Medicare does cover home care services for patients who qualify, but incentives are driving some home health agencies to avoid taking on long-term patients. Under a Medicare pilot program, home health firms in nine states will start receiving payment bonuses for providing good care and those who don't will pay penalties.Whether you read Truthout daily, weekly or even once a month, now's the perfect time to show that you value real journalism. Make a donation to Truthout by clicking here!
Colin Campbell needs help dressing, bathing and moving between his bed and his wheelchair. He has a feeding tube because his partially paralyzed tongue makes swallowing "almost impossible," he said.
Campbell, 58, spends $4,000 a month on home health care services so he can continue to live in his home just outside Los Angeles. Eight years ago, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or "Lou Gehrig's disease," which relentlessly attacks the nerve cells in his brain and spinal cord and has no cure.
The former computer systems manager has Medicare coverage because of his disability, but no fewer than 14 home health care providers have told him he can't use it to pay for their services.
That's an incorrect but common belief. Medicare does cover home care services for patients who qualify, but incentives intended to combat fraud and reward high quality care are driving some home health agencies to avoid taking on long-term patients such as Campbell, who have debilitating conditions that won't get better, according to advocates for seniors and the home care industry. Rule changes that took effect this month could make the problem worse.
"We feel Medicare coverage laws are not being enforced and people are not getting the care that they need in order to stay in their homes," said Kathleen Holt, an attorney and associate director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy, a nonprofit, nonpartisan law firm. The group is considering legal action against the government.
Federal law requires Medicare to pay indefinitely for home care -- with no copayments or deductibles -- if a doctor ordered it and patients can leave home only with great difficulty. They must need intermittent nursing, physical therapy or other skilled care that only a trained professional can provide. They do not need to show improvement. Those who qualify can also receive an aide's help with dressing, bathing and other daily activities. The combined services are limited to 35 hours a week.
Medicare affirmed this policy in 2013 when it settled a key lawsuit brought by the Center for Medicare Advocacy and Vermont Legal Aid. In that case, the government agreed that Medicare covers skilled nursing and therapy services -- including those delivered at home --to maintain a patient's abilities or to prevent or slow decline. It also agreed to inform providers, bill auditors and others that a patient's improvement is not a condition for coverage.
Campbell said some home health care agencies told him Medicare would pay only for rehabilitation, "with the idea of getting you better and then leaving," he said. They told him that Medicare would not pay them if he didn't improve, he said. Other agencies told him Medicare simply did not cover home health care.
Medicaid, the federal-state program for low-income adults and families, also covers home health care and other home services, but Campbell doesn't qualify for it.
Securing Medicare coverage for home health services requires persistence, said John Gillespie, whose mother has gone through five home care agencies since she was diagnosed with ALS in 2014. He successfully appealed Medicare's decision denying coverage, and afterward Medicare paid for his mother's visiting nurse as well as speech and physical therapy.
"You have to have a good doctor and people who will help fight for you to get the right company," said Gillespie, of Orlando, Fla. "Do not take no for an answer."
Yet a Medicare official did not acknowledge any access problems. "A patient can continue to receive Medicare home health services as long as he/she remains eligible for the benefit," said spokesman Johnathan Monroe.
But a leading industry group contends that Medicare's home health care policies are often misconstrued. "One of the myths in Medicare is that chronically ill individuals are not qualified for coverage," said William Dombi, president of the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, which represents nearly half of the nation's 12,000 home care providers.
Part of the problem is that some agencies fear they won't be paid if they take on patients who need their services for a long time, Dombi said. Such cases can attract the attention of Medicare auditors who can deny payments if they believe the patient is not eligible or they suspect billing fraud. Rather than risk not getting paid, some home health agencies "stay under the radar" by taking on fewer Medicare patients who need long-term care, Dombi said.
And they may have a good reason to be concerned. Medicare officials have found that about a third of the agency's payments to home health companies in the fiscal year ending last September were improper.
Shortages of home health aides in some areas might also lead an overburdened agency to focus on those who need care for only a short time, Dombi said.
Another factor that may have a negative effect on chronically ill patients is Medicare's Home Health Compare ratings website. It includes grades on patient improvement, such as whether a client got better at walking with an agency's help. That effectively tells agencies who want top ratings "to go to patients who are susceptible to improvement," Dombi said.
This year, some home care agencies will earn more than just ratings. Under a Medicare pilot program, home health firms in nine states will start receiving payment bonuses for providing good care and those who don't will pay penalties. Some criteria used to measure performance depend on patient improvement, Holt said.
Another new rule, which took effect last Saturday, prohibits agencies from discontinuing services for Medicare and Medicaid patients without a doctor's order. But that, too, could backfire.
"This is good," Holt said. "But our concern is that some agencies might hesitate to take patients if they don't think they can easily discharge them."
Private equity firms are turning the dream of home ownership into a nightmare for renters. These companies are among the beneficiaries of the 2008 housing market collapse. In the wake of the financial crisis, Wall Street firms swooped into neighborhoods to buy up houses, crowding out the families and local landlords who couldn't compete with their cash payments.Where do you turn for news and analysis you can rely on? If the answer is Truthout, then please support our mission by making a tax-deductible donation!
When José Rivera moved into his house, he thought he was on the path to home ownership. But after several years and more than $90,000 in rent, he can't even get his landlord to fix the broken pipe that leaked raw sewage into his home.
Rivera's landlord is Colony Starwood Homes, a rental giant backed by Wall Street investment firms. When he first told the company about his leaky pipe, they cleaned the carpet, but left the sewage issue alone. When the pipe leaked again, Rivera filed another complaint -- and five days later, he received a notice to vacate.
Rivera is just one of the many renters highlighted in a just-released report looking at the new face of financialization in the housing market. The report is authored by three consumer advocacy and housing rights groups -- the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Americans for Financial Reform, and Public Advocates.
Chief among their concerns are companies like Starwood Waypoint Homes, backed by Wall Street firms Colony Capital and Starwood Capital, and Invitation Homes, backed by The Blackstone Group, a private equity fund. These single family rental giants have become shapeshifters, merging with each other to slowly take over the rental housing market. Starwood Waypoint and Invitation Homes announced their own merger in August of 2017, becoming a single company owning more than 82,000 single family rentals across the country.
These companies are among the beneficiaries of the 2008 housing market collapse. In the wake of the financial crisis, Wall Street firms swooped into neighborhoods to buy up houses, crowding out the families and local landlords who couldn't compete with their cash payments.
In the decade since the mortgage crisis, the financialization of housing rentals has ballooned. Institutional investors now own a quarter of the country's single-family rentals, and just nine of these firms are renting out 200,000 houses in 13 states. A large portion of those homes are regionally concentrated, compounding the effects. In Sacramento County, for example, Invitation Homes is the largest private landlord, and owns more property than anyone besides the county itself.
The structure of these rental empires pits the profits of investors against the needs of tenants -- and unsurprisingly, the tenants often lose the fight. That's where the report's authors come in. Over the course of their research, they conducted more than 100 interviews with tenants who are essentially renting from Wall Street firms. The report tells the stories of absurd rent increases, dangerous failures in property management, and high eviction rates. And, as the authors note, lower income families and people of color are disproportionately affected by these practices.
Take, for example, Renita Barbee, who will need to leave her Wall Street firm-owned home after an exorbitant rent increase. The first notice she received from her landlord announced that her monthly payments would go from $2120 to more than $3000. She joined an organizing campaign along with other ACCE members, writing letters and protesting. Finally, her landlord sent a new notice -- the initial amount was a mistake, and her rent would only increase to $2330. Even still, the price is out of her budget. Barbee says her husband and daughter will move in with family while she rents a coworker's room until they can figure out a new plan.
For some renters, the runaround they've received from their Wall Street landlords only compounds the ever-present stress of gentrification and displacement. Merika Reagan moved to into a house in Oakland after being priced out of her hometown of San Francisco. After Waypoint Homes, the previous landlord, merged with Starwood, the path to home ownership changed for Reagan and her wife. When their last least expired, the couple were offered a year-long renewal with a rent increase of $350 a month, or a month-to-month contract that would up their monthly rent by $1000. Both options are out of the couple's budget, but moving out would likely mean leaving Oakland entirely -- and being displaced from the region for a second time.
Through organizing, some families, like Eva Jimenez and Ramon de la Rosa, have been able to wrest some control from their Wall Street landlords. The couple lived in their home for 12 years, Jimenez explains in the report, initially as homeowners, and then eventually as tenants of Waypoint after a predatory loan led to foreclosure. They pushed Waypoint to deal with maintenance issues, but received only negligence in return -- as well as a massive rent hike they couldn't afford. Through an organizing campaign with ACCE, they were able to stop the rent increase so they could stay in their home.
While Jimenez may have found some success in organizing with other renters, the report's authors have ideas for policies to protect tenants before the rent hikes happen. Chief among them: protect tenants, especially through rent control measures and eviction rules that extend to single family rentals, not just multi-family properties.
The authors also suggest that private equity funds should be required to provide more information on the companies in their portfolio, especially their relationship to the communities where they operate. There's no better place to start than with these mass landlords, who are quickly rewriting the rules on achieving the American dream of home ownership.
Pro-DACA supporters protest outside Capitol Hill on January 21, 2018, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images)
For its recipients, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was more than a piece of plastic. It enabled us to finally live without fear and imagine a future where we could provide for ourselves. Now that it appears that the Democrats have abandoned us once again, we call upon all people of conscience to raise their voices in defense of the Dreamers.
Pro-DACA supporters protest outside Capitol Hill on January 21, 2018, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images)Stories like this are more important than ever! To make sure Truthout can keep publishing them, please give a tax-deductible donation today.
It was November 27, 2017, at 4 a.m. when the alarm on my phone woke me up. It was the day after Black Friday, and many families who'd spent the previous day shopping were planning on a restful Saturday. On the other hand, I was getting ready to pick up two 15-passenger vans to start our 2,300-mile ride from Phoenix, Arizona, to the nation's capital. The vans were filled with students, parents and professionals -- recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), as well as allies. We had officially launched the campaign Vote4Dream, a project of the immigrant-led organization Aliento, by driving coast to coast to ensure our voices of sorrow, uncertainty, pain and hope would be heard by lawmakers.I, like many other DACA recipients, do not have the luxury of waiting.
Since Monday, November 29, we have trained approximately 100 people from 14 states (predominately conservative states) on how to engage with senators and members of the House of Representatives. These activists will be present on Capitol Hill on every single congressional day, in meetings and direct conversations with senators and members of Congress. Since that day in November, we have visited more than 350 offices in both chambers, and spoken to 95 of the 100 senators directly. We have had over 800 conversations with lawmakers.
I was blessed to witness the transformation of Dreamers and undocumented youth. We do not give up! I remember seeing a DACA recipient who is a father of three US citizens feeling nervous when approaching senators. He said, "They have my future in their hands." However, I saw him the next day running in the hallway, chasing after senators, because he knew his voice needed to be heard. I saw high school students missing the week prior to finals to advocate for themselves and their peers back in their home states. I saw people quitting their jobs to be in Washington, DC, because at the end of the day, they will not have jobs if their DACA permit expires. Our whole lives have been put on hold because of congressional inaction. I, like many other DACA recipients, do not have the luxury of waiting. We've had to take action and penetrate through the politics of Washington, DC.Before DACA, something as simple as getting groceries or going to work could have put me in deportation proceedings.
DACA, for many of us, is not a piece of plastic. It has given us the ability to finally live and imagine our future for the first time. DACA allowed me to drive without fear for the very first time. Before DACA, something as simple as getting groceries or going to work could have put me in deportation proceedings. DACA diminished our fear of not being able to provide for ourselves. It meant we did not fear that today -- any day -- was going to be the last day we could hug our children, parents or siblings. It allowed us to have inner peace, knowing that we were not going to be thrown to a country we no longer know. DACA provided safety, and that is now being ripped away.Democrats have given up our safety and future. We have once again been abandoned.
