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We Cannot Survive a Nuclear Apocalypse by Ducking and Covering

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 05:00

Seemingly well-intentioned newspaper columns have been inadvertently normalizing the use of nuclear weapons, depicting nuclear attacks as events we will have the agency and capacity to respond to meaningfully. But nuclear weapons are a threat to all living beings -- let's not be distracted by discussions of all the clever ways we can dance our way out of the apocalypse.

 Paul Campbell / iStock / Getty Images Plus)(Image: Paul Campbell / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Current fears of the potential use of nuclear weapons -- partly resulting from the North Korean weapon program and accompanying threats by President Trump, and mishaps like the errant ballistic missile alert notification in Hawaii recently -- have led to a new flush of articles on what to do if there is a nuclear weapon detonation nearby. Articles, such as "What to do in case of a nuclear attack," in the Washington Post, and "How to survive a missile attack: What's the official advice?" on the BBC website, offer thoughtful and pragmatic guidance to those who are anxious about protecting themselves and their families under atomic attack.

These articles offer sage tips, such as "get inside, stay inside, stay tuned," or as it is referred to: shelter in place. An article in the Dallas Morning News advises, "If you're outside and can't get inside within a few minutes, lie on the ground and cover your head. Take cover behind anything that could offer some protection." The BBC article offers guidance mined from the website of the US Department of Homeland Security -- "An underground area such as a home or office building basement offers more protection than the first floor of a building. The heavier and denser the materials -- thick walls, concrete, bricks, books and earth -- between you and the fallout particles, the better."

News articles such as these fill a need in an anxious public longing to feel as though there are actions that they can take to mitigate the effects of a nuclear attack, and procedures that will minimize the effects of radiation. As a historian working on nuclear issues and living and teaching in Hiroshima, such discourse is not only familiar, but also plays a dangerous role in the national conversation. Articles such as these seemingly well-intentioned advice columns for the apocalypse normalize the use of nuclear weapons: They depict nuclear attacks as events in which we will have agency and the capacity to respond to in meaningful ways.

I am reminded of the responses of my students here in Hiroshima whenever I show them the 1951 Civil Defense film classic, Duck and Cover. While many Westerners remember this film for its campy opening animation sequence, what astonishes my students is the later sections that communicated to children what to do if there was a nuclear attack. In this section, you see children responding to the bright, white flash of a nuclear detonation by taking steps to protect themselves. They duck under their bus seats, they run behind buildings, they get off their bicycles and lie down against a curb. At a family picnic, a father is seen putting a newspaper over his head as he dives to the ground. My students are stunned, many offering involuntary laughter at the scenes. The reason they are so shocked is that they have grown up with a far more intimate understanding of what happens when a nuclear weapon detonates. Many have personal, familial histories of the loss of ancestors; many have hibakusha, or survivors, in their families. The stories of what followed the bright, white flash on that August Monday morning come from experience and not from hope. All have been raised with an education that stresses what actually happened in Hiroshima. The notion that anyone would have had the time to "react" to the flash, and to engage in a course of actions that might mitigate the arrival of the bomb's effects, is ludicrous to them. They understand that the blast and heat that accompanied the detonation arrived less than a second after the flash, as did the burst of gamma radiation that killed tens of thousands within a week or two. No amount of training or preparation would have helped.

Beyond the immediate reaction to a detonation, even having some time -- as those terrified people in Hawaii had before the imagined impact of the incoming ballistic missiles -- the notion that preparations, actions and reactions, would accomplish much is mostly illusory. Yes, being indoors would be better than being outdoors, given you are a sufficient distance from the detonation. But it would be better by degrees and not magnitudes. If you are in the radius of the blast and heat of the weapons, buildings may not offer sufficient shelter, as most will collapse and the contents inside of even brick buildings may instantly catch fire from the heat. It would rarely make the difference between avoiding disaster and being immersed in disaster.

But one of the other insidious things that articles like this do, is to suggest that the period after a nuclear attack would be one of rational choices and measured activities. The article in the Dallas Morning News advises, "If you are outside during a blast, wash yourself off as soon as possible, removing clothes that could have radioactive material on them and keeping them far away from other people or animals to avoid contamination. Take a shower with lots of soap and water, washing your hair with shampoo or soap but not conditioner (which could bind radioactive material to your hair and make it tough to wash out)."

There is a lot to unpack here. After a nuclear attack, the suggestion that one can go somewhere and find clean, running water is ridiculous. Or that one could take their contaminated clothes off and simply find uncontaminated clothes nearby. Or that washing your hair one time will remove the systemic dangers of being in a radiologically contaminated environment, and your hair would not simply reabsorb some of that radiation. Or that shampoo would be uncontaminated, etc. This is a vision of a post-nuclear environment in which the conditions prior to the attack would quickly and easily be restored, and an ordered society would be available to everyone that "survives" the detonation.

What will it be like after a nuclear attack? Just think of the current situation in Puerto Rico to get a sense of the difficulties of restoring order after a natural disaster. Add to that the panic and anxiety of dwelling in a contaminated place, full of the dead and the dying, where responders would be cautious to enter, and you barely begin to understand that the horrors have only begun once the blast is over. Harkening back to that primary text of Duck and Cover, I am reminded of what happens to little Tony after he dives from his bicycle to take shelter against the curb when there is a nuclear detonation -- he remains there even after the explosion. The narrator advises us that "Tony knew what to do. Notice how he keeps from moving, or getting up and running? He stays down until he is sure the danger is over." A man walks into the scene and helps Tony get up, "The man helping Tony is a Civil Defense worker. His job is to help protect us when there is danger of the atomic bomb. We must obey the Civil Defense worker."

The Civil Defense worker helps Tony recover after the nuclear detonation in Duck and Cover (1951).The "Civil Defense worker" helps Tony recover after the nuclear detonation in Duck and Cover (1951).

This fallacy remains at the heart of our "preparations": The notion that order will swiftly follow a nuclear attack. For Tony, a Civil Defense worker was, apparently, about 20 feet away at the time of the attack, and he quickly came specifically to Tony to let him know that he could now proceed with his childhood. All was in order. For us, it means that we can quickly wash our hair with shampoo and be "rid" of the residual radiation. Here in Hiroshima, it may have been some time before a nice wash and shampoo was available to anyone. And today's weapons are vastly more powerful.

The immense fallout cloud following the Castle Bravo test conducted by the United States in the Marshall Islands in 1954 contaminated a vast swath of the Central Pacific with lethal levels of radiation. After mapping the cloud extensively, the United States Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) superimposed the fallout cloud onto a map of the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, and produced this map:

 University of California Press, 1989)Richard J. Hewlett and Jack M. Holl, Atoms for Peace and War, 1953-1961: Eisenhower and the Atomic Energy Commission (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989)

The AEC concluded that had the same weapon been detonated over Washington, DC, and had the winds blown the resulting fallout cloud in the same pattern, not only would everyone in Washington, DC, be dead from the blast and heat of the weapon, but everyone in Baltimore, Philadelphia and half of the population of New York City would soon die of radiation sickness if they did not immediately evacuate. Those who were choosing which (undamaged) building to shelter in, or those downwind weighing the virtues of various shampoos, would be doing nothing of consequence.

Why don't the articles in the news tell us what things would really be like after a nuclear attack? Why didn't they tell us during the Cold War? Normalizing the possession and the potential use of nuclear weapons was the goal of this misinformation. While our current round of articles may not be so nefariously intended, and may simply be the result of lazy journalism, the impact of disseminating this narrative remains potentially deadly.

Comforting people about the rapid restoration of order following a nuclear war suggested that however bad the weapons were, those who survived could start cleaning up and then return to a normal life. Telling people that there was little of consequence that they could do during and after a nuclear attack would only leave them the option of trying to do something before the attack. The only actions that might be effective before the attack would be to advocate against the possession and deployment of these weapons -- to argue for their abolition.

And that is what we must do now to "prepare" for nuclear attack. It takes a society to fund nuclear weapons, and it will take a society to defund and decommission them. Nuclear weaponry in the hands of immature leaders (or even in the hands of reasoned leaders) is a threat to all living beings. Perhaps it takes irresponsible leaders to remind us of this simple truth, but let's not be distracted with discussions of all the clever ways we can dance our way out of the apocalypse.

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Categories: News

Fear of a Black Planet: Under the Republican Push for Welfare Cuts, Racism Boils

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 05:00

 Alex Wong / Getty Images)President Donald Trump speaks during an event to celebrate Congress passing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act with Republican members of the House and Senate on the South Lawn of the White House December 20, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

To US conservatives, the enemy within has always been the idle poor -- specifically, poor people of color. Although a majority of welfare recipients are poor whites, the GOP calls for welfare reform and tax cuts for the wealthy -- from Reagan to Trump -- have always been dog whistles for white supremacy.

 Alex Wong / Getty Images)President Donald Trump speaks during an event to celebrate Congress passing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act with Republican members of the House and Senate on the South Lawn of the White House December 20, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

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"Never tell anyone," my mother hissed, "that we're on welfare!" I sputtered, "Okay." She let go, angrily. People shuffled to the window where a tired man scanned their papers. That was 1982. Passing a poster of President Reagan, she shot him the middle finger. Later I realized, he rose to power by branding women like her "welfare queens."

Republicans talk of prosperity, dignity and self-reliance. Peel back the rhetoric, and racism boils underneath.

In late 2017, Donald Trump smiled as the GOP passed its Tax Cuts and Jobs Bill. The Republicans want to slash Medicaid, food stamps and welfare. The deficit their tax bill created will be used to justify it. Yet, why attack the needy? In American conservativism, the internal enemy of the nation is the idle poor -- specifically, the poor of color.

Republicans talk of prosperity, dignity and self-reliance. Peel back the rhetoric, and racism boils underneath. Tax cuts and calls to end welfare are dog whistles for white supremacy. The real effect of their policies is that people will suffer and thousands will die as they fall through gaping holes in the safety net.

Deadly Math

Every day, I see homeless people ask for money. Every. Day. On the street or lurching in a train, they shake cups for loose coins. Most of us look away. A few give wrinkled bills. Many wince with disgust -- mostly, I think, because we're afraid of becoming them. We already live such precarious lives.

How do we justify poverty in a land of abundance? The US is the wealthiest nation in history. The annual federal budget is nearly $3.5 trillion. All of us pour into it. Our paychecks are slivered. Corporations cough up cash. Even undocumented workers pay taxes. Yet, out of 326 million people, 43.1 million live in poverty.

In the Deep South, Midwest Rust Belt towns and public housing, people cling to food stamps and Medicaid. These needed programs lie on the Republican chopping block. President Trump has pushed drug testing for food stamps and work requirements for Medicaid. Rep. Paul Ryan wants to cut Social Security and Medicare.

I've known this rhetoric my whole life because it was aimed at me.

Again, why attack the most vulnerable? Maybe it's because the poor vote less. When they do, they vote for Democrats. Maybe it's because Republicans -- like all of us -- don't just see with their eyes, but also with their ideology.

The GOP is led by a business elite that does not have a natural base. Since the 1970s, it has allied with Christian Evangelicals, jingoists and racists to ride reactionary movements to power. It fuses our class and racial hierarchies to cut off interracial, working-class solidarity. It is kept going by feeding their voting base with political "red meat" via Fox News and other right-wing outlets, which channel resentment at immigrants, the poor and especially the poor of color.

The GOP employs a Manichean ideology with two poles, opposed but bound together. On one end, there is the job creator who comes off like Hercules in a business suit. He is smart, decisive and a straight, white male. "I will be the greatest job producer that God ever created," Trump promised. He is exhibit one on how privilege warps self-image. In a Mar-a-Lago portrait he commissioned, our president looks like Alexander the Great crossed with Fabio.

On the other end, conservatives see the poor as expecting hand-outs for nothing. Sen. Orrin Hatch recently said, "I have a rough time wanting to spend ... trillions of dollars to help people who won't help themselves ... and expect the federal government to do everything." He was followed by Sen. Charles Grassley, who opposed the estate tax because the rich invest, unlike the poor who "are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it's on booze or women or movies."

The modern GOP think the poor are parasites. They inherited the idea from older conservatives, schooled in Social Darwinism and eugenics. It is deeply familiar. I've known this rhetoric my whole life because it was aimed at me.

When Non-White Means Non-Human

"Blacks are lazy." "Blacks complain." "Blacks always want a handout." I heard it all before and hated it. My mom came home, bone-tired from work. My aunts, uncles and friends were wrung dry from work. I was always told to work "twice as hard." We were running from a stereotype: the "parasite coon."

Racism bends vision into pre-set images. The underlying spectrum is from fully human whites to animalistic non-whites. At the bottom, in the right-wing worldview, Africans are still framed as monkeys; bestial, lustful and stupid.

The white racial imagination changes with the level of control over Black bodies. In the Antebellum era, the Southern planter class promoted the docile Black as proof of slavery's beneficence. "Mammy" happily served her master. "Uncle Tom" happily served his master. "Sambo" did too. They were portrayed as pets, kept by a superior race.

After the smoke of the Civil War cleared, the white racial imagination, fueled by fear of free Black people, created more menacing imagery. The rapist, Black male brute was a threat. The wanton Black jezebel was a threat. The "coon" was a sambo gone bad; he was lazy, cynical and mean.

