite their continued underperformance, “public pension fund managers have thrown increasingly more money at these complex and pricey alternative funds” in pursuit of “higher gains,” Yahoo notes.

Because these gains haven’t materialized, public pensions have lost hundreds of billions of dollars over the past decade, and taxpayers have been left to pick up the tab.

“The sales pitch of the alternatives community is, ‘We’ve got some kind of secret sauce. Our returns are going to be higher than stocks and bonds,'” Jeff Hooke, a lecturer at Johns Hopkins University who has authored several studies on public pensions, said in an interview with Yahoo Finance. “The only problem with the sales pitch is it doesn’t work.”

The Intercept’s Briahna Joy Gray concluded on Thursday that Wall Street’s continued abuse of public pensions in an effort to boost profits is a clear demonstration that “obscene wealth doesn’t come out of the blue, but that it’s a direct consequence of exploitation.”

Regular people are realizing more and more that obscene wealth doesn’t come out of the blue, but that it’s a direct consequence of exploitation.

Exiting times. https://t.co/ZgjWuNzNjX

— Briahna “Intersectionality Includes Class” Gray (@briebriejoy) July 12, 2018

The post Exploiting Pensions, Wall Street Cost Taxpayers $600 Billion Over Last Decade appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Donald Trump Threatens Theresa May as Republicans Stage Peter Strzok Circus

Fri, 07/13/2018 - 14:42

After all the fireworks at the NATO meeting on Wednesday, I assumed they would wind down on Thursday and President Trump would head off to jolly old England with a smile on his face for a nice visit with the queen and a few rounds of golf in Scotland. By acting like an unpredictable imbecile he had made his point: He’s got the biggest swinging hands in the free world and there’s nothing these pipsqueak allies can do about it.

Unfortunately, Trump wasn’t finished. He showed up late for another meeting, took it over and started browbeating everyone again about spending and trade, demanding they embark on a massive military buildup and insisting they spend that money on American equipment because it’s the best. Then he held a press conference and, much like the one he held after his Singapore pageant with Kim Jong-un, it was delusional. Trump declared himself a hero for getting the allies to agree to spend more (he didn’t) saying, “If you ask Secretary General Stoltenberg, he gives me total credit.” He said NATO is much stronger than it was two days before.

When asked if he would contradict any of these statements in a tweet after the meeting he actually repeated one of the most absurd comments he’s ever made, and that’s saying something. He said: “That’s other people that do that. I don’t. I’m very consistent. I’m a very stable genius.”

Fact check: False.

Trump isn’t just unstable. He seems to be coming apart at the seams. Politico reports that the NATO allies have concluded, in so many words, that the president of the United States is nuts.

British Prime Minister Theresa May might have thought her conversations with Trump were confidential, what with the “special relationship” between the two countries. She got a big surprise after the big state dinner with Trump in London on Thursday night:

A lot going on here (Trump trashing May while in UK, talking to Murdoch paper, blaming Khan for terror) but let’s not ignore the other thing:

Trump saying “migration is killing Europe” echoes rhetoric some of the continents most fringe parties, including white nationalists pic.twitter.com/EBIvnwTUwL

— Astead (@AsteadWesley) July 12, 2018

Trump told the tabloid that he had threatened May over her “soft” Brexit plan, telling her that if she followed through on it the US would not make a bilateral trade deal with Britain. I think we know that’s fatuous nonsense but he wanted to make sure it was public because May’s hold on her job is tenuous. It’s pretty clear Trump wants to topple her, apparently in order to install his pal Boris Johnson, her Conservative Party rival. This would be unusual for any other president, but Trump is a big fan of foreign interference in the democratic process on his behalf so he just went for it.

Trump also told the Sun that he’d told May how to do Brexit right but she wouldn’t listen. The Brits were not amused:

Text from calmest UK diplomat I know. Excuse the language: “we are all fuming right now. All month we’ve been preparing for tomorrow and he drops this shit right after the dinner?? Fucking ridiculous. Tomorrow will be a proper shit show now.”

— Juliette Kayyem (@juliettekayyem) July 13, 2018

By the time you read this, we’ll probably know just how bad it is.

Meanwhile, back in Washington my hoped-for congressional counterbalance took a hard right turn and went over the cliff. While the Senate had taken some symbolic bipartisan votes about NATO and trade earlier in the week, apparently sending a message that Trump’s diplomatic misconduct was not reflective of the entire US government, Republicans in the House of Representatives said, “You want crazy? We’ll give you crazy.”

The all-day House Oversight and Judiciary Committee grilling of Peter Strzok, the counter-intelligence FBI agent who had been involved in both the Clinton email case and the early months of the Russia investigation — until he was found to have texted rude remarks about Trump to his girlfriend — was a three-ring circus. The Republicans were the clowns.

Apparently believing that their best chance of deflecting whatever special counsel Robert Mueller finds out about the Russian interference is to destroy the reputation of the FBI and the Department of Justice, GOP committee members decided to become the human version of Donald Trump’s Twitter feed. It wasn’t pretty.

Wow pic.twitter.com/nyRwPTGojO

— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) July 12, 2018

“This is intolerable harassment of a witness!”

In a chaotic moment at House Judiciary hearing, Rep. Louie Gohmert asks FBI Agent Peter Strzok how many times he lied to his wife. The question drew cries of outrage from Democratic members. https://t.co/M3YsVmNmn5 pic.twitter.com/f0nEkO5ewO

— ABC News (@ABC) July 12, 2018

Strzok’s monumental bad judgment in using a government phone to insult Donald Trump has landed him in this hot water and will probably end his career. But he was an effective witness and it’s unlikely the Republican clown show played well outside the Fox News Big Top. He was straightforward about his contempt for Trump but made a sound case for why that didn’t and couldn’t have interfered in his investigation. He was passionate in his defense of the FBI and not intimidated by the Trumpian insults and browbeating from the Republicans.

His testimony once more showed the deeply illogical nature of the Republican counter-narrative that the FBI was out to get Trump and help Clinton. They insist that Strzok’s bias tainted the investigation but they cannot explain how it is that he never said a word in advance of the election. Indeed, the FBI put reporters off the scent rather than confirm information they’d obtained elsewhere. Hillary Clinton was the person sabotaged by FBI Director James Comey, not Trump.

At one point, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., asked Strzok about a text in which he wrote that Trump would have “no idea how destabilizing his presidency will be.” Issa seemed to think this was some sort of a threat from the “deep state.” Strzok explained that had come on the heels of comments by then-candidate Trump, who said he didn’t know whether or not the U.S. should honor its commitments under NATO, that it would depend on how he believed a particular ally had behaved. That’s not how it works.

Strzok was right about all that, as we’ve seen this week in Europe. Politico’s Michael Crowley aptly described Trump’s dealings with foreign leaders on MSNBC by quoting some lines from “Apocalypse Now”:

Capt. Benjamin Willard [the allies]: They told me that you had gone totally insane, and that your methods were unsound.

Colonel Kurtz [Trump]: Are my methods unsound?

Capt. Benjamin Willard: I don’t see any method at all, sir.

There is no method. But there is a pattern to Trump’s madness, which foreign leaders are starting to understand. He creates a phony crisis, then sweeps in, puts on a show insulting and bullying everyone and declares that he has now fixed the crisis that never existed in the first place. In the meantime he’s destroying America’s reputation and turning the world upside down, creating chaos for no reason beyond TV ratings and pleasing his rabid followers.

The allies can only try to contain the damage. After all, they are seeking stability and predictability. But adversaries have much to gain through the US self-destructing this way, and are figuring out how to take advantage of this ill-equipped man for their own ends. We’ll see how that plays out next week in Helsinki.

The post Donald Trump Threatens Theresa May as Republicans Stage Peter Strzok Circus appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Bradley Foundation Funds Web of Climate Change Deniers

Fri, 07/13/2018 - 14:36

Bradley Foundation internal documents reviewed by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) reveal a concerted effort by the organization to delegitimize climate science, while promoting fossil fuel energy development in the United States.

An analysis of Bradley’s climate-related activities shows that the foundation has made significant grants to support energy policy think tanks, attack-dog groups that target environmentalists, and efforts to discredit climate science.

A 2013 internal foundation document details how Bradley “instructed staff to explore options…to make more energy-related grants.” The document also notes that the Board gave a “terminal grant” of $263,591 to the Sand County Foundation (SCF), which previously administered the Bradley Fund for the Environment.

The documents do not reveal Bradley’s motivation in splitting from SCF, but they do outline a serious effort to promote fossil fuel industry interests at the expense of the environment.

Centers for Climate Change Denial and Fossil Fuel Development

As part of its push to support studies and public relations to cast doubt on mounting scientific evidence on climate change, Bradley has focused its resources on “Energy Policy Centers,” many of which are housed in “Bradley-supported” State Policy Network (SPN) “think tanks.” SPN is a web of 156 right-wing groups in 49 states, Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, Canada, and the UK that receives funding from the billionaire Koch brothers, the Bradley Foundation, and the Roe Foundation, as well as many multi-national corporations.

The examined documents show that the Center for Energy Policy and the Environment (CEPE) at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (MIPR), a member of SPN, received a total of $500,000 for its Center, with another $200,000 distributed in 2016(Manhattan Institute for Policy Research GPR, February 23, 2016) CEPE works to promote fossil fuel development despite the devastating effects of climate change. A background document on CEPE states its goal clearly: “The Center’s research and public education activity aims at demonstrating that the United States is poised to reap substantial economic benefits in the form of job creation, lower gasoline and electricity prices, and increased productivity provided public policies allow companies to access valuable energy resources and distribute them at home and abroad.”

A recommendation by Bradley staff on the Manhattan Institute’s 2016 grant proposal specifically states that CEPE is worth funding because, “They have succeeded in identifying and publicizing so many of the falsehoods that surround energy and the environment.” (Manhattan Institute for Policy Research GPR, February 23, 2016) An example of this “success” can be found in the work of CEPE senior fellow Mark Mills, who is recognized as originating the idea that North America can surpass the Middle East as the largest energy supplier in the world. (Manhattan Institute for Policy Research GPR, November 12, 2013)

The Energy Policy Center (EPC) at another SPN “think tank”, the Independence Institute, received $195,000 from the Bradley Foundation between 2012 and 2016.

Bradley documents examined show that EPC’s purpose is to “consciously counter-balance former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter’s environmental think tank” at Colorado State University, which promotes a “New Energy Economy.”

Bradley considers EPC to be highly successful in fighting local and federal environmental initiatives. The Bradley documents note that EPC was a “key coalition partner” in preempting local bans on fracking in Colorado, and that it “has developed a toolkit for policymakers, attorneys general, and other conservative state think tanks to help them push back against US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations.” (Independence Institute GPR, June 2, 2015)

In addition to these two centers, Bradley has funded the Center for Energy and Environment (CEE) at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), an “associate member” of SPN, and the Center for Energy Innovation and Independence at Consumers’ Research.

CEE is led by the prominent climate change denier Myron Ebell, who steered Trump’s EPA transition team. Ebell also chairs the Cooler Heads Coalition, which brings together right-wing activists and scholars for monthly meetings. The coalition was established on May 6, 1997, “to dispel the myths of global warming by exposing flawed economic, scientific and risk analysis.”

CEI was long tied to tobacco disinformation campaigns, but is now a leading organization in the movement to discredit climate science.

Bradley does not mention how much of its funding to CEI was designated for CEE operations. Between 1986 and 2015, Bradley Foundation gave $2.2 million to CEI, the majority of which was “to support general operations.” (Competitive Enterprise Institute GPR, June 2, 2015).

