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Who Will Leave the White House Next?

Wed, 03/07/2018 - 05:00

The revolving door on the White House continues to turn -- most recently as Communications Director Hope Hicks announced her departure from the Trump administration.

Hicks, who was under fire for her relationship with departed administration official Rob Porter, recently underwent a grueling, multi-hour interview with Russia special counsel Robert Mueller. Now she's simply the latest in a very long series of former staff, advisors and appointees to President Donald Trump to leave or be fired.

And many more are probably on the way – so many that it's hard to know who will leave first.

Presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner was once king of the hill when it came to having Trump's ear. But Kushner, an unpaid senior advisor with a wide-ranging, mostly ethereal list of responsibilities, is very close to being ousted after a revocation of his security clearance and a revelation that he may well have been compromised by foreign governments.

Now House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is pushing for Kushner to be removed from the White House, claiming he never should have been part of the administration to begin with. "What I'm worried about right now at the White House is the revolving door -- it's spinning like a top," Pelosi told reporters, according to CNN.

She couldn't be more right, either. Although the Trump administration denies the rumors, NBC reports that five different sources have informed them that national security adviser H.R. McMaster will leave the White House very soon -- potentially in April.

If that prediction holds true, McMaster would be the second national security advisor to depart in the roughly 15 months that the president will have held office. The last, Michael Flynn, resigned in disgrace. Flynn has been found lying to the Senate about his relationship with Russia, and he's still under investigation by Mueller.

McMaster has allegedly angered President Trump by agreeing that Russia intervened in the 2016 election and not defending the administration. If upsetting the president is a firing offense, well then, it looks like Attorney General Jeff Sessions should probably look for a new job, too.

Sessions, like McMaster, has frustrated President Trump over actions around the Russia investigation. Recently, the attorney general requested that the inspector general investigate claims of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act abuse.

"Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse. Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey etc. Isn't the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!" the president tweeted in an attempt to belittle Sessions.

But unlike most of the president's yes men, Sessions refused to back down. "As long as I am the Attorney General, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor," he responded. Now the question is -- how long will he be attorney general?

Sessions, McMaster and Kushner are just the most obvious administration members on the edge of being shown the White House door. Others may very well decide to leave on their own.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly recently mentioned in a panel how much he misses his old job at the Department of Homeland Security. He jokingly claimed "God punished me" and stated that he must have done something wrong to deserve his current position. While his comments were taken in fun, there's little doubt that the new position is a brutal one.

And now that the president has announced new steel tariffs -- a decision that no one in his administration saw coming -- it seems likely that his national economic advisor Gary Cohn could be leaving the Trump team, too.

"Our colleagues Mark Landler and Maggie Haberman have reported that Mr. Cohn threatened to resign if the president followed through on the tariff threat. (That cost him standing with Mr. Trump, though he seemed to regain much of his political capital, particularly after the passage of the tax overhaul.)," the New York Times reports. "Mr. Landler and Ms. Haberman point out that Mr. Cohn is still waiting to see if Mr. Trump actually rolls out the tariffs -- a fair question, given how quickly his boss appears to switch policy positions."

President Donald Trump already holds the record for the highest turnover of any of the last five presidents. If this rate keeps up, that's a record he well may hold for decades to come.

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Categories: News

YMCA Childcare Workers Just Went On Strike. Here's Why.

Wed, 03/07/2018 - 05:00
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When Vivian Clark got a job with a Chicago-area Head Start program 15 years ago, it seemed like the "stepping stone" her family had been waiting for. Her son, then aged 9, had already gone through the federally funded preschool program when Clark was offered a job as a part-time administrative assistant for a Head Start program administered by the YMCA. In addition to providing early education and social services for low-income children, many Head Start agencies have expanded their focus into providing education and job opportunities for parents, often as employees of the program.

Though grateful for the opportunity, Clark had to live with a glaring contradiction: The anti-poverty program provided her with a job, but it barely paid her minimum wage. When she started the job, she says she made $7.50 an hour. Clark now makes $11.15 but does not receive health insurance or paid time off. "They've nickel and dimed me for years," Clark tells In These Times.

