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

Sat, 03/10/2018 - 05:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They might elect someone worse? Hard to imagine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: News

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

Sat, 03/10/2018 - 05:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Categories: News

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

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 05:00

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

Please check back later for full transcript.


Categories: News

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

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 05:00

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

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

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

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 05:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: News

God Wills It! The War on Terror as the Launching of an American Crusade

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 05:00

 Spc. Micah E. Clare / US Army) A paratrooper watches as an aircraft flies overhead while dropping supplies in Paktika Province, Afghanistan, November 9, 2007. (Photo: Spc. Micah E. Clare / US Army)

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The US may be sinking ever deeper into the moral morass of the Trump era, but if you think the malevolence of this period began with him, think again. The moment I still dwell on, the moment I believe ignited the vast public disorder that is now our all-American world, has been almost completely forgotten here.  And little wonder.  It was no more than a casually tossed-off cliché, a passing historical reference whose implications and consequences meant nothing to the speaker. "This crusade," said President George W. Bush just days after the 9/11 attacks, "this war on terrorism…"

That, however, proved to be an invocation from hell, one that set the stage for so much of the horror to follow.  The Crusades were, of course, a centuries-long medieval catastrophe. Bush's Global War on Terror, in contrast, has already wreaked comparable havoc in a paltry 17 years, leading to almost unimaginable mayhem abroad and a moral collapse at home personified by President Donald J. Trump.

Despite the threads of causality woven together as if on some malignant loom that brought about his election -- the cult of reality-show celebrity, the FBI director's last-minute campaign intervention, Russian mischief, Hillary Clinton's vulnerability to self-defeat and misogyny, electoral college anomalies, Republican party nihilism, and a wickedly disenchanted public -- the ease with which such a figure took control of the levers of power in this country should still stun us. Some deep sickness of the soul had already played havoc with our democracy, or Trump wouldn’t have been imaginable.  Think of him as a symptom, not the disease. After Trump finally leaves the Oval Office, we'll still be a stricken people and the world will still be groaning under the weight of the wreckage this country has brought about. How, then, did we actually get here?  It might be worth a momentary glance back.

A Fever Dream of a War

"This is a new kind of evil."  So said the president that September 16th, standing on the South Lawn of the White House.  "And the American people are beginning to understand. This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while." In that way, only five days after the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush elevated a band of petty nihilists to the status of world-historic warriors. "And the American people must be patient," he continued. "I'm going to be patient."

He, of course, is long gone, but what he initiated that day is still unspooling. It could have been so different. September 11th was a tragic moment, but the initial reactions of most Americans to those collapsed towers and a damaged Pentagon were ones of empathy and patriotism.  The selflessness of first responders that day had its echo in a broad and surprising manifestation of national altruism. The usual left-right divides of politics disappeared and the flag, for once, became a true symbol of national unity. The global reaction was similar. From across the world, including from erstwhile adversaries like Russia and China, came authentic expressions of support and sympathy, of grief-struck affection.

But in every phrase the president would speak in those weeks -- "this is war… with us or against us… dead or alive" -- he chose to take this country on quite a different path into the future.

Two days before invoking the Crusades, for instance, he presided over a religious service, which, though officially defined as "ecumenical," took place in the neo-Gothic National Cathedral. "Just three days removed from these events," he said from that church's pulpit, "Americans do not yet have the distance of history. But our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil… This conflict was begun on the timing and terms of others. It will end in a way and at an hour of our choosing."

In a specifically Christian setting, that is, George W. Bush answered the criminal attacks of 9/11 not by calling on international law enforcement to bring the perpetrators to justice, but by a declaration of cosmic war aimed at nothing less than the elimination of Islamist evil. Labeling it a "crusade" only underscored the subliminal but potent message conveyed by television cameras that lingered on the cathedral's multiple crucifixes and the bloodied figure of Jesus Christ. Held up for all to see, that sacred icon sent a signal that could not be missed. A self-avowed secular nation was now to be a crusader, ready to display the profoundly Christian character of a culture erected on triumphalist pieties from its Pilgrim roots to the nuclear apocalypticism of the Cold War.

Bush's message was received in the Arab world just as you might expect.  There, his reference to "this crusade" was rendered as "this War of the Cross." Even then, many Muslims knew better than to regard the president's characterization of the conflict to come as purely accidental and of no import, just as they would later disregard the insistence of America's leaders that their country's violent intrusions across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa were not "religiously" inspired in any way. Today, of course, Donald Trump's brazen denigrations of Muslims have made clear just how on target observers in the Islamic world were about what lay behind Washington's new "global war."

At the time of Bush's cavalier use of crusade, I was one of the few here to take offense and say so. I feared even then that stumbling into sectarian strife, into -- in the argot of the day -- a "clash of civilizations," could set in motion, as the original Crusades had, a dynamic that would far outrun anyone's intentions, loosing forces that could destroy the very principles in whose name that "war of choice" was declared. Little did I know how far short of an accurate damage assessment my thoughts would fall.

In fact, Bush's use of that term wasn't a stumble, however inadvertent, but a crystal-clear declaration of purpose that would soon be aided and abetted by a fervent evangelical cohort within the US military, already primed for holy war. With what Bush himself called "the distance of history," it's now possible to see the havoc his "crusade" is still wreaking across much of the globe: Iraq and Afghanistan are in ruins; Syria destroyed (with RussianAmericanIsraeliTurkish, and Iranian warplanes testing one another in its airspace); Yemen gripped by a war-induced famine; the Turks at the throat of the Kurds; the Israeli-Palestinian peace process dead; Libya a failed state; US Special Ops garrisons in Somalia, Niger, and across Africa; and Europe increasingly politically destabilized by refugee flows from these conflicts. Meanwhile, Bush's crusade became the American disease now peaking in the fever dream of President Donald Trump.

Exercises in Apocalyptic Millennialism, Then and Now

The actual Crusades were a multi-phased series of wars waged in the name of God.  They began in 1096 and continued intermittently for almost two centuries until 1291. By the time the Crusading era drew to a close, moral values had been trashed; a nascent structure of capitalism had infused the new economy of Europe with greed; a dark inclination toward mass violence was seething in European consciousness; and the militarization of religion was taken for granted. The mayhem of modernity followed.

To believe that killing could be holy, Christians first had to accept that God willed such violence.  So they constructed a theology in which He would ordain the bloody death not just of evil-doers (a favorite word of George W. Bush), but of His only begotten Son, whose suffering alone could "atone" for human sin. The instrument of Christ's saving death, the cross, soon became sacred and an emblem of war against Muslims. The Crusaders would wear it proudly on their tunics and shields. This violent theology of "atonement" would sear the religious imagination of Christians forever after, making them all too ready to kill in the name of God. Long before the war on terror, whether explicitly or implicitly, such a theology had come to justify and often motivate similar American campaigns of killing, starting with King Phillip's War, launched by Puritan colonists against the native peoples who had welcomed them to Plymouth. (God wills it!)

The Crusades themselves began with an urge to take back the holy city of Jerusalem from the Saracen infidel.  As Western civilization jelled in the crusading centuries, Europe became fixed on Islam as its existential negative-other. This fixation -- what scholar Edward Said called  "Orientalism" -- still undergirds the identity of the West, which is why an anti-Muslim war, fueled by anti-Muslim prejudice, turns out to fit the American Century like a mailed fist in a velvet glove.

As Said suggested, European Christian contempt for the "Orientals" of the Levant soon leached into other God-sanctioned projects, especially once the age of the Crusades had given way to the age of exploration. Recall Christopher Columbus's three crossed-marked caravels, the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María, as they set out from Spain for the New World, soon enough to be followed by the wooden vessels of other European powers.  It didn't take long before native peoples globally began to fall victim, often genocidally so, to gun-toting European adventurers and slave traders who had learned to think of themselves as "white." Though Donald Trump has no more idea of such roots of contempt for the Muslim world than George Bush did, he has successfully lifted the relit torch of race hatred yet higher.

The Crusades were an exercise in apocalyptic millennialism, a hot current that also runs just below the surface of twenty-first-century American martial ardor. Is it only an accident that the first Crusade and Bush's were both keyed to the turning of a millennium? After the year 1000, a Biblical mythology attached to Jerusalem fueled frenzied End Time expectations that culminated in the never-ending war for that city and a European obsession with it ever since. The first purpose of the primordial Holy War of that era was Jerusalem's rescue from the Muslim infidel; no one should be surprised that, 11 centuries later, the establishment of an American embassy there remains a flashpoint for the anti-Muslim crusade of the present moment.

More generally, the excesses of the American reaction to 9/11 had an edge of millennial dread from the beginning.  The endlessly replayed footage of the collapsing World Trade Center towers had the look and feel of an atomic attack on America (hence the almost instant labeling of the site as "Ground Zero," a term previously reserved for nuclear explosions).  Those scenes plucked unconscious chords strung deep in the American psyche, ones the president promptly played on.  A few days after 9/11, he went before Congress to declare that "God is not neutral" and so claimed for his administration the mantle of being God's purifying agent.

Almost a year later, before a throng of West Point cadets, he was still at it, insisting that "we are in a conflict between good and evil and America will call evil by its name." In such a conflict, of course, outcomes are no longer to be measured by real consequences in the lives of actual human beings, but by the transcendent will of God (or, in his stead, the "sole superpower" of planet Earth) to whom actual human beings can naturally be sacrificed.

"For much of the last century," Bush declared in his Crusader-style West Point address, "America's defense relied on Cold War doctrines of deterrence and containment… But new threats also require new thinking." A hard-won twentieth-century assumption that Washington must, in the end, take the path of the lesser evil had, by then, already been summarily replaced by a determination to simply obliterate evil altogether. Deterrence and containment had saved the human species from nuclear apocalypse, but for the country's new apocalyptic encounter with "terrorism" such modes were obviously insufficiently absolute.

And when a nation's purpose becomes the cosmic destruction of evil, anything goes -- as it has in the American Crusade. Hence the jettisoning of the Geneva Accords, the embrace of torture, the obliteration of prisoners' rights, the abuses that live on in the unchecked intrusions of government surveillance, or in what Americans are too polite to call the concentration camp at Guantánamo that Donald Trump so devoutly desires to keep open and running.

The Crusading appetite for enemies is insatiable, which is why, in the Middle Ages, the war against Islam morphed so seamlessly into wars against, first, the Rhineland Jews in Europe's early pogroms; then, Eastern Orthodox believers whose cities, including Constantinople, were besieged and sacked; and finally, Catholic dissenters (think "heretics") like the Albigensians and Cathars who were brutally eliminated.