The Center for Energy Innovation and Independence received $250,000 from Bradley in 2013 to get the new group off the ground. According to a background document, the group “will closely monitor federal environmental regulations and potentially lay the foundation for multi-state litigation against them, similar to those actions in the Obamacare and Dodd-Frank lawsuits, of which aggressive (Scott) Pruitt was and is a part.” Pruitt is the former AG of Oklahoma and recently resigned as the EPA Administrator under Trump.

Smear Campaigns and Funding Efforts to Discredit Climate Science

At the same time Bradley rolled out funding for “Energy Policy Centers,” it was doling out cash to discredit environmental organizations and climate change science.

A grant proposal record for the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), a front group created by the close Bradley ally Rick Berman, details an organized effort to weaken the credibility of well-respected, national environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club, the National Resources Defense Council, and Food and Water Watch. (The Center for Consumer Freedom GPR, November 12, 2013) Berman also founded Berman and Company, a notorious Washington, DC-based corporate lobbying and PR company known for creating numerous corporate “front groups” and astroturf propaganda campaigns.

Berman’s anti-environmental project at CCF was called Big Green Radicals and was seeded with a $150,000 “public education” grant from Bradley in 2013.

According to Bradley’s background document, the Big Green Radicals project would include the following components:

[N]ew, updated research profiles for NRDC, Food and Water Watch, and Sierra Club; standalone websites for all three organizations; a Facebook group seeded with several thousand fans to provide a base for the message; the production of two online videos to explain the real agenda of the environmental left; and Google keyword advertising for members of the media and the public searching for information about one of the targeted groups.

In addition to providing the start-up funding for Big Green Radicals, Bradley gave $85,000 to the Capital Research Center (CRC), a group led by former Berman and Company employee Scott Walter. The grant was designated for “general operations,” but it may have been used to support the publication Green Watch. A background document on CRC states that, “Green Watch tracks the money flow to environmental nonprofits and critiques their positions, and those of their allies, including their policymaking ones.” (Capital Research Center GPR, August 19, 2014)

Since 2014, the Bradley Foundation has distributed numerous grants to discredit the vast amount of scientific research demonstrating the harmful effects of climate change. In 2014, it gave $65,000 to the George C. Marshall Institute (GMI), a right-wing front group largely funded by oil and gas interests. Newsweek called GMI “a central cog in the denial machine” in 2007.

GMI folded in late 2015, so Bradley recommended $50,000 in “seed funding” the following year for its “successor organization,” the CO2 Coalition. The coalition is led by a Dr. William Happer, a well-known climate change denier. “We’re doing our best to try and counter this myth that CO2 is a dangerous pollutant. It’s not a pollutant at all,” Happer said at a Heritage Foundation event on energy and climate.

Another $10,000 Bradley grant in 2014 for the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change (CSCDGC) went to support its Science & Public Policy Institute (SPPI). A staff recommendation notes that SPPI “has helped demonstrate that no real-world data confirms that floods, draughts [sic], or hurricanes are becoming more frequent or severe, as global-warming alarmists allege. Neither is there any real-world data that sea levels are about to rise precipitously, inundating the world’s coasted [sic] lowlands, as is also often alleged.” (Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change GPR, June 17, 2014)

Energy Roundtables

Documents show that, beginning in 2013, Bradley provided funding to the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, also an SPN member, to host and organize two “energy roundtables” a year — one before the Heritage Foundation’s annual Resource Bank meeting, and the other before SPN’s annual fall meeting. (Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy GPR, November 10, 2015)

The $50,000-per-year grant from Bradley for the meetings was matched “by staff arrangement” by the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), a front group for the energy industry that promotes fossil fuel development and opposes efforts to regulate its activities.

“Planned and put on in close cooperation with the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), the roundtables allow state think tanks to better promote free-market energy and environmental policies,” one document states. (Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy GPR, November 12, 2013)

Attendance has been high at the roundtables, with as many as “67 SPN leaders” attending the event in Denver in September 2014. The agenda for that meeting details presentations from a number of fossil fuel lovers including: Artic Power, Consumer Energy Alliance, Vital for Colorado, Devon Energy, GOPAC (a political action committee that backs and trains Republican candidates), and Freedom Partners. Freedom Partners, a funding conduit for the billionaire Koch brothers, delivered a talk on “Messaging and State Action.” (Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy GPR, November 11, 2014)

Bradley Grantees Worked Together to Defeat Local Regulations on Fracking in Colorado

In 2014, the Independence Institute and Berman’s Big Green Radicals worked in lockstep in Colorado to defeat local fracking bans, such as the one that passed by ballot measure in Longmont in November of 2013. A 2015 Bradley backgrounder on the Independence Institute praises the anti-fracking work of Independence Institute’s Energy Policy Center, saying, “It has also been a key coalition partner in the movement to stop local and statewide bans on hydraulic fracturing. Last year, current Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper crafted a delicately balanced compromise on local control of oil and gas drilling that removed all initiatives on the issue from the state ballot.”

Berman’s Big Green Radicals rolled out an attack campaign to discredit anti-fracking efforts in the state in May of 2014. Big Green Radicals asserted that “extreme groups, mostly based far from Colorado in San Francisco, New York, or Washington DC, are spending millions and spreading their anti-science message to scare voters into approving ballot measures in November to send the oil and gas industry (and the jobs and affordable energy it provides) packing from the Centennial State.”

The efforts by these two groups were successful in overturning local fracking bans. Bradley agreed and decreased its funding recommendation for EPC to $25,000 in 2016, saying, “it is unlikely that there will be any significant developments for EPC in the upcoming months, and therefore staff believes this reduced award is important.”

It is uncertain where the next battleground for energy development will be for Bradley, but the documents demonstrate that they have the funds to bankroll infrastructure in place to discredit climate science and smear the opposition.

Other Notable Bradley Grants

Other significant Bradley grants to support fossil fuel development or dispute climate science in recent years include:

  • $150,000 to Opportunity Ohio for “program activities.” (2016)
  • $100,000 to Energy and Environment Legal Institute for “transparency practice general.” (2016)
  • $20,000 to Foundation for Research on Economics & the Environment for “general operations.” (2016)
  • $200,000 to Competitive Enterprise Institute for “general operations” and “litigation.” (2013, 2015)
  • $100,000 to The Sand County Foundation for “energy resource development.” (2014)
  • $100,000 to National Center for Policy Analysis for “general operations.” (2014)
  • $20,000 to Foundation for Research on Economics & the Environment for “general operations.” (2014)

The post Bradley Foundation Funds Web of Climate Change Deniers appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Armenian Youth End Soviet-Era Inertia in Velvet Revolution

Fri, 07/13/2018 - 14:26

It is a rare moment for Armenia: There is a resurgence of optimism, in no small part, because of the country’s youth.

This past April and May, it was the youth, under the leadership of opposition leader and journalist Nikol Pashinyan, who organized the country’s Velvet Revolution. The movement developed in response to President Serzh Sargsyan’s announcement that he would seek a third consecutive term as the most powerful figure in Armenia. Hundreds of thousands of citizens gathered in the capital’s Republic Square, some having walked for hours from neighboring rural towns to participate.

The protests began unassumingly. Even as sizable crowds took to the streets, there still remained widespread disbelief that Sargsyan would carry through on appointing himself prime minister after having already served two presidential terms. Demonstrations began more as a fervent reaction to the audacity of the regime’s move to maintain power by giving the role of prime minister new authority while disempowering the role of president. In the beginning, protesters didn’t even believe that forcing Sargsyan to resign was possible.

The country had endured dishonest presidential elections in the past, and Sargsyan’s announcement to transition presidential powers to the role of prime minister seemed only part of a longstanding history of corruption.

Under Sargsyan, the country suffered “major impediments to the economy,” says Khatchig Mouradian, a lecturer in Middle Eastern, South Asian and African studies at Columbia University. Another seven years under Sargsyan’s rule as prime minister would have further hampered economic growth, as monopolies would have continued to prevail under an oligarchic system.

Moreover, “the mood in the country would have continued to be one of resignation, pessimism and apathy,” says Mouradian. “People would have continued voting with their feet — by emigrating. The snail’s pace at which reforms were being implemented had done little to alleviate the people’s grievances. A reboot seemed essential, yet far out of reach.”

In early April, Sargsyan officially became prime minister, and the opposition movement gained new urgency. Quickly, protesters strategized. Demonstrations would occur during designated hours in the day, with times and locations announced over social media well in advance. Protesters would also avoid inciting police, who have, in the past, exerted force on crowds after sundown. Above all, protesters would preserve peace.

“No one predicted this outpouring of popular support, let alone calculated it,” says Mouradian. “History is often made through an amalgamation of contingencies, circumstance, the rapid seizure of opportunities and tactical decisions that determine the fate of a grand strategy. The Velvet Revolution was a successful, bloodless regime change because of the unflinching will of its leader, the sustained galvanization of the youth and the realization of the ruling Republican Party that a violent crackdown would not only be futile, but detrimental to the country.”

The youth had learned from prior iterations of protests in their country. Their parents and grandparents can still recall how, in 1988, they had gathered in Republic Square, a similar scene of thousands, then protesting the loss of the autonomous region, Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan. (A referendum held by a regional government of Nagorno-Karabakh had shown overwhelming support to unite with Armenia; however, the governments of Azerbaijan and the Soviet Union refused to recognize these results.) In 1988, however, protests only persisted for a week before Soviet tanks and the rumor of snipers disbanded crowds. Armenia would remain under the Soviet Union until 1991.

“It is important to emphasize that these changes did not occur overnight,” says Mouradian. “Civil society in Armenia has mobilized successfully on specific issues in the past, and there have been political leaders who have galvanized thousands yet failed to achieve regime change. These past experiences paved the way for the Velvet Revolution.”

It’s these past experiences that have cultivated an Armenian youth today who are unafraid. They are the first generation to grow up in an independent state, outside of Soviet influences. “For some of them, stories from that era seem like tales, why we would ever live behind the iron curtain,” says Aram Gyumishyan, former deputy director of the TUMO Center for Creative Technologies in Yerevan and a graphic designer. In the early years of Armenia’s independence, the gate to freedom had been opened, says Gyumishyan, but only partially.

Government officials remained wary of what complete freedom would entail. As a result, freedom persisted in a liminal space — somewhere between looking back at Soviet tactics of strongman leadership and giving more of a substantial voice to its people. This created a dissonance for youth who had only known this partial freedom but had never experienced the movement away from Soviet rule firsthand. Incited by Sargsyan’s particular actions, the youths’ demand for greater transparency and accountability speak to a larger desire to redress systemic unfairness on the executive and judicial levels.

“The biggest problem in Armenia is not only economic, but one related to justice,” says Gyumishyan. “When everyone is fair before the law, people will become tolerant and even thrive. From the leader to the end. Trust — this was missing, and it’s missing in most post-Soviet countries.”

After nearly two weeks of consistent protests, Sargsyan resigned as prime minister in late April, saying,” Nikol Pashinyan was right. I was wrong. There are a few solutions to the current situation, but I am not one of them.” What the youth had accomplished was not an isolated victory, but the counteraction of Soviet-era inertia.

“The Velvet Revolution touched all generations,” says Gyumishyan. In the last two months, he continued, people’s “ownership over their country is stronger.” His only hope is that “it’s a real [lasting change]” and that Pashinyan remains the voice of the people.

“Pashinyan is under tremendous pressure to deliver on a number of fronts within a short period of time,” says Mouradian. Abroad, one of Pashinyan’s priorities is to assure that Yerevan will maintain its close ties with Russia as well as further develop relations with Europe. Moreover, Yerevan’s international alliances will remain as strong as they had been prior to the revolution. Domestically, “Pashinyan faces the difficult but necessary challenge of uprooting corruption and unshackling the economy from the grip of the oligarchy — all the while charting a path towards economic growth,” Mouradian continues. It is imperative that Pashinyan encourages a meaningful engagement of the Armenian diaspora. Not only is the actualization of the “New Armenia” yet another challenge, Mouradian says, it is also an exciting opportunity.

