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DNC Chair Tom Perez on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Win and Obama’s Immigration Policies

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 15:46

Attendees at Thursday’s protest in Brownsville included Tom Perez, the chair of the Democratic National Committee. Amy Goodman had a chance to interview Perez about Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, as well as President Obama’s record on immigration. They also talked about Tuesday’s New York primary, where 28-year-old Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated 10-term Congressmember Joe Crowley.

Please check back later for full transcript.

The post DNC Chair Tom Perez on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Win and Obama’s Immigration Policies appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Susan Sarandon and Linda Sarsour Speak Out as 630 Women Arrested Protesting US Immigration Policy

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 15:46

In Washington, DC, 630 women were arrested Thursday during a massive nonviolent civil disobedience action on Capitol Hill protesting the Trump administration’s immigration policies. Protesters, chanting “We care” and “Abolish ICE,” and wearing mylar emergency blankets like those given to immigrants imprisoned in US detention centers, flooded the Hart Senate Office Building for a sit-in protest demanding that immigrant children be released from US custody and reunited with their families. Protesters included the actress Susan Sarandon and Linda Sarsour, co-organizer of the Women’s March on Washington.

Please check back later for full transcript.

The post Susan Sarandon and Linda Sarsour Speak Out as 630 Women Arrested Protesting US Immigration Policy appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The Maryland Newsroom Massacre: Another Mass Shooting Fueled by Toxic Masculinity

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 15:44

As the nation mourned yet another senseless mass shooting — this time at a local newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland on Thursday in which five people were murdered — details of the alleged gunman expose yet another perpetrator with a history of mysognistic and threatening behavior towards women.

On Friday it was reported that the man arrested by police at the scene of the massacre inside The Capital Gazette’s offices, Jarrod Warren Ramos — who had a “bitter history” with the newspaper going back years — had been charged by local prosecutors with five counts of first degree murder.

According to the Associated Press:

Ramos filed a failed lawsuit against the paper in 2012, alleging the newspaper, a columnist and an editor defamed him in an article about his conviction in a criminal harassment case in 2011.

According to court documents, five days after Ramos pleaded guilty to criminal harassment, the newspaper published a story describing allegations by a woman who claimed Ramos harassed her online for months.

The article said Ramos had contacted the woman on Facebook and thanked her “for being the only person ever to say, ‘Hello,’ or be nice to him in school.”

The woman told the newspaper that Ramos appeared to be having some problems, so she wrote back and tried to help, suggesting a counseling center. She said that set off months of emails in which Ramos sometimes asked for help, but other times called her vulgar names and told her to kill herself. She told The Capital that she told him to stop, but the emails continued. She said she called police and the emails stopped for months, but then started up again “nastier than ever,” the article said.

After a court rejected his lawsuit claiming defamation buy the paper, Ramos’ ire reportedly intensified and he increasingly targeted the newspaper and its staff with threats. As Christian Christensen, professor of journalism at Stockholm University in Sweden, pointed out Ramos’ profile fits a familiar profile:

So, once again, a mass murderer with clear links to threatening women and misogyny. But, let’s keep searching for other factors in a desperate effort to avoid and ignore the toxic masculinity that screams in our national faces on a daily basis. #Annapolis #CapitalGazette

— Christian Christensen (@ChrChristensen) June 29, 2018

Separately, Christensen simply pointed out that the scourge of gun violence in the United States — from the daily violence of injuries, homicide and suicide nationwide to the steady stream of mass casualty events like Thursday in Annapolis — continues unabated, with much of it fueled by what he characterized as the nation’s “destructive, macho obsession with guns.”

No matter how many people in the US say otherwise, 12,000 murders a year using firearms, multiple mass school shootings, 600 people shot in 15 minutes from a hotel window are NOT the “price of freedom.” It is the sign of a deep, destructive, macho obsession with guns. #annapolis

— Christian Christensen (@ChrChristensen) June 28, 2018

Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) echoed the sentiments of many as she connected Thursday’s shooting to the larger and frightening trend that means nobody is allowed to feel safe in a culture where gun violence has reached epidemic proportions:

My heart goes out to the Capital Gazette. No journalist should have to duck bullets in the newsroom. No student should have to hide from an active shooter. No one should have to live in fear of being in the middle of the next mass shooting. This violence MUST end.

— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) June 28, 2018

The post The Maryland Newsroom Massacre: Another Mass Shooting Fueled by Toxic Masculinity appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

For Many Immigrant Families, the Fight for Reunification Is Just the Beginning

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 14:44

President Donald Trump signed an executive order June 20 purporting to end immigrant family separations at US border with Mexico. Four days later, the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services announced a plan to reunite approximately 2,000 children who were taken from their parents at the border between April and the time the executive order was signed.

Immigration advocates have noted many shortcomings with the executive order. They also emphasize the logistical difficulties parents are experiencing as they try to locate and contact their children.

Sadly, I believe these hurdles are only the tip of the iceberg. One thing few people currently realize – despite reassuring words from the administration – is many of these families will most likely never be reunited.

I’ve been writing about the impact of the US government’s immigration policies on undocumented families for years. The policies the Trump administration is enforcing, especially after the new executive order, are for the most part similar to those first enacted under President Obama. In 2014, during a surge in illegal border crossings, the Obama administration attempted to detain hundreds of families indefinitely – until the practice was legally challenged and stopped. This is essentially the same policy the Trump administration has adopted under the executive order.

Even before the 2014 surge, the Obama administration increased efforts to detain and deport undocumented immigrants within the US, resulting in numerous family separations. It is reasonable to expect that the eventual outcomes of today’s separations will mirror these earlier ones.

The Role of State Family Law

The biggest issue is how family law views detained undocumented parents. When immigrant children are separated from their parents, they enter two different legal tracks. The parents will likely remain in detention centers until their cases are heard by immigration judges. Most will face immediate deportation.

The HHS plan states parents will be reunited with their children before deportations, but this seems highly unlikely. Hundreds of these children have already been sent to state foster care facilities across the country where they have become wards of the state. Their care and custody decisions will be handled first by state welfare agencies and then by a state court. Reunification becomes less likely as the length of separation increases.

Immigrant parents have the same legal right to the care and custody of their children as American citizens. Without a finding of unfitness, immigrant parents should be granted reunification with their children. However, history shows courts frequently use a parent’s immigration status as a proxy for fitness. State court reunification decisions are also highly influenced by the parents’ residency in a violent country and the child’s opportunity for adoption in the United States.

State courts and welfare agencies have frequently concluded that a parent’s undocumented status and their willingness to cross the border illegally was proof enough of parental unfitness that could justify the termination of parental rights.

For example, in In re Angelica L., a case from 2009, a Nebraska juvenile court determined an undocumented mother was unfit based on the fact that she “either A) embarked on an unauthorized trip to the United States with a newborn premature infant or B) gave birth to a premature infant in the United States” after entering the country illegally. Without deciding between the two, the court held that either scenario demonstrated “that [the mother] did not provide the basic level of prenatal and postnatal care.”

In addition, courts have often demonstrated little sympathy for the fact that detention and deportation can make a parent’s efforts for reunification extremely difficult. For example, in Perez-Velasquez v. Culpeper County Department of Social Services, another case from 2009, the trial court declared the undocumented father unfit because he had, “without good cause, failed to maintain continuing contact with and to provide or substantially plan for the future of the [children] for a period of six months after the child’s placement in foster care….”

The father challenged this decision. He argued his failure to maintain contact with his children was due to his incarceration and deportation, and was therefore not willful. However, the court found this explanation irrelevant. According to the court, it was the “father’s own actions” – meaning his decision to cross the border illegally – that “led to this situation.” In addition, the court was further horrified by the father’s reunification plan, which was to return to the United States illegally and then take the children back with him.

For deported parents seeking reunification with their children, the prohibition on re-entry can be a major hurdle. It means parents cannot enter the US to contest the termination of their parental rights. If parents do attempt re-entry after deportation they risk arrest, which further hampers their efforts to be reunited with their kids. Moreover, courts have repeatedly confirmed that an undocumented immigrant’s motivations for illegal reentry are irrelevant.

Deported parents are rarely able to return to the US to seek reunification, and this has allowed courts to treat deportation as abandonment.

A final issue that may affect undocumented immigrant parents’ ability to reunite concerns the efforts of third parties to gain custody of the removed children. The longer the children remain in foster care, the more likely it is that attachments will grow. Many of these families will seek to adopt these children. In the past, courts, faced with the prospect of returning children to foreign countries filled with dangers versus allowing them to stay in America with an adoptive family, have often chosen the latter. They decide that to go home under such conditions is not in the children’s best interest and this in turn justifies terminating their biological parents parental rights.

It’s not clear whether today’s separated families will have the same difficulties regaining custody previous immigrant families faced, but it appears likely. In fact, given the current anti-immigrant sentiment, I believe the hurdles these immigrants parents may encounter will be significantly greater.

The post For Many Immigrant Families, the Fight for Reunification Is Just the Beginning appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Supreme Court Sides With Anti-Abortion Pregnancy Centers in Free Speech Case

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 14:27

In a 5-4 decision, the United States Supreme Court has ruled against the state of California in NIFLA v. Becerra, a case pitting crisis pregnancy centers run by anti-abortion activists against a California law requiring medical license disclosures and information on where to obtain free abortions in the state.

The slim majority sided with anti-abortion CPCs, and the court ruled that mandating these centers provide information about abortion violated their free speech. The Supreme Court also concluded that the law infringed on CPC employees’ truly held religious beliefs that abortion is a moral wrong in which they cannot directly or indirectly participate.

The case escalated the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, or NIFLA, challenge to California’s 2015 FACT Act, which required clinics that operate as medical pregnancy centers to disclose upfront that they are not licensed if there’s no licensed medical staff on site. The FACT Act also required CPCs to divulge if they are licensed to provide information about accessing free abortions in the state, should the patient choose not to continue the pregnancy.

NIFLA and other CPCs called the requirement government-compelled speech, while the state maintained that it was “professional speech” which can be legally mandated.

The case offered a rare majority ruling written by Justice Clarence Thomas, a Reagan-era appointee — and one best known for being the most silent member of the current Supreme Court and spouse of right-wing activist Ginni Thomas.

Emma Green writes at the Atlantic:

In his decision for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas agreed that the FACT Act likely violates the First Amendment. The law ‘imposes a government-scripted, speaker-based disclosure requirement that is wholly disconnected from the State’s informational interest,’ he wrote. Because the law selectively regulated only certain kinds of facilities, Thomas said, it ran the risk of only limiting the speech of those who disagree with the state’s views on abortion.

The crux of the majority’s argument appears to rest on the idea that because there is no actual medical “procedure” performed at a CPC, the government can’t regulate professional speech. It’s a thread-the-needle-type justification that brilliantly allows the court to sidestep the logical follow-up question of why forcing abortion providers to recite state-mandated scripts — ones that claim abortion could cause breast cancer or suicide and tell patients a litany of other coercive and factually false statements — isn’t also a free speech violation.

In SCOTUS-world, abortion is a medical procedure, and speech can be compelled. Being pregnant and not getting an abortion — or being talked out of an abortion — isn’t a medical procedure, so in that case all rules are moot.

Anti-abortion activists are rightfully claiming this as a major victory — more of a win for free speech than one that furthers their goal to end access to safe, legal abortion.

According to NPR, Penny Nance, CEO of Concerned Women for America, stated:

To be clear, this case was not about abortion. Malicious abortion politics definitely were the motivation behind it, but the case centered on the inappropriate mandate of the state compelling pro-life clinics to promote abortion in violation of their consciences. The case was about forced speech.

It may not have been about abortion originally, but as we are clearly seeing from moves in the Trump Department of Health and Human Services, it’s always about abortion in the end.

Being able to opt out of state requirements for health centers due to religious objections will come into play on an even more vast scale as the new rules for Title X  funding come down the pipeline. After all, these rules have already been drafted to allow CPCs the opportunity to obtain federal Title X dollars for services for the poor and uninsured — despite the fact that they will not offer or refer for hormonal contraception, as well as provide misleading information while pushing for abstinence-based sexual health habits.

The Supreme Court just said that the government can’t force CPCs to offer full-spectrum, accurate reproductive health information when it comes to potentially ending a pregnancy. What are the odds that they will rule differently when the case is about birth control options, instead?

My guess is that we’ll find out in just a few years.

The post Supreme Court Sides With Anti-Abortion Pregnancy Centers in Free Speech Case appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Despite Reforms, Children in Jails Are Still Held in Solitary Confinement

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 14:25

Despite a growing movement to end the practice of isolating humans in tiny cells for hours and days on end, prisoners are still held in solitary confinement in prisons and jails across the United States — including children. Consider Palm Beach, Florida, where a class-action lawsuit filed in a federal district court last week on behalf of three teenage boys held in the county jail is challenging the practice of placing children in solitary confinement with disturbing allegations against the local sheriff’s department and school board.

According to a complaint filed by human rights lawyers this month, boys aged 16 and 17 are held in solitary confinement at the Palm Beach County Jail for 23 or 24 hours a day, sometimes for weeks and even months on end. They are kept in quiet, tiny cells that contain only “a combined toilet and sink, a stainless steel desk and bolted-down stool, a steel bed with a thin mattress, and an overhead fluorescent light.” The bolted metal doors have two Plexiglas windows that are so scratched that they are impossible to see through. Food trays are passed through a panel slot that can only be unlocked from the outside. The complaint does not disclose the plaintiffs’ full names because they are minors.

Guards leave bright emergency lights on to keep the teenagers awake and force them to drink foul-smelling water from the sink as a form of punishment when children protest their confinement by banging on doors or yelling for help. Children held in solitary report calling out for clean water or to telephone their families, only to be threatened with removal to a “psych ward” where conditions are known to be worse. Like the plaintiffs, most teens held in solitary confinement at the Palm Beach jail are awaiting trial and have yet to be convicted of a crime, according to the complaint. In an email, a spokesperson said the Palm Beach Sherriff’s Office does not comment on pending litigation.

Melissa Duncan, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County’s Education Advocacy Project who filed the lawsuit along with the Florida-based Human Rights Defense Center, said the “circumstances” of solitary confinement at the Palm Beach County Jail are “among the worst in the nation.”

“The children in confinement are denied nearly all human contact, education and mental health treatment, and left in a locked, cement cell from which they are deprived of sight and sound,” Duncan said in a statement.

The boys held in solitary confinement reported feelings of despair and strange hallucinations, according to the complaint. One claimed to have “watched” television on the blank cement wall. Another saw the pages of a book “wiggle.” Unsurprisingly, research shows that locking young people in cells alone can cause severe mental health issues in the developing mind. Children who experience solitary confinement commit suicide, develop psychosis and experience post-traumatic stress.

The three plaintiffs live with learning disabilities, and their attorneys allege that the boys were denied mental health care and educational services through the local school board, as required by federal law. The teens “may receive, at most, packets of [schoolwork] shoved under a cell door or have brief moments to speak with a teacher standing outside of their locked door,” according to the complaint. Duncan told Truthout there’s good reason to suspect the boys are caught in the school-to-prison pipeline.

“Certainly, there are other circumstances beyond just education, but we can look at the education system and perhaps identify that these children have not been properly identified and given services to address their individual needs,” Duncan said.