In America's version of such enemy-creep, the war against the al-Qaeda network quickly morphed into a "war" against terror groups in more than 60 nations, starting with Afghanistan and the Taliban, and within a year and a half Saddam Hussein's Iraq, a country and regime utterly unrelated to al-Qaeda. From there, it was on to Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Niger, the Philippines, and parts as yet unknown.

When George W. Bush delivered his State of the Union address four months after 9/11, he redefined America's main enemies as -- again that word -- an "axis of evil," consisting of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea.  By then, it already mattered not at all that Shiite Iran had nothing to do with the Sunni sect led by Osama bin Laden; that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11; and that North Korea had not the remotest connection to the September crisis that so traumatized the United States. Once named in this way, the leaders of Iran and North Korea, now knowing that, in American eyes, they were the fonts of (almost) all evil, could, of course, be expected to take immediate measures to brace themselves against future American aggression -- and so they did with nuclear programs that still are at the heart of the aggressively militarized policies being pushed by Donald Trump and his generals today (and with a future war in either of those countries a distinct possibility).

However, the most salient echo of the medieval Crusades in contemporary US military campaigns comes under the heading of failure. For all the romance associated with the knights-in-shining-armor of that era, their God-willed liberation of the Holy City in 1099 did not survive the Muslim reconquest of 1187, a Christian defeat that would make the English king, Richard the Lionheart, a mythic figure, and guarantee Jerusalem's place in the lost-cause fantasies of Europe forever after. (It was a defeat that would not be avenged until 1917, when Field Marshal Edmund Allenby finally reclaimedJerusalem for Christians, with catastrophic consequences for Jews and Muslims alike.) America's failures in the Middle East, despite Pentagon rhetoric about the US military's "full spectrum dominance," have been no less obvious and no less total on a planet that can no longer tolerate decades, no less centuries, of war.

Licensing a War Against Evil

George W. Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq remains a marker of virtue (and vice) in contemporary American politics. Those few legislators who were against the invasion still wear their votes of opposition as badges of honor, while those in favor were permanently shamed. (And think of how that played out in the 2016 presidential campaign.)  But that's far too convenient a way to replay our recent history.  In fact, the die had already been cast long before that vote, which meant that the invasion of Iraq followed the invasion of Afghanistan as inevitably as wakes follow warships.  After all, Operation Enduring Freedom, supposedly meant to target Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network of a few hundred fighters, began with a massive bombing campaign across large parts of Afghanistan. The unquestioning faith of the U.S. Air Force in the long-discredited tactic of “strategic” bombing would be touching if it didn’t involve such obliviousness to its effects on human bodies -- and almost 17 years later, American bombers, including the latest drones and Vietnam-era B-52s, are still dropping fire on Afghani flesh as that war goes from bad to worse.

The Afghan campaign, which quite literally ignited the war on terror, was officially launched on October 7, 2001. But who remembers that everything to come -- from that Afghan invasion to the deaths late last year of four US Green Berets in Niger -- had already been enthusiastically licensed three weeks earlier when George W. Bush stepped to that cross-shadowed pulpit of the National Cathedral to berate evil. Only hours before, the Joint Congressional Resolution on the Use of Force ("The President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons...") passed the Senate 98 to 0 and the House of Representatives 420 to 1. Those are the numbers that should live on in history, if not infamy.

The lone dissenter that day was Representative Barbara Lee, a California Democrat. In warning against the coming American crusade, she denounced the Joint Congressional Resolution as "a blank check to the president to attack anyone involved in the Sept. 11 events -- anywhere, in any country, without regard to our nation's long-term foreign policy, economic and national security interests, and without time limit." She added all too prophetically, "A rush to launch precipitous military counterattacks runs too great a risk that more innocent men, women, children will be killed."

As they were, as they still are.  Lest one assume that responsibility for the catastrophe that followed rests solely upon Bush and his hawkish circle, remember that the administration's responses were approved by 90% of the American public, the highest presidential approval rating ever achieved, while a full 80% of them expressly favored Bush's open-ended war against Afghanistan. That war would eventually let loose mayhem across a dozen other nations (and it's still spreading), leaving millions of dead, disfigured, displaced human beings in its wake. Most Americans and nearly all of their congressional representatives were complicit in what remains an unfinished global moral, economic, and political calamity that far exceeds anything the grotesque Donald Trump has so far brought about. He may yet start a nuclear war and has already undoubtedly sparked what could become a cascade of nuclear proliferation, yet for now the malign legacy of the 43rd President -- that American crusade -- exceeds anything the 45th one has yet imagined. And no, God does not will it. 

Categories: News

Below Par, Above the Law

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 05:00
Categories: News

In Budget Battle, Pelosi Retreats on DACA and Gun Control

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 05:00

 Alex Wong / Getty Images)House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi leaves after a weekly news conference March 1, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

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Congress is set to consider a long-term spending measure next week, and the Democrats' leader in the House offered up disappointing news about the process to Dreamers and gun reform advocates.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that her caucus would not insist on a DACA fix or new gun control measures as part of the omnibus spending bill coming down the pike.

The government runs out of money again on March 23, providing Democrats with leverage to demand Dreamer legislation or expanded gun sale background checks in exchange for keeping the government open. But Pelosi is already backing down from that fight.

"None of these bills has to be part of the omnibus," she said on Thursday, referring to the several immigration and gun proposals floating around the chamber.

"The omnibus bill has other problems in it, even if the Dreamers never existed," Pelosi added. She pointed to measures under consideration by GOP leadership to defund Planned Parenthood.

In January, Senate Democrats maneuvered to shut down the government until a fix for Dreamers was signed into law. The party, however, backed down after only a few days and agreed to reopen the government on a promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that he would bring a DACA bill to the floor for a vote.

The promise yielded no legislative advancements, and no consideration of a stand-alone bill to restore status to Dreamers.

At the time, Pelosi blasted Senate Democrats' capitulation, and voted against the spending measure to re-open the government, citing the failure to protect Dreamers. She later remarked on the process that excluded Dreamers: "It's unfortunate that it's taking place in an insulting way for those of us who are trying to protect the values of our country."

President Trump announced in September that he would be ending the DACA program (known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) on March 5. He instructed Congress to come up with a permanent solution for the roughly 800,000 individuals who were brought to the country as children and still live here.

The courts have since blocked Trump from formally ending the DACA program. A federal judge in California ruled in January that DACA's "rescission was arbitrary and capricious."

Still, the turmoil and uncertainty around the program have forced upwards of 100,000 prior DACA recipients to lose their status, either by failing to renew it or leaving the country.

Pelosi's retreat on the issue was seconded by her number two in command in the House: Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD)

"I think the omnibus needs to be considered on its own merits," the Democratic whip said earlier this week.

Categories: News

Prime-Age Employment Rate Surges in February

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 05:00
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The prime-age (ages 25-54) employment rate rose 0.3 percentage points in February to 79.3 percent, a new high for the recovery. It rose 0.5 percentage points for men and 0.2 percentage points for women. 

The employment-to-population ratio (EPOP) for prime-age men now stands 1.2 percentage points above its year-ago level, while the rate for women is 0.7 percentage points above its year-ago level. 

This is consistent with the view that there are still many workers who are outside the workforce, but will return in response to a strong labor market. The implication is that there is still considerable slack in the labor market and there is little reason for the Federal Reserve to rush forward with interest rate hikes.

Categories: News

Republicans Are Attacking Obamacare One More Time

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 05:00

The Affordable Cae Act (ACA) has been under attack since it was enacted, but these attacks have intensified since the Trump administration took office and even more since congressional Republicans failed to repeal it. The attacks have significantly weakened the law, yet recent polls indicate that the ACA has never been more popular.

 Kuzmik A / Getty Images)(Photo: Kuzmik A / Getty Images)

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Republicans in Congress spent much of 2017 seeking to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. After repeated attempts failed, they celebrated a victory with the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. While the tax bill left most of the ACA intact, it included the repeal of the ACA's individual shared responsibility penalty, the penalty imposed on individuals who fail to purchase qualified insurance coverage. 

That means the so-called individual mandate remains in the ACA but, beginning in 2019, individuals will no longer face a financial penalty if they choose not to purchase health insurance. 

Health policy experts agree that this will destabilize the individual insurance market. With the ACA allowing people with pre-existing conditions to purchase health insurance at the same price as others, the individual mandate was a necessary counterbalance that encouraged healthy people to purchase insurance and stabilize premiums.

Emboldened by the legislative success of GOP tax reform, 20 states led by Texas and Wisconsin have renewed efforts to weaken and undo the ACA

We study health policy and health care law and have watched the attacks on the law. We believe this latest legal challenge will likely fail but can still damage the ACA and insurance markets by exacerbating the uncertainty sown by actions of the Trump administration as the states-led suit meanders through the courts over the next years.

Death by a Thousand Cuts

The ACA has been under attack since it was enacted, but these attacks have intensified since the Trump administration took office and even more since congressional Republicans failed to repeal the ACA.

Cumulatively, the attacks have significantly weakened the law. Yet the law has persisted for almost eight years. And the most recent polls indicate that the ACA has never been more popular.

The Trump administration reduced outreach and advertising. It also ended cost-sharing subsidies in October. The administration also cut the number of days for enrollment to 45, significantly shorter than the first open enrollment. And, the website was down many Sundays, a popular day for enrollment. 

But still, almost 12 million people enrolled during the most recent open enrollment period. 

Major Previous Lawsuits

Since its passage in March 2010, the ACA has seen dozens of legal challenges. The very day the ACA was signed into law by President Obama, 26 states and others initiated the first major challenge to the ACA.

That lawsuit directly challenged the constitutionality of two core components of the ACA: the expansion of the Medicaid program and the requirement for individuals to purchase insurance or be subject to a fine. 

Joining the court's four liberal justices, Chief Justice John Roberts upheld the constitutionality of the individual mandate as a tax. However, he agreed with the plaintiffs that mandatory Medicaid expansion was unconstitutional.

The verdict, on June 28, 2012damaged but preserved the ACA. Americans would be required to purchase insurance or face a penalty. 

The expansion of the Medicaid program was left to the discretion of the states.

The next lawsuit took issue with the ACA's requirement to provide certain forms of contraception to women. The Supreme Court sided with Hobby Lobby, Inc. in June 2014. 

The court ruled that the ACA's entire contraception mandate placed a substantial burden on closely held religious corporations. Various similar cases have been consolidated in Zubik v. Burwell. That case was sent back the lower courts in 2016 and is still pending.