After all our conversations with lawmakers, speaking our truth directly to Chief of Staff John Kelly, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and Ivanka Trump, we are still facing uncertainty. We sat in the Senate gallery until 2 a.m. Friday night, watching the government shut down. We heard Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calling us "illegal immigrants" and blaming us for their inability to find solutions. We saw Sen. Jeff Flake, Sen. Lindsey Graham and Sen. Dick Durbin try to negotiate across party lines.
Now, we are hanging by a thread. McConnell has promised to have a solution for DACA recipients by February 8, but he promised that back in December and failed to deliver. House Speaker Paul Ryan has refused to make a commitment, while he is being pushed by hardliners and anti-immigrant members of his chamber. Democrats have caved in and given up our safety and future. We have once again been abandoned.
It is up to us and the American public to ensure that thousands of Dreamers do not get deported. Now, more than ever, we need to ensure our safety and livelihood is not being used by hateful and anti-immigrant politicians like Rep. Bob Goodlatte and Sen. Tom Cotton to pass draconian, racist laws. It is up to Democrats and moderate Republicans to stop this.
It is up to us and the conscious of this nation to remember that silence is complacency. Now, more than ever, we need to cry out for the protection of Dreamers.
Broadcasting from the Sundance Film Festival, we are joined by three guests who personally battled with DuPont and are featured in the new documentary called "The Devil We Know," that looks at how former DuPont employees, residents and lawyers took on the chemical giant to expose the danger of the chemical C8, found in Teflon and countless household products -- from stain- and water-resistant apparel to microwave popcorn bags to dental floss. The chemical has now been linked to six diseases, including testicular and kidney cancers. We speak with Bucky Bailey, whose mother worked in the Teflon division of a DuPont plant in West Virginia while she was pregnant with him, and who was born with only one nostril and a deformed eye and has undergone more than 30 surgeries to fix the birth defects; Joe Kiger, lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against DuPont, and a school teacher in Parkersburg, West Virginia, who suffered from liver disease; and Rob Bilott, the attorney that brought DuPont to court.
Please check back later for full transcript.
Why Trump Wouldn't Actually Want an Influx of Norwegian Immigrants to the US: Their Progressive Policies
President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway held a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House, on Wednesday, January 10, 2018. (Photo: Cheriss May / NurPhoto via Getty Images)Thirty seconds: That's how long it takes to support the independent journalism at Truthout. We're counting on you. Click here to chip in!
In the past couple of weeks, thanks to the president's racist comments about Haiti and African countries he can't even name -- remember "Nambia"? -- as well as the stamp of approval he awarded future immigrants from Norway, we've seen a surprising amount of commentary about that fortunate country. Let me just say: those Norwegians he's so eager to invite over are my ancestral people and, thanks to years I've spent in that country, my friends. Donald Trump should understand one thing: if he and his Republican backers really knew the truth about life in Norway, they would be clamoring to build a second "big, fat, beautiful" wall, this time right along our Eastern seaboard.
One thing is incontestable: a mass of Norwegian immigrants (however improbable the thought) would pose a genuine threat to Donald Trump's America. They would bring to our shores their progressive values, advanced ideas, and illustrious model of social democratic governance -- and this country would never be the same!
It's hard even to begin to imagine what a Norwegian-ization of the United States might mean. But just for a moment, try to picture how strange our country would be. After all, based on life in Norway, you would have to assume that our beloved land would lose many of its twenty-first-century landmarks. Gone would be its precious ghettos and slums, its boarded-up schools, hospitals, and libraries in the heartland, not to speak of its heirloom infrastructure: collapsing bridges, antique trains, clogged roads, and toxic drinking water.
To grasp what's at stake, consider how such immigrants would have reacted to the Republican tax "reform" bill, praised by the president as "the greatest achievement" of his first year in office (which, by his own account, is the greatest year in American history). That bill, filled with miscellaneous handouts meant to ensure the votes of individual Republican legislators, guarantees that the super rich and their mega-corporations will get richer still in perpetuity. It is, in its own way, a glorious hymn to future heights of economic inequality (in a country already ranked the most unequal in the developed world), as it cleverly passes on to the children of the un-rich classes a national deficit inflated by an extra $1.5 trillion.
It is, of course, the nature of any tax plan to redistribute the wealth of a nation in some fashion, even though Republicans use the word "redistribution" only to assail Democrats who occasionally suggest a little something to help the poor. But redistribute those Republicans did in a masterful way, surrendering yet more of our national wealth to the tiny team of people (many of whom also happen to be their donors) who already pocket almost all of it. As the Republicans were writing the tax bill, the top 20% of households were already taking home 90% of the American pie. Now, they will get more.
That's exactly the kind of "achievement" that no Norwegian parliament would ever approve. All nine parties now in that country's parliament, from left to right, would have joined in tearing up that Republican tax bill and replacing it with a much simpler one aimed at redistributing the nation's wealth equitably to every last one of its citizens.
As a start, they would have tossed in the trash can the single most basic project of Trump and the Republicans: making the rich richer. Norwegians have long worked to do just the reverse, based on a well-established conviction that inequality creates elites that corrupt and destroy democracy. That's where politics come in: devising multiple systems to regulate a capitalist economy and safeguard democracy.
For example, two national confederations, of trade unions on the one hand and corporate enterprises on the other, annually negotiate wages and working conditions, while minimizing the difference between high-paying and lower-wage jobs, between CEOs and workers. As a result, Norway's income equality is near the top of any international list. America's, not so. On average in 2014, for instance, American CEOs grabbed 354 times the salary of their workers. For many corporate chiefs that figure hit well over 1,000 times the salary of a median employee, while in Norway for every dollar the worker earned, the average Norwegian CEO took home 58 bucks.
Equitable paychecks may slow down the creation of Norwegian billionaires, but the country's overall standard of living is among the world's highest. The US ranks much lower on international evaluations, although with its immense and still rapidly growing gap between the plutocrats and the rest of us, it's hard to calculate a meaningful "standard."
While those new Norwegian immigrants were at it, they would quickly move to simplify our tax system. That, of course, is exactly what Trump and the Republicans promised -- you remember that "postcard" you were going to mail to the IRS -- even as they made everything yet more complicated. In Norway, the government not only simplifies the tax system, but figures out, on a progressive scale, what every taxpayer owes and then sends out the bills.
Those dangerous Norwegians are peculiar enough to be grateful. They gladly pay up because taxes fund the country's universal public welfare system, which guarantees that strikingly high standard of living to a whole society. (That phrase "whole society," by the way, is the meaning of the word "social" in the phrase "social democracy.") Keep in mind that all Norwegians have the right to universal public health care, universal public education through professional schools or university and beyond, care of the elderly and disabled, paid parental leave for mothers and fathers, subsidized early childhood education (from age 1), affordable housing, state of the art public transport, and a raft of other services that take the worry out of daily life. The catch is -- and I can already hear the thundering footsteps of the Republican herd as it heads in panic for its top secret bunker -- if Norwegians can't trust the government, they kick it out and elect another.
We Americans, on the other hand, have been taught not to trust any government, but rather to admire our brilliant super-rich people who own this one, and so to let them pocket our tax money and think none the less of them for their dependence on Republican handouts like that tax bill. Consider the situation this way: Norwegian governments spoil their citizens, while President Trump and the Republicans despoilus ordinary Americans. And that just goes to show how much they trust us to take care of ourselves -- so much so that they're now planning to slash Medicaid and Medicare, leaving us "free" to set forth into sickness and death on our own. And if that isn't the good old American spirit of free enterprise, what is?Striking "Oil" With Fair Wages for Women
To explain how Norway pays for all those social programs, almost every American commentator, even when theoretically sympathetic to the Norwegians, points to the income from the country's North Sea oil fields, discovered and developed in the 1960s. On that, however, they are mistaken.
Norway's welfare state programs are supported not by oil revenues but by taxing the citizenry. (While some of those citizen taxpayers are paid for working, directly or indirectly, in the oil business, as of 2016 they made up only 7% of the Norwegian workforce.) So to understand how Norway can afford to pay for the genuine well-being of its people in such an impressive way, you need to look at those tax rolls, which very nearly doubled in the 1970s when women walked into the workplace (and politics) in a major way -- and at wages close to matching those of men. In 2016, the Ministry of Finance calculated that the labor of women added to the net national wealth a value equivalent to the country's "total petroleum wealth" created by that North Sea oil and held in the world's largest sovereign wealth fund, worth in 2017 more than one trillion dollars.
It's pretty scary to think of hordes of immigrants from such a country landing on our shores, considering the radical reality I've just described, the startling idea that you could upgrade an economy in a wholesale way just by requiring fair wages for women. Not to mention that with the taxes those women pay, you could fully fund free universal child care, the lack of which drives American women from the workplace back home, where Republicans think they belong. In the US, none of our good old boy leaders would dream of enacting programs so... well, unpatriarchal. Or how about another idea I've heard from many Norwegians: that gender equality is the key to the good life?
But about that North Sea oil money: it, too, represents a kind of thinking utterly alien to this country. Oil is something we Americans believe we understand. Spill it in Alaska, spill it in the Gulf of Mexico. Now, drill for itin the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (thanks to the need to secure Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski's vote for that tax "reform" bill), as well as up and down the coasts of the country (except for Florida, the home of Trump's favorite golf club). We don't mind what you do with it as long as you keep down the costs of propelling our outsized vehicles over our outdated highways.
Norway, on the other hand, owns 67% of the shares in Statoil, the Norwegian oil company that controls those North Sea wells, even as it leads the world's changeover to electric vehicles. It's a country with a remarkable record of developing and adopting new technologies while phasing out the old, so its workforce is always employed. By law, the government spends no more (and usually less) than 4% of its yearly oil profits on current expenses. The other 96% or more, it pours into that trillion-dollar sovereign wealth fund. That, in turn, has been set aside for the future, for the country's children and their children, although some Norwegians, famous for their worldwide humanitarian and peacemaking activities, now propose to give much of it away to other lands that may need it far more.
Here's a question for future American administrations: Could they apply for some of that Norwegian money to build an East Coast wall against Norwegian immigrants or maybe to help our kids pay off that estimated $1.5 trillion in debt Trump and the Republicans just handed them in the new tax bill? Could we take advantage of those radical Norwegians without even letting them into our country? I'll bet Trump could finagle that.Selling F-52s to Norway
It's likely that Norway came to Trump's mind in that meeting with Senators Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham (among others) as some idyllic source for future white Republicans only because, the day before, he had met with its substantial and very white prime minister, Erna Solberg. (Surprised observers of the meeting tweeted that Solberg speaks better English than the American president -- as most Norwegians do.) "Erna," as Norwegians -- for whom everyone is equal and on a first-name basis -- call her, is the leader of the Conservative party. She heads a coalition government in which the top three positions are held by women. That in itself might have caused Trump to keep his hands in his pockets, but apparently he wasn't told. It's likely he mistook "Conservative" for "Republican," but as a matter of fact, all nine of Norway's political parties now in parliament are well to the left not just of the Republicans but of the Democrats and, yes, even that independent "democratic socialist" from Vermont.
At the moment, only one Norwegian cabinet member, Silvi Listhaug of the right-wing Progress Party, might be considered sufficiently neoliberal, uber-Christian, and mean to fit into Trump's regime. Perhaps that's because her early training included a 2005 internship in the Republican-controlled US House of Representatives.
In Norwegian terms, Erna often tilts dangerously to the right under the pressure of US and British neoliberal economic theorists. It has to be hard for the leader of a small country -- five million people, half the population of Haiti -- to resist pressure to conform to the autocratic example of a nation that styles itself the most exceptional on Earth. Erna herself is a polite, circumspect politician who, on returning from her visit to the White House, assured reporters in Oslo that President Trump was "a normal man" with "a sense of humor." Apparently she didn't mention Trump's self-proclaimed political acumen, intellectual brilliance, or awesome "America First" foreign policy. Norwegians reading their morning papers could, however, fill in the blanks.
