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Justice Kennedy’s LGBTQ Legacy May Be Short-Lived

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 15:36

Kennedy’s departure from the Supreme Court has, understandably, prompted widespread concern about Roe v. Wade and abortion rights. Equally at risk is the court’s progress on LGBTQ rights.

While he was on the court, Kennedy was the decisive vote for the court’s 5-4 pro-gay rights rulings. He wrote each of the court’s landmark gay rights decisions, outlawing bans on same-sex sexual conductLGBTQ political advocacy and same-sex marriage at the state and federal level. Kennedy is the voice of the court’s gay rights doctrine.

Having tracked judicial progress on gay rights over the last decade, I’d argue that Kennedy’s retirement puts this doctrine, and the movement, in jeopardy. Although his rulings on same-sex relationships have ushered in new freedoms for lesbian and gay couples, they rest on fragile constitutional arguments. With Kennedy’s retirement, there is greater opportunity for anti-gay activists to dismantle the court’s tenuous legal framework supporting gay rights.

An Unlikely Advocate

Prior to his ascent to the court, few could have predicted that Justice Kennedy would spearhead a judicial revolution for LGBTQ rights. Kennedy joined the court in 1988 as a Reagan appointee whose only decision on gay rights, written during his tenure on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, narrowly upheld military regulations prohibiting “homosexual conduct.”

In 1996, less than a decade after his appointment to the court, Kennedy would author his first of multiple Supreme Court decisions protecting the rights of lesbians and gay men.

The 1996 case, Romer v. Evans, involved a constitutional amendment enacted by Colorado voters in 1992. The amendment barred any state or local public official from including sexual orientation in local nondiscrimination laws. If upheld, the amendment would have rendered any discrimination against gays or lesbians in housing, employment and public accommodations both legal and untouchable. The state argued that they were protecting the “liberties of landlords or employers who have personal or religious objections to homosexuality” and were doing “no more than deny[ing] homosexuals special rights.”

Kennedy authored the 6-3 decision to overturn the amendment, arguing that the state’s reasoning failed to meet even basic legal requirements. The policy, Kennedy stated, was “born of animosity toward the class of persons affected” and rendered members of the gay community “unequal to everyone else.”

For the gay community, Romer marked what New York Times reporter Linda Greenhousedescribed as a “historic shift in the Court’s response to anti-gay discrimination,” stopping other states from following suit. It also provided “a strong statement” against anti-gay discrimination, because it was delivered by “a conservative member of a basically conservative Court.” Yet, in overturning the Colorado amendment, Kennedy rested his decision on the easiest of judicial standards – arguing that the state failed to provide any rational reason for the ban.

The court could have argued instead that members of the LGBTQ community have historically been excluded from a wide range of state protections – and have far more frequently been the targets of hostile policy actions. The court treats policies that target historically excluded communities as “suspect” and makes it more difficult for policies to prevail.

Policy actors who target historically excluded groups need to come up with a significant reason for creating the policy. They must also prove that there is no other way to achieve their policy goal.

More importantly, once a group is treated as historically excluded in court precedent any policy that targets the group will be evaluated with this more challenging standard of judicial scrutiny.

While Kennedy’s rulings have struck down important limitations on lesbian and gay rights, he has resisted treating the LGBTQ community as historically excluded – leaving them with a far less certain set of legal protections.

Relationships and Marriage

In 2003, Kennedy led the court’s majority in Lawrence v. Texas, overturning a Texas statute that criminalized same-sex sexual intimacy. In doing so, the court also overturned it’s prior 1986 decision in Bowers v. Hardwick, which upheld similar legislation in Georgia. Kennedy admonished the Bowers court for its “failure to appreciate the extent of the liberty at stake” and described bans on same-sex sexual conduct as “an attempt to control a personal relationship that, whether or not entitled to formal recognition in the law, is within the liberty of persons to choose without being punished as criminals.”

Bans on same-sex sexual intimacy licensed private citizens to treat lesbians and gay men as criminal. Free from the presumption of criminality, lesbians and gay men now had legal leverage to live openly and to fight for full equality.

Although the decision provided a legal mechanism for decriminalizing same-sex couples, Kennedy again resisted adopting the “historically excluded” framework. Instead, Kennedy argued that same-sex couples were being deprived, in this one instance, of important constitutional liberties.

Kennedy’s decisions on marriage equality provided similarly important but limited victories.

On June 26, 2013, Kennedy dismantled one of two barriers to marriage equality – a federal ban on same-sex marriage that prevented legally married same-sex couples from receiving the same federal benefits and protections offered to heterosexual married couples. In U.S. v. Windsor, Kennedy struck down the federal ban arguing that its only purpose was to “harm a politically unpopular group.”

State and federal judges used Windsor to overturn similar bans in more than 30 states.

Two years later, in Obergefell v. Hodges, Kennedy led the court in overturning the remaining state-level bans. Kennedy called specific attention to the ways in which bans on same sex marriage “harm and humiliate the children of same-sex couples” and impose on them the “significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents.”

Windsor and Obergefell changed the lives of same-sex couples and their children. Children now have the security of being legally tied to both of their parents. Spouses can access critical health care or insurance benefits. And, in many communities, same-sex headed households have become more common and less vilified.

Yet, again, Kennedy sidestepped the question of historical exclusion, potentially limiting the reach of the decisions and weakening their capacity to withstand coming legal challenges.

Legal Challenges Remain

Kennedy’s gay rights doctrine is relatively new and still highly contested.

For instance, Texas’s ban on same-sex sexual conduct is still on the books, despite Lawrence. And, the Texas Supreme Court is still questioning whether Obergefell requires the state to provide benefits to married same-sex couples.

Wedding service providers are refusing to serve same-sex couples and are making headway in court. Kennedy recently upheld the rights of a Colorado baker to refuse to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. He argued that compelling the baker “to exercise his artistic talents to express a message” that violated his religious beliefs could present a First Amendment problem. In the hands of a more conservative future court, that precedent could provide ammunition for the increasing number of states that are passing legislation allowing small businesses to refuse to work with same-sex couples on religious grounds.

Perhaps more importantly, there are many challenges to equality untouched by Kennedy’s rulings. This reality is a byproduct of his resistance to treating the LGBTQ community as historically excluded for the purposes of court doctrine. Discrimination against LGBTQ individuals in educationemployment, housing and public accommodations is still legal in more than 20 states. And recent legislative attacks targeting transgender individuals suggest that anti-LGBTQ activity is still prevalent in many communities.

There is no doubt that Justice Kennedy’s legacy has brought about an era of unprecedented – even unimagined – rights for gays and lesbians. The question is will his legacy persist and grow without him on the bench?

The post Justice Kennedy’s LGBTQ Legacy May Be Short-Lived appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Economy Adds 213,000 Jobs in June, Unemployment Edges Up to 4 Percent

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 15:32

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the economy added 213,000 jobs in June. With upward revisions to the data from the prior two months, the average gain over the last three months was 211,000. The unemployment rate edged up to 4 percent, but this was due to a reported surge of 601,000 people entering the labor force. The overall employment-to-population ratio (EPOP) was unchanged at 60.4 percent, tied for a high for the recovery. The EPOP for prime-age workers (ages 25 to 54) edged up to 79.3 percent, tying the high for the recovery reached in February.

In spite of the strong job gains and widely voiced complaints from employers about difficulties in finding workers, wage growth does not appear to be accelerating. The average hourly wage has increased by just 2.7 percent in the last year. The increase is the same for both overall employment and production and nonsupervisory workers.

In fact, if we compare the average wage for the last three months (April, May, and June) with the prior three months (January, February, and March), it appears to be slowing slightly, with an annualized growth rate of just under 2.6 percent. This suggests difficulties of finding qualified workers are hugely overstated.

The job gains in the establishment survey were broadly based. Manufacturing led the way with an increase of 36,000 jobs, 12,000 of which were in autos. In spite of healthy job growth, wage growth is especially weak in manufacturing, rising just 1.7 percent over the last year.

Health care added 25,200 jobs, almost exactly in line with its average over the last year. Professional and technical services added 25,100 jobs in June, more than its average of 18,900 over the last year. Jobs in educational services jumped 18,900, compared with an average of just over 5,500 in the last year. This may be due to erratic seasonal factors. Restaurants added 16,400 jobs in June, under the average of 18,400 over the year. The government sector added 11,000 jobs, mostly due to an increase of 13,000 jobs in local government.

The news in the household survey was mostly positive. The rise in prime-age EPOPs in June was all due to a 0.4 percentage point rise in the EPOP for women, as the EPOP for men fell 0.2 percentage points in the month. Nonetheless the EPOP for men is still 0.9 percentage points above its year-ago level, compared with 0.7 percentage points for women.

The EPOP for Hispanics rose 0.4 percentage points to 63.4 percent, a new high for the recovery, while their unemployment rate fell to 4.6 percent, the lowest on record. The number of people involuntarily working part-time fell by 205,000, hitting a new low for the recovery. It is now back to prerecession lows measured as a share of employment.

On the negative side, the unemployment rate for black workers increased 0.6 percentage points to 6.5 percent from the record low hit in May. This was most due to a 1 percentage point rise in the unemployment rate for black women, although their EPOP also rose by 0.6 percentage points.

The percentage of unemployment attributable to voluntary quits fell to 12.4 percent, more than reversing a big jump reported in May. While 12.4 percent is still high for this recovery, it is well below the rates of more than 14 percent seen the last time the unemployment rate was this low in 1999 and 2000.

The big gainers in terms of employment continue to be less-educated workers. The unemployment rate rose by 0.3 percentage points in June for college grads. It is now unchanged for the last year, half a percentage point above its prerecession level. By contrast, in the last year the unemployment rate has fallen by 0.4 percentage points for workers with just a high school degree, by 0.5 percentage points for workers with some college or an associate degree, and a full percentage point for workers with less than a high school degree.

The report also shows that the share of workers who have multiple jobs remained stable over the last year at 4.8 percent. The Contingent Workers Survey released two months ago showed that the claim that gig economy jobs were replacing traditional employment was a myth. In fact, it seems that gig economy jobs are largely replacing other forms of secondary employment as multiple job holding is down from recession peaks and back to prerecession levels.

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The overall picture is again one of a strengthening labor market, but one that is still not tight enough to produce substantial wage growth.

The post Economy Adds 213,000 Jobs in June, Unemployment Edges Up to 4 Percent appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Putin Was Helping Trump. Now They Have Meetings in Private.

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 15:31

It is a testament to how far we’ve fallen down the rabbit hole that on the afternoon of July 3, the Republican-led Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a report in which its members unanimously agreed that the evidence shows that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election on behalf of Donald Trump — and on July 4, a group of eight Republican senators were in Moscow, publicly glad-handing Russian officials. It was an odd juxtaposition to say the least.

The SSCI has been releasing reports on its investigation into Russian interference piecemeal, with the latest being the second of what’s expected to be at least three. The first report addressed the attempted hacking and infiltration of the election systems in the 2016 election by Russian entities. This second report confirmed the intelligence community’s findings that the Russian government had interfered in the election to hurt Hillary Clinton and then went all in to help Donald Trump. That wasn’t news, of course, but it is significant that the Republicans on the committee all signed off on those findings, contradicting the House Intelligence Committee’s Republican majority, refused to admit that their president had been a targeted beneficiary of the Russian campaign.

But the unclassified report did make some news — or at least it would have, had it been released at any other time but at 3 p.m. on the afternoon before a national holiday. The senators also found that the Russian campaign of interference continued past January of 2017, when the intelligence agencies’ assessment was released. They also found a “far more extensive Russian effort” to use social media to influence the American electorate than was known at that time.

In what is surely a disappointment to right-wing conspiracy theorists, they also confirmed that the infamous “Steele dossier” had no influence on the original intelligence report. It was handled separately, and there was no political bias involved in the analysis. In other words, Russian interference happened, which has been obvious for well over a year. Nonetheless, the president tweeted out this puerile whine just last week:

Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election! Where is the DNC Server, and why didn’t Shady James Comey and the now disgraced FBI agents take and closely examine it? Why isn’t Hillary/Russia being looked at? So many questions, so much corruption!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 28, 2018

The report didn’t address the big question as to whether or not the Trump campaign was aware of election interference on its behalf or collaborated with Russians in any fashion. That report is suspected to be more controversial and may possibly break down on party lines. We also may not see it for many months, particularly if the committee decide to hold it back for fear of interfering with special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation.

Nonetheless this current report is significant, both because of its bipartisan consensus and the aforementioned bizarre contrast of its release as a group of Republican senators were in Moscow assuring the Russian government that they weren’t there to cause any unpleasantness. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., led the group and essentially disavowed their previous promise to “be tough” on the Russian government over this issue. He said, “I’m not here today to accuse Russia of this or that or so forth. I’m saying that we should all strive for a better relationship.” It was, by all accounts, something of a love fest.