It’s “not easy to move a country,” Gyumishyan says. Critical to the revolution’s success was the absence of external influences. This was a movement driven entirely from inside the country, by the willingness of its own people. Mouradian echoes a similar sentiment, saying, “It is important to note that the Velvet Revolution was an indigenous movement that channeled the aspirations of the Armenian people and not the product of direct foreign intervention.”

Of course, the possibility of foreign intervention remains a real concern in the wake of the Velvet Revolution. Moscow had expressed initial unease, which “stems from its concerns about maintaining Armenia within Russia’s sphere of influence,” says Mouradian. “Yet Moscow seems to be cautiously accepting the new reality on the ground — and Pashinyan’s reassurances have been crucial in this regard.” Azerbaijan is also “keenly invested in Armenia’s politics, and would seize any opportunity to resume hostilities with Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, should it sense an opportunity.”

The almost inconceivable achievement of Armenia’s Velvet Revolution also demands the question of whether a similar movement may be accomplished in other post-Soviet states. “Armenia seems to be an outlier in the region,” says Mouradian. “While its neighbors are becoming less free, and strongmen are concentrating power into their hands (the recent presidential election in Turkey is a case in point), Armenia has moved in recent months from a presidential to parliamentary system, and the Velvet Revolution has infused Armenia’s democracy with a much-needed breath of fresh air.”

Continuing, Mouradian says, “Although every country has its particularities, the protests in Armenia stand as a compelling example of the power of peaceful protests to transform societies and institute regime change.”

The main reason for the Velvet Revolution’s success, Gyumishyan says, was a shared desire for equality that surpassed other political differences. Even those with Soviet nostalgia, those who miss the sense of security that came from regular paychecks and the image of a fearless leader, even this class had supported the youth, says Gyumishyan. For “even they desire equality.”

Today’s Armenia is not even the Armenia of just three months ago. The country has awakened to a new level of political consciousness and witnessed the change that their own people have effected.

The post Armenian Youth End Soviet-Era Inertia in Velvet Revolution appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

As Trump Runs Wild in Brussels, GOP Senators Start to Back Away

Thu, 07/12/2018 - 15:35

In anticipation of Donald Trump’s Global Chaos Tour a couple of days ago I told everyone to get ready, because it was going to be wild. Upon his arrival in Brussels for the annual NATO meeting, the president opened the show with a fusillade of insults toward America’s allies, a grand display of ignorance on every key issue and a total disregard for history, diplomacy or the national security of the United States. And then it got really crazy.

He started off at a morning breakfast photo-op on Wednesday with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and members of their staffs. Trump proceeded to whine, complain and caterwaul once again about how the NATO countries aren’t contributing enough money to what he still portrays as some common NATO piggy bank and implied that they owe the US for overdue payments, which is simply daft. But he made big news when he claimed that Germany is “totally controlled by Russia,” which he apparently believes means that Chancellor Angela Merkel is Vladimir Putin’s puppet.

He based this upon a bogus claim that Germany gives vast sums of money to Russia in exchange for 70 percent of its energy and therefore, they are a “captive of Russia” and are the ones betraying the NATO charter. (As usual, he was wrong on the facts. Germany gets about 9 percent of its energy from natural gas, which is the energy in question. About 70 percent of that comes from Russia.)

When Stoltenberg tried to explain that NATO was not about trade, Trump replied:

How can you be together when a country is getting its energy from the person you want protection against or from the group that you want protection against? I think it is a very bad thing for NATO and I don’t think it should have happened and I think we have to talk to Germany about it.

The fact is that of course NATO countries trade with Russia. So does America. But there’s little point in trying to make sense of what he was saying because he clearly had no idea himself.

Later, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders released a statement saying that that instead of the 2 percent of GDP that the NATO countries have agreed to budget for military spending by 2024, Trump is now demanding that they double that to 4 percent. Shortly thereafter, Trump tweeted this, which slightly walked back his imperious demand:

What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy? Why are there only 5 out of 29 countries that have met their commitment? The U.S. is paying for Europe’s protection, then loses billions on Trade. Must pay 2% of GDP IMMEDIATELY, not by 2025.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 11, 2018

Before leaving Brussels, Trump held an unscheduled press conference on Thursday, during which he claimed that all NATO member nations had promised to “substantially up their commitment” to defense spending after he had told them he was “extremely unhappy.” As the Washington Post drily reported, “It was not immediately clear what specific new commitments had been made.”

No one quite understands why the president is so intent upon everyone arming themselves to the teeth, but we know it isn’t because he wants America to cut back. He wants to increase US defense spending as well. Evidently, he wants everyone putting vast amounts of resources into a global war machine. What could go wrong?

The truth is that this is completely unrealistic. So the more obvious explanation is that Trump is seeking to break up the NATO alliance the same way he tore up the Paris climate accords and the Iran nuclear deal. He also plans to abrogate NAFTA, withdraw from the WTO and who knows what else. ( He says right in that tweet: “What good is NATO …?”)

At least that was how Russian state TV saw it:

#Russia‘s state TV:
Tatyana Parkhalina:
“I never thought I’d live to see this—neither the USSR nor Russia, who tried many times to drive the wedge between transatlantic allies, but Washington is doing everything to break down the foundations of transatlantic alliance & unity.”©️ pic.twitter.com/AlG3QytN8S

— Julia Davis (@JuliaDavisNews) July 11, 2018

Perhaps that’s one of Trump’s “deliverables” for his upcoming summit with Putin in Helsinki.

Meanwhile, back at home there was some highly unusual activity in Congress. You may recall that a delegation of Republican senators visited Moscow over the July 4 holiday and were quoted as being extremely accommodating, if not downright servile, to their hosts. The leader of the delegation, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said they were there to “strive for a better relationship, not accuse Russia of this or that or so forth.” Others were even more generous:

Sen. Ron Johnson reportedly said that Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election “is not the greatest threat to our Democracy,” after a group of Republican lawmakers returned from a trip to Moscow. pic.twitter.com/VXk3rkWHCP

— MSNBC (@MSNBC) July 12, 2018

Someone must have pointed out that they had come off as useful idiots because according to the Daily Beast, several senators who were there are now saying that the meetings were confrontational and tense, with the Russians leaning heavily on the senators on the issue of sanctions, while insisting that the election interference never happened.

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said the Russians had been under the impression that only Democrats believed that Russia had been involved. It’s not hard to understand why they would have made that assumption. This is the first time we’ve seen any Republican elected officials, beyond a handful of retiring senators, give even the slightest indication that they are concerned about it.

Somewhat surprisingly, both the House and the Senate passed nearly unanimous bipartisan resolutions affirming support for NATO. They don’t actually mean anything and they won’t do anything serious to restrain Trump, but it’s possible that Republicans making some slight attempt to tell the world that Trump’s bellicose comments are not endorsed by his party will provide some reassurance.

That wasn’t all. The Senate also voted 88-11 for a non-binding resolution to stop Trump from using national security as a rationale for imposing tariffs willy-nilly when he wakes up on the wrong side of the bed in the morning. Analysts are saying it was a test vote to see if they can override a veto. It’s unclear how many Republicans would hang tough if Trump actually bothers to veto the bill.

Finally, a bipartisan group of senators has introduced a resolution condemning the Russian incursion in Crimea and calling on the Trump administration not to recognize Russia’s land grab. That too will not be binding, but its timing just before the summit with Putin is not an accident.

Perhaps this is all just CYA behavior for Republicans who can see the handwriting on the wall in a tough election season. Or maybe they only manage to find their lost intestinal fortitude when the president is out of town. But it’s also possible that Trump is starting to scare some of them as much as he’s scaring the rest of the planet.

This NATO debacle was just the opening act of the Global Chaos Tour. Now he’s off to London, where he’ll meet the queen, encounter large protests and be followed around by a gigantic “Baby Trump” blimp. That should be highly entertaining. It’s when Vladimir Putin joins him on stage for the big finale in Helsinki that we’ll see the real pyrotechnics.

The post As Trump Runs Wild in Brussels, GOP Senators Start to Back Away appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Protesters Hear Echoes of the Past in Germany’s New Police Laws

Thu, 07/12/2018 - 15:05

Legal moves to increase police powers in the name of fighting terrorism are hardly new territory for Europe. The UK’s 2016 Investigatory Powers Act is one recent example; Emmanuel Macron’s 2017 antiterrorism law, which ended France’s state of emergency by writing many of its provisions permanently into law, is another. But when Germany starts granting its police sweeping new powers of surveillance, arrest and detention, the symbolic and constitutional implications are extremely concerning.

Region by Region

That is precisely what is currently happening, although Germany’s federal structure disguises the fact. Of the sixteen states that make up the Federal Republic of Germany, only one (Thüringen) has not announced any plans to tighten its police laws. In May, 30,000 people took to the streets of Munich to protest a new law giving the Bavarian police unprecedented powers of surveillance, undercover policing and – most eyecatchingly – the right to carry hand-grenades. To no avail: the law was passed by the CSU majority in the Bavarian parliament: the same majority that in recent weeks threatened to unilaterally instruct the police to defy federal government policy and turn away refugees at the Austrian border.

This Saturday, an estimated 20,000 demonstrators marched in Düsseldorf to protest a similar piece of police legislation in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Germany’s most populous federal state.

The Düsseldorf protest was notable for its diversity: unions, civil liberty groups and antifascists marched alongside football fans, lawyers and environmentalists. Placards from all corners of the spectrum displayed inscriptions referring to the lessons of Germany’s past – many of them referencing 1933, the year that the Gestapo (Secret State Police) was formed under the Nazis.

“We in Germany know full well what happens when a state takes complete control,” explains Nils Jansen, the mobilisation’s youthful spokesperson: “that’s why we’re saying now that it must never happen again.”

As in Bavaria, the crux of the new law hinges around the term ‘impending danger’. This legalistic formulation enables the police to act against an individual without having to produce concrete grounds for suspicion, meaning, Jansen argues, that “everyone” could potentially be a target: “strike organisers, demonstrators, whistleblowers, football fans, someone who clicks on the wrong website or happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – they could all end up in the police’s sights”. At the Düsseldorf demonstration it’s a message that seems to have resonated with everyone from the digital activists wanting the police to “stay out of our smartphones” to the football fans singing about just “wanting to get to the stadium in peace”.

Alongside the problematic concept of “impending danger”, the NRW police law introduces a whole suite of restrictive policing measures such as the use of tasers as service weapons, dragnet controls such as stop and search, increased video surveillance of public spaces, telephone hacking and digital data collection, temporary injunctions limiting a suspect’s right to freedom of assembly and freedom of association, electronic tagging and preventative custody of up to a month on suspicion of terrorism or seven days for the purposes of identification.

Free Citizens

Christian Mertens is a Cologne-based lawyer whose clients include environmental activists engaged in an ongoing struggle to protect the Hambach Forest, an area of ancient woodland caught in the path of energy giant RWE’s mammoth open-cast mining operation. “It is clear,” he says, “that there has been a conscious political decision to roll out this legislation region by region.”

Mertens sees environmental activists as being specifically targeted by the new law, claiming that the provision for seven day preventive custody for identification purposes is a direct response to tactics employed during recent anti-coal actions: “it’s not about ascertaining identity: they know who these people are! They do it as a punishment, or as a way of educating them. It’s like a kick in the backside to show them that they’re doing things the wrong way, and ninety nine per cent of the time it’s directed against environmental activists.” It is, Mertens speculates, likely to be “no accident” that the Kerpen police force, tasked with policing protest actions in and around the Hambach Forest, will be amongst the first to participate in a taser trial.