At a joint press conference with Erna, Trump proudly announced that, last November, the US had delivered the first F-52 and F-35 fighter jets to Norway, part of a $10 billion order of American military equipment. Norwegians are, in fact, stubbornly averse to war and think of their reluctant acquisition of way too many over-priced, overdue, bug-plagued F-35s as a surcharge on NATO membership. But F-52s?
That thoroughly fictional plane, as it turns out, exists only in the video game Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. (Do you suppose Trump spends his executive time playing commander-in-chief?) Norwegians are having a good laugh, while their commentators are saying "thanks, but no thanks" to Trump's immigration invitation. If they really mean it, then perhaps we can relax and forget about that wall along the Eastern seaboard.
On the other hand, judging by their press, an awful lot of Norwegians are even more appalled and angered than we are by Trump's racist slurs about "shithole countries." What's more, just days after returning to Norway, Erna Solberg rolled out her new government, a coalition of three parties, all led by women, and a gender-equal cabinet to run ministries focused not only on defense or finance, but also on climate and the environment, eldercare and public health, research and higher education, family and equality. Erna announced that the platform of this new government would be "greener" and committed to sustaining the welfare state. And this, in Norway, is a center-right government.
You see what I mean about Norwegian ideas being totally at odds with Trump's America. Still, Trump might play that to his advantage. If he and his Republican supporters in Congress decide to build that East Coast wall after all, they might be able to get the Norwegians to pay for it -- not to keep themout, but to keep us in.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) leaves the Senate floor after the Senate passed a continuing resolution to fund the federal government, Capitol Hill, January 22, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)Nonprofit, independent news outlets like Truthout are critical to countering the mainstream media narrative. Help get the real stories out by supporting Truthout with a tax-deductible donation.
The Senate moved overwhelmingly on early Monday afternoon toward ending a brief government shutdown.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said he supported reopening the government, citing a promise by Republican leaders to bring up proposals on granting status to Dreamers.
Senators voted 81-18 to limit debate on a continuing resolution that would fund federal agencies for two weeks. The supermajority approval means that the proposal can't be filibustered.
Late Friday, a similar vote failed to advance right before parts of the government ran out of money at midnight.
The last time the government partially shut down was in 2013, as Republicans protested the implementation of Obamacare. It lasted for two weeks, and was the first budgetary impasse in Congress since 1995.
Sixteen Democrats rejected Monday's deal, including Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ). Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rand Paul (R-KY) voted "no" alongside the dissenting Democrats.
"I'm confident we can get 60 votes on a DACA bill," Schumer said, explaining his "yes" vote, referring to Republican promises of an imminent debate on the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
DACA gave protection from deportation proceedings to some 800,000 US residents brought to the country as children. Late last year, the Trump administration said the program would end in March.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) promised his Democratic counterparts that the Senate would consider DACA legislation by Feb. 8 -- the next time the federal government is scheduled to run out of money (assuming the legislation advanced by the Senate becomes law).
If it does pass the House, it will likely be without many of Schumer's colleagues. In a press conference before the vote, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said she expected members of her caucus would be rejecting the deal.
"We want transparency in what we do, and bipartisanship in our solutions," Pelosi said. "What I see on the Senate side does not look that way to me."
Democratic opposition, however, is a non-factor in the House. A spending bill passed the lower chamber 230-197 on Thursday with the support of only six Democrats.
The status of any DACA bill is much more uncertain outside of the Senate, even if Democrats can muster the support next month to clear the 60-vote filibuster threshold. House Republicans have urged Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to take a hardline, calling for an intensification of the crackdown on undocumented immigrants before a considering a DACA proposal.
And as Schumer noted Monday morning, the White House has not been clear about what sort of immigration proposals President Trump would sign into law.
"The reason the Republican majority had such difficulty finding consensus is they could never get a firm grip on what the President of their party wanted to do," he said.
As human-caused climate disruption continues apace, last year clocked in as the second warmest year recorded for the atmosphere. But it was the warmest year on record for Earth's oceans. Without the oceans to absorb human-generated heat, global temperatures would be 97 degrees Fahrenheit warmer.
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It is well known now that 2017 was the second-warmest year ever recorded, after 2016. In fact, the five hottest years ever recorded have occurred since just 2010, according to NASA.
What hasn't received as much attention is the fact that 2017 was the warmest year ever recorded for the planet's oceans. The previous warmest year for the oceans was 2015.
In fact, when it comes to the overall impacts of human-caused global warming, the oceans have taken most of the hit: They have absorbed 93 percent of the warmth humans have generated since the 1970s.Oceanic Warming Intensifying
If you took all of the heat humans generated between the years 1955 and 2010 and placed it in the atmosphere instead of the oceans, global temperatures would have risen by a staggering 97 degrees Fahrenheit.
The study that found 2017 to be a record year of oceanic warming was conducted by the Institute of Atmospheric Physics with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and published online by Advances in Atmospheric Sciences on January 18.
The study found that the top 2,000-meter layer of Earth's ocean waters was at its warmest levels ever, and that this warming, according to the study, "represents the signature of global warming." This is due to the fact that, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 5th Assessment Report, oceans absorb the vast majority of human-generated heat primarily because water has a high heat capacity, given that it takes much more heat to warm water than it does air.
Oceanic warming is clearly dramatically escalating. The study found that the last five years have been the five warmest years for the oceans, and added, "Therefore, the long-term warming trend driven by human activities continued unabated."
Warm water expands in volume. Thus, the warming is causing increases in sea level rise, in addition to causing more coral bleaching events, declines in oceanic oxygen levels, and increasing melting of sea ice and ice shelves. Studies show that warming ocean waters are causing major species relocations, along with extinctions of some species of fish and marine life.
"The impacts of anthropogenic climate change so far include decreased ocean productivity, altered food web dynamics, reduced abundance of habitat-forming species, shifting species distributions, and a greater incidence of disease," reads the summary of a study published in the journal Science. "Although there is considerable uncertainty about the spatial and temporal details, climate change is clearly and fundamentally altering ocean ecosystems."Sans El Niño
The fact that 2017 was the second-warmest year on record for the atmosphere, and the warmest on record for the oceans, is particularly troublesome given that 2017 was a non-El Niño year.
El Niño is a shift in Pacific Ocean weather patterns in the tropics that is generally linked to record-setting heat in the atmosphere and oceans alike. Last year was predicted to be a cooler year since it was not an El Niño year. The fact that it was as warm as it was underscores how rapidly the planet is continuing to heat up.
According to both NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 17 of the 18 warmest years on record for the planet have occurred since 2001.
"This is the new normal," NASA's Gavin Schmidt who directs that agency's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told the New York Times. But, he said, "It's also changing. It's not that we've gotten to a new plateau -- this isn't where we'll stay. In ten years we're going to say 'oh look, another record decade of warming temperatures.'"
Although 59 percent of US adults say that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, it remains one of the most divisive issues in America: Not a week passes without headlines chronicling attempts at every level of government to deny or defend women's reproductive rights.
Over the past five years, hundreds of incremental changes in state laws have slowly chipped away at women's reproductive rights. And with the election of Donald Trump and the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the US Supreme Court, we are closer than ever to the reversal of Roe v. Wade.
Yet in the months since Trump was elected and Republicans took control of all three branches of government, women (and men) have stepped up to be heard, from the very day after the inauguration, when millions marched in protest, to the current #MeToo moment, in which thousands are breaking their silence and speaking out about sexual harassment and abuse.
So, too, have women vehemently demonstrated against the latest attempts by conservatives to cut funding for Planned Parenthood and legislate further restrictions. Which is why we're posting a new video series, NO CHOICE, to remind us just what the United States was like before abortion was legal, when abortions were dangerous, traumatic and often deadly, and how Roe v. Wade made a difference. Here, women share their personal stories. They're speaking up to combat the stigma that still surrounds their choice, to remind people of the way things used to be and to bring awareness to the barriers that still exist, especially for poor women and women of color.
Listen to these brave women -- and one male doctor -- tell their stories, and think about what America would be like for men and women if Roe v. Wade were no longer the law of the land: if there were NO CHOICE.
Gaylon Alcaraz grew up on the South Side of Chicago and attended a Catholic girls school where she didn't receive comprehensive sex education. She was 17 years old when she first became pregnant. She knew she was not ready to become a mother, so she had an abortion. Today Gaylon, a mother of two, is a reproductive justice activist fighting for the women in her community. This is her story.
In the 1950s, Dr. Waldo Fielding was an obstetrician working at Harlem Hospital in Manhattan. He remembers women from the community coming to him -- many terrified they would be reported -- with complications from backroom abortions. After Roe, he remembers the protestors at his Boston clinic and the harassment women endured just to access medical care. This is his story.
When Lynne Hanley was studying English at Cornell, she fell in love. When she tried to get contraception, she was told she had to be married to get it. After she realized she was pregnant, she went to a local doctor who lectured her, telling her she would be punished if she tried to end her pregnancy. This is her story.
Today, Danielle Lang is a voting-rights attorney. But at the age of 22, when she was studying for law school, she became pregnant because of a contraception failure. She and her partner felt they were not ready to be parents. After her abortion, Danielle found herself confronting the stigma surrounding her choice. This is her story.
When Valerie Peterson became pregnant with her third child, her doctor told her the child wasn't developing properly. The grim diagnosis meant Valerie had a choice to make. She could carry the pregnancy to term and deliver a stillborn baby, or she could have an abortion. Living in Texas, Valerie faced access and scheduling restrictions that made her decision to end the pregnancy much more difficult than she anticipated. This is her story.
Marge Piercy is 81 years old. She grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Detroit. In 1953, during her freshman year of college, she fell in love. In those days, contraception was illegal in most states, and it was certainly illegal for unmarried women. She had dreams of becoming a writer. She didn't want to have a baby. This is her story.
Today, Holly Alvarado is a proud US military veteran. But in 2009, as she was getting ready to leave for a tour of duty in Iraq, she realized she was pregnant. She wanted to end the pregnancy and deploy with her team, but she couldn't get an abortion from a military doctor because of a federal law restricting military abortions. This is her story.
Liz Young was the first person in her family to go to Berkeley. While there during the free speech movement of the early 1960s, she experienced new freedoms and political ideas that she had not encountered in her sheltered traditional Chinese upbringing. At the age of 22 she accidentally became pregnant, and found herself in the underground world to get an abortion. This is her story.
Today's dire threats to our democracy did not arise out of nowhere. An American Democracy Movement is fighting brutal capitalism and the culture of blame to move towards a future democracy that includes us all.
Protesters participate in the Women's March against President Donald J. Trump in Chicago, United States on January 20, 2018. (Photo: Bilgin S. Sasmaz / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)Zero, zip, zilch. That's how many ads we run on this site. Help keep it that way: Make a tax-deductible donation to support the free and independent journalism at Truthout.
In this tumultuous world, one thing seems certain: today's dire threats to our democracy did not arise out of nowhere. Every culture thrives, or not, on whether its core narrative -- the causation story we tell ourselves -- enhances mutual gain or spurs division. And, the narrative driving today's unfolding catastrophe feeds the latter.
It begins with a deep distrust of human nature.
Way back in 1651, philosopher Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan summed up our nature with the Latin proverb Homohominilupus, "Man is a wolf to his fellow man." From this thought tradition, now reinforced through much of media and advertising, we absorb the notion that humans are essentially selfish, competitive, and materialistic. Yet, with this dim view of our nature, how can we possibly make society work? The dominant narrative has the answer: Just put self-interest to work.