It’s not that the two countries shouldn’t strive for a better relationship. But rewarding this assault on the integrity of American elections only raises serious concerns that these Republicans are happy to see it continue. The fact that they didn’t (or couldn’t) make it a bipartisan mission makes the whole spectacle more suspicious. An earlier planned trip was scrapped last winter after the Russian government denied a visa to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., because of her critical comments. This time they just brought along Republican sycophants and everyone was happy.

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., returned from the trip early so that he could join President Trump for a rally in his home state on Thursday. He went on Fox News and said that the Republican delegation had told the Russian officials in no uncertain terms that they mustn’t interfere in elections, they’d better leave Ukraine alone, work toward peace in Syria and abide by their nuclear treaties. The Washington Post reported the obviously contemptuous Russian reaction:

“We heard things we’d heard before, and I think our guests heard rather clearly and distinctly an answer that they already knew — we don’t interfere in American elections,” said Sergey Kislyak, the former Russian ambassador to the United States and now a member of Russia’s upper house of parliament.

On Russian state television, presenters and guests mocked the US congressional delegation for appearing to put a weak foot forward, noting how the message of tough talk they promised in Washington “changed a bit” by the time they got to Moscow.

Meanwhile, Trump was still badmouthing all the NATO allies at his Montana rally on Thursday evening, which must tickle his Russian friends to no end. After his usual tiresome gripe about their alleged refusal to pay up, he made a particularly sharp remark, referring to something he allegedly said to German Chancellor Angela Merkel:

And I said, “You know Angela, I can’t guarantee it, but we’re protecting you, and it means a lot more to you. … I don’t know how much protection we get from protecting you.”

This thinly veiled threat came on the same day NATO ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchinson told the press that the relationship between the US and its European allies was just swell and she announced that “the overall theme of this summit is going to be NATO’s strength and unity.” It was a week of mixed Republican messages all around.

Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin will be meeting privately after the NATO summit, and apparently will not even have an American translator with them. Trump is confident that he knows what he’s doing. At his Montana rally he dismissively noted that people are always saying “you know President Putin is KGB and this and that.” And then he added:

You know, Putin is fine. He’s fine. We’re all people. Will I be prepared? I’ve been preparing for this stuff all my life.

That’s absurd. He’s a rich kid from New York who bankrupted casinos, sold some cheap junk, had a TV show and fooled a whole lot of gullible Americans. But Vladimir Putin actually has been preparing for this stuff his whole life. And he definitely knows a useful idiot when he sees one.

The post Putin Was Helping Trump. Now They Have Meetings in Private. appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Former EPA Officials Warn Pruitt’s Anti-Science Agenda Already Harmed Nation

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 15:25

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has resigned, amid an onslaught of financial and ethics scandals and widespread opposition to his campaign to roll back key environmental protections. President Trump announced Pruitt’s resignation via Twitter. Trump later told reporters, “Scott Pruitt did an outstanding job inside of the EPA. We’ve gotten rid of record-breaking regulations, and it’s been really good.” At the time of his resignation, Pruitt was facing more than a dozen federal investigations into ethical misconduct, ranging from lavish spending to asking subordinates to help his wife find a job. Just earlier this week, CNN reported Pruitt kept a secret calendar and schedule in an attempt to hide his meetings with many industry executives.

Please check back later for full transcript.

The post Former EPA Officials Warn Pruitt’s Anti-Science Agenda Already Harmed Nation appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Mainstream Media Coverage of the J20 Case Has Been Sloppy When Present at All

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 15:17
Janine Jackson interviewed Sam Menefee-Libey about a J20 prosecution update for the June 22, 2018, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

Janine Jackson: Listeners know that Washington, DC, police mass-arrested more than 200 people, including journalists, during protests at Donald Trump’s inauguration, in which a few windows were broken and a limousine set on fire. Federal prosecutors have surprised some by vigorously pursuing felony riot charges against some of the so-called “J20 protesters,” resulting in decades of prison time, even those they acknowledge engaged in no damage or violence but were simply present, and in some cases reporting.

Perhaps the only hopeful part of what seems a clear effort to criminalize dissent is that the wheels seem to be coming off it. Joining us now to bring us up-to-date is Sam Menefee-Libey, an organizer and member of the Dead City Legal Posse, a community group that’s come together to support J20 protesters. He joins us now by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome to CounterSpin, Sam Menefee-Libey.

Sam Menefee-Libey: Thanks so much for having me.

Unicorn Riot reports that a jury has just found another defendant not guilty on all but a riot charge, which the judge essentially dropped with a mistrial when the jury deadlocked. We’ve seen other jury acquittals, we’ve seen charges dropped. How many J20 defendants remain at this point, and what do you make of the current status of the government’s case against them?

So there are 44 defendants still facing trial. There are currently two defendants awaiting a verdict on a trial that started May 14.

At the beginning of the show, you noted a limo was set on fire on Inauguration Day. That actually happened five hours after the anti-fascist, anti-capitalist march was kettled. So it was an unrelated incident, and that’s been sort of an ongoing question, especially with media coverage. Many stories, especially in mainstream media, have used the limo fire as sort of a splash page, and it doesn’t have anything to do with this particular case.

So the cases, I think, are looking good right now. There have definitely been some positive developments over the past three weeks, from the Chief Judge Robert Morin of the DC Superior Court finding that there was an ongoing Brady violation by the US attorney’s office, in withholding dozens of videos with exculpatory value from the defense for over a year. That led to the dismissals of charges for ten defendants, and dismissals with prejudice on the conspiracy charges, as well as an order by the chief judge that the US attorney’s office could not proceed with the theory of the case based on Pinkerton liability, which would make it much harder to engage in the sort of blanket prosecution they’ve been doing.

So things are looking up right now, but they’re far from over. Unfortunately, there were four defendants in the middle of their trial when that Brady violation was found, and the evidence from the videos from Project Veritas, that was the subject of the Brady violation, had already been shown in court to the jury. There weren’t really any corrective measures for that. And so two of the defendants who are awaiting verdicts from the jury are set up in a difficult position, having known that there was this Brady violation, that there was this extraordinary development in the case, that wound up not yet having an impact on their trial, and their lives are in the jury’s hands.

I’m going to draw you out a little bit on, we’re calling it a Brady violation. It means the prosecutors withheld evidence that could have been exculpatory. In this case, we’re talking about elements from a video from a group — you said it quickly, I’m not sure if folks remember — Project Veritas. This is a group we know about. You might call them an entrapment group. They’re known for sleazily editing videos to put forth their particular point of view, but what, if you could tell us, what is the bit that they cut out of the video that was presented to the jury, and why did it matter?

Yeah, so the US attorney’s office and the Metropolitan Police Department have, throughout the entire duration of this case, over the past 17 months, useda bunch of videos from right-wing sources, including Project Veritas, the Oath Keepers, the Media Research Center, Rebel Media and others. Project Veritas is known, especially, for editing videos, yet the lead detective on the case, Detective Gregory Pemberton, admitted that he never looked into whether or not the footage that they received from Project Veritas was edited in any way, that they had no reasons to believe that it was; they made two small edits on their own. This is what they represented to the court repeatedly, for over a year.

Then it turned out that they’d actually lopped off a more significant portions at the beginning and the end of the video, that included conversations between the Project Veritas person and multiple others after the meeting in question, and then a discussion that the Project Veritas person had with someone on the phone, saying they “don’t know about any of the upper echelon stuff.”

The defense talked to this person who recorded these videos, and he said that he had no indication that anyone was planning violence, which is the reason that the prosecution claims that video was significant.

Though that’s the gist of that particular video, there are also 69 additional recordings that the prosecution withheld from defense counsel, and again, both the US attorney’s office and the Metro PD exhibited remarkable lack of curiosity about the veracity and authenticity and reliability of the information that they got from Project Veritas.

And actually, during the first trial, the day that the prosecution chose to show that video from Project Veritas was the same day that the Washington Post released a story about Project Veritas trying to sting them with a fake Roy Moore victim. So that was an interesting confluence of events for the first trial.

I’m going to bring you back to media coverage and that linking the protest to violence, and the defendants to violence, even when in many instances that’s not the case that the state is trying to make. They will say, “We don’t have any evidence that this person broke a window,” and that’s been part of the problem with the whole thing, is they are saying, “But they were there,” or, “They were dressed like people who we think may have been engaged in something,” but they’ve acknowledged, really from the beginning, that the burning limousine had nothing to do with the people who were arrested. It’s the media who’ve gotten that wrong.

The media coverage of this case from the beginning has been sloppy when it’s been present at all. There were notable stories from the Washington Post, from USA Today, from CNN and several others that tried to link the burning limo to the defendants, and then were very cavalier about not issuing corrections or issuing very minor corrections when they’re called on that. The Washington Post, actually, the editorial board, released an op-ed late last summer saying that no one should have any sympathy for these defendants, and that it wasn’t worth paying attention to. That was a real drag from the hometown newspaper here, but certainly not surprising, based on the Washington Post’s track record in recent years.

I found this fascinating: The New York Times on December 22 of last year referred to a group that “cut a violent swath through 16 blocks of the city, smashing windows of businesses, tossing newspaper boxes into the street and damaging a car.” Now the Washington Post, on January 19 of this year, in a story about J20, referred to a group that, “cut a violent swath through 16 blocks of the city, smashing businesses’ windows, tossing newspaper boxes into the street and damaging a limousine.”

Now, when I see that degree of laziness — I guess both of them were working off of a state press release of some sort, though neither attributed it; both reporters used it as it were their own words — that laziness is indicative, as you’ve just said, of the disinterest that corporate media have shown toward this case. The New York Times editorialized against the DreamHost data dragnet, when  prosecutors where trying to get info on anybody who looked at the Disrupt J20 website, but you sensed that the paper was making a distinction between the innocent people who might get caught up in that dragnet and those who were charged, who at the time still included photojournalist Alexei Wood — you know, a journalist.

You would hope that they would at least identify with their own, but when the charges were dropped against Wood, the Times reported that under the headline, “Journalist Charged With Rioting at Inauguration Day Protest Goes Free.” You know? Nowhere did we see a vigorous defense of protest, of dissent, much less of reporting on dissent from the very folks we would look for it from.

Yeah, I mean, FAIR’s own Adam Johnson has done really good work looking at how corporate media tend to just reprint state press releases from prosecutors and cops, with only minor alterations, and call it “news.” I think that’s happened a lot in this case. There are a lot of things at stake in this case, and that there are very interesting origins of it.

And a lot of other things: that the riot statutes that’s being used in this case was passed by Congress before DC got so-called Home Rule; it was actually passed in response to the uprisings in Detroit and Newark in 1967. This is an effort to bring back an old racist law to prosecute dissenters in the 21st century.

There’s also been a huge amount of work done by community activists in DC for years around police brutality and the practices of Metro PD that we’ve seen linked to this case some. Yesterday there was a story from journalist Sam Adler-Bell, talking about a police witness in this trial who wore a shirt joking about police brutality, and had actually been the instigator in a very disturbing incident of police brutality against a family in 2008. So I think there a lot of things that are happening here; questions about the First Amendment, which, of course, the New York Timesloves and the Washington Post loves, but they’re not digging into those questions here.

We’ve been speaking with Sam Menefee-Libey, organizer with the DC Legal Posse. Their website’s DCLegalPosse.org , but you can also follow this case at RightsAndDissent.org and UnicornRiot.Ninja. Sam Menefee-Libey, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

Thank you.

The post Mainstream Media Coverage of the J20 Case Has Been Sloppy When Present at All appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

“No Happy Ending” for Planet as Coal Lobbyist Andrew Wheeler Takes Over EPA

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 15:01

While the long-overdue departure of ceaselessly corrupt EPA chief Scott Pruitt on Thursday was undoubtedly a small win for the public and the planet, environmentalists were quick to note that “there’s no happy ending to this story” as Pruitt is being replaced by former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, who worked for years as an aide to fervent climate-denier Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.).

“Before everyone gets excited about Pruitt, remember we’re going to get all the same horrific policy under Andrew Wheeler, without any of the comic, attention-drawing personal corruption,” Vox environment writer David Roberts tweeted after President Donald Trump announced on Thursday that he had accepted Pruitt’s resignation.

“Pruitt’s departure may cost us some jokes,” added Public Citizen president Robert Weissman in a statement, “but it won’t change the Trump administration or help save the planet or Americans’ health. Next in line to run the EPA is a coal lobbyist.”

Judith Enck, an Obama-era former EPA regional administrator, told Mother Jones in an interview ahead of Wheeler’s confirmation as deputy EPA administrator in April that Wheeler serving as EPA chief would be comparable to “having a tobacco lobbyist heading up the American Lung Association.”

“Wheeler would continue the polluting policies of Pruitt but perhaps have the good sense not to violate federal ethics rules,” Enck predicted.

Green groups expressed the same sentiment in response to Pruitt’s resignation on Thursday.

In a statement, Friends of the Earth argued that fossil fuel industry insiders like Wheeler “have no business leading the EPA” and vowed to hold him accountable “for his efforts to harm our public health and environment” during his time as acting EPA chief.