On March 1, Clark was among roughly 130 Chicago-area Head Start workers who went on a one-day strike over alleged unfair labor practices. Low wages and benefits were among the issues that prompted childcare and support staff at Head Start programs managed by the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago to join the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in 2012. Now, SEIU says that the YMCA has retaliated against workers participating in union activity and failed to provide information during negotiations that have been ongoing since the workers' contract expired on December 31.

At a rally in front of the YMCA's headquarters, striking childcare workers described how their colleagues took out payday loans or drove for Uber in order to make ends meet, despite the agency's stated mission.

"The Y claims they want to 'disrupt the cycle of poverty,'" said Linda Aguilar, a Master teacher who said she was struggling to make her student loan payments and searching for a second job. "But it's not lost on me that they're employing mostly Black and Brown women, and they're paying them poverty wages."

The YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago said in a statement that it is continuing to bargain with the union:

Given that negotiations are ongoing, we were surprised that SEIU leaders decided to call a one-day strike by YMCA union employees on Thursday, March 1. Because of SEIU's decision, the YMCA was forced to cancel ... programs [on Thursday], resulting in disruption of services to the families in our programs.

Organizing a Gendered Workforce

One-third of American families now spend at least 20 percent of their income on childcare. But even as costs soar, childcare workers remain among the lowest-paid in the United States, with a median hourly wage of $10.18. Nearly half are on some form of public assistance, and many are unable to afford daycare for their own children.  

Once largely ignored by organized labor as too difficult and costly to unionize, the past two decades have seen a concerted effort by major unions to organize childcare workers in Head Start and private daycare centers, as well as home-based providers. Yet strikes remain a rare occurrence among the overwhelmingly woman workforce, which must contend with atomization as well a deeply gendered expectation placed on "care workers" such as nurses, teachers and domestic workers: "the notion that care work should be provided for love rather than money,"  as described by feminist economists Paula England, Nancy Folbre and Carrie Leana.

This tension has surfaced frequently in labor organizing by workers at Head Start, launched in1965 as part of Lyndon B. Johnson's "Great Society" programs. In addition to teaching young children under the auspices of a federal anti-poverty program, Head Start teachers and staff are directly employed by local, mission-based agencies that often describe their programming as a labor of love. After workers struck over pay and benefits in Long Island and Newark, N.J. in the late 1980s, Head Start agencies even mounted a legal challenge against their workers' rights to organize, an argument the National Labor Relations Board rebuffed in 1998.

Labor strife at Head Start intensified thanks to cuts to the program beginning under the George W. Bush administration. In 2002, Head Start agencies in Boston fought for an exemption from the city's living wage ordinance, which required city contractors to pay more than double the federal minimum wage. One agency head told the Boston Globe, "We would be happy to pay it if someone would give us the money."

Striking YMCA Head Start workers in Chicago say they are skeptical that the money simply isn't there. The union emphasizes that CEO Dick Malone makes roughly $300 an hour. (According to the Chicago YMCA's 2016 tax filings, Malone took home a salary of $506,765 and $80,000 in bonus and incentive compensation.)

Both sides are back at the bargaining table this week, and the union hopes to make the case that in order to fulfill its mission, the YMCA has to treat its own workers better.

"The YMCA has the opportunity to lead the childcare industry," says Tahiti Hamer, a Head Start teacher at the Orr YMCA who says she makes $15.50 an hour, despite having a bachelor's degree in early-childhood education with a special certification in infants and toddlers. "Instead, they're lagging behind."

Categories: News

It's Been a Long Time Coming: What the Oscars Tell Us About Where Movies Are Headed

Wed, 03/07/2018 - 05:00

It's no challenge to be cynical about Hollywood and about the glitzy spectacle of award shows in particular. Hollywood loves self-congratulation and empty liberal platitudes.

This means it can be easy to miss it when things actually are changing in an industry that hails itself as progressive, but is steeped in racism, sexism, ageism and a work culture that would be the envy of any 19th-century industrialist.

But at the 2018 Academy Awards, change was most definitely in the air.

The impact of months of #MeToo awareness of sexual harassment and assault was evident from Jimmy Kimmel's opening monologue, through to the prime-time commercials for a Kevin Spacey-less House of Cards. Even tiny cosmetic changes, like announcing "the women and men" nominated in a certain category, felt pointed.