King v. Burwell and Halbig v. Sebelius challenged the legality of premium subsidies for individuals purchasing insurance coverage through the federal insurance marketplace. 

On June 25, 2015, the Supreme Court sided with the Obama administration in upholding the subsidies in a 6-3 decision.

Finally, in late 2014, the US House of Representatives filed suit against the Obama administration over delays implementing the employer mandate and the payment of so-called cost-sharing reductions. These are reimbursements for insurance companies for payments they are required to make under the ACA to assist qualified individuals purchasing insurance in the insurance marketplaces for their out-of-pocket expenses. 

The courts only allowed US House of Representatives v. Burwell to move forward with regard to the cost-sharing reductions. However, the issue has become moot as the Trump administration has refused further payments to insurance companies.

Relitigating the Individual Mandate

With the repeal of the shared responsibility payment, the state attorneys general argue in their suit that the individual mandate is no longer a tax, and thus no longer constitutional.

The heart of the issue is what legal scholars call severability. When part of a law is deemed unconstitutional, courts must consider what should happen to the rest of the law – must it also be struck down or can it stand alone? 

The Supreme Court previously was faced with this exact issue in the lawsuit filed in 2010. In its June 2012 ruling, the court rejected the Medicaid expansion as unconstitutional but still upheld the rest of the ACA. 

This will be a critical question as courts hear this new legal challenge. If the individual mandate is now unconstitutional, then would Congress have still have wanted the remaining pieces of the ACA to persist? Alternatively, are there parts of the ACA that cannot stand without the individual mandate? This particularly applies to the insurance market reforms that came along with the individual mandate, like the requirements to sell insurance to all comers and at the same rates

When the Roberts Court decided to uphold the remainder of the ACA while making the Medicaid expansion optional, the court stated that "we have no way of knowing how many States will accept the terms of the expansion, but we do not believe Congress would have wanted the whole Act to fall, simply because some may choose not to participate." 

We believe this has particular resonance with the current legal challenge. It seems clear to us that Congress would not have wanted the whole law or its protections to fall for everyone just because some Americans would choose not to participate.

The Conversation

Categories: News

As US Military Flies Overhead, Okinawa Residents Live Under a Cloud of Fear

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 05:00

 John Letman)A spate of US military aircraft accidents, incidents and emergency landings have many in Okinawa fearing for their safety. The Japanese southern islands comprise less than 1 percent of Japan's territory by host roughly 70 percent of US military bases. (Photo: Jon Letman)

Residents of Okinawa live in constant fear of US military aircraft crashing in their midst or dropping loose parts, as one helicopter recently did at a nursery school. The US presence also exposes residents -- who are calling for an end to the occupation of their land -- to automobile accidents, pollution, noise, crime, sexual violence and environmental degradation.

 John Letman)A spate of US military aircraft accidents, incidents and emergency landings have many in Okinawa fearing for their safety. The Japanese southern islands comprise less than 1 percent of Japan's territory by host roughly 70 percent of US military bases. (Photo: Jon Letman)

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Last December 7, Eriko Miyagi was at the Midorigaoka nursery school in Ginowan, Okinawa where she's a teacher's assistant. Just after 10 a.m., as the children were preparing to go outside to play, they were startled by a loud bang on the roof. The sound came right after a US military helicopter flew overhead.

Like many Okinawans, Miyagi knows military aircraft well. "It was a CH-53E," Miyagi says, recalling the morning.

Midorigaoka nursery school is just 300 yards from Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma, a major US military installation that is often described as "the world's most dangerous base" because it sits in the middle of a densely populated city.

When the principal of Midorigaoka climbed up on the roof he found a plastic canister with the words "Remove before flight" and "US" clearly visible. However, a military spokesman says a Marine inventory accounted for all such canisters and has not accepted responsibility for the object.

A 17-pound window fell from a CH-53 helicopter onto an elementary school playground near playing children.

Ryoko Chinen, the mother of two young children enrolled at the school, says that growing up beside Futenma, she always associated it with noise and bright lights at night, but was never afraid until the canister incident. With her own daughters (two and four years old) enrolled at Midorigaoka, she feels a sense of danger. Now, when helicopters fly overhead, Chinen's youngest daughter has started saying "doan dayo!" (it's a bang!).

Six days after the nursery school incident, scarcely two miles away, a 17-pound window fell from a CH-53 helicopter onto an elementary school playground near playing children. The impact sent debris flying, slightly injuring a nearby child, but a tragedy was averted -- by less than 10 feet.

A third parent, Erina Kisei, has three children (five, nine and eleven years old) attending both schools. She tells Truthout the children have returned to playing outdoors but says that US military aircraft continue to fly over the schools.

All three women want the flights to stop and the bases to close and leave Japan.

Chinen asks Americans, "Would you accept objects falling from the sky over your small children's school? Aren't our lives as valuable as yours?"

 Jon Letman)Concerns about safety and noise are among the top reasons many Okinawans are opposed to the construction of a new US Marine Air Base at Henoko in northern Okinawa. The new base is supposed to remove the threat of crashes in crowded southern Okinawa, but opponents point to recent crashes near the new base as a reason to cancel the project. (Photo: Jon Letman)

A Long List of "Incidents"

Aircraft losing objects in midflight is common enough that they have their own military acronym: TFOA (Things Falling Off Aircraft). The TFOA problem has been around for decades. In 1986 the Los Angeles Times reported "hundreds" of aircraft parts fall off Navy aircraft each year. Even when TFOA incidents occur, in certain instances they are not considered "reportable events."

But it isn't just TFOA that have Okinawans riled. The 2017 list of accidents, incidents, emergency landings and hard landings is long. According to the Okinawa prefectural government, there were 29 US military aircraft incidents including at least six incidents outside US bases, leaving many wondering when the next one will occur.

By its own count, the US military says aircraft incidents have decreased by one-third compared to 2016. According to Maj. John Severns, deputy director for public affairs for US Forces Japan (USFJ), the number of "reportable incidents" involving US military aircraft in Okinawa in 2017 was 22, compared with 33 the year before.

Severns stresses that safety is a top priority for the military in Japan. "Our commanders will not put aircrews or our local communities at risk by flying aircraft that we are not 100 percent confident in," he wrote in an email.

US military maintenance crews work diligently to keep aircraft in "good working order" and aircrews focus on "conducting safe flight operation," Severns says, adding that in recent years "there have been no near misses involving US military aircraft in Japan."

Discrepancies in how Okinawa's government and the US military track accidents aside, the Marine's own air safety record prompted Marine General Robert Neller to describe 2017 as a "horrible" year of "horrific" accidents for the Marine Corps, claiming the lives of 20 Marines. The remedy, the general suggested, was an increased budget, as well as more training and flying time.

Undersized, Overburdened

US military aircraft incidents are nothing new to Okinawa. In the 46 years since political control of Japan's southernmost prefecture was returned to Tokyo from the US, there have been more than 45 military aircraft crashes in Okinawa.

The Okinawa Times newspaper published a timeline of US military aviation incidents and accidents between December 2016 and February 2018 which documented 18 incidents in Okinawa, other Japanese prefectures, and overseas. The 14-month period includes the fatal crashes of a Navy C2-A Greyhound cargo plane east of Okinawa (three sailors died) in November 2017 and an Osprey crash off the coast of Australia in August 2017. Neither of these were included in the Okinawa government's figures because they occurred outside the prefecture.

Despite the high-visibility incidents and accidents in 2017, there were no deaths and only one minor injury among Okinawa's civilian population. However, in an email to Truthout, former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama says the fact that no Japanese citizen has died in the recent spate of incidents was sheer luck. Hatoyama notes that with aging US helicopters and what he described as the "flawed" MV-22 Osprey aircraft, it is only a matter of time before more accidents will occur. For those who live in constant fear of the next potential crash, Hatoyama says, a sense of safety does not exist.

Hatoyama calls it "strange" that while Okinawa makes up just 0.6 percent of Japanese territory, it houses 70 percent of US bases in Japan. He believes a reduction of US troops is necessary, adding that even in the US he has heard people argue that an overall reduction of Marines in modern warfare could be a good thing.

Okinawans who oppose the more than 30 US military installations that it hosts cite not only air crashes, but decades of automobile accidents, pollution, noise, crime, sexual violence and environmental degradation, as well as being forced to play a role in a US-Japan permanent war footing. They see the concentration of bases and associated hazards as an undue burden.

However, others see the US military presence as vital and preferable to being vulnerable to a foreign attack.

"It's less [of] a burden than being invaded by hostile forces," Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asia Studies at Temple University in Tokyo, tells Truthout. "If you look at election results in Okinawa, it's clear that there's no mass movement to kick [out] the US and Japanese bases. It's up to the Japanese government (elected by the people) to decide where foreign bases should be."

The fact that these aircraft continue to fly without the consent of the people and at risk of these accidents ... convey the message that the Americans are basically treating the Okinawans as second-class citizens or even worse.

Anti-US base protesters in Okinawa, Dujarric adds, "get too agitated. [The] fact is, the US presence is not a danger."

Many Okinawans would beg to differ. Hideki Yoshikawa, director of the Okinawa Environmental Justice Project, tells Truthout there is an "urgent need to reduce the US military presence in Okinawa."

One detrimental impact that is not so obvious, Yoshikawa says, is "the amount of time our prefectural and municipal governments and assemblies have to spend discussing US military based-related issues and drawing [up] protest resolutions." Instead, he says time would be better spent coming up with and implementing policies related to local development and welfare. 

Protection From What?

The high concentration of US military in Okinawa is also detrimental to military personnel who, Yoshikawa says, are forced to violate or ignore their own safety regulations.

C. Douglas Lummis, a former US Marine who has lived in Okinawa since 2000, tells Truthout, "I suspect that the terrific pressure being put on flight and maintenance crews may be having the opposite effect -- stress leading to nervousness and hampering concentration. As a vet I feel sorry for the guys."

He questions the notion that US bases offer protection.

"Protection from what?" Lummis asks. "Occupation by a foreign power? Yes, it would be terrible to be occupied by a foreign power. They might even confiscate your lands and build bases on them!"

Lummis suggests that what the US frames as protection is, in fact, only another form of occupation by a foreign military (the United States) that invaded Okinawa over seven decades ago.

 "Please remember that the Okinawans have never given their permission to have bases here, nor have they been asked," he says. More than 72 years after World War II ended, Okinawa remains a "dual colony of the US and Japan," says Lummis.