Offering a glimpse of the sprawling financial conflicts of interests Wheeler brings to the top leadership post at the EPA, ProPublica tweeted a list of all the companies Wheeler has lobbied for as well as his financial disclosures:

With Scott Pruitt’s resignation, Andrew Wheeler is the EPA’s new acting head.

Want to see all the places Wheeler has lobbied for? We got you.https://t.co/evrrkRwNHF pic.twitter.com/koGXcxcHeG

— ProPublica (@ProPublica) July 5, 2018

Who would like to see new EPA head Andrew Wheeler’s financial disclosures?

Here you go. Comb away…

https://t.co/NzbPcEgiWv

— ProPublica (@ProPublica) July 5, 2018

While Wheeler may find it difficult to accumulate the same number of ridiculous scandals as his predecessor, many pointed to the fact that he hosted fundraisers for GOP senators while they were evaluating his nomination for deputy EPA administrator as clear evidence of his contempt for basic ethical standards.

One of the more illustrative points about incoming EPA chief Andrew Wheeler is that he actually had the don’t-give-a-f*ck attitude to throw a couple fundraisers for Senators in the lead up to his Senate confirmation.

— Sam Stein (@samstein) July 5, 2018

The Acting E.P.A. Chief will be former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler.

In February, Wheeler hosted fundraisers for GOP senators evaluating his nomination to the EPA. Remember when Trump promised to close the revolving door of lobbyists and D.C. bureaucrats? https://t.co/EBQvQLgDpN

— Public Citizen (@Public_Citizen) July 5, 2018

Noting that Pruitt’s resignation “should be welcome news to anybody who values clean air and water,” Earthjustice president Trip Van Noppen concluded in a statement on Thursday that it “does not close the chapter on the Trump administration’s continuous assault on commonsense environmental safeguards.”

The post “No Happy Ending” for Planet as Coal Lobbyist Andrew Wheeler Takes Over EPA appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Guatemala’s “Huelga” Protests Draw Attention to Corruption Among Elites

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 14:58

A weathered truck driver dozes amid a sea of traffic, one of countless others left stagnant across roads nationwide. His cargo a mere cog in the machine of the economy now halted by a network of roadblocks organized by protesters demanding transparency and justice.

The disruptions of November 7, 2017, are known as “huelgas,” a form of social protest whereby participants strike on motorways, drawing attention to political and social issues.

It is now summer, and thousands of Guatemalans are continuing their endeavor in what has become a routine display of political dissidence. Protesters gathered at Guatemala City’s historic center to make their demands: the resignation of President Jimmy Morales and justice for the murders of dozens of human rights defenders.

The International Commission against Impunity has been investigating Morales for corruption on allegations of illicit campaign financing for his victorious 2015 election campaign. Chief Prosecutor Thelma Adana in April 2018 stated that there is sufficient evidence to again seek to have Morales’s immunity stripped, after a failed attempt by Commission head Iván Velásquez Gómez.

Morales’s 2015 election scandal has struck a raw nerve among Guatemalans, mirroring his predecessor Otto Peréz Molina’s multimillion-dollar fraud case, which was also exposed by the Commission, resulting in widespread demonstrations and Molina’s resignation and prosecution.

The political climate in the country has only further intensified following Morales’s attempted removal and deportation of the Commission’s Gómez last August. The Constitutional Court of Guatemala overturned Morales’s ruling, however, and the president continues to evade the Commission’s intensifying pressure. Protesters in the region have mobilized amid rising social tension, demanding that Morales and 158 allegedly corrupt members of Congress step down.

According to Forbes, the Commission is an “international benchmark in the fight against corruption and impunity.” The Commission is held in high regard among Guatemalans, who gave it 70.1 out of 100 confidence points according to studies by the Latin American Public Opinion Project. The Project’s findings concluded that the Commission obtained a higher level of confidence rating than any other institution in 2017.

Moreover, the Guatemalan government’s desire to appease the US and Israel in their own pursuit of interventionist diplomacies has prevented it from addressing domestic social issues affecting Guatemalan people.

Morales, for instance, followed the US’s lead in December 2017 by announcing the relocation of Guatemala’s Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, drawing masses out to the streets in protest. Though Morales was elected on his supposedly moral rhetoric, his actions reflect an interest in improving US relations and attempting to dismantle anti-corruption entities.

Additionally, speculation surrounded the funding of a private flight that Morales and other government officials took to the celebration of their embassy move in Jerusalem. It was later revealed that casino magnate Sheldon Adelson provided the flight, raising questions about the intervention of US elites in Guatemala’s alluring support for Israel.

These foreign relations, coupled with Morales’s corruption allegations and other longstanding domestic issues, have created a tense sociopolitical climate among Guatemalans.

A Disrupted Journey Through Guatemala

I was swept into the November huelgas by chance while travelling from Chiapas, Mexico, to meet friends in Guatemala’s Lake Atitlán. Chiapas is famous for its own unique rebellion, where the Indigenous Mayan revolutionary “Zapatistas” continue to fight to this day for land rights.

I crossed from Chiapas into a region of Guatemala where the Comité de Desarrollo Campesino, or Peasant Development Committee (CODECA), originated. CODECA is a human rights organization established by Indigenous communities in 1992, committed to “improving the situation of the rural poor in Guatemala,” and the organization behind many of the November and June protests.

As I hesitantly boarded a small van departing from the Tecún Umán terminal in the Ayutla municipality, one elderly woman took a curious pleasure in grinning at me, the only foreign passenger, for the entire commute. Twenty-eight adults and an infant all squeezed economically together in the van, travelling for 10 minutes before encountering our first huelga.

What first struck me was the mechanical regularity at huelga checkpoints. Commuters were obviously hindered by the disruptions, yet showed no signs of discontent or frustration, reflecting an unspoken, shared support of the protests. Pedestrians were guided through like clockwork, their cooperation exchanged for passage. It was a disjointed yet fascinating movement to experience firsthand.

Protected by tire spikes and armed with a banner, this first group of activists made up one of the smaller demonstrations, but each checkpoint was subject to various semi-formal limitations. We exited the van just short of the huelga and walked in our cluster through the crowd before being quickly ushered under the protesters’ banner to the other side. We waded through the gathering to where crowds thinned enough to reveal a line of buses and boarded efficiently. In no time, we were again traveling across the Guatemalan countryside.

French human rights group Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l’Homme, or Acting Together for Human Rights, attributed the widespread support among Guatemalans for CODECA’s efforts to the continued discrimination and repression of poor populations, stating, “CODECA is particularly committed to the defence of the right of rural workers … more specifically women and children, to fight against their ‘invisible’ work which has grave consequences such as no schooling, illiteracy … [and] lack of autonomy of women.”

Private electricity distributor Energuate, sold by English private equity firm Actis Capital to Israeli firm Kenon Holdings, is another responsible party in this repression. In recent years, members of CODECA have been detained and killed throughout their struggle for rights, including beatings and the arrest of CODECA president during protests in 2014 against Energuate.

These activists were killed for demanding the nationalization of electrical distribution, a move that would return their electricity payments to the state and not a foreign corporation. Thousands participated following a power outage affecting 328,000 in April 2014, where protesters claimed Energuate deliberately caused the outage.

In late August of the same year, there was an immense backlash from the Indigenous population following the congressional approval of the “Monsanto Law,” introduced by the US through trade agreements that privatized seeds. Education programs explaining the detriment of the law were established in Sololá, a major agricultural city with one of the country’s largest Indigenous populations. Two days later, 25,000-30,000 protesters shut down the Inter-American highway with successful huelgas that saw Congress repeal the law.

During more recent protests this June, activists demanded justice for seven of their leaders who were murdered in prior weeks for defending their rights to land and natural resources.

Further, CODECA’s blockades angered Guatemalan trade institutions for the “economic losses generated,” according to Latin American News Agency Prensa LatinaBy halting commercial trade routes, the organization created a fiscal impediment for other private companies operating in the region.

Like the Zapatista revolutionaries from Chiapas, CODECA is a remarkable movement in its grassroots tactics. Their struggle is another page in a long narrative of revolutionaries who preceded it, written by the likes of Simón Bolívar, Emiliano Zapata and Che Guevara. CODECA continues those leaders’ contributions to social resistance that still define much of Latin America’s politics.  

Beyond Coatepeque, I ventured deeper into the Retalhuleu Department where another, larger huelga and its turnout reflected stronger community sentiment. The atmosphere here was unforgettable, with buzzing vehicles and vibrant crowds of participants. Arm-in-arm, a young couple weaved blithely through the still traffic to the passionate cries of organizers bellowing through megaphones while microcapitalists maximized the moment to sell products. To the oblivious couple, the huelga provided a spontaneous moment to bask in each other’s company amid the thriving political atmosphere.

By now I had a working knowledge of the dynamics of these demonstrations, though what impressed me most was their sheer effectiveness. The protests were temporary clots in the veins of the country’s feeble infrastructure: You could almost feel the industrial transport line grinding to a halt like inert blood, malignant to the body of the Guatemalan economy. Drivers swaying in hammocks tied from their truck axels exemplified the stagnant commodities clinging to checkpoints dotted all over this region of Guatemala.

The communities living where I travelled are no strangers to social action, seemingly habituated to these kinds of blockades, and prepared with their own pragmatic responses. For instance, as I ventured deeper inland where larger municipalities housed bustling communities, huelgas resembled active hubs of local economic potential.

These hubs were a testament to how effective the huelgas were in hindering macro-level economic activity as local markets and street vendors blossomed. The huelgas seemed to highlight the country’s contrasting economic interests: The protests served the interests of the working class while bringing attention to elite corruption.

Still, government backlash is evident in a bill designed to restrict freedoms of the press and of expression, potentially prohibiting blockades of this kind. The bill was authored by Congressional Commission member Hernandez Azmitia, who has labeled huelga participants as “terrorists” setting out to “cause damage to private initiatives.” Dorian Taracena is among the lawmakers who opposed the bill, seeing its language as broad enough that it “could be used to interpret protests and strikes as criminal acts.”

The final leg of my journey was a peaceful boat ride across the breathtaking volcanic Lake Atitlán nestled among steep mountains. As my dawn-to-dusk journey was nearing completion, I felt invigorated by the perseverance of the Guatemalan people and their network of organized disruptions that both fulfilled their political purpose and accommodated the needs of locals. As a student of political science, I was beyond intrigued: I was inspired by the collective action.

My tumultuous journey through rural Guatemala became an invaluable insight into the country’s domestic politics. I quickly learned that Guatemalans were a people on the move, and gained an appreciation of their struggles, an inspiring story unfolding in real time.

The post Guatemala’s “Huelga” Protests Draw Attention to Corruption Among Elites appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Seeing Dystopia and Dreaming Abolition at the US-Mexico Border

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 14:16

Since the installment of the children’s internment camps at Tornillo, Texas — a small community outside my hometown of El Paso — I’ve received a lot of queries concerning the history, struggles and general feelings among people living near the US-Mexico border. Although I would hesitate generalizing any 1,954-mile international boundary populated by millions of people and countless ecosystems, I think it is safe to say that one word aptly describes the US-Mexico border: dystopia.

I’m neither a literary scholar nor a science fiction aficionado, but I’ve watched Netflix enough to recognize a dystopia when I see one. Dystopias are usually imaginary societies where social order is imposed through a horrific combination of authoritarian policies and institutions. When I reflect on the border community I grew up with and the other border communities I’ve come to know, I can’t help but see an eerie vision of the world to come.

Every dystopia is different, and the one I grew up in at El Paso, Texas, certainly has its characteristic flavor. To understand it, you need to imagine a city where you cannot exit without passing an inspection station to have your nationality confirmed; where predator drones, heat sensors and repurposed technology from overseas wars patrol the deserts; where families are incarcerated because they lack a specific paper deeming them “legal”; where billion-dollar nonprofits enrich themselves from “sheltering” migrant children in detention jails; where those who cannot prove they are “legal” are moved to camps, military bases and repurposed department stores; where federal paramilitary groups freely enter your property and violate your civil rights looking for “illegals” and “terrorists”; where some people have giant steel walls for neighbors; where asylum seekers are denied entry at the mid-point of international bridges because all holding cells are “at capacity”; where do-gooders have to dodge federal paramilitary forces to get bottled water to families dying of thirst in deserts because their activities are “illegal.”

The trouble is that this is no science fiction — this is the face of the US-Mexico border, and it’s been this way since before I was born. The violence happening at the border is not an aberration or an exceptional far-right development. Violence has been inscribed into the US-Mexico border since its inception. The southern border is a classic US institution born of the US’s territorial conquest in the 1840s, hardened with the inscription of “illegality” on non-white persons during the onset of Chinese exclusion, and loyally enforced with the help of white-settler lynch mobs and a paramilitary force established in 1924 that continues to haunt our communities. If we fail to grasp the historical violence of the border, we will fail in any attempt at transforming it.

In recent weeks, for example, some have boldly asserted that electing Democrats to Congress will change this situation at the border. The historical record prevents me from taking this position seriously. Since the 1980s investment in border militarization has grown with bipartisan support, often shrouded in the language of “border security.” Today’s border is as much a product of Bush and Trump as it is of Clinton and Obama.