So, by the end of the 1980s, the notion of a "free market" driven by calculated self-interest had risen to economic gospel. Influenced by 20th-century economists -- led, for example, by F.A. Hayek and then Milton Friedman and his "Chicago School" -- we've come to see the "free market" untethered from human meddling as an almost infallible law. It's what Ronald Reagan called the "magic" of the "marketplace," efficiently sorting out winners and losers for the benefit of all.
With help from a handful of billionaire families, this free-market ideology took hold. Since the 1970s, their funding has spread the idea of government-as-problem and market-as-solution through policy think tanks, the media, higher education, and far-right political organizing. The mindset steadily drove into private hands what had long been public goods -- from the airwaves to schools to prisons -- while simultaneously decimating government's role in protecting public welfare.
Not surprisingly, trust in government has dropped to historic lows. Only one in five of us now feels such trust, down from roughly three-quarters in the late 50s.
Taking a step back, however, we can see that no market is "free." While all markets have rules, ours has been increasingly whittled down to just one: Do what brings highest and most immediate return to existing wealth. Following Friedman's mantra, the sole purpose of business must be maximizing profit.
With this simple logic, wealth inexorably accrues to wealth, making quickening economic inequality a given. Since 1980, the top 1 percent of U.S. earners has doubled its share of total income. And the top one-tenth of that 1 percent did even better. Its total pre-tax income quadrupled between 1980 and 2010. Compared to Europe, America now takes the economic inequality cake.
But Americans acquiesce, since market doctrine has convinced us to view the success of the few as deserved, or at least an inevitable side-effect of what's conveyed to us as virtually a law of nature.
Two huge problems follow.
First, once trapped in the myth of the free market, Americans tie their own and their compatriots' worth to their wealth. And, once accepting the notion of an unerring market rewarding those who work like the devil to succeed, it follows that those who fail to attain the "American dream" are at fault, and therefore undeserving. Representative Paul Ryan captured the outcome of this mindset when in 2012 he described our country as divided between the "makers" and the "takers."
Plus, the aura of infallibility surrounding the market convinces many that assisting the "laggards" throws the market out of kilter, harming us all.
Then, once accepting, even unconsciously, that a market unerringly picks winners and you yourself are struggling to get by, it's hard not to feel shame. To shield ourselves against shame, understandably many turn to blame. Especially when primed.In Strangers in Their Own Land, professor Arlie Hochschild offers a helpful metaphor with which to understand the rush to blame. She describes the economically decimated, white working-class mindset this way: You've been waiting in line for the American dream, all the while playing by the rules and working hard. But the line isn't moving. (In fact, workers' real income has hardly budged since the 1970s.) Then, in coded and not-so-coded terms you're told those others -- people of color, immigrants, refugees -- have cut ahead of you thanks to government favors and affirmative action policies.
Of course, you're angry, and the blaming frame sticks even though whites have been the main beneficiaries by far of government rules and programs.
Into this flammable mix of suffering and confusion, Donald Trump's hate speech throws a torch. White nationalists behind the Charlottesville tragedy acknowledged that they'd felt encouraged by the president. Tapping into the anger of those primed for shame and blame, Trump distracts Americans from the core, system problem -- a one-rule market inexorably concentrating wealth -- undermining democracy and thus our power to come together to shape solutions.
The second huge downside of a narrative making tightly held economic power inevitable is that almost universally it translates into tightly held political power. The 2016 federal election cost $6.4 billion, two-thirds of it coming from well less than 1 percent of donors. Those elected are thus set up to serve the donor class, not all Americans.
In 1938, Franklin Delano Roosevelt warned Congress of the dire consequence: "[I]f the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself," he told us, "that, in its essence, is fascism."
And the cycle is self-reinforcing.
The more money drives our political choices, the more policies favor the better off, bringing still more impoverishment, suffering, and blame. Today, half of babies born in America are so poor they rely on public aid for sustenance, and poverty robs Americans of years of life as the gap in lifespan between rich and poor widens. Homelessness is another measure. Not widespread until the Reagan years, it exploded during his presidency. In 2016, more than half a million Americans were without homes.
Such outcomes are one reason we call this variant of a market economy "brutal capitalism." So, what is to be done?
We start by nurturing an evidence-grounded causation story -- one aligned with the rich complexity of human nature and with the three essentials we need to thrive. They are a sense of personal power, meaning in our lives, and connection with community, and only inclusive, accountable democracy has a chance of making them possible.
The only way to create this new story of possibility is through our action, and it's happening. In this dark time, a vigorous and unprecedented democracy movement is emerging. Led by citizens of all backgrounds -- inspiring our new book, Daring Democracy -- it is uniting groups long focused on specific issues, from the environment to racial justice to labor, who are now joining forces with veteran democracy-reform groups to tackle big money's grip on our elections and to ensure voting rights. Step by bold step, citizens joining in this never-more-needed movement are gaining confidence in their capacities to shape an accountable, inclusive democracy in which all voices are heard.
Because the democracy movement holds the inherent dignity of all as a core value, this rising movement can be a key in freeing us from our blaming and shaming culture and moving us toward one in which we're all responsible and thus able to experience the thrill of democracy.
One of the most talked-about documentaries at this year's Sundance Film Festival looks at the groundbreaking life of the nearly 85-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 2018 marks her 25th year on the court, and she has no plans to retire. Ginsburg first gained fame in the 1970s when she co-founded the Women's Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, where she argued six gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court. In recent years, Ginsburg’s public profile has soared as the court has swerved to the right. Ginsburg often now finds herself on the dissenting side of opinions. We feature excerpts from the new film and speak with its directors, Julie Cohen and Betsy West.
Please check back later for full transcript.
"The Year of Our Awakening": Global Protests Mark Anniversary of Women's March and Trump Inauguration
Hundreds of thousands of women took to the streets across the country this weekend to mark the first anniversary of last year's historic Women's March protesting President Trump's inauguration. As Democracy Now! broadcast from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, protesters braved freezing temperatures and a snowstorm to take part in a Respect Rally. We feature the voices of longtime women's rights attorney Gloria Allred and actress Jane Fonda, and speak with actress Tessa Thompson, who played the superhero Valkyrie in the film "Thor," Samantha "Sam" White in "Dear White People" and Diane Nash in "Selma."
Please check back later for full transcript.
A little over a year ago at TomDispatch I wrote about the bloody nightmares rupturing my sleep and the night terrors gripping my little household in the wake of Donald Trump's election. That piece was reposted by a wide range of publications. And then, in what at first seemed like a terrible mistake, I read the comments.
Some of them weren't very nice. Some of the names the guys (and they were all guys) called me were downright mean. Shocking, I know. But a common thread ran through those responses, one I've been musing about ever since. It was this, as one fellow put it: "There's nothing to be afraid of. Stop being such a coward." They were wrong, of course. There's plenty to be afraid of in the Trump era from climate disaster to nuclear war to disappearing medical care. But they were half-right, too. Those of us seeking to resist Trump can't afford cowardice. We need to practice courage.
Remembering that exchange with those trolls has gotten me thinking about some of the personal qualities we'll need to sustain the movements resistingTrump and the Republican agenda forward. The ancient Greek philosophers called such qualities "virtues," by which they meant stable habits of character -- a dependable tendency to act a certain way in certain situations. The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed we can only develop such habits through practice. We become courageous, he wrote, by acting courageously. In effect, we fake it till we make it.
There are many lists of such virtues. Aristotle himself described a number of them, some of which didn't even have names -- like the ability to be entertainingly witty at a dinner party. But most of the classical and medieval European philosophers settled on four key or "cardinal" virtues: justice, courage, temperance (which, today, we would call moderation), and wisdom. It's as good a list as any to cultivate for those intent on resisting the transformation of our world into a Trumpian hell on Earth.Justice
Ancient philosophers spent a lot of time defining justice. For the Greek philosopher Plato, a just person was someone in whom each part of the personality played the role it was best suited for. For Aristotle and many who came after him, justice consisted of giving to people what they were due or owed, what they deserved.
We've certainly seen the Trump administration fail to give people their due.
For example, in April 2017 Attorney General Jeff Sessions acted to stop the implementation of consent decrees worked out between the Obama-era Justice Department and a number of local police forces around the country. Those agreements to reform law enforcement practices came in the wake of a new media interest in an old problem: the deaths of striking numbers of unarmed people of color annually at the hands of police departments from Staten Island to Baltimore to San Francisco, not to mention Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown was infamously shot to death by a city police officer.
After Brown's death, the Justice Department investigated the practices of the Ferguson police and discovered that, far from giving that city's citizens their due, the police department and its municipal court were preying on them for financial gain. "Ferguson's law enforcement practices," the Department's Civil Rights Division found, "are shaped by the city's focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs." In other words, the main activity of the police and court turned out to be wringing as much money as possible out of the African American population.
As a result of Justice Department action, in 2016 Ferguson agreed to a consent decree outlining the concrete steps it would take to correct an unjust system. Similar agreements were put in place in other cities with histories of discriminatory, indeed murderous, treatment of communities of color. Now, Trump's attorney general has halted enforcement of these consent decrees, effectively ending an attempt to bring justice to communities suffering at the hands of those who are supposed to protect them.
Donald Trump himself has demonstrated little respect for the institutions responsible for justice in this country. In January 2018, for example, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed a Trump move to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (the DACA program, which allows undocumented immigrants who came here as children to remain in the United States). Trump's reaction? An attack not only on this particular decision, but a tweetpronouncing the entire court system "broken and unfair" (followed by his now infamous assault on the "shithole" countries from which such immigrants come and a call to replace them with "Norwegian" immigrants).
And this was hardly Trump's first attack on the courts. As early as June 2017, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School had already collected a remarkable range of presidential tweet assaults on the court system, part of a full-scale presidential campaign to delegitimize an entire branch of government (until the president can appoint judges more to his taste). It cited a tweet storm of Trumpian pronouncements like: "Our legal system is broken!" "Just can't believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system." "What is our country coming to when a judge can halt a Homeland Security travel ban…?"
What, indeed? A country with a system of checks and balances, perhaps, in which multiple branches of government work to keep each other honest, or even… just?
In general, we tend to think of justice (or injustice) as a situation brought about by human activity, rather than as a quality of humanity itself. Consider the expression "to bring someone to justice." In this sense -- and it's a commonplace one -- justice is a metaphorical place, a condition. That's not wrong, of course, but we can also understand justice as a virtue -- a moral characteristic of individuals. Justice in this sense is the personal habit of giving people what they are truly owed, whether demanding respect for women's bodily and moral integrity or striving for a living wage for every worker.
Justice in the form of habitual respect for those who are -- perhaps profoundly -- different from ourselves is crucial if we are to build strong and effective coalitions of resistance.Courage
George W. Bush and his administration spent eight years trying to turn the United States into a terrified nation of cowards. The pretext for their invasions and torture was "our" safety (though on any number of other, far more dangerous subjects they couldn't have cared less). We've now come to accept, for example, the "security theater" we encounter at US airports, a drama in which an audience of docile passengers is reminded by the indignity of the procedures that we should be very afraid. Indeed the absurdity of these measures (only 3-ounce bottles in a quart-sized baggie permitted; no bigger! no smaller!) reinforces our sense of their ultimate power. The danger must be very great indeed, if our government is making such ridiculous demands in such profusion (even if the Transportation Security Administration has a dismal record when it comes to finding actual objects of danger on passengers as opposed to nail files or water bottles).
Similarly, we were asked to accept that other people had to be tortured if we were to remain safe. It was as if the government were offering us a solemn deal: just let us do what we need to over there on the dark side and, in return, we promise you will never die. The same illusory guarantee of immortality is implied in the promise to wealthier, whiter communities that they could enjoy lives of perfect safety as long as they permitted militarized policing and massive incarceration in this country.
In spite of an historic decline in violent crime in recent years, Donald Trump continues to stir such fears. In his inaugural address a year ago, he spoke of "American carnage," in a landscape "of abandoned factories, economic angst, rising crime." To deal with it, Muslims and immigrants of color were to be tossed out of the country (or kept from entering), prompting no less a fear-monger than George W. Bush to describe the address as "some weird shit."