"Bad" Black images rose with white fear. The Black Codes were written with the pen of white panic. The Ku Klux Klan rode at night to kill freedmen and reclaim the land. As the Radical Republicans sent troops to guard Black voting rights, property and bodies, former Confederates hated federal soldiers for forcing racial equality. "State's rights" transformed into a call to arms for white supremacy.

In 1877, Reconstruction collapsed. Federal troops left the South. White militias killed, raped and beat Black people who tried to vote. Southern Redemption had begun -- a political cycle of Black freedom confronted by white backlash. It used "bad" Black imagery like the Brute or Parasite Coon. It was violent. It spoke the language of state's rights and small government.

D.W. Griffith romanticized this terror in the 1915 film Birth of a Nation. In it, Gus, a Black federal soldier -- a brute -- tries to rape a white woman. In the state house scene, Black men put dirty feet on desks; they eat chicken, drink, fight and act loutish. They were "coons" in power. The white audience cheered the Ku Klux Klan, chasing them out to "redeem" the white man's country.

I saw Birth of a Nation in a college film course, and watching it, a tension tightened my chest. Here was the myth that lay in the heart of the US. Here were the characters that racists saw when they looked at me, my family and friends.

Beware of the Dog Whistle

It is an iconic photo. I always wonder at it. In 1957, soldiers guarded nine Black teens walking to school in Little Rock, Arkansas. White Southerners spat slurs as if the Civil Rights Movement was a Second Reconstruction. Eighty years after Northern occupation, federal troops were back in an attempt to force at least a semblance of Black equality.

Each political invocation of the "bad" Black heralded a cut to social programs.

Today, a memorial stands to the Little Rock Nine at the Arkansas capital. When they integrated the school, each step inside was a literal and symbolic trampling of open racism. Alongside African Americans' legal victories was a cultural one: White supremacy -- if not defeated -- was somewhat delegitimized.

When the white backlash came, politicians could no longer speak in bald racism. Republicans, who were moribund after decades of Democratic dominance, used a Southern Strategy to corral racist Democrats. In exchange for this new voter base, the GOP cleaned up bigotry with euphemism.

Lee Atwater, a Republican strategist for Ronald Reagan and George Bush, spelled out the mechanics. "You start out in 1954 by saying, nigger, nigger, nigger," he breezily instructed. "By 1968 you can't say nigger. So, you say forced busing, states' rights. You're getting so abstract now that you're talking about cutting taxes ... and a byproduct is Blacks get hurt worse than whites." It was a cruel calculation. The Black poverty rate was higher and the need for social programs, greater.

So, when Nixon called for "law and order," the Republican voter heard "Blacks." When Reagan praised state's rights and attacked "welfare queens," the Republican voter heard "Blacks." When Bush hammered Michael Dukakis with the infamous Willie Horton ad, Republican voters saw "Blacks."

Each political invocation of the "bad" Black, whether the parasite-coon, brute or baby-making jezebel, heralded a cut to social programs. Poor Blacks got hurt worse than poor whites. They also got hurt with them. President Johnson's 1964 War on Poverty had saved millions of lives. What was not being saved was the idea of welfare itself. Republicans gave it a Black face, even though most welfare recipients had been (and still are) white.

After campaigning against "welfare queens," Reagan said in his 1981 inaugural, "Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem." He cut payments to the working poor, cut a million people off food stamps and cut job programs. He then gave tax breaks to the wealthy.

Fifteen years later, President Clinton in his 1996 State of the Union said, "The era of big government is over." Seven months into that term, he signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act; it ended welfare as entitlement, limited benefits and forced work requirements. He then repealed parts of the Glass-Steagall Act and let big Wall Street banks play in the markets.

In 2005, George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security. He was stopped cold by Democrats and a disbelieving public.

The Republican Southern Strategy of displacing racism onto the welfare programs of the federal government satisfied the GOP's business elite. It did not help their base, who were trapped on both ends. Over them was a top-heavy GOP whose business leaders and donors were destroying the very social programs the white poor needed. At the other end, they were trapped by their own racial bias against "big government."

Donald Trump was the Redeemer of White Supremacy. He promised to save Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security for the "deserving poor" -- down on their luck white people.

What racist voters could not see in the footage of federal troops protecting Black children going to school in Little Rock, Arkansas, was that the soldiers were not just protecting everyone's right to attend public institutions. They were protecting the very possibility of having them.

Fear of a Black Planet

"It's not a bigger government we need," Obama said at his 2013 State of the Union. "It's a smarter one." I cringed as he spoke. The first Black president felt he had to soothe a public raised on the racial stigma of big government, assuring them that he wasn't going to sell white people into slavery to pay off the federal debt.

Just a year before, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich launched a short-lived candidacy by calling Obama "the most effective food stamp president in American history." He was asked about it and squirmed like an eel.

Months later, Pat Buchanan bellowed on TV, "Barack Obama is a drug dealer of welfare." He contrasted him with candidate Mitt Romney's work ethic. Romney, who was caught on a hot mic saying, "There are 47 percent of the people ... who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe government has a responsibility to care for them."

Again, race works its magic between the lines. Again, the parasite coon is a shadow in the text. After Obama's 2008 victory, fear of a Black planet became a rising rage. A Black democratic pollster, Cornell Belcher noted on Roland Martin's show, "You saw a spike in racial aversion.... Whites see it as we're losing power to them."

It was Birth of a Nation again, only this time, federal troops didn't just attempt to force racial equality, but also obeyed the commands of a Black president. Each news cycle brought fresh proof that the US was slipping out of white hands. A Latina was on the Supreme Court. Confederate statues were torn down. Black people rioted and protested in the streets.

When Donald Trump glided down the escalator, he was a one-man Ku Klux Klan coming to the rescue; he was the Redeemer of White Supremacy. He promised border walls. He promised "law and order." He even promised to save Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security for the "deserving poor" -- down on their luck white people.

They needed it. Blatant white supremacy, left behind by global capitalism, had hit a nadir. Deaths of despair hit a Heartland ruined by opioids and joblessness. Seeing no future, they turned to Trump -- who, having no plan, turned to the GOP -- who tried to "solve" this problem with a tax cut for the wealthy.

At this point, it doesn't matter if this or that Republican is personally racist. They can toast marshmallows on a burning cross for all it matters. The GOP cannot credibly take a race-neutral position when the overarching history of its politics is based on racism. The effects of its policies are race specific. And class specific. And deadly.

We won't see them, and we won't know their names, but people will die. Quietly. Invisibly. Ten thousand of us will die. Economist Lawrence Summers analyzed the Congressional Budget Office report that 13 million people will leave Obamacare when the individual mandate is repealed. He said on CNBC, "When people lose health insurance, they're less likely to get preventive care, defer health care they need and they're more likely to die."

Ten thousand. Ten thousand. I repeat it. Not just a number. It's someone shaking with fever. It's someone fighting for breath. It's getting a phone call that someone you loved died, far away and alone because they couldn't afford treatment.

How many people have they killed? On my laptop, a video plays of the GOP cheering the tax bill. I turn it off, go outside and see a line of people waiting for free food at the Macedonian Church. Old men, workers, a neighbor I know, all wait with carts. A mother stands with them, trying to hold two squirming kids. She's tired. I look at her and see across 30 years to my childhood and the moment I learned to be silent.

Categories: News

Why We Need to Stop Calling Trump "Crazy" When We Really Mean "Dangerous"

Sat, 01/20/2018 - 05:00
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Questions about President Donald Trump hit a fever pitch this month following his tweets about the size and potency of his nuclear button. Of course, such questions are nothing new. Throughout the campaign and Trump's first year in office, news articles, op-eds, and tweets critical of him have routinely deployed words such as "crazy," "insane," and "unstable" as epithets. But what are the implications of the use of mental health language in such critiques for how our society views mental illness?

I sat down with Rebecca Cokley, a senior fellow for disability policy at the Center for American Progress, to discuss this.

Rebecca Vallas: So I've had conversations with a lot of folks who say "Why does it matter? People can use all kinds of language but isn't this just about people being a little too PC?"

Rebecca Cokley: I'm going to read a quote from Leslie Templeton from the Women's March Disability Caucus. She just posted a series of snapshots of news clips talking about the mental status of Trump. She said, "When you read stuff like this, having said issue yourself, it makes you feel small. It makes you feel inferior, it makes you feel weak. Not only do I feel like my rights are being attacked by Trump, I feel who I am is being attacked by the American people."

These are people's lives. The accusation of someone's unfitness to serve in any sort of role -- whether as a parent, a colleague, a boss, an educator -- is impacted by the slightest accusation, especially around mental health. It's not about someone being PC or not, it's really about a lack of understanding of the impact of labeling someone without irrefutable proof.

So there's a connection being made between his negative behaviors and his unpopular policies that people are explaining by this labeling. You're saying that by extension people who themselves have mental health disabilities, mental illness, intellectual disabilities, and so forth are being implicated in these negative behaviors.

Definitely. I also think one of the challenges with all these armchair diagnostics is that the people that are doing it aren't even clear on what a mental health disability is. We sit there and see articles titled like, "Can someone with the attention of a kitten on crack make a decision?", "Trump has social autism," "Trump has a dangerous disability." People still like to think about the other, the unknown, the shadow in the corner of the room, the thing we don't talk about, versus acknowledging that it's your son seeking therapy, it's your best friend who is grieving the loss of their mother, it's your boss who is now taking anti-anxiety meds. It's much easier to castigate those folks than to say, "No, these are real people, and in some cases even me."

There's a particular significance of this conversation having to do with the presidency or really with any elected office. It's basically gospel that people with mental illness or mental health disabilities are unfit to serve. If someone has ever sought treatment -- whether for depression or for substance misuse -- even just that can stop someone from being taken seriously as a potential candidate. So in reinforcing this kind of narrative around what mental illness is and tacking it onto Trump's face, there is a much deeper consequence that a lot of people aren't thinking about that has to do with maintaining the status quo or even taking us backwards in terms of representation by people with disabilities in elected office.

Definitely. When we're talking about people with disabilities writ large we're talking about 54 to 58 million people. If you're zooming in specifically on people with mental health disabilities or mental illness, we're talking about 10 million people in this country. And I think as we're talking about Trump, it really is much easier to point at "mental fitness" than to actively talk about behaviors. That's uncomfortable, because it forces us to be specific: What are the behaviors that we've seen? What are the behaviors that are evident in this person's history that we should be pointing at to say "we screwed up here." We dropped the ball, we elected somebody who was unfit to become president of the United States.

Besides, we have a history in this country of electing people with disabilities. Right now we can look at Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) as people with physical disabilities that are currently serving in government.

Your examples point out that people would not be looking at Trump and saying "man, his disability makes him unfit to serve" if it were a physical disability -- that's something that people at their core would understand would be deeply offensive. But if it's a mental illness, all of a sudden that seems to be equivalent to unfitness to serve.

That brings us to something you often talk about, what you refer to as "a hierarchy of disability." And what this means in the policy context, for example, is that it has been a lot easier to get health coverage if you're a person who has a physical illness or a physical disability than it is to get mental health coverage. But that conversation is rare when it's about social perceptions and stigma. I think what we're seeing here is this massive gap between the trust that a lot of people in this country have for the potential leadership or decision-making by people without disabilities or people with physical disabilities, compared with people who have mental health disabilities or mental illness or intellectual disabilities and so forth. Am I right to characterize it that way?

I think you're definitely right. I'll even use myself as an example, being a little person. I walk in the room and you can tell that I'm a little person. Nobody is going to object to me asking for a stool or jumping on the chair to push the chair down. But for a long time I wasn't as out about having obsessive compulsive disorder and it wasn't something I frequently talked about until I was in my 20s. I was actually challenged by a friend and mentor of mine, Andy Imparato, who is very outspoken about having a mental health disability. When Andy and I were on a four-hour car ride from Washington, D.C. to Newport News for the Virginia Youth Leadership Forum, there were two topics of conversation: One, why haven't I proposed to my then-boyfriend, now husband and two, why don't I talk about having OCD?

We had a conversation about why I was hesitant to talk about it, and why I had put myself out as an advocate, as a spokesperson, as somebody working in the disability space, but I was not coming to the table with my whole self there. And so I tried it that night. I addressed the fact that I walk in the room as a little person and that's a privilege. And I often don't think we talk about disability as privilege. There is a privilege to my existence as a person with a physical disability. There's a privilege to the fact that unlike 80% of disabled people, I grew up in a family just like me.

And then I addressed the fact that I also have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and I used to wash my hands like 200 times a day. The number of young women who came up to me afterward was amazing. It was about 50 young women that pulled me aside that all wanted to talk about mental health disabilities. The fact that I had a job, the fact that I was in a relationship, the fact that I was being paid to go around the country and talk to other young people with disabilities, and the fact that I was working on a presidential campaign at the time were huge.

So I think a lot of times when we have internally stigmatized our own mental health disabilities and then we face a public that criminalizes mental health, without any criminal behaviors associated with it. We do it for no more reason other than to say that you don't like somebody, for no more reason than to say that somebody is evil or you don't agree with their decisions. It invalidates a part of their humanity, and makes it that much harder for folks to come out.