The border is therefore a bipartisan dystopia — one finely attuned to the rhythm of bourgeois democracy, where the newly elected denounce their predecessors while enshrining and strengthening their technologies of repression. It is my deep and unapologetic belief that we can no longer reform the border so as to make it more humane. The time has come to organize for the opening of the border and the abolition of all state apparatuses that detain, deport, intimidate, hunt and kill those attempting to migrate.

When I use the word “abolition,” I hope to invoke one of the most important emancipatory traditions on the continent: abolition democracy. Although the term was first introduced by W.E.B Du Bois in Black Reconstruction to describe the social revolution launched by Black Americans during the Civil War and Reconstruction, abolition democracy is rooted in centuries of transcontinental Black resistance to slavery and the structures of racial capitalism. Likewise, important Black feminist thinkers, such as Angela Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Mariame Kaba have enriched and expanded the concept to call for the abolition of the prison-industrial complex. These thinkers have produced a canon of theory that has been intimately woven with direct action and has consistently encouraged collective organizing as the best means to “create the conditions for dismantling prisons, police, and surveillance.”

Today, border communities in resistance are already seeking an engaged conversation about abolition. Whereas 10 years ago, many organizers were calling for immigration reform, one can increasingly encounter local demands for the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Border Patrol, US Customs and Border Protection and the borderline itself. Often, these demands are hushed or pushed aside at rallies for more “manageable” goals, but such “manageable” strategies have not led to any comprehensive decrease in the militarization of border communities and the violence waged against migrants.

If we fail to grasp the historical violence of the border, we will fail in any attempt at transforming it.

Fortunately, many organizations offering direct aid to detained migrants are already ahead of the curve. Migrant solidarity groups such as the Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee and the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project are actively implementing abolitionist praxis, seeking ways to support detained migrants while they work to abolish migrant detention itself. Aside from visitations and documentation, these groups have also established migrant bond funds, which pay exceedingly high bails (sometimes in the tens of thousands) so that migrants can leave ICE custody. In many ways, this is deeply similar to other abolitionist bond funds around the country, like the Chicago Community Bond Fund, which also mixes advocacy with a bond fund that has already freed hundreds of people from Cook County Jail.

The effort to build a robust border abolitionist movement is already being nourished by the solidarity expressed by other abolitionist organizers, among them Mariame Kaba, who have actively reached out to join us in struggle. In this new, intensified period of resistance, we are in a perfect position to begin a serious exchange between fronterizx (border-dwelling) emancipatory traditions and the abolitionism that has emerged from the Black Radical Tradition. It is my deepest hope that fronterizxs will likewise join our comrades in organizing for the end of the prison-industrial complex: an infrastructure that is deeply interwoven with the history of racial exclusion and migrant detention at the border. Yet, to do so adequately, we will also have to organize against the histories of anti-Blackness, anti-Indigenousness and homophobia that still persist in our communities.

In the days to come, those of us who embrace an abolitionist framework will certainly face dismissal, rejection and accusations of extremism. Yet abolitionists have always encountered these accusations and have always organized beyond them. We are brought to this work because we firmly believe the world we seek is one free from the dystopia of racial capitalism, garrison states and internment camps. And a world free from prisons, borders and the fascist pendejadas of la polimigra (i.e. the fascist nonsense of ICE, the police and the Border Patrol) is ultimately the one we all deserve.

The post Seeing Dystopia and Dreaming Abolition at the US-Mexico Border appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Indefinite Detention of Migrants Violates International Law

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 14:09

Pursuant to its “zero-tolerance” policy, the Trump administration separated some 2,300 migrant children from their parents at the US-Mexico border since May 5, 2018. Widespread international condemnation ensued. On June 26, a federal judge in San Diego ordered the government to reunite the families and established a timetable for reunification.

On June 29, the Department of Justice filed a notice of compliance with the court order, but indicated its intention to indefinitely detain families together. Indefinite detention violates international law.

“The Government will not separate families but detain families together during the pendency of immigration proceedings when they are apprehended at or between ports of entry,” the Justice Department wrote in its notice of compliance.

That would amount to indefinite detention as immigration cases can last for months or even years.

A 1997 settlement called the Flores agreement requires that detained immigrant children be released after 20 days. In its notice of compliance, the Justice Department asked the court to modify the Flores agreement to allow indefinite detention of migrants.

Meanwhile, on July 2, a federal judge in Washington ordered the government to give asylum applicants a meaningful opportunity to be released. More than 1,000 applicants have been incarcerated for months or years with no resolution of their cases.

Indefinite detention violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Refugee Convention and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

A Violation of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

The United States has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, making its provisions part of US law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, which says treaties “shall be the supreme law of the land.”

The UN Human Rights Committee is the expert body that monitors compliance with the covenant.* The committee has stated that detentions are arbitrary if they do not accord with due process and are manifestly disproportional, unjust or unpredictable.

Indeed, according to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions, under the covenant, “‘arbitrariness’ is not to be equated with ‘against the law’, but must be interpreted more broadly to include elements of inappropriateness, injustice, lack of predictability and due process of law.”

Keeping families locked up for months with no good reason is unjust and inappropriate. It denies them due process and a timely resolution of their legal claims. And their time of release is unpredictable.

Moreover, the Human Rights Committee has said that even if detention is initially legal, it could become “arbitrary” if unduly prolonged or not subject to periodic review.

People deprived of their liberty are entitled to a speedy trial. When they are arbitrarily detained, they have the right to compensation under the covenant.

The covenant’s provisions are not limited to citizens, but apply in cases of immigration control as well. Parties to the covenant may refuse to comply with them only “in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation.”

Alfred de Zayas, UN independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, and former secretary of the Human Rights Committee, wrote in 2016 that, “Neither the war on terror nor restrictive immigration policies justify indefinite detention.”

Experts report that prolonged indefinite detention can cause anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.

Even brief detentions can result in permanent physical and mental harm to children. The American Academy of Pediatrics wrote a 2015 letter to the Secretary of Homeland Security, which stated, “The act of detention or incarceration itself is associated with poorer health outcomes, higher rates of psychological distress, and suicidality, making the situation for already vulnerable women and children even worse.”

Documents obtained by the ACLU reveal that children in the custody of Customs and Border Protection between 2009 and 2014 suffered horrific brutality and physical, sexual and verbal abuse.

Negative effects of prolonged detention may amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in violation of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which the United States has ratified.

A Violation of the Refugee Convention

The United States is also a party to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, which prohibits parties from imposing penalties on refugees for illegal entry or presence. The refugees must either: (1) come from a place where their life or freedom was threatened; or (2) enter or be present without authorization. They are required to present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their unauthorized entry or presence.

Indefinite detention constitutes a penalty prohibited by the Refugee Convention.

After an initial period of detention, the Refugee Convention allows countries to impose restrictions on movement if they are “necessary” for national security or in special circumstances, such as a mass arrival of refugees.

Neither of those two conditions was present before Trump ordered indefinite detention of families.

Contrary to Trump’s nativist claims, immigrants are actually less likely to commit crimes than US citizens. And a Customs and Border Protection report concluded that rates of illegal entry at the UN border in 2017 were “at the lowest level … on record.”

A Violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states, “No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.”

Although the United States has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the US has signed it. A signatory to a treaty cannot take action inconsistent with the object and purpose of the treaty.

A primary object and purpose of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is to protect the best interests of the child. Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, stated that, “Detention is never in the best interests of the child and always constitutes a child rights violation.”

Pentagon Builds Migrant Housing on Military Bases

As it formulates plans to indefinitely detain migrant families, the Pentagon is constructing temporary housing for them at two Texas military bases — Fort Bliss in El Paso and Goodfellow Air Force Base near San Angelo.

A US Navy internal document says the Navy is planning to build tent cities to house migrants, including two camps in California slated to house up to 47,000 people each. They will be called “austere” tent cities.

Since 1983, one of the sites, the former Concord Naval Weapons Station in California, has been undergoing “clean-up of Navy contamination and is not suitable for transfer nor human occupation,” according to Concord Mayor Edi Birsan.

“The idea that you put almost 50,000 people in a tent city facility in the middle of the Bay Area, an urban area, is absurd,” California Rep. Mark DeSaulnier wrote in a letter to the secretary of the Navy. “This does remind me of World II and Japanese internment. We don’t want to be a party to that.”

In the meantime, local officials across the United States are resisting Trump’s inhumane policies. Officials in Texas near Austin, California’s Sacramento County, Springfield County in Western Oregon, and Alexandria, Virginia, have cancelled deals with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain migrants.

*This is a different body than the UN Human Rights Council, from which the United States recently withdrew.

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Categories: News

Republicans Finally Turn on Trump’s Trade War, but Will They Confront Him?

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 15:56

When it comes to the Republican Party, Donald Trump can do no wrong. Sure, he’s ignorant and undisciplined and has taken a wrecking ball to our democracy at home and our alliances abroad. His administration is the most openly corrupt in history, and he is personally under investigation for possible conspiracy with a foreign power. But nobody’s perfect! His followers love him, the economy is working well for rich people again, they’re going to get their solid Supreme Court majority and he signed their massive tax cut bill. Who are they to rock the boat over rampant corruption and betrayal of national security?

As I have written many times, going all the way back to the presidential campaign, the Trump phenomenon exposed something important about the conservative movement which has spent decades building up an edifice of ideology that went beyond simply “Fool the rubes into voting to give rich people their money.” (Others have made this point in depth.) It is now obvious that they were wasting their breath with all that folderol about “small government” and “freedom” and “individualism.” Trump showed that underneath it all, the dogwhistles were the conservative movement.

No, conservatives simply don’t care that Russia attacked the US in the last election, because it benefited them. They certainly don’t care about the toxic swamp of corruption that threatens to drown the entire government. But for all of their sycophantic enabling, there is one area that has the GOP contemplating a small revolt because it will actually hurt their voters directly in the pocketbook and affect their donors’ bottom lines. Those are things for which they do have some respect. I’m talking about the trade war.

I should say at the outset that there are some good arguments for targeted tariffs and a reevaluation of trade deals and global financial institutions. Progressives have complained for decades about the international trade structure in which the benefits all float up to oligarchs and multinationals while workers are squeezed from all sides. There is a legitimate debate to be had here. But Donald Trump is not the man to lead it.

It’s often been observed that Trump formed his trade philosophy, if you want to call it that, in the ’80s. He used to rant about the Japanese in exactly the same terms as he once ranted about the Chinese and is now ranting about Mexico, Canada and the European Union. Catherine Rampell of The Washington Post archly pointed out that Trump’s views are entirely defensible — at least, by the standards of the 1680s, when mercantilism reigned. She explains:

What is mercantilism, exactly? As you may remember from some long-ago high school class, it’s an economic philosophy that was prevalent in the 17th and 18th centuries. In a nutshell, mercantilists believed a country should try to maximize exports and minimize imports. The logic was this: Military power comes from wealth; wealth comes from accumulating gold and silver; and the way you accumulate gold and silver is through trade surpluses. Your merchant ships should go out loaded with attractive goods and came back overflowing with shiny specie.

There basically was no such thing as modern-day trade diplomacy; tariffs were high, and no one would have trusted anyone to stick to trade agreements anyway, since everyone was trying to maintain trade surpluses at once. Which is fundamentally impossible. It was a zero-sum view of the world. Nothing was win-win, everything was win-lose, and everyone was suspicious of everyone else.

As you also may remember from high school history, then a dude named Adam Smith waltzed onto the scene. He (and subsequently other classical economists, such as David Ricardo) turned much of this thinking on its head. Smith showed that real national wealth doesn’t come from amassing piles of gold, which are transitory. Wealth comes from increasing productivity — that is, by figuring out how to make stuff more efficiently, which permanently increases living standards.

How do you increase productivity? By specializing in what you do well and honing your skills in that area. Then you trade with other people who do other stuff well. Through these transactions, over time, everyone gets richer. In other words: Trade is not zero-sum; it’s positive-sum.

Trump wouldn’t know mercantilism from militarism, and his instincts in this matter are simplistic because he sees everything in life as a zero-sum game: He wins, you lose.

He tweeted this back in March:

When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win. Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don’t trade anymore-we win big. It’s easy!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 2, 2018

Even a grade-school kid can see the holes in that argument. He seems under the illusion that other countries can’t fight back or can’t survive if they do. That’s just not true. They can and they will.

That fact is making even the supine GOP Congress get restive as Trump’s willy-nilly tariffs on China, Canada and the EU are starting to bite their own constituents and as those partners retaliate.

According to Politico, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who previously suggested that Trump would be one of the greatest presidents who ever lived, said he’d “like to kill him” over the tariff question (which I’m sure was just a figure of speech.) Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, another Republican who is getting an earful from his voters, says “Individual senators have met with the president, including me. The [Agriculture] Committee met with him, the Finance Committee met with him. And there’s nobody for this.”

