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End This Charade: Donald Trump, Michelle Wolf and the White House Correspondents' Dinner

Mon, 04/30/2018 - 04:00
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The annual "nerd prom," otherwise known as the White House Correspondents' Dinner (WHCD), was Saturday night. If we are lucky, it will be the last one. The entire event is inappropriate, and it has nothing to do with comedians being rude to the people in the audience or on the dais. After all, they are hired to do that. The whole tired ritual is based on the old tradition of the comedy "roast," where people get up and insult the guest of honor, which in the case of the correspondents' dinner, is the president and the DC establishment, including the press.

No, the event is inappropriate because it's an obnoxious suck-up to power, no matter who the president is or how edgy the comedian. The press and the politicians lining up on red carpets with Hollywood celebrities and yukking it up together, as if politics and government were just one big performance and this was their awards show, has always been an excellent illustration of everything that's wrong with our civic life. But in the age of Trump it's become downright decadent and disturbing.

This year's dinner seems to have hit quite a nerve. Comedian Michelle Wolf's comedy stylings were not appreciated by the press corps or the administration. She called the president and the White House staff liars, which is true, and pointed out that the media benefits from this surreal circus, which is also true. This bound both together in a way that clearly made everyone extremely uncomfortable, as it was meant to.

So now we have much clutching of pearls and rending of garments among members of the press, demanding apologies from Wolf for allegedly insulting Sarah Huckabee Sanders' looks (which Wolf did not do) and for comparing her to Aunt Lydia in "The Handmaid's Tale," which is as spot-on as you can get. (As New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum pointed out on Twitter, "her job is *exactly* like Aunt Lydia: she is the frowning female enforcer for a fascist patriarchal society, punishing those who resist her lies.")

Anyway, Sanders has no right to be upset by any rude insults when she serves as an apologist for this man:

I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don't watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 29, 2017

...to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year's Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 29, 2017

Wolf's jokes were sharp, to be sure, but they were nothing like that. I'm sure no one needs to be reminded of the president's daily assaults on the press and his political rivals, or anyone else who angers him. So the Trump administration calling for smelling salts over this routine is the biggest laugh line of the night.

Here's a typical example of the Beltway handwringing on Sunday morning.

Apology is owed to @PressSec and others grossly insulted ny Michelle Wolf at White House Correspondents Assoc dinner which started with uplifting heartfelt speech by @margarettalev - comedian was worst since Imus insulted Clinton’s

— Andrea Mitchell (@mitchellreports) April 29, 2018

This is also part of the tiresome ritual, which seems to work itself into a full blown hissy-fit every few years. Mitchell is referring to the Radio and Television Correspondents' Dinner in 1996 where the comedian for the night was radio personality Don Imus, who rudely referenced the president's infidelities in front of Hillary Clinton and said that the Clinton administration's diverse cabinet looked like "the scene out of Star Wars." Hillary glared and Bill covered his face and everyone was very upset. The correspondents' association even sent the president and first lady an apology.

But here's the thing. Clinton regularly appeared with Imus during his campaigns, and the longtime shock jock was even credited with putting Clinton on the map back in 1992. Imus' show featured a regular parody song about Hillary Clinton with lyrics about how she "fornicates," "menstruates" and "urinates," with the refrain: "That's why the First Lady is a tramp." He called the president a "fat pantload" and a "lying weasel." It didn't stop Bill from calling in and kibitzing with the guy.

Don Imus was a reprehensible racist and misogynist. Yet politicians of both parties lined up to be on his show. And it wasn't just them. For years after his allegedly despicable performance at that dinner, members of the political press corps kept on appearing with him. It wasn't until 2007, when Imus described the Rutgers women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hoes," that he was finally forced off the air, if only temporarily. (Which made many of his media pals very sad.)

The last time the DC establishment had a full WHCD meltdown, it was over the appearance of Stephen Colbert in 2006, who performed as his Bill O'Reilly-esque character from Comedy Central and skewered the attendees to the bone over the sycophantic relationship between the media and the George W. Bush administration. That performance is legendary today, but at the time ,everyone in Washington was appalled. Again.

As Wikipedia reminds me, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen called Colbert "rude" and a "bully." Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., House Democratic whip at the time, told the Hill that Bush was "the President of the United States, and he deserves some respect." Right-wing operative Mary Matalin called Colbert's performance a "predictable, Bush-bashing kind of humor" and columnist Ana Marie Cox said that Colbert was no hero and sagely observed that "comedy can have a political point but it is not political action."

Colbert's routine was savage toward the press, but in subsequent years they all couldn't wait to get booked for interviews on his show.

Now we have the press corps calling for the fainting couch over Michelle Wolf's comedy act in what appears to be a once-a-decade bonding exercise between the media and the administration. Journalists are defending the White House against the rude depredations of Big Comedy, while the Trump administration pretends that it and the Washington press corps are victims of the coarsening of our patriotic institutions.

Needless to say, this has never been more fatuous than it is right now. While journalists, celebrities and politicians all preened on the red carpet, President Trump was in Michigan calling the press fake, dishonest and despicable, as usual. His worked-up followers stood in front of the media and also preened for the cameras, calling them "degenerate filth."

This Trump supporter repeatedly yelled at the press, calling media “degenerate filth” and to get out of his country after the Michigan rally concluded pic.twitter.com/hbd8vhpVYc

— Brianna Sacks (@bri_sacks) April 29, 2018

If anyone thinks that comedians pulling their punches at black-tie Washington events will do anything to change this dynamic, they are fooling themselves.

The White House Correspondents' Dinner is a kabuki dance performed by people who want to pretend that sharing one night where they can all dress up in fancy clothes and enjoy their mutual fame is desirable and useful to the government and the system. Every decade or so they also need to pretend to be offended on each others' part when the comedian they hire to roast themselves "takes it too far" by pointing out what a farce it all is.

#WHCA Statement to Members on Annual Dinner pic.twitter.com/8DKoHNxpNi

— WHCA (@whca) April 30, 2018

If Donald Trump does one good thing during his misbegotten presidency, perhaps it will be to put an end to this charade once and for all.

Categories: News

Want to Bring Down Donald Trump? Follow the People Who Follow the Money

Mon, 04/30/2018 - 04:00

Donald Trump walks towards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on April 28, 2018, in Washington DC. (Photo by Ken Cedeno-Pool/Getty Images)Donald Trump walks towards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on April 28, 2018, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Ken Cedeno-Pool/Getty Images)

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They call people like us "bean counters" -- the soulless ones beavering away in some windowless accounting department, the living calculators who don't care about desperation or aspirations, who just want you to turn in your expense report on time and explain those perfectly legitimate charges on the company credit card. We're the ones whose demands are mere distractions from any organization's or government agency's true mission.

But maybe bookkeepers and accountants deserve a little more respect. They're often the ones who actually bring down corrupt officials through dogged attention to those "irrelevant" distractions. It wasn't for nothing that Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein decided to "follow the money" when they were trying to unravel the mystery of the Watergate scandal. By following that infamous money trail, the two journalists were indeed able to discover secret campaign funds used to pay off the people who had burglarized Democratic Party offices in the Watergate building, along with the men who later covered it up. Eventually that money trail led all the way to Richard Nixon's reelection campaign, and uncovering it brought down a corrupt president.

If, one of these days, Donald Trump is taken down, it may well be the bean counters who ultimately do it. When it comes to draining the Trumpian swamp, they've already done a pretty good job on several of his appointees. Think, for instance of Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt's $43,000 soundproof booth and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson's $31,000 customized dining room set.

The Keys to the Kingdom

I'm old, as I like to tell the students I now teach, so I've done a lot of things in my life. For some years, almost by accident, I made my living as a bookkeeper and accountant. (The difference between the two isn't actually a legal one; often it's more a question of gender than anything else, with a bookkeeper more likely to be a woman and an accountant a man. A certified public accountant is a licensed professional who has the authority to audit an organization's books. A regular accountant is anyone who understands debits and credits.)

When I was young, there were generally three career paths open to a woman with a bachelor's degree: teacher, nurse, and secretary. As a college student in those ancient days before computers took over, I'd refused to learn touch-typing because I was determined never to be a secretary. However, after a stint packing ice cream cones in a factory and a few years as a clerk in Oregon's state-run liquor stores, I found myself at a temp agency looking for something that might pay a little better. As it turned out, there was a 25-cents-per-hour differential in pay between a "general office worker" and an "accounting clerk." The latter, however, had to know how to run a 10-key calculator by touch. I admit it: I lied and swore that I could. Eventually, after clicking those keys often enough, I learned how to do it pretty well.

Later, a friend initiated me into the mysteries of double-entry bookkeeping. I learned why debits (and expenses) are positive and credits (and income) negative, and how at any given moment the whole system should total up to a beautiful zero. I worked by hand in those days, making entries in journals with actual pages. The company's general ledger was an actual ledger: a big, leather-bound book. When it came time to transfer my skills to computerized systems, I counted myself lucky to have a physical, kinesthetic understanding of accounting.

Eventually, I used those skills to give nonprofits a hand in grasping one of the keys to power: understanding their own money. I helped them stay out of trouble with the IRS and avoid fines from the California Fair Political Practices Commission. I showed them that their much-coveted 501(c)(3) status did not mean that they had to eschew all political work -- that they could, for example, focus on ballot initiatives. I taught immigrant women how to control their own organization's budget and understand what their financial statements could tell them about where their money came from and how they were spending it.

Who invented this brilliant system of debits and credits? Arguments over this still rage -- albeit in dusty corners of the academic world. It seems clear that a fifteenth-century Italian mathematician, Luca Pacioli, wrote the first formal treatise on the subject of accounting, laying out the system pretty much in its modern form. But claims have been made for earlier origins in disparate parts of the medieval world, including India, the Islamic empire in northern Africa and the Iberian Peninsula (today's Spain and Portugal), and imperial China.

It's clear at least that, without Arabic numerals (courtesy of the medieval Arab mathematicians, who also gave us algebra), double-entry bookkeeping would have been impossible. Without systematic double-entry bookkeeping -- to accurately record not only what an enterprise receives and spends but what it is owed and owes -- capitalism itself would have been almost inconceivable. Today, understanding how money is counted and accounted for offers those of us who seek to expose capitalism's plundering and exploitation a powerful tool for laying bare thieves of state like Donald Trump.

Counting Beans

Maybe accountants and all the rest of us should stop thinking of the epithet "bean counter" as an insult. What could be more important, after all, than keeping track of humanity's most basic needs? We need to count the foods we eat, the stuff we drink, the clothes that cover us, and the plants and animals they come from. We need to know if we have enough and to make decisions about how to use any surplus our labors generate. Do we invest it in projects that serve the common good (health care, education, libraries, parks, renewable energy, infrastructure) or do we transfer that surplus into the hands of a very few, creating a global gilded age of plutocrats on a planet in danger of becoming uninhabitable?

It's only by such accounting that we can grasp what expressions like "wealth disparity" and "income inequality" actually mean in people's lives. If you've been poor, you know what it is to be cold or hungry, to feel anxiety about tomorrow's meals and where they'll come from. In 2016, the US Department of Agriculture reported that this anxiety, called "food insecurity" by the experts, affected at least one in eight Americans. That's 42 million people, 13 million of them children. And that was before House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway proposed to slash the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP (formerly the food stamp program), over the next 10 years, by more than $20 billion. Such vicious cuts constitutea minor "fix" in response to the staggering federal deficit -- expected to increase $1 trillion by 2020 and $1.9 trillion by 2028 -- thanks to President Trump's tax "reform" bill. The proposed SNAP reductions are to be accompanied by punitive new work requirements -- despite the fact that, as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) explains, most recipients are already working -- even if at precarious, unstable jobs.

The CBPP, by the way, is an excellent example of the contributions to human well-being of people who know how to count beans -- and dollars. The members of that group dig deepinto every federal budget to reveal the often-hidden national priorities it represents. They work ceaselessly to present a vision of national security based on the actual security and well-being of the people of this country, rather than on using our military forces to destroy the security and well-being of people in other nations.

Not only has such bean counting helped keep us food-secure for much of human history, history itself -- as defined by written records of human activity -- began with the need to count beans, or more generally to keep track of things people needed for food, drink, and clothing. The earliest Mesopotamian writings are enumerations on clay tablets of wheat, sheep, and importantly, beer. From this written method of counting and recording things emerged the first writing systems. And writing in turn, allowed us to preserve for the future our species' history and all the great literature of the world, from the Hindu Vedas to Sappho's lyrics to Kendrick Lamar's hip-hop rhymes.

Follow the Money

But how, to return to the present, are the bean counters supposed to bring down Donald Trump? By following the money to reveal the international morass of gangsterism and corruption that is the Trump Organization. First, they'll have to pick off his venal appointees like EPA director Scott Pruitt, with his penchant for first-class flights, $100,000 SUVs with bullet-resistant seats, and frequent flights home to Oklahoma at taxpayer expense. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has taken airborne luxury a step farther, preferring to charter private planes for his travel -- like the $12,375 taxpayers spent to fly him the thousand miles from Las Vegas to his hometown of Whitefish, Montana.

Then there are the people who worked on Trump's campaign. Special counsel Robert Mueller has already indicted former Trump campaign director Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates for laundering $18.5 million earned for lobbying work they did in Ukraine and this country. Following the bean trail also led prosecutors to uncover Manafort's and Gates's $2 million payments to a Washington lobbying firm working for Ukraine's former president, Viktor Yanukovych, and his pro-Russia party -- although the two Trump campaign workers had never registered as agents for this foreign client. You may recall that Michael Flynn, briefly Trump's national security adviser, found himself in similar trouble for failing to register as an agent of the Turkish government.

Closer to home, there's Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and security-clearance-less adviser on all things Mexican and on bringing peace to the Middle East. Following the money trail allowed New York Times journalists to report that Kushner's real estate business got startlingly large loans from Apollo Global Management, one of the world's biggest private equity firms. That was after he had several meetings at the White House with one of the company's founders, Joshua Harris, who was reportedly under consideration for a White House job, although, as the Times indicates, "the job never materialized." The Apollo loan refinanced an already-mortgaged Kushner family "Chicago skyscraper" and "was triple the size of the average property loan made by Apollo's real estate lending arm."

Then there was the under-reported Deutsche Bank-Trump-Kushner connection, which Congresswoman Maxine Waters has doggedly pursued and Mueller is now investigating. The bank, suspected of using so-called mirror trading to launder money for Russian oligarchs, has loans with Trump's real estate business totaling as much as $364 million; Deutsche has also extended lines of credit in the millions of dollars to the Kushners. Some might consider that a possible significant conflict of interest for a US president. CNN has also reported that Mueller interviewed "at least two Russian oligarchs" about possible contributions to the 2016 Trump campaign.

It's not just Deutsche Bank that has occasionally bailed out the Trump and Kushner operations with mega-loans. As the Nation magazine reported, both operations have long relied on the kindness of Russian bankers:

"The Trump and Kushner families, a marriage (via Ivanka) between two of New York's leading real-estate dynasties, are multiply connected to Russian real-estate deals. 'We don't rely on American banks,' said Eric Trump back in 2014. 'We have all the funding we need out of Russia.'"