The plaintiffs are asking a federal judge to issue an injunction halting the practice of placing children charged as adults in solitary confinement at the Palm Beach County Jail. Indeed, high-profile suicide deaths and brutal accounts like those reported in Palm Beach, along with research documenting the psychological damage solitary confinement can cause to the young mind, have lead courts and state legislatures to restrict or prohibit the use of solitary confinement as a punishment for incarcerated children. In 2016, the Obama administration ended the solitary confinement of minors held in federal prisons and instituted reforms aimed at reducing the use of so-called “restrictive housing” in general. However, the practice continues in one form or another in many states.

Human rights advocates say that it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact number of children who experience solitary confinement in the US, but anecdotal evidence suggests the practice is still widespread across the country. The American Psychological Association, which opposes the solitary confinement of youth, estimates that “thousands” of children are held in solitary confinement every year. Other surveys have found that two-thirds of public defenders for minors say they have had clients who report being held in solitary confinement for periods of a few hours to seven months, according to the Juvenile Law Center.

A 2016 survey found that Florida is one of 29 states that prohibit the use of solitary confinement as a punishment in juvenile jails, but like the overwhelming majority of states, minors can still be placed in solitary for other purposes, such as “safety” concerns. In practice, advocates say, the lines between punitive and non-punitive confinement are often blurred. Fifteen states that do allow punitive confinement place limits on how long a child can be punished, ranging from six hours to 90 days. Seven states — Michigan, Texas, Iowa, Kansas, Wyoming, Georgia and Alabama — have virtually no restrictions on the solitary confinement of children at all.

Florida’s ban on punitive solitary confinement does not protect the boys held in the Palm Beach County Jail because the district attorney has decided to charge and hold them as adults. Duncan said that one boy was held for 20 days as “disciplinary enforcement.” The other two plaintiffs were isolated from co-defendants in the boys’ section of the jail under “administrative confinement.” The Palm Beach County Jail does not set any limits on administrative confinement, and the complaint alleges that boys in the adult jail are being held “indefinitely” as they await their day in court. The boys were given no opportunity to contest their confinement and jail officials routinely failed to review the decision and monitor their health and safety.

The lawsuit against the sheriff and school board in Palm Beach is the first of its kind in Florida, and Duncan said it’s likely that children charged as adults are experiencing solitary confinement in other jails across the state. Florida law provides no judicial oversight over decisions by district attorneys to charge minors as adults. Duncan suggested reformers look to Colorado, which passed legislation in recent years giving youth the right to seek judicial review when prosecutors charge them as adults. Along with other reforms, the Colorado law caused youth incarceration rates to plummet, according to the Colorado Juvenile Defender Center.

Of course, the solitary confinement of any person, regardless of their age, can be extremely painful and does nothing to “rehabilitate” prisoners. In fact, United Nations has declared confinement beyond 15 days a form of torture. Duncan said solitary confinement is proven to cause much more harm than good, especially in young people, and it’s time to bring the practice to an end in Palm Beach and everywhere else.

“I hope that this is part of a tide of moving away from an archaic and toxic practice,” Duncan said.

The post Despite Reforms, Children in Jails Are Still Held in Solitary Confinement appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

When Everyone Is a Suspect: How Vehicle Inspections Terrorize Immigrant Communities

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 14:20

At the start of this year, two videos circulated that showed US Border Patrol agents in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, arresting passengers aboard a Greyhound bus. In the first video, agents walk down the aisles checking documents, as bewildered passengers ask, “This is new?” One woman whispers to another that she takes this same bus all the time and has never had this happen. As a US citizen, she adds, “They have no right to stop me.” Meanwhile, agents single out a woman — a Jamaican grandmother named Beverly who had overstayed her tourist visa after visiting her newborn granddaughter in Orlando — and escort her off the bus along with her red suitcase. In the second video, four agents take 33-year-old Andrew Anderson into custody. The 12-year Miami resident and business owner from Trinidad was taken to ICE’s Broward Transitional Center after being unable to prove citizenship.

The videos, obtained by the Florida Immigrant Coalition, have been viewed over 3 million times on Facebook and Twitter, where people have expressed outrage at what was widely viewed as a violation of civil liberties. But in fact, the practice of checking documents of vehicle passengers — including US citizens — to inquire about immigration status is common and has been going on for decades. A taken-for-granted inspection practice in places like the Southwestern borderlands, rarely have these scenes been captured on video in the interior of the US in places like Florida. Circulated via social media, these images prompted complaints about the apparent violation of the right against unlawful searches.

But for many immigrant communities, the possibility of raids, roadblocks and arbitrary searches are part of the routinized fear they face every day. These practices are effective because they rely on highly visible inspections, detentions and deportations of a few — like grandmother Beverly and businessman Anderson at the Fort Lauderdale bus station — to foster the everyday vulnerability of countless others. Fear is the result not of the certainty that a person or their loved ones will be deported, but uncertainty that they might be.

The Psychological Effects of Random Vehicle Checks

From the outset, the Trump administration has utilized a combination of these practices to keep the threat of deportation hanging over immigrants’ heads. As a result, there has been an explosion of fear in immigrant communities — a reaction not to increased deportation itself, but to its apparent randomness. Similar to targeted raids, stopping vehicles to check the identity papers of drivers and passengers can be damaging to communities, producing fear and trauma-like symptoms. Several studies have pointed to the negative health impact of immigration raids on Latino communities and the very real physical health problems that result from this stress.

My own research in communities along the US/Mexico border highlights the impact of an intense, layered combination of surveillance in the form of checkpoints, roadblocks, traffic stops and raids. The border region is distinct from other parts of the country, by virtue of the constraints of the international border and a 100-mile “buffer zone” that forms a secondary boundary to the interior of the US. This impacts the daily lives of immigrants and mixed-status families, but is largely unfamiliar to people outside the region. Court rulings have confirmed that the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which provides protection from unreasonable searches and seizures, does not apply at spaces up to 100 miles away from the US border. Section 8 U.S.C. § 1357(a)(3) further addresses US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials’ authority to stop and conduct searches on vessels, trains, aircrafts or other vehicles anywhere within “a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States.” Without further statutory guidance, regulations alone expansively define this “reasonable distance” as 100 air miles from any external boundary.

Notably, roughly two-thirds of the US population lives within 100 miles of a land or coastal border, including the nation’s largest cities, such as New York City, Los Angeles, Houston and Miami, along with entire states including Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont. The exceptional circumstances within this 100-mile buffer zone explains why agents indeed had the authority to search the Greyhound buses, demanding proof of identification from all passengers.

The practice of checking documents of vehicle passengers — including US citizens — to inquire about immigration status is common and has been going on for decades.

Along the border, the US Border Patrol employs a layered approach known as the “defense in depth” strategy, utilizing about 140 immigration checkpoints along all highways between 25 and 100 miles from the border. The permanent checkpoints are visible from miles away along all lanes of major highways that lead away from Mexico and into the interior of the United States. It is a “layered” strategy because these permanent checkpoints are supplemented by roadblocks along major roads where people live and work, where police stop to query passing drivers; this is further combined with random traffic stops and driver’s license restrictions. While the permanent checkpoints trap people within a distinct space, the temporary roadblocks and other restrictions on mobility fuel fear and uncertainty within that space.But why, if it is legal, did this incident appear so out of the ordinary? Why did it provoke widespread outrage here, unlike the daily inspection practices faced by border communities? The answer lies in the fact that it has been infrequently utilized in most parts of the interior of the country. The suspension of the Fourth Amendment is almost solely invoked to defend practices in states like Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico, and especially impacts Latino immigrant communities concentrated within a strip that forms a secondary boundary to the United States. As a result, the ACLU has concluded that the “100-mile” rule utilized by CBP is arbitrary, and its potentially discriminatory effects have never been subjected to serious scrutiny by federal lawmakers.

The checkpoints also impact people’s ability to seek out medical services. Hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants and their family members are trapped in these border regions without access to specialized health care facilities. Fear of apprehension has exacerbated serious health problems for many, including seriously ill or disabled US citizen children unable to travel with their parents. The cases I have heard while working in border communities seem almost unbelievable, like that of an 8-year-old with leukemia who had to travel 400 miles by bus to Houston, accompanied only by her 14-year old brother because her undocumented parents could not cross the checkpoint. The issue was also thrust into the national spotlight in October 2017, when doctors in Laredo sent 10-year-old Rosa Maria Hernandez to a hospital in Corpus Christi for emergency gallbladder surgery. Border Patrol agents at one of the checkpoints followed Hernandez, an undocumented immigrant born with cerebral palsy, and waited at the hospital to apprehend her after she received treatment.

In addition to confining immigrants to particular spaces, these inspection practices simultaneously treat all residents, including US citizens, as potentially suspect. They too must demonstrate proof of identity and legal status. This is precisely what sparked public outrage in the recent Florida incident, leading people to question whether the agents had a right to ask for people’s documents. These practices also encourage racial profiling, as law enforcement officers and Border Patrol agents must attempt to parse out some undefined marker of “undocumentedness.” This becomes more complex when the majority population is Latino, as it often is in border communities.

The checkpoints also impact people’s ability to seek out medical services.

The arbitrariness of recent arrests and the fear they produce is no accident. During the Obama administration, under the slogan “Deporting Felons, Not Families,” there was an emphasis on removing people with criminal records, and a deliberate commitment to placing in much lower priority those who had established roots in US communities. Under the Trump administration, however, there has been a reversal of the previous prioritizing of cases, as well as an increased willingness on the part of agents to pursue individuals without criminal records.

A Cruel New Phase in Immigration Enforcement

We’ve reached, in the words of one commentator, a “cruel new phase” in pursuing undocumented immigrants in this country. In particular, family separation has become more common. This became clear as people around the country reacted to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that separated children from their parents at the US-Mexico border. Begun in April and since reversed and challenged in court, this practice resulted from a new focus on prosecuting parents and signaled a clear shift away from the principle of family unity that underlies US immigration law.

Beyond this debacle at the border, the fear of family separation remains real for the estimated 16.7 million people nationwide who are part of mixed-status families, living with at least one undocumented family member in the same household. The majority of those in mixed-status families — up to 6.6 million — are US citizens. Their livelihoods, health and dignity are affected by the detention and deportation of their family members.

As everyday, “layered” enforcement practices like those seen in border communities intensify across the country, families and entire communities experience routinized fear. These enhanced inspection practices have a profound impact on others, regardless of their own citizenship or migration status.

The post When Everyone Is a Suspect: How Vehicle Inspections Terrorize Immigrant Communities appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Migrant Smuggling: Preying on the Most Vulnerable

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 14:16

The publication of the first-ever Global Study on Smuggling of Migrants on June 13 by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) could not have been timelier.

Almost 200 deaths of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea have been recorded so far this month. Moreover, 630 migrants and refugees were rescued from four separate migrant ships sinking off the coast of Libya, and were forced to wait another eight days before finally being accepted by Spain. On top of that, Trump’s executive order in response to outrage at the detention of children separated from their parents after crossing into the US from Mexico effectively excludes the thousands of families already affected and essentially allows for these families to be locked up together indefinitely. Taking all this together, the plight of migrants — many of whom have been smuggled across land, sea and air borders, and are fleeing war and persecution — is once again a hot topic.

The UNODC global study focuses on statistics for 2016, the last year for which full data was available, but also refers to 2017 data and events where relevant. According to the report, migrant smuggling was worth up to $7 billion in 2016, with at least 2.5 million migrants smuggled. While the report concedes that, “This is a minimum figure as it represents only the known portion of this crime,” these figures are certainly far lower than the reality, as a 2010 UNODC report on organized crime gave similar figures for the trade generated and the number of people crossing the US-Mexico border alone.

With the latest UN Refugee Agency figures for worldwide displacements at 44,400 people fleeing their homes each day “as a result of persecution, conflict or generalized violence,” refugees are identified as being particularly vulnerable. A lack of documents such as passports, birth certificates and ID cards or the means to obtain them from hostile authorities can make legal migration almost impossible for many asylum seekers.

The report also raises concern about the increasing number of unaccompanied and separated children found along smuggling routes, and the impact this has on their rights and well-being.

The Latin America to North America route via the US-Mexico border and the Africa to Europe route via the Mediterranean and Aegean seas are well-known. However, the study identifies 30 major smuggling routes worldwide and the profiles of both the smugglers and smuggled.

Importantly, the study explodes myths surrounding migrant smuggling. For example, in general, “smuggling networks seem not to be involved in other forms of major transnational organized crime.” The report notes that migrant smuggling over the Mexico-US border “is [not] under the control of drug trafficking organizations in Mexico.” Likewise, in Italy, there are no “structured connections” between Mafia-like gangs and transnational smuggling networks.

In this respect, the situation in Libya is considered “unique,” where militias and armed groups allegedly involved in migrant smuggling are also involved in slavery, physical and sexual abuse of migrants and forced labor. Nonetheless, “Many smuggling networks engage in systematic corruption at most levels; from petty corruption at individual border control points to grand corruption at higher levels of government. Corrupt practices linked to migrant smuggling have been reported along nearly all the identified routes.”

Migrant smuggling is often conflated with human trafficking. Defined in the Protocol Against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime as the crime of “the procurement, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit, of the illegal entry of a person into a State Party of which the person is not a national or a permanent resident,” it is an offense against the sovereignty of states over their borders and not the individual person. Typically, individuals consent to being smuggled across borders or through territories. This can lead to victims of trafficking not being identified as such, and thus not being provided with appropriate assistance and protection measures. The Protocol clearly states that the criminalization of the smuggling of migrants is not aimed at criminalizing migrants themselves.

The vulnerable, irregular status of smuggled migrants, however, makes them susceptible to different forms of abuse and exploitation, including human trafficking: “Some of the frequently reported types [of abuse] faced by smuggled migrants include violence, rape, theft, kidnapping, extortion and trafficking in persons.” Arrival in the destination country does not necessarily diminish this risk, as many end up in detention and/or exploitative forms of labor.

Smuggling is far more costly and time-consuming than regular means of making the same journey; individuals, to whom the legal means are often barred, typically pay thousands of dollars along the most popular land and sea routes. In addition, thousands of migrants die during smuggling activities each year; extreme weather and terrain as well as deliberate and systematic killings of migrants have been reported, “making this a very violent illicit trade. The reported deaths — most of them along sea smuggling routes — represent only the tip of the iceberg.” Indeed, many deaths go unreported. In some cases, mass graves are later found.

Although the report offers no recommendations, comments are provided on its policy implications. With most states already party to international laws protecting the rights of refugees, migrants and children (among others), the onus falls on states to act proactively to tackle the issue. Some solutions are logical, such as tackling institutional corruption and “broadening the possibilities for regular migration and increasing the accessibility of regular travel documents and procedures. Making regular migration opportunities more accessible in origin countries and refugee camps, including the expansion of migration and asylum bureaux in origin areas, would reduce opportunities for smugglers.”

The mainstream media broadly ignored the report as it fails to fit the official narrative of the “threat” posed by certain types of migrants. While it deems merely increasing border enforcement efforts to be ineffective, the day before the report was released, the European Commission announced plans to triple funding on border and migration management to €5 billion per year and to create a force of 10,000 border guards. In the US, Donald Trump has his “zero tolerance” immigration policy. Border control itself is being increasingly securitized and militarized, with the involvement of NATO in Europe, among others.