Such fear-mongering has a long history in this country. Today it is especially focused on the "dangers" represented by Muslims and immigrants in general. If you're a Central American immigrant, then you must also be a member of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS) 13 gang and in need of deportation so that good Americans can remain safe. Never mind that many such immigrants are here precisely because MS 13 and other drug gangs targeted them in their home countries -- or that MS 13 originated in the United States when Salvadorans fled war and repression instigated by US-backed dictatorships.
We are encouraged to let fear guide our response to the horrors lived by millions of Middle Eastern refugees, many of them displaced from their homes by our own country's military adventures. Those adventures, in turn, were fueled by all sorts of ginned-up fears, including that -- as Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser, put it back in early 2003 -- we must not wait until the "smoking gun" (proving that Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein did indeed possess weapons of mass destruction) turned out to be "a mushroom cloud" rising over an American city.
Half of all Syrians have by now become refugees, in part because of the regional destabilization that began with the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Trump travel ban forbids even one of them to enter this country. Since the attacks of 9/11, fear of terrorism -- and terrorism alone -- has constricted the American heart, while helping fund the spectacular rise of the national security state.
To be clear: the problem isn't fear itself, it's our habitual reaction to fear. Reasonable people are often afraid. We are all mortal and there are real dangers in this world. Fear can be a perfectly useful response, alerting us to danger. So courage doesn't mean never being frightened. Courage is the habit that allows us, even as we tremble, to do what we know is right and necessary -- to refuse to torture anyone, to rescue refugees, to recognize that striking first is not self-defense but aggressive war, to realize that others are profiting by the ways we let fear immobilize us.
If we are to successfully resist the Trump juggernaut, we will need to be brave, to create through practice a habit of refusing to let fear -- whether of ridicule or repression -- keep us from acting.Moderation
Moderation -- the ability to resist extreme behavior -- isn't always a popular virtue among leftists like myself. Our intemperance often tends less in the direction of self-indulgence than puritanical self-righteousness. This makes it difficult to compromise; it often makes "the perfect," as they say, the enemy of "the good." Such a tendency could prove disastrous if we fail to support imperfect Democratic nominees -- is there any other kind? -- in the 2018 midterm elections. There are legitimate bottom lines of course. A resistance movement worth its name can't support candidates who don't recognize the full humanity of people of color, of women, and members of LGBTcommunities. We mustn't trade anyone's humanity for a mess of electoral pottage. Still, there are compromises we can make.
A puritan intemperance can also create in activists a contempt for anyone who takes time out from politics to pay attention to the details of ordinary life. Often such people are women on whom the main social responsibility still falls for raising children and feeding, clothing, and soothing family and friends. We can be tempted to forget that the whole point of political engagement is to create a world in which everyone is free to attend to the ordinary joys and pains of human life.
There's a saying attributed to Carlos Fonseca, one of the founders of Nicaragua's Sandinista party. "A man who is tired," he is supposed to have said, "has the right to rest. But a man who rests does not have the right to be in the vanguard." It's a stirring exhortation. But the implication is that only supermen (and they would be men) can lead movements for the benefit of ordinary people. And buried in that implication lies a contempt for the very people any "vanguard" hopes to lead.
Moderation -- a recognition and embrace of human limitations -- is the virtue that will keep a resistance movement humble and grounded in real life.Wisdom
Aristotle called it phronesis; Thomas Aquinas, prudentia. It's probably best translated as practical wisdom. It's the ability to use your mental powers, honed through your experience of life, to discern in a given situation not just the most effective move, but the right one. It's the quality that allows us, for example, to recognize the injustice in a tax bill that gives wealthy people something not due to them -- even greater wealth -- while taking yet morefrom the poor. Once armed with that recognition, practical wisdom helps us figure out the best way to confront and overturn injustice, while maintaining our own integrity.
It helps us decide, for example, which candidates or ballot measures we should support or oppose in the 2018 elections. Once committed, practical wisdom helps us decide not only which tactics will be effective in an electoral battle, but which contribute to our longer-term goals.
Suppose, for example, there's a ballot initiative to outlaw all state and local services to undocumented immigrants. No emergency health care, no public schooling. Opponents could decide to leverage the very anti-immigrant sentiment fueling the initiative to defeat it. "You don't want untreated immigrants spreading tuberculosis," they might argue (as in fact they did in a 1994 California electoral campaign). Or "You don't want dangerous immigrant teenagers hanging out on street corners. Wouldn't it be better to have them in school where we can keep an eye on them?"
Arguments like this might deliver a short-term win (although they failed to do so in that state in 1994) but at the cost of reinforcing racism and xenophobia in the long run. Practical wisdom counsels us to do the right thing (in this case, oppose a vicious law) -- and in the right way.Becoming Stable Geniuses
Resisting Trump will require developing such dependable habits in ourselves and our movements.
How do we do this? Here I defer to Aristotle. We become just by doing just acts and brave by acting bravely. We show up at immigration courts when asylum seekers ask to be released on bond from detention centers; we demonstrate outside legislators' offices, demanding they keep their promises to protect DACA holders; we keep doing these things even though we're afraid they won't help.
We take risks -- including the risk of being ridiculed for making moral arguments, for injecting questions of right and wrong into the political conversation -- in a country where the "grownups" only talk about costs and benefits measured in dollars and cents.
We fake it till we make it, all the while acknowledging our own human imperfections, even the possibility that we might be wrong. We build dependable habits of justice, courage, and moderation, guided by practical wisdom. We seek, in other words, to become very stable geniuses.
Dreamers and their supporters protest outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, January 19, 2018. (Photo: Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post via Getty Images)The only way Truthout can maintain a sanctuary for real, independent news is with your support. Make a tax-deductible donation today!
In May of last year, President Donald Trump said "our country needs a shutdown." Over the weekend he got his wish. After a tumultuous couple of weeks in which the president said he would agree to a clean DACA bill "of love" and then ranted about not wanting any more immigration from "shithole" countries, the Republican House majority voted for a stopgap spending measure to keep the government funded. But the Republican Senate couldn't muster more than 51 votes and it needed 60.
As I write this, all non-essential government services are closed and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is promising a vote on DACA if Democrats agree to a stopgap measure lasting until Feb. 8. He has scheduled a vote for noon on Monday. Of course they've been kicking this can down the road for months. McConnell promised the same thing in December and never delivered the DACA vote, but maybe he really means it this time.
The sticking points are a fix for DACA recipients, enhanced border security including the Trumpian border wall, newly introduced draconian restrictions on legal immigration and funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program. The DACA issue and the CHIP program basically involve young people and sick children being held as hostages by Republicans to get their extreme immigration policies enacted.
The best description of what the negotiations have been like over the past three days came from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in a speech on Saturday when he said working with Trump was "like negotiating with Jell-O." He said Democrats had capitulated on the wall, and in return, Trump told him he would push for a measure to keep the government open for four or five days so they could hammer out the details. Then:
"Several hours later he called back. He said, 'So, I hear we have a three-week deal.' I said, 'No, Mr. President, no one is even talking about a three-week deal,'" Schumer recounted.
"Then a few hours later they called back again, 'Well we're going to need this, this, this in addition,'" Schumer said. "Things they knew were far, far right and off the table."
Basically, every time the parties reach an actual agreement, the right-wingers demand more.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, who foolishly believed he had seduced the president into adopting a moderate stance on the issue, was more or less with Schumer on the character of the negotiations. Graham said on Sunday, "As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiating immigration, we're going nowhere. He's been an outlier for years."
The malevolent Miller, a White House policy adviser, may be an outlier, but he's been a pretty successful one. He and his former boss Jeff Sessions (then in the Senate), along with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, were responsible for the failure of the last big push for comprehensive immigration reform back in 2013. Miller seems to be good at currying favor with his xenophobic bosses.
Sessions himself worked tirelessly to ensure the DREAM Act was never passed, which was why DACA was required in the first place. Back in 2010, Sessions made the case that young people who were brought to the US by their parents, and were in all respects but paperwork American citizens, should be sent back to countries many could not remember. He called the DREAM Act "amnesty" for uneducated, unproductive criminal welfare recipients and said it would cost "hard-working Americans" vast sums of money. That was, of course, a lie, but Sessions managed to get the votes to scuttle the bill.
Trump made that man his attorney general. Immigration is the issue most closely associated with Trump's campaign. His closest advisers on the issue, from Steve Bannon to Miller to chief of staff John Kelly, are hardcore anti-immigration zealots. The president himself blew up the negotiations over the notion that people from "shithole" countries were coming into the United States legally. Why, if we didn't know better, you'd think they don't really want a deal at all.
The GOP revealed its true strategy over the weekend with this repugnant message:
The White House tried to distance the president from the ad, but the fact that it concludes with the words "I'm Donald Trump and I approve this message," disproves that claim. Trump also tweeted several times that the Democrats have shut down the government because they care more about "illegal immigrants" more than they care about the American people. His secretary of homeland security backed him up:
Characterizing this issue as one of conferring "benefits" on "illegal immigrants" is code for the dreaded "amnesty," which leads directly to the racist trope that they are all on welfare. The administration is now consciously demagoguing against DACA recipients by conflating them with criminals.
Yes, the polls all say that there is a bipartisan majority in favor of helping the Dreamers. Even many Republican voters aren't so heartless that they think it makes sense to deport 800,000 young people simply because their parents broke the immigration laws when they were small children. Everyone knows that it's the Democrats who are trying to help them. That would explain why party officials and the White House are purposefully conflating Dreamers with criminal gang members in that ad. They have to keep their voters confused and angry.
It's obvious from the Keystone Kops nature of the so-called negotiations that Trump isn't strategizing. His racist id and his desire to get a "win" are being pulled in opposite directions, depending on whom he listens to at any given time. His lack of understanding of the issue or how laws are actually made makes him a hindrance to deal making. But we know what Trump wants. He's said it many times during debates and on the stump during the campaign:
We either have a country, or we don't have a country. We have at least 11 million people in this country that came in illegally. They will go out. Some will come back, the best, through a process. They have to come back legally. They have to come back through a process, and it may not be a very quick process, but I think that's very fair, and very fine.
Yes, he's hedged on the Dreamers from time to time. But seriously, all you have to do is look at his rhetoric from the moment he announced his candidacy to understand what he really, deep down, wants to do. It was the central promise of his presidential campaign from day one.
So yes, I think it's probably true that as president he's being manipulated in the negotiations by the odious Stephen Miller and probably by Kelly and Sessions too. They know what buttons he really likes pushed. And some ambitious Republican hardliners like Sen. Tom Cotton, R-AK, and members of the ever-cunning House Freedom Caucus are riding the Trump zeitgeist as well.
But let's not pretend it's all Trump and his courtiers. The Republican majority in Congress has been playing Russian roulette with the Dreamers for years now. They have blocked every single solution to the problem, and it's irrational at this point to believe they are acting in good faith.
(Left to right) Sen. Steve Daines, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Ron Wyden, Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. Elizabeth Warren hold a news conference about their proposed reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill January 16, 2018, in Washington, DC. The senators are part of a bipartisan group that supports legislation they say would protect Americans from foreign threats while preserving their privacy. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
When it voted 65 to 34 to pass the National Security Agency's Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Reauthorization Act of 2017, Congress gave Donald Trump vast authority to spy on Americans. Senate Republicans and Democrats have handed the Trump administration a dangerous tool to intercept our internet communications and target immigrants, people of color and government critics.
(Left to right) Sen. Steve Daines, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Ron Wyden, Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. Elizabeth Warren hold a news conference about their proposed reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill January 16, 2018, in Washington, DC. The senators are part of a bipartisan group that supports legislation they say would protect Americans from foreign threats while preserving their privacy. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)Stories like this are more important than ever! To make sure Truthout can keep publishing them, please give a tax-deductible donation today.