None of this should be too surprising, given what is apparently a long association with Russian gangsters and their oligarch bosses. As former Wall Street Journal reporter Glenn Simpson told a congressional committee, Trump "built relationships with Russian gangsters who were themselves tied to the Russian government." Those ties were related to money-losing golf courses in Ireland and Scotland. Simpson testified that Trump's gangster ties go back decades to his association with the Italian mafia, whose loans may well have kept some of his businesses afloat. But wait, there's more! In Panama, the Trump Organization lent its name to the Trump Ocean Club Panama, a high-rise condo where Russian and other organized-crime figures evidently used the purchase and sale of units to launder millions.

And then there's that potential firestorm of a subject: Did the Trump Organization use real estate deals to launder money from global criminal activities of various sorts? The New York Times describes a number of possible deals involving shady characters in countries from Azerbaijan to Panama, not to mention the US Such deals may well have allowed government officials and other thieves to turn ill-gotten gains into clean money by parking it in shell corporations, which then invested in real estate. When condos or shares in a building are sold to another party, hey presto, the dirty money is now clean.

Suspicions have long been rife that Trump & Co. were neck deep in the dismal swamp of pay-to-play money laundering and other I'll-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine corruption schemes. But no one will be sure until the bean counters get their hands on the appropriate documents and lay out that money trail, dollar by ruble by hryvnia by peso, for Robert Mueller and others to follow. And when that happens, we can thank the women and men clicking their calculators and filling their spreadsheets in the accounting department.

Categories: News

Champion for Black Power and All the Oppressed: Dr. Cone, Founder of Black Liberation Theology, Dies

Mon, 04/30/2018 - 04:00

We look at the life and legacy of the founder of black liberation theology, Rev. Dr. James Cone. Starting in the 1960s, he argued for racial justice and interpreted the Christian gospel from the experience of the oppressed. He said he was inspired by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who gave black theology its Christian identity, and Malcolm X, who gave black theology its black identity. Dr. Cone died Saturday at age 79. We play excerpts of his speeches and speak with Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, where Dr. Cone taught for 50 years; Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, dean of the Episcopal Divinity School and professor at Union Theological Seminary and a former student of Dr. Cone; and another former student of Dr. Cone, Reverend Dr. Raphael Warnock, who serves as senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, which was the spiritual home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He is also the chair of the New Georgia Project, author of The Divided Mind of the Black Church: Theology, Piety, and Public Witness, and on the board of Union Theological Seminary.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

North Korea Nuclear Deal: Will the US Drop Sanctions and Economic Embargo?

Mon, 04/30/2018 - 04:00

 Inter Korean Press Corp / NurPhoto via Getty Images)North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un and his wife Ri Sol Ju walk with South Korea's President Moon Jae-in and his wife Kim Jung-sook during a farewell ceremony at the end of their historic summit at the truce village of Panmunjom on April 27, 2018. (Photo: Inter Korean Press Corp / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has pledged to abandon his nuclear weapons if the United States agrees to formally end the Korean War and promises not to invade his country. The announcement came after a historic meeting Friday between Kim and South Korean leader Moon Jae-in in the truce village of Panmunjom. Then, on Sunday, North Korea's state media said Kim had vowed to immediately suspend nuclear and missile tests, and would dismantle its Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site. We discuss the potentially historic developments 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

Making Finance Pay

Mon, 04/30/2018 - 04:00

 Gage Skidmore)Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney speaks at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, on February 24, 2018. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Mick Mulvaney, the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), publicly said what many of us had long believed: corporate lobbyists have to pay to talk to their representatives in Congress or the executive branch. If they expect to have their views taken seriously by those in power, they have to be prepared to cough up the campaign contributions needed to get through the door.

Given the rules of engagement described by Mulvaney, it is hardly surprising that he is doing everything he can to undermine the purpose of the bureau he now leads. This includes suspending lawsuits and enforcement actions already in process and making it virtually impossible for the Bureau's staff to initiate new actions.

He is clearly trying to give the financial industry a good return on their investment in his political career. In effect, he is telling the industry to do their best to find new and creative ways to rip-off their customers, and he will give them a government stamp of approval.

But there is some good news for those who don't want to see more of the economy's resources committed to rip-off schemes. The budget passed last month by New York's legislature, and signed into law by Governor Cuomo, would create a state-managed 401(k)-type system which would cover every New York worker who does not already have a retirement plan.

While this part of the budget bill went largely unnoticed, it is a very big deal. Tens of millions of workers are approaching retirement with little other than their Social Security benefits to support them. While Social Security is a tremendously important and effective program, the benefits are not large enough to support a middle-class standard of living in retirement.

Most current middle-class retirees can count on some income from traditional defined benefit pensions. However, these pensions are disappearing rapidly in the private sector and are under constant attack in the public sector, where they are still common.

Few of the people retiring 10 or 15 years from now will be receiving any income from a defined benefit pension. This means their only supplement to Social Security will be the money that they have saved in 401(k)s or equivalent retirement plans.

Most workers are able to accumulate very little in these plans. This is especially true of lower paid workers who are less likely to have a job that offers retirement benefits. And even when workers do have a job with benefits, they may end up leaving before they qualify for a contribution.

Under the plan put in place in New York, workers who do not have a plan at their workplace would automatically have 3 percent of their pay deducted and placed into an account managed by the government. They would have the option not to have the money deducted. But if they do nothing, the default is that this money gets placed in their retirement account.

The state would piggyback on the expertise developed by the retirement system for New York public employees. This should allow it to offer good investment options at a fraction of the cost of private 401(k)s.

Many private plans charge fees of more than 1.0 percent annually, whereas a state-managed plan is likely to cost less than 0.3 percent of the funds under management. For a middle-class person who has accumulated more than $100,000 over their working lifetime, this difference can easily add up to $1,000 a year, or more. That is money that workers basically had been handing to the financial industry for nothing, but now would add tens of thousands of dollars to many workers' retirement savings.

New York is following the lead of Illinois and California in going this route. If other states and the federal government follow suit, it can save workers tens of billions in annual fees, directly at the expense of the financial industry.

In a similar vein, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand introduced legislation to create a postal banking system. The plan is to have the Post Office offer basic checking and saving services. These services could save low- and moderate-income workers a substantial amount of money that they now pay to check cashing services. If a postal saving bank also can get into small dollar loans, it will be a low-cost alternative to the payday loan business that Mulvaney is trying to promote at the CFPB.

It would be ideal if we could count on government agencies to regulate industry rather than be ripped-off by it, but that is clearly not the way business is done in Donald Trump's America. In this case, we can hope for more efficient public alternatives, which will take away the customers from Mulvaney's campaign contributors.

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Categories: News

Trump Plans to Roll Back Trans Health Care Protections

Mon, 04/30/2018 - 04:00

The latest attack on trans rights from the Trump administration is another salvo on access to health care. According to the New York Times, the Department of Health and Human Services plans to roll back an Obama-era rule that prevents discrimination in health settings.

If the policy change moves forward, guidance on nondiscrimination in health care programs would be reversed, allowing providers, facilities and insurance companies to discriminate against transgender people, as well as those who don’t conform to gender stereotypes.

Currently, this nondiscrimination rule, which clarified anti-discrimination protections in the Affordable Care Act to include gender identity and "stereotypical notions" about gender, means that health providers cannot deny services to transgender and gender nonconforming people on the basis of their identity -- and this includes all health care services. Whether an individual seeks hormone therapy, emergency treatment for a head injury or insurance coverage for mental health, it has to be provided equally.

Members of the religious right insist that people need "conscience exemptions" so they aren’t required to provide health care services they disagree with. This argument is common in the realm of abortion and birth control services -- and a recent Trump administration mandate allowing people to deny these services on the basis "moral conviction."

Civil rights activists fear that these exemption rules could be used to justify abuse and discrimination of LGBT patients in a variety of contexts.

The religious right wants the public to think that transgender people are compelling health care providers to offer transition-related services, which isn’t true. These services are provided by people who actively and voluntarily pursue additional training in order to care for trans patients, working in the context of clinics that provide gender-affirming care.

Trans people don’t want transition-related services from people who aren’t interested in providing them -- not just because it would be an unpleasant experience, but also because a disinterested care provider might not be up-to-date on the most current standards of care.

What trans people do want is equal insurance coverage: Insurers should not be able to deny coverage for a health care need just because someone is transgender. Thus, for example, a medically-indicated hysterectomy should be covered regardless of someone’s gender, as long as the medical need has been demonstrated.

And transgender people also want the ability to visit a doctor to receive health care for situations that have nothing to do with their gender. Concerns about being able to access health care are justified, with many trans people reporting experiences of harassment, discrimination and even assault in health care settings.

Imagine going to the doctor for a persistent cough and being refused care. Or requesting a sexual health checkup and having the health care provider mock, belittle and shame you because of what your body looks like. Or begging people to not call an ambulance in an emergency, fearing that the ambulance crew might refuse to treat you.

This move comes on top of trying to ban transgender people from serving in the military, withdrawing guidance on including trans students in school and attacks on public services like Medicaid that will hit the trans community particularly hard. Advocates are watching developments here closely.

Take Action!

Rulemaking is a lengthy process: If the Trump administration decides to move forward with this rule, there will be a public comment period you can participate in.

You can also join fellow Care2 activists in calling on Congress to short-circuit the Trump Administration and proactively protect trans health care.

At Truthout, we never shy away from holding corporate and political forces to account -- but this kind of journalism is only made possible by readers like you. If you like what you're reading, make a donation!
Categories: News

Damning Audit of US Poverty Fuels New Poor People's Campaign

Mon, 04/30/2018 - 04:00

Armed with a new study documenting the deadly poverty that plagues the US, coalitions in at least 40 states are preparing for 40 days of direct action to demand an end to public policies that hurt the most vulnerable. Through deep research and interviews with those living in dehumanizing conditions, "The Souls of Poor Folk" shows why the United States is in need of a modern fusion movement.

 Cristina M. Fletes / St. Louis Post-Dispatch / TNS via Getty Images)Protesters and clergy members march on August 10, 2015 in St. Louis Missouri, as part of a Moral Monday demonstration. (Photo: Cristina M. Fletes / St. Louis Post-Dispatch / TNS via Getty Images)

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Five years ago this month, about 100 people rallied at the North Carolina legislature to protest its extremist policies, which included passing the most restrictive voting law in the country, blocking Medicaid expansion, cutting unemployment benefits, and eliminating the state Earned Income Tax Credit benefiting low-income families.

At that action, which has come to be known as the first Moral Monday, 17 protesters were arrested, igniting the largest state-government focused nonviolent civil disobedience campaign in US history.

Under the leadership of Rev. William Barber II* -- then president of the state NAACP and one of the first arrestees -- the Moral Monday movement led to the arrests of nearly a thousand people and spread to other states. The protesters were inspired by the Reconstruction-era Fusion Movement, which brought together a multiracial coalition of Populists and Republicans to elect one of the most progressive legislatures in state history just decades after the end of slavery, only to be eventually overthrown by white-supremacist Democratic vigilantes.

Influenced  by their Fusionist forefathers and foremothers, Moral Monday protesters led the effort that successfully voted North Carolina's extremist governor out of office in 2016, making him the only incumbent Republican governor who was unable to ride the Trump wave.  The Moral Monday movement showed the country what can happen when people of diverse identities and backgrounds come together as a force for change.

Now Barber has joined forces with Rev. Liz Theoharis of the Kairos Center to lead the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. The campaign, which was inspired by the anti-poverty work Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was engaged in before his assassination 50 years ago, will bring together diverse coalitions of activists from North Carolina and at least 40 other states to confront public policies that hurt the most vulnerable. From Mother's Day until June 23, activists will engage in 40 days of direct action challenging systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, and the war economy.

The effort will be informed by "The Souls of Poor Folk," an audit of poverty in America 50 years after the original Poor People's campaign was launched. The audit was produced by the Institute for Policy Studies along with the Kairos Center and Repairers of the Breach, a nonprofit led by Barber.

The audit found that more than 40.6 million Americans subsist below the poverty line and nearly half of the country's population cannot afford a $400 emergency. It also found that many Americans -- particularly those who live in the South -- are targeted by public policies that deprive them of political power and basic human rights.

For instance, 25 states -- including every Southern state except for Virginia and West Virginia -- have passed laws that preempt cities from raising the local minimum wage despite the audit's finding that in 2016 there was no state where an individual earning the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour could afford a two-bedroom apartment at market rent. In addition, every single Southern state has right-to-work laws in place that limit workers' ability to collectively bargain for higher pay.

The audit also notes that in the 2016 election -- the first presidential election without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 -- 14 states had new voting restrictions in place for the first time. Nearly half of these states were in the South: Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. In four Southern states -- Florida, Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee -- onerous felon disenfranchisement laws deprive one in five Black adults of the right to vote.

There are 18 states that have refused to expand Medicaid benefits under the Affordable Care Act, and a disproportionate number of these are in the South: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. Nationwide, 2.4 million people earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid but are too poor to afford insurance in the marketplace, and 89 percent of those who fall in this coverage gap reside in the South. The refusal to expand Medicaid is a factor in the rural hospital closures that have hit the South hard in recent years.

While these policies disproportionately impact people of color, the pain they cause crosses racial boundaries. For example, Portia Gibbs -- a white woman from North Carolina -- died after suffering a heart attack while being airlifted to a distant hospital just days after a private nonprofit corporation closed the hospital near her home. As the audit documents, more than 250,000 Americans die senseless deaths every year simply because they are poor.

Exposure to environmental toxins further exacerbates the health problems of the poor and people of color. In the historically Black community of West Port Arthur, Texas, for instance, residents live so close to oil refineries that the cancer rate there is 15 percent higher and the death rate 40 percent higher than the statewide average. And in Lowndes County, Alabama, an estimated 80 percent of residents do not have access to a public sewage system, which has led to widespread dumping and the reapparance of hookworm, a parasitic infection that had been largely eradicated in the United States.

These are just a few of the gripping statistics that the audit details. Through deep research and interviews with those living in dehumanizing conditions, "The Souls of Poor Folk" shows why America is in need of a modern fusion movement.

"During slavery, Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass and some Quakers and white evangelicals got together and formed a fusion movement that brought about abolition. When women didn't have the right to vote, Sojourner Truth and Elizabeth Cady Stanton got together, and they stood together until suffrage was won," the audit says. "Every major social movement in the nation's history has won in the end, because a moral, fusion coalition came together and refused to stand down in the face of tyranny. It's our time now."

* Barber is the author's father.

Categories: News

North Korea to Close Nuclear Test Site, Change Clocks to Match South

Sun, 04/29/2018 - 04:00

 Korea Summit Press Pool / AFP / Getty Images)North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un and South Korea's President Moon Jae-in walk on a bridge after a tree-planting ceremony at the truce village of Panmunjom on April 27, 2018. (Photo: Korea Summit Press Pool / AFP / Getty Images)

North Korea is reportedly planning to shut down its main nuclear test site in May and reset its clocks to return to the South's time zone, following a historic meeting between Korean leaders on Friday.