I want to get to the solutions part -- how we do better. You talked about the importance of precision in language. What's your advice to those folks who are out there wanting to be good allies on this?

I think checking in on your friends that have mental health disabilities and saying, "Hey, how is it going? Do you need anything? How are you feeling in this time?" And doing some real deep listening as to what people are encountering, because it's hard right now. I think also connecting to organizations that work with folks with mental health disabilities, whether it be groups like Dan Fisher's Psych Survivors Network or certain chapters of the National Alliance on Mental Illness that are doing some really good things. Engage to see what needs to be said, what is the right language to use, and ask your friends. So much of our language gets caught up on the fear of saying the wrong thing versus taking five seconds and asking your friends what's the right thing to say.

I also think, as long as we continue to hold mental health at arms length as "the other," we can't have the conversation that we really need to be having. That leads to the criminalization of mental health and the knee-jerk reaction of saying, "Oh, that person can't do that job because they're nuts."

I want to read a tweet by Julia Bascom, Executive Director of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. She says, "We can conclude that the president is unfit to serve without armchair diagnosis or violations of medical ethics. We can resist racism, totalitarianism, and a nuclear threat without ableism. We don't need this, we can do better, progressives have a moral obligation to do better." Powerful words. But it feels to me that that piece of call-to-action language doesn't quite go as far as some people are wanting to go, especially given the conversations about invoking the 25th Amendment. So I would love to hear any suggestions you have about how people can handle these kinds of hard and honest conversations when folks are looking for guidance about how they can actually engage in this conversation but in a way that is not ableist.

I think going back to the last line of Julia's tweet, progressives have a moral obligation to do better. We are the party that came up with mental health parity in health care, thanks to former Senator Paul Wellstone. We are the party that is pushing for the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We are the party that is pushing to end sub-minimum wage programs for people with disabilities. We are the party that is pushing to increase access to mental health services on college campuses and programs for young people with mental health disabilities. Why are we then at the same time being so quick to use disability diagnosis as a weapon? Because we don't like the president and we think the president is acting like a jackass. If President Obama wasn't afraid to say Kanye was a jackass, why can't we say that President Trump is being a jackass?

Categories: News

Four Unbelievable Realities for US Public Schools

Sat, 01/20/2018 - 05:00

Every child in the US has the right to a quality education, and the American public school system has been responsible for ensuring that occurs -- regardless of a child's location or income level. But the public school system has been slowly starved of money, teachers and even infrastructure itself -- an escalating problem, as the GOP uses these challenges to justify taking even more money from "failing" schools.

Now, the situation is dire as the gap between public and private schools grows even wider. Here are four things you may not believe are happening at schools these days.

1. There Is Still Tainted Water in Flint School Drinking Fountains

The Flint water crisis continues, with lead and other contaminants making tap water undrinkable. That doesn't just affect the homes of the families in Flint, but it also impacts the water at the schools their children attend. Flint schoolchildren have not been able to use their own drinking fountains in years, and the situation doesn't appear to be changing any time soon.

"[S]tudents are drinking bottled water," NBC News 25 reports. "But since the state has indicated it isn't going to pay for that in the future, 4 companies have stepped forward to pay for it through June. After that there will have to be other arrangements."

2. Baltimore Students Are Freezing in Their Classrooms

A severe winter cold snap proved just how fragile the infrastructure of many Baltimore schools really was, as failed heating systems and frozen pipes left many students huddling inside their coats for warmth in their own classrooms.

As the Baltimore Sun reports:

Nearly half of the city's 171 schools experienced heating issues or burst pipes in the days since schools opened last week after the holiday break. In some schools students bundled up in coats, hats and gloves inside classrooms, scenes that went viral on social media. Unable to keep up with the number of repairs, the school system closed all schools on Thursday because of snow and on Friday because of continued heating problems.

The state had to allocate $2.5 million in emergency funding for repairs, but many express concerns that the funds come too late for the already deteriorating heating and plumbing systems.

3. Jackson Public Schools Are Closed Because They Have No Water

Water issues aren't just for the more northern states, either. In Jackson, Mississippi, schools were closed for days due to city water main problems, which have left many buildings -- including the public schools -- without water for drinking, toilets or showers. According to one news report, "District staff said more than half of the schools and office buildings are experiencing low or no water pressure at all."

That left public school children with no classes, and with no clear idea when school would start again. Meanwhile, according to one local mother whose children attend a private school, those students still have classes because their schools made accommodations.

"JPS is closed for the third day," tweets Lori, a Jackson mother. "My kid is at school because her private school trucked in portable toilets. Because, money."

4. Teacher Handcuffed for Challenging Pay

What it all comes down to is money -- how little there is, and where that money gets allocated when it is available. That's why one teacher in Louisiana became so angry when the school district superintendent received a pay raise, while teacher and staff pay was stagnant.

"'You're making our job even more difficult," [Deyshia Hargrave] told the Vermilion Parish school board, according to video from CNN affiliate KATC," CNN reports. "'A superintendent or any person in a position of leadership getting any type of raise, I feel like it's a slap in the face to all the teachers, cafeteria workers, and any other support staff we have.'"

She was ruled out of order and, when she refused to stop speaking, was accosted by a marshal who handcuffed her and took her to the Abbeville, Louisiana, jail, where she was released without charges.

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Categories: News

Don't Give the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau a Single Dime, Mulvaney Tells Fed

Sat, 01/20/2018 - 05:00

 Alex Wong / Getty Images)White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, President Donald Trump's pick for acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, walks back to the White House from the CFPB building after he showed up for his first day of work on November 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

Watchdogs' worst fears about Mick Mulvaney undermining the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are proving well-founded.

The interim CFPB director and top White House aide has asked for no additional money from the Federal Reserve for the next fiscal quarter, according to a Tuesday letter obtained by the conservative Washington Examiner.

Since the CFPB opened its doors earlier this decade, it has received on average roughly $500 million per year from the Fed, which oversees agency finances. The funds have been used to win about $2 billion per year for about 28 million consumers cheated by banks.

The budget request, or lack thereof, comes after Mulvaney announced a wider, all-encompassing review of the massively-popular agency.

It also comes days after Mulvaney announced he would issue waivers to regulations on payday loans, while opening the rules to reconsideration.

The rules were finalized in October under Obama-appointee Richard Cordray. They would force lenders to apply a "full-payment test" to determine if a borrower can actually afford to take out payday loans (the CFPB is prevented, by law, from setting maximum interest rates).

"The cycle of taking on new debt to pay back old debt can turn a single, unaffordable loan into a long-term debt trap," the agency said, when issuing the final rule.

Even Republicans on Capitol Hill were hesitant to touch the rules, as they invoked the Congressional Review Act to annul another CFPB regulation completed last year. The so-called Forced Arbitration Rule would have guaranteed consumers the right to bring class action lawsuits against financial firms.

On Tuesday, progressive organizations denounced Mulvaney as a friend of loansharks and banking conglomerates. Public Citizen accused him of "inviting financial predators to help him dismantle consumer safeguards."

"There is quite literally no reason to delay implementation of this rule -- unless, like Mulvaney, you are more concerned with the needs of payday lenders than you are with the interests of the consumers these financial bottom-feeders prey upon," said Karl Frisch, executive director of Allied Progress.

While in Congress, then-Rep. Mulvaney (R-S.C.) was one of the top recipients of campaign donations from payday lenders.

In November, after Cordray stepped down ahead of schedule, Mulvaney was appointed CFPB Director by President Trump on an interim basis. Mulvaney is also currently the head of the Office of Management and Budget -- a powerful White House organ that issues veto threats and revises every major regulation across the Executive Branch.

Mulvaney's temporary appointment has been challenged in court by Leandra English, a deputy director named acting CFPB head by Cordray just before the end of his term.

Though a District Court ruled last week in favor of the Trump administration, English is expected to appeal the decision, according to The Los Angeles Times.

 
Categories: News

Racism, Not Profanity, Is the Problem With Trump's Immigration Policies

Sat, 01/20/2018 - 05:00

Trump's recent profane comments about African countries came as no surprise to most Black and other people of color. While the immigration policies of the US have always had an anti-Black bias, to anyone paying attention, it's obvious that this administration's immigration agenda is only a perpetuation of that bias.

People take part in a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's recent statements and words about immigration in front of the Federal Building on January 19, 2018 in New York. U.S. President Trump balked at an immigration deal that would include protections for people from Haiti and some nations in Africa, demanding to know on a meeting why he should accept immigrants from "shithole countries" rather than from places like Norway, according to people with direct knowledge of the conversation (Photo by Eduardo MunozAlvarez/VIEWpress/Corbis via Getty Images)People take part in a protest against President Donald Trump's recent statements and words about immigration in front of the Federal Building on January 19, 2018 in New York. (Photo: Eduardo MunozAlvarez / VIEWpress / Corbis via Getty Images)

Recently, the news cycle was dominated by reactions to President Trump's use of the phrase "shithole countries" when describing El Salvador, Haiti and countries in Africa. But for anyone who has been paying attention to the administration's immigration policies, these comments came as no surprise.  

The Trump administration has made it very clear that it wants to halt or radically alter all US immigration programs. The underlying but often unspoken subtext is the goal of limiting immigration programs that serve people of color, and particularly predominantly Black nations. Calling a group of African nations "shithole countries" makes explicit the fact that racism is a driving force of the policies coming out of the White House.

Many have responded to Trump's comments with examples of how immigrants from these countries play a vital role in the economic and social fabric of the US. But responding with instances in which immigrants of color have had to prove themselves worthy of acceptance is counterproductive. Narratives that further employ the term "shithole" to explain that immigrants from these "shithole" countries are hard workers, smart and contribute to the economy, misses the point. It doesn't matter how hard people work or how "deserving" they are if the underlying value behind these immigration policies is xenophobia and anti-Black racism.

The Trump administration has targeted every avenue that increases racial diversity in the US. The call to end the Diversity Visa Lottery, the terminations of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), all four Muslim bans and current visa sanctions are all mechanisms the administration is using to re-whiten the immigration system.

The Trump administration has terminated TPS for Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Haiti, all countries with majority Black populations. They have also terminated TPS for Nicaragua and El Salvador. The administration has largely dismissed conditions on the ground and the humanitarian need for this program. The recipients of TPS have been vetted by the government, and there is a large body of evidence documenting their contributions to US communities. However, this administration is not concerned with what they contribute to the United States, but would rather such contributions be made by immigrants from predominantly white nations.

Overall, the number of immigrant visas issued to African immigrants is significantly lower than those issued to recipients from other regions, such as Asia and North America. In 2016, African immigrants accounted for about 5 percent of immigrant visas, in comparison to more than 40 percent for Asians and more than 30 percent for North Americans. These disparities further reflect the underlying anti-Black racism of the immigration system.

This administration has also implemented visa sanctions on Eritrea, Guinea and Sierra Leone, preventing people from applying for temporary visitor visas, student visas and exchange programs visas. This further alienates African countries, which are already underrepresented in the general visa numbers. These sanctions have interrupted people's ability to pursue education in the US or visit for leisure purposes, and have made it difficult for families to visit each other.

The fourth and most recent Muslim ban also targets citizens of several African countries, including Mali, South Sudan, Somalia and Sudan, all nations that are under various forms of duress. The Trump administration has also reduced refugee admissions for this fiscal year to 45,000, which is a historic low. Banning or severely restricting the human right to migrate to safety further advances this administration's racist agenda, at an astronomical human and moral cost.

The Diversity Immigrant Visa program has been an important instrument for African people seeking to immigrate to the US. In 2014 over 43 percent of the Diversity Visas went to citizens of African Nations. In the last few months, the program has come under unexpected attack by the administration, with Trump calling to terminate it, foreclosing the opportunity for many aspiring African immigrants.

As we reflect on the arbitrary creation of borders by predominantly white nations like Britain, France, Germany, etc., we need to acknowledge the fact that the laws that govern these borders are created to disadvantage communities of color who seek to migrate. It is no surprise that those who created and benefited from the existence of borders for generations would advocate for racially biased restrictions on who can cross these borders freely.

Further embedding racism in our immigration system -- through bans and quotas, through detention and deportation, and through the termination of vital, life-saving programs like TPS --is a moral and spiritual disaster for the United States. We cannot accept policies designed to separate families and communities and enforce racial and geographic segregation.

President Trump's comment sheds light on what most Black people and other communities of color have known for a long time: This administration's agenda to "revamp" the immigration system stems from an anti-Black, racist and xenophobic viewpoint. We need to come together to make sure that this administration does not continue to push a racist agenda in the disguise of immigration reform.

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Categories: News

Shutdown for the Trumpiversary: A Ghastly Symmetry

Sat, 01/20/2018 - 05:00

2918 0120 Shutdown(Photo: Joe Brusky)

One year to the day since Donald Trump was sworn in as the nation's 45th president, and here we are, smack dab in the middle of a government shutdown caused to a huge degree by the president's own rampant racism. Of course, it could be no other way than this.

2918 0120 Shutdown(Photo: Joe Brusky)

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Perfect.