Midway through the broadcast, Ashley Judd, Salma Hayek and Annabella Sciorra -- all of whom have accused producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment or assault -- took the stage together to introduce a montage of female and nonwhite writers, directors and actors talking about the changes they wanted to see in Hollywood. Even a symbolic gesture like this would have seemed unthinkable a few years ago.

Jodie Foster and Jennifer Lawrence presented the Best Actress award, replacing last year's Best Actor winner, Casey Affleck, who has also been accused of sexual misconduct.

The winner of that award, Frances McDormand, ended her speech with a call for "inclusion riders."

This is the term for hypothetical contract provisions that would allow A-list actors and directors to demand racial and/or gender equity in other parts of a film production as a condition of their participation. For example, an inclusion rider could stipulate that 50 percent of the crew be female, or that background actor casting be demographically accurate.

While this may seem like an odd bureaucratic detail to include in an Oscar speech, it's at least an attempt to think creatively about how those with existing power in Hollywood can do something to push back against both overt and unconscious biases in hiring.


The explosive impact of #MeToo is a new and significant development this year, but the 2018 Oscars reflected years of rumblings in Hollywood, as a new generation enters the industry and many among an older one finally says enough is enough.

In addition to the many references to sexism, the show was peppered with encouragement for the high school students protesting gun violence and shout-outs to DREAMers and immigrants in general, as well as several digs at Trump's border wall.

"The greatest thing that art does, and that our industry does, is erase lines in the sand," said Guillermo del Toro upon winning Best Director for The Shape of Water. "We should continue doing that."

It was just two years ago that the hashtag to watch at the awards show was #OscarsSoWhite. The membership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the film industry as a whole, is still disproportionately white and male, but the #OscarsSoWhite controversy did prompt the Academy to induct a wave of younger, female and non-white members.

That may have contributed to the more diverse slate of nominees this year. Jordan Peele's "social thriller" Get Out brings together two elements that Oscar voters usually shun: Black people and horror movies. But Peele became the first Black filmmaker to receive Oscar nominations for writing, directing and Best Picture in the same year, and the first Black screenwriter to win Best Original Screenplay.

Rachel Morrison became the first female nominee ever for Best Cinematography, for the movie Mudbound -- although she's now better known for her work on Black Panther.

And Yance Ford became the first openly trans director nominated for an Oscar, for his documentary Strong Island, about the racially charged murder of his brother.

And then there is this year's Best Picture and Best Director winner, The Shape of Water, which seems deliberately constructed as a 1960s fairy-tale version of everything Donald Trump hates: A disabled, working-class woman with a healthy sense of her own sexuality unites with her Black co-worker, her closeted gay neighbor and a sympathetic Russian spy to rescue her fish-monster lover from a villain who is so much the embodiment of stereotypical white male toxic masculinity that he is literally rotting due to his own violence and stupidity.

Oh, and this whimsical story of forbidden love is directed by a Mexican immigrant.


Because of the long life cycles of feature films, particularly studio blockbusters, the effects of any social change are slow to percolate through Hollywood.

The more diverse films landing on the big screen today are arguably the product of conversations going back as far as the 2013 summer movie season, which was particularly barren if you were looking for any protagonist who wasn't a white dude.

Black Pantherthe superhero movie currently smashing box-office records, was announced back in October 2014, in the wake of the Ferguson uprising and Trayvon Martin's murder. Whether you see this as marketing opportunism or a genuine desire for Black pop cultural heroes, the end result is a movie that's currently on track to make a billion dollars worldwide.

On a larger scale, there is a demographic shift happening in Hollywood as the white boys' club of directors that went from making indies in the 1970s to blockbusters in the '80s begins to be replaced by younger filmmakers.

Ryan Coogler, the director of Black Panther, is 31. Greta Gerwig, who wrote and directed the Best Picture nominee Lady Bird, is 34. Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman) and Ava DuVernay (Selma and 13th) are both 45 -- which is still young by the standards of how long it takes to succeed as a female director in Hollywood.