A spokesperson for South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Yoon Young-chan, said Sunday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has agreed "to close the North's nuclear test site next month. To make the dismantling process transparent, he agreed to invite experts and journalists from [South] Korea and the U.S. to the North."

"We will not repeat the painful history that is the Korean War, and I assure you that military force will not be used under any circumstance," Kim said at Friday's summit, according to Yoon. Kim added: 

The U.S. is constitutionally averse to North Korea, but through dialogue, it will become apparent that we have no intention to target South Korea, the Pacific Ocean, or the U.S. with nuclear weapons. If we are able to build trust with the U.S. through frequent meetings, and promises to end war, and practice a policy of non-aggression, there's no reason for us to live a hard life with nuclear weapons.

The announcement comes as the South is helping to arrange a potential meeting between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump, which is expected to take place in May or June.

"The closure of the nuclear test site would be a dramatic but likely symbolic event to set up Kim's summit with Trump," noted The Associated Press. "North Korea already announced this month that it has suspended all tests of nuclear devices and intercontinental ballistic missiles and plans to close its nuclear testing ground."

While Chinese researchers had published a report on Monday claiming that the Punggye-ri nuclear test site had collapsed and was beyond repair, U.S. intelligence officials told Reuters on Friday that the site "remains usable in spite of damage from a previous blast, and its closure could easily be reversed."

News of Kim's shutdown pledge was met with cautious optimism, and followed the release of the "Panmunjom Declaration," a document signed by both leaders on Friday, which states, "South and North Korea confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula." 

Yoon also said it was Kim who proposed the time zone change during the summit, stating, "The two different clocks for Seoul and Pyeongyang hanging in the Peace House broke his heart," so he said, "since it was us that switched from the standard time, we will reset our clocks."

"This is a good step," commented journalist Tim Shorrock, who often writes about U.S. foreign policy and East Asian politics.

This is a good step. Kind of a throwback: back in the 1950s, Syngman Rhee had South Korea's standard time set 30 minutes ahead of Japan's. https://t.co/0O7oD0hXai

— Tim Shorrock (@TimothyS) April 29, 2018
Categories: News

"Freedom" and "Liberty" Were Only for Whites in Settler Colonialism

Sun, 04/29/2018 - 04:00

By detailing the growth of the slave trade in the 17th century, Gerald Horne's new book, The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism, reveals how white supremacy, capitalism and the original sin of slavery in the Western Hemisphere became intertwined.

 Ricky Carioti / The Washington Post via Getty Images)A sculpture by artist Kwame Akoto-Bamfo, part of the Nkyinkyim Installation, of enslaved people in chains is shown after entering The National Memorial for Peace and Justice on April 20, 2018, in Montgomery, Al. (Photo: Ricky Carioti / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

By detailing the growth of the slave trade in the 17th century, Gerald Horne reveals how white supremacy, capitalism and the original sin of slavery in the Western Hemisphere became intertwined. Get The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism by clicking here now.

Current politics are so chaotic, staggering and fast-paced that we rarely hear of how we arrived at this moment of the resurgence of white supremacy in historical context. However, Professor Gerald Horne, author of The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism: The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy, and Capitalism in Seventeenth Century North America and the Caribbean, has his eyes firmly on the historical foundations of our contemporary racist politics in the age of Trump.

Mark Karlin: How did you settle on the title The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism for your book?

Gerald Horne: In my opinion, discussing profound change in the US without a popularizing of the concept of "settler colonialism" would be akin to seeking change in pre-1994 South Africa without underscoring "apartheid." By adding "apocalypse," I wanted to at once contrast this account with past accounts, which have tended to stress the "benefits" of settler colonialism, which obviously elides and obscures (if not justifies) genocide and dispossession targeting the Indigenous population of North America and mass enslavement of Africans. 

Truthout Progressive Pick The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism

White supremacy, capitalism and slavery are intertwined.

Click here now to get the book!

Which leads to the second question: How did the capitalism get a boost in the 1600s from slavery and white supremacy?

In the early 1600s, England was a minor power on the fringes of Europe. By the late 1600s, England was a major power en route to becoming a superpower. The propulsion for this profound transformation was provided by dispossession and enslavement of Africans. To telescope and simplify a complicated thesis, the turning point for London arrives in 1655 with the ouster of Spain from Jamaica, leading to the so-called "sugar boom," pouring wealth into the coffers of England, not least because this commodity is produced by the free labor of enslaved Africans. This in turn gives a boost to the African slave trade and its complement -- the building of ships; the necessity of banks to finance this odious commerce; and insurance companies to deal with frequent shipboard insurrections; and ultimately, super-profits at times amounting to a 1,700 percent return on investment, providing a kind of primitive accumulation of capital, providing the takeoff of the system known as capitalism. Thus, by 1664, an increasingly muscular London ousted the Dutch from what is now New York City and a goodly number of what are now the Middle-Atlantic states, and by 1672 arrives the systematizing of the African slave trade by dint of the founding of the Royal African Company, leading to a great leap forward for this flesh peddling, helping to complete a circle devoid of virtue -- enslaving of Africans on behalf of capital and capitalists. 

What role did the jostling between European powers play in the development of slavery in the Western Hemisphere?

As noted, those making straight-line projections in 1650 might have predicted that as an African in North America, I would be communicating in Dutch. That is, the Netherlands -- as suggested by their settling of what is now South Africa in 1652 -- and their (temporary) ouster of the Portuguese from Brazil (which comes to a crashing halt in 1654) was seen widely as the power of not just the present, but the future. Or said oracle simply examining the previous century may have pointed to Spain as the coming superpower, based on its empire that included a good deal of the Americas and stretched to Manila (leading to a contemplated invasion of China in 1588 -- but, coupled with the blunted invasion of England that same year -- this power, too, began to lose altitude, a reality ratified in 1655 with the loss of Jamaica to London). All of these aforementioned powers were enmeshed in the grossest form of human trafficking -- the African slave trade -- and competition for control of this grimy business both fed war between and among them and capitalism itself. 

 Monthly Review Press)Gerald Horne (Photo: Monthly Review Press) What role does the enslavement of the Indigenous population of the Western Hemisphere play in your historical analysis?

Recent scholarship has shown that enslavement of the Indigenous -- especially on the part of Spain -- was the initial impetus for the rise of the Spanish Empire, which by the end of the 16th century, seemed to be the preeminent power for centuries to come.  London was not absent from this "other" slavery, for the "settling" of what is now New England led to wars against the Indigenous, leading to their enslavement in the Caribbean and/or being sold into slave markets globally, providing capital for the takeoff of capitalism. The story of the revulsion in Madrid to the callously brutal enslavement of the Indigenous leading to increased enslavement of Africans is now an oft-told story. There was a dual enslavement of the Indigenous and Africans that propelled European and European settler development in the 17th century. 

How did the US's parent country, England, set the foundation for slavery in the United States?

London was hurtling toward a classic case of "imperial overstretch," gobbling vast swathes of territory without an adequate complement of soldiers nor settlers to provide "stability." This contributes to the acceleration of what I call the "Militarized Identity Politics" of "whiteness" and "white supremacy," i.e., not just the English, but the recently battered Irish and Scots and Welsh were invited to the colonial banquet, along with other European ethnic groups who … had been warring on the shores of Europe:  ultimately, British vs. Germans, British vs. French, Germans vs. Russians, Serbs vs. Croats, Greeks vs. Macedonians, et.al. were able to curb their warring against each other on the shores of Europe in favor of a new identity of "whiteness" once they crossed the Atlantic. There was a kind of "combat pay" in terms of dibs on the seized land of the Indigenous and the possibility of "stocking" this land with the free labor of Africans. 

This process was heightened post-1688 with the so-called "Glorious Revolution" in England as the rising merchants clipped the wings of the monarch, who had been the dominant force in grabbing the filthy lucre of the African slave trade. The result of 1688 was that under the guise of "freedom" and "liberty," this hateful business was deregulated, allowing for the accelerated entrance of the merchants, leading to a substantial expansion of wealth, including a spread of this model of development to the North American mainland (up until about 1750, London saw the Caribbean as being more valuable; thus South Carolina was a "colony of a colony," meaning Barbados; i.e. what became the "Palmetto State" was initiated by Barbadian planters in the 1670s who were increasingly being pressed by the African majority on this small island and had a felt need to both expand this plantation economy and escape the wrath of the enslaved). Then, to again telescope a complicated skein of events as noted in my book, The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the USA, 1688 was duplicated roughly in 1776 when slave traders and masters again draped their ignominious desire to continue dispossessing the Indigenous and enslaving Africans, clipped the wings of London altogether and established a new republic providing ... a kind of "combat pay" for poorer Europeans, often at the expense of the enslaved and the dispossessed, all the while prattling and prating about "freedom" and "liberty."

Obviously, we are in a period experiencing the resurgence of white supremacy. Can you relate this modern day reality back to the historical period you cover in your book? 

In part because of the inability -- even of those who see themselves as "radical," not to mention "liberal" -- to pierce the veil of US propaganda about the founding, there is not a mass recognition that this "republic" (and arguably capitalism itself) was founded on solemn principles not only of "white supremacy," but class collaboration between poorer and richer Europeans (see Bacon's Rebellion of 1676, for example, discussed in both my 17th century and 1776 books). November 2016 represented simply the latest expression of this deadly alliance; the descendants of enslaved Africans voted against the 45th president 9 to 1 -- at the same rate as those descendants of settlers in the heart of Dixie voted for him (it has escaped the attention of too many analysts that there has been a kind of "white united front" voting in the majority for the GOP presidential nominee at a rate of about 57 to 43 since 1964. Even David Duke, a Klansman and Nazi, received about 55 percent of the Euro-American vote in 1991 in a race for governor.) Because of an inadequate understanding of the historical roots of this "republic," not to mention capitalism itself, many "analysts" are blissfully unaware of these fundamental facts, leading repeatedly to miscalculations and, if we are not careful, an even more dire fate than what is now on the immediate horizon.      

Categories: News

Why Is Charlottesville Suing Two Anti-Racist Groups Over Last Year's Violent "Unite the Right" Rally?

Sun, 04/29/2018 - 04:00

 Joshua Lott / AFP / Getty Images)Demonstrators protest against hate, white supremacy groups and US President Donald Trump on Sunday, August 13, 2017, in Chicago, Illinois. Protesters were responding to violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, after 3 people were killed and several injured. (Photo: Joshua Lott / AFP / Getty Images)

In order to establish a legal injunction barring "private militias" from operating in the state of Virginia, attorneys with a "constitutional advocacy" group are suing two anti-racist groups along with the white supremacists who organized the violent "Unite the Right Rally" in Charlottesville, Virginia last summer. Redneck Revolt and the Socialist Rifle Association showed up to protect counter-protesters and the people of Charlottesville from militant members of the "alt-right," so why are they targeted in this legal action?

 Joshua Lott / AFP / Getty Images)Demonstrators protest against hate, white supremacy groups and US President Donald Trump on Sunday, August 13, 2017, in Chicago, Illinois. Protesters were responding to violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, after 3 people were killed and several injured. (Photo: Joshua Lott / AFP / Getty Images)

The city of Charlottesville, Virginia, made headlines in October 2017 after announcing a lawsuit against the right-wing organizers of the now-infamous "Unite the Right Rally" last August. The city declared that it was holding "private military forces" legally responsible for the violence that occurred during that weekend of white supremacist rallies and counter-protests.

Ostensibly the lawsuit seems like the kind of news that would be welcomed by social justice advocates, as it's in line with a separate civil lawsuit filed against the rally's organizers by local residents seeking damages. However, this specific legal action actually targets two left-wing, anti-racist groups in addition to the white supremacists. Why is Charlottesville suing activists who showed up to resist racist violence? 

The two left-wing groups named in the lawsuit are Redneck Revolt and the Socialist Rifle Association. Redneck Revolt was founded 2009 as an offshoot of the John Brown Gun Club, a community defense group. It defines itself as "a national network of community defense projects from a broad spread of political, religious, and cultural backgrounds ... a pro-worker, anti-racist organization that focuses on working class liberation from the oppressive systems which dominate our lives." The Socialist Rifle Association is an anti-fascist group that defends the rights of working-class people to carry guns. "We are working class and poor people dedicated to educating our class in the safe use of firearms for personal and community self-defense as well as recreation and subsistence hunting," declares the group's website.

What Were These Groups Doing in Charlottesville?

Last month, Redneck Revolt's Dwayne Dixon spoke with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation about how he and other members of the organization showed up armed in Charlottesville to protect community members from acts of racist violence. 

"We knew we were being intensely scrutinized," Dixon said. "My personal rejoinder would be like, well, who's worrying about optics when people might actually be killed? What really is our priority here?" 

After the rally, the author and activist Cornel West explained on Democracy Now! that groups of anti-fascist counter-protesters protected him, and others, from being attacked by white supremacists: 

The neo-fascists had their own ammunition. And this is very important to keep in mind, because the police, for the most part, pulled back. The next day, for example, those 20 of us who were standing, many of them clergy, we would have been crushed like cockroaches if it were not for the anarchists and the anti-fascists who approached, over 300, 350 anti-fascists. We just had 20. And we're singing "This Little light of Mine," you know what I mean? So ... the anti-fascists, and then, crucial, the anarchists, because they saved our lives, actually. We would have been completely crushed, and I'll never forget that.

Where Does the Lawsuit Come From?

The Charlottesville lawsuit was not initiated by members of the community, but by the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP) at Georgetown University Law Center. The legal action doesn't seek any damages for property destruction or personal injuries. Rather, it's seeking an injunction to bar "private-militias" from entering the state of Virginia.

Attorney Mary McCord is leading the lawsuit. McCord is a longtime federal prosecutor who served as acting assistant atorney general for national security at the Department of Justice from 2016 to 2017. She is probably best known for leading the probe into the potential collusion between Donald Trump's presidential campaign and the Russian government while she was at the Justice Department, before stepping down last April. 

In an interview with Georgetown Law Magazine, McCord said the idea behind the lawsuit came from an article written by University of Virginia history professor Philip Zelikow. As a lawyer fighting against the Ku Klux Klan during the 80s and 90s, Zelikow had made use of a Virginia state law that bans unauthorized military groups. "We talked to Zelikow and we were off to the races," McCord said.

McCord sent an email out to Charlottesville community members, on behalf of ICAP, to potentially solicit additional plaintiffs for the case. The email, which was obtained by Truthout, makes no mention of the two left-wing groups being included in the lawsuit:

Like so many others across the country, we at ICAP were horrified to see the white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups invade Charlottesville during the Unite the Right rally. We are planning to bring a court case to prevent the groups that looked and acted like private militias -- some armed with assault rifles and others with batons, bats, clubs, and other weapons -- from coming back to Charlottesville. 