Right? Just perfect. The one-year anniversary of Donald Trump's inauguration could not have happened any other way. A choreographer could not mark it, a screenwriter could not script it, if either tried they'd be laughed out of their respective professions, yet here we are.

The government is shut down under one-party rule for the first time in history.

As of midnight, the federal government is shut down. It will remain so until the Senate and House agree on a new spending bill. The federal government is shut down because the president of the United States is too racist to cut a deal for the Dreamers, and because the congressional Republicans who coddle him for his precious signature could not govern their way down a short hallway with one door. The federal government is shut down under one-party rule for the first time in history.

Remember when the Republicans moved Heaven and Earth to pass their terrible trillion-dollar tax bill? Now that it's law, the IRS is scrambling to update all its tax software, staff call centers to field questions from befuddled taxpayers, resolve a myriad of legal questions left murky by the new law, and generally get ready for the 2017 tax season, which has already begun. With the government shut down, more than half the IRS is on furlough and that vital work isn't getting done. An awful bill is being made worse by the man celebrating one long, strange year on the job.

No one is happy about the government shutting down. Speaking personally, I am glad the Democrats and a few rogue Republicans have decided to give the Dreamers a fighting chance to put at least some of this whole xenophobic nightmare behind them. The thing is, avoiding a shutdown by striking a Dreamers deal could have been accomplished two Tuesdays ago, when Trump was all smiles about it. That lasted until Stephen Miller and a cohort of immigration hardliners dragged him back to his base and blew the whole thing to hell, of course.

Here is the measure of the moment: As we speak, a salacious story about Donald Trump's alleged six-figure dalliance with an adult film actress is fighting for column inches with Tank McNamara on the back page of who cares. This story has everything, including a cameo appearance by Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback and possible potato Ben Roethlisberger, but no one seems the least bit interested. I hate to indulge in a moment of "Whataboutism," but if a story like this had popped during Bill Clinton's administration, Wolf Blitzer's head would have turned into a pillar of fire. Now? It barely tweaks the needle.

Don't snicker too long at the morass of chaotic ineptitude the administration is mired in.

So we wait, and we watch, and we're officially a year into this grim thing. Don't snicker too long at the morass of chaotic ineptitude the administration is mired in. Some -- if not most  -- of that is theater in the vein of Wrestlemania. In reality, Trump and his congressional allies have been quite busy. In the last year, they have:

  • Expedited approval for the Keystone XL pipeline;
  • Put Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court and put a whole slew of right-wing judges on the federal bench;
  • Rolled back protections for transgender students;
  • Declared a permanent US military presence in Syria;
  • Eliminated the Affordable Care Act's birth control mandate;
  • Rolled back huge swaths of environmental protections;
  • Basically obliterated the Environmental Protective Agency as a functioning body;
  • Rolled back net neutrality and various internet privacy rules;
  • Signed a law allowing states to deny funding to Planned Parenthood;
  • Translated a trillion dollars in taxpayer money to the wealthiest Americans while simultaneously gutting the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate;
  • Pulled out of the Paris climate accord;
  • Succeeded in enacting some of Trump's anti-Muslim travel ban;
  • Embraced and empowered white nationalism;
  • Pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio;
  • Appointed Mick Mulvaney to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and;
  • Reestablished vast warrantless surveillance rules.
In reality, Trump and his congressional allies have been quite busy.

That ain't nothing, and worse is yet to come. They have been busy, and look to be busier still once they get past the current calamity. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has his eyes on Social Security and Medicare in the coming year, for openers.

For the moment, however, let us enjoy the ghastly symmetry of it all: Trump celebrates his inaugural anniversary by watching his government close up shop because his racism once again crashed into the making of public policy. 

Categories: News

I Am American, Jewish, and Banned From Israel for My Activism

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 05:00

This month, the Israeli government announced that activists affiliated with 20 organizations, including my organization Codepink, would be banned from entering Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories because of our support for the nonviolent boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.

As a Jew, this causes me tremendous sadness because I have a lifetime attachment to Israel and Palestine. It also deepens my commitment to working for peace and equality for all the peoples of the region.

I first went to Israel 50 years ago, right after the June 1967 war. I was 16 years old and spent the summer living on the kibbutz Ein Gedi, right on the Dead Sea. I loved the kibbutz, where I learned about farming, communal living and socialism (yes, it was a socialist kibbutz at the time). I also learned, however, about the contempt and racism many Jews exhibited towards Palestinians and other Arabs.

I made friends with Arabs who taught me how the Jewish state had dispossessed Palestinians from their lands during Israel’s establishment, created millions of refugees who were not allowed to return, and denied basic rights to the Palestinians who remained as second-class citizens.

Over the years, I have stood in solidarity with both Palestinians and Israelis trying to build a truly democratic nation. I co-founded the group Global Exchange, which has been taking delegations to the region since 1990. Unlike most trips organized by US groups, these trips take people to meet Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. They work together in the olive harvest, join efforts to stop Palestinian homes from being demolished by Israel’s ever-expanding illegal settlements, and meet with Israelis who defend Palestinian rights.

In 2002, Jodie Evans and I founded the women-led peace group Codepink, to stop the war in Iraq. Along with protesting the US’s ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, and other aspects of militarism, we have incorporated the Palestinian struggle for freedom into our agenda.

After the horrific 2009, 2012 and 2014 Israeli bombings of Gaza, we took hundreds of people to the beleaguered Gaza Strip to witness the devastating human suffering and bring critical humanitarian aid. We joined up with the international Freedom Flotillas that every year since 2010 have been sending ships to try to break the Israeli-imposed blockade of Gaza and its collective punishment of more than 1.8 million Palestinians.

We have pushed the US government to stop giving more than $3bn of our tax dollars to the Israeli government in military aid each year. We have supported courageous Palestinians such as Issa Amro and 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi who face long jail sentences for their human rights activism, and worked with wonderful Israeli groups such as Rabbis for Human Rights and the Israeli/Palestinian Coalition of Women for Peace.

In 2005, when Palestinian civil society called on the global community to support BDS as a tactic to advance their struggle for freedom, justice and equality, we signed on. Over the years, we have engaged in successful advocacy campaigns, such as pushing the cosmetics company AHAVA and SodaStream to move their factories out of illegal West Bank settlements. We are also campaigning to stop AirBnB and Remax from renting and selling settlement properties.

The Palestinian-led BDS movement is fashioned after the boycott movement that helped bring down apartheid in South Africa. Its goal is to apply nonviolent economic pressure on Israel until it ends its occupation of all Palestinian lands conquered in 1967, grants equal rights to Palestinian citizens of Israel, and honors United Nations resolution 194 that upholds the right of return for Palestinian refugees expelled from their homes by Israel.

Beyond the movement’s economic impact, it has transformed the discourse around Palestinian disenfranchisement and built a broader global movement. From major church denominations, academic associations and labor groups, to social justice movements like Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock, to pop culture icons refusing free trips to Israel, as BDS grows worldwide, Israel becomes more and more desperate to contain it. The latest effort is this blacklist of 20 pro-BDS organizations.

This new ban comes on the heels of arrests and prosecutions of nonviolent Palestinian activists who face long jail sentences. It is clear that Israel, egged on by its supporters in the Trump administration, is increasing its repression of human rights activists and critics.

This tactic, however, will only continue to make a pariah of the Israeli government. As former South African government minister Ronnie Kasrils said: “Attempts by the former South African apartheid government to discredit and threaten the BDS movement failed and backfired, only intensifying international protest which assisted in bringing down that unjust regime. Apartheid Israel is following that path.”

In the face of Israel’s increasingly draconian attempts to suppress nonviolent activists at home and abroad, we will strengthen our principled work in support of freedom and justice for all people in Israel/Palestine.This month, the Israeli government announced that activists affiliated with 20 organizations, including my organization Codepink, would be banned from entering Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories because of our support for the nonviolent boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.

As a Jew, this causes me tremendous sadness because I have a lifetime attachment to Israel and Palestine. It also deepens my commitment to working for peace and equality for all the peoples of the region.

I first went to Israel 50 years ago, right after the June 1967 war. I was 16 years old and spent the summer living on the kibbutz Ein Gedi, right on the Dead Sea. I loved the kibbutz, where I learned about farming, communal living and socialism (yes, it was a socialist kibbutz at the time). I also learned, however, about the contempt and racism many Jews exhibited towards Palestinians and other Arabs.

I made friends with Arabs who taught me how the Jewish state had dispossessed Palestinians from their lands during Israel’s establishment, created millions of refugees who were not allowed to return, and denied basic rights to the Palestinians who remained as second-class citizens.

Over the years, I have stood in solidarity with both Palestinians and Israelis trying to build a truly democratic nation. I co-founded the group Global Exchange, which has been taking delegations to the region since 1990. Unlike most trips organized by US groups, these trips take people to meet Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. They work together in the olive harvest, join efforts to stop Palestinian homes from being demolished by Israel’s ever-expanding illegal settlements, and meet with Israelis who defend Palestinian rights.

In 2002, Jodie Evans and I founded the women-led peace group Codepink, to stop the war in Iraq. Along with protesting the US’s ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, and other aspects of militarism, we have incorporated the Palestinian struggle for freedom into our agenda.

After the horrific 2009, 2012 and 2014 Israeli bombings of Gaza, we took hundreds of people to the beleaguered Gaza Strip to witness the devastating human suffering and bring critical humanitarian aid. We joined up with the international Freedom Flotillas that every year since 2010 have been sending ships to try to break the Israeli-imposed blockade of Gaza and its collective punishment of more than 1.8 million Palestinians.

We have pushed the US government to stop giving more than $3bn of our tax dollars to the Israeli government in military aid each year. We have supported courageous Palestinians such as Issa Amro and 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi who face long jail sentences for their human rights activism, and worked with wonderful Israeli groups such as Rabbis for Human Rights and the Israeli/Palestinian Coalition of Women for Peace.

In 2005, when Palestinian civil society called on the global community to support BDS as a tactic to advance their struggle for freedom, justice and equality, we signed on. Over the years, we have engaged in successful advocacy campaigns, such as pushing the cosmetics company AHAVA and SodaStream to move their factories out of illegal West Bank settlements. We are also campaigning to stop AirBnB and Remax from renting and selling settlement properties.

The Palestinian-led BDS movement is fashioned after the boycott movement that helped bring down apartheid in South Africa. Its goal is to apply nonviolent economic pressure on Israel until it ends its occupation of all Palestinian lands conquered in 1967, grants equal rights to Palestinian citizens of Israel, and honors United Nations resolution 194 that upholds the right of return for Palestinian refugees expelled from their homes by Israel.

Beyond the movement’s economic impact, it has transformed the discourse around Palestinian disenfranchisement and built a broader global movement. From major church denominations, academic associations and labor groups, to social justice movements like Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock, to pop culture icons refusing free trips to Israel, as BDS grows worldwide, Israel becomes more and more desperate to contain it. The latest effort is this blacklist of 20 pro-BDS organizations.

This new ban comes on the heels of arrests and prosecutions of nonviolent Palestinian activists who face long jail sentences. It is clear that Israel, egged on by its supporters in the Trump administration, is increasing its repression of human rights activists and critics.

This tactic, however, will only continue to make a pariah of the Israeli government. As former South African government minister Ronnie Kasrils said: “Attempts by the former South African apartheid government to discredit and threaten the BDS movement failed and backfired, only intensifying international protest which assisted in bringing down that unjust regime. Apartheid Israel is following that path.”

In the face of Israel’s increasingly draconian attempts to suppress nonviolent activists at home and abroad, we will strengthen our principled work in support of freedom and justice for all people in Israel/Palestine.

Categories: News

Empire Files: Abby Martin Meets Ahed Tamimi -- Message From a Freedom Fighter

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 05:00

Recently, the struggle for Palestinian human rights gained international attention surrounding a new icon of resistance -- 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi. While in the West Bank in late 2016, Abby Martin interviewed Ahed Tamimi about her hardships and aspirations living under occupation, and it becomes clear why her subjugators are trying to silence her voice. Her brother Waad and father Bassem also talk about their experiences with Israeli soldiers harassing their village and targeting their family.

In this exclusive episode, Abby outlines the Tamimi family's tragic tale and unending bravery in the fight for justice and equality in Palestine, and how the story of their village of Nabi Saleh is emblematic of the Palestinian struggle as a whole.

Categories: News

As Shutdown Looms Over Immigration, Trump's Rejection of Refugees Could Have Global Domino Effect

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 05:00

As Senate Democrats say they'll vote against a government spending bill that fails to protect DACA recipients, setting up a potential government shutdown, we look at the worldwide refugee crisis. The United Nations Refugee Agency reports the number of displaced people worldwide has hit a record high, with more than 65 million people forcibly displaced from their homes. As the humanitarian crisis grows, the United States and many other nations are limiting immigration and closing their borders. During his first year in office, President Trump sought to ban all refugees and citizens of many majority-Muslim nations. When federal judges struck down multiple versions of the so-called Muslim travel bans, Trump then slashed the number of refugees who could be resettled in the United States this year, capping the number at 45,000 -- the lowest level in three decades. We speak with David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, former British MP and author of the new book, Rescue: Refugees and the Political Crisis of Our Time.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

Bernie Sanders: Nobody Will Take Trump's Attempts to Blame Democrats for Shutdown Seriously

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 05:00

 Broadbent Institute / Institut Broadbent)Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to listeners in Toronto, Canada, on October 30, 2017. (Photo: Broadbent Institute / Institut Broadbent)

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As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell adjourned the Senate late Thursday night to prevent a vote on a House spending bill and with President Donald Trump prepared for a mid-day departure for another weekend spent at his Mar-A-Lago estate in Florida, the Republican Party -- try as they might and because they control the White House and Congress -- is having a difficult time trying to pin the blame for a looming government shut down on the Democrats.