Koichi Nakano, a professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo points out that US bases operate on land seized at the end of World War II, as well as land confiscated from the Japanese imperial army.

Nakano tells Truthout, "given the complex history of Okinawa, which was under American military occupation for much longer than the rest of Japan, the resentment of the locals in Okinawa has really passed a certain threshold."

The current situation is, in Nakano's words "unreasonable and unsustainable." He calls the current path unwise even for those who do not contest the importance of the US-Japan security alliance. "I think there is a great deal of hypocrisy and lack of empathy, of course."

He argues that the excessive concentration of US bases in Okinawa doesn't really make sense anymore either.

"I think it's really a fixation to the status quo, particularly among the Japanese elites and Japan hands in Washington -- what are sometimes referred to as the 'US-Japan security village.'" Nakano says.

According to Nakano, "the uneven nature" of the US-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, combined with a history of military impunity, crimes, accidents, pollution and danger from aircraft give Okinawans a feeling of being discriminated against.

"The fact that these aircraft continue to fly without the consent of the people and at risk of these accidents ... convey the message that the Americans are basically treating the Okinawans as second-class citizens or even worse," Nakano says.

Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia and Japan chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC, recognizes that Okinawa bears a larger burden than any other Japanese prefecture and says Tokyo needs to constantly compensate for the burden with financial support. However, he adds, "that does not mean there is a practical alternative from the perspective of Japanese security."

Green says that Okinawa's geography "at the crossroads of the maritime tensions with China" and threats posed by enemy missiles mean that the US military needs more runways even if US forces are spread out. "Moving the [US] aircraft off [Okinawa] would be a bad idea," Green says.

The plan to build a new Marine Air Base in the Henoko district of northern Okinawa is, in Green's words, "the least bad solution -- by far," adding, "I do not see a credible option operationally that removes the airfield at Futenma without a clear replacement on Okinawa."

New Year, Old Problems

However, even as the bases' presence is debated, the incidents continue. The first month of 2018 started with three emergency landings in Okinawa: a UH-1 emergency landing and two incidents involving AH-1 attack helicopters.

Local concern over "precautionary landings" is understandable, USFJ Maj. Severns notes, but, he says, "they reflected a culture of safety and an emphasis on minimizing risk to aircrews and to the public."

In a criticism as rare as it was mild, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said he hopes the US military will come to better understand the Japanese perspective, and last October, made critical remarks about the speed with which flights resumed after a helicopter crashed in northern Okinawa.

Finally, in January, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis apologized for the repeated incidents. Yet many in Okinawa, including the governor, are looking for more than an apology: They have had enough and want to see more troops and aircraft (especially Osprey) moved out of Okinawa entirely.

A plan to introduce Osprey for use by Japan's Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) to Saga Prefecture near Nagasaki was in the works, but following a February 5 JSDF attack helicopter deadly crash into a homequestions are being raised about introducing the aircraft to a civilian airport.

Also in February, the US commander of an MV-22 Osprey squadron was fired due to a "loss of trust and confidence in his ability to lead his command." The Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Unwelcome headlines continued in February after a 29-pound piece of an Osprey air intake from a Futenma-based aircraft was found floating in waters off Okinawa. Then, on February 20, in northern Japan's Aomori Prefecture, an American F-16 experienced an engine fire and dropped two fuel tanks into a lake about 100 yards from small fishing boats. Now the lake is contaminated and fishermen are prohibited from fishing.

As incidents occur one after another, they underscore the risk of military aircraft conducting flight operations continuously, day and night, year after year.

Shifting the Problem

The risk of operating aircraft out of MCAS Futenma over densely populated southern Okinawa is hardly disputed. Tokyo and Washington have repeatedly insisted that "the only solution" is to move Futenma operations to the less populous Henoko district. But protests have been ongoing for years and many want Futenma shut down (and cleaned up). Public opinion polls show fierce opposition to hosting the controversial Osprey, a tilt-rotor hybrid aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter but can fly at the speeds and distances of an airplane.

Fears about the Osprey's safety were realized in December 2016 when an Osprey crashed just a few miles north of Henoko where protests rage against construction of the new base. (That base is ostensibly being built on the grounds that it removes the hazards from flying over the more heavily populated south.)

Ten months later, in October 2017, roughly 15 miles north of the Osprey crash, a CH-53E helicopter crashed in farmer Akira Nishime's pasture just 100 yards from two of his employees and a thousand pigs and just beyond his home. A mile further was a school, a road and local community center.

Nishime, who has farmed that land since 1983, told a Japanese newspaper that he was meant to be in the crash zone when the chopper came down but just happened to be running late. After the burnt fuselage was removed from the land, a stain of burnt grass and tire treads was left covered by a blue plastic tarp. Nishime explains how his land was polluted with benzene and dioxin but was thankful separate tests found no evidence of radioactive contamination.

Nishime was forced to stop his farm operations for 10 days after the accident but says there has been no talk of compensation. Under the US-Japan Status of Armed Forces Agreement (Article XVIII 5.e.) it is the Japanese government that is obliged to offer compensation depending on the degree to which the US is responsible for the accident.

Nishime tells Truthout that he first wants an explanation for the accident. When Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson of the III Marine Expeditionary Force presented Nishime with a "Certificate of Appreciation" for his patience and anxiety, Nishime sent it back, saying the gesture was premature as no explanation for the crash had been provided.

Meanwhile, military training continues overhead, most menacingly between 8 and 11 p.m., leaving Nishime and his community living under a cloud of uncertainty and fear.

Nishime points out, "In this village we have many households with 80- and 90-year-olds. If a fire breaks out, they can't escape. So, does that mean they just have to be cremated right there in their homes?"

Frustrated by circumstances beyond his control, waiting for answers that don't come and fearful of the very sky over his head, Nishime says, "Here we are living with the possibility of an American military aircraft coming down on our heads at any time for no reason. Tell me, what are we supposed to do? What would you do if this was your country?"

Categories: News

Economic Update: Winds of Economic Change

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 05:00

This week's episode includes updates on the teachers strike in West Virginia, Trump's tariffs, Germany move to make public transport free, living standards during the UK crash from 2005 to 2015, how the US's rich schools get richer and the return of debtors prisons in US. This episode also features an interview with Dr. Harriet Fraad on breakdown of traditional family, causes and consequences.

To see more stories like this, visit Economic Update: Your Weekly Dose of Revolutionary Economics

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Categories: News

Refusing to Freeze, NYC Public Housing Residents Demand Bold Action From Mayor

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 05:00
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Mayor Bill de Blasio's 2018 State of the City address, held on Feb. 13 at Brooklyn's renowned King's Theater, was premised on a particularly bold claim. The words "Mayor Bill de Blasio Making New York America's Fairest Big City" were emblazoned on the marquee so that attendees, passersby and the scores of protesters who had been forced to the other side of Flatbush Avenue couldn't miss them.

Yet, de Blasio has advocated for the privatization of public housing and has the support of major real estate interests. It's no surprise then that his "tale of two cities" rhetoric leaves public housing tenants cold, in some sense literally. This winter, more than 320,000 New York City Housing Authority, or NYCHA, residents lost either their heat or hot water, exemplifying decades of neglect. In response, some are rallying with the grassroots organization Community Voices Heard, or CVH. They are pushing a platform that demands the mayor make good on his progressive rhetoric and take bold measures to abolish their hazardous living conditions.

Protesters from CVH began assembling in front of the theater at around 5 p.m. to demand that the mayor fully fund repairs in public housing. Within minutes of their arrival, police ordered the demonstrators -- who came from a number of other groups, including Equality for Flatbush, the Street Vendor Project and Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence -- to the opposite side of the street, where they were blocked from view by NYPD vans. But the group remained steadfast due to the high stakes of their campaign.

Aside from having to deal with failing boilers, which are at least 50 years old, residents are also fed up with lingering toxic mold and lead paint. According one lawyer in a class action suit that resulted in a $57 million settlement from the NYCHA, the problems with lead paint have been acknowledged since the 1960s. Lapses like these are the product of decades of privatization and the whittling away at funding for public housing.

In February 2017, CVH responded to this human catastrophe with a rally on the steps of City Hall that was dubbed "NYCHA's Making Me Sick." However, their demands -- calling for the city budget to be used to address public health and housing crises affecting low-income black and brown communities -- went unheard. Towards the end of last year, New York City officials began calling for the resignation of NYCHA Chief Executive Shola Olatoye for incorrectly stating that the housing authority had been properly conducting lead paint inspections.

Drawing on momentum provided by its member-leaders -- NYCHA residents who are now trained organizers -- Community Voices Heard has been pushing a model for public housing based on local finance and community control. This year, they want the mayor's office to commit $2 billion of the city's nearly $89 billion budget to overhaul infrastructure. Last year, CVH prevailed upon the mayor to allocate $1 billion annually to repairs and improving conditions. Since de Blasio did not make that commitment, they've raised this year's request accordingly.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development is typically the mainstay of financial support for public housing. With the Trump budget threatening to take $466 million away from NYCHA, however, local funding has become even more crucial. For CVH lead organizer Gabriel Strachota, doing something unprecedented -- like directing substantial amounts of city money to public housing -- would demonstrate that de Blasio is ready to "put his money where his mouth is when it comes to being a Progressive Democrat." Strachota argues that while de Blasio was not the first mayor to support a privatization agenda in New York, he has contributed to growing the various crises in NYCHA by endorsing the idea that there is no alternative to public-private partnerships.

Beyond providing the necessary funding, CVH also wants the city to be truly accountable to residents. This means recognizing and elevating their power as stakeholders in their own homes. Thus, CVH has proposed the formation of a resident-led oversight board meant to combat negligence and cover-ups on the part of NYCHA. Comprised of the heads of tenants associations from NYCHA buildings throughout the city, this body would certify whether repairs are completed or not and would have access to the agency's internal documents upon request.

This two-pronged attack on the city's inaction -- demanding local funding and giving residents their own watchdog group -- is representative of CVH's strategic model, which they call "power analysis." As Strachota explains, their understanding of power is drawn from a definition Martin Luther King Jr. provided, when he said "power is the ability to achieve purpose."

This approach revolves around the political clout that residents can generate themselves. Strachota said that both the growth and integrity of CVH's campaigning relies upon the relationships between NYCHA residents. As he further explained, "one key source of power is through organized people, through the assemblage of relationships." In the wake of the "bomb cyclone" in January, there are signs that their efforts may be having an impact, as members of City Council are beginning to call upon the mayor to increase funding for the NYCHA.