Trump simply doesn’t understand what he’s doing, and until Congress steps in and does its job, he will continue to do whatever he wants. He is unrestrained by reality because he’s in so far over his head that he can’t see it.

There is some movement by Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., to put a stop to Trump’s use of “national security” as a rationale for imposing tariffs. He ludicrously used that excuse to hit Canada. But that seems months away, if ever. Meanwhile, Trump’s’s talking about tearing up more trade agreements and withdrawing from the World Trade Organization. He apparently believes he can personally negotiate take-it-or-leave-it bilateral trade deals with every country in the world, based on some boilerplate that demands that all other nations allow the US to make money at their own expense. Republicans know this is daft but seem to be convinced that they cannot defy him even on behalf of their own voters.

At this point you have to wonder if Republicans don’t simply hope that Democrats win a congressional majority in November and do their dirty work for them. If it weren’t that much of the world’s prosperity rested on this issue, it would be understandable if the Democrats told them it was their mess and they had to clean it up. Unfortunately, like so many aspects of the Trump presidency, this Republican mess is toxic for all of us.

The post Republicans Finally Turn on Trump’s Trade War, but Will They Confront Him? appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Federal Judge Rules Against Indefinite and Arbitrary Detention for Asylum Seekers

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 15:41

A federal judge has ruled that the Trump administration may not arbitrarily detain people seeking asylum. US District Judge James Boasberg ruled asylum seekers who have passed a credible fear interview should be given humanitarian parole, not indefinite detention. The suit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights First and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies. We speak with Eunice Lee, co-legal director at the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies.

Please check back later for full transcript.

The post Federal Judge Rules Against Indefinite and Arbitrary Detention for Asylum Seekers appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Detained Mothers Are Organizing to Reunite With Their Kids

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 15:40

While the government struggles to reunite families who have been separated at the border under President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, one detained Honduran woman has been organizing mothers behind bars to help find their children. The New Yorker reports that Mabel Gonzales has carefully documented the cases of mothers who have been separated from their children at a detention facility in El Paso, Texas, where she is currently jailed. Gonzales herself was separated from her two teenage sons eight months before the Trump administration announced its “zero tolerance” policy. She records the details of other separated mothers despite not being allowed to have a notebook while detained. She then shares the information with the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso to help separated mothers locate their children. We speak with Linda Rivas, executive director and lead attorney of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center.

Please check back later for full transcript.

The post Detained Mothers Are Organizing to Reunite With Their Kids appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Americans Are Not as Divided or Conservative on Immigration as You Might Think

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 15:07

Lawmakers in Washington, from the president down to first-term members of Congress, may be misjudging how the public feels about immigration.

President Donald Trump appears to believe the country needs and wants hard-line policies. Members of Congress haven’t stopped him from carrying out those policies.

Do the American people really support them?

It turns out that government officials who think the majority of Americans want hard-line immigration policies are wrong.

Elected officials – both Republican and Democratic – tend to think that their constituents are more conservative than they actually are on immigration and other issues. Moreover, recent research suggests that Republican constituents have been more likely to contact their elected officials than Democratic constituents.

Yet, my research on public opinion about immigration, and that of other social scientists, shows that the American public is supportive of more welcoming immigration policies. Welcoming policies might include a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, accepting more asylum claims or allowing the use of multiple languages in public places.

Most Americans Support a Path to Citizenship

I am a scholar of public opinion about immigration and national identity, and I have studied how people from a variety of backgrounds feel about immigration-driven diversity in the United States.

Let’s look at public opinion on one immigration proposal that has been debated for over a decade: providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the US.

Since late 2007, polls conducted by CBS and The New York Times have asked respondents which option they prefer when it comes to “illegal immigrants working in the United States.” The options include: allow them to stay in their jobs and eventually apply for US citizenship; allow them to stay only as guest workers but not apply for citizenship; or require them to leave their jobs and the country.


 This question has been asked in 31 CBS/New York Times surveys since 2007. In 22 of them, providing a path to citizenship is the majority preference. Support for citizenship has not fallen below 50 percent since 2013. In fact, support has increased over time, a trend that has continued throughout Trump’s presidency.

Support for a path to citizenship varies by one’s background when it comes to race, gender, education, income, party and ideology. However, support is high across the board, even among those who say they are Republican or conservative.

Of course, this is only one of many immigration policies getting attention these days, and support for other policies varies.

Attitudes on this policy show that Americans are not as divided or as conservative as the discourse coming out of Washington, DC might reflect and is becoming even more supportive of the welcoming approach. Yet, providing a path to citizenship is also the primary policy that seems to keep thwarting legislative reform in Congress.

A Welcoming Climate Need Not Alienate US-Born Whites

Public officials may be concerned about alienating non-immigrant whites if they pursue welcoming immigration policies. We tried to find out whether that alienation could happen. In a recent experiment, my colleagues and I asked US-born whites in Arizona and New Mexico how they felt about their state adopting more welcoming or restrictive immigration policies.

We asked people if the proposed policy would make them angry, sad or happy. We found that liberal and moderate whites responding to the more welcoming treatment were more likely to be happy and less likely to be angry or sad than were those who were responding to the restrictive treatment.

We also asked them if the proposed policy would make them feel more or less at home and more or less likely to want to move. Again, we found that liberal and moderate whites, in response to the welcoming treatment, felt more at home and less likely to want to move than did liberal and moderate whites who were given the unwelcoming treatment.

Only conservative whites were happier, less angry, less sad and felt more at home in response to restrictive treatment. Every one else fared better when told that their state was considering adopting policies that welcomed immigrants.

It is worth noting that in the 2016 data mentioned above, only 35 percent of whites identified as conservative while 65 percent identified as either liberal, moderate or other.

Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease

Given these data, why is a conservative approach to immigration dominating in Washington?

In American politics, it is the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. Within the Republican Party, which holds a majority of seats in Congress, voters with more conservative preferences on immigration and other issues have been more active in recent years than other party members. As long as that continues to be the case, Republican politicians will feel that they need to push restrictive immigration policies if they wish to remain in office, even if the majority of their constituents feel otherwise.

As more and more people respond to President Trump’s immigration agenda with protests and participation in electoral politics, this asymmetry in engagement may change.

The post Americans Are Not as Divided or Conservative on Immigration as You Might Think appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

A Nationwide Campaign to Take Back Cities From the Corporations That Rule Them

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 14:58

On June 20, the Partnership for Working Families, a national network of advocacy organizations, announced the launch of a brand new campaign dubbed “We Make This City.” It consists of 10 cities — Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Oakland, Pittsburgh, San Diego, San Jose and Seattle — fighting for access to and a say over public infrastructure, from transit to housing to schools to water.

“It is a reaction to … the erosion of the public sector, the erosion of public goods and the erosion of regular people having a direct say in shaping the futures of the areas in which they live,” Partnership for Working Families deputy director Lauren Jacobs told In These Times. It’s also in opposition to “the rise in corporations having an outsized role in shaping the direction and future of cities,” she said.

There’s increased urgency as technology behemoths hold sway over cities, from Amazon’s beauty pageant for its second headquarters to its defeat of a new tax in Seattle. “Companies like Amazon or Google come in and want to try to drive decisions around the makeup and nature of the city,” Jacobs said. “We don’t show up to somebody’s house and say, ‘Well unless you remodel the bedroom or put in the finest linens and have breakfast for me I’m going to wreck your front yard.’”

We Make This City is “a campaign but also an agenda,” Jacobs added. The message is: “We have enough,” she said. “The other side often talks as though we don’t have enough money… We want to expose that, actually, we do have enough money in cities and metro regions. [The question] is about who controls it.” The coalition wants “to put forward a vision of abundance and fight back against the use of scarcity as a way to drive an extractive agenda,” Jacobs explained.

There’s good reason to focus on cities. For one thing, about two-thirds of the country’s population lives in them. For another, they are hotbeds of organizing, from Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter. The Partnership for Working Families aims to connect those organizers so they can help each other build their movements.

In New York, as Governor Andrew Cuomo invests in new subway lines and upgrades, such as electrifying city buses and adding a new train to connect Manhattan with LaGuardia airport, ALIGN, a community organization in the city, wants to ensure that money is also going to serving “transit deserts” that don’t currently have access to the subway. “We want to have transit equity,” said Maritza Silva-Farrell, the group’s executive director. Investment “needs to be given priority to those communities so folks can get to and from work and really allow folks to be able to live in the city.” One particular goal is to turn the city’s school bus system into a worker-owned cooperative while also transitioning to electric buses to benefit students’ health.

Advocates are also looking to expose the banks and real estate companies that may be profiting from the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s woes, including “figuring out why it is that we are so much in debt and how we’re covering the interest that we are paying,” Silva-Farrell said. ALIGN is working on a map of the corporations and banks that wield influence over the governor and state legislature as they make decisions about things like public transit.

It’s about “how we as people who live in the city can define, and will be defining, what kinds of transportation, housing, infrastructure overall we want in our city,” she said. “We’re trying to transform systems from the bottom up.”

Coalition members in Atlanta are also focused on transportation. “Traffic here in Atlanta is now so severe … it’s really become an issue,” said Amari Foster, an organizer with Georgia STAND-UP. But currently, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority only serves a few counties.

In its most recent session, the Georgia legislature voted to give 13 communities not currently served by MARTA the opportunity to opt into an expansion. So now Georgia STAND-UP is pushing to get the issue on the ballot in three counties that are predominantly African-American or Hispanic.

The group also wants to install a transit rider on the committees that make decisions about public transit. Right now it’s made up of positions filled by elected officials. There’s no one “from the community that would have the community’s best interest in terms of new development and where they’re going to put stations,” Foster said.

“People are paying into this, they’re being taxed for the service, and it’s not everywhere that it needs to be,” she added. And yet it’s clear “how critical and important transportation is in terms of jobs and health and everyday life.”

Other cities are focusing on issues most important to them. In Pittsburgh, a group called Pittsburgh United is highlighting the connection between privatizing the city’s water system and the high concentration of lead in the water. To deal with massive debt, the city hired private firm Veolia in 2012 to oversee operation of the system. But the firm has been accused of cutting corners that led to high lead concentrations of lead in the water.

The lessons learned in that fight are also helping to inform LAANE in Los Angeles, which is also focused on public access to water.

While each city has its own agenda and goals, the general thread of public goods and public control binds the campaign together. The cities are in regular contact, sharing best practices on research, tactics, and how to expose the ills of privatization.

The structure, in which a coalition of cities band together but focus on their own grassroots initiatives, is purposeful. “A lot of times there has been a move to think that you can come up with one-size-fits-all solutions you drive down to the local level,” Jacobs said. Instead, We Make This City is focused on lifting up what’s going on at the grassroots. “There are a lot of solutions and ingenuity on the ground,” she said. “How do we learn from each other, share wisdom, share tactics, share strategies, and look at ways we can combine forces at key moments?”

The post A Nationwide Campaign to Take Back Cities From the Corporations That Rule Them appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Ocasio-Cortez’s Climate Platform Is Just What the Planet — and the Democrats — Need

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 14:55

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who recently won her Democratic primary to represent New York’s deep blue 14th Congressional District — defeating a longtime representative who was a poweful player in the party — is running on a climate platform that is exciting scientists and constituents alike.

Ocasio-Cortez “strongly supports transitioning the United States to a carbon-free, 100 percent renewable energy system and a fully modernized electrical grid by 2035,” which, according to her platform, she hopes to achieve by “encouraging the electrification of vehicles, sustainable home heating, distributed rooftop solar generation, and the conversion of the power grid to zero-emissions energy sources.”

“It’s time to shift course and implement a Green New Deal — a transformation that implements structural changes to our political and financial systems in order to alter the trajectory of our environment,” the platform declares. “The Green New Deal believes that radically addressing climate change is a potential path towards a more equitable economy with increased employment and widespread financial security for all.”

While reports over the past week have heralded the 28-year-old progressive candidate as the Democratic Party’s next champion of climate policy, in a New Republic article published Tuesday, journalist Emily Atkins asked experts to weigh in on a plan that, as Ocasio-Cortez described it, would be “similar in scale to the mobilization efforts seen in World War II or the Marshall Plan.”

“Climate scientists overwhelmingly agree that aggressive action is needed to stave off the violent storms, rising seas, and debilitating droughts projected to worsen as the climate warms,” Atkins wrote. “That means rapidly decarbonizing the US economy — much like Ocasio-Cortez has proposed. But for most of the the climate scientists I spoke to, their alignment with Ocasio-Cortez’s plan stops there.”

Simply put, experts told Atkins “the Green New Deal lacks some important details.” Penn State climate scientist David Titley, who was previously a leader at NOAA, asked: “How will energy be stored as an economical cost if only using wind and solar? What is the role for nuclear power in such a plan? Who will fund this transition?”

Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University’s Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences explained that a quick transition isn’t enough, because “the heat-trapping greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere will remain there for at least a century and cause additional impacts.”