While many parsed the blame-game metrics and potential fallout, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) argued it this way:

When Republicans control the Senate, House and White House, and they blame Democrats for the shutdown, I don't think anybody is going to take that seriously.

— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) January 19, 2018

During a floor speech on Thursday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) made a similar argument as she blasted the GOP for making a "mockery" of the country's legislative process. "We're back again for the third short-term spending bill of this fiscal year," Jayapal lamented. "This is no way to govern."

The Republican majority is making a mockery of our legislative process. We're back again for the third short-term spending bill of this fiscal year.

This is no way to govern. Americans deserve #ABetterDeal. pic.twitter.com/gEhu3wXWjB

— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) January 18, 2018

Reporting by Politico painted the US Senate as a chamber in "disarray" where prospects looked "grim" for avoiding a shutdown:

After the GOP House passed a partisan month-long spending bill Thursday, senators in both parties appeared increasingly dug in. A spat on the Senate floor between [McConnell] and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer culminated in the chamber adjourning with no clear path to avoid a shutdown in barely 24 hours.

No vote is scheduled, and the two party leaders spent the night sniping over who's to blame for the impasse. Democrats are demanding protections for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants facing deportation, and Republicans are insisting that government funding not be tied to immigration.

Because Democratic Senators, along with Independents like Sanders and even some Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have said they'll vote against the House bill (a Continuing Resolution known as a CR) it's unclear exactly what will happen when, as remains likely, it gets voted down on Friday.

What remains certain is this, if Congress does not pass a funding bill by midnight Friday, the federal government will shut down.

The possible irony of that timeline, as things currently stand, is that Trump plans to leave Washington, D.C. at 4pm Friday afternoon and head to Mar-A-Lago where he intends to enjoy the weekend and attend a lavish fundraising party meant to celebrate the one-year anniversary of his inauguration.

SHUTDOWN? WHAT SHUTDOWN? On Saturday, the one-year anniversary of his presidency — with the government likely in a partial shutdown — Trump is set to attend a RNC fundraiser marking his first year in office... at Mar-Lago. https://t.co/2PmnuZwFUW

— Ed O'Keefe (@edatpost) January 19, 2018

"This may seem like an extremely inopportune moment," writes Marget Hartmann for the New York magazine, "for the president to be mingling with wealthy donors 1,000 miles away from the White House, especially since he'd need to sign any last-minute deals that Congress comes up with. But according to CNN, the Trump administration has already come up with a potential solution: if an agreement is reached, the president will just send a tweet announcing that everything's cool now."

According to Friday morning's editorial in the New York Times, "One could almost -- but not really -- feel sorry for Republicans. This is a mess President Trump created, and Republicans are tiptoeing around him trying to fashion a temporary fix that he won't demolish with a tantrum or a tweet."

Categories: News

Were You Born in a S—hole Country?

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 05:00
Categories: News

Mini-Nukes Would Promote, Not Deter, the Use of Nuclear Bombs in Conflict

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 05:00

Trump and the Pentagon want to build new, smaller nuclear weapons -- purportedly to provide the US military with more palatable alternatives "tailored to deter 21st-century threats." However, history shows why "mini-nukes" will not make the planet safer.

 Britta Pedersen / AFP / Getty Images)Activists of the non-governmental organization International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons wear masks of Donald Trump and Democratic People's Republic of Korea leader Kim Jon-un while posing with a mock missile in front of the embassy of Democratic People's Republic of Korea in Berlin, on September 13, 2017. (Photo: Britta Pedersen / AFP / Getty Images)

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recently released "pre-decisional draft" of the Pentagon's 2018 Nuclear Posture Review calls for the development of a new generation of "low-yield" nuclear bombs -- weapons that are better known by the endearingly cute sobriquet: "mini-nukes."

According to the Posture Review -- a joint Pentagon/Department of Energy endeavor -- the goal is "to ensure that the United States' nuclear deterrent is modern, robust, flexible, resilient, ready, and appropriately tailored to deter 21st-century threats and reassure our allies."

The Pentagon claims a new line of fashionable, well-tailored mini-nukes would provide the military with "more options" and "greater flexibility." Instead of facing the terrifying specter of engaging in all-out nuclear war with 400-kiloton thermonuclear planet-killers, mini-nukes would free Washington's military planners to whack at its enemies with smaller, more "palatable" blasts of atomic threat that would obliterate practically anything within a mile of Ground Zero.

Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shared this atomic conundrum with a defense industry group in August 2017. "If the only options we have now are to go with high-yield weapons that create a level of indiscriminate killing that the president can't accept," Selva explained, "we haven't provided him with an option."

"Not needed!" anti-nuclear critics reply. Lowering the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons only increases the likelihood of a wider conflict. A mini-nuke here, a mini-nuke there, and sooner than you can say "Armageddon," the world's eight acknowledged nuclear powers (and outliers like Israel) could all be going ballistic.

Besides, as a critique in Roll Call notes, one-third of the Pentagon's current arsenal of atomic weapons is already "low-yield" or are "flexible systems" capable of being "dialed back." The B61, for example, is a nuclear changeling with a blast that can be adjusted from less than a kiloton to a whopping 340 kilotons, while the W80 warheads attached to air-launched cruise missiles can be ratcheted up from five to 150 kilotons

The Pentagon last tried to raise a new crop of mini-bombs back in the days when George W. Bush was in office -- but Congress wouldn't take the bait. There's only one role for nuclear weapons, according to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and that's deterrence. "We cannot, must not, will not ever countenance their actual use." That's the way deterrence is supposed to work: The nukes need to be big enough that everyone remains scared to death of using one. (Ironically, the actual possession of nuclear arsenals has failed to deter other countries from wanting to build their own atomic weapons. Instead of acting as a deterrence, the presence of even a single nuclear weapon invites proliferation.)

Meanwhile, the irrepressible souls at Trump's Defense Science Board (a Pentagon advisory team consisting of retired military/industrial types) are not deterred. In February 2017 they once again raised the prospect of "going small" and, six months on, the vice chair of the Joint Chiefs also climbed aboard the mini-nuke bombwagon.

Fox News joined the pro-mini campaign in November 2017 with an appeal that made the proposed use of mini-nukes appear almost civilized.

"Each mini-nuke could be tailored to the specific, necessary scale of destruction," Fox reporter Allison Barrie rhapsodized. They could "target and annihilate say a square mile -- without the areas outside that mile being hit."

Of course, Barrie conceded, "radiation and other related threats would still expand well beyond the blast radius." But, not to worry: the resulting atomic blast would be "far more restrained" and "variable-yield mini-nukes could potentially provide more flexibility and options."

True, Barrie notes, a 100-kiloton-baby-bomb blast could "potentially destroy a city," but not, mind you, in an irresponsible way. With an "adjustable mini-nuke," the US could "discriminate by specifically targeting perpetrators and reducing civilian casualties."

The suggestion that a single malevolent "perpetrator" could be taken out by a well-placed mini-nuke may have been a bit hard for even Fox to swallow. Barrie quickly proposed a substitute scenario: "Rather than unleashing a nuclear weapon that could kill a country's entire population" Barrie wrote, "Trump would have the option to use a tailored mini-nuke to target a dangerous military installation instead."

Politico notes that modern nuclear weapons, like the W88 warheads attached to sub-launched missiles, are capable of delivering a serious 475-kiloton atomic punch. (The warhead that North Korea detonated in September 2017 reportedly weighed in at 140 kilotons.) But back in the early Wild West days of nuclear bomb-slinging, the Pentagon already had a host of small-arms weaponry at its disposal.

These early mini-nukes included a nuclear artillery shell dubbed the "Honest John" and a bazooka-fired atomic bomblet called the "Davy Crockett," with an explosive equivalent of 10-20 kilotons.

And then there were the Pentagon's hush-hush "atomic demolition munitions." These atomic devices were so small that an Army soldier could walk one behind enemy lines stuffed inside his backpack. "It was a very heavy backpack," Pentagon Weaponeer Philip Coyle told Politico. "You wouldn't want to carry them very far."

So why is there a new budget-busting mega push for mini-nukes? The answer is the same as the reason behind the Obama/Trump call for "modernizing" the US nuclear arsenal -- at a cost of $1 trillion over the next 30 years.

"This is nuclear pork disguised as nuclear strategy," Joe Cirincione, president of the antiwar Ploughshares Fund, told Politico. "This is a jobs program for a few government labs and a few contractors.... It would lower the threshold for nuclear use. It would make nuclear war more likely. It comes from the illusion that you could use a nuclear weapon and end a conflict on favorable terms. Once you cross the nuclear threshold, you are inviting a nuclear response."

And now we come to the strongest argument of all for shunning the charlatans of mini-nukery. It involves the claim that detonating these smaller weapons -- with an explosive range of 10-20 kilotons -- would somehow represent a lessening of damage and a lowering of the risks of a wider nuclear war.

Yes, a "mini-nuke" with a blast profile of 10-20 kilotons would be a lot less destructive than the 15,000-kiloton Castle Bravo device the Pentagon detonated over the Marshall Islands in 1954. But there is another critical comparison that puts the whole "mini-nuke" argument into a new light:

Hiroshima, Japan, was destroyed by a single 15-kiloton bomb. Yes, a "mini-nuke."

Categories: News

Consenting to Normal

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 05:00

In the #MeToo moment, the policing of those who speak up about varying forms of sexual violence and harm persists: the good victim/bad victim and real victim/fake victim paradigms have not gone away, they have merely shifted.

Women attend a #metoo rally infant of the Trump International Hotel on December 9, 2017, in Columbus Circle, New York City. (Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein / Corbis via Getty Images)Women attend a #metoo rally infant of the Trump International Hotel on December 9, 2017, in Columbus Circle, New York City. (Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein / Corbis via Getty Images)

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In the #MeToo moment, the policing of those who speak up about varying forms of sexual violence and harm remains: The good victim/bad victim, real victim/fake victim paradigm has not gone away; it has merely shifted. And even then, not by much.

The significance of #MeToo was that it highlighted how so many of us have been affected by different forms of sexual violence, rupturing the notion that sexual violence only happens between a small and silent minority. It showed how deeply sexual violence is embedded into so many different interactions, workplaces, industries and our culture as a whole, operating in plain sight all along. While many already knew this through personal experience, it has still been a noteworthy time because of how publicly many survivors have been sharing their stories and demanding to be heard. However, while many claim to support the sentiments expressed by #MeToo, some remain steadfast in the belief that in order for sexual violence to count, it must be exceptionally and violently clear-cut. It must be real sexual violence, real rape, real rapists, real victims: otherwise, it's a distraction, a watering-down, an appropriation, opportunism, a lack of personal responsibility, attention-seeking, or inauthentic.

Over the last week I've seen people writing that "Grace" and her account of her experiences with Aziz Ansari "cheapen" the #MeToo movement and what actual rape victims go through. It was just a bad date that she regretted. Why didn't she just leave then? I've heard people say that she didn't know what she wanted, but after the fact, was unhappy with what she got. I've also been seeing people say that because they believe Grace is white, her narrative is one of privilege and is therefore, suspect (a position I find harmful, not because I care what race she is, but because I find it disingenuous towards women of color -- the underlying assumptions being that women of color are loyal to men of color and only victimized by white men, and don't, or shouldn't, feel hurt or overreact to "normal" bad experiences because they aren't "privileged" enough to experience a range of sexual violations). Lastly, I've been reading that though Ansari's actions were obnoxious and perhaps oblivious, they are otherwise unremarkable and do not constitute any sort of crime.

These lines of thought are not new, nor is the desire to frame sexual violence as something of absolute binaries (rape or not rape, real or not real, criminal or not criminal) which must then be followed by absolute punishments. In the mainstream, "real" sexual violence often needs to be proven through a deeply unjust legal system or multiple forms of incontrovertible evidence. Then, it must be brought to "justice" by criminalization and/or complete exile (usually incarceration). This framework is reflected in the largely pro-criminalization approach that the anti-domestic and sexual violence movements have adopted over the past four decades, in which some feminists have chosen partnerships with police and district attorneys (often at the cost of criminalized survivors of violence) to pour efforts and resources into a primarily legal and systems-based strategy around combating gender violence. The legal/binary frame of sexual violence assumes that all real forms of sexual violence or harm must be immediately legible as crimes, and therefore be treated as such. (And if it is not legible as a crime, then it must not be real sexual violence, or even very harmful at all.)