Pam Starsia and Jeff Fogel, attorneys with the National Lawyers Guild's Central Virginia Chapter, are representing Redneck Revolt. Starsia told Truthout that the lawsuit was "slap in the face" on two levels.

"Not only are they wasting resources on this thing that won't help keep us safe, but they are also targeting Redneck Revolt, some of the only people who actually tried to defend our community from white supremacist violence on August 12," Starsia said.

Truthout reached out to the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection for a more specific explanation of why these groups were included in the lawsuit. The group declined to comment on the litigation and referred Truthout to their written complaint.

The complaint calls the two left-wing organizations "private militia groups … [that] helped create and secure a staging area for counter-protestors." It points to a post on Redneck Revolt's website where the group declared its refusal to let "fascists organize publicly ... without challenge." It also cites an article on the Redneck Revolt website detailing how armed members of the group created a security perimeter around a park to make it an "autonomous zone," keeping cops and the state out. 

The lawsuit frames the argument against the two groups within the context of the Second Amendment. While the Constitution protects an individual's right to self-defense, the complaint points out that it doesn't allow individuals to "form unregulated private armies or private peacekeeping forces." The groups "were equipped to inflict massive harm upon a moment's notice from their commanders," the complaint claims. "Whatever their stated intentions, these groups terrified local residents and caused attendees to mistake them for  authorized military personnel."

The complaint also points out that the Socialist Rifle Association members assisted in creating this perimeter and quotes a Facebook post on the Socialist Rifle Association's page thanking Redneck Revolt for holding the line against "Nazi scum."

A Pattern of Targeting of Anti-Racist Activists in Charlottesville

The lawsuit doesn't mark the first time that anti-fascists have been targeted in relation to the Unite the Right Rally. An intelligence bulletin sent out just two days before the rally by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Intelligence and Analysis focused on the possibility that counter-protesters could foment violence in Charlottesville. The bulletin, which was obtained by Politco, identified "anarchist extremists" -- not white supremacists -- as "the principal drivers of violence at recent white supremacist rallies."

After the Unite the Right Rally, the city of Charlottesville hired a consulting firm to study the reasons behind the violence. The results of that investigation, which was led by former US Attorney Tim Heaphy, were released in December 2017. University of Virginia education professor Walter Heinecke applied for a permit to reserve Charlottesville's Justice Park as a spot to protest the rally. According to the report, police told Heinecke that there would be "no available police assets" to protect the counter-protesters who planned to gather there.

The report also revealed that a Charlottesville detective spoke with an FBI agent about the neo-Nazi Traditionalist Workers Party's involvement with the rally. The FBI agent told the detective that the neo-Nazis were "not likely to cause problems" but that "the counter-protesters might."

Three Black counter-protesters were eventually arrested for alleged acts violence during the Unite the Right rally. Last October saw the arrests of Deandre Harris and Corey Long. Harris was beaten so severely by white supremacists during the rally that he suffered a concussion, a fractured wrist and received multiple staples in his head to treat a wound, but he was accused of assaulting white nationalist Harold Crews. Harris' lawyer insisted that Harris was acting in self-defense and that he had swung a flashlight to prevent Crews from spearing another person with a Confederate flag. Harris faced a potential year in jail and a $2,500 fine, but he was acquitted in March. 

That same month Corey Long was charged with disorderly conduct, as well as assault and battery for allegedly using a makeshift torch as a weapon against white nationalists. Long also claims he was attempting to protect a counter-protester from potential violence.

"I was not in the wrong," Long said. "A guy threw a spray can at me, and I took it to my advantage."

His trial was scheduled to begin on April 17, but his lawyers were granted a continuance.

On April 16, 51-year-old Donald Blakney was indicted. Blakney has been charged with malicious wounding for allegedly hitting a man he believed to be a white nationalist during the rally, shortly after he was assaulted and called a racial slur by a different individual. Blakney's charge is a felony that carries a five-year minimum sentence.

This lawsuit comes at a time when dozens of anti-protest bills are being debated throughout the country. There was a sizable uptick in such proposals after the protests at Standing Rock, and the violence in Charlottesville has only enhanced these efforts. In January, under guidance from the State's Office of Attorney General, Virginia Democratic Delegate Marcia Price introduced HB 1601, a piece of legislation that would ban protests by people categorized by state authorities as members of "domestic terrorist groups."

In February, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring expressed dismay over the fact that the bill wasn't heard by the state's General Assembly. 

"It's disappointing," said Herring. "It's frustrating. What it says to me is that there is indifference to the growing threat of white supremacists' violence and extremism that we see around the country and here in Virginia."

The ACLU of Virginia opposed HB 1601, arguing that it would set up a dangerous precedent that could be exploited by the state to target minority communities.

Following the Unite the Right rally, President Trump received vast criticism for declaring that "both sides" were responsible for the violence.

"You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent," Trump said. "Nobody wants to say it, but I will say it right now." 

In targeting anti-racist groups such as Redneck Revolt and the Socialist Rifle Association alongside the white supremacist groups that organized the Unite the Right rally, many believe that the Charlottesville lawsuit reinforces Trump's "both sides" rhetoric.

The lawsuit, however, does not seem likely to put a significant damper on anti-fascist organizing nationwide, which even the infamous white nationalist Richard Spencer acknowledged has already succeeded in putting the white nationalist movement "up the creek without a paddle," while speaking on YouTube in March.

"I really hate to say this, and I definitely hesitate to say this but antifa is winning to the extent that they're willing to go further than anyone else," Spencer said.

Categories: News

Protests Force Starbucks to Ditch ADL From Leading Anti-Racism Training

Sun, 04/29/2018 - 04:00

After a video of the arrest of two African-American men sitting in Starbucks without buying anything went viral, Starbucks scheduled anti-racism training. But their inclusion of the Anti-Defamation League in the training provoked another outcry and Starbucks capitulated.

On April 12, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were arrested for trespassing at a Philadelphia Starbucks. A manager called the police because the men, who had been in the coffee shop for just a few minutes, hadn't bought anything.

Melissa DePino, a Starbucks customer who recorded the video of the arrest that went viral on social media, said, "These guys never raised their voices. They never did anything remotely aggressive.... I was sitting close to where they were. Very close. They were not doing anything. They weren't."

In an attempt to avert a public relations disaster after the racist incident became public, Starbucks announced it would close most of its 8,000 locations on May 29 for racial bias training.

But, adding insult to injury, Starbucks included the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), with its notorious history of racism, as a primary participant in the anti-racism training.

Community outrage at ADL's central role in the training was swift and strong. Starbucks demoted ADL to a consulting role, and named representatives of three prominent African-American-led civil rights organizations to lead the training.

ADL: "Anti-Muslim, Anti-Palestinian, Anti-Black and Anti-Activist"

After Starbucks had initially announced the composition of its anti-racism trainers, there was a powerful backlash in the civil rights community against ADL's leadership role.

Tamika Mallory, co-chair of the Women's March and Black Lives Matter, called for a boycott of Starbucks. Mallory, a nationally prominent organizer for gun control and women's rights, and against police violence, is the 2018 recipient of the Coretta Scott King Legacy Award.

Mallory tweeted that Starbucks "is NOT serious about doing right by BLACK people!" because of the prominent role it gave ADL, which "is CONSTANTLY attacking black and brown people."

Cat Brooks, co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, said she agrees with Mallory. "You can't be a piece of an anti-bias training when you openly support a racist, oppressive and brutal colonization of Palestine."

Linda Sarsour, also co-chair of the Women's March, wrote on Facebook that ADL is "an anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian organization that peddles Islamophobia and attacks America's prominent Muslim orgs and activists and supports/sponsors US law enforcement agents to travel and get trained by Israeli military."

Palestinian-American comedian, activist and professor Amer Zahr grew up in Philadelphia. Zahr told this reporter that ADL and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) "were the architects of the anti-Arab and anti-Islamic industry in America for the last 50 to 60 years."

Zahr said that "welcoming groups like ADL into the family of civil rights organizations ... is a real slap in the face to Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims who have been the victims of ADL rhetoric for decades."

Asked to respond to Starbucks' decision, a spokesman for the ADL who was contacted refused to comment.

Spied on Leftists

ADL was established in 1913 "to defend Jews, and later other minority groups from discrimination," Robert I. Friedman wrote in 1993. It led the struggle against the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party, and supported the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. But in the late 1940s, "ADL spied on leftists and Communists, and shared investigative files with the House Committee on Un-American Activities and the FBI. The ADL swung sharply to the right during the Reagan administration, becoming a bastion of neoconservatism."

In 1993, the San Francisco District Attorney released 700 pages of documents that implicated ADL in an extensive spying operation against US citizens who opposed Israel's policies in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza, and apartheid in South Africa. ADL then passed the information to Israel's Mossad and South African intelligence.

The documents revealed that ADL provided information to South African intelligence shortly before Chris Hani was assassinated. Hani was a leader of the African National Congress, which led the struggle against apartheid, and was considered the successor to Nelson Mandela. Hani was killed soon after returning from a speaking tour in California, where he had been spied on by ADL.

Fifteen civil rights groups and seven individuals filed a federal lawsuit against ADL in 1993 for violation of their civil and privacy rights by spying on them. Six years later, federal Judge Richard Paez issued an injunction permanently enjoining ADL from illegally spying on Arab-American and other civil rights organizations.

But ADL's hateful activities continue. Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson said in an interview with Consortium News that ADL, which "calls itself a civil rights organization, is in truth playing a really damaging role in a number of communities." She noted that ADL is "promoting and complicit in anti-Muslim, anti-Palestinian, anti-Black and anti-activist campaigns."

Vilkomerson criticized ADL for honoring the St. Louis Police Department one year after their officers killed Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American man in Ferguson.

Arielle Klagsbrun of the St. Louis JVP explained, "The ADL's side is the side of police. As someone whose family members are Holocaust survivors, the lessons I learned from the Holocaust for today are that black lives matter and that we must stand against systemic racism."

Soffiyah Elijah, executive director of Alliance of Families for Justice, said in an interview that if one were crafting a training program against anti-Semitism, you "wouldn't go to the NAACP for sensitivity training," adding, "as a Black person, I found [the inclusion of ADL] further insulting."

Vilkomerson called ADL "one of the biggest purveyors" of exchanges between Israeli and US law enforcement, where American police go to Israel to learn "counter-terrorism" measures to be applied here. That encompasses "racial profiling, spying, mass surveillance and collective punishment."

But "US police don't really need a lesson in racism," Vilkomerson added.

Starbucks Backs Down After Anti-ADL Backlash  

JVP circulated a petition against inclusion of ADL, which garnered 11,000 signatures in 72 hours. According to Vilkomerson, the "enormous outpouring" on Twitter of opposition to ADL's initial central role in the training and the "week-long pushback," including JVP's petition, led Starbucks to back down. 

Starbucks issued a statement identifying the leaders of the training as: Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of Equal Justice Initiative; Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; and Heather McGhee, president of Demos, a civil rights organization.

The three leaders "will provide advice, counsel, connections to other experts, and recommendations to Starbucks for the May 29 training, which will launch the multiphase effort for the company."

Starbucks said it "will also consult with a diverse array of organizations and civil rights experts -- including The Anti-Defamation League, The Leadership on Civil and Human Rights, UnidosUS, Muslim Advocates, and representatives of LGBTQ groups, religious groups, people with disabilities, and others."

JVP's deputy director Ari Wohlfeiler stated in a press release:

Starbucks will never say it publicly, but because of the huge public outcry about the ADL's unyielding pro-Israel position, their refusal to condemn police violence, their incessant Islamophobia, and the convergence of all those retrograde positions in their active facilitation of US/Israeli police exchange programs, Starbucks had no choice but to demote them.

It was an "excellent outcome," Vilkomerson said.

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Categories: News

Why Is Charlottesville Suing Two Anti-Racist Groups Over Last Year's Violent "Unite the Right" Rally?

Sun, 04/29/2018 - 04:00

 Joshua Lott / AFP / Getty Images)Demonstrators protest against hate, white supremacy groups and US President Donald Trump on Sunday, August 13, 2017, in Chicago, Illinois. Protesters were responding to violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, after 3 people were killed and several injured. (Photo: Joshua Lott / AFP / Getty Images)

In order to establish a legal injunction barring "private militias" from operating in the state of Virginia, attorneys with a "constitutional advocacy" group are suing two anti-racist groups along with the white supremacists who organized the violent "Unite the Right Rally" in Charlottesville, Virginia last summer. Redneck Revolt and the Socialist Rifle Association showed up to protect counter-protesters and the people of Charlottesville from militant members of the "alt-right," so why are they targeted in this legal action?

 Joshua Lott / AFP / Getty Images)Demonstrators protest against hate, white supremacy groups and US President Donald Trump on Sunday, August 13, 2017, in Chicago, Illinois. Protesters were responding to violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, after 3 people were killed and several injured. (Photo: Joshua Lott / AFP / Getty Images)

The city of Charlottesville, Virginia, made headlines in October 2017 after announcing a lawsuit against the right-wing organizers of the now-infamous "Unite the Right Rally" last August. The city declared that it was holding "private military forces" legally responsible for the violence that occurred during that weekend of white supremacist rallies and counter-protests.

Ostensibly the lawsuit seems like the kind of news that would be welcomed by social justice advocates, as it's in line with a separate civil lawsuit filed against the rally's organizers by local residents seeking damages. However, this specific legal action actually targets two left-wing, anti-racist groups in addition to the white supremacists. Why is Charlottesville suing activists who showed up to resist racist violence? 

The two left-wing groups named in the lawsuit are Redneck Revolt and the Socialist Rifle Association. Redneck Revolt was founded 2009 as an offshoot of the John Brown Gun Club, a community defense group. It defines itself as "a national network of community defense projects from a broad spread of political, religious, and cultural backgrounds ... a pro-worker, anti-racist organization that focuses on working class liberation from the oppressive systems which dominate our lives." The Socialist Rifle Association is an anti-fascist group that defends the rights of working-class people to carry guns. "We are working class and poor people dedicated to educating our class in the safe use of firearms for personal and community self-defense as well as recreation and subsistence hunting," declares the group's website.

What Were These Groups Doing in Charlottesville?

Last month, Redneck Revolt's Dwayne Dixon spoke with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation about how he and other members of the organization showed up armed in Charlottesville to protect community members from acts of racist violence. 

"We knew we were being intensely scrutinized," Dixon said. "My personal rejoinder would be like, well, who's worrying about optics when people might actually be killed? What really is our priority here?" 

After the rally, the author and activist Cornel West explained on Democracy Now! that groups of anti-fascist counter-protesters protected him, and others, from being attacked by white supremacists: 

The neo-fascists had their own ammunition. And this is very important to keep in mind, because the police, for the most part, pulled back. The next day, for example, those 20 of us who were standing, many of them clergy, we would have been crushed like cockroaches if it were not for the anarchists and the anti-fascists who approached, over 300, 350 anti-fascists. We just had 20. And we're singing "This Little light of Mine," you know what I mean? So ... the anti-fascists, and then, crucial, the anarchists, because they saved our lives, actually. We would have been completely crushed, and I'll never forget that.