Such policies are no deterrent and are not even intended to provide one. The traumatic separation of families and the thousands of lives lost in sea and land crossings have not and will not stop thousands from following in their footsteps until the causes that drive people from their homes and countries of origin are addressed.

The smuggling of migrants is not new. Deemed a form of transnational organized crime by the UNODC, appearing politically tough against immigration in general has emerged as a safe response to state impotence elsewhere and on other forms of crime, especially by transnational corporations.

The clandestine nature of this migration means that much of the abuse and exploitation take place out of sight and out of mind. Although conceding that “many information gaps remain,” these statistics need to be analyzed to ensure the rights of vulnerable people are put above those of states and borders.

Further analysis and monitoring of the causes of and the policies that contribute to irregular migration and smuggling should be included. Ultimately, it is the human cost and misery of smuggling that need to be addressed.

The post Migrant Smuggling: Preying on the Most Vulnerable appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

$1.8 Billion in Unregulated Digital Ads Could Sway Midterms

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 14:10

As the Mueller investigation proceeds, stories about Russian meddling in the 2016 election have often been at the top of the news cycle. It is indeed a scary story. It shows how undisclosed powerful actors, guided entirely by self-interest, can use duplicitous online ads to try and sway an election.

Those making these ads can customize their audiences by using frighteningly specific tools to target certain demographics. This enables them to microtarget users, thanks in large part to Facebook’s mountain of data. Between microtargeting and Facebook’s algorithms (which are proprietary and not well understood), no two people see the same digital ads.

These sophisticated tools give foreign governments an opening to push an agenda, as we have seen. But there is much more to this story. These disclosure gaps can also be exploited by domestic actors, such as industry lobbies, billionaires and political campaigns, to spread misinformation with no disclosure. With a few exceptions, digital ads are exempt from campaign finance laws. This is an urgent problem when you consider that, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, digital political ad spending has gone up 2,539 percent in just four years.

Too few pundits and politicians, however, are connecting these dots. An opportunity to have a crucial public debate over fairness in elections in the digital age is being wasted. The risk of foreign meddling is real, but what it teaches us about our elections is a much larger story.

“This singular focus on foreign interference is preventing us from having a national conversation about campaign finance laws and digital ads in particular,” said Ann Ravel, former chair of the Federal Election Committee (FEC), in an interview with Truthout. “And we should have that conversation … our democracy is on fire right now.”
Ravel, who was first appointed to the FEC by President Obama in 2013, co-authored a recent paper (with Hamsini Sridharan) that underscores the scale of the digital ad market: “Russian ad buys on Facebook were just a drop in the bucket relative to total online political spending,” she writes.

According to one estimate, the paper notes, “over $1.4 billion was spent on digital ads in the 2016 elections, a significant increase over previous cycles.” For perspective, when Facebook disclosed that Russian-linked accounts used the site — which have led to congressional hearings and self-regulation from Facebook — they were discussing $100,000 in ad buys.

“It’s definitely not just foreign actors,” said Hamsini Sridharan, program director at MapLight, in an interview with Truthout. Sridharan warned that we should be more concerned about the massive spending on digital ads from domestic campaigns and super PACs. “It’s important to channel the bipartisan attention to this issue … into broader conversations about transparency and making sure that voters know who is trying to influence them online,” Sridharan said.

This unregulated digital ad market, experts warn, benefits the rich and powerful by giving them another mechanism to shape public opinion.

“Though the internet does increase the ability of individuals to freely exchange ideas, it is well-financed campaigns and organizations that benefit the most,” Ravel said.

The Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity and many of its state chapters have been purchasing contact lists from users:

Facebook recently made some data available to users. Accessing this data revealed that the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity and nine state chapters purchased lists containing information about reporter Michael Corcoran.


Given the efficacy of Facebook’s ads, it is hard to imagine the things they can accomplish with endless resources at their disposal.

Walter Lippman never experienced social media, but he was prescient in his 1922 book “Public Opinion.” He notes that “the opportunities for manipulation” of public opinion, “[are] open to anyone who understands the process.”

The Growing Digital Ad Industry and Its Impact With a few exceptions, digital ads are exempt from campaign finance laws.

There is rapid growth of digital political ads. As noted above, $1.8 billion in digital advertising is expected for the 2018 election cycle. This has been increasing every election cycle with no sign of slowing. As recently as 2014, digital ads accounted for just 1 percent of political ads, whereas in 2018 it is expected to be 22 percent of (disclosed) ad spending. “Political campaigns will run more digital ads this year than ever,” reads a headline from the Los Angeles Times in March.

Data from the Center for Responsive Politics shows the rapid rate of growth in digital ad spending by political campaigns. Spending has gone from $71 million in 2014 to a projected $1.8 billion in 2018.


What sparked the growth, writes Megan Janetsky at the Center for Responsive Politics, was the increase in microtargeting capabilities. “Platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google can now offer ad buyers something more than traditional platforms: less oversight, decreased transparency and lower prices matched with the heightened ability to pinpoint specific demographics.”

In other words, social media gives its clients nearly limitless variables to take into account when selecting a target audience for an ad. If a company or a campaign wants to tell women over 40 one thing, and women under 40 another, they can. If they want to limit the targeting to those who like to read, or shop or are politically active, they can do that. If the information can be provided to Facebook, it is used to improve the impact of advertisements — whether they are for products, ideas, candidates or even totally fabricated news stories.

This includes location, which has led to some especially galling examples. The Los Angeles Times reported, “anti-abortion groups sent ads to women who visited Planned Parenthood clinics across the country.”

$1.8 billion in digital advertising is expected for the 2018 election cycle.

“The highly customized nature of the ads not only make it difficult to monitor which ads are in violation of the law,” Brendan Fischer of the Campaign Legal Center told Truthout. “It also makes it extremely difficult for people to analyze political advertising, to fact-check or to counter falsehoods,” he said.

By the time a falsehood can be countered, it has already been blasted through an echo chamber enough times to serve its function. This is likely one reason why some of the most absurd conspiracy theories gain traction online.

Moreover, ads don’t need to go viral to be effective. Brett Pascale, digital director of the Trump campaign, claims Facebook ads were the primary reason Trump won in 2016. He claimed some ads were marketed to as few as 15 people.

“I started making ads that showed the bridge crumbling,” he said. “I can find the 1,500 people in one town that care about infrastructure. Now, that might be a voter that normally votes Democrat.”

Facebook ads and digital media in general is really the only medium where Trump’s campaign outspent Hillary Clinton. “They spent a higher percentage of their spending on digital than we did,” conceded Andrew Bleeker, who advised the Clinton campaign on digital strategy.

Inaction and Deregulation

Ravel warned of the dangers of dark digital ads as an FEC commissioner in 2014.

One of the biggest obstacles to reform is rooted in ideological opposition to regulations.

“Some of my colleagues seem to believe that the same political message that would require disclosure if run on television should be categorically exempt from the same requirements when placed on the Internet alone. As a matter of policy, this simply does not make sense,” she wrote. “The Commission [has] failed to take into account clear indicators that the Internet would become a major source of political advertising — dominated by the same political organizations that dominate traditional media.”

Her argument was met with harsh condemnation from the right, who portrayed her letter as deeply partisan and aimed at right-leaning sites. She would end “the last vestige of truly free political expression in American politics,” as the Daily Caller said.

One of the biggest obstacles to reform is rooted in ideological opposition to regulations. The growth of an unregulated political ad market is great for the cause of deregulation. Simply by doing nothing, an increasingly large chunk of the entire advertising market is virtually unregulated.

“This is really about deregulation” Ravel said. “They don’t have to pass a law or file a lawsuit. They can just do nothing.”

Republican FEC Commissioner Lee Goodman has led this battle for the right. He argues regulations of digital ads would have a chilling effect on free speech and infringe on a “virtual free market of ideas and political causes.”

Undermining Democracy in the Digital Age

There has long been hope and optimism that the internet (and social media in particular) can serve as a democratizing tool. It surely can empower the grassroots, as was witnessed with Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring. It also provides many new ways, however, for elite interests to further maximize their influence and profits.

If lobbying and donations enable centers of power to keep politicians on their side, digital ads are a way for them to try and control the voting public.

A March 2018 Hewlett Foundation study on political polarization and social media makes this important point: “Social media itself is neither inherently democratic nor undemocratic, but simply an arena in which political actors — some which may be democratic and some which may be antidemocratic — can contest for power and influence.”

A contest for power and influence, however, is typically going to be won by those with the resources to do so. As we have seen in Washington, DC, spending money is the most surefire way to win influence.

Wall Street, Big Media, Big Oil and a host of other industries devote massive resources in the influence industry. Pharma has spent almost $3.9 billion in the last 20 years. If lobbying and donations enable centers of power to keep politicians on their side, digital ads are a way for them to try and control the voting public.

Lobbying and donations go to both parties. The Democratic Party, a powerful, neoliberal entity, is complicit in the woeful state of campaign finance. Alternative media and grassroots organizations with modest resources will be fighting a battle against moneyed interests with one hand tied behind their backs. The repeal of net neutrality could worsen this problem, but it is too soon to know how that will shake out.

The Need for Major Campaign Finance Reform

This will be the case until the US has significant campaign finance reform that makes the government accountable and responsive to the people. There are a few fleeting efforts to address the issue of digital ads — namely, the Honest Ads Act, which would add more transparency to ads. But prospects are murky at best. Of 26 co-sponsors in the Senate, only one Republican, John McCain, is listed. Due to his illness, they cannot count on his vote.

The FEC has started talks about reform but has not reached any agreements. Even if the commission does make changes, it would not likely impact the coming elections. Republican-appointed Chairwoman Caroline Hunter told VICE News, “the commission has been reluctant to change the rules of the game midway through an election season.”

Even if modest accommodations are made, it will be extremely difficult to enforce and there will be many ways to avoid disclosure, Fischer said.

Our own information is being used to sell us products, politicians and sometimes even lies.

House and Senate Democrats have released a campaign finance plan called “A Better Deal for our Democracy,” which gives lofty goals, including ending partisan gerrymandering, safeguarding democracy from “hostile actors” and ending the scourge of dark money. “It’s an ambitious and promising set of reforms, and it will be interesting to see what the follow-through is like,” Sridharan said.

But for now, it is a political document, something for Democrats to run on as they emphasize Trump’s undemocratic tendencies. “Achieving federal reform is definitely going to be tough. It will take bipartisan support to get anywhere,” Sridharan told Truthout. “That said, we know that most Americans across party lines want to see reform — so if lawmakers actually listen to their constituents, we could see some change.”

There are many problems with US democracy right now. The dominant media outlets, Congress and the internet are all increasingly dominated by titans of private capital — what Bernie Sanders has called the “Billionaire Class.” Our own information is being used to sell us products, politicians and sometimes even lies.

Some experts say the best way to counter all of this is to invest in education and media literacy. One recent literature review showed the public was largely uninformed about money in politics, but still supportive of campaign finance reform.

How telling that the public’s default status is to assume the worst of our politicians.

The post $1.8 Billion in Unregulated Digital Ads Could Sway Midterms appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The Racism of the Supreme Court’s “Janus” Decision

Thu, 06/28/2018 - 17:28

What comes next now that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority has upended over 40 years of labor law?

Erica Smiley, an organizing director at Jobs With Justice, told Truthout that in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME ruling on Wednesday, which means that public sector unions can no longer require workers to pay dues, activists must work toward shifting labor law at the state level and challenging the current models of collective bargaining. It’s also imperative for labor organizers to increase union access for employees, she said.

The court’s 5-4 decision on Wednesday overturned 1977’s Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the case that allowed unions to collect “fair-share” fees from members and use that money to collectively bargain on behalf of workers, whether they were represented by the union or not. Janus v. AFSCME was a 2015 lawsuit brought against the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees by Mark Janus, a child support specialist at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services who argued that he should be able to refrain from paying his fair-share fee. By ruling in Janus’s favor, the Supreme Court decided that unions violate their workers’ First Amendment rights by requiring them to pay the fees.

Like many of the Supreme Court’s recent decisions, the Janus v. AFSCME ruling has a racist edge.

“This Supreme Court case threatens all union workers, but Black people stand to lose the most,” Smiley told Truthout. “The dog whistle attacks on public sector employees has long had a sharp racist edge, not only undermining the institutions of government but equating public servants as “lazy free-loaders” — terms often used against communities of color to justify ill treatment.”

A Blow to Organized Labor

Many in the labor movement viewed this decision as inevitable ever since Trump took office and were further convinced of this point after he picked conservative Neil Gorsuch to fill the empty seat created by Antonin Scalia’s death. Expecting it certainly did not make the ruling any less devastating for labor activists and leaders.

“The Supreme Court has dealt a blow not just to public sector unions, but to democracy itself,” said Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation and co-author of the book, Why Labor Organizing Should be a Civil Right. “Unions serve democracy by providing a check on arbitrary government power, sustaining a middle-class society and acculturating workers to democratic norms. At a time when many pillars of our democracy are under assault, we need to strengthen, not weaken, America’s trade union movement. One step Congress could take: amending the Civil Rights Act so that it prohibits discrimination against workers trying to organize a union.”

The Racist Roots of Janus

The Supreme Court’s Janus decision comes just two days after the court upheld Trump’s travel ban, which targets Muslim-majority nations. While some might struggle to find a connection between a xenophobic executive order being confirmed and a ruling regarding union dues, racist parallels exist.

The Janus v. AFSCME decision effectively expands “right-to-work” laws throughout the entire country. These laws have specifically already been passed in 28 states, banning the requirement of union fees. Mark Janus’s case was funded and backed by right-wing groups like the National Right-to-Work Foundation.

“Right-to work” is a political idea conjured up in a 1941 newspaper editorial by a man named William Ruggles. The first notable fan of Ruggles’s concept was Vance Muse, who was described by his grandson as “a white supremacist, an anti-Semite, and a Communist-baiter, a man who beat on labor unions not on behalf of working people, as he said, but because he was paid to do so.” Muse was a vocal opponent of President Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal policies. “That crazy man in the White House will Sovietize America with the federal handouts of the Bum Deal — sorry, New Deal. Or is it the Jew Deal?” he declared. In 1944, the Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation launched a campaign to establish a right-to-work amendment and Muse’s political organization passed out literature arguing that, without such a rule, “white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes.”

Janus’s racist context certainly doesn’t end with its historical roots. African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders make up a third of unionized state and local government workers. According to an Economic Policy Institute (EPI) report released in February, the group most affected by the court’s decision will be Black women.

Janus is slated to potentially impact about 17 million public sector workers throughout the country and Black women make up almost 18 percent of that group, about 1.5 million workers. Additional EPI research shows that Black women only make 65 cents for every dollar that their white male co-workers earn. The pay gaps for Black women are less severe if they belong to a union. Black women in unions make almost 95 percent of what their Black male co-workers earn, while those not in a union make just 91 percent.

“We know that women, and disproportionately women of color, have a ton to lose in this fight, because we know that it’s unions, and public sector unions in particular, that are the engines of our economic security, our equality, and our dignity,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, at a rally held shortly after the Janus oral arguments began in February.