Mertens’ concerns are constitutional as well as practical. The German Constitution was signed into being in 1949, a document designed to set out the values and mechanisms of a Germany in which the horrors of the Nazi era could never be repeated. One of the values or ‘basic rights’ is privacy of correspondence and telecommunications: a fact which is likely to prove key should the law be taken before the federal constitutional court.

One of the mechanisms is the so-called “Trennungsgebot” or “separation order” which establishes a clear division between the executive powers of the police, and the surveillance powers of the federal intelligence agency. The hollowing out of this constitutional firewall represents a weakening of a legal structure born directly out of the German experience of state fascism. “The free citizen”, says Mertens, “should be allowed to do anything, as long as it’s not explicitly forbidden. The police should be allowed to do nothing, so long as it’s not explicitly allowed.”

Imprisoning the Innocent

NRW’s hardline Minister of the Interior, Herbert Reul, sees things differently: “where there’s an impending danger of terrorism, it’s constitutionally possible to give the police increased scope of action,” he told the Rheinische Post, “now we’re saying: with other crimes too, we need to be able to act before they can take place.” It’s a claim he has repeated on camera, saying that it is “better to lock up one innocent person, than risk the lives of many more.”

Lawyer Christian Mertens has a clear counter to that argument: “in the legal profession we have the saying: ‘better to let one hundred people go free, than imprison one single innocent’”. Verena Schäffer, spokesperson for the regional Green Party faction, puts it even more sharply: “Interior Minister Reul is himself a risk to freedom and to our constitutionally chartered rights.”

NRW, however, is not Bavaria. Interior Minister Reul does not enjoy the support of a one party majority in the regional parliament. Instead, the CDU is part of a slim-majority coalition with the (economically) liberal FDP, who, under the growing wave of public pressure, have already voiced significant enough concerns to result in the CDU abandoning its previous plans to push the law through before the summer recess.

There is, in other words, still all to play for and the consequences of Saturday’s showdown in Düsseldorf will reach far beyond the state of NRW. “The resistance”, says Nils Jansen of the No Police Law Alliance, “doesn’t stop here – it’s only just beginning”.

The post Protesters Hear Echoes of the Past in Germany’s New Police Laws appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The High School Massacres Are Just the Tip of the Iceberg Among Youth Gun Deaths

Thu, 07/12/2018 - 15:02
The gun massacres at mostly white high schools are the ones that make the news for days. There is the usual search for motive, the formulaic hand-wringing and the inevitable presentation of arguments between pro-gun and anti-gun forces. However, as journalist Gary Younge reveals in Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives, the greatest loss of life by guns among young people occurs every day throughout the country in less sensational settings. Gary Younge gives a name, a life and a background to 10 young people killed by gunfire, who, in general, died without the media adequately recognizing their passing. In the following afterword to his book, Younge vents his rage at the “business-as-usual” gun deaths among young people in the United States.

At 11:15 a.m. on Sunday November 24, Cleveland police rushed to the 5500 block of Linton Avenue, where they found sixteen year-old Darnell Jones shot in the neck. Paramedics took him to the MetroHealth Medical Center, where he later died. There was no profile of who he was or wanted to be; no interviews with his parents. Beyond official records there is no further evidence that he was ever on the planet. And so it goes on. Another twenty-four hours and the first of yet another slew of slain children whose stories will not be told and whose passing will provoke no outrage.

Researching and writing this book has made me want to scream. I’ve wanted to scream at Edwin and Brandon that guns are not toys, at Jerry to either take the kids on his trucking run or stay home, at Stanley to quit hanging on the corner, at Gustin to watch who he hangs out with, and at Tyshon’s mother to move. I’ve wanted to scream at journalists and police to treat these deaths as though the lives mattered.

But more than its making me want to scream at anyone in particular, it has mostly made me want to just howl at the moon. A long, doleful, piercing cry for a wealthy country that could and should do better for its youth and children — for my children — but that appears to have settled, legislatively at least, on a pain threshold that is morally unacceptable.

I want to bay toward the heavens, because while kids like those featured in this book keep dying, the political class refuses to do not only everything in its power but anything at all to minimize the risks for the kids who will be shot dead today or tomorrow.

As I explained at the outset, this is not a book about gun control. The challenges facing the people profiled in this book are more thorny and knotted than that. Poverty and inequality foster desperation; segregation is a serious barrier to empathy. The more likely you are to be wealthy or white, the less likely you are to believe that these children could be your children. Statistically that is true, but the fact remains that they are somebody’s children, and those parents grieve like everybody else.

Better education, youth services, jobs that pay a living wage, mental health services, trauma counseling, a fair criminal justice system — in short, more opportunity, less despair — would contribute to the climate where such deaths were less likely.

You can’t legislate for common sense and human decency. Neither poverty nor racism puts a gun in anyone’s hand, let alone tells them to fire it. But they are a starting point for the conditions of alienation, anomie, and ambivalence in which a gun might be used and some gun deaths ignored. People have to take personal responsibility for what they do and live with the consequences. But societies have to take collective responsibility for what they do and live with the consequences, too.

As I argued in the introduction, this is a book about what happens when you don’t have gun control. Americans are no more inherently violent than anybody else. What makes its society more deadly is the widespread availability of firearms. Every country has its problems, unique to its own history and culture. But in no other Western society would this book be possible.

To defend this reality by way of the Second Amendment to the Constitution has about the same relevance as seeking to understand the roots of modern terrorism — either to condemn or to condone it — through readings of the Koran. To base an argument on ancient texts is to effectively abdicate your responsibility to understand the present by offloading it onto those who are now dead. It denies not only the possibility of new interpretations and solutions but the necessity for them.

None of the family members I spoke to raised the Second Amendment one way or the other. Almost all believed guns were too readily available; none believed there was anything that could be done about it. Brilliant community groups, often operating on a shoestring, like Mario’s in Charlotte, exist across the country and campaign tirelessly against gun violence or for commonsense gun legislation, or both. But those who concentrate on protecting “babes” and “angels” from felons and gangsters stand little chance of finding roots in the very communities where the problems are most acute. It would appear that, of all the parents who lost children that day, only Nicole, judging by her later Facebook postings (including a spoof children’s book called The Gun That Went Around Killing Children All By Itself ), seems to be engaged in some kind of advocacy around the issue. But even she clearly finds the broader conversation about gun control too toxic to engage with. Alongside portraits of hundreds of children shot dead since Sandy Hook, which included a photo of Jaiden, she wrote:

Jaiden was one of the hundreds of children under the age of 12 killed by gun violence in the one year after the Sandy Hook massacre….

As the 3rd anniversary approaches for Sandy Hook, there is going to be news coverage, memorials and articles about gun control etc — I don’t want to get into a debate about gun control or violence or mental health problems but what I would like is to ask each of you to take a moment and look at these beautiful gorgeous children and remember them and their families during this holiday season in addition to all those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary.

Otherwise, it’s as though each death took place in helpless, hopeless isolation: a private, discrete tragedy complete unto itself. The broader context of race and poverty was clear to many. But when I told them of other families that had lost children that day, all seemed genuinely shocked that their grief overlapped in real time with that of others. It’s as though they had lost a loved one in a war without any clear purpose, end, or enemy — a war they could do nothing about; a war they long knew existed but hoped by luck, judgment, discipline, and foresight that they might be able to protect their kids from; a war that is generally acknowledged in the abstract but rarely specifically addressed in the concrete. A war that took their children but offered them no allies or community in their grief. A war they knew was taking place elsewhere but experienced alone, as though it were happening only to them — when in fact it was happening to America. Every day.

The post The High School Massacres Are Just the Tip of the Iceberg Among Youth Gun Deaths appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

With Escalation in ICE Raids, Immigrant Legal Resource Centers Double Down

Thu, 07/12/2018 - 14:25

Susan Reed is managing attorney at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC), a legal resource center for immigrant communities in the state, which is part of the Michigan Advocacy program. Reed was one of a group of legal aid attorneys who founded MIRC in 2008. In this interview, Reed discusses her experiences supporting clients detained in raids, the role of advocacy organizations in supporting these clients and the ways in which the immigration system was built to maintain a system of white supremacy.

What is your experience with immigration raids and immigration enforcement?

Susan Reed: I’ve been supporting people who are preparing for raids and representing people detained in raids for about 15 years. The most common way for people to get arrested seems to change with the times. When I started doing this work during the Bush administration, DUI [driving under the influence] stops and workplace enforcement were the most common ways people in the community I serve seemed to be getting detained. Throughout the Obama administration, driving without a license became far more common as a reason for detention, but toward the end of the administration, those detentions didn’t lead to deportation as often.

I have no idea how this lines up with statistics, but I find that shift interesting because there’s a lot more potential for profiling in a “no-ops” [traffic stops in which the driver has never had a valid driver’s license] stop than a DUI. Among those in detention in this administration, driving without a license is still the top way people living long-term in the US end up in detention, but we’re seeing an uptick again in “collateral damage” from home- and business-based raids that are allegedly targeting one particular individual.

In September of 2017, ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] went to a blueberry camp in New Era, Michigan, with four empty vans and one removal order. They ended up arresting 10 people who they managed to engage in conversation about their status. Those people were taken more than 400 miles away to Youngstown, Ohio, and their cases were heard by the immigration court in Kansas City. We represented some of them and it was a logistical nightmare.

What is the role of advocacy organizations in combating deportation? In combating immigration raids?

We partnered with the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] on a piece of litigation called Valdez et al v. United States. Our clients, Telma and Luis Valdez, were mother and son, permanent resident and US citizen, respectively. They showed up at a relative’s home while a raid was underway and were physically assaulted, handcuffed and detained by ICE even after they presented ID and proof of status. The case settled for money damages. It’s hard to tell from the outside, but I hope the impact was significant in terms of letting ICE know that we’re out here and we’re watching and that brave people like Luis and Telma won’t just take whatever abuse is being doled out on any given day.

I think that litigation had an impact, but compared to the election of an expressly anti-immigrant president who repeatedly — and technically, incorrectly — claimed he had the endorsement of ICE? (He actually had the endorsement of the ICE agents’ union.) Compared to his election, our impact is probably limited, but we’ve got the tools we’ve got. We’re co-counsel with ACLU National, ACLU of Michigan, CODE Legal Aid, the International Refugee Assistance Project and Miller Canfield in the Hamama v. Adducci case now, and I think that case is having a significant impact on the way ICE works. Finding ways to get in front of federal judges is unquestionably the best strategy we have (which is why stripping people’s right to have their case reviewed by a federal judge has been a high priority of anti-immigrant legislators for decades.)

We can’t file a federal lawsuit about every raid. Mostly what we do is advise immigrants about preparing for a raid and represent individuals in the aftermath. So, I can’t really claim that I’m combatting raids and deportation in a proactive way most of the time. We react a lot, but that’s what our clients need. ICE has the resources to keep us up on our heels.

Many people who do not work with or are not themselves part of immigrant communities are not familiar with immigration raids. If you could tell them one thing about raids, what would you say?

I did an interview recently with a woman who had been napping alongside her 4-year-old one weekday afternoon while her other children were at school. She never heard a knock at the door; she didn’t hear them kick it down; and she only woke up when agents entered the bedroom and started screaming at her and her child. (Kicking down the door isn’t usually within their powers under the Fourth Amendment, but in this case, they had gotten her information from an employer and secured a federal criminal indictment for allegedly working with a fake [Social Security Number] at a minimum-wage, meat-packing job.)

Just to be able to work at a minimum-wage job, she had to expose herself and her child to that terrifying reckoning. I think it’s easier for communities of color that are used to aggressive policing to imagine, but I grew up in an affluent suburb. People talked about working a minimum-wage job like that itself would be a terrible fate, and so to think of the risk and the price someone like this woman paid just to have the chance to do it? I wish the people I grew up with understood the cost they exact from other human beings in order to eat cheap, sliced meat.