Thus, she continued, “the plan to convert to renewable energy sources must be accompanied by efforts and resources to develop technology that can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, along with a carbon fee to discourage further extraction and burning of fossil fuels.”

Even so, Francis added, “a plan of the magnitude and pace proposed by Ms. Ocasio-Cortez would be a critically important step in the right direction, albeit long overdue.” Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State, said, “This is just the sort of audacious and bold thinking we will need if we are going to avert a climate crisis.”

As Atkins summarized on Twitter: 

Climate scientists tell me Ocasio-Cortez’s plan to fight climate change is “audacious and bold,” but also half-baked.

But half-baked is further along than most Democrats, who haven’t even entered the oven. https://t.co/nCZuhhGY59

— Emily Atkin (@emorwee) July 3, 2018

Although experts believe Ocasio-Cortez’s plan needs some work, as Alexander Kaufman noted for The Huffington Post, “her detailed proposals to deal with climate change could prove among the most influential at a time when the Democrats have failed to rally around any policy that could feasibly reduce greenhouse gas emissions dramatically enough to make a difference.”

If @Ocasio2018 wins, it’ll be a historic victory for the climate movement.

Her proposal — outlined here in an email to me — to deal with global warming is among the only equitable and scientifically realistic policies put forward by any Democrat running this year. pic.twitter.com/UDJKBNcifZ

— Alexander Kaufman (@AlexCKaufman) June 26, 2018

While some members of Congress have vowed to take action on the climate, the most promising measure — Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s (D-Hawaii) OFF Act — has been stalled in committee for months. With heat waves breaking records worldwide and wildfirestearing through the Western United States, dozens of candidates are campaigning on the promise to do more to address the climate crisis.

“We need more environmental hardliners in Congress,” Ocasio-Cortez told In These Times just before her primary victory, pointing out that climate action could even rally Democrats who voted for President Donald Trump in the 2016 election but are frustrated by their experiences with the warming planet.

As she put it:

There is an electorate here that is listening. It’s kind of ironic, because the areas of the district that are experiencing the worst of climate volatility right now are actually pockets of Democrats who voted for Trump. In that case, environmentalism and addressing climate change is becoming a bipartisan issue in frontline communities. They may have voted for Trump, but they are screaming at the top of their lungs that their elected officials aren’t rebuilding the crumbling seawall.

Read Ocasio-Cortez’s full climate platform, “Mobilizing Against Climate Change,” on her website.

The post Ocasio-Cortez’s Climate Platform Is Just What the Planet — and the Democrats — Need appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Trump’s Vote Suppressor, Kris Kobach, Is Running for Governor of Kansas

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 14:14

Kris Kobach is running for the Republican Party’s nomination for governor of Kansas. If he wins the party’s nomination, the deeply red state that gave the US Sam Brownback could very well elect him. You might know the name, but you probably wouldn’t recognize Kobach, who is currently the state’s secretary of state, if you stood next to him waiting to use a Porta Potty at the Kansas State Fair. Kobach is, despite massive evidence to the contrary, single-minded in claiming widespread voter fraud. He is, as Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce recently characterized him, “the nation’s most prominent vote-suppressor.” He is also one of the nation’s chief anti-immigration warriors, supporting an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) and often tying refugees to terrorism.

In a recent court ruling, Kobach was handed a major setback by Federal Judge Julie Robinson, who ruled that a 2011 law — both written by and defended in court by Kobach — requiring Kansans to show proof of citizenship before they could vote, was clearly unconstitutional.

If you’re not a Kansan, Kobach is probably best known as the man who was vice chairman of President Trump’s now-defunct voter fraud commission. In August of last year, The Kansas City Star’s Bryan Lowry reported that Kobach was brought on as a regular paid columnist for Breitbart News, the conservative news site that has been a safe haven for white nationalists.

Kobach, who previously hosted a talk radio show in Kansas City, said, “I think Breitbart.com appeals to anyone who is Republican or conservative in any way.” He added, “It appeals to a broad spectrum of conservative readers.”

Now he is a candidate for the Republican Party’s nomination for governor, and will face off against a number of candidates including current Gov. Jeff Colyer, who took over the spot when Sam Brownback resigned to serve as United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. By a 50-49 vote, with vice president Mike Pence breaking the tie, Brownback was confirmed by the Senate and now heads the Office of International Religious Freedom in the US Department of State.

In early June, at a parade in Shawnee, Kansas, Kobach rode in a vehicle outfitted with what looked like a machine gun. Despite criticism and apologies from the city, Kobach tweeted photos, saying, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

At a campaign rally in Lenexa, Kansas, Ted Nugent, the man who used to be a rock musician and who has since descended into conspiracy and gun-rights über alles territory, endorsed Kobach. “He is the most well-known spokesman for gun rights and the Second Amendment in the United States,” Kobach said in an interview. “He brings excitement to the campaign. It will be fun.”

Kobach has played the “widespread voter fraud” card for years. As Zachery Mueller pointed out in a lengthy and well-documented report, “In May 2009, Kris Kobach launched his bid for Kansas Secretary of State with a campaign focused on insistent, but unsupported claims of widespread voter fraud.”

Kobach’s campaign revolved around allegations of pervasive voter impersonation, and double and non-citizen voting. Mueller’s report, produced by “Kobach Is Wrong For Kansas,” noted that “Bloomberg News found that between 1997 and 2010, Kansas had only 221 instances of alleged voter fraud, with only a few of these allegations showing any evidence of fraud actually being committed. They went on to state that UFO sightings were more common than voter fraud.”

Kobach’s Courtroom Shenanigans Upbraided by Judge

According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, Judge Robinson said, “This trial was [Kobach’s] opportunity to produce credible evidence of that [voter fraud] iceberg, but he failed to do so.” She added that “the court will not rely on extrapolated numbers from tiny sample sizes and otherwise flawed data.”

Over the course of the proceedings, Judge Robinson pointed out Kobach’s oft-repeated and “flagrant violations” of court procedures. Judge Robinson then sanctioned Kobach telling him he “must take six hours of continuing law education in addition to any hours required for his law license,” the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

Evidence from numerous credible sources shows that claims of rampant voter fraud are bogus. After the 2016 election, The New York Times made “inquiries to all 50 states (noting that everyone but Kansas responded)” and found that “no states reported indications of widespread fraud.”

The Brennan Center for Justice also looked into the issue and concluded “that voter fraud is sufficiently rare that it simply could not and does not happen at the rate even approaching that which would be required to ‘rig’ an election.”

After reports that Kobach’s office delayed compliance with the judge’s ruling, his office relented and told election officials to enforce it.

CBS News recently reported that Kobach “unsuccessfully sought a governor’s pardon for a corporate campaign donor’s vice president whose crime, police said, involved threatening a cab driver by putting a gun to his head.” Kobach evidently “approached then-GOP Gov. Sam Brownback’s chief counsel about clemency for Kansas City-area resident Ryan Bader [vice president and treasurer of TriStar Arms, his family’s Kansas City, Missouri, firearms importing and wholesaling business and a campaign donor to Kobach’s campaigns] in August 2017, state records obtained by The Associated Press show.”

Kobach Is Wrong For Kansas is publishing a series of highly documented reports dealing with Kobach’s career. “Kobach is WRONG for Kansas PAC is a statewide research-based information campaign to expose and oppose Kris Kobach’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign,” is the website’s stated mission. The PAC, which doesn’t endorse any candidate, states: “From his attacks on democracy and religious freedom to his connections to white supremacists, Holocaust deniers, and racist xenophobes, Kobach’s political history must be exposed.”

The post Trump’s Vote Suppressor, Kris Kobach, Is Running for Governor of Kansas appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The Far Right Regards Human Inequality as “Natural”

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 14:12
In his new book, Insurgent Supremacists: The US Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire, Matthew N. Lyons take issue with the notion that the far right is a united force. Lyons dissects what is different and what is the same about groups that have varying visions of what is the priority in governance vis a vis the status quo of the state. The following excerpt is from the introduction to Insurgent Supremacists.

For people who thought the US far right was an irrelevant lunatic fringe, the 2016 presidential race seemed like madness. It was bad enough that the victor was a right-wing populist who called for excluding people from the country based on ethnicity or religion, advocated torture, boasted about sexually assaulting women, and encouraged his supporters to beat up dissenters at campaign rallies. But on top of that, his campaign received important help from a network of activists known as the alternative right or alt-right, who want to break up the United States into racially segregated “ethno-states.” Styling themselves “fashy goys” (fascistic non-Jews), alt-rightists bombarded social media with gas chamber jokes, rape and death threats against women, and internet memes that vilified both liberal multiculturalists and mainstream conservatives. The alt-right helped Donald Trump score upset victories over his Republican rivals and Democrat Hillary Clinton, gaining unprecedented visibility and attention in return. But alt-rightists were never committed Trump fans, and just a few months after he took office they were bitterly criticizing Trump for abandoning the “America First” nationalism of his campaign for a more conventional conservatism. Around the same time, many began to shift their focus from online activism to street protests and fighting.

Before 2015 or 2016, most mainstream reporters and political pundits had never heard of the alt-right, and they scrambled to figure out what the movement was and what it stood for. Because alt-rightists didn’t look or act like stereotypical Neo-Nazis, people accused them of trying to hide their white supremacist politics behind a “benign” label, even though in fact many of them went out of their way to sound as offensive and bigoted as possible. Because alt-rightists were explicitly white nationalist, many observers didn’t notice that they also promoted a misogyny so extreme that even many Neo-Nazis criticized it. And because some “anti-globalist” conservatives started using the alt-right label, many critics missed the distinction between fellow travelers and committed adherents — between those Trump supporters who wanted to reclaim control of the American republic for white Christian men and those who hoped for the republic’s collapse. Although media coverage of the alt-right gradually improved, this initial confusion underscored the need to rethink superficial, overgeneralized, and outmoded conceptions, and to recognize the far right as a dynamic, changing collection of movements.

This book is about far right politics in the United States. It is an effort to understand movements such as the alt-right: what they want, what they do, who they appeal to, and how they interact with other political forces. It is also an effort to place these movements in historical context, to analyze how and why they have developed over the past half-century, and how current circumstances affect their strengths and limitations.

The term “far right” needs clarification, since it has been used in many different ways. Depending on the user and the context, far right may refer to white supremacist ideology or hard-line conservatism, authoritarianism or laissez-faire economics, a fascist vision of a new order, or a reactionary drive to turn back the clock. Each of these concepts is relevant to the subject of this book to some degree, but none of them really describes what it is about.

Instead of focusing on a specific doctrine, my approach begins with a specific historical turning point: in the 1970s and 1980s, for the first time since World War II, rightists in significant numbers began to withdraw their loyalty from the US government. This marked a sharp break with the right’s traditional role as defender of the established order, as one of the forces helping economic and political elites to maintain social control. In my view, the resulting division between oppositional and system-loyal rightists is more significant than ideological differences about race, religion, economics, or other factors.

As an imprecise working definition (not for all times and places but for the United States today), “far right” is used here to mean political forces that (a) regard human inequality as natural, inevitable, or desirable and (b) reject the legitimacy of the established political system. This definition cuts across standard ideological divisions. It includes insurgent factions among both white supremacists (whose supremacist vision centers on race) and Christian rightists (who advocate social and political hierarchy based on gender and religion, among other factors). It also includes many Patriot movement activists, who may or may not advocate racial or religious oppression but who champion unregulated capitalism and the economic inequality it produces. The definition excludes system-loyal white supremacists, Christian rightists, and Patriot activists, as well as other rightists who want to roll back liberal reforms but leave the basic state apparatus in place. The definition also draws a line between the far right and radical leftists, who reject the existing political system but, at least in theory, seek to transform society based on egalitarian principles.

My analysis of the far right is based on a number of core premises:

The far right is made up of regular human beings…. Far right organizations attract and keep supporters because they speak to human hopes and fears, grievances and aspirations, and because they offer appealing explanations for big problems and confusing changes in society. Understanding the far right’s human appeal is important because it helps us to combat it more effectively and relate that struggle to the larger struggles for human liberation.

The far right grows out of an oppressive social order. The far right is often described as an extremist threat to democracy, yet the United States is not and never has been a democracy. It is a deeply unequal society where a tiny capitalist elite holds most economic and political power and multiple systems of dominance/subordination shape most human relations. These systems foster scapegoating and demonization of oppressed groups — and violence against them — by far right and mainstream forces alike, a dynamic that will not be eradicated as long as these systems remain in place.

This doesn’t mean that the United States is a dictatorship. It has always been a shifting mix of pluralistic openness and repression, where real political space has been won for some people and some ideas that would not be permitted in a wholly authoritarian system, including opportunities to organize, debate, participate in electoral politics, and criticize those in power. Pluralistic space has provided an important tool for managing conflict and a safety valve for popular discontent. Yet those who seriously challenge the underlying structures of power risk jail or worse, and many people (especially low-income people of color) routinely face police harassment and the threat or reality of violence — up to and including death. Such political repression has increased during various crisis periods in US history and has been trending upward for the past several decades.