This framework, which is one of the primary ways that people understand sexual violence today, produces incredibly high stakes for sexual assault survivors, who are burdened with not only the violence they've experienced, but also all the consequences of what happens (or doesn't happen) to their perpetrator if they choose to tell anyone. Is it their fault if the person who harmed them is legally, socially or financially impacted, criminalized, locked up, deported, or otherwise harmed? If the perpetrator is well-loved, then yes, because that person deserves another chance, they didn't mean it, it wasn't that bad anyway, they're a breadwinner for their family, they're a good person at heart and just made one mistake -- whereas the accuser is painted as a slut, a homewrecker, vindictive, jealous, weak, not a real victim, and only out for revenge or money. On the other hand, is it the survivor's fault if the person who harmed them goes on to violate others? Still, yes, because they are seen as bearing the responsibility for future victims, because they "knew" and are therefore seen as complicit if they don't act, even if they are a victim. While many survivors often want some kind of acknowledgement, apology or reparations for what their perpetrators did, most survivors are assaulted by people they know -- which often means that many are reluctant to speak out, not only out of fear of being disbelieved but also because they may be afraid of causing their perpetrator's ruin (and the backlash that could follow). This dynamic can be compounded in marginalized communities that already face stigma and policing. (However, of course, the fact remains that most sexual assault cases go unprosecuted and only a very small minority of people will ever be convicted, which raises questions about how this system is working even by its own standards.)

There is an immense amount of pressure for survivors to be the right kind of victim with the right kind of assault story and all the right kind of evidence, because the punishments that follow must also be harsh and absolute. In this paradigm, there is little room for cases where survivors want safety and accountability without criminalization or social isolation, and little room for people who may want accountability for sexual harm that they themselves may not identify as sexual assault or rape. In spite of how varied the experiences of sexual violence and harm can be, the collective responses that we currently have remain painfully limited. As Native organizer and writer Kelly Hayes says, "We exceptionalize both 'good' and 'bad' people to spare ourselves the labor of interrogating normalcy -- the very space in which most harm occurs." Our sense of "normalcy" that Kelly refers to is predicated on that which should not be normalized -- the acceptance of everyday forms of sexual violence, coercion and harm. This larger context creates strong incentive for everyone to not label their experiences, even when they are violent or harmful. And it is from this place that minimization, denial and normalization are exceedingly common for many who've experienced these things.

I won't parse through the details of Grace's story, nor will I spend time refuting all the bad takes recently published by The Atlantic or The New York Times (though some have done so here and here. South Asian feminist and organizer Darakshan Raja also shares her thoughts here as well). However, I do want to question what it might mean to actually contend with sexual violence and harm at its most "normal," as opposed to a spectacular mission to measure and contain monstrosity: specifically in our discourse around consent.

Affirmative consent, which is often discussed as the main remedy for normalized sexual violence and harm, is increasingly also used as the metric for determining what is and isn't legitimate sexual practice, or what is and isn't legitimate sexual violence and harm. (There is even an app being developed to create consent contracts for hookups.) However, I don't believe that consent is the most helpful point of entry into thinking about the pervasive, insidious and "normal" ways that sexual violence, coercion and pressure operate. I may not have all the words for this yet, but I believe that there is much more to safety, dignity and respect in sex than to agreements and permission. In addition, sexual assault and coercion, as well as many instances of sexual harm, are not simply a result of people failing to recognize the signs of when someone is uncomfortable or afraid. It's pushing forward in spite of them.

"Consent" is easier to establish than a relationship of mutual respect, honesty, vulnerability and safety, and the first doesn't entail the second. It can be a missing piece, but is not the entire picture when many of us "consent" to receiving sexual violence, harm, coercion or pressure out of sheer exhaustion or trauma response (which includes freezing and dissociating) -- or "consent" in order to survive, lessen the risk of increased violence, minimize social fallout and preserve important relationships. Many of us, especially when we are younger, say "yes" thinking that it will be the only way to make it stop eventually. Sometimes one gives consent, even when they are being treated poorly, from a place of fear, shame, confusion, obligation, or disbelief about what is really happening in the moment for them. Like many of the women and queers I know, I too have stories of what I've struggled to name but secretly labeled "low-grade sexual violence" for myself because "consent" was there so it technically wasn't, couldn't have been, a violation. Understating harm (during and after) is our normal, and sometimes consent discourse obscures how insidiously sexual violence can operate. What is the value of consent -- and who benefits from this value -- when "consensual" sex can still be extremely dehumanizing and traumatic? Sometimes, people don't know how to support others around these situations because they were "consensual" -- but is the framework of consent the only way to understand harm? Verbal contracts and lessons in sexual etiquette aside, it seems that many people (particularly men, and people of all genders who do not treat their sexual partners well) often view negotiations of consent as ways to navigate liability or blame. What if instead, the conversations started with our humanity as women, queers, and people, first, and what we thought it meant to honor that? Not all sex will ever be guaranteed to be good, fulfilling or fun, but it shouldn't have to feel like we are being pressured, or like it is exhausting, humiliating, traumatic, or scary because we aren't being respected or truly seen.

Acknowledging that we can and often are harmed even in consensual sexual experiences, in "normal" sexual experiences, is not a cowardly attempt to shift blame, manipulate everyone, avoid responsibility and perpetually live as a victim, as some may imply. Rather, it is a practice in describing the oft-overlooked conditions of our sexual lives, giving voice to that feeling that something is not right, and moving towards reckoning with the far-reaching impacts of living in a world where sexual violence is the norm. In a different time or place, perhaps it would have been much easier for Grace to get up and leave. But perhaps we can re-write the story this way, as well: Aziz and Grace go on a date. They go back to his place intending to chill and possibly hook up. Aziz wants to move faster than she does, and realizes quickly that Grace seems hesitant. Maybe she says no, let's slow down. Maybe she says let's relax, let's chill. He accepts, respects what she says and stops. Asks her if she wants some water or tea. Says it's cool not to do anything else, and means it. Maybe they briefly check in about expectations. Maybe he still wants sex but they part ways for the night. Or maybe he still wants sex and when she's more comfortable, she initiates again. Things may stop and start then stop again, they may get awkward, but they don't feel terrible and violating. And it isn't the worst night of Grace's life. This is one version of what could have been, and I wonder, why is it that in so many purportedly "feminist" opinions and re-writings, Ansari's actions remain unchanged, while Grace is the one who must be stronger, better, smarter, faster? Even these "feminist" imaginings of a better night for Grace hinge on this type of normal, where it is said to be her fault that she chose -- or "consented" (in spite of her different "no's") -- to feel violated and traumatized. #MeToo, they seem to say, but not like that. Not like her.

If everyone, especially women, girls and queers, always felt empowered to speak how they truly felt, had the language and experiential knowledge and skill for interrupting dynamics that felt bad, that would be wonderful. I hope that for myself, and learning how to be my own best advocate has been a necessary, difficult, and healing process for me. It has involved learning and unlearning many things about how I relate to myself and the world around me. However, the question of "agency" in our world is one that is often marred and complicated by power dynamics, societal misogyny and prescriptive gender roles, our individual experiences with our communities and families, past relationships, old and new trauma, the histories of our bodies, and sexual partners that push, cajole, repeatedly insist, try and try again in eighty different ways, and finally take consent and sometimes have sex with a body that stops responding.

What would it look like to open up our imaginations beyond all this? Perhaps it begins with seeing and truly engaging with the reality of endemic sexual violence in our society, which can take many different forms. It can grow more concrete as we meet people who have been harmed with compassion and generosity. It can become sharper as we challenge misogyny, as well as the gender norms that say men are all this way, therefore women are all this way, and queer and trans people don't belong here. It can become more strategic as we realize that individualizing a structural problem into monsters we can banish will change little but the face of the problem. It can mature as we develop more responses to sexual violence that do not minimize impact, and also do not need to rely on punishment, isolation or the failed strategies of criminalization that disproportionately harm Black, immigrant and Native communities. People all over the country are already doing this work. It is small and imperfect, but it is growing.

Categories: News

I Stood Up to ICE, and now They're Trying to Deport Me

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 05:00

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has become a political repression agency seekng to chill free expression and silence immigrant advocates by using its powers to intimidate and deport those who speak out.  

"After years of defending others, I am now the one in need of defense. ICE seeks to chill free expression and silence immigrant advocates by using its deportation powers to intimidate and deport me and those I support."  (Photo courtesy of Maru Mora Villalpando)"After years of defending others, I am now the one in need of defense. ICE seeks to chill free expression and silence immigrant advocates by using its deportation powers to intimidate and deport me and those I support." (Photo courtesy of Maru Mora Villalpando)

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When I imagined US immigration authorities coming for me, I never thought it would be by certified mail. And yet this is how it happened -- a few days before Christmas, a knock on my door led to the delivery of a letter, informing me that I was being placed in deportation proceedings.

My daughter, who opened the letter, started to cry. I immediately saw this for what it was: their way of trying to intimidate me. I felt a mix of emotions, but mostly I felt angry.

I've no doubt that my political activity in support of immigrants held in detention centers has made me a target. And I'm not the only activist who has been targeted in this way.

I have dedicated my life to the fight for immigrant justice, demanding an end to detention and deportation. None of the usual triggers for deportation -- contact with the police, raids, prior deportations -- apply in my case. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement only knows about me because of my political work.

With the letter delivered to my house, ICE has officially made the leap from a law enforcement agency to a political repression agency -- crossing a line that should concern us all. After years of defending others, I am now the one in need of defense. ICE seeks to chill free expression and silence immigrant advocates by using its deportation powers to intimidate and deport me and those I support.

The decision to come out as undocumented in 2014 was not an easy choice for me to make. But the record deportations under the Obama administration led my US-born daughter and me to the conclusion that being silent and closeted about my lack of lawful status was no longer an option for us.

On a rainy morning in February of 2014, I locked myself to other activists outside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington -- the largest immigrant detention center on the West Coast. We were part of the #not1more movement pushing President Obama to stop his record deportations through a series of actions shutting down ICE facilities. That day I came out as an undocumented activist; we risked arrest and succeeded in stopping deportations -- if only for a day. And, our actions helped inspire those imprisoned inside the detention center to start a hunger strike, joining our protest with their own.

Two weeks after our shut-down action, over 1,200 people detained at the NWDC began refusing meals, launching the first in a series of hunger strikes that have since roiled the facility. In response, I helped found NWDC Resistance, a grassroots group that seeks to support and amplify the organizing efforts against ICE led by those detained in ICE facilities. The hunger strikes have not stopped -- there were nine hunger strikes at the NWDC between April and November of last year alone.

I receive an average of 20 phone calls a day from people detained, and have helped coordinate the protests inside with the resistance work we are doing on the outside. This is my life's calling -- to work alongside those detained to expose the cruelty of detention and deportation and support liberation and real justice for all.

Our efforts have borne fruit: From the local to the national level, government officials have been forced to take notice. Two members of Washington State's congressional delegation have introduced federal legislation to reform detention, echoing the demands of the hunger strikers in their proposals.

And last year, Washington State's attorney general sued the GEO Group, the private prison corporation that owns and runs the NWDC alongside ICE. The press conference announcing the lawsuit specifically cited the hunger strikes as the inspiration for the Attorney General's efforts to end the abusive practice of paying detained immigrants only $1 per day for their work inside the facility. The NWDC has gone from an ignored facility in an out-of-the-way location to a key site of local resistance, with weekly rallies and vigils outside its gates.

Perhaps because of our effectiveness, ICE's retaliation has been fierce; those immigrants who dare to challenge ICE while detained have faced solitary confinement, threats of forced feeding, forced transfers to other facilities far from their families and attorneys, and even deportation. And now the retaliation has struck home, with ICE targeting my family, menacing me with deportation, and expecting me to slow down my activism and my defense of those detained by threatening me with the same fate.

And yet if this last year has taught me anything, it is this: Continued resistance, in the face of growing repression, is our only choice. We are coming up on the one-year anniversary of the Trump regime taking power. It is one year since the Obama administration handed the keys to the enormous machinery of detention and deportation over to a group of people with openly xenophobic, white supremacist ambitions.

In that year, ICE has fully transitioned to becoming Trump's police force. But "resistance" was part of our group's name even before Trump took office. Last month, because of my active resistance, the US government came for me. I will continue my struggle so that tomorrow they don't come for you.

Categories: News

Economic Update: Knowledge, Class and Economics

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 05:00

This week's updates on problems and solutions for workplace discrimination, China's ascending economy, capitalism's drive to income and wealth inequalities, economics of immigration's winners and losers, US capitalism and African-Americans. It also features an interview with co-author Prof. Richard McIntyre on his new book, Knowledge, Class and Economics: Marxism Without Guarantees.

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Categories: News

Tech Workers of the World, Unite!

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 05:00
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In just a handful of years, the tide of blue-collar organizing has risen in Silicon Valley. Security officers and shuttle drivers across tech firms, workers at Tesla's Fremont manufacturing plant and cafeteria workers at Facebook and Yahoo, have united in pursuit of more equitable working conditions.

Such momentum marks a resurgence of working-class solidarity -- a response to the untenable blights of excessive hours, scant-to-nonexistent benefits and pay rates inadequate for even bare necessities. Yet the trend constitutes a mere fraction of organizing efforts necessary for the tech industry. In recent years, Silicon Valley has become home to a movement calling for all rank-and-file members of the tech labor force, including handsomely compensated engineers and other white-collar employees, to view themselves as what they are -- workers -- and organize for the benefit of their communities. 