Erica Smiley explained to Truthout how unions have impacted her own family and reflected on how important they are for Black families throughout the country:

Both of my parents went to public schools, segregated for the overwhelming majority of it. And when they graduated, they both initially went to land grant public Historically Black Colleges for undergraduate degrees before going on to get graduate degrees elsewhere. And afterwards, my mom went on to work in public transportation in North Carolina, and my dad became a professor. I had an extremely comfortable life, attending high performing, integrated public schools … I went to the flagship university in the state and then began to make my living — actually make a living — in the social justice movement … I wanted to share some of this personal context to illustrate the role of the public sector in providing a pathway to economic security for Black people in the United States, my family included…. Public sector jobs have long been the pathway for Black families in particular to achieve economic sustainability, especially when overt and covert discrimination kept them out of employment in construction, manufacturing and other parts of the private sector considered to be good jobs.

What Comes Next?

Many voices in the labor movement are calling on workers to become more radical in response to Janus. “Workers will have to reconstruct this countervailing power and find new ways to build solidarity. We’re going to have to get bold again,” wrote Bryce Covert in The New York Times. Covert cited the Red State teacher strikes that happened earlier this year in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona. A sizable part of that organizing came from rank-and-file employees, outside of the traditional channels of Big Labor. She also identified the Fight for $15 movement as a potential model, as the group has helped secure minimum wage increases in a number of states.

In addition to arguing for increased access to unionization and organizing aimed at local labor laws, Erica Smiley said she and other activists will be seeking opportunities to refuse participation in unjust laws and looking for elected leaders who might join us in that effort.

“As a Black person, I have the heritage of having to overcome centuries of backwards court cases and laws explicitly mean to limit our freedoms, so I am often reminded by my own family that we have been through worse, and ultimately come out on top,” she told Truthout. “Our people, including the individuals and their unions impacted by this ruling are resilient. And this time will be no different.”

The post The Racism of the Supreme Court’s “Janus” Decision appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Today’s Refugee Crisis Is Blowback From US Dirty Wars in Central America

Thu, 06/28/2018 - 16:12

In our special broadcast from the US-Mexico border, we speak to human rights lawyer Jennifer Harbury, who has lived here in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas for over 40 years and has been active in the response to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. Her husband, Efraín Bámaca Velásquez, was a Mayan comandante and guerrilla who was disappeared after he was captured by the Guatemalan army in the 1980s. After a long campaign, she found there was US involvement in the cover-up of her husband’s murder and torture. Now she continues to work with people fleeing violence in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.


AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Brownsville, Texas, ahead of a mass protest later today at the federal courthouse that’s right behind us, that’s calling on the Trump administration to end the “zero tolerance” policy, which has separated more than 2,000 children from their parents, who have been charged with a crime for crossing the border. In a minute, we’ll be joined by the person who helped draw attention to this crisis when she shared audio with ProPublica of some of the disappeared children in a CBP, a Customs and Border Protection, facility. The children are estimated to be between the ages of 4 and 10, and can be heard crying “Mami!” “Papi!” This is an excerpt. A warning: The audio is disturbing.

CHILD: [crying] Papá! Papá! Papá! Papá! Papá! Papá!

AMY GOODMAN: The person who made that recording asked not to be identified, for fear of retaliation. And they were able to share it with the help of our next guest, Jennifer Harbury, who is a human rights lawyer, well-known activist. She has lived here in the Rio Grande Valley for over 40 years, has been active in the response to the “zero tolerance” policy. Her husband, Efraín Bámaca Velásquez, was a Mayan comandante guerrilla in the highlands of Guatemala. He was disappeared after he was captured by the army in the 1980s. After a long campaign, that she found here was U.S. involvement in the cover-up of her husband’s murder and torture. We will talk about this in the show, in a post-show, which we’ll post online. And she works with people who are fleeing violence from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, and come here to the United States for political asylum.

For more, Jennifer, it’s great to have you with us. Political asylum, this issue, how important it is right now? What is—what are people missing, when they understand what’s happening here?

JENNIFER HARBURY: Well, there are, of course, two categories of people trying to come into the United States, and Trump is blending them together. One category would be cartel people. They have enough money to buy an airport and a jumbo jet and as many passports and visas as they want. We’re not going to be watching them swimming the river. The most important category are the refugees. And they’re fleeing this ungodly world of violence and exploitation that’s being set up by the cartels all through Central America and for most of Mexico. We also have many people coming in from Africa who are fleeing genocide against their ethnic minority, or, for example, a young man from Ghana who is gay and was nearly killed by a vigilante mob and who was nearly deported last week.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about what is happening in these cases and in cases you know so well from Latin America, from Central America, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala. What is the U.S. role? People say, “Why should we take in these people, even if their countries are wracked by violence? Why is that our responsibility?”

JENNIFER HARBURY: Well, number one, it’s who all of our parents and grandparents are, of course, right? We came here. My father was a refugee at age 11. He came to Ellis Island fleeing World War II. So, number one, it’s our heritage.

But, number two, the United States has everything to do with the creation of the monsters that are driving the refugees up to our border. They’re fleeing the cartels. Who are the heads of the cartels? Well, after the dirty wars ended, that included genocide and daily acts of torture and terror, according to the United Nations, those people changed their uniforms and became the head of the cartel groups. They’re extremely wealthy. They have full military experience, which is why a gang of young people are able to pull aside a bus so accurately. And they have unlimited access to all of the weaponry and everything else that they need.

Now, who were the people at the head of military intelligence, for example, in Guatemala? Well, those were people who were trained in the United States, worked very closely with the United States intelligence throughout the genocide. And we were, of course, severely criticized for that by the United Nations Truth Commission, and President Clinton apologized. Two hundred thousand people were killed by those death squads. Those of us that survived that era, we remember the sorts of torture and mutilations that the bodies would bear, when we found them out in the street. And they’re the same as now.

So, what’s happened is, the cartel leaders are the same people that worked hand in glove with the United States. We were armed by the—they were armed by the United States. They were trained by the United States. They were sold equipment by the United States. And to a large extent, they’re still being protected by our intelligence division. They will not release key files on the genocide if it involved someone that used to work with our people. For example, one of my husband’s torturers, Colonel Alpirez, was brought to the United States after the disclosures, lived near the CIAwith his entire family for nearly 10 years, and when I found out about it, was tipped off, and he fled back to Guatemala. He was trained at the School of the Americas. He directly participated in the genocide. And he was a paid asset of the CIA. That means, in return for giving information, he received money from the CIA. He was a paid informant.

AMY GOODMAN: And now you have women and children trying to cross over these bridges to apply for political asylum, and they’re told there’s no room? Is this legal?

JENNIFER HARBURY: No, it’s completely illegal. I’ll describe very briefly what’s happening. You cannot apply for political asylum outside the United States. You have to get here somehow, even if it’s just an inch of turf. You can go across the river. Hopefully, your child won’t drown. You will be caught if you’re running with small children. And then you’re going to have your kids taken away.

How can you go the legal method? You walk across the bridge, as provided by statute. You knock on the door of the port of entry and say, “Hello. I’m here to ask for political asylum. I’m in danger.” They must then send you for a credible fear interview. It’s not optional. And if you pass your credible fear interview, which most people do, you go into the proceedings before an immigration judge.

There’s been a huge attack on that since President Trump came into office. In other words, we’re shutting down both doors. What happened when Trump came in is they started just turning people away at the bridge, saying, “Trump’s president now. We don’t do that anymore.”

One of my clients was a woman who had fled traffickers in Guatemala, was in a terrible wreck just before she reached Reynosa, and her daughter was killed, and she was horribly injured. She walked across the bridge on a walker, having just recovered from a broken pelvis, two months in the hospital. They turned her away. And at the base of the bridge back in Mexico, she was kidnapped. That stopped for a little while. It’s now going on full blast.

The second piece of the shutdown for them is if they do get across, which takes quite a battle these days, they’re sent to detention centers, which operate like terrible prisons. You know, no partitions between the toilet bowls. You can’t touch one another, even if your cellmate just found out her child was murdered. You cannot receive better food, etc.

AMY GOODMAN: Ten seconds.

JENNIFER HARBURY: So, we’ve made it so unbearable. And people are in jail—in these jails now for two years, three years. That’s why it’s, quote-unquote, “full,” because we are no longer doing what we legally have to do, which is to release them on parole.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to continue this discussion in Part 2, and we’ll post it online under web exclusives at Jennifer Harbury, human rights lawyer and activist here in Brownsville, as we broadcast from the border.

The post Today’s Refugee Crisis Is Blowback From US Dirty Wars in Central America appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Meet an Immigration Lawyer Trying to Unite Migrant Families

Thu, 06/28/2018 - 16:11

On Tuesday, Federal Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego ruled all children under the age of 5 must be reunited with their parents within 14 days, and all children 5 and older must be reunited with their parents within 30 days. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has claimed he could easily locate any of the children separated from their parents. But immigrant parents and their lawyers tell a different story. We speak to Rochelle Garza, an immigration lawyer based here in Brownsville, Texas, who is now representing immigrant families who have been separated by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.


AMY GOODMAN: Yes, this is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. We’re broadcasting live from Brownsville, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley, the epicenter of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” crackdown against immigrants. Hours from now, more than a thousand people from across Texas are expected to converge right here, in front of the federal courthouse just behind us—in fact, right behind me, “Families Belong Together” rally is—the stage is being constructed—to demand the Trump administration comply with a federal judge’s ruling that all migrant children separated from their parents must be reunited within 30 days. Kids under 10 [sic], 14 days, must be reunited. On Tuesday, Federal Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego ruled all children under the age of 5, rather, must be reunited within 14 days, and all children 5 and older must be reunited with their parents within 30 days.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar testified in a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Tuesday that 2,047 migrant children remain separated from their parents. He also claimed he could easily locate any one of the kids.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY ALEX AZAR: There is no reason why any parent would not know where their child is located. I could, at the stroke of—at keystrokes—I’ve sat on the ORR portal—with just basic keystrokes, within seconds, could find any child in our care for any parent.

AMY GOODMAN: But immigrant parents and their lawyers are telling a very different story. In an interview Wednesday night, attorney Efrén Olivares the Texas Civil Rights Project here, when we went to McAllen to speak to him, described how officials have been keeping track of the families that they separated.

EFRÉN OLIVARES: The Border Patrol agents take a family picture, a picture of the family unit, they call it—so, a picture of the child and the parent—to then keep track of who belongs with who. If that is the system, it’s full of problems. It’s highly fallible. Forget the problems with cross-racial identification. Just forget about that. Just taking a picture of a 5-year-old and then trying to match him or her with his mom, it’s going to be a disaster.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s go right now to Rochelle Garza. She’s an immigration lawyer based here in Brownsville, Texas, who is representing immigrant families who have been separated by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. Last year she also represented the 17-year-old immigrant known as “Jane Doe,” who had to sue the ORR—that’s the Office of Refugee Resettlement—for the right to have an abortion while she was jailed in an immigrant detention center here in Brownsville. In a ruling this month, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider disciplinary action against Jane Doe’s attorneys, including Rochelle Garza, in a case brought by the Department of Justice.

We welcome Rochelle to Democracy Now! So, talk about what is happening. More than 2,000 children are separated. You represent parents. Are they able to speak to their kids?

ROCHELLE GARZA: Well, thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: And get their kids?

ROCHELLE GARZA: No. Right now, the family that I represent has been unable to have any contact with each other. The system for navigating, locating a child is incredibly difficult. There is a hotline number that has been given out by the Office of Refugee Resettlement; however, any time you call that hotline number, all they can tell you is, “Yes, we know that the child is in detention. We can confirm that. But we cannot give you the information as to the exact location of that child.”

AMY GOODMAN: So, what happens then?


AMY GOODMAN: You’re saying Alex Azar is simply not telling the truth.

ROCHELLE GARZA: Well, he’s at least not sharing the information with advocates, attorneys that are representing families in trying to reunite them. You know—

AMY GOODMAN: So what happens? Explain—when you have a parent, what do they do?


AMY GOODMAN: In a detention center perhaps right here in Brownsville?

ROCHELLE GARZA: I mean, I can speak to my client. I mean, he’s currently detained, and I’ve been looking for his daughter or trying to locate his daughter in the ORRsystem since early June. There’s a hotline number. You call the hotline number, you give the information for the parent and for the child, and all they can do is say, “We can put in a request to the facility holding the child to contact you.” And this has been going on for weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: And how old is the child that your client is trying to reach, his child?

ROCHELLE GARZA: She’s 12 years old.

AMY GOODMAN: And where is she?

ROCHELLE GARZA: Well, the government has not helped me with that information. I have—

AMY GOODMAN: She could be anywhere in the United States?

ROCHELLE GARZA: I did get lucky—full disclosure: I did get lucky, and the first person that I did speak with did confirm she was in the state of Texas. So, at least I have that information and have been able to work off of that.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we’re talking about 2,000 cases like this?

ROCHELLE GARZA: Yes. And the issue is that when “zero tolerance” was implemented, there wasn’t a lot of transparency. You know, on the ground level, lawyers, organizations were scrambling to track the families that were being affected. So, all of the sudden, we just heard that there was a massive influx of children into the facilities located in South Texas, and then started seeing mass prosecutions in the federal court system, so 40 to 70 people in the morning and in the afternoon being prosecuted for improper entry in federal court. And so, from there, you know, advocates have been trying to create a system for, one, identifying the parents that have been prosecuted under 1325 for improper entry, and then trying to talk to them and see if we can locate their children.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about Casa Padre, right here in Brownsville. What is it?

ROCHELLE GARZA: Casa Padre is an ORR-funded facility. It is run by Southwest Key. And it currently has the capacity for 1,500 children. As I understand it, the recent number of children that are in there are around 1,400, and they’re mostly boys, teenage boys, that are housed in that facility.

AMY GOODMAN: And what—have you gotten any sense of things being different since President Trump said they are going—since he issued the executive order rescinding the policy of separating the children?

ROCHELLE GARZA: Well, I mean, no. So, he ordered that the separations would cease, but he didn’t speak to the actual prosecutions of individuals. So, what it looks like, or what we’re trying to figure out what’s happening is: Are families being put into detention as a whole and the parents being prosecuted? So, it’s been, you know, one thing after another. A lot of changes have been happening. And on the ground, it’s difficult to see what’s happening, until it’s already happened.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what does this San Diego federal judge ruling mean, when she said in the next 14 days every kid under the age of 5, of these 2,000, more than 2,000 kids, must be reunited with their parent, and in 30 days all the kids must be?

ROCHELLE GARZA: I mean, it’s a good step. It’s a good step forward to reuniting the families.

AMY GOODMAN: But how is it going to happen?

ROCHELLE GARZA: I don’t know. Logistically, it doesn’t really make sense. Like for my client, he’s still currently detained. He’s in immigration detention. We’re hearing that they want to set up some sort of family reunification at Port Isabel Detention Center, which is not far from Brownsville. It’s about a 40-minute drive. I don’t know what that looks like. And my concern is, if you put families in that area, if you put them together in that detention facility, one, Port Isabel Detention Center is not equipped to handle children. And as I understand it, it is already at capacity. And, two, if you’re going to put all these families together there, you’re suspending the due process rights of the children themselves. And you’re also violating Flores, the Flores agreement. You can’t have them detained for more than 20 days. This is assuming that the children don’t have an asylum claim or a special immigrant juvenile visa or any other sort of legal relief of their own, separate of their parents.