Where Does the Lawsuit Come From?

The Charlottesville lawsuit was not initiated by members of the community, but by the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP) at Georgetown University Law Center. The legal action doesn't seek any damages for property destruction or personal injuries. Rather, it's seeking an injunction to bar "private-militias" from entering the state of Virginia.

Attorney Mary McCord is leading the lawsuit. McCord is a longtime federal prosecutor who served as acting assistant atorney general for national security at the Department of Justice from 2016 to 2017. She is probably best known for leading the probe into the potential collusion between Donald Trump's presidential campaign and the Russian government while she was at the Justice Department, before stepping down last April. 

In an interview with Georgetown Law Magazine, McCord said the idea behind the lawsuit came from an article written by University of Virginia history professor Philip Zelikow. As a lawyer fighting against the Ku Klux Klan during the 80s and 90s, Zelikow had made use of a Virginia state law that bans unauthorized military groups. "We talked to Zelikow and we were off to the races," McCord said.

McCord sent an email out to Charlottesville community members, on behalf of ICAP, to potentially solicit additional plaintiffs for the case. The email, which was obtained by Truthout, makes no mention of the two left-wing groups being included in the lawsuit:

Like so many others across the country, we at ICAP were horrified to see the white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups invade Charlottesville during the Unite the Right rally. We are planning to bring a court case to prevent the groups that looked and acted like private militias -- some armed with assault rifles and others with batons, bats, clubs, and other weapons -- from coming back to Charlottesville. 

Pam Starsia and Jeff Fogel, attorneys with the National Lawyers Guild's Central Virginia Chapter, are representing Redneck Revolt. Starsia told Truthout that the lawsuit was "slap in the face" on two levels.

"Not only are they wasting resources on this thing that won't help keep us safe, but they are also targeting Redneck Revolt, some of the only people who actually tried to defend our community from white supremacist violence on August 12," Starsia said.

Truthout reached out to the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection for a more specific explanation of why these groups were included in the lawsuit. The group declined to comment on the litigation and referred Truthout to their written complaint.

The complaint calls the two left-wing organizations "private militia groups … [that] helped create and secure a staging area for counter-protestors." It points to a post on Redneck Revolt's website where the group declared its refusal to let "fascists organize publicly ... without challenge." It also cites an article on the Redneck Revolt website detailing how armed members of the group created a security perimeter around a park to make it an "autonomous zone," keeping cops and the state out. 

The lawsuit frames the argument against the two groups within the context of the Second Amendment. While the Constitution protects an individual's right to self-defense, the complaint points out that it doesn't allow individuals to "form unregulated private armies or private peacekeeping forces." The groups "were equipped to inflict massive harm upon a moment's notice from their commanders," the complaint claims. "Whatever their stated intentions, these groups terrified local residents and caused attendees to mistake them for  authorized military personnel."

The complaint also points out that the Socialist Rifle Association members assisted in creating this perimeter and quotes a Facebook post on the Socialist Rifle Association's page thanking Redneck Revolt for holding the line against "Nazi scum."

A Pattern of Targeting of Anti-Racist Activists in Charlottesville

The lawsuit doesn't mark the first time that anti-fascists have been targeted in relation to the Unite the Right Rally. An intelligence bulletin sent out just two days before the rally by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Intelligence and Analysis focused on the possibility that counter-protesters could foment violence in Charlottesville. The bulletin, which was obtained by Politco, identified "anarchist extremists" -- not white supremacists -- as "the principal drivers of violence at recent white supremacist rallies."

After the Unite the Right Rally, the city of Charlottesville hired a consulting firm to study the reasons behind the violence. The results of that investigation, which was led by former US Attorney Tim Heaphy, were released in December 2017. University of Virginia education professor Walter Heinecke applied for a permit to reserve Charlottesville's Justice Park as a spot to protest the rally. According to the report, police told Heinecke that there would be "no available police assets" to protect the counter-protesters who planned to gather there.

The report also revealed that a Charlottesville detective spoke with an FBI agent about the neo-Nazi Traditionalist Workers Party's involvement with the rally. The FBI agent told the detective that the neo-Nazis were "not likely to cause problems" but that "the counter-protesters might."

Three Black counter-protesters were eventually arrested for alleged acts violence during the Unite the Right rally. Last October saw the arrests of Deandre Harris and Corey Long. Harris was beaten so severely by white supremacists during the rally that he suffered a concussion, a fractured wrist and received multiple staples in his head to treat a wound, but he was accused of assaulting white nationalist Harold Crews. Harris' lawyer insisted that Harris was acting in self-defense and that he had swung a flashlight to prevent Crews from spearing another person with a Confederate flag. Harris faced a potential year in jail and a $2,500 fine, but he was acquitted in March. 

That same month Corey Long was charged with disorderly conduct, as well as assault and battery for allegedly using a makeshift torch as a weapon against white nationalists. Long also claims he was attempting to protect a counter-protester from potential violence.

"I was not in the wrong," Long said. "A guy threw a spray can at me, and I took it to my advantage."

His trial was scheduled to begin on April 17, but his lawyers were granted a continuance.

On April 16, 51-year-old Donald Blakney was indicted. Blakney has been charged with malicious wounding for allegedly hitting a man he believed to be a white nationalist during the rally, shortly after he was assaulted and called a racial slur by a different individual. Blakney's charge is a felony that carries a five-year minimum sentence.

This lawsuit comes at a time when dozens of anti-protest bills are being debated throughout the country. There was a sizable uptick in such proposals after the protests at Standing Rock, and the violence in Charlottesville has only enhanced these efforts. In January, under guidance from the State's Office of Attorney General, Virginia Democratic Delegate Marcia Price introduced HB 1601, a piece of legislation that would ban protests by people categorized by state authorities as members of "domestic terrorist groups."

In February, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring expressed dismay over the fact that the bill wasn't heard by the state's General Assembly. 

"It's disappointing," said Herring. "It's frustrating. What it says to me is that there is indifference to the growing threat of white supremacists' violence and extremism that we see around the country and here in Virginia."

The ACLU of Virginia opposed HB 1601, arguing that it would set up a dangerous precedent that could be exploited by the state to target minority communities.

Following the Unite the Right rally, President Trump received vast criticism for declaring that "both sides" were responsible for the violence.

"You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent," Trump said. "Nobody wants to say it, but I will say it right now." 

In targeting anti-racist groups such as Redneck Revolt and the Socialist Rifle Association alongside the white supremacist groups that organized the Unite the Right rally, many believe that the Charlottesville lawsuit reinforces Trump's "both sides" rhetoric.

The lawsuit, however, does not seem likely to put a significant damper on anti-fascist organizing nationwide, which even the infamous white nationalist Richard Spencer acknowledged has already succeeded in putting the white nationalist movement "up the creek without a paddle," while speaking on YouTube in March.

"I really hate to say this, and I definitely hesitate to say this but antifa is winning to the extent that they're willing to go further than anyone else," Spencer said.

Categories: News

Domestic Workers and Farmworkers Join Forces to End Sexual Violence

Sun, 04/29/2018 - 04:00

On 24 April 2018, over 200 domestic workers, farmworker women and allies came together for the Unstoppable Day of Action at the U.S. capitol, calling on lawmakers to pass sexual harassment protections for all workers. After a press conference in the morning, a delegation of women led by the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) and the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (National Farmworker Women's Alliance) visited over 60 members of Congress  from both chambers to discuss legislative solutions to sexual harassment. Specifically, they are calling on employers, lawmakers, and advocates all over the United States to:

  1. Close legal loopholes so that workplace harassment and abuse is deemed unlawful in every workplace -- no exceptions.
  2. Make it simple and safe for workers to report sexual harassment and file complaints.
  3. Provide funding for culturally and linguistically appropriate resources for domestic workers and farmworkers who file complaints.
  4. Promote policy reform to ensure that farmworkers and domestic workers are covered by anti-sexual harassment and retaliation laws. 

For decades, domestic workers and farmworker women have been systematically excluded from labour protection laws and have faced extensive barriers to justice for sexual harassment, among other forms of abuse. Most have no human resources department to turn to, and are not covered by Title VII, the federal anti-discrimination law that prohibits sexual harassment, as the law currently only applies to workplaces with 15 employees or more. Since most workers in the care sector are the only or one of just a few employees in their workplace, they -- along with independent contractors -- fall beyond the purview of this federal labour protection instrument.

"It's happening to us because we are invisible workers," said Teresa Arredondo, farmworker leader from Alianza de Campesinas. Throughout the 32 years that Arredondo worked in the fields, she experienced multiple kinds of exploitation and discrimination, including sexual violence in the workplace. As Arredondo concluded her statements at the podium, farmworker women and domestic workers stood holding a banner with the words "THESE SURVIVORS WANT SAFETY AND DIGNITY IN ALL WORKPLACES" and chanted "We see you. We love you. Thank you." 

The isolated and invisible nature of farm work -- which occurs on remote fields or packing houses, with limited access to public transport -- and domestic work, which often takes place behind the closed doors of the employer's home, makes it especially difficult for these workers to organise and access the very limited recourses available to them for reporting instances of sexual violence in the workplace.

"Many of them don't even know about the existence of the limited law we are trying to expand," Myrla Baldonado, an organizer of the LA-based Pilipino Workers Center, told Beyond Trafficking and Slavery after the rally, further highlighting the need for resources to be more accessible to all workers, regardless of their cultural, linguistic and migratory background. 

Ai-jen Poo, executive director of the NDWA emphasized the historical significance of the Unstoppable campaign, which brings together two of the groups that are most commonly excluded from labor protections "What's amazing about this moment is that we are not alone,"  said Poo, "our solutions leave no one behind." Actress, producer, and TIME'S UP founding member Olga Segura, who was also present at the action, echoed this point, stating: "If the law does not protect all of us, then the law is not good enough and must change".

As the experience of these women has shown, immigrants and women of color are especially vulnerable to sexual harassment in the workplace. During her turn at the podium, longtime immigrant-rights activist and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) acknowledged that low-income, immigrant women of color bear a disproportional burden of the injustice, and spoke about the need for comprehensive immigration reform to address some of the root causes of sexual and labor abuses. 

The legacies of exclusion that now shape the conditions of domestic and farm work were a recurrent theme throughout the press conference. June Barnett, home care worker, organizer, and leader with the We Dream in Black program of the NDWA, poignantly said: "Our work has deep roots in slavery. They still see us as the help. Nothing is different." 

Monica Ramirez, President of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas reiterated Barnett's point: "Farmworkers and domestic workers --most of which are immigrant women and women of color -- cannot pretend that we were accidentally written out of the federal laws that guarantee protections to other workers." 

As such, implementing the Unstoppable campaign's demands entails much more than simply improving an inadequate system, it would also be what Baldonado considers "correcting a historic wrong". 

As public and political attention on the issue of sexual violence in the workplace increases with the continued flow of #MeToo disclosures, domestic workers and farm worker women are shining a light on solutions for workers who have been historically and systematically marginalized and excluded from existing labor laws. The Unstoppable campaign is particularly significant, as it constitutes an important example of what organizing across sectors can achieve. 

Want to take action? Click here to tell Congress to extend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the federal employment law that prohibits discrimination, so that all workers are covered.

Categories: News

Half of the Great Barrier Reef Has Died Since 2016

Sun, 04/29/2018 - 04:00

Scientists have known that Australia's iconic Great Barrier Reef is in trouble, but they are just starting to realize the extent of the damage that's been brought on by climate change.

The reef is one of the largest living structures on earth, stretching 1,400 miles, but despite being so massive it can be seen from space, it's still incredibly fragile. Scientists who have been studying the reef have been raising concerns about its future, but now a new study has shed even more light on the damage that's been brought about by climate change.

Scientists studied satellite maps and examined individual species of coral, and found the reef has been forever altered. The changes they documented are the result of a massive coral bleaching event, brought on by higher ocean temperatures.

According to their work, which was just published in the journal Nature, an extreme heat wave in 2016 caused a catastrophic die-off that killed more than half of the corals in the northern third of the reef, but that wasn't even the extent of the damage. They also found that 30 percent of the coral across the entire reef had been lost.

Coral has a symbiotic relationship with tiny algae, known as zooxanthellae, that provide it with food and give it its color. When coral is stressed because of high ocean temperatures, or other causes like pollution and acidification, it expels the algae living in its tissues, which exposes its white skeleton, leaving corals to starve.

Corals may recover over time if stressors are reduced, but if they continue the coral will die. Unfortunately, a second marine heat wave hit in 2017, causing another damaging bleaching event that led to the death of another 20 percent of corals.

In all, about half of the corals in the reef have been wiped out in just two years. Some of the corals didn't even live long enough to starve, they just died almost immediately from heat stress.

Even if some corals recover, it will take years and the ecosystem won't resemble what it once was. If there's any good news here, it's that some species are a bit tougher than others, and have survived in the damaged areas affected by heat, but scientists believe the reef has been forever altered.

"The coral die-off has caused radical changes in the mix of coral species on hundreds of individual reefs, where mature and diverse reef communities are being transformed into more degraded systems, with just a few tough species remaining," said the study's co-author Professor Andrew Baird, of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at James Cook University in Queensland.

Losing a coral reef ecosystem like the Great Barrier Reef wouldn't just be a tragedy in and of itself, it would be devastating blow to biodiversity. The reef provides a home for thousands of species, and it draws millions of people every year who want the opportunity to experience it in person.

Sadly, bleaching events are becoming more common, putting the Great Barrier Reef, and other reef ecosystems, at risk. While the Great Barrier Reef may be different in the future, scientists believe there's still time to save what's left with quick action on our part to limit carbon emissions.

Categories: News

In "Huge Win for Pollinators, People, and the Planet," EU Bans Bee-Killing Pesticides

Sat, 04/28/2018 - 04:00

 Dejan Hudoletnjak/Flickr/cc)The European Union on Friday voted to ban agricultural pesticides that are harmful to bees and which scientists have warned could have a broader impact on the global food chain. (Photo: Dejan Hudoletnjak/Flickr/cc)

Faced with mounting scientific evidence that bee-poisoning neonicotinoids, or neonics, could cause an "ecological armageddon," European regulators on Friday approved a "groundbreaking" and "historic" ban on the widely-used class of pesticides -- an announcement met with immediate applause by campaigners.

 

Congratulations to the millions of people across Europe who've taken action and put pressure on politicians to #SaveTheBees! If there are no exceptions to the ban on bee-killing #neonics, it will be a huge victory for our bees and the wider environment. https://t.co/rIITy2kpHY

— Friends of the Earth (@foeeurope) April 27, 2018

 

"The E.U.'s groundbreaking ban on bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides is a huge win for pollinators, people, and the planet," responded Tiffany Finck-Haynes, senior food futures campaigner for Friends of the Earth (FOE).

Lori Ann Burd, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's environmental health program, said it's also a win for "science-based regulation of pesticides."