The far right is politically autonomous. While some liberals have glossed over the deep connections between far right politics and mainstream institutions, some leftists have made the opposite mistake by treating far rightists simply as tools of the ruling class. It is certainly true that economic or political elites have sometimes found white supremacist and fascist forces useful — for attacking the left or the labor movement, for example — but the relationship between them is at best ambivalent. In calling for the US political system to be abolished or broken up, far rightists do not speak for any significant faction of the capitalist elite, although that could change.

The US far right has a contradictory relationship with the established order, reinforcing it in some ways and attacking it in others. This tension is often expressed in a kind of double-edged ideology. On the one side, far right groups offer people a way to defend the relative social privileges and power that they enjoy over oppressed groups such as people of color, women, LGBT people, and immigrants, and speak to fears that traditional privileges have been lost or are under threat. But the far right also speaks to people’s sense of being disempowered and downtrodden by groups above them, by denouncing groups that they identify with elite power, such as the federal government, liberal intellectuals, global corporations, or Jewish bankers.

Far right ideology is not just about race. When people say “far right” they often mean white supremacist or white nationalist. There are several problems with this. For one thing, people who want a society dominated and defined by people of European descent don’t all necessarily want to overthrow or secede from the United States. And equating the far right with white nationalism leaves out important rightist forces that reject the legitimacy of the US political system but don’t put race at the center of their ideology. A prime example is the Christian right’s hardline faction — embodied most clearly in Christian Reconstructionism — which wants to replace the US government with a full-scale theocracy based on biblical law. In addition, while all major far right currents in the United States are predominantly white, some have made real efforts to recruit people of color, and these efforts could grow.

Far right politics don’t stand still. The Marxist historian Isaac Deutscher commented once that after World War I, many German leftists thought the main danger from the right was going to be efforts to restore the monarchy. They were blindsided when the main rightist danger turned out to be a movement that had no interest in restoring the monarchy, but instead carried a red flag and put both “Socialist” and “Workers” in the name of its organization — the National Socialist German Workers Party, also known as the Nazis.

One of the most striking features of the US far right over the past half-century has been its repeated efforts to develop new doctrines, arguments, strategies, and forms of organization. As an example, many opponents assume that far rightists remain oriented toward classical fascism’s vision of a strong state and a disciplined, top-down political organization. In reality huge swaths of the far right have abandoned this approach and have embraced some form of political decentralism, ranging from the Neo-Nazi-based “leaderless resistance” strategy to Christian Reconstructionism’s vision of a locally based theocracy enforced through the small-scale institutions of church and family.

The far right presents multiple kinds of threats. In the short term, it’s extremely unlikely that far rightists could seize power and bring about the kind of society they envision. While this cannot be ruled out in the longer term, there are several more immediate reasons to take the far right seriously. First, far rightists carry out harassment and violence against targeted groups, and they encourage other people to do the same. Second, far rightists create more space for system-loyal forces to intensify their own bigotry, scapegoating, and violence, both by offering an example for system-loyal groups to learn from, and also by providing an “extreme” example that helps more “moderate” versions look legitimate by comparison. Third, far rightists can exploit popular grievances to draw support away from left-wing liberatory alternatives. Fourth, far rightists can infect the left itself with their poisonous ideas or recruit leftists to work with them.

The post The Far Right Regards Human Inequality as “Natural” appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

We Will Not Be Silenced by ICE: Writing After Deportation

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 14:09

Six months after my husband was deported, I was diagnosed with PTSD. Every sight of law enforcement brought panic, and every night brought recurring nightmares of being trapped behind bars and unable to move, unable to breathe. Privileged to access treatment, I undertook Eye Movement and Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, a psychotherapy treatment for traumatic memories that revealed the height of my trauma: the moment of my husband’s arrest.

It was May 10, 2007. My NYU graduation was scheduled for 10 a.m.; so was my husband’s check-in with ICE. At the last minute, we left my cap and gown in the closet and went to Federal Plaza. We were applying to adjust his status based on our marriage. After an ICE officer behind a desk told us my husband would not be detained, seven armed officers flooded the room. The officer who told the initial lie then said, “This is happening.” After they took my husband away, I left the building and walked around New York City for two hours, clutching his jacket in my hands.

As I visited him at a privately contracted detention center over the next three months, I bonded with other friends and family members in the waiting room. We said we would not let this happen to us, and we vowed to support each other and tell our stories to anyone who would listen. I published an op-ed about my husband’s detention in a national newspaper. The next day, ICE made a decision on our case: My husband would be deported. Was it an act of retaliation? I will never know.

As for the new friends I had made, we never heard from each other again after our loved ones left detention. I recognize now that the trauma of immigration enforcement — and the fear of speaking out against a system designed to retaliate — silenced us. Some of us lost our homes, our businesses, even our lives. I lost my marriage. We all lost our voices. A decade later, my story is still in pieces.

It is a historian’s job to put pieces of the past back together, and that is why I became one.

I returned to graduate school after my husband’s deportation, determined to uncover the origins of the vast, yet largely hidden immigration detention system in which we found ourselves entangled. How could I make sense of the pieces of our story that caused the most pain: a “civil” arrest militarized, a detention system privatized? How did this system come to render bodies invisible, for profit?

The Roots of Trump’s War on Immigrants

In many ways, Trump’s “war on immigrants” is not new. As the work of both Michelle Alexander and Kelly Lytle Hernández show, the rise of militarized policing and mass incarceration in the United States have deep roots in the racialized social controls of slavery and settler colonialism. Historian Elizabeth Hinton argues these were further fueled by modern liberalism — bipartisan efforts that both Republican and Democratic administrations have built upon. So, too, characterizes the history of immigration enforcement.

Media-makers and academics wield great power by choosing whose voices to center, thereby signaling which issues are priorities for us to address as a society.

Reagan’s “Cold War” on immigrants, however, played a particularly important role in this history. In the early 1980s, Reagan launched a new set of immigration enforcement policies that recast the national security state. Namely, these were: the use of mandatory detention in line with Cold War foreign policy priorities in order to deter migration; globalizing the “war on drugs” through drug and immigrant interdiction programs and border militarization; and the use of private contracting to detain immigrants (a practice that would soon spread throughout the criminal legal system). In effect, these measures fueled the militarization of local law enforcement; enfolded migrants into the criminal legal system; stoked public panic over a combined threat of drugs, immigration and people of color; and introduced a profit motive to drive incarceration numbers skyward. Privatization also adds an additional layer of invisibility to a system long lacking in accountability.

Overcoming the Silencing Effects of Trauma

When I began my research, I discovered that the silencing effects of a system built on fear and retaliation reverberated throughout academia. Scholars in practitioner disciplines associated with being on the front lines — social work, psychology, medicine and public health — are well aware of the traumatic impacts of immigration enforcement. But these effects also have crucial implications for scholars in the humanities.

For one, historians addressing immigration enforcement must confront large gaps in archival records, as historian Mary Rizzo so aptly describes in her attempt to locate the voices of those who protested their detention in the 1990s. The powers making policy have left a larger paper trail, and they control which records are destroyed. If we are not careful, we may end up replicating the narratives and unequal power structures that gave rise to the enforcement system to begin with.

Because of its very nature, trauma is difficult to identify, to talk about and to write about. But the voices of those affected are all around us. Media-makers and academics wield great power in their respective fields by choosing whose voices to center and which topics to research and write on, thereby signaling which issues are priorities for us to address as a society. We must collectively counter the silence, ally with communities that are most impacted, and create new spaces for stories that do not come out as easily or fit into existing containers. Especially if those containers were created by ICE to divide us — to designate “good” from “bad,” or “deserving” versus “undeserving” immigrants — in order to justify the removal of our community members.

Humanities-based approaches to understanding immigration enforcement and humanistic storytelling — whether in narrative, art, poetic, multimedia or other form — offer great possibilities. First-hand accounts can fill gaps in the archives, challenge xenophobic assumptions, bring data to life, and help us better articulate and generate an empathetic understanding of the traumas of immigration enforcement. Most importantly, stories work to heal and empower communities affected by immigration enforcement.

I will end with the words of Sylvester Owino, a friend who spent almost a decade in immigration detention and whose poetry appears in an anthology published by Freedom for Immigrants (formerly CIVIC):

“Writing about the abuses against us was the only way to let it out, slowly, so slowly. It is still coming out. I wonder if it will ever end.”

The post We Will Not Be Silenced by ICE: Writing After Deportation appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

US Refineries Persist in Using Toxic Acid, Despite Safer Alternatives

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 13:40

Fifty refineries across the United States use hydrofluoric acid. Because this highly toxic substance can travel for miles in the form of a potentially fatal ground-hugging cloud, however, use of the chemical continues to prove highly controversial — rarely more so than now, given recent accidents at some of these refineries and potential rule changes that call into question the chemical’s long-term future in the oil refining industry.

In January 2017, California regulators announced that they were taking steps to potentially phase out a modified version of the acid being used at the two refineries in the state, but the rule is still being thrashed out, and it’s too soon to say whether an outright ban on hydrofluoric acid will be enacted there.

Hydrofluoric acid is used as a catalyst to transform crude oil into high-octane gasoline. If released into the environment in California, its ability to travel for miles would put at risk the densely populated neighborhoods surrounding both refineries in the South Bay region of Los Angeles.

Proponents of the status quo warn of the costs associated with switching to alternative processes, which could mean gasoline price spikes and plants potentially shuttered.

But Sally Hayati, president of the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance, a local community group pushing for hydrofluoric acid to be phased out, believes that industry is exaggerating the costs of moving away from the chemical, and warns of the potential consequences of allowing its continued use. The Air Quality Management District (AQMD) is “bending too much to political and economic pressure by the refineries, and they’re not paying enough attention to their mandate to protect public safety,” she said about the agency responsible for the rule change. “There’s no other solution other than to get rid of [hydrofluoric acid].”

Much impetus for the ban stems from a February 2015 accident at the Torrance refinery, when weaknesses in the plant’s safety management system caused an explosion that catapulted a 40-ton chunk of debris which narrowly missed two settler tanks containing hydrofluoric acid. Had the massive hunk of metal struck the tanks, a worst-case-scenario release could have put hundreds of thousands of people at risk of injury.

Many are worried about more than just the plant’s safety record, however. Hayati, an engineering Ph.D., recently sent the AQMD a report that highlights how both plants are a major security risk, susceptible to targeted attacks by terrorists both from the ground and from the air.

An Air Quality Management District spokesperson confirmed that Hayati’s findings will be reviewed as part of the rule-making process. And if facilities that store large quantities of hydrofluoric acid are innately vulnerable to a terrorist attack, Hayati’s findings reverberate nationally. That’s because nearly 18 million people are estimated to be at risk in the event of worst-case scenario releases at the refineries across the US that still use hydrofluoric acid or modified hydrofluoric acid.

Modified hydrofluoric acid uses an additive that limits the chemical’s ability to form an aerosol cloud. It’s a major sticking point in the debate surrounding the proposed rule in California — industry figures argue that it’s the safest affordable option, among them Kim Nibarger, head of the United Steel Workers (USW) oil union, who said there is “not a lot of research or test results to prove or disprove the claims” made about modified hydrofluoric acid’s dangers.

Nearly 18 million people are estimated to be at risk in the event of worst-case scenario releases at the refineries across the US that still use hydrofluoric acid.

But many experts disagree. The use of modified hydrofluoric acid can reduce the “magnitude” of a release, but it still poses a “significant risk” to surrounding communities, said Ron White, a senior fellow with the Union of Concerned Scientists. In modifying the acid, “the intention is to reduce the scope of the release — it doesn’t make it less toxic,” said White, who explained that modified hydrofluoric acid is almost as volatile as hydrofluoric acid in terms of relevant temperatures and pressures.

Viable alternatives to hydrofluoric acid — like ionic liquid catalysts — are “significantly safer” options, he said, adding that the cost of switching over to these safer alternatives can run into hundreds of millions of dollars, but the potential risks of not doing so are too great.

“It does not take a whole lot of [hydrofluoric acid] to cause death or severe health impacts,” White said. “Unfortunately, it could take a potentially disastrous release to really move this issue in a significant way. The thing is, the possibility under this administration for a positive response is unlikely.”

American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers failed to respond to multiple emailed requests for comment.

The Deadly Risk of a Traveling Plume

For a number of years, serious doubts have been raised over the safety of these facilities and their preparedness for accidents and emergencies.

In 2011, the Center for Public Integrity published a damning series of reports on the safety records at a number of refineries, including those that use hydrofluoric acid and its modified version.

The series detailed multiple fires within months at Sunoco, Inc.’s oil refinery in Philadelphia, for example, and highlighted how such events can be “key indicators” of larger problems at the facility. In the five years prior to the investigative series, 32 of the 50 refineries had been cited for “willful, serious or repeated violations” of safety rules. Of those 32 refineries, inspectors found more than 1,000 separate violations.  

USW, the largest industrial union in North America, subsequently published their own report titled “A Risk too Great,” which argued that refiners still using hydrofluoric acid have inadequate safety systems, and as a result, are unprepared for accidental releases.