AMY GOODMAN: And we’re going to talk about political asylum in a moment with Jennifer Harbury. I wanted to go back to Jane Doe, Jane Doe who in the immigration facility, one of the—one of your clients, ended up being able to have an abortion, even though the head of ORR, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Scott Lloyd, was personally determined to prevent her.


AMY GOODMAN: He came down to Texas. He is the head of this entire Office of Refugee Resettlement. But his main issue in his life has nothing to do with refugees, or experience in dealing with refugees. It’s just anti-abortion activism.

ROCHELLE GARZA: Yeah. And we received an incredible amount of pushback from him. And the Jane Doe case was, you know, a really hard-fought one, and she was incredibly determined to get the procedure that she wanted. And we were able to make that—we were able to accomplish that for her, but there were a lot of other Jane Does that came forward after our Jane Doe, Jane Doe 1.

AMY GOODMAN: Is there anything else you’d like to say, not only to the people of this country—we’re broadcasting on 1,400 public television and radio stations around the world—


AMY GOODMAN: —about what’s happening here right now, about what’s happening behind us as they’re constructing the stage for the protest outside the federal courthouse, that you know so well. In fact, during the broadcast, I saw a bus go by, one of the buses that carry prisoners.

ROCHELLE GARZA: Mm-hmm. Well, there’s a lot going on down here. And there are a lot of activists and community leaders that are working against some of these issues or working to stop the administration’s policies. There are—as I understand, there’s about 3,000 children currently in detention in the ORR-funded facilities. One of my concerns are the tender-age children. And I know that there’s been reporting on that.

AMY GOODMAN: Tender age being under the age of?

ROCHELLE GARZA: Of 12. And Jane Doe—and a lot of people don’t know this, but Jane Doe was detained in a facility that was—that lost their contract later on from ORR. And that facility specialized in tender age, in taking care of tender-age children and setting them up with foster families, so the least restrictive means of detaining these children. And now my question is: Where are those children?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we will leave it there. Where are those children? Rochelle Garza, thank you so much for being with us. Of course we’ll continue to follow this issue, as we broadcast from the Texas-Mexico border. We’re in Brownsville, Texas. We’re going to speak to Jennifer Harbury, the well-known human rights activist and attorney, next. Stay with us.


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Categories: News

The Anatomy of Trumpocracy: An Interview With Noam Chomsky

Thu, 06/28/2018 - 15:38

With its spate of right-wing rulings this week, the Supreme Court has paved the way for Donald Trump and the Republican-dominated Congress to intensify their attacks on human rights, workers and the country’s democratic institutions, dragging the US deeper into the abyss.

US political culture has long been dominated by oligarchical corporate and financial interests, militarism and jingoism, but the current Trumpocracy represents a new level of neoliberal cruelty. Indeed, the United States is turning into a pariah nation, a unique position among Western states in the second decade of the 21st century.

What factors and the forces produced this radical and dangerous shift? How did Trump manage to bring the Republican Party under his total control? Is Trumpocracy a temporary phenomenon, or the future of American politics? Is the Bernie Sanders phenomenon over? In the exclusive Truthout interview below, world-renowned scholar and public intellectual Noam Chomsky, Emeritus Professor of Linguistics at MIT and currently Laureate Professor of Linguistics at the University of Arizona, tackles these questions and offers his unique insights.

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, while many in the country and the world at large watch aghast as Donald Trump’s nightmare of white supremacy continues to unravel the United States, it still remains something of a puzzle as to what propelled Trumpism to political prominence. For starters, why did voters turn to Trump? Who are the people that make up his hard-core base, and how do we explain the fact that he has essentially taken over the Republican Party without any serious opposition?

Noam Chomsky: Part of the solution to the puzzle is Obama’s performance in office. Many were seduced by the rhetoric of “hope” and “change,” and deeply disillusioned by the very early discovery that the words had little substance. I don’t usually agree with Sarah Palin, but she had a point when she ridiculed this hopey-changey stuff. A fair number of Obama voters, mostly working people, switched to Trump. These developments were already clear by the time of the 2010 special election in Massachusetts to fill the seat of Senator Kennedy – the liberal lion. Virtually unknown Scott Brown won the election, the first Republican elected to the Senate in [more than] 40 years in this liberal state. Analysis of the vote showed that even union members hardly supported his liberal opponent because of anger at Obama: the way he handled the housing-financial crisis (bailing out the rich, including the perpetrators, while letting their victims hang out to dry) and much else, including provisions of his health care proposal that working people saw, with justice, as an attack on health programs that they had won in contract negotiations.

Quite apart from Obama’s disappointing policies, he and the [Democratic] Party were victims of the intense racism that is deeply rooted in large parts of American society. The visceral hatred of Obama cannot be explained in other terms.

But there is far more than that. For some time, candidates for Republican primaries who emerged from the base have been far off the traditional spectrum. The establishment was able to suppress them and gain their own candidate, but that didn’t change the basis for their support. For years, both parties have drifted to the right — the Republicans off the spectrum of normal parliamentary politics. Their dedication to wealth and corporate power is so extreme that they cannot get votes on their actual policies — which are now being revealed to us daily — and so have had to mobilize a voting base on issues unrelated to their service to their actual constituency. These include religious fundamentalism — a major phenomenon in the US unlike other developed societies — white supremacy, xenophobia and other latent anti-social attitudes that tend to break through to the surface during periods of disillusionment and distress. This is partly a matter of “search for scapegoats,” the actual sources concealed in the usual manner of propaganda; thus, the public vastly exaggerates the number of immigrants, even more than in Europe. In the current period, these malignant tendencies are natural consequences of the harsh neoliberal policies that we have discussed before. We see much the same in Europe, for similar reasons.

Trump has had overwhelming support among whites and less educated sectors, but for the most part, his mass voting base is relatively affluent and privileged. A recent Pew poll of Trump approvers found two-thirds are either college graduates, women or nonwhite, the last group apparently not many.

Trump’s roughly 90 percent support among Republicans is actually not unusual for an incumbent party at this stage in office — about the same as Obama among Democrats, though the fervor and passion are different, presumably reflecting the general atmosphere of anger, hatred and fear. And frightening. Recognizing the great differences, I still can’t repress childhood memories of hearing Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies on the radio, not understanding the words, though the mood was unmistakable.

Recognizing the great differences, I still can’t repress childhood memories of hearing Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies on the radio.

For the actual Republican constituency of wealth and corporate power, these are glory days, so why object, even if his antics sometimes cause some grimaces? The core constituency of Evangelicals is solidly in Trump’s pocket, thanks to the crumbs thrown their way. Many working people maintain the illusion that Trump cares about them and will bring back lost days of steady jobs in mining and manufacturing. Even those realistic enough to dismiss this act at least see someone who is standing up to the “foreign devils” who have been “robbing us,” and in particular, the cultural elites that regard them and their values with contempt, just “deplorables.” Mostly farce, but [also] much successful propaganda, with enough elements of truth to be persuasive — for a while at least.

It’s revealing to take a closer look at attitudes of the huge Evangelical community. According to a study by the Public Religion Research Institute, “In 2011, only 30 percent believed that personal immorality was consistent with an ethical performance of official duties. Today, 72 percent of white evangelicals — up an astounding 42 points — believe that the two can go together.”

No comment needed, but instructive.

Trump himself seems to be having the time of his life. He’s constantly in the limelight, his loyal base worships his every move, he’s free to defy convention, to insult anyone he chooses, to disrupt the international economic and political order at will — whatever comes to mind next, knowing that he’s the biggest thug on the block and can probably get away with it — again, for a while, at least.

I don’t think it’s quite fair, however, to call him a liar. Lying presupposes having a concept of truth, and being in a situation where telling the truth matters. We don’t say that three-year-olds are lying if they say they saw a dragon outside, or an actor in a play. It’s also not clear that it’s tactically useful to tot up the random falsehoods that pepper his tweets and orations. That just fires up his worshipful base, providing more evidence that the hated liberal elites are trying to destroy the one guy in the political arena who is dedicated to defending the common folk — who he is shafting, with delight, at every opportunity.

It’s an intriguing spectacle, and not a little worrisome.

Trump loves to present himself as an “art-of-the-deal” president. Exactly what kind of deals has he made so far that can justify his claim to being a master negotiator?

There are no deals with others of any note, but there are real accomplishments. The most heralded one is the tax bill, a very welcome gift to the actual [corporate] constituency, with the side benefit of expanding the deficit and thus offering the opportunity to dismantle the limited social programs, which are [deemed] a nuisance, dispensable, since they raise the taxes of the actual constituency and do not benefit them. Steps are already underway to weaken these programs further. That includes the steady dismantling of protections provided by the hated “Obamacare.” I’ve often wondered whether the term itself might have caught on because of implicit racism; we didn’t call Medicare “Johnsoncare.”

A scathing report of the [UN] “Special Rapporteur [Philip Alston] on extreme poverty and human rights” on his mission to the United States of America, recently released, was well-timed — and may have been the immediate reason for the US withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council, which discredited itself by revealing improper truths about ourselves, just as the World Court discredited itself — and was roundly condemned by elite opinion — for daring to condemn the US for international terrorism (“unlawful use of force”) in the murderous Reaganite attack on Nicaragua.

There are serious tasks ahead for those who aspire to a livable world.

Other gifts to the actual constituency are being offered regularly. Elizabeth Warren’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is being rendered toothless. Betsy DeVos is making it easier for the for-profit colleges she cherishes to cheat students, part of the concerted corporate-led campaign to dismantle public education, one of the real contributions of the US to contemporary civilization. The Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule, designed to ensure that financial advisers act in the best interest of clients, has been sent to the ashcan, along with Dodd-Frank restrictions on the actions of banks, which are already enjoying record profits with more to come as the effects of the tax scam are felt. Bulging profits were heralded as a spur to investment, of which there is scarcely a trace as they are used to enrich the rich still further.

In general, things are proceeding quite well for “those who matter,” though they have some concerns that Trump’s erratic trade policies might infringe on the interests of the investor class.

I’ve skipped foreign policy, and have omitted so far, the most important accomplishments — astonishingly, commonly ignored by the opposition party and media commentary. Pride of place goes to the quite successful efforts to escalate the very severe and not remote threat of global warming. Expansion and modernization of the huge military system and provocative actions at the Russian border are not far behind.

In brief, there are no meaningful deals, though there surely are impressive accomplishments.

How do we explain the fact that Trump continues to cause chaos on all fronts, both domestically and internationally, and yet his popularity remains at quite high levels?

As I mentioned, Trump’s popularity among Republicans is unusually fervent and high, though not uniquely so. The affluent are doing fine. The economy is continuing the slow growth under Obama, though wages are barely rising and job security is low. Apart from the business world, concerned that the wrench thrown into the global trading system might harm profits, the elements of his constituency that I ran through above for the most part apparently don’t care much about the chaos, or even seem to enjoy seeing their leader offending elites and the damned foreigners.

Midterm elections are rapidly approaching. Do you see a “blue wave” coming? And if it happens, will it be sufficient to move Trumpism to the dustbin of history?

If the Democrats could get their act together, overcoming the schism between the donor-oriented New Democrat Party management and the increasingly activist and social democratic base, they would have a decent chance to take over Congress. That seems questionable, at the moment, though they should make some gains. But whatever gains there might be would not rid us of Trumpism, or its European counterparts. These have grown out of a mixture of authentic grievances and social pathologies — the latter surfacing in part because of the grievances. These are rooted in socioeconomic policies and bitter and so far, quite successful one-sided class struggle. None of this can easily be cast to the dustbin of history.

In some ways, as you have previously pointed out yourself, the most impressive aspect about recent developments on the US political landscape was the Bernie Sanders phenomenon, which represented a clear indication that the base of the Democratic Party had moved unmistakably to the left. Is the Sanders phenomenon — or at least the elements that gave rise to it — over? And how difficult is it for a new political party to emerge that advocates a progressive economic, social and foreign policy agenda?

The Sanders phenomenon was striking in two ways. One, as you mention, is the sign that the popular base of the party has moved to the left and gave impressive support to a candidate with social democratic, New Deal-style commitments — a breath of fresh air in the current state of affairs. The second was the sharp break from a long political history of pretty much bought elections. The phenomenon is by no means over. Sanders emerged as the most popular political figure in the country. In a functioning democracy, his voice — which continues to be loud and clear — would reach a wide public through mainstream media. Not here, where it is scarcely heard. Nevertheless, the offshoots of his campaign, Our Revolution, are doing important work, joining others in creating what might become stable and effective popular movements.

The barriers are not insuperable, but to overcome them will require large-scale and effective organization based on popular mass movements. A lot has to be done to overcome the demolition of unions and atomization of society during the neoliberal years under the Thatcherite slogan “you know, there’s no such thing as society” — unwittingly echoing Marx’s bitter condemnation of authoritarian rulers who want to turn society into “a sack of potatoes,” isolated individuals incapable of confronting concentrated economic and political power.The US political system has serious flaws, among them very high structural barriers for forming a new party. The last political party to have reached the mainstream is the Republican Party, but those were very different days. Where there is proportional representation, new parties can find a place in the political system, and have a chance to become major players — the British Labour Party, for example. In the US, even formal balloting procedures, run by state legislatures, virtually restrict participation to the two parties. Furthermore, the political parties are not membership organizations; rather, they are candidate-producing machines.

There are serious tasks ahead for those who aspire to a livable world.

The post The Anatomy of Trumpocracy: An Interview With Noam Chomsky appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

How Jeff Sessions Is Undermining Immigration Courts

Thu, 06/28/2018 - 14:28

The Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” prosecution policy for unauthorized border crossings has separated families and placed children in cages. And President Trump’s new executive order, which purportedly ends the separation of parents and children, still heralds indefinite detention of families until criminal cases against the parents and any immigration matters involving family members are completed. Many of these detainees will land in the nation’s already overburdened immigration courts  — just as Attorney General Jeff Sessions is also quietly remaking these courts with his brand of reform.

Sessions, a notorious immigration opponent, has introduced changes to immigration court that masquerade as technical tweaks, but fundamentally remake how immigration judges hear cases, while at the same time making it more difficult for immigrants to effectively make claims for asylum —  protection for those seeking refuge from persecution.

In just the past four months, Sessions voided precedent that guaranteed asylum seekers the chance to testify before an immigration judge could deny their application, and told immigration courts that suffering domestic violence is no longer a sufficient basis for granting asylum.

He has curtailed immigration courts’ use of a procedural tool to better manage their heavy caseload, and this fall, he’ll introduce strict new quotas for immigration judges that may leave them insufficient time to consider individual cases. All this in the name of “judicial economy and the timely administration of justice,” two principles that Sessions’ changes will actually hinder.

Why would an immigration enforcement hardliner want to dismantle immigration courts? Look to his boss. Just this week, President Trump said, “Ultimately, we have to have a real border, not judges.”

The first salvo came in March, when the Department of Justice announced it would subject immigration judges to strict case completion quotas and time benchmarks. This policy risks incentivizing judges to short-change due process, the right to fair treatment in our judicial system as laid out in the Constitution.