Under the new rules, which build on existing restrictions and are expected to take effect by the end of the year, three main neonics -- imidacloprid, clothianidin, and thiamethoxam -- will only be allowed in permanent greenhouses "where no contact with bees is expected," according to a statement by the European Union (EU).

Vytenis Andriukaitis, European commissioner for health and food safety, welcomed the move, which follows a February assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) that concluded "most uses of neonicotinoid pesticides represent a risk to wild bees and honeybees."

"Bee health remains of paramount importance for me since it concerns biodiversity, food production, and the environment," Andriukaitis told the Guardian.

The vote was widely praised by the many environmental advocates who have spent years fighting for an outright ban on the use of neonics -- a position that has been met with protests from major agricultural groups and lobbyists for pesticide manufacturers.

 

THE #BEES WON !! Europe just voted for a ban on bee-killing pesticides, after millions signed petitions, marched, and flooded ministries with messages. Time for the US, Canada, and the rest of the world to follow suit and BAN #neonicotinoides everywhere! pic.twitter.com/mMtqti36S7

— Avaaz (@Avaaz) April 27, 2018

 

"Authorizing neonicotinoids during a quarter of a century was a mistake and led to an environmental disaster. Today's vote is historic," declared Martin Dermine of Pesticide Action Network Europe.

"A majority of member states gave a clear signal that our agriculture needs transition," Dermine added. "Using bee-killing pesticides cannot be allowed anymore and only sustainable practices should be used to produce our food."

 

?BREAKING NEWS?

European governments have voted for an EU ban on three #neonicotinoids – a vital first step to #savethebees (and the humans) pic.twitter.com/BODZdCnqGA

— Greenpeace (@Greenpeace) April 27, 2018

 

While celebrating their victory in Europe, critics of neonics also used the news to draw attention to alarming developments at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the era of President Donald Trump.

"The E.U.'s wisdom highlights the Trump EPA's folly," noted Burd. "Although U.S. beekeepers reported catastrophic losses again this winter, and just this past week the EPA closed a comment period on another suite of damning neonicotinoid risk assessments, rather than banning these dangerous pesticides, the agency is actually considering increasing the use of neonics across another 165 million acres."

Instead, Finck-Haynes said, U.S. regulators and food retailers should "take immediate action and eliminate the use of these toxic pesticides."

Categories: News

Scam PACs Line Pockets by Misleading Donors

Sat, 04/28/2018 - 04:00

Some rake in donations for illegitimate political campaigns for figures like Laura Ingraham and Congressman Allen West. Others latch onto specific issues like veterans' rights or regions like the Virgin Islands. "Scam PACs" have caught the attention of the Federal Election Commission (FEC), but commissioners, known for infighting and icy political rivalries, have done little to address it.

 Shutterstock)(Photo: Shutterstock)

Some rake in donations for illegitimate political campaigns for figures like Laura Ingraham and Congressman Allen West. Others latch onto specific issues like veterans' rights or regions like the Virgin Islands.

Some use mail campaigns to convince older, retired donors to send them money. Others use social media and aggressive call campaigns.

They're hard to track and harder to regulate because "scam PACs" -- committees that claim to be raising money for political campaigns but spend little to none of the proceeds on political activity -- are what experts call a "know-it-if-you-see-it situation."

"A scam PAC would be a political committee that raises funds with the purpose of supporting candidates or a particular cause, but then instead of spending the money raised to support candidates or causes, the political operatives running the PAC pay themselves," Brendan Fischer of Campaign Legal Center said.

The Center for Responsive Politics identified PACs that have spent at least $100,000 so far in the 2018 cycle, at least half of which went to "fundraising" as identified by CRP. (We assign expenditures to categories based on information disclosed in FEC filings, as described here).

Spending on fundraising is not necessarily shady; some groups put most of their money into fundraising early in the cycle, then make contributions or independent expenditures later in the cycle. However, our research identified a number of groups that have a pattern of wasting their donors' money.

These PACs will often spend large chunks of their money on fundraising campaigns, allocating the rest to salaries, administrative costs and overhead. In order to pocket the money they generate, those PACs will often pay inflated service fees to firms they're affiliated with.

Take Sheriff David Clarke for U.S. Senate. The draft committee used inflammatory fundraising emails that raised $2 million to entice the former Milwaukee sheriff to run for a Wisconsin Senate seat against Democratic incumbent Tammy Baldwin.

The only problem? Clarke never expressed interest in challenging Baldwin and dismissed the committee as a "scam." The PAC was started by Jack Daly, a lawyer who lives more than 1,000 miles away in North Carolina, and whose PAC spent $55,000 on bobbleheads last year. Daly has since changed the name to Bold Conservatives PAC.

These PACs are inherently hard to root out because their spending and campaign practices often don't adhere to any set formula. Their spending has caught the attention of the Federal Election Commission (FEC), but commissioners, known for infighting and icy political rivalries, have done little to address it.

In 2016, commissioners' attempts to reign in scam PACs were foiled by an appellate court decision and what former Democratic commissioner Ann Ravel described as "little willingness on the part of the commission" to impose any regulations.

"At its heart, it's something the FEC should do because the FEC is entrusted with the integrity of the electoral process, in particular campaign contributions and expenditures," Ravel said. "This is a really non-political issue -- or should be. It has no party attached to it. It's just plain fraud."

A number of the PACs are easy to spot and appear to do little to mask the networks of spending they've built. Perhaps one of the most prominent cluster of scam PACs center around one figure: Scott B. Mackenzie.

Mackenzie has served as the treasurer of 49 political groups since 1996 and in the 2016 election cycle was treasurer for 22.

PACs with Scott Mackenzie as treasurer, 2018 cycle Committee NameRaisedSpentMoney to Candidates Tea Party Majority Fund $1,053,224 $984,324 $0 Virgin Islands GOP $935,758 $984,451 $0 Conservative Majority Fund $723,259 $761,336 $0 Conservative Strikeforce $258,376 $268,693 $0 Tea Party Victory Fund $4,000 $4,000 $0 Founded On Truth $238 $238 $0 Black Republican PAC $30 $154 $0 Careless PAC $28 $1,730 $0 Save New York PAC $0 $0 $0 Man In The Arena $0 $0 $0 Hispanics For A Conservative America $0 $0 $0 Stand America PAC $0 $0 $0 Veterans Victory Fund $0 $0 $0

Those political groups -- including Virgin Islands GOPConservative StrikeforceTea Party Majority Fund and Conservative Majority Fund -- pull in money from donors through aggressive mail campaigns with apocalyptic messaging and spend just a fraction of that money on candidates or legitimate political campaigning.

Tracking what firms are getting paid by the PACs, said Brendan Fischer with Campaign Legal Center, "can give you a sense of how the money being raised and spent is potentially benefiting the individuals running the operations."

"It can be hard to tell on the face of an FEC report that a lot of money is going to a lot of consultants running the scam PAC," Fischer said. "You have to look a little more closely."

Despite running into trouble with the FBI in May 2017, Mackenzie's committees continue to rake in money from small donors and spend it on vague "administrative" and "fundraising" costs.

This cycle, eight of Mackenzie's PACs have spent more than $3 million combined, but only a fraction of that money has benefited political candidates. (Some of these PACs have made political contributions in previous cycles, however).

Mackenzie is not the only one to build a network of questionable PACs.

Eldon L. Alexander, Mary Parker Lewis and Maureen E. Otis -- former staffers of the conservative presidential candidate Alan Keyes -- assembled a group of political committees that have, like Mackenzie's network, raised and pumped money into each other's companies.

Alexander, a treasurer of six PACs since 2010, and his former colleagues have PACs and businesses that share addresses ranging from a PO Box in Herndon, Virginia, to a business in Stafford, Texas.

The businesses include Alexander Endeavors, Politechs Inc., American Caging Inc., Richard Norman Company, Constantine Financial Services, the Law Offices of Maureen E. Otis, and more.

Some of these companies also see money coming in from other questionable PACs.

Lewis's company Politechs Inc. received $29,000 from Bold Conservatives PAC, the PAC formerly known as Sheriff David Clarke for U.S. Senate.

Another, Richard Norman Co., associated with Otis, was paid $10,500 in the 2016 cycle and $25,122 in the 2014 cycle by Conservative Strikeforce, one of Mackenzie's PACs.

Riding coattails

Other PACs latch on to specific issues.

Retired Army Maj. Brian A. Hampton, treasurer of Put Vets First! PAC, has used veteran's issues to draw in money from donors.

An investigation by the Center for Public Integrity revealed that before the PAC, Hampton used telemarketer campaigns to multiply funds for his charities, Circle of Friends for American Veterans and the Center for American Homeless Veterans. He pocketed most of the funds and left scraps for veterans, CPI reported.

His PAC this cycle has followed a similar trend. So far, he's raised and spent $3 million, and only $3,000 has gone toward federal candidates. He's directly pocketed $110,808 of that money by paying himself with PAC funds.

Another treasurer meanwhile has made similar moves as Daly.

In February 2017, Fox News talk show host Laura Ingraham decried PACs for asking her supporters to donate to a fictitious Virginia Senate run.

 

Ignore any and all fundraising appeals claiming to represent me or a potential Virginia senate run. They are SCAMS and fraudulent.

— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) February 10, 2017

 

One group, Conservative Freedom Fighters, has raised $55,483 and spent $35,946 since the beginning of the 2016 cycle. Little more than $2,500 of that has gone to federal candidates. Roughly the same amount went to PAC treasurer Alexander Hornaday's law firm.

Hornaday has used PAC solicitations to ride the financial coattails of big political names.

For instance, in 2012, former Florida Representative Allen West's campaign alleged that a number of PACs used his name to solicit donations for their own profiting.

West's campaign manager, Tim Edson, filed a complaint to the FEC about one PAC in particular, Republican Majority Campaign, asking them to shut down the "fraudulent and unauthorized use of Congressman West's name."

"The Republican Majority Campaign is a scam," Edson wrote. "With respect to the solicitations at issue in this complaint, RMC seeks to profit from the name and reputation of Allen West."

The FEC dismissed the complaint and, like other attempts to address the rise of scam PACs, the idea of actual enforcement fizzled out.

Former commissioner Ravel recalled the complaint and said that the FEC was told they "could do nothing about that." She didn't clarify if she was told that by commissioners or someone else.

"We were told at the time this is something for local law enforcement," she said, "but I believe that the actual power does reside in the FEC and that they could take stronger action. At least there should be congressional interest in this to specify that the FEC has that ability."

The gray area

But regulations are tough. It's unclear even to commissioners what regulatory power the FEC holds and while many organizations can be clearly labeled as frauds, others do spend small amounts of money on political campaigns and legitimate political activity.

"The most obvious scam PACs are the ones putting tons of money into fundraising, not doing anything that appears tangible to advance a cause or support candidate," Fischer said. "But then there could be some activities where there might be an argument that this is actually legitimate."

Take the New Democratic Coalition, for instance, a PAC run by treasurer Helen Milby.

 

Spending by New Democratic Coalition, 2016 cycle ExpensesTotal Spent Contributions to federal candidates $1,373,856 Fundraising consulting $556,318 Fundraising events $430,748 Contributions to committees $425,500 Administrative travel & lodging $91,691 Unclassifiable event expenses $41,514 Contributions to national parties $30,000 Accountants, compliance & legal services $29,264 Contributions to joint fundraising committees $18,250 Fundraising fees $7,389 Administrative event expenses & food $4,771 Rent, utilities & office expenses $3,984 Administrative data & technology $3,634 Unclassifiable printing & shipping $3,427 Miscellaneous administrative $1,081 Unclassifiable $583 Miscellaneous fundraising $483 Unclassifiable supplies & equipment $434

This cycle, it has donated $367,000 to political candidates, but it also paid out $272,351 to Milby's own company, Helen Milby and Co. Over the past 10 years, the PAC has donated nearly $3.9 million to political candidates but has paid $2.2 million directly to her own company.

Or take 21st Century Democrats: up through the 2008 cycle, the PAC would contribute thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, of dollars to federal candidates. But in 2010, those donations dropped off and since then, the PAC hasn't given a cent to a political candidate.

It continues to raise and spend millions every year. In cycles since then, FEC records show most of their money went to things like "fundraising," "salaries" and "administrative" costs.

Regulations

But that doesn't mean the benefactors of these committees skate by scot-free.

In 2013, Conservative Strikeforce -- the same Mackenzie PAC that drew criticism by West's campaign --  was required to give former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli $85,000 in the settlement of a lawsuit. Cuccinelli's campaign said the PAC used his name to solicit donations, but only donated a small portion of the money it raised.

The FEC has commented on scam PACs in the past and while commissioners have attempted to take action, very few steps have been taken.

2016 appellate court decision allowed PACs to use a candidate's name on First Amendment grounds and limited the extent to which the FEC can regulate unaffiliated PACs using candidates' names.

In response to the case, Ravel and current FEC Democratic Vice Chair Ellen Weintraub released a joint memorandum noting that the commission was "not altogether powerless" and can still require disclaimers noting such PACs are unaffiliated with the candidates they purport to be backing.

"Donors, especially small donors, give to political committees to express their political views; most people giving to a political committee do not aim to enrich the creators of the PAC," they wrote.

At the next FEC meeting, commissioners unanimously agreed to Weintraub's proposal that the commission form a working group to mitigate the negative effects of such PACs.

But just months out from the 2018 midterm elections, leaders of the FEC have not confirmed whether any steps have been taken on that front.

"Authorized political committees, for their part, are outraged that Scam PACs are using their candidates' or organizations' names to siphon off funds intended to aid their efforts," the 2016 memorandum read.

Weintraub agreed to an interview about scam PACs but did not respond to multiple follow-up calls and emails. So did Republican FEC Chair Caroline Hunter, whose office said she would be interested in talking about the topic but did not respond to subsequent emails and calls.

OpenSecrets reached out to PAC treasurers Scott Mackenzie, Eldon Alexander, Maureen Otis and Mary Parker Lewis but received no response.

Categories: News

Beyond Exonerating the Innocent: Using Storytelling to Humanize Youth Sentenced to Die in Prison

Sat, 04/28/2018 - 04:00

2018 0428prisoners(Photo: Shutterstock)

Advocates have long understood that personal stories can be used to push for policy and legislative change. But how do stories involving senseless acts of violence and death fit into strategies for changing the system altogether?

  Shutterstock)(Photo: Shutterstock)

"I don't think story by itself is going to make change," says Joe during a phone call from a Midwestern prison. But, he concedes, "It's another piece of the puzzle. Hopefully an accumulation of stories can be so overwhelming that change does happen."

Joe has asked to use a pseudonym while his appeal winds its way through the court system. As a young teenager in the 1990s, he had a fight with a good friend while at school. Wanting to avoid his friend -- and the possibility of their conflict escalating into a physical fight -- he made a series of bad decisions. First, he stole a car. When he crashed the car, he decided to go on the run. Needing money to do so, he broke into a house. Inside, he found a gun -- and the woman who lived inside. When she threatened to call the police, he shot her and fled. Unable to reach the phone to call for medical attention, she died.