There are numerous barriers to uniting blue-collar and white-collar workers in Silicon Valley, not least of which is tech executives' tradition of rigorous anti-unionism. This ethos dates back decades, rooted in the counterculture-inflected view that technology would be a democratic, pioneering tool of individual liberation from "big government." Termed the "Californian Ideology" by media theorists Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron in 1995, this philosophy adopted, as Moira Weigel noted last year in The Guardian, tenets of "personal liberty" and "market deregulation" -- that is, the proliferation of free enterprise, unchallenged by workers or governments. These tropes have seeped into the environments of high-tech companies, encouraging individualism and "entrepreneurialism" among white-collar employees.

The ideology appears in ostensibly rosy working environs: pristine buildings, comparatively high salaries, on-site amenities, casual dress codes, internal motivation posters and reminders to do the right thing. Such settings are key to keeping employees content, as business rags observe. The fine print, of course, is that workers will have little desire to confront companies willing to lavish them with luxuries and nurture their enterprising spirits. Unlike their low-wage counterparts, many higher-paid office workers often aren't living under dire economic circumstances -- quite the contrary, in some cases. This gap, in part, explains why the prospect of white-collar organizing among tech workers is a relatively new one.

Yet some white-collar tech workers, particularly programmers and engineers, are recognizing the need for change. Conceived as recently as 2016, activist groups such as Tech Workers Coalition (TWC), Tech Solidarity, and Silicon Valley Rising (SVR) promote tech-worker rights and labor awareness across class lines. TWC organizer Ares Geovanos emphasizes that many white-collar employees don't necessarily view themselves the way their companies goad them to -- an important distinction for fostering worker consciousness. "Does a person working in the marketing department at Google see themselves as an entrepreneur? Probably not," he told In These Times.

Moreover, media portrayals of Silicon Valley professionals are often one-dimensional. The notion that white-collar workers might object to their employers' propaganda and seek a fairer living doesn't exactly pervade mainstream news outlets, which largely concentrate on the most advantaged engineers, Geovanos noted. "The belief among tech workers that they are privileged can prevent them from looking at their grievances, but this is really only true for white male engineers with a degree from a high-profile institution," he said.

Additional targets of such organizing are volatile working conditions and insufficient pay relative to cost of living. Service workers aren't the only members of the tech labor force who work as independent contractors; many IT professionals work at-will, even at flush Silicon Valley firms. White-collar tech employees, too, face the threat of automation with little to no recourse. Consider the mass 2016 firings of Facebook's "Trending" news editorial staff.

What's more, Bay Area software engineers, among the tech sector's most highly paid employees, are often rent-burdened. They must dedicate more than 30 percent of their salaries to live close to where they work -- thanks largely to the gentrification catalyzed by their own employers.

High-tech organizing wouldn't simply benefit engineers and other high-wage workers: It could be a service to users as well. A principle of the Californian Ideology is that technological platforms are apolitical blank slates. However, TWC urges programmers and other professionals to consider and react to the notion that their companies' products are deeply political. To grasp this point, one must only look to Facebook's race-targeted ad platforms or Twitter's censorship of Black activists, among myriad other examples. "You might be working...at Palantir, building a Muslim registry," Geovanos said, referencing the CIA-backed surveillance company. "There might be Muslim people who are working on these things who don't necessarily have the power to speak up at risk of losing their jobs."

For this reason, TWC encourages professionals to consult with their fellow workers about grievances, rather than the corporate custom of airing them to one's manager. "We want people to consider talking to their co-workers first to see what type of agreement there is among the rank-and-file people. And once you establish connections and some affinity with your co-workers … you'll be in a much stronger position to get those demands met," Geovanos said. Modeling this form of collective action, tech employees -- including some from TWC -- have already refused to cooperate and placed pressure on Palantir not to compile the aforementioned registry.

In addition, white-collar professionals who organize can potentially better the lives of those who transport, feed and clean up after them. White- and blue-collar workers in Silicon Valley, as in nearly every industry, are inextricably linked: Every high-tech office job in Silicon Valley generates many more service jobs. As highly specialized builders of platforms used by millions -- if not billions -- of people every day harbor an incredible amount of power. "I think many high-tech execs are much more concerned, much more threatened, by the prospect of white-collar organizing than the traditional service-sector blue-collar work that we're doing," Ben Field, co-founder of Silicon Valley Rising, told In These Times.

Collectively withdrawing labor for political reasons, while rare, isn't unheard of in Silicon Valley. Thanks to the work of grassroots groups, many engineers walked off the job in May in protest of the Trump administration. Yet low-wage contractors in Silicon Valley are often far more vulnerable when taking similar collective action. "We are stronger when we fight together," Geovanos said, "and an organized white-collar workforce would be able to mobilize for other struggles."

Communication between white- and blue-collar workers, then, is imperative to building solidarity. Yet this is no easy task. Though they may work on the same campus, occupational segregation separates classes of workers. Activist organizations are seeking to bridge that gap, emphasizing that all workers share a struggle, regardless of which part of the building they occupy. "People just aren't really used to breaking down those barriers. That's definitely something where we push and encourage," said Geovanos.

"I think there's room for improvement there, but there are certainly many white-collar workers who have engaged with efforts to organize cafeteria workers and Google bus drivers and security officers," Field added. "Also, although they are already organized, the janitors have had a number of big campaigns, one of which was last year. White-collar workers have -- some of them -- been engaged in all of those efforts."

Whatever form this organizing takes, it marks the start of the process of liberating workers from labor that constrains them economically, socially and morally. Tech workers, despite the propagandistic narratives of their employers and the media, can't ignore the politics of the present simply because they're told they're building the future. Now that the momentum of collective action is building, the time is nigh for tech workers across the spectrum to defy the individualism that has long confined them and unite.

Categories: News

Recriminalizing Cannabis Is Worse Than 1930s "Reefer Madness"

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 05:00
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In the 1930s, parents across the US were panicked. A new documentary, "Reefer Madness," suggested that evil marijuana dealers lurked in public schools, waiting to entice their children into a life of crime and degeneracy. 

The documentary captured the essence of the anti-marijuana campaign started by Harry Anslinger, a government employee eager to make a name for himself after Prohibition ended. Ansligner's campaign demonized marijuana as a dangerous drug, playing on the racist attitudes of white Americans in the early 20th century and stoking fears of marijuana as an "assassin of youth." 

Over the decades, there's been a general trend toward greater social acceptance of marijuana by a more educated society, seeing the harm caused by the prohibition of marijuana. But then, on Jan. 4, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era memorandum suggesting federal agents should let states regulate control of marijuana and focus their efforts on other drugs.

Re-criminalizing marijuana in light of current research findings, including my own research of more than 15 years, makes Sessions' proposed crackdown on legal marijuana look worse than reefer madness. 

Researchers like myself, who regularly talk with people who are actively using hard drugs, know that legal cannabis can actually reduce the harmful effects of other drugs.

Reefer Madness

Re-criminalizing marijuana is a decision that makes little sense unless we consider the motives. History can shed some light here.

Media mogul William Randolph Hearst supported the criminalization of marijuana, in part because Hearst's paper-producing companies were being replaced by hemp. Likewise, DuPont's investment in nylon was threatened by hemp products. 

Anslinger's tactics included racist accusations linking marijuana to Mexican immigrants. His campaign included stories of urban black men who enticed young white women to become sex-crazed and instantly addicted to marijuana.

Anslinger's campaign succeeded beyond his aims. His fearmongering was based more on fiction than on facts, but it made him head of the Bureau of Narcotics for 30 years. The social construction of cannabis as one of the most dangerous drugs was completed in 1970, when marijuana was classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning it had high potential for abuse and no acceptable medical use. 

Almost 50 years later, the classification remains and Anslinger's views endure among many policymakers and Americans. 

Spurious Relationships

Today, marijuana critics often cite studies that show a connection between marijuana use and a host of negative outcomes, like use of harder drugs, criminality and lower IQ. Anslinger used the same tactics to incite fear. 

But a correlation does not mean a causation. Some of these studies used flawed scientific methods or relied on false assumptions.

One popular myth, which started in Ansligner's campaign and continues today, is that marijuana is a gateway to heroin and other opioids. Despite research dispelling this as a causal connection, opponents of marijuana legalization continue to call marijuana a "gateway drug."

Studies on the brains of long-term marijuana users suggested a link between marijuana use and lower IQ. But later investigation showed that low IQ might actually be caused by smaller orbitofrontal cortices in the brains of children. Children with smaller prefrontal cortices are significantly more likely to start using marijuana early in life than those with larger prefrontal cortices.

One well-designed study that looked at marijuana use and brain development on adolescent twins over 10 years found no measurable link between marijuana use and lower IQ.

In a review of 60 studies on medical marijuana, over 63 percent found positive effects for debilitating diseases -- such as multiple sclerosis, bipolar disorder, Parkinson's disease and pain -- while less than 8 percent found negative health effects. 

The most harmful effect of criminalizing marijuana may not be its restriction on medical uses, but its devastating cost to American society, which experienced a 500 percent increase in incarceration due to the war on drugs.

The Portugal Experiment

The tragedy in this policy is that decriminalizing drugs has shown to lower drug use -- not increase it.

In 2000, Portugal had one of the worst drug problems in Europe. Then, in 2001, a new drug policy decriminalized all drugs. Drug control was taken out of the criminal justice system and put under the Ministry of Health. 

Five years after Portugal's decriminalization, drug use by young people was down. Teenagers between the ages of 16 and 18, for example, were 27.6 percent less likely to use drugs. What's more, the number of people going to treatment went up, while drug-related deaths decreased. 

Fifteen years later, Portugal still had lower rates of heroin and cocaine seizures, and lower rates of drug-related deaths, compared to the rest of Europe. Cannabis use in Portugal is now the lowest among all European countries. Moreover, Portugal's policy change contributed to a reduced number of drug addicts with HIV. 

The "Portugal Experiment" shows what happens when we take an honest look at a serious societal drug issue. Taking a tactic used by Anslinger, opponents of marijuana legalization claim it will lead to more use by young people. However, in states that legalized medical marijuana, use by young people did not increase or even went down. Recent data show that use of marijuana by teens decreased even in states that legalized marijuana for recreational use.

As the US battles an opioid epidemic, states where marijuana is legal have seen fewer deaths from opioid overdose.

More studies are finding medical marijuana patients were using marijuana as a substitute for pain pills. After a medical marijuana law was passed, use of prescription medication for which marijuana could serve as a clinical alternative fell significantly.

Faced with a deadly opioid epidemic, more of the medical establishment is beginning to acknowledge the potential of marijuana as a safer therapy for pain than opioids.

Listening to Those Who Are Suffering

In my own field research, I've conducted hundreds of interviews with people who used heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and other really dangerous drugs. Most of them used drugs to address social isolation, and emotional or physical pain, which led to addiction. They often told me that they used marijuana to help them stop using more problematic drugs or to reduce the side effects of withdrawing. 

"In a lot of ways, that was my sanity," said a young man who had stopped all drugs but cannabis. 

Marijuana became a gateway out of heroin, cocaine, crack and other more deadly drugs. 

While the Institute of Medicine released a report in 1999 suggesting the development of medically useful cannabinoid-based drugs, the American Medical Association has largely ignored or dismissed subsequent studies on the benefits of cannabis.

Today, in many states, people can use marijuana to treat illnesses and pain, reduce withdrawal symptoms, and combat cravings for more addictive drugs. They can also choose to use cannabis oil or a variety of healthier ways than smoking for consuming cannabis. This freedom may be jeopardized by a return to criminal marijuana.

Worse Than "Reefer Madness"

Almost a century after Anslinger's campaign, "Reefer Madness" is mocked in the media for its flagrant propaganda, and Anslinger's influence on drug policy is shown as an example of government corruption. The ignorance and naiveté of "Reefer Madness" is seen as a bygone era.

So we have to ask, what kind of people want to re-criminalize cannabis today? What are their motives? Who profits from continuing to incarcerate people for using marijuana? Whose power will be diminished when a drug that has so many health benefits is provided without a prescription?

Miriam Boeri receives funding from the National Institutes of Health.

The Conversation

Categories: News

The Trump Administration's Attacks on Public Lands and Waters Will Cause Irreparable Harm

Thu, 01/18/2018 - 14:53

The designation of a national monument protects the land from drilling, fracking, mining, logging -- protection not afforded to the majority of public land, says Randi Spivak of the Center for Biological Diversity. Spivak discusses why the largest delisting of protected federal lands in US history will harm species, waters and exacerbate climate change.

 Bureau of Land Management) Grand Staircase-Escalante, New Mexico. (Photo: Bureau of Land Management)

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In December, Trump announced that he would shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah by 85 percent and 46 percent respectively. The announcement came after Trump had ordered Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in April to review 27 national monuments created since 1996 that were 100,000 acres or larger, and Zinke subsequently recommended that these and other monuments be reduced.