Beginning in October 2018, the department will evaluate immigration judges individually, based on how many cases they complete and how quickly they complete certain procedural steps. The new plan established several requirements for immigration judges to receive a “satisfactory performance” rating, including two particularly problematic metrics:

  • Immigration judges must complete 700 cases per year regardless of the type of cases before them.
  • Judges must meet at least three of six time “benchmarks,” including, for example, allowing “no more than three days [to] elapse from merits hearing to…case completion” in 85 percent of non-status detained removal cases, and in 85 percent of “motions matters, no more than 20 days elapse from immigration judge receipt of the motion to adjudication of the motion.” 

If an immigration judge fails to meet these quotas, the Justice Department may terminate their employment.

These quotas don’t align with reality. Immigration cases vary widely in their complexity, as do the dockets of individual immigration judges. Some judges complete 1,500 cases per year, while others with more complex caseloads complete fewer than 300. Cases ending in relief decisions like asylum, for example, currently take an average of nearly three years to resolve. Two-thirds of immigration judges complete fewer than 700 cases annually.

In short, quotas risk pushing immigration judges to prioritize speed — even at the cost of fair hearings.

To be sure, case backlogs and other inefficiencies slow down many proceedings — potentially leaving individuals entitled to remain in the United States in legal limbo for years — but unrealistic quotas are not the answer. A year-long study by Booz Allen Hamilton and the National Center for State Courts, commissioned by the Department of Justice and published in 2017, recommended a package of reforms to reduce immigration court backlogs — including adopting a performance evaluation model that “emphasizes process over outcomes” and “places high priority on judicial integrity and independence.”

Ironically, many of the changes introduced by Sessions may actually lead to more burdens on the immigration court system. In testimony before Congress, the president of the American Bar Association warned quotas may increase the number of appeals as “[i]ndividuals who feel that their cases were summarily decided because of an arbitrarily imposed deadline may be more likely to appeal…simply shifting the caseload burden.” And a June study from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University found that other new DOJ policies aimed at “speeding case dispositions” in practice “have actually lengthened completion times so that these have risen to new all-time highs.”

These changes come as immigration courts are facing enormous strain. The number of new immigration court cases has increased significantly under the Trump administration — contributing to an already overwhelming backlog. According to data from TRAC, while the backlog of immigration cases increased 283 percent over the past 10 years, the number of immigration judges increased just 54 percent. With climbing backlog but no proportional increase in resources, judges face pressure to resolve proceedings of enormous consequence quickly — leading one immigration judge to describe the system as “death penalty cases heard in traffic court settings.”

And this is only the beginning. Last month, the Department of Justice proposed granting the Attorney General expanded power to personally overrule immigration decisions. Another measure would limit immigration judges’ ability to temporarily halt proceedings while an immigrant waits for an application for legal status to be resolved. Immigration courts are supposed to be a backstop against unfair treatment in our system. There is every indication that Sessions will continue to use his power to quietly destroy them.

The post How Jeff Sessions Is Undermining Immigration Courts appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

With Kennedy Gone, the Supreme Court Is Now a Subsidiary of Trump Inc.

Thu, 06/28/2018 - 14:21

The news of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s impending retirement from the Supreme Court passed through my mind with the hollow sound of doors slamming shut. A conservative Supreme Court majority comprised of Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch and Trump’s choice to replace Kennedy will be nothing short of a generational catastrophe for the United States.

Make no mistake about this: Donald Trump is going to tap some Gen-X fascist in perfect health who will perch in Justice Kennedy’s seat for the next 40 years like a blossom of deadly nightshade. Allowing Donald Trump to refashion the Supreme Court in the image of his repellent will is just about the worst thing that could possibly happen,because it means the worst is still yet to come. This person will be atrocious, and the Democrats — a few less-than-clever election year quips notwithstanding — will be powerless to stop them.

When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked the nomination of Merrick Garland, President Obama’s choice to replace Antonin Scalia, on the grounds that 2016 was an election year, it was seen as an entirely bogus and unprecedented move. The Democrats raised seven shades of Hell, and lost, and Neil Gorsuch is our reward.

MSNBC’s Chris Matthews can yell all he wants about the need for Democrats to fight this next nominee, but there is little they can do even if they were disposed to act at all. They filibustered Gorsuch, and McConnell simply changed the rules for how many votes Supreme Court nominees need to get confirmed.

On Wednesday, McConnell — a master troll in his own right — had the perfect gall to demand, “It’s imperative that the president’s nominee be treated fairly.” It would be funny but for that feeling of falling down an empty elevator shaft.

Speculation as to exactly which racist, hateful, homophobic, misogynistic, pro-corporate, anti-environment, vote-loathing nightmare Trump will pick to replace Justice Kennedy is a waste of energy at this juncture; each name proffered will certainly be more preposterous than the last. Trying to fathom what this new murderer’s row majority will do to the country is equally bootless. It will be ruthlessly terrible, details to follow.

Kennedy’s Legacy

Coming to grips with the legacy Justice Kennedy leaves behind is almost as difficult as coming to grips with the scalding reality that Donald Trump now has the opportunity to add a second Justice to the high court (with perhaps a third and fourth in the offing, if some retirement rumors prove true). Kennedy’s passage through the highest reaches of US jurisprudence has not been dull.

Though it may shame him (one would hope), Justice Kennedy’s lasting legacy was printed eight years ago in the majority decision he wrote for the court’s calamitous ruling on Citizens United v. FEC. “Independent expenditures,” he said regarding the whole concept of legalized political bribery, “do not lead to, or create the appearance of, quid pro quo corruption.Perhaps someone, somewhere was more wrong at some point than Kennedy was when he penned that hilariously credulous disaster zone of a decision, but that someone does not immediately leap to mind.

If the United States continues on its current path toward some final New Gilded Age calamity, drowned by a rising climate-driven sea that politicians ignored until their feet got wet because the coal and oil industries paid for the privilege, well, look no further for an explanation than Justice Kennedy’s naive belief in the idea that elected officials won’t be corrupted by massive sums of untraceable money. Flat-Earthers have more credibility than anyone attempting to make that ridiculous argument, yet here we are.

There have been a number of remarkably awful Supreme Court decisions handed down over the years — Dred Scott, Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific, Buck v. Bell, Bush v. Gore, Plessy v. Ferguson, Korematsu v. US to name but a few — and Citizens United stands tall and grisly among them. Whatever good Justice Kennedy dispensed from the bench may be wiped away in due course after rich people who don’t like marriage equality and the right to vote succeed in buying themselves enough politicians to see those great gains scourged from the law.

As we are learning by the hour and the day, it does not take much to obliterate decades of progress. Citizens United made that obliteration so much easier, and if anything, its power is only accelerating. Money, as they say at the bank, makes money.

Justice Kennedy was a noteworthy champion of LGBTQ rights during his tenure, which was capstoned three years ago by the decision he wrote in Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark ruling that made same-sex marriages equal under the law. Kennedy, long known for his soaring rhetoric, penned a truly moving stemwinder for the majority in that case:

As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage…. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

Unfortunately, writes Mark Joseph Stern for Slate, the marriage equality decision may be undone by way of Kennedy’s retirement: “The cornerstone of Kennedy’s gay rights jurisprudence — Obergefell v. Hodges, the marriage case — was a 5–4 decision. Three dissenters — Chief Justice John Roberts, as well as Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito — are still on the court. One, Justice Antonin Scalia, died, but Trump replaced him with Justice Neil Gorsuch, who promptly expressed fierce hostility to gay equality. Trump is all but assured to replace Kennedy with a judge who shares the conservatives’ opposition to gay rights.”

In the main, however, Justice Kennedy — despite his strange reputation as a “swing vote” on the court — departs with some significant historical baggage. He was no great friend to voting rights, having voted to strike down Section 4 of the all-important Voting Rights Act. Kennedy voted to shut down the recount in Florida during the 2000 election, helped kick Ohio voters off the rolls in Ohio, and voted to uphold or ignore racially gerrymandered districts in North Carolina and Texas. Just this week, he also voted to dismantle the power of public-sector unions in Janus vs. AFSCME.

In short, the dilemma is not that the court is losing Justice Kennedy so much as it is the gloomy question of who will replace him.

The Dangers Ahead

Anything done can be undone, as we have been learning to our collective woe these last two years. Now that Kennedy is on the way out, the fate of Roe v. Wade is thrown into perilous question.

It has long been my personal belief that the national Republican Party would sell the Sixth Fleet to North Korea for a bottle of bad rum before they ever allowed Roe to be overturned. Religion and ideology have nothing to do with it. Roe v. Wade has been, for decades now, an enormous moneymaker for the GOP.

Put a photo of Hillary Clinton next to a fetus into a direct mailer, send it to the GOP base, and that base will vacuum up nickels from between the couch cushions and post them directly to RNC headquarters. A mailer like that is good for five million dollars in 36 hours, easy. The Republicans have cynically ridden the anti-choice passions of their base for all it is worth, literally, to great and ongoing success.

The GOP has taken some hacks at Roe over the years and done serious damage to it, but never to the point that the law itself was thoroughly undone. They had 20 years of Republican presidents to try and undo it — Reagan and both Bushes — and still it stands.

Now, however, we have a president whose entire political philosophy hinges upon handing the GOP base everything it has ever wanted. Trump has never given a damn about the Republican Party and its priorities, any more than the Republicans have ever given a damn about the passions of their anti-choice base, and now he can prime the court to give that base the ultimate prize it has sought for so long: The fall of Roe. Now, for the first time, I fear the worst.

In the coming weeks and months, Donald Trump may very well be officially accused of collusion with Russia, election meddling, obstruction of justice, money laundering and — if Robert Mueller ever gets him in a room and under oath — possibly even perjury.

The question of his ultimate fate may hinge upon the ideological makeup of the high court, which will soon be Trump’s court from marble pillar to marble post, save for a small clutch of powerless dissenters. “If the president does it, it’s not illegal” may soon become — along with any number of equally heinous notions — the law of the land at last.

The post With Kennedy Gone, the Supreme Court Is Now a Subsidiary of Trump Inc. appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Today’s War-Financing Strategies Will Only Increase Inequality

Thu, 06/28/2018 - 14:10

In the name of the fight against terrorism, the United States is currently waging “credit-card wars” in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere. Never before has this country relied so heavily on deficit spending to pay for its conflicts. The consequences are expected to be ruinous for the long-term fiscal health of the US, but they go far beyond the economic. Massive levels of war-related debt will have lasting repercussions of all sorts. One potentially devastating effect, a new study finds, will be more societal inequality.

In other words, the staggering costs of the longest war in American history — almost 17 years running, since the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 — are being deferred to the future. In the process, the government is contributing to this country’s skyrocketing income inequality.

Since 9/11, the US has spent $5.6 trillion on its war on terror, according to the Costs of War Project, which I co-direct, at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. This is a far higher number than the Pentagon’s $1.5 trillion estimate, which only counts expenses for what are known as “overseas contingency operations,” or OCO — that is, a pot of supplemental money, outside the regular annual budget, dedicated to funding wartime operations. The $5.6 trillion figure, on the other hand, includes not just what the US has spent on overseas military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria, but also portions of Homeland Security spending related to counterterrorism on American soil, and future obligations to care for wounded or traumatized post-9/11 military veterans. The financial burden of the post-9/11 wars across the Greater Middle East — and still spreading, through Africa and other regions — is far larger than most Americans recognize.

During prior wars, the US adjusted its budget accordingly by, among other options, raising taxes to pay for its conflicts. Not so since 2001, when President George W. Bush launched the “Global War on Terror.” Instead, the country has accumulated a staggering amount of debt.  Even if Washington stopped spending on its wars tomorrow, it will still, thanks to those conflicts, owe more than$8 trillionin interest alone by the 2050s.

Putting the Gilded Age to Shame

It’s hard to fathom what that enormous level of debt will do to our economy and society. A new Costs of War study by political scientist and historian Rosella Capella Zielinski offers initial clues about its impact here. She takes a look at how the US has paid for its conflicts from the War of 1812 through the two World Wars and Vietnam to the present war on terror. While a range of taxes, bond sales, and other mechanisms were used to raise funds to fight such conflicts, no financial strategy has relied so exclusively on borrowing — until this century. Her study also explores how each type of war financing has affected inequality levels in this country in the aftermath of those conflicts.

The implications for today are almost painfully straightforward: the current combination of deficit spending and tax cuts spells disaster for any hopes of shrinking America’s striking inequality gap. Instead, credit-card war spending is already fueling the dramatic levels of wealth inequality that have led some observers to suggest that we are living in a new Gilded Age, reminiscent of the enormous divide between the opulent lifestyles of the elite and the grinding poverty of the majority of Americans in the late nineteenth century.

Capella Zielinski carefully breaks down what effects the methods used to pay for various wars have had on subsequent levels of social inequality. During the Civil War, for example, the government relied primarily on loans from private donors. After that war was over, the American people had to pay those loans back with interest, which proved a bonanza for financial elites, primarily in the North. Those wealthy lenders became wealthier still and everyone else, whose taxes reimbursed them, poorer.

In contrast, during World War I, the government launched a war-bond campaign that targeted low-income people. War savings stamps were offered for as little as 25 cents and war savings certificates in denominations starting at $25. Anyone who could make a small down payment could buy a war bond for $50 and cover the rest of what was owed in installments. In this way, the war effort promoted savings and, in its wake, a striking number of low-income Americans were repaid with interest, decreasing the inequality levels of that era.

Taxation strategies have varied quite significantly in various war periods as well. During World War II, for instance, the government raised tax rates five times between 1940 and 1944, levying progressively steeper ones on higher income brackets (up to 65% on incomes over $1 million). As a result, though government debt was substantial in the aftermath of a global struggle fought on many fronts, the impact on low-income Americans could have been far worse. In contrast, the Vietnam War era began with a tax cut and, in the aftermath of that disastrous conflict, the US had to deal with unprecedented levels of inflation. Low-income households bore the brunt of those higher costs, leading to greater inequality.

Today’s wars are paid for almost entirely through loans — 60% from wealthy individuals and governmental agencies like the Federal Reserve, 40% from foreign lenders. Meanwhile, in October 2001, when Washington launched the war on terror, the government also initiated a set of tax cuts, a trend that has only continued. The war-financing strategies that President George W. Bush began have flowed on without significant alteration under Presidents Obama and Trump. (Obama did raise a few taxes, but didn’t fundamentallyalterthe swing towards tax cuts.) President Trump’s extreme tax “reform” package, which passed Congress in December 2017 — a gift-wrappeddreamfor the 1% — only enlarged those cuts.

In other words, in this century, Washington has combined the domestic borrowing patterns of the Civil War with the tax cuts of the Vietnam era.  That means one predictable thing: a rise in inequality in a country in which the income inequality gap is already heading for record territory.

Just to add to the future burden of it all, this is the first time government wartime borrowing has relied so heavily on foreign debt. Though there is no way of knowing how this will affect inequality here in the long run, one thing is already obvious: it will transfer wealth outside the country.

Economist Linda Bilmes has argued that there’s another new factor involved in Washington’s budgeting of today’s wars. In every other major American conflict, after an initial period, war expenditures were incorporated into the regular defense budget. Since 2001, however, the war on terror has been funded mainly by supplemental appropriations (those Overseas Contingency Operations funds), subject to very little oversight. Think of the OCO as a slush fund that insures one thing: the true impact of this era’s war funding won’t hit until far later since such appropriations are exempt from spending caps and don’t have to be offset elsewhere in the budget.