Building the power of tenants entails helping them organize in networks that can take collective action. There are many examples of this from the weeks leading up to the State of the City protest. On January 18, residents from each of the five boroughs met at CUNY's Murphy Institute to discuss tactics for pressuring the administration that ranged from gathering petitions to organizing marches to filing class action suits. On February 2, CVH helped further escalate pressure by coordinating a mass call-in to de Blasio's office. Over 800 people flooded the mayor's phone that day.

To ensure that collective action continues, CVH trains its members to organize their communities. This involves CVH members recruiting leaders in their buildings, workplaces, schools and families who are influential enough to consistently bring people into the organizing process, which include attending actions and meetings. Cultivating that organic leadership prevents campaign work from turning into a series of one-off actions that allow political energy and focus to dissipate in their aftermath.

CVH develops its relationships with these organic leaders and aims to further develop their effectiveness as organizers by using a method that was central to the work of Fred Ross, Cesar Chavez and Delores Huerta. "The first thing we do is that we build a relationship with them," Strachota said. "We sit down with them and have a one-to-one meeting, but we're not talking about policy. We're talking about who a person is and what's happened to them to make them that way."

Talking to these prospective organizers about the struggles they face is crucial to their understanding of the roles they play in the campaign. That self reflection is also key to their understanding of power. Afterwards, these individuals often are asked to hold a house meeting, to gather people they know and try to solicit active support for the campaign from them. According to Strachota, meetings like these were the foundation of both the United Farm Workers and the Community Service Organization, which for decades has been emphasizing to unions the strategic importance of building collective power through face-to-face gatherings.

Rose Fernandes and her son Giancarlo are among the residents who have joined the struggle and have been animated by the force of this organizing process. Rose, having faced too many winters without water or heat, was slow to join initially. The weathering effect of neglect and isolation were the source of her reticence. "At one point, I had kind of been in this sleep state," she said. "I didn't know what to do, who to talk to. I didn't think anybody would listen." After organizing for about a year and seeing more people push back against the city and NYCHA management, she said she was thrilled and that CVH helped her find her voice.

"One of the things that's hardest to organize against is the sense of hopelessness and suspicion that exists among residents," said Giancarlo, who was responsible for bringing his mother into the organizing process. "My mom thought it was a cult or someone trying to get money out of us." Sentiment like this is reinforced by predatory behavior and retaliation from the people who run the housing authority. At one point, a NYCHA manager refused to perform needed maintenance in their apartment in an attempt to extort money. According to Giancarlo, hostility like this, in addition to the threat of eviction, is the norm in public housing and makes residents fearful of taking action.

Having the opportunity to push back against such oppression is what motivates him as an organizer. That, in turn, has reframed how he views the building he calls home, as well as the power dynamics that shape it. "Most of the time what I had heard about living in NYCHA was 'keep your head down, get a good job and leave,'" Giancarlo explained. "But the truth is that it's very difficult because as your salary increases so does your rent." Ensuring that residents have power in public housing is now a goal for him. "CVH offered me a path that was not any of the dominant narrative storylines I was being fed about trying to get out. I could organize and be a part of the change I wanted to see in NYCHA."

The work of organizers like Rose and Giancarlo Fernandes will become even more crucial now that the Trump budget has been passed, which comes with a rent hike to as much as 35 percent of NYCHA residents' gross income. The coming years will be rough. However, tenants are discovering their agency and many are considering responding to Trump's onslaught and de Blasio's intransigence with a rent strike. The question remains, however, whether the networks they've built have generated the power they need to pull off such an ambitious action in this particular moment.

Categories: News

Trump Wants to Replace Birth Control With Abstinence

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 05:00
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The Title X program, which has provided family planning services to low-income Americans since 1970, is under threat from the Trump administration. This anti-scienceanti-woman administration has already distinguished itself in other areas of public health that negatively affect the welfare of pregnant people and children  -- and this effort is no exception.

Under guidance released on Friday, March 2, the Department of Health and Human Services will preferentially fund programs that focus on abstinence and "natural family planning" --  also known as the rhythm method -- instead of birth control. And that's bad news for millions of low-income people who count on Title X to help them determine the timing and spacing of their children.

While this shift in funding priorities doesn't outright exclude Planned Parenthood, a frequent target for defunding campaigns, it's clear that the preferences expressed in the funding document are designed to funnel money to unscientific and ineffective family planning programs.

"Natural family planning" has a failure rate of up to 25 percent, even when practiced under ideal conditions -- a far cry from from hormonal birth control, barrier contraceptives and other options, which can be 98 percent effective or higher, depending on the methods used.

One thing organizations never provided with Title X funds? Abortion care, because it's forbidden by law.

Until recently, health care providers that offered abortion care could use Title X money for other services, as long as they were clearly separated, but the Department of Health and Human Services reversed this policy shortly after Trump took office. The budget proposal also targets abortion providers with further constraints on funding. In essence, the federal government is pushing reproductive health providers to drop abortion from their services or forfeit their federal funding.

It's notable that Valerie Huber, the woman tasked with overseeing the Title X office, came from a private sector career with Ascend, which heavily promotes abstinence education. Some of the language in the call for grant proposals mimics that used by Ascend in its own literature, with a significant implication that programs promoting abstinence may get a leg up in the funding competition. Huber's tenure at HHS, incidentally, has been especially bad for teens.

People who count on Title X funding to access evidence-based medicine could also be in trouble. If funding is allocated in the direction of entities that focus on promoting abstinence and ineffective birth control methods, this may force low-income people who can't afford care elsewhere to seek inadequate family planning services with these entities, including crisis pregnancy clinics. And that could reverse the promising trend of fewer teen pregnancies in the US, as well as pose a greater risk of contracting STIs. People receiving health care interventions weighted towards abstinence are less likely to get comprehensive sexual education that helps them learn how to reduce their risks.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has expressed grave concerns about these policy changes, saying they "reduce individuals' options for care." Numerous other organizations that advocate for public health and access to reproductive care have echoed these comments, explaining that the change could be dangerous for vulnerable low-income people. These adjustments to Title X funding priorities also take place within a larger landscape of policy changes designed to limit options for patients who rely on federally-funded programs -- and that seems to be no accident.

Categories: News

The Columnist

Thu, 03/08/2018 - 05:00
Categories: News

Indigenous and Rural Women Conserve Mother Earth and Empower Their Communities

Wed, 03/07/2018 - 05:00

Women's rights and gender equality are crucial for not just women, but also for their communities and the environment. Increasing women's leadership in natural resource management, for example, is not only beneficial for biodiversity but also increases livelihood opportunities for women, thus improving their ability to plan for their families and resulting in positive outcomes for their communities.

On this International Women's Day, we bring you a photo essay about Indigenous and rural women and their innate connection to nature. Women's rights and gender equality are crucial for not just women, but also for their communities and the environment. Women play a key role in the conservation of biodiversity and forests. A growing body of evidence shows that increasing women's leadership in natural resource management and governance is not only beneficial for biodiversity but also empowers women, increases their livelihood opportunities, improves their ability to plan for their families and results in positive outcomes for their communities.

Across the world, women are often the principle caretakers of their families and responsible for important tasks like energy generation; collection of food, water and medicine; seed saving; and generating income for their families. Hence, with the loss of biodiversity and forests, women are disproportionally affected, bearing increased burdens to make ends meet. Women are also often excluded from decision-making and prevented from owning key resources like land. Many national policies also exhibit patriarchal and discriminatory attitudes (e.g. patrimonial land inheritance). On this Women's Day, let us be reminded that the struggle for women's rights is far from over and more crucial than ever.

Indigenous and Rural Women Conserve Mother Earth and Empower Their Communities

These are women from the Minangkabau Indigenous tribe in West Sumatra, Indonesia. Many women work as farm laborers to earn an additional income, but they only earn half of what men earn for the same number of hours. In this village, women have been organizing to obtain social forestry management permits to ensure that they can benefit from the sustainable use of forest products and also conserve their forests by aiding in their regeneration. Photo: Chaus Uslaini

Indigenous and Rural Women Conserve Mother Earth and Empower Their Communities

Pictured here is a Rendille woman from Kenya. Rendilles are pastoralists, keeping camels, goats and sheep. Because of acute drought, most of the men have migrated away in search of pasture and women became the sole breadwinners of their households, raising their income through sale of beadwork.

Women are in charge of domestic chores such as fetching water, gathering fuel wood from forests, cooking, taking care of children and also for the construction of their homes. Women are the holders of traditional knowledge relevant for conservation and ensure inter-generational learning.

As women in these communities do not own land, they are increasingly faced with the problem of being able to produce and harvest food for their families.

Although Kenya has set up affirmative action policies related to gender, including the National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC), women continue to face discrimination, pointing to a need for greater cultural and community-level changes. Photo: Alice Lesepen

Indigenous and Rural Women Conserve Mother Earth and Empower Their Communities

A Sungai Tombonuo Indigenous woman from Malaysia resting after gathering shells in the mangrove forests. The Sungai Tombonuo depend upon the dense mangroves in their traditional territories for food, fuel wood, medicinal plants and spiritual rituals. They identify and manage areas for conservation and sustainable use based on traditional knowledge and practices. The women in particular hold knowledge about different plants, food and medicinal herbs, and have been conserving and replanting these plants to regenerate them. More recently, industrial shrimp farming is threatening the mangroves and the livelihoods of the Indigenous communities and the women in these areas. Photo: PACOS Trust

Indigenous and Rural Women Conserve Mother Earth and Empower Their Communities

Attending her stall at a native seed fair called "Heñoi Jey Paraguay" in Paraguay, this Indigenous woman displays the great variety of local vegetables that she has conserved at her farm. She brought them to the fair to share with other women. Women are the principal conservers and savers of native seeds around the world and hold key knowledge about agrobiodiversity conservation. Photo: Nadia Lopes

Indigenous and Rural Women Conserve Mother Earth and Empower Their Communities

These are Indigenous women from the mountainous area of Darvoz in Tajikistan. They are displaying their craftwork and household wares traditionally made by women. They prepare these products using locally available materials. They learn to create beautiful wicker-baskets from an early age, and from one generation to the next, woman transmit the secrets of their art. These products are an important source of income for women. Photo: NOOSFERA

Indigenous and Rural Women Conserve Mother Earth and Empower Their Communities

A prayer of gratitude before the feast. These are Rabha Indigenous women from the Buxa-Chilapata forests in West Bengal. Rabhas traditionally practiced swidden agriculture and knew the controlled use of fire to preserve the biodiversity of land and forests. They have very close cultural ties and a symbiotic relationship with forests. But after the creation of tiger reserves and a national park in their forest, most of them were evicted and constantly find themselves in clashes with officials in order to access the forest for their livelihoods. Women who go in to the forest to collect fuel wood and fodder are facing harassment from both the forest guards and security forces.