"Today, the United States Congress struck a significant blow against the basic human right to read, write, learn, and associate free of government's prying eyes," Electronic Frontier Foundation Executive Director Cindy Cohn wrote. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Reauthorization Act of 2017, which Congress passed on January 19, poses a serious threat to the privacy of our internet communications.Section 702 of FISA also allows spying on Americans who communicate with people outside the United States.
Congress voted to extend Section 702 of FISA, with minimal changes, for six years. It permits the National Security Agency (NSA) to collect email and texts of foreigners abroad without a warrant, and also allows spying on Americans who communicate with people outside the United States. For example, the NSA can intercept the communications of a US citizen or permanent resident who attends an international conference on human rights or marches against climate change in another country.
In 2013, whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA was using section 702 to spy on Americans through the PRISM internet surveillance program. The government is collecting private messages, without a warrant, from US companies including Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Skype, AOL, Apple and YouTube. It targets foreigners who are "reasonably believed" to be outside the US, even though the surveillance occurs on US soil. However, the communications of Americans can also be incidentally intercepted.In a vote of 65 to 34, 18 Senate Democrats joined many of their Republican colleagues to give the Trump administration vast spying authority.
We cannot confine our criticism for this travesty to the GOP. In a vote of 65 to 34, 18 Senate Democrats joined many of their Republican colleagues to give the Trump administration vast spying authority. Although some Democratic senators, including Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), had suggested amendments that would require a court order to gain access to the communications of US persons, others quickly got behind the reauthorization.
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who is running for reelection this year, provided the deciding vote that prevented any debate on increased civil liberties protections. "I would like to see more reforms in this program, and perhaps that is something those of us on the Intelligence Committee can strive for," she said. "But I believe this is the best we are going to do at this time."
It is no coincidence that Feinstein failed to stand up for our privacy. In 2013, when she was chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Feinstein defended the surveillance program while acknowledging she didn't know how the data collected by the NSA was being utilized. At the time, journalist Glenn Greenwald noted in a tweet, "The reason there are leakers is precisely because the govt is filled with people like Dianne Feinstein who do horrendous things in secret."
"Instead of instituting much needed reforms and safeguards, Senators supported legislation that would give spying powers to an administration that has time and time again demonstrated its disregard for civil rights and civil liberties," the ACLU tweeted after the Senate voted to reauthorize section 702 last week.
Demand Progress, an internet activist group with 2 million members, concurred, stating, "This expanded surveillance power is particularly troubling in the hands of the Trump administration, which has made regular practice of cynical, politically-expedient and dangerous attacks on our country's most targeted communities."
This reauthorization bill was passed shortly before the US government shut down because Donald Trump refused to make good on his promise to protect Dreamers after ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Following the vote to reauthorize section 702, the ACLU tweeted "No president should have this [spying] power, much less one who has endorsed policies designed to unfairly target critics, immigrants, and minority communities."
The bill, which allows warrantless backdoor searches of the communications of Americans, requires a warrant when there is an ongoing criminal investigation. But, as the ACLU's Neema Singh Guliani noted, "Congress has left this loophole wide open for exploitation by an administration openly hostile to critics, immigrants, Muslims, and people of color."
Snowden maintains that Congress would not have reauthorized section 702 if it knew about alleged abuses of the program described in a secret government memo. On Friday, he tweeted, "Officials confirm there's a secret report showing abuses of spy law Congress voted to reauthorize this week. If this memo had been known prior to the vote, FISA reauth would have failed. These abuses must be made public and @realDonaldTrump should send the bill back with a veto."
Ironically, Republicans have issued calls to #ReleaseTheMemo, a classified memo written by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-California), which purportedly shows Barack Obama misused FISA to conduct surveillance during Trump's presidential transition. Democrats contend the memo misstates and misconstrues the facts.
"There is one signal that will tell you if the Republican's #ReleaseTheMemo campaign is legitimate: whether or not @RealDonaldTrump signs the FISA 702 reauth into law in the next 10 days," Snowden tweeted. "If he doesn't veto 702 and send it back to Congress for reform, this is nothing but politics," he added.
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There have been numerous news stories in the past few weeks about corporations doing the right thing with their big tax cuts. These stories tell us how they are giving higher pay to workers and have ambitious plans for new investment. The Trump administration has been crowing over these announcements as proving the success of their tax cut. There is much less here than meets the eye.
To start, we can look at the latest and biggest announcement in this category, Apple's plan to bring back $252 billion in cash that it held overseas. Apple announced it would make a one-time $38 billion tax payment on the repatriated money.
Before anyone starts celebrating, we should be clear what bringing back this cash means. Previously, this $252 billion had been credited to Apple's foreign subsidiaries. These subsidiaries had immediate legal claim to the money, which could in fact be anywhere in the world, including the United States.
What Apple did in repatriating this money was transfer the ownership claim from its subsidiaries to the parent company. It is entirely possible that this meant simply shifting money in an account at Citigroup owned by Apple's Irish subsidiary to an account at Citigroup owned by the parent company. This means essentially nothing to the US economy.
There is the one-time tax payment of $38 billion, but this is a savings of $43 billion against Apple's tax liability under the former system, according to the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy. So it's hard to see the cause for celebration here.
Apple did announce that it was giving a one-time bonus of $2,500, in the form of stock. If all of the company's 84,000 workers get this bonus, it is equal to a bit less than 0.5 percent of the tax liability Apple saved on its foreign profits.
Apart from this one-time windfall on foreign earnings, we don't know how much of Apple's ongoing tax savings will show up in worker's wages. As it stands, Apple is looking a bit stingy compared to other big winners from the tax cut.
Verizon announced that it would give bonuses of $1,000 to each of its 200,000 workers. This $200,000 million expenditure comes to almost 10 percent of its $2 billion-plus in annual savings from the tax cut. Similarly, Walmart announced pay increases that came to around $300 million annually. This would be close to 15 percent of the $2 billion that it would save annually from the tax cut.
Many of these companies are also announcing plans for expansion, which they are attributing to the incentives provided by the tax cut. While that is possible, it is also likely that many of these plans for expansion were in the works long before the tax cut was even introduced in Congress.
After all, Walmart also just announced that it was closing 63 Sam's Clubs stores. Should we attribute these closing and the resulting layoffs to the tax cut as well?
Corporate America is clearly putting on a public relations show to thank the Republicans who pushed through the tax cut. They are trying to convince people that the Republicans in Congress were doing something that was good for the country, not just rewarding big donors to their campaigns.
But this is not the sort of stuff that the public should take seriously. We know how to evaluate the tax cut. The question is whether it truly does lead to a big upturn in investment. We will find the answer in the government's data on investment, not the tall tales from corporate chieftains.
Thankfully, we shouldn't have to wait long to get the preliminary results. If the tax cut really is the huge spur to investment that the Republicans claim, it should be showing up very quickly in new orders for capital goods. The Commerce Department will release the data for December this week. While this is early, fast-moving companies surely were following the debate and were prepared to jump once passage became certain.
In late February we will have the data on capital goods orders for January. If corporate America sees the tax cut as the boon the Republicans promised, surely they will have some of their new orders in by the end of this month.
These Commerce Department reports will provide the real test of the Republican claims that the tax cuts will boost growth and provide substantial benefits for workers. Until we have these data, all the announcements of corporate generosity should be recognized as nothing more than self-serving propaganda.
Jorge Garcia's wife and two teenage children sobbed as he was forced onto a plane bound for Mexico from Detroit on January 15. After more than 30 years living uneventfully in the US, the 39-year-old Garcia was deported.
Garcia did everything right -- he paid his taxes, worked as a landscaper to support his family, and never had so much as a parking ticket. But because his efforts -- he spent more than $125,000 in legal fees since 2005 -- to find a way to documented status failed, the US government kicked him out.
According to the Detroit Free Press, Garcia was given a deportation order by the courts in 2009, but under the Obama administration, he had received repeated stays of removal. The Trump administration has reversed the longstanding policy of allowing such stays.
And because Garcia doesn't qualify for consideration under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program -- he was brought to the US as a child, but DACA doesn't cover people born before 1981 -- the Garcia family have had their lives upended.
"How do you do this on Martin Luther King Jr. Day?" Erik Shelley, an activist with the immigrant rights group Michigan United said to the Free Press. "It's another example of the tone-deafness of this administration...If Jorge isn't safe, no one is safe."
But this is exactly the message that the Trump administration wants to send.
News reports last week warned of the Trump administration's plans for massive series of raids in San Francisco and other cities in Northern California. The operation could include flying in ICE agents to participate in raids designed to arrest as many as 1,500 people.
If this operation takes place, it would be a deliberate assault on sanctuary city laws designed to protect the undocumented. In response to California Gov. Jerry Brown signing a statewide sanctuary law in October, Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan threatened this month that "California better hold on tight" -- and added that if local politicians "don't want to protect their communities, then ICE will."
The cruelty of the Trump administration's assault was underlined earlier this week with the arrest, detention and scheduled deportation of Youngstown, Ohio, convenience store owner Al Adi Othman, after what he thought would be a routine check-in with immigration authorities.
Adi's lawyer David Leopold described what happened to his client as the "brazen humiliation, degradation, dehumanizing of a man who's an American in every way but a piece of paper."
Adi has lived in the US for the past 39 years, since he was 19 years old. He and his wife have four American-born children.
He was ordered deported in 2013, but Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, an advocate for Adi, introduced a so-called "private bill" that would have granted him legal status and prevented his deportation. The measure didn't become law, but the Department of Homeland Security traditionally had a policy of not deporting people who are the subject of pending "private bills."
The Trump administration, however, has chosen to scrap that policy.
In early January, Adi was given a deportation order. He purchased an airplane ticket to Jordan, his country of origin, and began the arduous process of saying goodbye to his daughters, who planned to stay in the US.
Before he could get on his flight, authorities stayed the deportation order -- only to suddenly change their mind without warning when Adi showed up to an appointment at an ICE regional office, where Adi was put under arrest and detained.
"Why would you trick us to say he has a stay, get us here, just to put him behind bars?" Adi's distraught wife, Fidda Musleh, asked WKBN. "What's the reason behind it? Was he a threat to anybody? They have no answers."
"This is absolutely insane," Rep. Tim Ryan, who was at the hearing, said. "He would have bought a ticket and packed his bags. He would have left. They put him jail. They're treating him like an animal."
But that is the point. The Trump administration's immigration policy is calculated, maximum cruelty and terror by design.
The White House is intent on sending a message to undocumented immigrants that no one is safe. It doesn't matter how long they have lived in the US, whether they have families or ties to their communities, whether they face the threat of repression and violence in their countries of origin if deported.
To carry out this stepped-up assault, the Trump administration is relying on a slew of repressive forces -- increased Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids; a crackdown by border control forces; increased use of detention facilities where immigrants are subjected to brutal conditions; and more severe legal penalties imposed on the undocumented by conservative judges.
From late January through September of last year, USA Today reported, ICE arrested 97,482 people suspected of being in the country illegally, a 43 percent increase over the same time period in 2016 under Obama. Just over 28,000 of those arrestees didn't have a criminal record, a 179 percent increase for arrests in this category over 2016.
ICE claims that arrests and deportations are about removing "individuals who threaten public safety, national security and border security." But officials have offered zero explanations for which of those categories people like Jorge Garcia or Al Adi Othman fall into.
In October, immigrant rights advocates noted that a federal contracting website showed that ICE had submitted paperwork to identify more privately-run jail sites as detention centers for immigrants -- potentially adding thousands more to the 31,000 to 41,000 immigrant detainees currently in custody on a given day.
Even more troubling are the four cities identified for new detention facilities: Chicago, Detroit, St. Paul and Salt Lake City. All are sanctuary cities, leading to speculation that the Trump administration is planning to target municipalities that have defied the federal crackdown by limiting cooperation with immigration authorities.