According to Bilmes, “This process is less transparent, less accountable, and has rendered the cost of the wars far less visible.” As a measure of the invisible impact of war funding in Washington and elsewhere, shecalculatesthat, while the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense discussed war financing in 79% of its hearings during the Vietnam era, since 9/11, there have been similar mentions at only 17% of such hearings. For its part, the Senate Finance Committee has discussed war-funding strategy in a thoroughgoing way only once in almost 17 years.

Hidden Tradeoffs and Deferred Costs

The effect of this century’s unprecedented budgetary measures is that, for the most part, the American people don’t feel the financial weight of the wars their government is waging — or rather, they feel it, but don’t recognize it for what it is. This corresponds remarkably well with the wars themselves, fought by a non-draft military in distant lands and largely ignored in this country (at least since the vast public demonstrations against the coming invasion of Iraq ended in the spring of 2003). The blowback from those wars, the way they are coming home, has also been ignored, financially and otherwise.

However little the public may realize it, Americans are already feeling the costs of their post-9/11 wars.  Those have, after all, massively increased the Pentagon’s base budget and the moneys that go into the expanding national security budget, while reducing the amount of money left over for so much else from infrastructure investment to science. In the decade following September 11, 2001, military spending increased by 50%, while spending on every other government program increased only 13.5%.

How exactly does this trade-off work? The National Priorities Project explains it well. Every year the federal government negotiates levels of discretionary spending (as distinct from mandatory spending, which largely consists of Social Security and Medicare). In 2001, there were fewer discretionary funds allocated to defense than to non-defense programs, but the ensuing war on terror dramatically inflated military spending relative to other parts of the budget.In 2017, military and national security spending accounted for 53% of discretionary spending. The 2018 congressionally approved omnibus spending package allocates $700 billion for the military and $591 billion for non-military purposes, leaving that proportion about the same. (Keep in mind, that those totals don’t even include all the money flowing into that Overseas Contingency Operations fund). President Trump’s proposals for future spending, if accepted by Congress, would ensure that, by 2023, the proportion of military spending would soar to 65%.

In other words, the rise in war-related military expenditures entails losses for other areas of federal funding.Pick your issue: crumbling bridges, racial justice, housing, healthcare, education, climate change — and it’s all being affected by how much this country spends on war.

Nonetheless, thanks to its credit-card version of war financing, the government has effectively deferred most of the financial costs of its unending conflicts to the future. This, in turn, contributes to how detached most Americans tend to feel from the very fact that their country is now eternally at war. Political scientist and policy analyst Sarah Kreps argues that Americans become invested in how a war is being conducted only when they’re asked to pay for it. In her examination of the history of the financing of American wars, she writes, “The visibility and intrusiveness of taxes are exactly what make individuals scrutinize the service for which the resources are being used.” If there were war taxes today, their unpopularity would undoubtedly lead Americans to question the costs and consequences of their country’s wars in ways now missing from today’s public conversation.

Pressing for a real war budget, though, is not only a mechanism to alert Americans to the effects (on them) of the wars their government is fighting.  It is also a potential lever through which citizens could affect the country’s foreign policy and pressure elected officials to bring those wars to an end. Some civic groups and activists from across the political spectrum have indeed been pushing to reduce the Pentagon budget, bloated by war, corruption, and fear-mongering. They are, however, up against both the power of an ascendant military-industrial complex and wars that have been organized, in their funding and in so many other ways, not to be noticed.

Those who care about this country’s economic future would be remiss not to include today’s war financing strategy among the country’s most urgent fiscal challenges. Anyone interested in improving American democracy and the well-being of its people should begin by connecting the budgetary dots.  The more money this country spends on military activities, the more public coffers will be depleted by war-related interest payments and the less public funding there will be for anything else. In short, it’s time for Americans worried about living in a country whose inequality gap could soon surpass that of the Gilded Age to begin paying real attention to our “credit-card wars.”

The post Today’s War-Financing Strategies Will Only Increase Inequality appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

We’ve Found $16.1 Million in Political and Taxpayer Spending at Trump Properties

Thu, 06/28/2018 - 14:09

Since Donald Trump declared his candidacy for president in late 2015, at least $16.1 million has poured into Trump Organization-managed and branded hotels, golf courses and restaurants from his campaign, Republican organizations, and government agencies. Because Trump’s business empire is overseen by a trust of which he is the sole beneficiary, he profits from these hotel stays, banquet hall rentals and meals.

To arrive at the total, we compiled campaign finance reports from the Federal Election Commission; state government spending gleaned from dozens of state websites and portals; and federal agency expenditure records obtained by the Washington-based transparency organization Property of the People. For this project, Property of the People filed Freedom of Information Act requests with 15 federal agencies and sued four of them to obtain records. (The organization is also attempting to procure comparable records for the Obama era.)

The vast majority of the money — at least $13.5 million, or more than 84 percent of what we tracked — was spent by Trump’s presidential campaign (including on Tag Air, the entity that operates Trump’s personal airplane). Republican Senate and House political committees and campaigns have shelled out at least another $2.1 million at Trump properties. At least $400,000 has been spent by federal, state and local agencies. (For example, the Florida Police Chiefs Association held its summer conference last year at the Trump National Doral Miami.) The state and local tally appears to be a gross undercount because of the agencies’ spotty disclosures and reporting.

The use of taxpayer dollars at Trump hotels is under scrutiny in a closely watched lawsuit in Maryland federal court. The District of Columbia and the state of Maryland sued Trump, citing a venerable anti-corruption provision of the U.S. Constitution known as the Emoluments Clause. It prohibits any financial gift, or emolument, from benefiting a sitting public official, including the president.

Track the Money We’ve Tallied So Far

The judge in that case, Peter Messitte, is expected to make a final ruling by the end of July. Last month, he allowed the case to proceed, concluding in his opinion that a trip to the Trump International Hotel in Washington by Maine Gov. Paul LePage “rather clearly suggests that Maryland and the District of Columbia may very well feel themselves obliged, i.e., coerced, to patronize the Hotel in order to help them obtain federal favors.” The nonprofit group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, which is co-counsel in the Maryland/DC case, is also the plaintiff in a separate emoluments suit, which was dismissed; an appeal of that decision is pending.

One of Trump’s lawyers, Sheri Dillon, has argued in the past that paying a hotel bill would never have qualified as an emolument when the Constitution was written; “instead, it would have been thought of as a value-for-value exchange.” (Countered Norman Eisen, chairman of CREW and a former ethics chief under President Obama, “all of these competing interests are openly and nakedly trying to buy off a president…. Obviously, the government spending, whether it’s federal, state, or local, is a domestic emolument.”)

The Trump Organization and the White House did not respond to requests for comment.

There are few ways to avoid the implication that the use of Trump properties is endorsed by the federal government, said Don Fox, the former acting director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, which oversees the government’s ethics rules. One way to avoid the problem, Fox suggested, would be a public statement by Trump along the following lines: “Stay where you need to stay. Basically, do what’s best for the taxpayer.”

But Trump has sent a very different signal with his actions. In his 18 months in office, he has stayed at his hotels or Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach, Fla., estate and club, nearly a third of the time: 161 days and counting.

“Trump appears to be commandeering federal resources in order to maximize revenues at Trump properties, and he does this by visiting properties close to the White House,” said Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis and an expert in legal ethics. “And when he travels to the golf courses in Florida, Virginia and New Jersey, other agencies that are involved in supporting the president end up spending money.”

There are no rules barring federal employees from patronizing Trump properties. Employees can be reimbursed for expenditures according to federal travel regulations, including the cost of a hotel room or the price of a meal. There are limits to these per diems — employees cover any cost beyond the reimbursable amount — but rates at many Trump properties are within that range, reimbursement records show. (The General Services Administration provides a handy calculator to figure out what the per diems are depending on where an employee is traveling and when.)

But even if a stay at a Trump property falls within federal travel regulations, it’s hard to escape the fact that the president is personally benefiting from taxpayer dollars — and that federal employees have a potential incentive to curry favor with their ultimate boss.

Consider a trip last year by Matthew Snyder, who works for the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, in Colorado. Snyder traveled to Washington, DC, for 11 days in April 2017 to attend managerial training. He stayed first at a Marriott in Gaithersburg, Md. (where NIST is headquartered), and then at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. Both rooms cost $242 per night, and both were covered by his per diem for lodging. (According to federal guidelines, $242 is the maximum nightly amount the government will reimburse for visits to the DC area in the spring season.)

The Trump International Hotel appeared to cultivate at least some federal business, offering a discounted rate for government employees at the time. (A hotel staffer told us that the Trump International no longer offers a government discount.) Snyder benefitted from such a lowered price. His receipt shows a “room type” code of SK1, which refers to a suite, and a rate plan listed as “DISGOV.” The typical suite at the hotel starts at $740, according to its website.

Matthew Snyder’s Trump International Hotel Washington Receipt

Receipts from Matthew Snyder’s stay at the Trump International Hotel Washington, DC show room and rate type.

Snyder said in an interview that he chose to stay at the Trump hotel because it was within walking distance of a conference he attended, and that its proximity allowed him to save the cost of renting a car.

But several hotels in a six-block radius provide cheaper rates, including the Hotel Harrington, which sits only a block north of the Trump hotel and charges $175 for a single room. And receipts show that Snyder rented a car and racked up $336 in valet parking charges during his stay at the Trump International.

When asked about cheaper nearby hotels and the parking costs, Snyder wrote in an email: “I could offer clarity, but I choose not to.” In the end, Snyder charged about $2,740 to a government charge card at the Trump International over five days, including room service and valet parking.

In response to questions, the Commerce Department said that records it reviewed “appear to show that a handful of career employees at the Department of Commerce who patronized Trump-owned properties complied with federal travel regulations.” Other Commerce Department employees asked about their spending at Trump properties explained that it was the most affordable option (in one instance involving a hotel in Las Vegas) or that the visit was made while off-duty (in the case of a trip to Los Angeles).

Other federal agencies offered a variety of responses. A statement from the Defense Department, whose employees spent nearly $150,000 at Trump properties between January and June 2017, said its staff are “free to choose where they stay, with the understanding that the government will reimburse no more than the lodging portion of the established per diem limit for the place of temporary duty. There are no plans to change or create guidance at this time.”

The Secret Service also patronized Trump properties while agents were protecting the president or his family. In March 2017, for example, the agency paid $27,724.32 at the Trump golf course and resort in Doonbeg, Ireland. The stay was to “support E. Trump Visit,” receipts note, which took place in April, when Eric Trump went to the resort for two days of business meetings, the Irish press reported at the time.

The State Department, which is listed as the federal agency reimbursing the costs of the Ireland trip, said the Secret Service is in charge of its own travel expenses when it relates to presidential security. For other stays at Trump properties, the State Department said it does “not afford the Trump Organization preferential treatment,” adding that its employees are “routinely counseled on federal ethics law and on the importance of avoiding even the appearance that department resources are misused for the benefit of any outside organizations or private interests.”

The State Department doesn’t receive any preferential treatment when employees stay at Mar-a-Lago, receipts show. For an April 2017 trip by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, his chief of staff and another aide for meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping, each room cost $546 per night, which was described by the Trump Organization as a “rack rate,” or a non-discounted, standard room. The spending was approved by State Department officials, who noted that the trip was to “meet with POTUS for a high level meeting.”

Nisa Khan contributed to this report.

The post We’ve Found $16.1 Million in Political and Taxpayer Spending at Trump Properties appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Powerful New Yorkers Are Criminalizing Ecuadorians Seeking Relief From Chevron

Thu, 06/28/2018 - 13:10

Two powerful New Yorkers have been indispensable in protecting Chevron from having to pay $9.5 billion to clean up its massive oil contamination in the Amazon rainforest after an Ecuadorian court decision. The contamination was an intentional injustice that killed and injured thousands of Ecuadorians — many Indigenous people and many children.

The Ecuadorian lawsuit, first filed 25 years ago, continues to languish because Chevron refuses to pay damages while 200,000 pages of lawful evidence of contamination by Chevron and Texaco have been ignored in a New York court.

Chevron’s intent in this case always has been to turn the focus from its own wrong-doing to the criminalization and de-legitimization of the Ecuadorians and their legal system.

The brain behind this travesty of justice is Chevron, but the muscle is Judge Lewis A. Kaplan and Chevron’s attorney Randy Mastro. Together, the two New Yorkers have demonized, criticized and belittled the 30,000-plus Ecuadorians who have tried for decades to clean up their polluted rainforest.

Judge Kaplan was appointed by former President Bill Clinton and now serves as the senior judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. As for Mastro, Chevron hired him and his firm, Gibson Dunn, to rescue the oil giant from the Ecuadorian lawsuit. Mastro once worked at New York’s City Hall as a deputy mayor for his longtime pal Rudy Giuliani, who is now Trump’s personal lawyer.

Around the time an Ecuadorian court ruled against Chevron in 2011, the California-based company retaliated in Judge Kaplan’s courtroom by accusing the 47 Ecuadorian plaintiffs of fraud and bribery. Judge Kaplan heard the case and ruled in Chevron’s favor in 2014, even though no credible evidence of fraud and bribery has surfaced.

The result of their joint judicial attack on the Ecuadorians is likely to ensure big oil companies can more easily thrive at the expense of Indigenous peoples across the globe. The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre has tracked more than 450 cases of attacks against human rights defenders working on corporate accountability. Moreover, the Centre found that “the most common [attack] is judicial harassment [40 percent of cases].”

An example of such judicial harassment was found in Judge Kaplan’s courtroom during the Ecuadorian fraud and bribery trial. Judge Kaplan belittled the Ecuadorian plaintiffs, instructed Mastro to apply the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) to the case, and ultimately blessed Chevron’s argument that the Ecuadorians and their supporters are “criminals,” “liars” and “frauds.”

These Ecuadorians, however, have been working for decades to tell their story of how Texaco polluted the rainforest and how, after buying Texaco in 2000, Chevron lied about many aspects of the case, including the so-called “cleanup.” Still, protecting Chevron and Texaco have proven to be more important to Judge Kaplan and Mastro, as well as a group of legal and public relations consultants who have received and are receiving a nice chunk of change from the oil giant every month.

Taking Chevron to Trial

Ecuadorians filed the original lawsuit against the New York-based Texaco in 1993. Expensive legal footwork, paid for by Texaco and Chevron, convinced Judge Jed Rakoff with the Southern District Court of New York to move the case to Ecuador in 2003. Chevron owned Texaco completely by then and wanted the case tried in Ecuador because the company believed Texaco’s former oil industry, corporate and government connections in Ecuador would convince its courts to rule for Chevron and against the Ecuadorians.

Still, from the onset of the legal case and until 2011, the media did not shy away from telling their audiences about Texaco’s environmental assault: 1,000 unlined, toxic oil pits and 18 billion gallons of dumped wastewater into Ecuadorian rainforest streams and soil, as well as illnesses and deaths from the contamination. “60 Minutes,” The New York Times and The Washington Post joined dozens of other media outlets that laid out the evidence against Texaco and Chevron.