It’s frequently stated that advocacy movements are siloed — that is, advocates do not work across issues. Do you see links between the work you do and that of other movements?

Our immigration system was designed to perpetuate white supremacy, so it’s inextricably linked to the movement for Black Lives and movements fighting racism, specifically anti-Black racism. (And of course, many immigrants are Black and the majority of recent immigrants are people of color.)

Unfortunately, there are anti-Black sentiments among both immigrants and allies that we have to keep working to change. We’re busting the links all the time when we say things like: “We are all immigrants!” (No, we aren’t: Some of us are Indigenous people, including so many immigrants, and enslaved Africans were not immigrants.) “Immigrants do jobs Americans won’t do.” (Not really. Think about agriculture — it has always depended on coerced labor, from slavery to sharecropping to migrant workers fleeing Jim Crow, and it just moved on to undocumented folks as African Americans made progress. When we say immigrants are hard-working — compared to whom? Who is not hard-working? What group of people in this country is consistently portrayed as “lazy” and not interested in work? You get the picture.)

Even in refugee resettlement, I feel like refugee leaders and advocates slip into a pattern of suggesting that American “inner cities” are full of people who obviously lack economic potential, and that refugees have some kind of innate superior qualities as economic actors that will magically revitalize things. That’s not to say that refugee resettlement can’t drive shared prosperity in cities — it can — or that there aren’t sometimes alignments between skills and capital that immigrants bring that can generate beneficial economic activity — there are. But taking advantage of that already-existing imported human and financial capital should only happen alongside similar investments and initiatives to ensure the development and flourishing of those already in an “inner city,” and I don’t always hear that in the conversation.

The post With Escalation in ICE Raids, Immigrant Legal Resource Centers Double Down appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Abolishing ICE Is a First Step Toward Abolishing Borders

Thu, 07/12/2018 - 14:22
Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. We’re now more than a year into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators and educators not only about how to resist but also about how to build a better world. Today’s interview is the 130th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

Today we bring you a conversation with George Ciccariello-Maher, a writer and organizer based in Philadelphia and a visiting scholar at the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics. Ciccariello-Maher discusses the movement to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and how activist groups are setting up encampments to occupy ICE buildings. He also talks about how a supposedly progressive Democratic mayor is doing the work of Trump.

Sarah Jaffe: We are talking about Occupy ICE, which has sprung up in quite a few cities now. Do you happen to know how many different places have an occupation or have had one?

George Ciccariello-Maher: I have seen different numbers, but well over half a dozen cities over the past couple of weeks have seen these sporadic occupations, some being evicted, some being more sustained in the long-term. All have been subject to very different strategies for repression by local and federal authorities.

Talk a little bit about the one you have been involved in, which is in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia began an occupation just a week ago, honestly, outside an ICE facility in downtown Philadelphia and set up an encampment that very quickly blocked access by ICE vans to a building. Very quickly … this was pushed out by federal law enforcement in association with … Philadelphia police. They were pushing the encampments beyond the doors to create access to the building.

Now, I think people in Philadelphia were hoping for something like what happened in Portland, where local authorities were really unwilling to go along and be the shock troops of ICE, but in Philadelphia, despite the claims of being [a] sanctuary city and the attempts to cultivate progressive credentials by Mayor Jim Kenney, what you have seen actually is very much a willingness to participate with those federal enforcement agencies.

I want to unpack that a little bit. First of all, for people who aren’t familiar with the terminology, “sanctuary city” has a very specific political meaning, but also a broader meaning of being a safe place for immigrants. Can you talk about the specific policy connections that have gone into calling some place a sanctuary city?

Of course, the category of sanctuary city has been very debated and fraught over the past year — in particular, with Trump attempting to figure out different ways to punish sanctuary cities to withdraw funding. I know there has been some pushback in the courts on that. But in Philadelphia, what we have actually seen is the words “sanctuary city” being used by … a slightly progressively branded mayor, but you have seen in reality just simply a delay of what I would think would be the key policy mechanism, which is a decision on whether or not Philadelphia police will participate in information sharing with ICE.

This is called [Preliminary Arraignment Reporting System (PARS)]. The PARS agreement … would pass arrest information directly to federal officials, allowing for ICE to then sweep in and detain and potentially deport people. This is something that the mayor has not come out and said he is opposed to. What he has done is to delay this decision. You had just the other day a meeting by an excellent organization locally called Juntos with the mayor pressuring him to, among other things, refuse to share that information with ICE officials. In addition to that, there is a long-standing campaign to close down the Berks County Detention Center, which is an immigrant detention center.

The meeting with him came about after the Philadelphia police were involved in evicting the occupation, right?

Absolutely. After Philadelphia police pushed the occupation beyond the gates of the ICE building, then attempted to push them further, what you have is a completely unannounced intervention by the police, again, to fully evict. People have been bending over backwards too far to placate them … and I think my argument consistently is that they are still going to evict you when the time comes, which is exactly what happened.

The camp was fully evicted by Philadelphia police and this looks terrible for a progressive mayor — or so-called progressive mayor, I should say. We are not talking about a very progressive mayor. We are talking about someone who uses a progressive narrative. Regardless, the headlines were not good for Jim Kenney. They looked bad. They looked like here he was not only doing the work of federal officials, but doing the work of Trump. This is really Trump’s work. For a “progressive” Democrat to be doing the work of Trump, of course, looks very bad.

The encampment then moved to City Hall, where the mayor promptly said he had no plans to evict them. This is only possible, of course, because of the public pressure brought by the occupation, the insistence on staying, but then also, the bad press that came about as a result of the repression of that. This is something that we see pretty consistently in occupations, going back to Occupy.

I did want to go back to Occupy because we are seeing … a resurgence of this tactic — in this case, with a very specific demand to abolish ICE…. You have mayors who came in, sort of taking movement demands and claiming to be more progressive than the people who were in charge when the Occupy encampments were evicted…. But the Occupy ICE encampments are not getting that much nicer treatment from mayors who are supposedly more receptive to movement demands.

Absolutely. You saw something similar during Occupy in the sense that with Democratic governments in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Oakland — the occupations were repressed in the same way, were evicted despite the attempts by those Democratic mayors to spin what it was that they were doing.

What you have seen … is a slightly more progressive brand of Democrats. In Philadelphia, you have Jim Kenney instead of Michael Nutter and you have, at the very least, some kind of reliance on some kind of progressive claims. Jim Kenney has said some slightly progressive things when it comes to mass incarceration and policing. We haven’t seen much change in practice.

We have seen a progressive district attorney, which has made a lot more difference. Those who were just arrested at the Occupy ICE protests were given small citations and were released within an hour. This is kind of unprecedented…. But this question of who the mayor is has definitely allowed those occupations to leverage the claims being made by these progressive Democrats, even if it hasn’t resulted in much in practice.

Moving forward, people are still planning nationwide mobilizations around family separation, but the Abolish ICE demand has really taken off in the last few weeks. It has gone from being a demand of a few fairly far-left immigration organizations to a demand that we are seeing everywhere and that politicians are now sort of signing on to. I am wondering about your thoughts about the growth of this as a demand and then, how folks are moving on it.

I think it is really interesting. I think we are used to abolitionist language seeming really extreme or long-term or pie in the sky, and yet, we have seen this claim take root and spread. Partly because of the real brutality of what ICE is doing and the transparency of what is going on.

I think it is also really important to remember that one of the first things … we should do … is to historicize, to think about the fact that ICE is not that old. ICE is a new institution…. Abolishing it really should not be that difficult. That points both toward the potential and the possibility of this claim to actually come about. I think that is why you see many Democrats, or some Democrats at least, talking about the abolition of ICE, but it also points toward the dangers, because we are in a strange situation where you are talking about abolishing something, but it is really just an intermediate demand because the last thing we want is to see ICE simply replaced by [the Immigration and Naturalization Service], by Border Patrol doing the same exact work or going back to an old status quo, which is not good enough for us.

I think we need to be very careful to tether the demand to abolish ICE to the demand to not replace it. This is actually what a lot of Democrats have been insisting on: “We will find a better replacement.” No. We don’t want any replacement for this. We want to roll back the powers that have been granted even to Border Patrol in recent decades and the dramatic expansion of that agency and the dramatic expansion of its budget and expansion of its ground force on the border. We want a radical transformation, ultimately, that points toward border abolition by the end.

One of the things that has come back up – to sort of link back around to this question of sanctuary cities and the question of local police cooperation with ICE – the argument that is used against things like police and prison abolition is often that it is “unrealistic,” that you can’t do this and that regular people won’t relate to this. It is interesting to see the way that this demand is challenging that whole idea.

Yes, absolutely. If anything, it is too easy to abolish ICE. I don’t mean that to be glib. The struggle is actually going to be a very hard one, but again, we don’t want to get caught up in acting as if that is our ultimate goal and then we get trapped in the mere replacement with something else.

I think what we can do and what we need to do is to constantly present this insistence and this argument that this is a new agency, it didn’t need to exist when it was created after September 11, it doesn’t need to exist now and we need to abolish it on the way to building a different kind of world, on the way to other kinds of abolition. Here, I actually think that what is crucial as well, is to resist, on the one hand, the separation of Black and Brown and immigrant struggles from each other and to actually insist on what we are seeing in policing on the one hand, and ICE and migration and Border Patrol on the other are very similar phenomena and that the abolitionist claim should actually be very much understood in similar ways for both.

We want to abolish the police because we want a very different kind of society and we want to begin to imagine that society through the process of fighting for abolition. We are not going to get abolition right away, but in so far as we push back the power of the police, the power of Border Patrol and ICE, we begin to imagine a very different kind of world.

How can people keep up with you and how can people keep up with the occupation of ICE in Philadelphia?

There is a lot of information on Twitter about the ICE occupation in Philadelphia. #NoICEPHL. Please follow Juntos on Twitter. Also, be aware that what is said on Twitter is not always true when it comes to what is going on — on the ground. So, come out to the occupation, see them. A lot of the drama you hear about is maybe a little overblown and people on the ground are really just working to build and to continue this occupation and to press these demands moving forward.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

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

The post Abolishing ICE Is a First Step Toward Abolishing Borders appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Black Americans’ Median Wealth Could Disappear in One Generation

Thu, 07/12/2018 - 13:48

It’s no secret that, as the saying goes, “The rent is too damn high.” Across the nation, housing is becoming increasingly expensive for many Americans. But the story of the present-day housing crisis is not just a story of rising rents; it’s also a story of systemic racism. Today’s rising housing prices exacerbate the racial wealth gap in the US by making it more difficult for Black people to accumulate wealth since the 2008 recession, thus further decimating Black wealth.

The Racial Wealth Gap

There is a large wealth gap between white families and nonwhite families — a gap that impacts the economic stability of entire communities. According to 2016 Federal Reserve data, median wealth for white families is $171,000. Black and Latino families, meanwhile, have far less wealth: Black families have a median wealth of $17,600, while Latino families have $20,700. 

It would take decades to centuries for Black families to achieve the same amount of wealth that white families have. According to a 2016 report from the Institute for Policy Studies, it would take Black families 228 years to reach the same amount of wealth that white families have today.

The racial wealth gap matters because wealth is an important economic resource and a form of power. Wealth builds and sustains communities. It helps communities weather economic hardships and supports future generations. Those with more wealth can use it to influence the political system, as evidenced by the control wealthy donors and large corporations have on US politics.