The Rabhas are traditionally a matrilineal community, but their role is changing. With the invasion of patriarchal values, the customs and traditional practices during festivals and in marriage are changing. With men increasingly making decisions, women are more and more drawn into household responsibilities and child rearing. Though the Rabha women are still involved in agricultural activities and fuelwood collection, it only increases their work load.

These Rabha women strongly feel that the state laws must respect their traditional rights and access to the forests. They also demanded a role in decision-making in local development plans. Photo: Souparna Lahiri

Indigenous and Rural Women Conserve Mother Earth and Empower Their Communities

Women members of community forests are collecting Niguro or wood fern in Morang district of Nepal.

These women are part of Community Forest Users Groups, which are part of the state's efforts to promote community forestry in Nepal. These community groups control certain parts of the forests and have played an important role in the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystems. About 1,000 of 13,000 groups are women-led, though women face obstacles and a patriarchal attitude. One of the local women leaders said, "Political leaders try to obstruct us women from leadership positions, even though our group has established a practice of equal leadership of women in community forest." Photo: FECOFUN Morang

Indigenous and Rural Women Conserve Mother Earth and Empower Their Communities

Pictured here is a woman with her children living with industrial soy production in Paraguay.

Communities in Paraguay are being confronted by industrial agriculture and poor governance. The country's forests have been devastated in the race to free up land for large-scale, export-oriented agricultural production -- especially of genetically modified soybeans and beef. The toxic chemicals that are applied to the soy affect the community's crops, domestic livestock and income. They also cause people to fall sick, and in some extreme cases, cause death. Women are the main victims, disproportionally affected by these pressures as they are often responsible for meeting the food, water, education and health needs of their families. Violence against women is also a key concern in these communities. Women are now developing tools to address this, such as women's brigades and strikes. On the back of such devastating environmental degradation, women are responding by pushing for access to land, and agroecology as a way to feed their families healthy food. Photo: Luis Wagner

Indigenous and Rural Women Conserve Mother Earth and Empower Their Communities

This is Raisa Andreitzeva, a community leader of the Udege Indigenous peoples of Russia. The Udege inhabit the Ussuri Taiga -- a temperate forest on the Sikhote-Alin Mountains in eastern Russia. This area contains the highest biodiversity in boreal Asia, including the endangered Siberian tiger and many other rare species of fauna and flora. The area now faces rapid expansion of industrial logging, hunting, salmon fishing, mining and industrial development. As a result, the Udege communities -- traditionally dependent on wildlife, fish, wood and non-timber forest products -- are suffering from strong competition over the resources that sustain their livelihoods.

Udege women have equal rights to men. As men are often away for long periods hunting or fishing, it is the women who are at the forefront of defending their territories and play a significant leadership role in dealing with officials, regulations and documents. They tend to be much more aware of legal details and specific problems of fish and wildlife use and management, and often fulfill leadership positions in communes and associations like Raisa, pictured here. Photo: BROC

Indigenous and Rural Women Conserve Mother Earth and Empower Their Communities

This is the "Trafinktu" ceremony, an ancestral Mapuche gift exchanging ceremony for sharing knowledge and seeds, initiated by women. In this photo, women welcome each participant asking what they have brought with them to share with others.

These are Mapuche women from the Chanlelfu community. They have a particular relationship with the forest, from which they obtain food (mushrooms, fruits), medicine and supplies for their handicrafts. The women maintain and protect water sources and special sectors where medicinal plants grow, called "menocos." They are rescuing and growing wild plants like rosehip and other herbs. They also conserve sacred places which have a special spiritual significance to the Mapuche.

Today, with the spreading of eucalyptus forest plantations, women explain that the forest is being destroyed. Eucalyptus dry the earth and pollute the air and water by the use of chemicals. The agricultural productivity is deteriorating, and people are getting sick. Photo: Carolina Lagos

Indigenous and Rural Women Conserve Mother Earth and Empower Their Communities

Young girls from the Dashti-Jum community in a remote mountainous area of Tajikistan display traditional foods at an event on the International Day for Biological Diversity. The community has organized traditional ceremonies to value their natural heritage.

Tajikistan has high levels of violence towards women, and access to education for young women like these is scarce. Many women work in agriculture or do unpaid housework and have few opportunities to earn an independent livelihood. They also face limitations in their access to forests for collecting fuel wood and non-timber forest products on which their livelihoods depend. The government has started to prioritize girls' education, and many young women are now entering sectors like health care and education. Photo: NOOSFERA

Categories: News

The GIGO White House: Garbage In, Garbage Out

Wed, 03/07/2018 - 05:00

 Andrew Harrer-Pool / Getty Images)Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is but one example of this genuinely absurd phenomenon we are all bearing witness to: the "garbage in, garbage out" White House. (Photo: Andrew Harrer-Pool / Getty Images)

Let's play a little mental game, you and me.

Cast your mind back about three years and imagine a scenario in which alleged Russian meddling in US elections was a matter of great and growing concern. Evidence of this meddling has been piling up, and all signs indicate the Russians will seek to further disrupt elections to come. Without saying why, President Obama has not authorized any of the agencies tasked to defend against such intrusions to take any protective actions, despite being fully funded for such a request.

Now imagine a reporter asking Secretary of State John Kerry about protecting that most fundamental element of US democracy -- the vote -- against Russian interference, only to have him reply: "If it's their intention to interfere, they're going to find ways to do that. And we can take steps we can take, but this is something that once they decide they are going to do it, it's very difficult to pre-empt it."

Imagine what would happen next. Conservative rage would blast the mantle of the Earth into orbit around Neptune. They would still be hunting Kerry with dogs somewhere in the Maryland countryside, and Mr. Obama would be plying his new trade as a yak herder in Outer Mongolia. Probably, though, the Republicans still wouldn't have done anything about the potential for Russian meddling.

And so much for mental games, because that astonishing little quote actually came from none other than current Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, in an interview he gave to Fox News last month. Short form: The Russians are clearly our superiors, there's no point in resisting, so have those precious bodily fluids labeled and ready for transport. "I can't think of one administration in my lifetime," wrote Charles P. Pierce this week, "that wouldn't have thrown Tillerson out the window for saying something like that and then fired him before he hit the pavement."

Yet there he sits, Ol' Rex, the second choice for his position if The New Yorker has the right of it. According to journalist Jane Mayer, Donald Trump intended to tap former rival Mitt Romney to head the State Department but changed his mind after some back-channel "requests" from Moscow motivated him to nominate someone more favorable to Russian interests.

Staffing at the White House these days is like the weather in New England: Don't like it? Wait five minutes.

Enter then-ExxonMobil CEO Tillerson, who in 2013 was awarded the Russian Order of Friendship by Vladimir Putin himself, after inking some oil deals between his company and the state-owned Russian oil company, Rosneft. In the intervening time, Tillerson has done as much to protect the US from the Russian government's skullduggery as a cardboard cutout of Tillerson would have. According to his bald-faced statement to Fox News, he simply does not see the point of it.

Way back in the earliest days of computer programming, the scientists coined an acronym to explain a very old mathematical/engineering blunder: GIGO, short for "garbage in, garbage out," means the quality of data derived from a computer program depends entirely on the quality of data entered into the program. Flawed data equals flawed results, every single time. The concept was axiomatic before Euclid: Garbage begets garbage. The computer guys just gave it a name.

Rex Tillerson is but one example of this genuinely absurd phenomenon we are all bearing witness to: the GIGO White House. Here's another example: Rob Portman became White House secretary, Hope Hicks became communications director, and former Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn became the administration's top economic adviser ("garbage in"). In rapid-fire succession, Portman was finally called to account for physically abusing his wives and left the administration. Days later, Hicks testified before Congress in the ongoing Russia scandal and left the administration.

The sudden departure of trusted advisers Portman and Hicks, combined with a firestorm of criticism regarding spousal abuse, security clearances and other questionable White House staffers, caused Donald Trump to lose his temper and threaten to start a global trade war. This led directly to the resignation of economic adviser Gary Cohn on Tuesday, making three major departures in as many weeks ("garbage out"). Tillerson is still hanging on, but staffing at the White House these days is like the weather in New England: Don't like it? Wait five minutes. His time is coming, too.

Nowhere has this spectacle been more vividly on display than in the mighty flame-out of amiable talking thumb and former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg, who spent last Monday reeling through every network from CNN to QVC denouncing Robert Mueller and all his works. Mueller, special counsel in the Russia investigation, subpoenaed Nunberg to discuss his time in the early days of the 2016 Trump campaign. Nunberg enjoyed slightly more authority as a campaign aide than the sink in the custodian's closet, but someone higher up the food chain saw fit to cut him in on the top-level email conversations taking place, and those emails are part of what Mueller is on about.

Nunberg thundered into every available microphone that he would go to jail before complying with Mueller. Why? Answering the subpoenas would take, like, 80 hours or something. Screw that. According to late-night host Stephen Colbert, Nunberg "took over cable news like a car chase." His wild ride through the media on Monday was so enthusiastically unhinged that CNN's Erin Burnett bluntly asked him at one point if he was drunk, because she smelled booze on his breath.

He denied it, but who knows? I might be tempted by the devil whiskey myself were I in Nunberg's shoes. The "garbage out" portion of the exercise is not an enjoyable experience. Nunberg hasn't been tight with the Trump crew since July 2015, when he got thrown off the campaign for posting racist messages on social media, but when he was there, he was there. According to Michael Wolff's book Fire and Fury, Nunberg was the poor sap tasked to try and teach an apocalyptically disinterested Trump the basics of the US Constitution. He was also the one who got left behind when a campaign trail McDonald's run took too long.

Sam "Better to Burn Out Than Fade Away" Nunberg dared to brush the Trump For President coattails with his fingertips, and now finds himself on the wrong end of a prosecutor's attention to detail. Mueller almost certainly has the emails he wants from Nunberg already in hand; it's the other stuff Nunberg knows from those days that has his former colleagues updating their passports. Referencing the Russia scandal at one point, he said of Trump, "I think that he may have done something during the election." Later, to Jake Tapper on CNN, he said, "I think Carter Page was colluding with the Russians."

It was quite a show. Getting him under oath could prove to be a blockbuster sequel. Time will tell.