Already, the Trump administration has handed a $457 million contract to GEO Group, one of the largest private prison contractors in the country -- and notorious for its abuses of prisoners -- for a 1,000-bed immigration detention center outside of Houston.
"The Obama administration focused heavily on apprehending people on the border, but the Trump administration is targeting people in US communities very far from the border," Carl Takei, a staff attorney with the ACLU's National Prison Project, explained to USA Today.
"And because they are targeting cities far from the border, they are looking for detention space in areas where historically they haven't had as much detention space."
As ACLU director of immigration policy Lorella Praeli said in an October statement: "ICE's intention to expand detention in areas surrounding four of the nation's largest cities is an attack on the freedom of long-term residents, including DREAMers, and asylum-seekers fleeing persecution in their home countries."
This trend will inevitably lead to more abuses in a detention system that is already rampant with them.
In December, a report from the Inspector General's Office of the Department of Homeland Security -- the department's own watchdog -- found that immigrants in privately run detention facilities in California, Georgia, New Jersey and New Mexico had been subjected to inhumane treatment, including a lack of medical care and unsafe food.
Regarding guards' treatment of prisoners, the report noted:
[I]n violation of standards, all detainees entering one facility were strip-searched. Available language services were not always used to facilitate communication with detainees. Some facility staff reportedly deterred detainees from filing grievances and did not thoroughly document resolution of grievances.
Similar abuses at ICE facilities have been documented by immigrant rights activists for many years -- but they will undoubtedly worsen under the Trump administration's aggressive expansion of the immigrant detention system.
And on top of that comes the deal announced this week between ICE and several Florida sheriff's agencies, which would allow local law enforcement to essentially hold people in the country illegally who are charged with other crimes on behalf of ICE.
In other words, local law enforcement will essentially keep federal detainees in their custody.
For the millions of immigrants -- documented and undocumented -- who are simply trying to live their lives in peace, the threat of escalating raids and deportations, more detention centers and increased cooperation between local and federal officials translates directly into more terror.
That was brought home earlier this month when ICE agents carried out raids on nearly 100 7-Eleven stores across 17 states, arresting 21 people.
ICE officials claimed that the raids were meant to send a signal to businesses that they will face penalties for hiring undocumented workers. In reality, as the New York Times noted, "a primary goal of such raids is to dissuade those working illegally from showing up for their jobs -- and to warn prospective migrants that even if they make it across the border, they may end up being captured at work."
"It's not motivating people to self-deport," Mariela Martinez, organizing director of the Garment Worker Center in Los Angeles, told the Times. "It's motivating people to not use their labor rights. It's causing people to distrust government agencies."
Enforcement measures like this also give employers even greater leverage over the undocumented, who are more intimidated than ever in standing up for their rights. "Now [businesses] know the president is on their side," said an undocumented garment worker named Pablo, "so they feel like they can intimidate people and treat them badly, and they will never talk."
But the Trump administration doesn't care about conditions for immigrant workers on the job in the US -- just as they don't care that ending temporary protected status for nearly 200,000 Salvadorans -- and thousands more from Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan -- will consign these refugees to poverty, violence and even death. As the New Yorkernoted:
[T]he number of migrants coming to the US because their lives are in danger has soared. According to the United Nations, since 2008 there has been a fivefold increase in asylum-seekers just from Central America's Northern Triangle -- Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador -- where organized gangs are dominant. In 2014, according to the UN, Honduras had the world's highest murder rate; El Salvador and Guatemala were close behind.
The statistics show that apprehensions of the undocumented at the border have decreased. But the brutality of Border Patrol agents -- the other major face of the US immigration enforcement apparatus, after ICE -- remains constant.
According to the report "Disappeared: How the US Border Enforcement Agencies Are Fueling a Missing Persons Crisis," released by La Coalicion de Derechos Humanos and No More Deaths, the Border Patrol's strategy of "prevention through deterrence" hinges on actions that deliberately force migrants into increasingly perilous situations.
This includes pursuing them into ever more remote areas where they "scatter, become lost, and often die or disappear," as well as the intentional destruction of over 3,000 gallons of water and other supplies that humanitarian groups have left out to prevent border-crossers from dying in the dessert.
And the human toll of these policies? There is no way to know for certain, but according to the report, since the 1990s, the Border Patrol admits that more than 6,000 people have perished attempting to cross. That number is certainly undercounted, and could be as much as 40 percent higher, say immigrant advocates.
Such brutal policing and security practices -- whether carried out by Border Patrol agents, by ICE agents or inside immigrant detention centers -- are too ubiquitous to be dismissed as the fault of a "few bad apples." As the report notes, "they are the logical extension of a US border enforcement strategy that views the lives of border-crossers as expendable" -- and the lives of all the undocumented as less worthy of dignity and respect.
In the era of Trump, this will only get worse unless there is a struggle to demand an end to the anti-immigrant terror.
One year ago, President Donald Trump's inauguration broke records -- not in turnout, but in inaugural donations.
Trump pulled in $107 million in individual contributions, nearly doubling President Barack Obama's 2009 record of $53 million. With the donations came a set of perks for top donors -- "intimate" dinners with Vice President Mike Pence; exclusive luncheons with Cabinet appointees and congressional leaders; tickets to inaugural balls, dinners and luncheons with appearances by Trump.
The money came flooding in from corporate executives, owners of US sports teams and other wealthy benefactors. And this year, some came calling back.
The Center for Responsive Politics assessed Trump's relationships with his top donors a year after the January 20, 2017 inauguration. Some now hold ambassador positions while others have developed close relationships with the administration.Inaugural Donors
Chief among the top donors was Sheldon Adelson, a GOP megadonor and CEO of the largest casino company in the United States, Las Vegas Sands Corp. He doled out $5 million for Trump's inauguration fund.
The donation was not only Trump's largest inaugural contribution, but the largest individual donation made to any presidential inaugural committee. He and his wife, Miriam Adelson, also donated nearly $83 million to Republicans in the 2016 election.
In the past year Adelson has pressed Trump to follow through on his campaign pledge to relocate the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a move Trump announced in December.
"The Adelsons reportedly have been disappointed in Trump's failure to keep a campaign pledge to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem on his first day in office,"wrote the Las Vegas Review-Journal after Adelson's October meeting with Trump. The paper is owned by the Adelson family.
(Home Depot CEO Bernie Marcus, who donated $7 million to Trump's campaign effort but was not an inaugural donor, also has a vested interest in the region as founder of the Israel Democracy Institute).
But he is not the only inaugural donor who may have turned his contribution into special access to the administration.
In April, coal baron Robert Murray, who donated $300,000 to the inauguration, gave Trump a detailed to-do list of environmental rollbacks, according to The New York Times. Since then, the administration is on track to check off most of Murray's wish list.
The son of R.W. Habboush, a Venezuelan lobbyist who donated $666,000 to the inauguration, sat in on meetings about sanctions on Venezuela.
In the past year, a series of Trump donors or their close relatives have also been appointed US ambassadors.
Joseph Craft III, president and CEO of Alliance Resource Partners, was another million-dollar donor to the inaugural committee. His wife, Kelly Knight Craft, wassworn in as the US ambassador to Canada in September.
Doug Manchester, owner of Manchester Financial Group and another $1 million inaugural donor, was nominated for a position as the US ambassador to the Bahamas in May. Manchester is now awaiting a re-nomination from Trump because of a Senate rule.Campaign Donors
Many of the top inaugural donors also donated millions in support of Trump's presidential campaign.
Trump's top campaign donor, Robert Mercer, the billionaire co-CEO of the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, poured more than $15 million into outside groups to get Trump elected. Mercer also donated $1 million to the Trump inaugural committee. PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel donated $1 million to Trump's campaign efforts and $100,000 to the inauguration.
Each were top campaign donors and each held close relationships to the administration.
Of the more than $400 million raised to elect Trump, about $50 million was raised by Trump's top 13 contributors -- many of whom have found themselves in the Trump administration's inner circle.
Some like Linda McMahon, owner of McMahon Ventures and co-founder of the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) empire, donated over $6 million to getting Trump elected. Much of that was donated to Trump-aligned super PACs, such as Future45 and Rebuilding America Now.
McMahon was later appointed administrator of the US Small Business Administration.
In 2009, Dallas banker Andrew Beal, who donated $2.1 million toward Trump's presidential bid and $1 million for the inauguration, worked with Carl Ichan in an attempt to take control of the bankrupt Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc. Ichan served as an advisor in the early months of the administration until he resigned ahead of a story detailing potential conflicts of interest.
Others toted close relationships to the administration like Stephen Feinburg, who donated $1.5 million to campaign efforts and had a close military ear in the Trump administration. That was before ex-White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon's departure from the administration.
Many of Trump's top donors have stepped into the political spotlight in the wake of Trump and Bannon's public feud.
Some of them, such as GOP megadonors Adelson and the Mercer family, have since distanced themselves from Bannon in support of Trump. Rebekah Mercer, the billionaire daughter of Robert Mercer who runs the family business, severed ties with Bannon in a January statement to The Washington Post.
"I support President Trump and the platform upon which he was elected," Rebekah Mercer said. "My family and I have not communicated with Steve Bannon in many months and have provided no financial support to his political agenda, nor do we support his recent actions and statements."
Though equal access and civil rights don't seem very popular with the Trump administration, the Department of Education recently ruled that Texas denied disabled students their right to an education.
The verdict was an important victory not just for students within the state, but also those living elsewhere. Civil rights laws are only truly effective if they're enforced, and states considering moves similar to those seen in Texas will be reconsidering in light of this decision.
Here's what happened: Texas effectively instituted a quota on disability education services -- sometimes known as special education. The state decided that up to 8.5 percent of enrolled students could receive services, even though the nationwide average suggests that 13 percent -- and sometimes more -- of school-age children have disabilities that might require accommodation and support.And this wasn't the only issue in Texas. In addition to failing to serve disabled students, school districts also failed to take steps to identify, screen and diagnose students who might need help. Learning disabilities are frequently caught in educational settings, and schools have a legal duty to identify at-risk students -- like a child who is having trouble reading -- and reach out. Early intervention can radically increase the chances of later success.
As a result, some students who were legally entitled to such services by the nature of their disabilities were instead denied. This goes against the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which says states must provide a "free, appropriate public education" (FAPE) for disabled students.
For disabled people, the right to education wasn't always enshrined in the law. Historically, some people with significant developmental, intellectual and cognitive disabilities simply weren't sent to school at all, or were isolated and denied services at school. With a series of civil rights laws specifically addressing education rights, including the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, states gradually came to understand that every child needs an education -- and that includes disabled children.
This means that schools have to be physically accessible so that wheelchair users can get to class and learn; they must provide curricula in formats accessible to d/Deaf and blind or low-vision students; they must accommodate students who need extra test-taking time or tutoring; they must make room for personal assistants or aides if students need them; and much, much more. Schools are provided with funding to meet these needs, though it can be insufficient.
Texas is far from the only state with a deeply flawed approach to integrating disabled students. Across the country, states and individual counties and districts struggle to provide disabled students with the education they're entitled to. This isn't necessarily malicious, as many are dealing with poor funding and other obstacles, but it can seriously affect the lives of disabled people.
Disabled people, including children, are more likely to be poor, and this makes it harder for their families to fight back and secure rights -- parents might not be able to afford an attorney to sue the school district, or have the capacity to pick up and move to a more inclusive district.
What's remarkable about this decision is that it emerged from the Department of Education under Betsy DeVos, who's no friend to disability rights. During her confirmation hearing, DeVos made it clear that she wasn't even familiar with the legal requirements surrounding disability education. She's also heavily pushing the use of school vouchers, and rescinded guidance on educating parents about the potential disability-related ramifications of using a voucher program. Private schools aren't subject to the same accommodation requirements as public schools, so withdrawing a disabled student from public education can have unexpected consequences.