Their analysis of safety records collected from a number of different federal agencies and industry organizations showed that there had been 131 hydrofluoric-acid-related incidents or near misses during the previous three years. At 16 of these sites, the most serious incidents either did or could have injured workers, the report found. Half of these serious incidents could have caused injuries to the people in the surrounding communities.

Thirty-two of the 50 refineries had been cited for “willful, serious or repeated violations” of safety rules.

While the USW report describes modified hydrofluoric acid as a safer alternative to the unmodified chemical, it also explains that the modification of the acid “does not keep it from vaporizing and creating a traveling plume,” nor does it reduce its toxicity. “If the release was accompanied by a fire — and many refinery accidents involve fires — the vaporization of even modified [hydrofluoric acid] would be greatly increased,” the report adds. Indeed, the industry’s own material data sheets show that the chemical can form toxic clouds upon release, just like hydrofluoric acid.

Since those reports were published, accidents continue to occur at refineries where hydrofluoric acid is stored and used. In April, a fire at the Husky Energy oil refinery in Superior, Wisconsin, reportedly sent 17 people to hospital and forced mandatory evacuations in the surrounding community. A tank containing roughly 15,000 pounds of hydrogen fluoride was at risk, though it wasn’t compromised. The Chemical Safety Board, an independent federal agency tasked with investigating major chemical accidents, is currently looking into the incident.  

Communities that live in the shadow of hydrofluoric acid refineries are now reflecting on their own safety history. EPA records identify 1.7 million people at risk of exposure to the chemical in the event of a worst-case disaster scenario at the Andeavor refinery in St. Paul, Minnesota. A trace amount of hydrofluoric acid was released in an incident at the refinery just this past April.

Experts also point to other risks associated with the chemical — including those that come with its transportation. According to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) figures from 2009, nearly 30,000 tons of hydrofluoric acid is transported by truck every year, and more than 264,000 tons by rail.

Fred Millar, an independent chemical expert, believes that the possible risks associated with transporting the chemical have never been “looked at carefully,” but added that in the early 1990s, the South Coast Air Quality Management District board found the bulk transportation of hydrofluoric acid to the refineries posed “unacceptable disaster release” potentials in California. Because of this and other risks, he said, the board back then voted to phase out the chemical — a decision later overturned.

In his 2007 book, The Edge of Disaster, national security expert Stephen Flynn warns — in terms similar to Hayati’s — of the potential for terrorist attacks where hydrofluoric acid is stored in bulk. Critics also voice concern about the potential vulnerabilities of these facilities to cyber assaults — a concern heightened by the growing number of cyberattacks on the nation’s power grid.

In August 2017, a Saudi Arabian petrochemical company was the victim of a cyberattack that was meant to “sabotage the firm’s operations and trigger an explosion” at the company’s plant, The New York Times reported. An explosion was averted only because of an error in the attacker’s computer code.

Paul Orum is an expert in chemical safety policy who has given multiple Congressional testimonies on the effectiveness of the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program — an arm of the US Department of Homeland Security focused on high-risk chemical facilities. While the program requires facilities that fall under its umbrella to maintain certain standards of cyber security, he questions the rigorousness of this enforcement mechanism. At the end of the day, the program fails to take advantage of measures that would “reduce the target itself,” he said.

“In other words, reduce or remove the hazardous chemicals that serve as an attractive target for terrorists,” said Orum. “Otherwise, all you have to do is get your threat assessment wrong, and your security measures are obsolete.”

Resistance to Safer Alternatives

Hovering over the issue is the delayed implementation of a rule designed to tighten safety procedures at facilities covered by the EPA’s Risk Management Plan.

Finalized and passed during the waning months of the Obama administration, the federal rule was also geared toward better protecting first responders and fenceline communities. But last year, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that the agency would delay implementation of the new rule until February 2019. Then in May of this year, the EPA put out for public comment a series of changes to the Obama-era rule, rescinding some amendments and modifying others, including those related to things like information disclosure.

“Accident prevention is a top priority at EPA, and this proposed rule will ensure proper emergency planning and continue the trend of fewer significant accidents involving chemicals,” Pruitt is reported as saying in explanation of these latest changes.

The Obama-era Risk Management Plan rule changes included amendments related to safer technologies, ordering certain chemical manufacturers, refineries and pulp and paper mills to examine and consider safer alternatives where practical. Some experts point out that, when it comes to hydrofluoric acid, the amendment could have forced refineries to switch to safer chemical catalysts. It could have also required refineries to store smaller quantities of the chemical. But the EPA’s latest changes rescind the safer technologies amendment entirely.

According to Gordon Sommers, associate attorney with Earthjustice, it is “unbelievable that the EPA won’t even require companies to consider” whether safer alternatives to hydrofluoric acid exist. And many community groups point out that neighborhoods that sit in the shadow of these refineries are often unaware of the risks.

“The public, understandably, has many other things to worry about,” Denni Cawley, executive director of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, told Truthout. “It often takes community organizations to make them aware.”

Other safer options do exist. Chevron’s refinery in Salt Lake City, Utah, is in the process of switching over from hydrofluoric acid to a new ionic liquids alkylation plant. “Once the Chevron plant’s up and running, I think people need to take a serious look at making the switch,” said USW’s Kim Nibarger.

The problem, said Paul Orum, is that refinery operators as a whole aren’t incentivized enough to make the switch unilaterally. “An innovation like that, nobody wants to be the first adapter — they want someone else to work all the bugs out first,” he said, highlighting the costs associated with adapting to safer technologies. One industry estimate pins the installation cost of a new sulfuric acid alkylation unit at the Torrance refinery in California at roughly $600 million, for example. Though it should be noted that critics argue that the industry’s estimates have been inflated.

Ultimately, said Orum, “change might take a major catalyst like a bad event, or some sort of regulatory driver.”

In California, where possible regulatory changes are currently playing out, Hayati is pinning her hopes on the new rule forcing refineries to go the way of Chevron. If it doesn’t, and the state’s two modified hydrofluoric acid-using refineries still employ the chemical when the Olympic Games roll around in 2028, the potential risks associated with a successful terrorist attack at either of the facilities during the event would be “absolutely catastrophic,” she warned. “The eyes of the world will be watching,” Hayati said. “And because of the false safety claims that have been made, there would be hell to pay.”

The post US Refineries Persist in Using Toxic Acid, Despite Safer Alternatives appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Frederick Douglass and Donald Trump: Faint Hope Endures This Fourth of July

Wed, 07/04/2018 - 14:03

Every year, on America’s birthday, I read Frederick Douglass’s essay “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”

I was first introduced to Frederick Douglass while in elementary school. My sixth grade teacher, a stern but kind black woman, knew that I, the only black boy in her class, would benefit greatly from his wisdom and example. She was right.

The book “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” was wondrous.

It was the amazing adventure of a man who fights to free his people by first liberating his mind and then his body from the evils of white-on-black slavery.

Douglass tricks gullible white children to teach him how to read.

Douglass beats the hell out of his evil overseer, Edward Covey.

Douglass escapes to freedom, avoiding slave patrollers and other evildoers.

Douglass goes on to fight for the freedom of black Americans — and along the way becomes one of America’s greatest orators, activists and thinkers.

What was there for a black child (and later on an adult) not to love?

In high school I would then discover his landmark speech and essay “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”

At first I admired Douglass’ masterful oratory and command of the English language.

There is searing truth:

I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. — The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.

Then Douglass lays in the body blows:

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

Eventually I began to read “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” as political performance art and drama. As I learned and studied more, the naive optimism of Douglass’s belief that white supremacy and racism would wither away as incompatible with a post-slavery America became more obvious and problematic. This too was a gift from Douglass: his hope reveals much about the contours and tensions within the black freedom struggle. Black folks are a hopeful people who all too often love a country which does not love us back. This is a special power. It is also a horrible curse.

But for all of the multiple valences of meaning in “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” there is one unifying theme. Douglass and his life are testimonies to the force of black Americans’ love of freedom, and an unrelenting stubbornness to do all that is necessary to be fully equal and free citizens.

In the age of Donald Trump, when white supremacy is openly resurgent, and an unapologetic racist authoritarian is president, Douglass’s “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” resonates even more.

History has a dark sense of  humor. There is something surreal about reading Frederick Douglass when the Republicans, once the party of the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, is now fully owned by the ideological descendants of Confederate traitors like Jefferson Davis and Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Trumpism and the contemporary Republican Party’s melding of racism and conservatism are a symptom of an old problem in American life and society. The country has a white democracy problem.

This problem began with how the United States was born with two great birth defects — the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement, rape, murder and abuse of black enslaved people. This sickness continued to grow, change and adapt through to the Civil War to end (legal) slavery and then on to Jim Crow’s American version of Apartheid, and more recently to the lie of a “colorblind” or “post-racial” America.

That lie birthed two twins. One was Barack Obama, the country’s first black president — a man who historians will likely regard as one of the best presidents in American history. The other, a product of white rage, is President Donald Trump. One president worked to save American democracy. The other is an authoritarian who yearns to destroy it.

Obama and Trump are like reflections of one another in a twisted mirror. The late science fiction writer Harlan Ellison — who died last week — likely looks on with a mix of bemusement and disgust.

In an America caught in a permanent constitutional crisis caused by Donald Trump and his Republican enablers there is a temptation — especially among the mainstream media — to speak in vague and lazy language about an undefined “we,” “America,” the “American people” and, of course, the “working class.”

This is done out of a fear of telling the truth: The rise of Donald Trump’s and his movement is not the fault of all people equally. It is a curse that has been called down by groups and individuals who can and must be named.

Black and brown Americans were and continue to be the most vocal critics of Donald Trump and the racist movement he and the Republican Party embody.

Donald Trump won every category of white voters except college-educated white women.

A recent Quinnipiac University national poll shows that despite his illegitimate presidency and continued assault on the country’s democracy, white men continue to support Donald Trump. Trump is also one of the most popular Republican presidents (among Republican voters) in the history of modern polling.

It was not the “working class” who elected Donald Trump. It was white voters across all incomes. These voters were largely motivated by racism, social-dominance behavior and anger toward Barack Obama.

Social scientists have conducted research showing that those white Americans who feel racial resentment are much more likely to support Donald Trump. Most importantly, white voters with racist views are also more likely to support authoritarianism, the possibility of postponing elections and otherwise undermining American democracy if it means that white people can maintain group power.

But in trying to understand the full scale of the country’s white democracy problem we must also grapple with the ways that racism and white supremacy are features rather than bugs in the American democratic project.

Legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw warns us that “a society once expressly organized around white supremacist principles does not cease to be a white supremacist society simply by formally rejecting those principles. The society remains white supremacist in its maintenance of the actual distribution of goods and services, statuses, and prestige.”

Philosopher Charles Mills also explains in his book “Blackness Visible” how basic assumptions driving the European Enlightenment project and its understanding of “human rights” were, quite literally, colored by race:

My claim is essentially that for most of Enlightenment First World political theory, what seems like a neutral starting point, which begs no questions, is actually already normatively loaded, in that the population of persons has been overtly or covertly defined so as to be coextensive with the white male population. They are the respectable occupants of the building. So in the period of de jure global white supremacy (European colonial rule, African slavery), the scope of European normative theories usually extended just to Europeans at home and abroad. That is, theories about the rights, liberties, and privileges of “all men” were really intended to apply only to all white men, nonwhites being in a moral basement covered by a different set of rules.

In his award winning book “American Slavery, American Freedom,” historian Edmund Morgan describes America’s intertwining of white supremacy, freedom and democracy: “The rise of liberty and equality in America had been accompanied by the rise of slavery. … American reliance on slave labor must be viewed in the context of the American struggle for a separate and equal station among the nations of the Earth.”

Morgan summarizes: “To a large degree it may be said that Americans bought their independence with slave labor.”

For centuries black and brown Americans have been trying to fix white America’s democracy problem. There have been many successes, from the War of Independence to the Civil War and Reconstruction and to the civil rights victories of the 1960s. In total, the black freedom struggle has expanded civil rights for all people in the United States. But in the age of Trump it is abundantly clear that white Americans have created one of the greatest threats to American freedom and democracy since the founding of the country. Trump’s racial regime is a dam meant to stem the tide of progress that black and brown Americans (with the help of some whites) have fought for centuries to advance.

Perhaps it is time for white Americans to solve their self-inflicted crisis of American democracy without the help of black and brown people. We have already done enough. But even in this frustration there is another lesson to be learned from Frederick Douglass. He understood that black Americans are a people with a fierce loyalty to the best of what America can be. As we have always done, we will take on a special burden and struggle to save America from itself.

Part of this is necessary self-interest and self-defense. But much of it is selfless: Black and brown folks are a loyal and patriotic people. We have grabbed onto that great tocsin of American freedom and will not surrender it — even if too many millions of white Americans have discarded it for cheaply made “MAGA” hats.

The post Frederick Douglass and Donald Trump: Faint Hope Endures This Fourth of July appeared first on Truthout.

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