"Garbage out" is a lonely estate. Squadrons of former administration employees are finding it virtually impossible to secure work in the private sector with "Trump" on their resume. Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser and charter member of the Garbage Out Fraternity (he lasted exactly 24 days before fleeing the White House in a frenzy of criminal disgrace) is selling his Virginia home to help pay his legal fees. After this latest exodus, Trump tweeted that there are still people in the White House "I want to change." Out here on the perimeter, there are no stars.

Garbage in, garbage out. We all know where it begins. The only remaining question is where it will end.

Categories: News

The Bill That Would Legalize Discrimination Against My Daughter

Wed, 03/07/2018 - 05:00

This article was published by

My daughter was born 26 weeks into my pregnancy. When Charlie arrived she weighed one pound and 12 ounces, and she was just as long as my finger. During the first few weeks of her life, I watched her overcome what felt like insurmountable obstacles. She struggled to breathe, her stomach wasn't mature enough to digest food, and her skin was so thin it was agony for her to be held. I worried that we were asking too much of her, but she fought to survive. Today, she is a joyous 5-year-old, though she has residual effects of her significantly premature birth. Charlie was incredibly susceptible to infections, and she has delays in speech and fine motor development. She will go through life with a disability: she needs help tying her shoes, using scissors, and opening her lunch.

Throughout 2017, my family and I have fought constantly for Charlie's health care. I have marched, spoken at press conferences, and met with more representatives than I can count to try to explain what Congressional Republican attempts to repeal Obamacare and slash Medicaid funding would do to my family. I've spent days, hours, and weeks travelling back and forth between my home in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., because I knew fighting for Charlie's life meant fighting for affordable, accessible, and comprehensive health care.

When Charlie was an infant, I would often sit and watch her. Sometimes, she would forget to breathe and I would gently remind her with a nudge. When we defeated Graham-Cassidy, the last attempt to overturn the Affordable Care Act, it finally felt like we could both breathe more easily.

But now there is a new threat on the horizon: HR 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act, has already passed the House and is at risk of being taken up in the Senate. If it's passed, the bill will change key provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), shifting the burden of accessibility from businesses to people with disabilities.

For 28 years now, the ADA has given people like Charlie the unassailable right to be part of public life: They cannot be discriminated against at work or in school, and businesses have to be accessible by including things like curb cuts and accessible bathroom stalls. Over the years, people with disabilities have needed to pursue litigation under the ADA when businesses refuse to become accessible. And it's worked. Our society is much more accessible today than it was nearly three decades ago when disabled activists had to climb up the steps of the Capitol to get attention. But HR 620 threatens to send us back to that time -- a time when people with disabilities were excluded from public life.

Under HR 620, people with disabilities will have to notify businesses that they are violating the ADA, citing very specific details regarding the provisions of the statute that apply to their particular situation. Business owners would then have up to six months to make "substantial progress" toward fixing the issue, but they don't have to be fully accessible. That is at least six months before the person filing the complaint can access a restaurant, or a movie theater, or a book store that's effectively barred its doors to people with disabilities -- even though accessibility has been the law for almost 30 years.

No other marginalized community needs to demonstrate why they deserve to access a public space, let alone cite specific legal provisions, in order to be able to access that space. Why should Charlie have to?

The ADA made the American Dream possible for a generation of people with disabilities. Now my child is being told the American Dream is no longer available to her. This isn't the United States of America I know, and it isn't the society I want to live in.

Categories: News

Trump's Mar-a-Lago Visa Hypocrisy

Wed, 03/07/2018 - 05:00

David Cay Johnston offers voluminous information that Donald Trump is a hypocrite, among many other nefarious and treacherous characteristics. In this excerpt from his new book, It's Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America, Johnston reveals how Trump violated visa laws he denounces to help staff Mar-a-Lago.

 Marcio Jose Bastos Silva / Shutterstock)Trump's immigration policies have run counter to the ideals of the poem on the Statue of Liberty's pedestal. (Photo: Marcio Jose Bastos Silva / Shutterstock)

David Cay Johnston, who has followed Donald Trump as a journalist since the '80s, doesn't mince words about his opinion of the billionaire in the conclusion to his new book: "That he is a clear and present danger to the whole world should be obvious by now." Obtain a copy of It's Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America with a donation to Truthout. Click here now.

Johnston offers voluminous information that Donald Trump is a hypocrite, among many other nefarious and treacherous characteristics. In this excerpt from his new book, he reveals how Trump violated visa laws he denounces to help staff Mar-a-Lago. It also discusses his flawed proposals on immigration in general.

In April 2017 Trump told an audience in Kenosha, Wisconsin, that he was about to take bold action on foreign guest workers. He promised to end the "theft of American prosperity." Foreign worker visas "should never, ever be used to replace American workers," he said.

But the executive order he signed was not bold, as Trump said, but tepid. It simply directed four cabinet agencies to "suggest reforms" with no deadline for submitting their ideas.

There are also work visas for low-skilled workers like the staff at Mar-a-Lago, which had for years relied on the very workers Trump wanted kept out -- foreigners. Trump said during one of the Republican primary debates that Mar-a-Lago, like other local seasonal resort properties, had no choice but to import workers. "People don't want a short-term job," he said. "So, we will bring people in, and we will send the people out. All done legally."

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida broke in. "That's not accurate," he said, because at least three hundred Americans who sought work at Mar-a-Lago were not hired. That, Rubio said, helped Trump push down wages, the very issue Trump complained was caused by too many foreign workers in America.

"When you bring someone in on one of these visas they can't go work for anybody else," Rubio noted. "They either work for you or they have to go back home. You basically have them captive, so you don't have to worry about competing for higher wages with another hotel down the street. And, that's why you bring workers from abroad."

Trump kept interrupting Rubio, making it difficult for those watching to understand the debate unless they read the transcript later.

The public record showed that hundreds of local residents did want jobs but were not hired.

In July 2017 the Trump administration decided to let in more foreign workers, not exactly what Trump promised on inauguration day when he said every decision would be made to promote American jobs and buy American.

American "businesses in danger of suffering irreparable harm due to a lack of available temporary nonagricultural workers" would be able to hire an additional 15,000 foreigners in temporary low-skill, low-paid jobs.

That would increase supply by more than 40 percent for the second half of the year.

This was a prime example of Trump not walking his campaign talk in office, but also of driving down wages, just as Rubio had said was Trump's goal.

In Palm Beach, for example, hundreds of people were willing to work at the wages offered by Mar-a-Lago, roughly $10 to $13 an hour, for the 2016-17 season.

Locally four people wanted work for every low-skill resort job offered. That means there was no shortage of local labor for the seasonal positions. With so many workers available, hiring locals might not even put upward pressure on wages. When there is so much more demand for work than employers could supply, employers can offer less pay and still recruit people.

But workers who come from overseas on visas are subject to more control. Their employer can arrange pay that depends on their staying until the last day of the season and hold back part of their pay through "bemusing" arrangements. That means anyone who gets out of line, anyone who gets fired, gets shorted on his or her pay and sent home early.

President Trump declared July 24 the start of Made in America Week. Trump said he would be "recognizing the vital contributions of American workers and job creators to our Nation's prosperity."

The same week a tiny classified ad ran twice in the back pages of The Palm Beach Post. It offered work for "3 mos recent & verifiable exp in fine dining/country club." The jobs paid wages only -- "No tips."

The ads did not identify the employer, but the fax was a Mar-a-Lago number.

A week earlier, Mar-a-Lago had applied to the Labor Department -- run by a Trump appointee -- for visas to import 35 people to wait on tables, 20 cooks, and 15 chambermaids. All it needed to do was show that it offered work and not enough people showed up to take the jobs. That was easily accomplished. Run a tiny ad with few details. Tell locals to apply via fax, a technology few people seeking such low-paid seasonal work were likely to own. People could mail a letter but letters can get lost or take time being delivered.

Those two ads, and the predictably weak response, met the legal requirement necessary to import foreign workers under the H-2B visa program from October 2017 until June 2018.

There was, perhaps, one positive in these foreign workers being hired at Mar-a-Lago to wait on Trump's paying guests. Unlike Melania Knauss Trump, they wouldn't be violating American law.

Trump often states as fact that illegal immigrants are a drag on the economy. He complains of "Americans losing their jobs to foreign workers."

To stop that, he supported the RAISE Act, for Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment. It would fundamentally change the rules on legal immigration, something Congress did in 1924 and again in 1965. Ostensibly the bill's purpose is to "establish a skills-based immigration points system, to focus family-sponsored immigration on spouses and minor children, to eliminate the Diversity Visa Program, to set a limit on the number of refugees admitted annually to the United States."

That would mean that more people with job skills could enter the country, which in general will tend to depress wages for people with similar skills, but which may also help grow the economy. The focus on spouses and minor children means that grandparents, grandchildren, and cousins are out and the age of minors would be lowered from 21 to 18.

The bill was analyzed at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, the school Trump claims he attended when he went only to its undergraduate program in real-estate economics.

The analysis found that the bill would make wages grow briefly in the short term but that as the years rolled by the new policy would destroy American jobs, resulting in slower economic growth. That certainly is not what Trump claimed he would do with his slogans about America First and Make America Great Again.

The most interesting finding from the Penn Wharton budget model computer program was that simply doubling the number of immigrants from about 800,000 per year to 1.6 million would do the most to increase economic growth per person. The education level of the immigrants did not matter.

This larger influx would result in significantly more Gross Domestic Product per capita, which would reach $83,700 in 2050. Leaving the number of immigrants at 800,000, but requiring that 55 percent arrive with high job skills, would mean no more than $76,100 per capita of economic output. Thus, more immigrants regardless of job skills is better for Americans overall by 10 percent.

The most troubling finding of this study was that the RAISE Act favored by Trump "could shave two percentage points off GDP growth and cause a loss of more than four million jobs" by the year 2040.

Kent Smetters, the Wharton business professor who worked on the computer model, noted that immigrants of all kinds are a "net positive" because they "tend to work pretty hard, they tend to have a very high attachment rate to the labor force, they are less likely to be on unemployment insurance" because they come to America in the hopes of improving their and their family's economics.

In addition, Smetters said, "as younger members of the workforce, immigrants also help pay for Social Security and Medicare for the elderly. That is a crucial benefit as the U.S.," like many other countries with modern economies, faces an aging population with a shrinking ratio of workers to retirees.