Some disability rights advocates are hopeful that this may be a sign the Department of Education is committed to upholding the law, and that as DeVos settles in at the department, perhaps she'll get more familiar with disability issues. While this 15-month investigation may have started during the Obama era, she could have taken it in a number of directions, and this very serious outcome is heartening for disabled students in Texas, and across the country.
The Texas governor and education commissioner have both said they intend to take prompt action to address the shortcomings identified by the Department of Education. Educators, parents and students will be keeping a close eye to determine if that pledge carries weight.
Records obtained recently show that the companies funding the Dakota Access pipeline manipulated their environmental justice assessment of its impact after the pipeline was rerouted from a predominantly white area onto Sioux Tribal land. What's more, it appears that this was done under the active guidance of the US Army Corps of Engineers.
A young activist holds a sign during a march in solidarity with Standing Rock Water Protectors in Seattle, Washington, on September 16, 2016. (Photo: John Duffy)Truthout readers like you made this story possible. Show your support for independent news: Make a tax-deductible donation today!
A new year and five oil-spills later, the flowing of oil through the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) underneath the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's water supply continues to be a threat to tribal survival. As the Tribe battles to shut down the oil flow through the courts, new information detailing how the pipeline was wrongly placed through Lake Oahe -- the Tribe's main source of drinking water -- is emerging.
The decision to move the DAPL from a route north of the 90 percent white population of Bismarck down onto the traditional lands of the Sioux and under Lake Oahe, impacting the 84 percent Native population, required a legally adequate environmental justice analysis that Dakota Access, LLC failed to prepare.
Records obtained through a recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request reveal that the United States Army Corps of Engineers inappropriately attempted to guide the companies funding DAPL toward providing an environmental justice analysis of the pipeline that would conclude that there was no disproportionate impact on a racial minority.
Taking their cue from the Army Corps, the pipeline companies Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) and Dakota Access, LLC manipulated their environmental justice assessment to reach that predetermined conclusion.Leaky Pipes
Touted as "one of the safest, most technologically advanced pipelines in the world" by Dakota Access, LLC, the pipeline has already leaked five times in 2017, with more than 100 gallons of oil in two separate incidents in North Dakota last March, 84 gallons in South Dakota, 168 gallons in Illinois in April, and 21 gallons in Iowa in November. This shouldn't come as a shock, as another company operating the pipeline, Sunoco Logistics, has spilled more crude oil than any of its competitors, with more than 200 leaks since 2010.
Last June, DAPL began flowing oil under Lake Oahe, a reservoir considered sacred to Lakota spiritual practices. The potential for an oil leak under the lake drove thousands of Water Protectors to protest the pipeline between 2016 and 2017. While the easement for the route was denied by the Obama administration, which sought to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing, the Trump administration hastily granted it.
Emails obtained from the Army Corps of Engineers show the agency actively and improperly sought to convince the companies behind DAPL to include a legally sufficient environmental justice section, and to be sure that the section concluded that there was no disparate impact on Natives when the route through Lake Oahe was selected.
In an internal email to Brent Cossette and Johnathan Shelman (a section coordinator and environmental resource specialist with the Omaha District Army Corps, respectively), Eric Laux, a natural resources specialist with the Army Corps, writes:
The tribes have provided us comments that they believe we have forsaken their water quality vs citing the pipe near Bismarck and their groundwater protection area. As such, it would be VERY wise to make it clear, especially in the EJ [Environmental Justice] section, why this citing is not unequal in relation to other cities that could have been selected. The EJ appears to be pretty weak in that regard, especially since we have seen comments that area begging for better reasoning in the EA [Environmental Assessment] by the Corps.
[T]his EJ, based on my view, could use some touch-up in order to make it clear that the citing of this line isn't unequal in any way. I.e. there are good reasons (not 'land is cheap', but geologic, environment, etc.) ... If DAPL is going to force us to ferret every single kink out of this thing ourselves instead of their EIS contractor being professional enough to have this stuff buttoned up from the beginning, than it will impact their schedule.
Upon noticing that the company's environmental assessment did a poor job of addressing the question of environmental justice, the Army Corps of Engineers took it upon itself to notify Dakota Access, LLC that a more substantive environmental justice analysis was needed, and that such an analysis should conclude that there was no disproportionate impact, i.e. provide reasons for the location selection that would not raise the issue of a disproportionate impact on the Natives at Standing Rock.
The emails indicate the Army Corps cooperated with Dakota Access, LLC to prepare an environmental justice analysis that deliberately excluded or obscured evidence of disproportionate racial impact, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
On December 4, 2016, the Obama administration announced a decision by the Army Corps to not issue the easement, which is needed by the pipeline company to begin construction under Lake Oahe, and, instead, to prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The Army Corps filed notice of its intent to prepare an EIS and solicited public comments on the scope.
On January 24, 2017, in one of his first acts as president, Trump ordered the Army Corps to withdraw the notice of its intent to prepare an EIS and to issue the easement for DAPL. The Army Corps abandoned its position and complied with the president's directive.Remand
Last October, a federal court ruled that, even with the Army Corps' assistance, the environmental justice section in its broader environmental assessment had insufficiently addressed three items.
First, the degree to which the project's effects are likely to be highly controversial. Second, the consequences of a spill for the Tribe's fishing and hunting rights. And lastly, the environmental justice impacts of an oil spill on the Tribe's water supply. Federal District Court Judge James Boasberg remanded the proceeding back to the Army Corps to address the identified deficiencies.
The judge then ruled that the oil could continue to flow while the Army Corps cured the deficiencies the court has identified. In his ruling, however, the judge made it clear that he considered the pipeline a threat to the Tribe.
"[T]here is no doubt that allowing oil to flow through the pipeline during remand risks the potentially disruptive effect about which the Tribes are most concerned -- a spill under Lake Oahe," the judge wrote.
He continued to support his opinion, writing, "The likelihood of any such rupture may be low, but pausing the operation of the pipeline would mitigate even this small risk.... [B]y emphasizing the financial impacts of vacatur [the halting of the pipeline's flow of oil through Lake Oahe], defendants ignore the devastating consequences that the Tribes allege could result from remand without such a remedy in place."Falling Short
The Corps' Environmental Assessment and Finding Of No Significant Impact claims that given the proposed mitigation measures and assessment of DAPL's "anticipated environmental, economic, cultural ... social and cumulative effects," the crossing at Lake Oahe would not "significantly affect the quality of the human environment."
The facts, however, show the decision to place the pipeline underneath Lake Oahe to be a racially motivated decision. A misleading impact area was defined excluding the Native population. The impact area was defined as one half-mile on either side of the pipeline. The reservation boundary begins just over a half-mile from the pipeline; therefore, the analysis excluded any impacts on the reservation population. The Army Corps accepted this arbitrary manipulation of the impact area definition and the consequent failure to assess the impacts on the Tribe.
The Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes challenged the selection of the Lake Oahe site over the Bismarck alternative, arguing that the Army Corps failed to properly analyze whether the current placement would disproportionately affect low-income communities of color. Agreeing with the Tribes, the court held that the Corps analysis did not "reasonably support the conclusion that the Tribe will not be disproportionately affected by an oil spill in terms of adverse human health of environmental effects." The court concluded that the agency "did not properly consider the environmental-justice implications of the project."
The Corps' analysis fell short, failing to explain what the effects of a spill from the pipeline would be. They justified this, ineffectively, by asserting that the likelihood of a spill is so low that they don't have to look at the impact.
If an environmental assessment concludes that there will not be significant environmental impact, the agency may forgo completing a full EIS, as it did. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is asserting that the Army Corps violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to complete an EIS. Judge Boasberg agreed that the racial impact analysis provided was unsatisfactory, and that the Army Corps failed to fully follow NEPA when it determined the pipeline would not have a significant environmental impact.
Ultimately, Judge Boasberg found that stopping the flow of oil was not the appropriate remedy in this case, "in light of the serious possibility that the corps will be able to substantiate its prior conclusions."
Judge Boasberg lends credence to the fact that the current route through Lake Oahe was inappropriately assessed by saying that the court recognizes "the lack of a reasoned explanation is a serious failing in an agency's decision, because it leaves the court in doubt as to whether the agency chose correctly in making its decision."Toothless
The unfortunate reality is that NEPA is toothless. Signed into law in 1970, NEPA requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions prior to making decisions. While it forces the Corps to take a hard look at potential impacts, it leaves room for the findings to be ignored in favor of whatever plan the agency desires to pursue.
The Army Corps considered four route alternatives prior to deciding on the Lake Oahe route. Under NEPA, an agency is "not required to select the course of action that best serves environmental justice, only to take a 'hard look' at environmental justice issues. Just as the agency is not required to select an alternative with the least environmental impact under NEPA, the agency is not required to select an alternative with the least environmental justice impact," writes Judge Boasberg.
Therefore, Judge Boasberg writes, "The identification of a disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effect on a[n] ... Indian tribe does not preclude a proposed agency action from going forward, nor does it necessarily compel a conclusion that a proposed action is environmentally unsatisfactory. Rather, the identification of such an effect should heighten agency attention to alternatives (including alternative sites.)"
Judge Boasberg's frightening analysis reveals just how lackluster and meaningless toothless laws like NEPA are. It begs the question: Can we require agencies to select the option with the least environmental justice impact? As this case shows us, we cannot. Laws like NEPA provide the public a flowery illusion. What is the point of having a law like NEPA if the law does not require making the choice that best protects the environment? It effectively serves the same purpose as a guard dog that may look scary, but will whimper and hide upon an intrusion.
Back in March of 2014, Dakota Access, LLC considered a route north of Bismarck, North Dakota, that never made it in the proposed route submitted to the Public Service Commission, which must approve the route. The key reason is that the pipeline would have crossed a "high consequence area," which is an area determined to have the most significant adverse consequences in the event of a pipeline spill. As the crossing under Lake Oahe poses a great risk to the main water supply of the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Tribes, the question arises: Why do white lives matter more than Native lives?"Indians This, Indians That"
Internal Corps email excerpts -- received through discovery by Earthjustice -- show the decision makers behind the pipeline wearing lenses fogged with racism.
One May 2016 email chain documents Army Corps communications about ETP and Dakota Access, LLC. "Why do we tolerate these comments from an applicant? Someone needs to tell Joey the next RACIST comment will shut down the entire project," wrote Julie Price a cultural resources project manager for US Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District. She goes on to write, "This project is ruining our relationships with the Tribes." The name referenced is Joey Mahmoud, the project executive for the pipeline and executive vice president of ETP.
A separate email further illustrates the racist attitudes of ETP. "Indians this, Indians that. Who is this Ed Wester guy anyway? The attitude from these guys is just atrocious. It's pretty obvious it pisses these guys off that they even have to talk to tribal folks," wrote Richard Harnois, a senior field archaeologist for the US Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District Oahe Project Office.
He continues, "... some of the blatantly racist attitudes I keep hearing from them will just continue to make things worse." Ed Wester is the environmental project manager for the pipeline.
Harnois replied to the same email thread, "MY years of experience working with tribal PEOPLE, TCP's [Traditional Cultural Property], sacred and archaeological sites HERE, lead me to the exact conclusion that I have already stated: there is an area of concern that needs to be avoided if they want a permit for that crossing."
The mentioned excerpts highlight the racist attitudes of the pipeline developer, providing further credence to the conclusion that the Environmental Justice Assessment deliberately excluded or obscured evidence of disproportionate racial impact, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Regardless of the outcome of the court case, history will remember that a grave injustice has been committed upon the Lakota people. I will never erase from my memory the image of law enforcement officers -- guided by the private military force TigerSwan -- terrorizing peaceful and prayerful people who stood for clean water and against oppression.
As two-faced Judge Boasberg says, "What is clear is that accidents and spills, however they may occur, have the potential to wreak havoc on nearby communities and ecosystems."