The 2008 Recession and Today’s High Rents

The 2007 subprime mortgage crisis and 2008 recession decimated Black wealth. Americans of color were disproportionately targeted and tricked into buying risky subprime mortgage loans. Those loans were converted into risky but lucrative financial securities on Wall Street and garnered huge profits for investment banks. The housing bubble, backed by subprime mortgages, burst, triggering a massive economic recession.

It would take Black families 228 years to reach the same amount of wealth that white families have today.

All Americans saw their wealth decline after the Great Recession in 2008, after the housing market collapse. However, Black and Latino Americans were hurt the most. In 2007, the median net worth of all households was $135,700, according to Pew Research. That dropped to $82,300 in 2010 and $81,400 in 2013. Nonwhite Americans already had less wealth than whites and saw what little wealth they had deplete even more. In 2007, the median net worth of white households was $192,500. White median net worth dropped to $141,900 in 2013. Meanwhile, what little wealth Black and Latino households had prior to the recession was further depleted. In 2007, Black median net worth was $19,200, while Latinos had $23,600 in wealth. Their wealth, in 2013, dropped to $11,000 for Black households and $13,700 for Latinos.

Obama’s homeowner relief measures did very little to provide relief. For example, the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) helped homeowners refinance their mortgages, but only for those not in danger of foreclosure. As a result, it did not help the homeowners most in need, particularly subprime borrowers. This especially hurt Black and Latino borrowers since their refinance rates under HARP were lower.

The post-recession “recovery” has seen an obscene increase in housing prices across the nation. As of this month, according to Zumper, median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is $3,500 a month. But San Francisco isn’t the only expensive city. Median rent for a one-bedroom in New York City is $2,860 a month, in Seattle, $1,990, and in Miami, $1,800. According to a recent RENTCafé report, the national average rent reached $1,405 last month.

Housing prices are also outpacing wages. The median wage for US workers is $30,533.31 a year, according to Social Security Administration data. Today’s minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is not enough to afford a two-bedroom rental home anywhere in the country. Not even $15 an hour is enough for most locations. One would have to make $22.10 an hour, on average, to afford a two-bedroom rental home and $17.90 an hour for a one-bedroom, according to a National Low Income Housing Coalition report.

Because apartment rents and home prices are so high, it is incredibly difficult for young people of color to buy homes and accumulate wealth to pass down to their offspring. University of California, Berkeley, professor and housing expert Carolina Reid told Truthout that renters “are compelled to pay increasingly more of their income on rent, and there’s no wealth gains to be made from rent.”

The median wealth of Black Americans will drop to zero by 2053.

Reid also warned that if someone is struggling to pay rent and their rent continues to increase, they are more likely to take out a predatory loan. In fact, loosely regulated independent mortgage companies are creating half of new mortgages compared to nearly 20 percent in 2007, according to the Brookings Institution — echoing signs of the previous collapse. Many of these loans are to low-income people. Even if another financial crisis does not happen, Reid says, “Your ability to save for a down payment to buy a house in the future is compromised.”

At a recent Fair Housing Act meeting in Concord, California’s City Hall, a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) official told Truthout that, “The effect of the current housing crisis and escalating rents on people’s ability to save to be able to buy a home to begin with is pretty intuitive.” The weak federal homeowner relief combined with today’s high housing prices will make it harder for Black and Latino people to accumulate intergenerational wealth.

While the impact of today’s housing crisis on the racial wealth gap remains to be seen, there is enough evidence to show that it will get worse in the coming years. A 2017 Institute for Policy Studies report found that the median wealth of Black Americans will drop to zero by 2053 and Latino median wealth will drop to zero 20 years after that. Meanwhile, “median white household wealth would climb to $137,000 by 2053.”

What Drives the Racial Wealth Gap?

The most common explanation for what drives the racial wealth gap is lack of Black homeownership. A recent study from Duke University’s Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity dispels several myths about the racial wealth gap — including that homeownership is the driving force.

First, homeownership is one component of wealth. Indeed, wealth or “net worth” is measured by total assets minus total debt. Owning a home is only one of many assets a person or family can have.

Because of slavery and generations of institutional racism, white people were able to accumulate intergenerational wealth while Black people could not.

Even when homeownership is taken into account, white Americans still hold more wealth. The study points out that while wealth is low among non-homeowners, Black households that don’t own homes have a measly $120 in net worth, while non-homeowning white households have $3,775 in net worth. Neither amount is much, but the gap is wide. As for those who do own a home, median net worth for white homeowners is $239,300 compared to $99,840 for Black homeowners.

The authors do not dismiss the idea of increasing Black homeownership as a worthy goal. However, they question the idea that homeownership drives the racial wealth gap. As they point out,

Rather than homeownership creating wealth, having family wealth in the first place leads to homeownership, particularly high equity homeownership … [B]lacks have minimal initial wealth to invest in homes or pass down to their children to assist with down payments…. [W]ithout sufficient wealth in the first place, households have limited means to invest in homeownership. Wealth, after all, begets more wealth.

Since owning a home is a major non-depreciating asset for most US families, homeownership is important for building overall wealth, but it is just one piece of a larger pie. Looking at the racial wealth gap requires more than focusing on homeownership; it also requires looking at other assets and actual home equity. Federal Reserve data show that white households hold far more home equity than Black households — $215,800 among whites, $94,400 among Blacks. Because of slavery and generations of institutional racism, white people were able to accumulate intergenerational wealth while Black people could not.

Slavery and Redlining

The racial wealth gap started with slavery. During the transatlantic slave trade, between 10 and 12 million Black African slaves were kidnapped from West Africa and trafficked to the southeastern United States, the Caribbean and South America.

Slavery was a massive transfer of wealth from Black labor to white capital.

Black African slaves, by definition, were not paid for their labor. Instead, they were legally considered the “property” of their white slave-masters. In addition, slavery was passed down from generation to generation as the children of slaves were legally considered slaves, as well. Because of this, Black slaves could not accumulate wealth to pass down to their descendants. As a result, slavery was a massive transfer of wealth from Black labor to white capital. This transfer of wealth impacted the descendants of African slaves and laid the foundation for a racist hierarchy that relegates Black people to the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. The racial wealth gap is an empirical measure of this.

Moreover, slavery built modern capitalism. Since they were considered property, slaves were bought and sold in international markets. Slaves cultivated important, wealth-generating crops such as, cotton, tobacco and sugar. Additionally, slave labor produced commodities that were sold in markets for profit, a key component of capitalism. Cotton in North America and sugar in the Caribbean were the most valuable commodities. Cheap cotton and sugar produced by slave labor were crucial to building the modern international capitalist economy and the US’s economic power. Capitalism and the West’s wealth were built on the back of slaves.

In fact, Wall Street was originally a slave-trading market where Africans were bought and sold. Slaves also built the wall that gave Wall Street its name. Several major financial institutions profited from the slave trade by providing insurance and financial services to slave-owners. AIG and Aetna provided insurance to slave owners, while predecessor banks to JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo allowed slave owners to use their slaves as collateral when seeking loans. If owners defaulted, the banks often took possession of the slaves.

Wall Street was originally a slave-trading market where Africans were bought and sold.

After slavery, the racial wealth gap went through a metamorphosis in the form of redlining in the 20th century’s first half. Redlining is the systematic denial of financial services such as mortgages or insurance to residents or communities based on their race. During Jim Crow racial segregation, banks and the federal government denied home loans to Black communities, which further decayed their neighborhoods.

Even though the 1968 Fair Housing Act outlawed redlining, it has shaped the economic and racial makeup of today’s neighborhoods. For example, according to a report by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, neighborhoods that were redlined in the 1930s are still predominantly nonwhite, lower-income and economically disenfranchised.

Americans of color are also still denied basic mortgage loans more frequently than white people. A Reveal study found that “black applicants were turned away at significantly higher rates than whites in 48 cities, Latinos in 25, Asians in nine and Native Americans in three.” It points out that across the US, “loan applicants told similar stories, describing an uphill battle with loan officers who they said seemed to be fishing for a reason to say no.”

Because housing is so expensive, there’s been an uptick on tenants’ organizing and housing rights activism across the country. Perhaps the top reform being pushed for, particularly in California, is rent control. However, alleviating the racial wealth gap requires more than expanding rent control. The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) issued a thorough policy proposal for addressing the dearth of Black wealth. M4BL advocates overhauling the tax code to redistribute wealth to the Black community, along with a reparations program. Given the problem’s complexity, there is no “magic bullet” solution, but will seem to require a multitude of policy reforms.

The post Black Americans’ Median Wealth Could Disappear in One Generation appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Trump Administration Misses Deadline to Unite Families

Wed, 07/11/2018 - 15:20

The Trump administration failed to meet a court-imposed deadline Tuesday to reunite all of the children under the age of 5 whom immigration officials took from their parents at the border and then sent to jails and detention centers across the country. Only 38 of the 102 children under 5 have been reunited with their parents, some of whom say their young children did not even recognize them at first after the traumatic, protracted separation. 
On Tuesday, Judge Dana Sabraw reiterated that all separated children—3,000 in total—must be reunited with their parents by July 26, saying, “These are firm deadlines; they are not aspirational goals.” On Tuesday night, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar told CNN that the United States was acting “generously” toward the migrant children. For more, we speak with Lomi Kriel, immigration reporter for the Houston Chronicle, and Barbara Hines, an immigration lawyer and founder of the University of Texas Immigration Law Clinic.

The post Trump Administration Misses Deadline to Unite Families appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Loan Stars

Wed, 07/11/2018 - 14:56

The post Loan Stars appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Trump’s Supreme Court: Capitalism and Democracy Can No Longer Coexist

Wed, 07/11/2018 - 14:50

Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh pushes the Supreme Court towards defending a far-right corporate state, says Henry A. Giroux the author of American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism.

TRANSCRIPT

SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

On Monday, President Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh as his choice to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh is a well-known conservative federal appeals court judge; a former aide to President George W. Bush. He also served as one of the investigators of President Bill Clinton during his impeachment process. As a staunch conservative, Kavanaugh, if confirmed by the Senate, would consolidate the conservative majority on the Supreme Court, moving it significantly to the right. Here is Brett Kavanaugh on his nomination.

BRETT KAVANAUGH: My judicial philosophy is straightforward. A judge must be independent, and must interpret the law, not make the law. A judge must interpret statutes as written, and a judge must interpret the Constitution as written, informed by history, and tradition, and precedent.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, looking back, the retiring Justice Kennedy sometimes sided with the liberal justices on key issues such as abortion rights, affirmative action, gay marriage, the death penalty, and reversing unfair housing discrimination. Here is how Bernie Sanders reacted to the announcement of Brett Kavanaugh as Trump’s Supreme Court choice at a rally on Monday night.

BERNIE SANDERS: Are you ready to defend Roe v. Wade? Look, I am not going to kid anybody. This is a tough fight, but it is a fight that we can win. We have the American people on our side. Now we’ve got to go state by state by state to make sure that senators do what their constituents want.

SHARMINI PERIES: Joining me now to analyze the meaning of Trump’s choice for Supreme Court is Henry Giroux. Henry is the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest. His most recent book is “American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism.” Thanks for joining us, Henry.

HENRY GIROUX: Oh, it’s always a pleasure.

SHARMINI PERIES: Henry, let’s start with getting your thoughts on this naming of someone like Brett Kavanaugh, who was proposed to Trump by the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society to replace Anthony Kennedy.

HENRY GIROUX: Well, I think the fact that he was both proposed by Trump and vetted by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation tells us almost all of what we really need to know about him. He’s an ultra conservative. I mean, he’s a guy who honestly believes in what we might call an expansive view of presidential power. He argues that, he’s argued that sitting presidents should be immune from civil suits and criminal prosecutions. He’s against worker rights. He’s basically against, certainly he is against abortion rights. And in my estimation he’s basically the culmination of a government that has increasingly under Trump moved so far to the right that it has now combined an almost immune function of corporate power with an attack on civil rights.