"In hindsight, it illustrates how childish my thinking was," he told Truthout. "Every decision I made was a horrible decision."

Joe was arrested, convicted and sentenced to life without parole. It was the age of panic around juvenile "super predators" amid pushes for mandatory minimum sentencing. Joe has spent more than 20 years in prison and was looking at leaving prison in a pine box until recent Supreme Court decisions ruled that juvenile life without parole unconstitutional, In its 2012 Miller v. Alabama decision, the Court ruled juvenile life without parole unconstitutional; four years later, in Montgomery v. Louisiana, it made the decision retroactive, meaning that states were required to hold resentencing hearings for all people previously sentenced to life without parole as children. This means approximately 2,100 people sentenced to die in prison in their youth might now have a second chance.

Even before these decisions, Joe had decided to share his story to help push for legislative change. A friend inside the prison handed him an ACLU newsletter asking people sentenced to life without parole as juveniles (otherwise known as juvenile lifers) to share their stories. Even if he spent the rest of his life in prison, Joe decided to share his story in the hope that the legal system would begin treating teenagers as children, not as adults. By then, neuroscience had demonstrated that the adolescent brain is not yet fully formed, meaning that children should not be held to the same standards of culpability as adults. But the public -- and the legal system -- had yet to catch up.

Joe may be skeptical, but stories do have an impact. Prosecutors frequently use stories of victims' grief and anguish to push for the harshest penalty. On the other side, advocates also understand and use storytelling to campaign for policy and legislative changes, such as limiting solitary confinement for teenagers and ending the practice of shackling during childbirth. Even Joe, who doesn't think his individual story makes much of a difference policy-wise, believes that the crescendo of stories and voices helped the public stop viewing juveniles as super predators and begin seeing them as children who deserve a second chance. 

The Transformative Power of Story

Not every family member of a crime victim wants retribution, an angle rarely highlighted by prosecutors and the media. Bill Pelke has been trying to change that, and he is perhaps one of the best-known family members advocating for compassion and forgiveness.

In 1985, Pelke's 77-year-old grandmother Ruth opened the door to four teenage girls asking for Bible lessons. They beat her and stabbed her 33 times before stealing $10 and her car. Indiana law allowed children as young as age 10 to be tried as adults. After being arrested, three of the girls pointed to 15-year-old Paula Cooper as the ringleader. She was sentenced to death, becoming the youngest person in the United States to be placed on death row.   

Pelke was in the courtroom when Cooper was sentenced to death. He remembered Cooper's grandfather wailing when he heard the sentence -- before being escorted out of the courtroom. Pelke, however, supported the sentence, wanting some justice for his beloved Nana's death.

The following year, Pelke told Truthout, he had a revelation. It was a slow time at work and, sitting in a crane 50 feet above the steel mill floor, he began reflecting on Cooper and his grandmother. He realized that his grandmother, a Bible school teacher, would have wanted him to have love and compassion for Cooper, and that she would not have wanted the teenager put to death. Pelke, who shares his grandmother's faith, recalled that he begged God to grant him that same love and compassion and, before leaving the crane that night, not only forgave Cooper, but resolved to help overturn her death sentence. (In 1989, after an international campaign in which more than 2 million petitions flooded the Indiana courts, Cooper's sentence was commuted to 60 years in prison. Cooper was released from prison in 2013; two years later, she committed suicide.) 

"When Paula Cooper was taken off death row, I thought I was done," said Pelke. But then he attended a march against the death penalty organized by Sister Helen Prejean, a Roman Catholic nun and famous anti-death penalty advocate. There he met others who had lost family members to senseless violence but were nonetheless against the death penalty. He realized that their voices were often missing from debates over capital punishment. "A lot of times, if you work against the death penalty, people think, 'Oh, you only care about the bad guys. You don't care about the murder victims.'" 

Pelke, who loved his grandmother dearly, knew that wasn't true. He continued to speak about what happened to his grandmother, to him and to Cooper. In 1993, he and family members of others who had been murdered formed Journey of Hope to push for an end to the death penalty and the cycle of violence that it perpetuates. Each year, members go on a 17-day speaking tour across a different state promoting love, compassion and an end to the death penalty.

"People will always listen to a story," he reflected. "You can touch their hearts through a story and get them to change their minds. Sometimes people will feel one way when you start and another way when you finish." And, as someone who lost a loved one to senseless violence, he knows firsthand that family members can feel as if they are disregarding their loved one by forgiving the person who killed them, and that prosecutors often seize on that grief to push for the most punitive sentence. By sharing his story, he hopes to make others realize that healing doesn't require the harshest punishment.  

More Than Their Worst Mistake

As teenagers, both Paula Cooper and Joe committed senseless and deadly acts of violence, acts that left family members grieving for decades. Their stories often elicit horror rather than sympathy. But to focus solely on sympathetic stories means ignoring the fact that more than half of people in state prisons have been convicted of violent crimes.

Several years ago, Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg, then a case analyst at the Innocence Project, an organization dedicated to exonerating the wrongfully convicted, attended the organization's conference. There, several exonerated people performed monologues about the pain they experienced while incarcerated. The monologues moved many, including Weill-Greenberg, to tears, but they also made her wonder, "Do people only care because they're innocent? Would this cruelty be acceptable if they were guilty?"

The question haunted her long after the conference had ended. "I wanted to show the humanity of people who had caused harm -- and show that they are more than the worst mistake they ever made," she told Truthout.

She spent three years interviewing people like Joe who had committed violent crimes as children and were then sentenced to die behind bars. She also interviewed victims of violent crimes, like Pelke, who were not seeking retribution. The result? A documentary play entitled Life, Death, Life Again: Children Sentenced to Die in Prison.

Telling the stories of people who committed brutal -- and often illogical -- violence "is a lot harder than telling the stories of the wrongfully convicted or the nonviolent offender," she told Truthout. But, she added, "If we want to transform the criminal justice system, we have to humanize everyone who's involved. The United States is the only country that sentences children to die in prison. There should be a different way to approach harm caused by young people." She hopes that the play provokes viewers to think differently about violence and punishment. "Even if their first reaction [to reading or hearing about a violent crime] is vengeful, I hope that their second reaction is to think about the humanity of the person who caused the harm and why they did it. I hope that they can ask, 'What is the purpose of justice?' and understand that forgiveness is possible and that someone can change."

Storytelling to End Sentences of Life Without Parole 

In California, advocates, including those who had been sentenced to life without parole, have created a multimedia project called A Living Chance: Storytelling to End Life Without Parole to press outgoing governor Jerry Brown to commute life-without-parole sentences.

Their efforts have had some success: On March 31, Brown commuted the sentences of 19 people in prison, including seven serving life without parole. Of the 37 commutations Brown has issued thus far, 17 were to people sentenced to life without parole.

"To put a real human face on people serving this sentence went a long way to building support and community both inside the prisons and outside prison walls," said Pamela Fadem of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, which works with people inside the state's two women's prisons and is co-coordinating the Living Chance storytelling project. These stories have made a difference in pushing lawmakers to see past a person's crime and conviction. Fadem points out that Brown "has cited in more than one commutation proclamation the accomplishments of the individual, the contributions they have made in their prison communities, and the support and recognition they have from people outside."

This was the case for 44-year-old Barbara Chavez, who has been in prison since 1999. At age 22, Chavez, a single mother and domestic violence survivor, participated in a liquor store robbery in which a clerk was shot to death. Though Chavez was outside when her co-defendant pulled the trigger, California's felony murder rule holds all people involved in a crime legally responsible for any resulting deaths, regardless of their role or whereabouts. Chavez was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole. Brown's action changed her sentence to 25 years to life, enabling her to appear before the parole board and appeal for a second chance.

In his commutation, Brown quoted Chavez's statement, "I cannot go back and change the pain and loss but I do choose to now be the best person I can be…I now consider myself an asset to society rather than the liability I once was." He also pointed to Chavez's participation in various self-help programs and her role as a peer educator in substance abuse and domestic violence programs. 

The commutations have given other incarcerated Californians hope that their stories illustrate that they have grown beyond the one act of grievous harm and deserve a second chance. 

Storytelling and Restorative Justice 

Storytelling also plays a central role in restorative justice approaches to those who have caused harm.

In 2011, Michael McBride learned that his 19-year-old son Conor had shot his fiancée Ann in the face. He rushed to the Tallahassee hospital where Ann's parents, Kate and Andy Grosmaire, sat by her bedside. 

"Thank you for being here, but I might hate you by the end of the week," McBride recalled Andy Grosmaire telling him before adding, "He never did." Ann died five days later.

Conor, who had turned himself in immediately after shooting Ann, faced first-degree murder charges and a life sentence. But, after the Grosmaires learned about restorative justice, a process that allows all people to participate in a dialogue rather than seek the most punitive measures, the two families approached Sujatha Baliga, director of the Restorative Justice Project and a nationally recognized expert, to facilitate. Baliga was initially hesitant, but the Grosmaires insisted that both families wanted to be part of the process that would decide Conor's fate. 

Storytelling is integral to restorative justice. It allows everyone involved to ask questions -- and to talk about not only what happened, but also the impact of those actions -- without fearing that their words would be used against them to seek the most retributive punishment.

Eight months later, both sets of parents, Conor, Baliga, the district attorney and Conor's defense attorney met inside the jail. There, the Grosmaires were able to ask him about the events that led to their daughter's death and Conor was able to answer them honestly. 

"My mind had speculated, fantasized about what had happened to my daughter because you just don't know," Andy Grosmaire told The Tallahassee Democrat. "When we got to the conference and we were able to ask Conor questions and ask him what happened and he told us, it was very hard to hear the details. But in a sense, it gave me peace because I no longer had to speculate."

In court, the Grosmaires asked the prosecutor and judge not to impose a life sentence. Instead, Conor, then age 20, was sentenced to 20 years in prison plus ten additional years of probation. As part of the plea agreement, Conor also agreed to take anger management and speak to other youth about teen domestic violence. The district attorney later told The Tallahassee Democrat, "There's no way I would have -- based on these facts and circumstances -- agreed to a sentence this lenient had they not asked me and sincerely expressed to me how important it was to them to allow them to heal."

"Restorative justice is driven by storytelling -- not just about the harm that's been done, but about the paths that brought us to this moment," Baliga reflected in an email to Truthout. "By hearing each others' stories, we have a chance to understand the causes and conditions that gave rise to even the worst things we do to one another. Stories don't offer excuses, but they offer a window -- however cloudy -- into how and even why someone did a terrible thing to us or the people we love. And our stories of how we were harmed can help people understand why they must never do it again." 

Categories: News

For Flint Mother, There's No Stopping Until All US Kids Have Safe Drinking Water

Sat, 04/28/2018 - 04:00

Until her then three-year-old twin boys began to break out in rashes in 2014 and both she and her daughter had clumps of hair falling out in the shower, LeeAnne Walters hadn't spent much time worrying about environmental pollution. "I mean, I watched the news. I cared about recycling … but mostly, I just took care of my family," she says. A stay-at-home mom with four kids to shuttle around and a husband in the military, her days were too packed and chaotic for her to able to focus on much else. But when her children began suffering from various illnesses -- her older son was even suspected to have cancer -- Walters began looking for answers.

Local doctors in Flint, Michigan, weren't of much help. They told her the twins' rashes were due to scabies and initially misdiagnosed her older son's ailment. But when the water from her kitchen sink started coming out brown in December that year, Walters began to suspect she might have located the culprit. She contacted the city and asked that her water supply be tested. It took the city two more months to send someone to collect a water sample. A week later, the city employee called and informed Walters that her water had lead levels of 104 parts per billion (ppb).

"I think the one thing about it that makes me mad is that, you know, you raise your kids to eat healthy, eat fruits and vegetables... My kids' first go to was water. Always," she says, her voice catching.

Lead is a well-known neurotoxin and its impact on children, who are especially vulnerable to exposure, is strongly associated with problems that are extremely costly to society, including learning deficits, socialization issues, violent behavior, and other health problems. There is really no safe level of lead and the US Environmental Protection Agency considers anything over a level of 15 ppb a serious problem. Very young children, between ages 1 and 2, are particularly vulnerable, even at low levels of exposure.

Walters had all four of her children tested for lead in March 2015. Each had high levels of exposure and one of the twins was diagnosed with lead poisoning.

Much of the scandal that followed regarding Flint's water supply has been well documented: how the city switched to sourcing its water from the Flint River in April 2014 in order to cut costs; how it hadn't been treating the water with an anti-corrosive agent, in violation of federal law; how half of the  service lines to homes in Flint were made of  lead, and because the water wasn't treated they  began leaching lead and iron into the water supply; and how various state and city officials knew what was going on and tried to cover it up despite continuing protests from local citizens. As has the environmental and public health crisis that ensued.

Walters, along with several other community members, played a key role in revealing the extent of the crisis and the associated cover-up. With critical help from a Virginia Tech research team led by Professor Marc Edwards and the EPA's Midwest water division manager, Miguel Del Toral, and an emergency grant from the National Science Foundation, she worked around the clock along with local volunteers to collect water samples from community members and have them tested for lead.

"My husband took leave to help work with this. For three weeks we were working morning noon and night. There were days when we would get calls at 4, 5 and 6 in the morning and we'd work till midnight, getting the [testing] kits or paperwork situated for stuff we already had," Walters says. "We took precautions so they couldn't invalidate our tests. One of the things we made sure was that we had samples from every zip code so that we could we could prove, once and for all, that it was a citywide problem and not specific to my home… It was a lot of work on most days… but we did it the way we did it because it was necessary."

Edwards had asked her to collect 75 samples, but, Walters says, "We ended up with 277, because that's just how I work!"

Test results of the samples revealed that one in six homes in Flint had lead water levels exceeding the EPA's safety threshold of 15 ppb, potentially exposing more than 100,000 residents to lead poisoning. Some homes, including Walters' own, had lead levels as high as 13,200 ppb -- more than twice the level the EPA classifies as hazardous waste.

Edwards and Walters presented their findings at a press conference in front of Flint's City Hall, leading to an outcry across the nation and forcing officials to cut off water supply from the Flint River in October 2015. By then, another medical study showed that the number of children with elevated lead levels in their blood nearly doubled after the city started drawing from the Flint River in 2014. In neighborhoods with the most severe contamination problems, testing showed lead levels tripled.

The state of Michigan has since been slapped with several lawsuits for knowingly putting the public at risk, and some remedial measures have since been put in place.

Flint, unfortunately, still doesn't have full access to safe, potable water. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announced the end of a free bottled water program in Flint earlier this month, a move that's drawn much criticism from local officials and residents, who don't believe the city water is safe to drink yet. The advocacy group Water You Fighting For? that Walters founded in 2015 with fellow activist Melissa Mays, is one of the organizations that has called for rally in the state capital of Lansing today to protest the end of the free water program.

Walters children continue to face some serious health issues as a result of their lead exposure, but she refuses to see them as victims. "My children are good," she says. "They are survivors. The twins have some hand-eye coordination issues and speech impairments; they have some of the behavioral issues, one more than the other -- a lack of impulse control that poses to be interesting on some days and hair-pulling on others… But they are happy little boys who we refuse to let play the victim card."