Trump's move represents the largest delisting of protected federal lands in US history, removing 2 million acres from national monument status. It's a clear break with practice of previous presidents, especially over the past several decades, who have largely expanded or created new monuments that set aside land for protection under authority of the 1906 Antiquities Act. The Act provides for presidents to establish national monuments to protect "historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated on land owned or controlled by the Federal Government."

Trump's move represents the largest delisting of protected federal lands in US history.

As a result of this decision by the Trump regime, tens of thousands of acres in both Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante that contain magnificent Native cultural artifacts, archaeological sites precious to the cultural life of six tribes and rich deposits of dinosaur fossils have been removed from national monument protection. The move by Trump, despite claims from both Trump and Zinke, opens the possibility for fossil fuel and uranium extraction on these lands, and the building of new roads, off-road vehicle use, and expansion of grazing and other practices that threaten real harm to these natural wonders. The decision also completely rejected the public comments of more than 2 million people who overwhelmingly supported maintaining the monuments as they were. Zinke arrogantly rejected these expressed viewpoints, saying, "I don't bow to public pressure," while simultaneously justifying the review and ultimately the decision to shrink the monuments, claiming the original proclamations to establish them had been "made without public consultation."

In his final report to Trump, Zinke also recommended slicing the size of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument on the border of Oregon and California, as well as the Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada. Cascade-Siskiyou was established in 2000 and expanded in 2017 by Obama. In supporting a call for its expansion in 2015, ecologists and biologists who had studied the region described it as an "ecological wonder" that is "home to a spectacular variety of rare and beautiful species of plants and animals, whose survival in this region depends upon its continued ecological integrity" Scientists specifically cited the need to preserve the biodiversity in the face of increased threat from climate change.

Zinke also pushed for changing the management rules for six other national monuments, including three marine monuments that would remove protected status and very likely open them to exploitation by commercial fisheries at a critical time of decline of ocean life.

Five different lawsuits have been filed against Trump, et al over slashing Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. One of the lawsuits to defend Bears Ears was filed by the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and Zuni Tribe, all of whom have a deep connection to the land and history in the region. Shaun Chapoose of the Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee said in a statement announcing the lawsuit, "The Bears Ears region is a cultural landscape -- a place to nurture our families in our traditions. It's a sad state of affairs when the president of this great nation shows manifest disregard for our history and culture as a people, but we are prepared to fight for our rights and to protect Bears Ears." Earthjustice has filed lawsuits on behalf of eight environmental, wildlife and public lands protection groups to protect Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Even the outdoor clothing company Patagonia has joined lawsuits.

Normal management of public lands [is] heavily skewed toward extractive industries and many other destructive uses.

Randi Spivak is public lands program director for the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), and spoke with Truthout about Trump's decision, as well as the larger environmental stakes of the battle over public lands. CBD is one of the groups actively leading a movement to protect public lands, and a complainant in the lawsuits.

Curtis Johnson: Trump and Zinke have claimed the gutting of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments was done to allow local people to control their own land and to redress years of "overreach" by federal bureaucracy. They've claimed that the archaeological and artistic treasures of Bears Ears and fossils in Grand Staircase-Escalante would still be protected because the lands won't be literally handed over to the states or private interests. How do you see that and how would you respond to that line of argument?

Randi Spivak: Let's be clear: these are [the US's] public lands; they belong to everyone from the citizens of Utah, to New Jersey to North Carolina. This has nothing to do with state's rights. These lands have always been federal public lands. Read the law Congress enacted making Utah a state and Utah's own Constitution -- or that of any Western state. Each includes language forever disclaiming any interests in federal lands within state boundaries.

As far as claims that the lands are still protected, slashing protections from 2 million acres of land leaves a lot unprotected. In Bears Ears, 56,000 archaeological sites will no longer have protection. And the same goes for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Each monument proclamation was carefully mapped and vetted, so cutting any amount -- whether it's an archaeological treasure or Native American sacred site -- will now be at risk by stripping those protections.

So, following up on that, Zinke has said all these areas will still be federal lands, and so there are still laws against taking out Native art and so forth. Can you tell us a little about if these things are protected as national monuments versus just federal lands?

While these lands will still be publicly owned, the current laws don't provide the kinds of protections that come with national monument status. Normal management of public lands [is] heavily skewed toward extractive industries and many other destructive uses. About 90 percent of Bureau of Land Management lands are open to oil and gas drilling; over 90 percent of all public lands are open to livestock grazing. And on most public lands, you can drive off-road vehicles.

Proclaiming a national monument usually means that the area is no longer open to new drilling, fracking and mining. We know that oil and gas companies have expressed interest in portions of Bears Ears that the president has stripped of protections, and that a uranium company, Energy Fuels Resources, urged the Trump administration to reduce Bears Ears and hired a team of lobbyists to press their interest.

Another aspect of the kinds of protections that national monuments provide for archeological sites, ancestral ruins or sensitive habitat is motorized vehicles that are limited to designated roads. Each monument has a management plan developed with public input that identifies the designated roads. Stripping protections will mean more people driving machines across sensitive streams and washes, through treasured architectural sites and despoiling sacred areas.

It was interesting that in the announcement, Zinke and Trump tried to stay away from talking about extraction but focused on hunting and fishing, which was clear were already allowed in the monuments. You know they kept talking about wanting to make sure hunting and fishing are going to continue to be allowed....

That's an outright lie. None of the monuments Zinke wants to gut restrict hunting or sport fishing. All of them leave hunting and fishing regulations up to state wildlife agencies. National monuments are open for everyone in the world to explore, and the only way to "lock up" public land is to auction it off for drilling, fracking, mining and logging.

Trump is looking to boost fossil fuel extraction and reward his billionaire industry cronies.

But Zinke's recommendations to Trump do call for stripping protections for three marine national monuments -- Rose Atoll, Pacific Remote Islands and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts. Marine monuments prohibit or phase out commercial fishing to protect a wide range of marine life -- including fish, turtles, whales, dolphins and coral reefs -- from overfishing [and] harmful practices such as bottom trawling. Studies have shown that protected areas are a boon to the fishing industry because the no-commercial-fishing monument protections enable healthy fish populations to swell and then swim outside of protected areas into commercial zones where they can be fished.

What do you think this monument decision indicates about what Trump and the rest are planning for public lands and waters in general? Zinke has already recommended in addition to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, two other national monuments should be shrunk and rules governing management of six others be changed. How do you see the stakes of this? Where are they going with this whole effort?

Unfortunately, Trump will probably follow Zinke's recommendations that would shrink the boundaries for two other monuments in Oregon and Nevada, and reduce protections through management changes for national monuments in New Mexico, Maine and for three marine monuments. I think it's about two things. First Trump continues play to his narrow political base. Bears Ears was all about Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) whispering in Trump's ear to "do something," and he did. And it's the same thing with Greg Walden (R-Oregon) and the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Walden wants to reward the logging industry by opening up these lands to heavy logging.

Under the guise of "energy dominance," Trump is looking to open up our public lands and oceans to the fossil fuel industry to get every drop of oil, gas and coal that they can and remove protective regulations for our air, climate, wildlife, waters and lands that stand in the way. Their road map is clear.

So, these decisions from Trump on the environment are coming in a roll. The same week they made this decision on the monuments, Trump announced he's opening the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans for drilling. Then this new tax bill is passed, opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling. So how does the monument decision connect to the whole picture of what the Trump regime is doing to the environment?

Trump is looking to boost fossil fuel extraction and reward his billionaire industry cronies. The battle over national monuments is no different, but is one of many battles to conserve [the US's] public lands for this and future generations.

Trump is a climate denier. He's withdrawing the US from the global climate change accord; overturning the Clean Power Plan's attempt to make power plants more efficient; expanding offshore drilling into every ocean off [the US's] coasts, even overturning offshore drilling safety regulations adopted after the Deepwater Horizon disaster; [he] has done away with Obama's landmark ban on mining federal coal propping up the dying coal industry. The Trump administration even asked the fossil fuel industry what federal regulations they consider to be a burden to them, and increasingly we've seen the Trump administration attempt to hide fracking damage on public lands. The Bureau of Land Management, responsible for oil and gas drilling on public lands, is basically sidestepping the law and is increasingly not requiring any analysis or public disclosure of harm from fracking to communities, wildlife, climate, land and water. It's a de facto reversal of Obama-era reforms, which increased transparency and environmental review before approving lease auctions.

The thing that really hits me, and I haven't seen it talked about so much, is the impact and the stakes of everything you're talking about at a time when we're already in an escalating crisis of climate change and general environmental decline. For instance, a recent study showing  global populations of vertebrates on pace to decline by 67 percent from 1970 levels by 2020, and scientific study after study about the melting polar regions and so forth. I want to really convey, what would you say about the stakes? Some environmental groups say, "Well, he's not going to get away with it," or for instance, the necessities of the market will argue against developing a lot of these resources because sustainable energy is more profitable and oil prices are low. But I see a great danger, especially given this environmental crisis we're facing as a whole.

Let me answer in two parts. People are somewhat right in saying a lot will depend, for example, on the price of oil. The recent oil and gas auction on the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska -- even though the government auctioned off millions of acres, very little was actually leased because of the vagaries of drilling in those areas and also the price of oil. But if oil prices rise again, there will be more interest from industry. And there's still an export market for [US] coal, a significant amount [of which] is mined on public lands. In no way does the market completely protect us here, in no way.

If a company buys a lease at auction, and for virtually no money, they can sit on these leases for decades. Technically, it's 10 years for a federal oil and gas lease, but they can renew them. Companies can speculate and sit on these leases 'til such time that the price may make it profitable. So, it may be that we don't see wholesale drilling tomorrow in many places, but the danger is still there.

Trump is getting us in such a deep hole on the climate crisis. He's locking us into a fossil fuel future. And the damage we'll see to ecosystems, to the oceans, wildlife -- it's scary.

Certain things, like withdrawing the Grand Canyon uranium, that will take a while to do, they have to go through a process in which the public will get to weigh in. Maybe they won't succeed. They can't do everything with the snap of a finger. But make no mistake: They're going to cause some irreparable harm here. Everything Trump and Zinke are doing will harm species, public lands, waters, and exacerbate climate change. They are dragging us into a deep hole, a bad future.

Thanks so much, that's very helpful and I appreciate your time and your work which is so important.

Thank you. Even though these are dark times for our public lands, oceans, wildlife and our climate, it's important that we all keep fighting. The Center for Biological Diversity is resisting Trump in every possible way -- especially in the courts. So far, the Center has filed 46 lawsuits against Trump. This regime will not last forever. To get involved I would encourage readers to get connected with Ignite Change, a nationwide movement that's standing up to save life on Earth. 

Categories: News

New York Rescinds Controversial Prison Books Policy

Thu, 01/18/2018 - 14:49
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Getting books behind bars is no easy task. Correctional systems across the country have strict rules about which books prisoners can read and how they must be shipped -- and these rules are constantly changing.

In New Jersey, for example, a ban on "The New Jim Crow" was just lifted in response to public outcry. Last month, Texas banned 10,000 books from the prison system, and the ban remains in place.

And for a brief time in New York, a pilot program limited acceptable reading material at three facilities to less than 100 items. 24 of them were coloring books. It came in the form of a new directive from the New York State Department of Corrections, which limited the number of vendors allowed to send items to the prisons. That meant that people who wanted to send books had to pick from a pre-approved and very short list.

Prison officials argue that restrictions on reading material like these are necessary to prevent unrest -- for example, all books have to be shipped new in order to eliminate any secret messages or prohibited supplies from also being included. The distribution of pornographic and violent books is also disallowed. Censorship is permissible in this context, they claim, because without it, prisoners might be difficult to manage.

But for as long as prisons have been censoring, prisoners and advocates have been speaking out.

Depriving people of reading material feels especially inhumane for people trapped behind bars without other sources of enrichment or escapism. And sometimes those "controversial" reading materials contain important lessons about history and culture -- like the critical race theory in "The New Jim Crow" that explores inequality in the prison system.

The advocacy group Books Through Bars NYC warned that restricting inmate packages to pre-approved vendors effectively gave for-profit companies free rein in this particular domain. Families who wanted to send and bring gifts had to go through these vendors, no matter whether they provided the necessary products -- and regardless of the price. This isn't the only example of profiting off the prison system: The prison phone industry is infamous for this.

For families struggling to support incarcerated loved ones, this policy change could have a huge impact. Meanwhile, groups like Books Through Bars, which sends free books to prisoners across the US upon request, wouldn't have been able to serve their community.

A prison system concerned about rehabilitation should be delighted that prisoners want to read, expanding access to prison libraries and encouraging prisoners to request books when the library doesn't meet their needs. These kinds of policies often go into effect very quietly -- if you don't know your state's policies on books for prisoners, it's worth asking for more information. You might be surprised by what you learn.

Take Action!

You can join Care2 activists in telling Texas that inmates deserve "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and numerous other books inexplicably banned by the state.

Access to reading material isn't the only fight for prisoners: at the infamous Rikers facility in New York, where prisoners endure deplorable conditions, the injustice isn't limited to the prisons. Guards are also sexually assaulting visitors via invasive strip searches, and tens of thousands of Care2 activists think that should stop. Join them!

Categories: News

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