I think that this is truly a disaster. I mean, I think that it’s-. And he certainly will be confirmed. I find it hard to believe he won’t be. But I think that what the United States is in for in the next 20 or 30 years is a court that will be so right-wing, and represents such an enormous threat to civil rights, to civil justice, to social justice, to economic equality, that the issue will no longer be whether, you know, we can do something with the Supreme Court. The real issue would be, is to recognize that capitalism and democracy are not the same thing anymore, and that we really need to think about what it means to put a new political party and social formation into place that could really address the real needs of people in ways that matter.

SHARMINI PERIES: Speaking of capitalism, Kavanaugh has a long record of favoring capitalism, business interests, corporate interests. He has said to be a solid opponent of net neutrality, for example. And at the same time, he also has a record of opposing government regulation of all kinds. He’s into deregulation. And one prominent case, he said that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is unconstitutional. So where do you think he will lead the nation through his decisions?

HENRY GIROUX: I think that, you know, if the political state is being replaced by the corporate state, it seems to me that Trump is really found his man. I mean, this is a guy who really believes in some way that the only form of power that matters is the power consolidated, held, and exercised by the financial elite. I mean, this guy is truly an apostle of the worst forms of neoliberalism. And in many ways, you combine that with his support for concentrated political power in the hands of the presidency, and it’s, it seems to me as if Trump has really found his man.

I mean, he wants to criminalize abortion, as we’ve talked about. He wants to basically undo any sense of opposition against corporate power. He wants as much as he can deaden and undermine civil rights. I mean, he’s against net neutrality. I mean, what is it that he’s for that has any relationship at all to the manners of democracy? I mean, he doesn’t even use the word democracy. I mean, he’s a guy who hangs out with dictators. He alienates the leaders of the liberal, of the Western alliances. And now he’s picked a judge who basically is a function of a kind of market logic, a judge who’s been outsourced by basically the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation, as outsourcing avenues in order to choose him. Maybe that’s all we really need to know.

SHARMINI PERIES: Henry, while he is a big believer in presidential power, he was involved in the impeachment of Bill Clinton, and the investigations that went on with the case involving Monica Lewinsky. What do you make of that?

HENRY GIROUX: I think that just speaks to his own ideological architecture. I mean, I think that basically he’s a far-rightist, and that, you know, he moved with the ideology. I mean, he was, of course was working for Ken Starr. He was a Republican, he was an extremist, and he wanted to see the president, a Democratic president, impeached. So this notion that, you know-. I mean, I think that when it comes to in some way allowing the government to get away with interest that would serve the corporate elite, he’d be fine. To serve a Republican president, I don’t think he’d have any trouble whatsoever. I mean, the point that I’m making is I don’t think that his principles are so static that he can’t allow, he can’t adjust them to particular ideological perceptions. And in this case, the ideological perception was on the side of the right. You know, let’s impeach a Democratic president.

I think in the future, certainly under Trump, his ideological perceptions will change again. And what we’ll see is, in my estimation, a Supreme Court judge who will do everything he can to make sure that Trump is not impeached. And don’t believe for a minute that that wasn’t a question that had to be vetted when, when he was being interrogated by the Federalist Society and by, it would seem to me, the Heritage Foundation. There’s no way that the Russian investigation and its potential consequences could not have come up in that interview. And we can only assume what his answer must have been.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. So, fully aware of that, Henry, it seems that the Senate Democrats face a difficult hurdle in blocking Kavanaugh, knowing that Trump nominated him in order to protect his own presidency. Now, the Democrats are stuck here, in terms of being able to challenge this nomination. What strategies could they engage in order to resist this?

HENRY GIROUX: Well, I think that [Trump] is going to put an enormous amount of pressure on those six or seven Democrats in the past that voted for Trump nominees. I mean, six for Haspel, and seven for, was it Pompeo? Pompeo. Some of these Democrats basically are, Senators are in red states. And the question is not simply are the Republicans, the Republican senators who support abortion rights not going to vote for this candidate. The real issue to me is whether these Democrats are going to buckle in the face of that nomination.

I don’t have a lot of faith in Schumer being able to put that much pressure on them. I think that we might be surprised at the number of Democrats who actually vote for him.

SHARMINI PERIES: Yeah, as we were in the case involving Gorsuch’s appointment. All right, Henry, I thank you so much for joining us for now, but this is going to be an ongoing discussion for the next few months. I thank you so much for joining us.

HENRY GIROUX: It’s always a pleasure. Thank you for having me on.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.

The post Trump’s Supreme Court: Capitalism and Democracy Can No Longer Coexist appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Lots of Things That Impact Our Food System Come From the Farm Bill

Wed, 07/11/2018 - 14:48
Janine Jackson interviewed Patty Lovera about the undercovered farm bill for the June 29, 2018, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

Janine Jackson: After House Republicans passed their Farm Bill, reportedly the first time the critical measure — involving everything from nutrition assistance to crop subsidies — has passed either chamber with only single-party support, Donald Trump tweeted, “Farm Bill just passed in the House. So happy to see work requirements included. Big win for the farmers!”

Among other things, Trump doesn’t mean farmers like the Callahan family, profiled in Civil Eats, small farmers in South Carolina who not only qualify for SNAP — the food assistance program Trump is crowing over making harder to access — but who benefit also from programs Republicans would cut, that encourage the farmers’ markets where the family make much of their income, including selling to people who pay with SNAP benefits.

The Senate version pushes back on some of that, but does that make it good? And what else should we know about what’s likely to be in the final legislation, due by the end of September? Patty Lovera is the assistant director of Food and Water Watch. She coordinates the food team. She joins us now by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Patty Lovera.

Patty Lovera: Hi, thanks for having me.

There’s so many elements to this $860 billion legislation, it’s easy to miss things. We’ve seen some attention — and rightly so — on what was apparently the House Democrats’ sticking point, the restrictions that Republicans want to add to SNAP. I want to get to other things, too, but what is your sense of whether this very familiar, punitive, non-evidence-based stuff, to do with Food Assistance Programs — is that going to make it through conference, do you think?

That is the question. You know, every five years or so, give or take a year, we do a Farm Bill, and in the last several cycles, this has been the really big question. And last time, which was the 2012 Farm Bill, which didn’t actually get finished til 2014, a lot of the sticking point was this question. And it’s become this ideological battle over the role of the government in providing some kind of safety net. And, really, the biggest safety net for most families that is left — after welfare reform in the ’90s, and lots of other changes — the most common safety net at this point, for lots of folks, is SNAP, which is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides some assistance, cash assistance, for people to buy food.

The marriage between providing some assistance to people through food stamps or SNAP was supposed to keep urban and suburban members of the House interested in this bill, even if they didn’t need farm programs. What we’re going to see in the Senate is, the margin is so close they can’t pass the bill with just one party, like they did in the House. And so the hope for dialing back this aggressive attack on SNAP really comes from the Senate.

With the focus on that, and as I say, it’s deserved, to explode the rationales behind this punitive stuff, but there’s other stuff, a whole lot of other stuff, in the Farm Bill. And I just wonder if you could tell us about some of the other points of concern that maybe are being less openly discussed.

Sure, you’re right. The fight over the safety net program of SNAP has really dominated the discussion, even justifiably. And it’s also the biggest expenditure under this bill, by a huge margin; it’s like 75 to 80 percent of the spending. But lots and lots and lots of things that impact the way our food system operates come from the Farm Bill. I think if you’re not involved in farming, people don’t realize the extent to which the government is involved in this industry, in this marketplace.

Whether it’s something you would call a “subsidy” to a farmer who’s growing corn or soybeans, or it’s crop insurance, the government is involved in those programs. Research into the environmental impacts of different farming practices, support to give farmers to do different environmental practices, to improve water quality or adapt to climate change — there’s a lot of moving parts of this thing. If the bill doesn’t happen on time, by September 30, some of those programs, especially, a lot of people call them the “tiny but mighty” programs that help people transition to organic agriculture, or help young farmers get started, or help people use food stamps at a farmers’ market, a lot of those programs are written that they expire if the Farm Bill expires. So there is damage that is done if this process breaks down.

We see, sort of, the country moving in one direction. Folks who are able to are looking to eat healthier, who are looking to eat in a sustainable way, who are looking to eat more locally. All these things are happening, and yet consumer power doesn’t play out the way you might think it will. When the crops that have the biggest environmental impact don’t really — you know, it’s not the green beans that you’re getting at the market from upstate.

Yeah, our food system looks the way it looks for a lot of reasons, and a lot of those reasons are policy. I don’t think any of us voted to have this unhealthy, environmentally damaging system. And if you listen to the ideology around, “Well, if you don’t like the food system, it’s because that’s what you’re voting for with your dollars” — it’s more complicated than that.

Farmers grow what they can sell, and in Nebraska, there’s not enough people to buy direct from them if they just switched to green beans, right? So we have commodity markets, we have very elaborate systems that big corporations have designed, and they have designed our farm policy to support them. And actually, in those markets for these commodity crops — corn and soybeans and dairy — farmers are having yet another terrible year. We’re going four and five years into terrible farm prices. And when you add to that all of this confusion being caused by the Trump administration’s daily changes of trade policy, there’s a lot of chaos and there’s a lot of fear, and what we’re getting from Congress is the same old thing: The House is just waging welfare reform disguised as a Farm Bill, and the Senate’s doing the same old thing. And it really isn’t fixing a lot of the problems we have, which is a really corporate-controlled system that drives people to overproduce these crops.

And that’s just what I wanted to get to, because I think in a lot of areas of life right now, folks are trying to have really an alternate vision, to not just rail against what is, but to put forward, you know, “We could do things differently.” And the food system, of course, is a hugely important piece of that, or could be, and if we want to have a system that serves the most people the healthiest food, and allows people who grow that food to have a life, how fundamental a shift would that require? Is that something that you can do through politics?

We can. It’s a good question. We can. We just haven’t done it for a lot of years. And at the core of it, again, it’s ideological. In the New Deal era into the ‘70s and ‘80s, we had a lot of policies that dealt with the fact that farmers act on their own. Your individual inclination as a farmer is to produce as much as you can, right? And even if you don’t make a lot for every bushel of corn, maybe you’ll make it up by selling more bushels. When you add that up together across all those farmers, that’s a disaster economically, because you have so much corn the price goes down.

So we used to have a lot of policies that, when you knitted them together, there was multiple moving parts. We used to have a price floor, which is like a minimum wage, to say the price of corn will just not go below X. We used to pay farmers to not farm some acres, say, you know, “It’s near water, you’re going to lose all your soil, don’t farm there, we’ll pay you a little rent not to.” We used to have a reserve. If there was too much corn, we’d get it off the market to help the price for farmers a little bit.

All of those things together dealt with kind of this natural inclination to just overproduce, which is the natural human inclination. We’ve chipped away at those over the years through things like Farm Bills. We don’t have them, and now we have too much of a lot of these things. We have bad prices for farmers and so, “Oh, now we do a little thing where maybe they can get crop insuranceto maybe make up for some of that.” But instead what we do is, we look for other places to dump these foods, and maybe it’s corn syrup in everything, maybe it’s that we put cheese in the crust of the pizza, because we have so much milk we’ve got to find places to put the cheese, and we also do it through our trade policy. So all of these fights about yelling at Canada, because they have a system that protects their dairy farmers, rather than ruin the economics of the Canadian dairy farmers, maybe we can talk about why we have so much milk here, we have to find places to dump it.

We’ll end on that note. There’s clearly much more to be discussed here, and we’ll follow this bill as it makes it way through conference by — it’s really got to be the end of September, right?