Walters is now working on sharing her water quality sampling methodology -- called the Water Study Initiative -- with communities across the nation that are fighting similar battles. If successful, the initiative will be the largest citizen-led scientific collaboration in US history. She is also lobbying the EPA to change its water testing standards so that residents can more easily identify contaminated water -- and to prevent another crisis like Flint's. (A December 2016 Reuters investigation found nearly 3,000 communities across 21 states in the US with lead contamination worse than Flint.)

"Flint is an anomaly because it broke federal law, but this is a national problem, this isn't just a Flint problem," she says, noting that the water supply in her husband's military housing in Norfolk, Virginia too, tested for lead levels of 16 ppb. "When we made that public it caused some issues in the military for my husband."

Though Walter's husband has been stationed in Norfolk since October 2015, she drives back to Flint every two weeks to continue her work there. "Flint's my home. It's where my family and friends are at. When my husband gets done with his contract that's where we will move back to," she says. "If the water crisis had been resolved and everybody was OK, I'd have gone back occasionally… But we are not done yet… To me, knowing what my family has gone through and what we continue to go through… I don't want other families to go through this. So until we can ensure no child is ever going to get poisoned by the water again, there's no stopping."

On Monday evening, Walters was awarded the prestigious Goldman Prize for her work to expose the water crisis in Flint as well her continuing efforts to ensure safe drinking water in all homes across the United States.

"I'm the catalyst for Flint, but this was a community effort," she said in her acceptance speech during the award ceremony in San Francisco, perhaps cognizant of the criticism being leveled at the prize for ignoring the black heroes of Flintheroes of Flint. "One person can make a difference, but a community is unstoppable. This award here tonight is not just for me but for everyone who has fought in Flint and who has fought for Flint."

Categories: News

Lynching Memorial Shows That Black Women Were Victims, Too

Sat, 04/28/2018 - 04:00

The ConversationA memorial to victims of lynching in the U.S. opened in Alabama on April 26, 2018.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is a six-acre site that overlooks Montgomery, the state capital. It uses sculpture, art and design to give visitors a sense of the terror of lynching as they walk through a memorial square with 800 six-foot steel columns that symbolize the victims. The names of thousands of victims are engraved on columns -- one for each county in the United States where a lynching took place. In Alabama alone, a reported total of 275 lynchings took place between 1871 and 1920.

U.S. history books and documentaries that tell the story of lynching in the U.S. have focused on black male victims, to the exclusion of women. But women, too, were lynched -- and many raped beforehand. In my book "Gender and Lynching," I sought to tell the stories of these women and why they have been left out.

Between 1880 and 1930, close to 200 women were murdered by lynch mobs in the American South, according to historian Crystal Feimster.

Will this new memorial give these murdered women their due in how the U.S. remembers and feels about our troubling history?

Enforcing white supremacy through terror

In a recent report, Lynching in America, researchers documented 4,075 lynchings of African-Americans that were committed by southern whites in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia between 1877 and 1950.

Lynching differed from ordinary murder or assault. It was celebrated by members of the Ku Klux Klan as a spectacular event and drew large crowds of people who tortured victims, burned them alive and dismembered them. Lynching was a form of domestic terrorism that inflicted harm onto individuals and upon an entire race of people, with the purpose of instilling fear. It served to give dramatic warning that the ironclad system of white supremacy was not to be challenged by word, deed or even thought.

The conventional approach to teaching the history of Jim Crow and lynching has focused almost exclusively on the black male victim. However, such an approach often simplifies and distorts a much more complex history.

Not all victims were African-American men, and although allegations of African-American men raping white women were common, such allegations were not the leading motive for the lynchings. We know from the pioneering work of anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells-Barnett that African-American men, women and children were lynched for a range of alleged crimes and social infractions.

The book "Trouble in Mind," by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Leon Litwack, provides a detailed account of the many accusations of petty theft, labor disputes, arson and murder that led to these lynchings.

This fact requires a richer, more nuanced understanding of discrimination that is critical of racism and sexism at the same time. Martyrs such as Laura Nelson and Mary Turner experienced racial and sexual violence at the hands of vigilante lynch mobs because of their race and gender.

Laura Nelson and Mary Turner

In May 1911, Laura Nelson was lynched in Okemah, Oklahoma.

Nelson allegedly shot a sheriff to protect her son. The officer had been searching her cabin for stolen goods as part of a meat-pilfering investigation. A mob seized Nelson along with her son, who was only 14 years old, and lynched them both. However, Nelson was first raped by several men. The bodies of Laura and her son were hung from a bridge for hundreds of people to see.

The violent murder of African-Americans was so accepted at the time that a postcard was made of Nelson's lynching by George Henry Farnum, a photographer. Brooklyn-based artist Kim Mayhorn created in 1998 a multimedia installation that memorialized Nelson's death. There's an empty dress in Mayhorn's installation that resembles the postcard of her lynching. The disembodied dress represents the void in the historical record and Mayhorn's effort to redress the absence of Nelson.

The title of Mayhorn's installation, "A Woman Was Lynched the Other Day," refers to a banner the New York NAACP would unfurl from their Fifth Avenue office when news of another lynching surfaced. With white letters inscribed on a black background, it declared "A MAN WAS LYNCHED YESTERDAY" and became a rallying cry for justice.

Seven years later, in May 1918, Mary Turner was eight months pregnant when a mob of several hundred men and women murdered her in Valdosta, Georgia. The Associated Press reported that she had made "unwise remarks" and "flew into a rage" about the lynching of her husband, insisting that she would press charges against the men responsible.

Her death has since been recognized by local residents, students and faculty at Valdosta State University, first with a public ceremony that placed a cross at the lynching site and second with a historical marker in 2010.

Nelson and Turner have often been depicted as tragic characters or "collateral victims" who supported and defended the males in their lives.

Such deaths, however, were not incidental. They were essential to maintain white supremacy, as a form of punishment for defying the social order.

Though women represent a minority of lynching victims, their stories challenge previous attempts to justify lynching as necessary to protect white women from black male rapists.

Understanding lynching and the motives behind it requires including the stories of African-American women who were robbed of dignity, respect and bodily integrity by a weapon of terror. The violence against them was used to maintain a caste system that assigned inferior roles to African-American women and men alike.

Redefining the "civil rights movement"

By including women in the historical narrative of lynching, the new memorial in Alabama reveals a more complete understanding of this devastating social practice. This memorial brings African-American women like Nelson and Turner to the fore as victims, and the weight of visual evidence on display at the memorial challenges the silence surrounding their deaths.

The Equal Justice Initiative assists scholars, teachers and ordinary people in recognizing the roots of the civil rights movement that began long before the years 1954-68.

The monument sheds light in an unprecedented and innovative way on the reasons and circumstances surrounding the death and torture of countless victims, including women and children, who suffered at the hands of vigilante mobs. By unearthing the soil and pinpointing the counties where such cruel and inhumane acts were committed, the monument sends a powerful message and conveys to its audience a desire for deeper understanding.

Categories: News

A Firsthand Account of Israel's Siege on a Palestinian University

Sat, 04/28/2018 - 04:00

The Israeli military and police have responded to recent demonstrations against the occupation of Palestine by shooting protesters and tear gassing students. University of Hawaii English Professor Cynthia Franklin recently visited a university in the Occuped Territories and witnessed firsthand the violence Palestinians face at the hands of the Israeli state.

 Ahmad Gharabli / Getty Images)Israeli borderguards stand outside Al-Quds University in Abu Dis, a West Bank suburb of Jerusalem, close to the Israeli controvertial separation wall during clashes with Palestinian demonstrators on November 2, 2015. (Photo: Ahmad Gharabli / Getty Images)

Each Friday, starting on March 30, 2018, the Israeli Army has opened fire on and used drones to teargas Palestinians in proximity to the Gaza border. During this fifth week of protest, on April 27, thus far, three Palestinians have been shot dead, and 833 wounded, 174 of them by live Israeli fire. Those shot include medical staff and journalists. This latest outbreak of Israeli violence -- which continues to gather force with each passing week -- only makes clear the need for the Palestinians' Great March of Return that is said to have triggered it.

The Great March of Return is a six-week campaign that includes the setup of five tent camps near the Gaza border and a series of marches that began on March 30, or Land Day, a day commemorating Israel's expropriation of Palestinian land. The Great March will culminate on Nakba Day, May 15, 2018. This date marks the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, the catastrophe that expelled more than 700,000 Palestinians from their homes with the establishment of the Israeli state. 

The 30,000 people participating in the Great March -- many of them refugees as the Nakba continues -- are gathered near the Gaza border to assert their UN-guaranteed right to return to their homes. They also are protesting 11 years of blockade and siege, during which Israel has killed more than 3,700 people, injured over 17,000 and decimated Gaza's infrastructure.

I experienced the ripple effects of the Israeli Army's crackdown on Palestinian protesters firsthand this month during my two-week residency at the Al-Quds University English Department in Abu Dis, a suburb of Occupied Jerusalem.

During the start of Israel's most recent killing spree in Gaza, the world's largest open-air prison, I followed reports of the campaign from Abu Dis with the perspective of someone on the ground in the Occupied Territories (albeit temporarily). I read about Israel's deployment of snipers on Land Day -- also the first day of Passover -- who, with cold deliberation, killed 19 Palestinians in proximity of the Gaza border, and injured more than 1,400 -- numbers that continue to rise on each successive Friday. 

I also witnessed the lesser-known ways the violence of occupation permeates all of Palestine, including Al-Quds. The Israeli Army regularly invades the Al-Quds campus I was visiting. Tear gassings are frequent enough that, upon arrival at the campus guesthouse -- about a kilometer from campus, and on the eighth floor of the Al-Quds medical clinic -- the other residents advised me to leave town by Friday night, when the army deploys tear gas. They also cautioned me not to dry my clothes outdoors to avoid itching caused by the tear gas's residual presence.

Those of us staying in the guesthouse, all visiting students and faculty, often gathered in the common kitchen for meals. As Land Day and Passover approached, we realized over breakfast that a number of us were having increasingly violent dreams, populated by drones and soldiers. 

I would not call these nightmares premonitions but rather a response to the daily violence we were witnessing, albeit from a position of privilege, as European and American visitors. Indeed, I felt my own privilege as a white Jewish woman particularly keenly when I breezed through Ben Gurion Airport -- which West Bank and Gaza Palestinians cannot access to begin with. Though I feared interrogation and a ban for my vocal support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, the young man at Passport Control only questioned if I was there to visit family as, pointing at my face and then at his own, he insisted that we must be related.

Debris from the army was everywhere, and people were running in the streets away from the sound of gunfire.

Among those of us staying in the guesthouse, our dread of impending terror materialized on March 30, when Israeli snipers opened fire on Palestinians approaching the Gaza border, shooting and killing farmers, protesters and journalists. I received this news via Facebook postings, and from Palestinians in cafes and cabs.

The Palestinians I talked with connected the siege on Gaza to their own experiences of life under occupation. One student, reporting on the sniper fire, related this assault to the Israeli government's violence against her father. She described to me how her father was imprisoned for nine years for political organizing during the First Intifada. After he was released in a prisoners exchange, he was harassed for decades by the military. Finally, no longer able to withstand this constant assault on his very existence, he abruptly left Ramallah for New Jersey.

On March 31 came the general strike organized by Palestinians at Al-Quds in solidarity with the Palestinians gathered along the Gaza border and in protest over their own subjection to colonial violence. And on April 1, Al-Quds students organized an additional strike. They marched through campus and delivered speeches protesting the Gaza massacre. At midday, the Israeli Army responded by tear gassing the students. As this began, the English Department chair ushered me quickly into the Faculty of Arts building. Once inside, we closed the windows, but we still could feel our eyes burning as the gas entered our lungs. Soon, too, we heard sounds of gunfire that my office mates identified as live ammunition.

When I wanted to leave, the building's security guard let me know how I might exit campus through one of the side gates. As I hurried across lower campus toward the guesthouse, following the road hemmed in by the Apartheid Wall, I could hear shots being fired. Near the main gate of campus, I did a quick about-face. Debris from the army was everywhere, and people were running in the streets away from the sound of gunfire. I ran back through the lower gate, crossing campus to the Faculty of Arts Building, to wait out the military's invasion in an office where some students were attempting to make up a test. Moments later, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (akin to the Red Cross) ordered a mandatory evacuation because the army had shot one student in the head and another in the chest. We left the office, the students and their teacher upset over the disrupted exam. 

The exit from campus was calm but congested with people on foot and in cars. A faculty member drove me back to the guesthouse. A few hours later, I ventured out to the grocery store a half-kilometer from campus. The streets were quiet, and in the store, all seemed normal. Once back in the guesthouse, as the sun set, I could hear honking, followed by the sounds of what I thought to be gunfire. Panicked, I pounded on the door of my neighbor, asking him what was happening. He laughed and told me a wedding was underway and I was hearing fireworks.

That night, I searched for an update on the Al-Quds students. I found the military incursion reported only in one brief account that noted the shootings and the injury of 98 students.

When I went as usual to campus the next day, all was unnervingly normal until, suddenly, I heard students shouting. I asked the students I was sitting with on the benches outside the English department if this was a protest over yesterday's violence. They laughed and told me no, students were celebrating classmates who had just completed their law degrees. Soon I saw several young men in suits, hoisted in the air by friends who marched them through campus, as their parents distributed sweets to everyone assembled.

I remain struck by how, as I was feeling shaken and overwhelmed by the violence I had witnessed, the Palestinians around me were engaging in celebrations -- be they weddings or graduation -- and daily routines like grocery shopping and taking an English language test.

Palestinian resistance and resilience in the face of colonial violence is an everyday form of heroism, even as the need for such bravery is an affront and an outrage. I know that the violent dreams that have persisted for me since my return from Palestine provide only the tiniest taste of the toll-taking trauma and chronic stress that Palestinians experience as "normal." 

As I write these words back home in Honolulu, I read that once more, just three weeks later on April 23, the army invaded the Al-Quds campus and once again tear-gassed and shot students with rubber bullets and live ammunition. This story appeared in my Facebook feed on April 24, amid a stream of photos of Al-Quds students celebrating the completion of their graduation seminars with family members, faculty and friends on their last day of classes.

Those of us fortunate enough not to have Israel's violence be part of our everyday reality have a responsibility to help end it. As Palestinians put their lives on the line to participate in the March of Return -- and indeed, simply to survive in their homeland -- people of conscience can support them through participation in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

BDS, a nonviolent Palestinian-led movement, offers the best avenue for exerting pressure on Israel to comply with international law and to end its ongoing practices of settler colonialism, apartheid and occupation. Its three demands are that Israel end its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, that Israel grant equal rights to Palestinian Israelis and that it recognize Palestinian refugees' right of return. What is, for visitors like me, an occasional nightmare, is for Palestinians the daily reality of Israeli setter colonialism -- a form of violence that must and can be overcome.

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