One could argue that the small but significant wave of Black writer/directors and Black stars reaching prominence in the films of 2017 and 2018 (MudboundGet OutMoonlightBlack Panther and A Wrinkle in Time, plus John Boyega being cast in Star Wars and the upcoming Pacific Rim 2) is the echo effect of the Black Lives Matter protests of finally landing in Hollywood.

If so, who knows what films the echoes of #MeToo will produce in the next five years? But as Guillermo del Toro said while accepting the Oscar for Best Picture: "This is a door. Kick it open and come in."

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Categories: News

The Obamacare Tax Penalty Is(n't) Dead

Tue, 03/06/2018 - 14:06

 Valeri Potapova / Shutterstock)(Photo: Valeri Potapova / Shutterstock)

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Rick, Patrick and Michael recently commented on Covered California's Facebook page, urging others to ditch health insurance because:

"No more fines or penalties!!! Trump took care of that!! Saved me 700 bucks this year!!!"

"Trump removed the penalty for not having insurance."

"I'm pretty sure Trump abolished the illegal penalty."

They're right -- and wrong.

On Dec. 22, President Donald Trump did indeed sign a sweeping tax bill that repeals the Affordable Care Act's tax penalty by zeroing out the fines.

Opponents of the tax penalty rejoiced, and many, like Rick, Patrick and Michael, assumed it took effect immediately.

Not so. The penalty won't go away until 2019, and that means you still will owe Uncle Sam if you didn't have health insurance -- or an exemption from the mandate -- in 2017. The same holds true for this year.

"There's just mass confusion out there," reports Steven Stasoiski, a tax accountant and insurance agent in Seal Beach, Calif.

Some of his clients decided to drop their health insurance this year without consulting him first, thinking they wouldn't have to pay a penalty next year. "When they file next season … they're going to be surprised," he says.

One client, a family of four in Orange County, Calif., decided to go without insurance this year, and will owe about $15,200 next year because of it -- roughly the same cost as a bronze-level health insurance plan that would protect them from catastrophic health insurance bills, Stasoiski says.

Under Obamacare, most people must have health insurance or pay a tax penalty. For 2017, the penalty is $695 per adult (up to a family maximum of $2,085), or 2.5 percent of household income, whichever is greater. The penalty for children is half the adult rate ($347.50).

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You can avoid the penalty if you qualify for one of the health law's several exemptions. For instance, you may be exempt if you were uninsured for less than three consecutive months of the previous year, if your income is low enough that you're not required to file a federal tax return or if you belong to a health care sharing ministry.

But if you don't fit into one of the exemption categories and you were uninsured in 2017, or will be in 2018, you're probably out of luck, says Alison Flores, a principal tax research analyst at the Tax Institute, the research wing of H&R Block, based in Kansas City, Mo.

"If you have a penalty and you're due a refund, that penalty reduces your refund," she says. If you owe a penalty but aren't owed a refund, and then you decide not to pay the penalty, the Internal Revenue Service may take it out of a future refund, she says.

The IRS says that this year, for the first time, it will reject electronically filed tax returns that don't address Obamacare tax penalty questions. If you file a paper return and don't address those questions, your return could be held up and a refund delayed, adds Michael Eisenberg, a certified public accountant with Squar Milner in Encino, Calif.

"They are saying, 'This is the law, and you have to comply with the law while it's the law,'" he says. "They are going to enforce the penalties."

A quick note on the Obamacare-related 1095 tax forms, which will help you prove to the IRS that you had health insurance last year.

Some of you who got insurance last year from employers, on the open market or through government programs such as Medicare or Medi-Cal, may still be waiting for your 1095-B and 1095-C forms. The IRS extended the deadline to March 2 for those forms to be delivered to taxpayers.

But you don't need them in hand to complete your taxes, which are due on April 17 this year. "You should have other substantiation that you had health insurance," such as W-2 forms, Medicare cards or explanations of benefits from your insurance company, Flores says.

On the other hand, you must have a correct 1095-A to complete your taxes. If you're a Covered California enrollee -- or buy your insurance through any state or federally run health insurance exchange -- you should have received your 1095-A forms by Jan. 31.