Mitch McConnell says he wants to do it by July Fourth. The current bill expires at the end of September. They can extend it. They’ve done it before to keep these programs running. But they do wave that deadline around. So we’ll see what happens as we get into the heat of the summer.

We’ve been speaking with Patty Lovera of Food and Water Watch. They’re online at FoodAndWaterWatch.org. Thanks so much, Patty Lovera, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

Thanks for having me.

The post Lots of Things That Impact Our Food System Come From the Farm Bill appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Pre-Existing Conditions: The Age Group Most Vulnerable if Coverage Goes Away

Wed, 07/11/2018 - 14:42

A widely shared New Yorker cartoon heralded “70 as the new 50” with the implications that being 50 was a joyous and healthy age. More than 10 years later, we are seeing that being in one’s 50s may have its drawbacks, at least in terms of current American political debates around repealing key provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

Coverage for pre-existing conditions, which has reduced the uninsured rate by an estimated 22 percent, has been a cornerstone of the ACA. It is generally viewed as the most popular element of ACA by proponents and opponents alike.

But now, that coverage is imperiled by proposed challenges to mandated health insurance coverage. The Justice Department in June supported lawsuits filed by attorneys generals in 20 states that claim that coverage for pre-existing conditions was eliminated when the administration’s tax bill was passed in December 2017. In that bill, Congress repealed the penalty, starting in 2019, for people who do not have health coverage.

While the jury is still out on the ultimate fate of the ACA, dismantling preexisting coverage would be particularly troubling for those in their 50s and early 60s who have not yet reached 65, the age at which most people become eligible for Medicare.

As a researcher focused on public health and aging issues, I think it’s important that health care needs for our aging population be viewed within a broader family and societal context. Additionally, it’s important to recognize that aging is a lifelong process. Health and well-being in the later years are largely determined by what are known as the social determinants of health, or factors within a society that influence a person’s health. These factors include such things as race, ethnicity, education, income, employment and even neighborhood environments.

I research these social determinants and how they affect people’s access to health care and their health. I see several issues at the intersection of aging, health, and health care policy and research that can inform this debate.

Far-Reaching Consequences

According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation report, it is likely that more than a quarter of American adults under age 65 have pre-existing health conditions that would make them uninsurable for individual market coverage under pre-ACA underwriting practices. But it is the near-elderly, or those those 55 to 64 and who number more than 40 million, who would be most affected.

[CHART]

Upwards of 80 percent of persons in the 55 to 64 age group have conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart conditions, asthma/chronic lung disease, diabetes, cancer or behavioral health disorders that would affect their qualification for insurance. This generation, also referred to as “Generation Jones,” are one generation behind those already eligible for Medicare and hence less affected by such policy changes. Those in Generation Jones because of their health and employment status are likely to be most impacted if mandates against pre-existing exclusions are overturned.

Chronic Diseases Increase With Age

Most chronic conditions are aging-related, meaning they are more prevalent in the later years of life. However, chronic disease rates start accelerating in mid-life. About 50 percent of people between 45 and 64 have multiple chronic conditions, compared to 18 percent among those 18-44 years of age. The early onset and progression of unchecked obesity-related common chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer, are linked to increased governmental health care costs once eligible for Medicare.

Without access to health care, the near-elderly are less likely to take advantage of proven clinical preventive services, such as mammograms, influenza vaccines or counseling to increase physical activity and referrals to community exercise programs, that can help detect many chronic conditions, delay their onset or reduce disease progression and further complications.

The negative consequences of health care coverage policy changes, while concentrated among the near-elderly, will not be universal. Public health experts note that effects will be more pronounced among those with lower incomes or racial and ethnic minorities. These groups are likely to find it most difficult to obtain affordable insurance if pre-existing conditions were grounds for denying coverage.

Why the Joneses Are So Vulnerable

On the surface, Generation Jones may look like a more stable group relative to younger groups in terms of workforce participation and insurability. However, many in Generation Jones have less access to coverage than the first wave of boomers who have already crossed into the Medicare safety net.

Concerns about job security have always been a hallmark for Generation Jones. Low-income Joneses are especially vulnerable being in jobs without adequate health care coverage. Or, even if currently covered by employee health insurance, Joneses are at risk of losing coverage if they lose their jobs or decide to retire before 65. Despite recent upticks in the economy, people 55 and older if unemployed still find it harder to find comparable jobs

Rescinding or denying health care coverage for pre-existing conditions impacts Joneses and their family members too. An estimated 50 percent of Americans live in households where a family member would be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions. Concerns about health care coverage are impacting critical life choices for families. Even those who are Medicare age are reluctant to retire because they want to keep employee-sponsored health care coverage for their younger spouses who have pre-existing conditions.

Solutions for the Near-Elderly

Many think tank institutes and aging advocacy groups, such as AARP, are calling attention to the probable plight of the near-elderly if protections for pre-existing conditions are eliminated in future health care insurance policy mandates – reiterating many arguments heard in the early 2000s.

I believe it is critically important to keep these issues in the forefront, especially as policies are being debated. Generation Jones may not be as visible as their older baby boomer siblings, but they have the potential to be active players in this debate, as they have already demonstrated in prior elections.

Our society can not overlook untoward consequences for those in the 55-64 age group who become uninsurable. Moreover, I do not think the bigger policy questions can be ignored. For example, will saving money today result in short-term savings that only push the costs of care to another funding stream when Generation Jones become eligible for Medicare?

It is hard to imagine protection for pre-existing coverage for those 55-64 being overturned given the universal appeal of this mandate and the policy reports already being generated. The current health care coverage debate is part of a larger public health discussion about the health and productivity of future generations of Americans. The last wave of the baby boomers – Generation Jones – will not turn 65 and reach Medicare eligibility for another 10 years. Thus, I believe an enduring solution is needed now to address this long-term problem for the current group of near-elderly.

The post Pre-Existing Conditions: The Age Group Most Vulnerable if Coverage Goes Away appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Court Reaffirms Bayou Bridge Pipeline to Cut Through Atchafalaya Basin

Wed, 07/11/2018 - 14:14

A day before a federal court reaffirmed Bayou Bridge LLC could keep building an oil pipeline through Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Basin, I stood on a cypress tree stump there, viewing the destroyed trees which pipeline opponents were trying to save. 

On both sides of the Bayou Bridge pipeline’s right-of-way, a path of shredded trees cut through the massive river swamp — the nation’s largest — home to abundant wildlife and fishing grounds for wild crawfish. 

On July 6, a three-judge panel of the US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers properly granted a permit for the 162.5 mile pipeline that cuts through the basin, a National Heritage Area. The decision reverses a lower court’s ruling that temporarily blocked the pipeline’s construction ahead of a hearing challenging the Army Corps decision to issue a permit through the basin. 

The controversial pipeline is being built by Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, the same company behind the Dakota Access pipeline. The Louisiana pipeline will serve as the tail end of a network starting with Dakota Access that will transport crude oil from North Dakota to the Gulf Coast for refining and potential export. 

Construction of the pipeline across southern Louisiana from Lake Charles, near the Texas border, to a railway terminal in St. James, next to the banks of the Mississippi River, is already more than three-quarters complete. According to Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC attorneys, the pipeline is expected to be finished by October this year. 

Bayou Bridge Pipeline right-of-way on July 5.Julie Dermansky / Desmog BlogTrees splintered to clear the way for the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in the Atchafalaya Basin.Julie Dermansky / Desmog Blog

A Case to Protect the Basin’s Unique Habitat

Judge Thomas Reavley dissented from the 2–1 decision. Reavley found flaw with the Army Corps’ justifications for granting the permit through the basin without a more in-depth environmental impact study. 

The recent ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm, in federal court on January 11 against the Army Corps of Engineers. Suing on behalf of the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, the Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association-West, Gulf Restoration Network, the Waterkeeper Alliance, and the Sierra Club, Earthjustice asserts the Corps acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” when it issued a permit for the pipeline. The suit alleges that the Corps violated the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws when it approved a permit for the project.

The plaintiffs claim the pipeline could hurt the commercial crawfishing industry and wildlife in the area by interfering with the basin’s water flow. In addition, they say it could weaken the basin’s natural flood protection for millions of people in the Mississippi River Valley and coastal Louisiana.

The lawsuit claims the Army Corps has failed to hold oil and gas companies in the basin accountable for countless permit violations for existing pipelines and wells, which have contributed to the degradation of the basin’s wetlands. It asks the court to overturn the permit until the Corps enforces permits for oil and gas pipeline companies that are out of compliance in the basin already.

US District Judge Shelly Dick issued a temporary injunction halting work on the pipeline on February 28. Her ruling was a short-lived victory for the pipeline opponents. Her order was suspended by the 5th District Court in New Orleans on March 15, pending a final decision by the appeals court in Houston, Texas. This action allowed the company to resume construction, which it promptly did. 

The latest appeals court ruling states that Dick “misperceived the applicable regulations” governing the USNational Environmental Policy Act when issuing a preliminary injunction in February that temporarily stopped construction. 

The appeals court has now returned the case to Judge Dick, who will reconsider the merits of the lawsuit. However, the case likely won’t by heard until after the pipeline construction is complete. 

“We are disappointed in the decision but the fight to protect the Atchafalaya from risky and harmful crude oil pipelines will continue,” Jan Hasselman, Earthjustice lead counsel in the case, said in a statement following the ruling. “It is time for the oil industry to stop treating this special place — and the many people who rely on it for their livelihoods — as a national sacrifice area.”  

Dean Wilson, executive director of the environmental group Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, was also disappointed but not surprised by the ruling. 

“With little to no enforcement from the Corps, pipeline companies have already devastated our coast and our Atchafalaya Basin, destroying some of the most amazing ecosystems on Earth, putting millions of people at greater risk of flooding, and making countless coastal communities inhabitable by humans,” Wilson said after the ruling. 

“The Corps doesn’t even have a boat,” Wilson pointed out, which he said means the agency has to rely on crawfishers and environmental groups like the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper to alert it to compliance failures by the oil and gas industry in the basin.

Monitoring the Atchafalaya Basin

It was during Wilson’s last trip into the basin to monitor the pipeline’s construction on July 5 that I saw the pulverized trees and heard more trees being ground up in the distance. 

View of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline right-of-way from the banks of Bayou Chene in the Atchafalaya Basin on July 5.Julie Dermansky / Desmog Blog

On a previous trip on May 31, we stopped at an area on state land already cleared of trees along the pipeline right-of-way. Wilson measured the width of the clearing in three places and found each site he measured exceeded the Bayou Bridge pipeline’s permit, which limits the right-of-way in wetlands to 75 feet.  

Dean Wilson checking the width of the clearing for the Bayou Bridge Pipeline’s right-of-way on May 31.Julie Dermansky / Desmog BlogDeer in the basin near the Bayou Bridge Pipeline right-of-way on May 31.Julie Dermansky / Desmog Blog

The Atchafalaya Basinkeeper and the Gulf Restoration Network addressed the alleged permit violations found on that trip in a letter sent to the Army Corps on June 1.

It followed a letter sent on May 9 that indicated additional potential permit violations observed by the two environmental groups and the Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association-West during overflights of the area and multiple boat trips taken since construction began at the end of January. 

Though the pipeline will likely be done before a final ruling on the lawsuit is reached, Earthjustice asserts that if the court eventually rules in favor of the plaintiffs, shutting down the pipeline could be an option.

“Last week’s ruling reopens the door to more business-as-usual in the Atchafalaya Basin,” Mish Mitchell of the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper told me after the ruling. “But we keep fighting, in this case and for the Atchafalaya Basin — we will always trudge ahead to protect this unique place for future generations to enjoy.” 

The post Court Reaffirms Bayou Bridge Pipeline to Cut Through Atchafalaya Basin appeared first on Truthout.

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