The Wharton model is available without charge, allowing people to experiment with policy options at

Jim Acosta, a network television correspondent whose parents fled Castro's Cuba, asked at a White House press briefing about the RAISE Act, which favors English-speaking immigrants. His question drew a sharp, condescending response from the designated White House spokesman, Stephen Miller, a Steve Bannon associate who often sounds like a white nationalist.

Acosta brought up the poem in the Statue of Liberty's pedestal and its famous last lines:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Acosta said the proposed immigration policy seemed to run counter to those ideals. Miller shot back that the poem was added to its pedestal later, while the statute is "a symbol of American liberty lighting the world."

What Miller didn't say, or didn't know, or perhaps knew but didn't want others to know, is that Lazarus's 1883 poem was critical to the efforts to raise money for the pedestal on which the statue stands. The statue was not completed until three years later, making her words integral.

This might seem an odd subject for the White House spokesman of the day to raise, but it stems from an active discussion among the people that Bannon calls the alt-right and critics call racists and white supremacists to develop a narrative that most immigrants are unworthy of America.

A leading racist, Richard Spencer, who says he was Miller's mentor, which Miller does not dispute, had denounced the Emma Lazarus poem three days before Trump became president.

"It's offensive that such a beautiful, inspiring statue was ever associated with ugliness, weakness, and deformity," Spencer tweeted. This theme was picked up a few days later by Rush Limbaugh, the right-wing radio talk show host. He told his audience that "the Statue of Liberty had absolutely nothing to do with immigration" and mused, "Why do people think that it does? Well, there was a socialist poet."

David Duke, the former KKK leader, attacked the poem and Lazarus in "The Jewish Led Alien Invasion," a chapter in one of his books filled with diatribes against Jews and others he hates.

In the fluid zone between white nationalists in the Trump White House and violent racists in Charlottesville, the Statue of Liberty has become a symbol of efforts to make America white again, although, of course, it never was all white.

An immigrant from Ireland, John Carney, took up the Acosta-Miller exchange. Carney is the economics editor at Breitbart, Bannon's gathering place for the like-minded.

Carney tweeted that what Breitbart and Trump call the "opposition" news media were engaged in "the Weaponization of the Statue of Liberty." He also pointed to political cartoons that used the statue and caricatures of Trump to argue visually that the president wants immigration restricted to white, English-speaking Christians.

Then Carney focused his attention on the September 2017 cover of Vogue. The fashion magazine featured an Annie Leibovitz photograph of actress Jennifer Lawrence in a low-cut, tight-fitting red satin dress. Lawrence was leaning against a metal railing as if on the prow of a ship, the statue behind her, surrounded by water and clouds in luscious shades of blue.

Breitbart's Carney saw this as an attack on Trump's Make America Great Again theme, connecting it to the Acosta-Miller exchange. "We're going to have to create a full #MAGA shadow cultural industry because the Opposition Media can't even do fashion without attacking us."

But there was a problem with Carney insinuating that the Vogue cover was part of a journalistic cabal. Zara Rahim, the Vogue spokeswoman, informed Carney that the photo could not have anything to do with that August exchange in the White House press briefing room because "we shot this in June, buddy."

Trump regards Breitbart as a reliable source of information, just as he has made statements that trace back to the Russian propaganda website Sputnik, the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer, and InfoWars, where host Alex Jones carries on about the "interdimensional beings" secretly controlling American elites. Trump has been an InfoWars guest.

None of these information sources that Trump relies on considers refugees to be a crisis worthy of American help. None writes favorably or evenhandedly about people of color, especially regarding immigration. None pays heed to humanitarian crises caused by wars, famine, and other disruptions, even though 66 million people, nearly 1 percent of earth's population, were forced to live away from their homes in 2016.

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That estimate by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees counted a third of these people as refugees. More than a third came from two predominantly Muslim countries, Afghanistan and Syria, where American military actions played a major role in forcing people to flee. But the sources of information Trump relies on share with him a bias against Muslims and Islam.

Nearly 85,000 people entered America in 2016 as refugees, about one tenth of legal immigrants. Other countries, many of them desperately poor, like Chad, allowed in far more refugees. Sweden, with 10 million people, has about half as many refugees as America with its more than 320 million people. To Miller, Limbaugh, Bannon, Carney, Jones, and the others, those 85,000 refugees are about 84,999 too many.

These "information" sources also keep up a steady alarmist tone about the border with Mexico, even though illegal crossings into the United States fell sharply with the Great Recession and have been flat since, according to federal government data and reports by private organizations. Of the estimated 9 to 11 million people living in the United States without authorization, two thirds came more than a decade earlier, the Pew Research Center found.

Those crossing the border in 2017 were more likely to come from Central America and Asia than Mexico, whose economy has improved since NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, was signed in 1993. But to the sources of information Trump relies on, all immigrants look alike and all are to be feared and kept out unless they look and talk like people on the alt-right. And to Trump, foreign workers are bad, unless they serve his Mar-a-Lago customers, earning cheap wages with no tips.

Copyright (2018) by David Cay Johnston. Not to be reprinted without permission of the publisher, Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Categories: News

Florida Farmworkers Push for Fairness in the Fields

Wed, 03/07/2018 - 05:00

Immokalee, Florida, is known for producing nearly all of the winter tomatoes in the United States. Up until recently, the town also had a reputation for being home to some of the worst labor exploitation in the country, with sexual violence, wage theft, and assault occurring regularly in the tomato fields. The working conditions were so bad that the town was considered "ground zero for modern slavery" in the United States.

But one group has spent the last two decades transforming the conditions for Florida farmworkers. Through the use of boycotts, supply chain agreements, and an innovative monitoring program, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has made massive inroads in creating a safe workplace for one of labor's most exploited communities.

Gerardo Reyes Chavez is one of the workers involved. A farmworker most of his life, he heard about the coalition from roommates who were taking part in one of the group's anti-slavery cased in the late 1990s. Now, he's one of the group's key leaders. Reyes joined an Aspen Institute panel last month to discuss the methods behind the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' success.

"We don't consider ourselves activists, organizers. I mean, from my perspective, and the perspective of many of us that form the coalition, we're just people fighting for a better life," Reyes told the audience. "And we have been able to achieve really important agreements that are transforming the lives of thousands of workers."

In 2000, Reyes marched for more than 230 miles alongside other farmworkers from Ft. Myers to Orlando to demand a better wage and dignity in the fields. The group carried a brown-skinned papier-mache version of the Statue of Liberty, her torch replaced with a bucket of tomatoes -- a creation that currently lives in the Smithsonian.

The action compelled Reyes to deepen his involvement in the coalition's work. Around that time, the group was looking at the industry powers that they'd need to connect with in order to create systemic change, and came to a key realization: using boycotts and publicity campaigns, they could push the industry giants, like fast food companies and grocers, to demand that the growers they purchased from uphold workers' rights.

After a multi-year boycott, the group came to an agreement with Taco Bell. The fast food company promising to pay more for its tomatoes and restrict business to growers who adhered to labor standards. Several other companies followed suit, paving the way for the Fair Food Program.

The program brings workers, growers, and buyers together to ensure that farmworkers won't be exploited. Buyers agree to only purchase tomatoes from growers within the program, who are held accountable by independent audits and a worker-driven complaint system. The program is also notable for being designed and enforced by the very workers it is meant to protect.

"We were not looking for experts, because we are experts in our field," Reyes says. "And contrary to what many people and many experts said about farmworkers, we also have the wits that are necessary to be able to create what we created."

The core philosophy behind the Fair Food Program is remarkably simple. The coalition sums it up as worker-driven social responsibility. Greg Asbed, the co-founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, says the model provides far more accountability than corporate social responsibility. Under those programs, companies will say they enforce labor standards by conducting audits, but they'll only interview a small percentage of workers. The growers will also know that the auditors are coming, and can prepare workers for what to say. "The whole thing is essentially not just a snapshot, it's a faked snapshot," Asbed told the audience at the Aspen Institute.

Contrast that with the Fair Food Program. It includes an education component to ensure that workers know their rights. A well-outlined complaint system has consequences if growers retaliate against workers. The third-party audit system is required to conduct in-depth interviews with a large percentage of each farm's workers. And it's all held together by a legally-binding accountability apparatus. If the audit finds an issue at a farm, or a worker's complaint goes unresolved, the grower could lose their status as a partner and forfeit their ability to sell to the retailers who have signed on to the agreement.

The worker-centric model is behind the success of the program, Reyes says. "Every worker, when they hear their rights and they know they are guaranteed, they will complain," Reyes says. "For the first time, they saw how the abuses were fixed, and the people who reported them were not fired or beaten, as in the past."

Reyes is also sure to note that the worker-driven model is about dignity, not charity. "Some people when we tell the story, they want to empty their garage and bring it to our doorsteps," he says. "We talk to people and say yeah, that is nice, but what we need is justice. We don't work 10 to 14 hours a day every day of the year that work is available and don't wonder or don't ask ourselves why is it that we still have to depend on people, goodwill, to put food on the table."

Instead, Reyes calls for potential allies to join them in the fight. The group has expanded to include tomato farmworkers in other states, and now organize strawberry and pepper farms within Florida as well.

They're also continuing the push to include more buyers in the Fair Food Program. Their current target: Wendy's. The fast food company has opted to purchase tomatoes from Mexico instead of signing on to the worker-driven agreement. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has decided to bring the fight to the doorstep of Wendy's board chairman Nelson Peltz, with a five-day fast outside his Manhattan hedge fund office beginning on March 11.

The protest is specifically linked to the sexual violence women face in the tomato fields, a key issue for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Their message: time's up for corporate leaders like Peltz, who have the ability to sign on to agreements like the Fair Food Program, which have made a marked difference in reducing sexual violence for women workers.

REGISTER NOW: The Freedom Fast and Time’s Up Wendy’s March are coming! #TimesUpWendys #BoycottWendys

— CIW (@ciw) January 31, 2018

"Nelson Peltz is a key player within the structure of Wendy's. He's the president of a hedge fund called Trian Partners," Reyes told the audience. "They invest a lot of money, profit a lot, and have a lot of power. But they refuse to use it. So we are going to their headquarters to ask them to exercise their power in a responsible way."Power is at the crux of the Fair Food Program. Bringing workers into supply chain discussions gives them a measure of control over their own lives. And that's what the movement is about for Reyes.

"The food you have on your table, all the celebrations you have at that table with your family, with your friends. That food came from somewhere," Reyes told the audience. "We are the people responsible for those moments, too -- whether you have seen us, thought about us, or not. And we're asking for the same ability -- to be able to do just that with our own families. But we need you to recognize that, to stand with us, and to follow our lead."

Categories: News