But immediately after the Ecuadorian court ruled against Chevron in 2011, things changed. Chevron’s higher-ups searched for a way to terrorize the Ecuadorian plaintiffs as well as their attorneys and supporters in a US court. Mastro filed a retaliatory lawsuit quickly, and Judge Kaplan allowed Mastro to say whatever he wanted about the plaintiffs’ alleged fraud, bribery and lies, and refused to allow the Ecuadorian lawyers to show damning evidence of contamination.

The alleged fraud and bribery attack came after and during three separate levels of the Ecuador court system upholding the original ruling. One appellate court even reviewed all the evidence for a second time, known as de novo review, and upheld the guilty verdict of the original Ecuador ruling.

Moreover, Judge Kaplan issued a global injunction to deny the Ecuadorians’ request to seize Chevron’s assets outside Ecuador in order to obtain the $9.5 billion damage award. The injunction was based on the fraud and bribery charges against the Ecuadorian plaintiffs. The Second District Court of Appeals reversed Judge Kaplan’s global injunction almost immediately — literally three days after appeal arguments. (Chevron removed all its assets from Ecuador so, of course, Ecuadorians are now trying to obtain the damage award by seizing it in Canada.)

The only substantive evidence ever identified by Mastro to provide a basis for the charges, and thus the global injunction, was the words of a single witness, Alberto Guerra, a former Ecuador judge barred from Ecuador’s court system long before the Chevron case. Guerra admitted in a separate legal action that he lied in Judge Kaplan’s court about the fraud and bribery charges. Chevron paid him at least $2 million and maybe more for his tainted testimony.

While no credible evidence of fraud has surfaced, it’s still worth noting that even if such claims were true, Chevron’s $9.5 billion in damages would, if paid today, go directly toward removing toxic oil and chemicals from streams and soil, and the building of a hospital. None would go directly to an Ecuadorian.

While Chevron has refused to pay for the cleanup, the company has doled out at least $2 billion to Gibson Dunn to file the retaliatory lawsuit. Sixty other law firms were hired to assist, and all of them got (and are getting) their money.

It’s also worth pointing out an additional telling fact: In 2010, Judge Kaplan presided over the notorious cases of 14 Gambino members charged with racketeering crimes in New York City. On the heels of this case, Judge Kaplan took control of Chevron’s retaliatory lawsuit against the Ecuadorians, and for all practical purposes, compared Ecuador to the Gambino Mafia and instructed the corporate “rescue squad” at Gibson Dunn to file civil racketeering charges of fraud and bribery against the plaintiffs.

Judge Kaplan, who never allowed the Ecuadorians to present contamination evidence in his court, said the Ecuadorians’ lawsuit against Chevron was nothing but a “game … dreamed up” by one of the Ecuadorians’ US attorneys, Steven Donziger. For over a decade, Chevron, with help from the New York City office of Hill & Knowlton, demonized Donziger because he was pivotal in helping the Ecuadorians win their case. Chevron, with Judge Kaplan’s help, is now going after every penny Donziger has, and seeking to disbar him.

In a hearing scheduled for June 28, Chevron has asked Judge Kaplan to hold Donziger in contempt of the fraudulent racketeering decision because he is helping his clients raise funds to pay case expenses to enforce their judgment against Chevron in other countries like Canada. The entire hearing is an exercise in harassment and judicially-sanctioned abuse of a human rights campaign.

Justice for “Little Countries”

There is no doubt Chevron is responsible for the contamination because Texaco never did its part in cleaning up the mess. After eight trips to the Ecuadorian rainforest, I have seen plenty of contamination covered up with dirt brought in by Texaco to hide the toxins. The toxins were never removed and, in fact, the new dirt encouraged Ecuadorian families to move right on top of the contamination, since they thought Texaco had cleaned its old oil pits.

Meanwhile, Judge Kaplan has once again issued his global injunction instructing the world’s courts on how to operate their court systems, and often has affirmed the biggest eye-opening statement given by a Chevron lobbyist, Wayne Berman, to Newsweek about the case in 2008.

We can’t let little countries screw around with big companies like this –companies that have made big investments around the world,” Berman said.

These big companies make big investments in themselves and none in the people who have suffered from their profits.

Disclosure: The author is attending the June 28 hearing to provide information to supporters and reporters about Steven Donziger’s ability to raise funds needed to force Chevron to pay the damage award. Since 2013, the author has worked pro bono for the Ecuadorians’ case.

The post Powerful New Yorkers Are Criminalizing Ecuadorians Seeking Relief From Chevron appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Supreme Court’s “Janus” Decision Is an All-Out Attack on Working Americans

Wed, 06/27/2018 - 17:50

Wednesday’s 5-4 Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME, which prohibits public-sector unions from collecting “fair-share fees” covering the cost of representing non-union members, is one of its most partisan decisions of the past half-century. In terms of siding with the economic interests of the über-rich over those of ordinary Americans, Janus is comparable to the Court’s political gift to the nation’s 0.01 percent in 2010’s Citizens United v. FEC.

The Campaign to Undermine Labor Rights

Janus effectively establishes “right to work” (i.e., a prohibition of security agreements that unions negotiate with employers) throughout the public sector. Rather than a stand-alone event, however, the Janus decision should be viewed as the culmination of the right-wing assault on public-sector workers and unions that began with Scott Walker’s election as governor of Wisconsin in 2010. Walker received millions of dollars in donations from out-of-state right-wing billionaires in order to secure his election victories and ensure the success of his anti-union agenda. Over the past several years, Republican lawmakers in Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, Florida, Kentucky, West Virginia, Missouri and elsewhere have continued this assault on public-sector workers and unions.

Negative Consequences From Janus

The Janus decision will likely have several negative consequences. First, millions of public-sector workers will be worse off — likely experiencing a decline in salary of several thousand dollars — as the bargaining power of their unions is diminished. This decline in wages will disproportionately affect women and workers of color, who already are lagging behind in our unequal economy. Whatever amount non-members gain from not having to pay “fair-share fees,” they will almost certainly lose far more in lower base pay and worse benefits.

Second, the pension schemes of millions of public workers will likely suffer a major hit. Several states already have underfunded public-sector pensions, and Janus will almost certainly exacerbate their woes. Due to funding problems, some state and local governments might abandon pension plans and shift employees onto inferior 401(K) plans.

Furthermore, the quality of public services, including K-12 education, will almost certainly decline due to a weakening of teachers and other public-education unions. Public-sector workers and their unions are the most effective advocates for students and public education in local and state legislatures throughout the country.

Unions and collective bargaining are some of the most effective anti-poverty tools US workers have had during the past 50 years.

Finally, public-sector labor relations will likely deteriorate. The Supreme Court’s existing ruling on public employees (the 1977 Abood decision, which survived several previous right-wing attempts to overturn it) had largely ensured labor peace. As the recent teacher protests in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona demonstrate, weakened unions and a lack of bargaining power do not ensure labor peace. In fact, they make more likely unpredictable and unstable labor relations, and this greater instability may turn out to be an unintended consequence of Janus.

Right-Wing Campaign to Weaken Unions After Janus

Anti-union organizations such as the Freedom Foundation are preparing to mount an aggressive campaign to persuade individual union members to resign their membership in states, such as Washington, Oregon and California. Although unions in these states will likely retain the overwhelming majority of their current members, they will need to expend far greater resources doing so — which is what anti-union groups want — and they will still be legally required to represent non-members who contribute nothing to the costs incurred on their behalf. Similar anti-union groups are gearing up to do battle in other states.

The Right-Wing Agenda Behind Janus

For the past half-century, right-wing organizations have attempted to confuse people by framing their attacks on US unions as an effort to protect the individual rights of ordinary employees. Nothing could be further from the truth — they are motivated only by the desire to destroy the collective voice of working people. The Janus decision has nothing to do with protecting the free speech rights of individual employees. Existing law already had safeguards protecting the rights of non-members, and non-members can and do opt-out of contributing to the cost of political activities of public-sector unions (which are largely lobbying efforts to secure greater funding for popular public services).

The sole intention of the shadowy right-wing groups behind the Janus case is to further weaken unions. Unions represent less than 11 percent of the workforce, despite the fact that almost every reputable survey indicates that millions of workers would like union representation but cannot get it. This is an inconvenient truth that right-wing organizations cannot counter — and well over half of the population has a favorable view of labor unions. Widespread public support for organized labor should come as no surprise. Unions and collective bargaining are some of the most effective anti-poverty tools US workers have had during the past 50 years.

The real beneficiaries of the Janus decision are far-right, anti-union groups and their billionaire paymasters. We desperately need stronger public- and private-sector unions in the US, not weaker ones. We also need a Supreme Court that will stand up for the interests of ordinary Americans, not for the economic and political interests of the 0.01 percent.

The post Supreme Court’s “Janus” Decision Is an All-Out Attack on Working Americans appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

With the Supreme Court’s Capitulation to Hate, Trump’s Government Stranglehold Tightens

Wed, 06/27/2018 - 16:39

Note the date for the shame of posterity: On June 26, 2018, by upholding Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim travel ban, the Supreme Court demonstrated that the entire federal government has come under Donald Trump’s control, right down to its hateful, racist bones.

Trump has controlled the executive branch since a small inaugural mob lapped up his gibberish about “American carnage” in January of 2016, and after a few false starts, the Republican-dominated Congress passed the tax cut and became Trump’s willing accomplice.

That left the judiciary and its most recent arrival, Neil Gorsuch, and his steamer trunk full of Borkian originalist slop, to seal the deal. Gorsuch and the conservative majority of the Supreme Court did just that in publicly bending the knee to Trump by upholding his discriminatory “Muslim ban” by a vote of 5-4. As a result of this ruling, people from seven countries (five of which have Muslim majorities) will be barred from coming to the United States. Many of these people are trying to flee war and dislocation, much of which was caused by the United States to begin with.

In a bit of bitter irony, this decision was handed down on the third anniversary of a Supreme Court ruling far superior in its fundamental morality. On June 26, 2015, to the dismay of homophobes everywhere, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in the case of Obergefell vs. Hodges. On that day, there was dancing in the streets from sea to shining sea. Today, there is only a deepening gloom as the long shadow of Trump’s expanding authoritarian reach grows deeper and darker by the day.

Historians may someday come to marvel at the ease with which Donald Trump was able to bring the entire Republican Party under his thrall in the short course of those three years. At the early outset of the 2016 presidential campaign, the entire party and its 16 other candidates were united in their disdain for this farce of a caricature. At first they laughed at him, but as those other candidates fell one by one, they came to fear him, and were desperate to stop him.

In February of 2016, The New York Times reported, “At least two campaigns have drafted plans to overtake Mr. Trump in a brokered convention, and the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has laid out a plan that would have lawmakers break with Mr. Trump explicitly in a general election.”


The re-election campaign of Mitch McConnell, in full swing as the 2018 midterms approach, circulated a photo of McConnell shaking hands with Neil Gorsuch just after the travel ban decision was handed down. This was an unambiguous signal sent to Trump and his supporters, as it was McConnell who quashed Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, leaving the seat open for Trump to eventually nominate Gorsuch and secure a conservative majority on the court.

McConnell is now actively campaigning for re-election today on Trump’s back, and Trump just loves a good trolling. That, as they say, is that.

Justice Sotomayor, in her dissent, explained the immoral nature of the majority’s decision with blunt precision:

The United States of America is a Nation built upon the promise of religious liberty…. The Court’s decision today fails to safeguard that fundamental principle. It leaves undisturbed a policy first advertised openly and unequivocally as a ‘total and complete shutdown of Mus­lims entering the United States’ because the policy now masquerades behind a façade of national-security con­cerns. Based on the evidence in the record, a reasonable observer would conclude that the Proclamation was motivated by anti-Muslim animus.

The Supreme Court demonstrated that the entire federal government has come under Donald Trump’s control, right down to its hateful, racist bones.

Attached to Sotomayor’s dissent is a torrent of citations detailing the many, many times — during his presidential campaign and well after — when Trump made it abundantly clear that the people at the focus of this “travel ban” are being singled out for one reason alone: They are Muslim. Trump’s brazen animus toward Islam and its adherents was in plain view long before he announced his candidacy.

Throughout Barack Obama’s presidency, Trump made it his business to undermine the country’s first Black president by alleging he was a Muslim foreigner, possibly even a terrorist himself. Trump got into politics for real in 2011 after Obama ridiculed him for his Islamophobic conspiracy theories at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. This vein of hate runs deep, and now it is the law of the land.

Trump’s worldview is best exemplified by the company he keeps. Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III has a history of racial, cultural and religious hatred as long as his name. John Bolton was chair of the Gatestone Institute before Trump elevated him to the post of national security adviser; Gatestone argues that Islam is about to take over all of the United States and Great Britain, with no coherent evidence to offer (because there is none). Mike Pompeo, Trump’s secretary of State by way of the CIA, was happy to blame all US Muslims for the Boston Marathon bombing.

And then there is Stephen Miller, author of the vicious debacle that was Trump’s child separation policy at the border. Miller’s hate and racism is so vivid that it freaks out other White House staffers, who one would think would be inured to such things by now. “Stephen actually enjoys seeing those pictures at the border,” an anonymous White House adviser said. “He’s Waffen-SS.”

When they call you a Nazi in the White House, you’re really doing it wrong. Or right, depending on whom you’re trying to please.

The court’s decision on Trump’s “travel ban” was not alone in its shame this week. On Monday, the Republican Party’s long-running pre-Trumpian siege against the Voting Rights Act claimed another conquest when the court ruled in favor of the GOP in Abbott v. Perez.

After a protracted legal battle that began when Republicans in Texas redrew four voting district maps with the clear intention of diminishing the electoral voices of Latino voters, the Supreme Court on Monday sided with the GOP in all but one of those racially gerrymandered districts.

According to Slate, “Gorsuch has joined Justice Clarence Thomas’ crusade to hobble the law even further by holding that it does not prohibit racial gerrymandering. Were the court to adopt Gorsuch’s interpretation, the VRA could never again be used to stop racist mapmakers from diluting minority votes.”

Writing in concurrence with the majority’s decision, Gorsuch and Thomas stated, “I adhere to my view that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 does not apply to redistricting. Thus, Section 2 cannot provide a basis for invalidating any district, and it cannot provide a justification for the racial gerrymander in House District 90.” Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, according to the Department of Justice, “prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership in one of the language minority groups identified in Section 4(f)(2) of the Act.”

This vein of hate runs deep, and now it is the law of the land.

In an attempt to explain away the demonstrable racism deployed in the original drawing of the district maps, the Supreme Court’s conservative justices repeat the word “impermissible” again and again in the majority opinion on Abbott. There was not an unacceptable amount of racism involved, they seemed to argue, and whatever racism was involved is now permissible after Justice Roberts did his brutal work on the Voting Rights Act in 2015.

It is Donald Trump’s court now. No decision is too vacuous or vicious if it conforms to the squalid requirements of the executive branch, which has in its lap a purring, recumbent legislative branch. A year ago, I warned amid the chaos of a dysfunctional congress that, sooner or later, these people were going to find the car keys. They found them, and we are now on a road to some very dangerous places.

An optimist might claim this to be Trump’s high-water mark, the place where his flood tide did its final damage before sliding back in defeat. I am not an optimist, not any more, and I fear those same historians who were awed at Trump’s takeover will see June 26, 2018, as the moment when the worst was only just beginning.

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Categories: News