If you're still waiting for yours and you're a resident of the Golden State, log on to your Covered California account and check your inbox. You should find a copy of your 1095-A there, says agency spokesman James Scullary.

If that still doesn't help, or if your 1095-A form is incorrect, fill out a dispute form, which you can find under the "Members" tab of the Covered California website at

As always, my most important piece of advice when it comes to Obamacare and taxes is to seek the aid of a tax professional.

If you can't afford it, multiple programs offer free tax help, including the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, run by the IRS and the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program.

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, which publishes California Healthline, a service of the California Health Care Foundation.

Categories: News

Illinois Residents Say No More Coal Ash in Old Quarry

Tue, 03/06/2018 - 14:03

 Google Earth)Chicago-area residents worry a former stone quarry, lower right, will become a destination for coal ash now stored near four NRG power plants. (Photo: Google Earth)

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For months now, the Illinois Pollution Control Board has been considering the fate of coal ash stored near four power plants owned by the company NRG. In February, the board completed its second extended public hearing on the issue, with environmental advocates arguing the coal ash should be moved, and the company saying that the ash does not present a risk.

Meanwhile, residents of Chicago's southwestern suburbs are worried about a defunct quarry containing more than 2.5 million cubic yards of coal ash. It is not part of the hearings, but some fear it could become a destination for coal ash removed from impoundments involved in the hearings. 

In June, NRG asked state regulators for a permit modification allowing it to take coal ash from other sites to the unlined Lincoln Stone Quarry, which sits near NRG's Joliet power plant about 40 miles from Chicago. Under its existing permit, NRG is allowed to deposit coal ash moved from other Joliet impoundments into the quarry, and closure plans indicate it expects to do so. 

Environmental groups and the Will County Land Use department filed comments opposing NRG's request to move more ash into the former limestone quarry, and in December the company withdrew its request. 

But advocates, including with the grassroots group CARE (Citizens Against Ruining the Environment), say they are not reassured by the withdrawal. They still fear groundwater contamination and other environmental damage from ash currently stored in the quarry and ash NRG might deposit in the future. The permit covering the quarry allows another 2 million cubic yards to be added. 

NRG spokesman David Gaier said, "We operate the quarry under strict permit limits and under the regulatory regime of the Illinois EPA. The Joliet plant, which has been converted to natural gas operation, is no longer generating ash, but the quarry is still fully permitted to accept ash from existing ponds at Joliet and no permit modifications are required."

Contamination Found

The Illinois EPA reported last year that test wells near the Lincoln Stone Quarry had a number of compounds consistently exceeding groundwater standards, including dissolved boron, dissolved fluoride, dissolved arsenic and nitrate at more than twice the standards. Tests have also found compounds of concern at eight times or more over standards in certain test wells.

Many people in the area get drinking water from private wells, and it is generally up to well owners to monitor the water quality. But in a low-income area, CARE leaders say, few can afford that, and they worry about the safety of their water. "We think the industry should pay for testing the private wells," said Ellen Rendulich, a CARE leader who lives about a mile from an NRG coal ash impoundment in the suburb of Romeoville and about 10 miles from the quarry. 

Gaier said Midwest Generation, from which NRG bought the plants, "conducted a detailed assessment of the quarry's conditions and operations and determined that the Lincoln Stone quarry is safe and presents no environmental issues. It's operated under strict permit limits and the oversight of the Illinois EPA, and no groundwater associated with the quarry affects any sources of drinking water."

Plans filed as required by the federal rule regulating coal ash note that 15,000 cubic yards of coal ash from one of the impoundments in Joliet "will be taken to Lincoln Stone Quarry or other regulated facility for disposal" after the Joliet impoundment is closed by the end of 2018. 

The closure plan for the Lincoln Stone Quarry itself calls for leaving coal ash in place, dewatering it and capping it with "a final cover system" including a layer of clay or other nearly-impermeable material. 

"While the withdrawal of the permit [to move ash from other impoundments] is certainly good news, there's no indication this problem is going away," said Jenny Cassel, an attorney for Earthjustice who represented CARE residents.

"You need to be moving that ash to dry landfills with all the industry standard leachate collection and monitoring."

NRG's Position

Gaier did not respond to questions about why NRG withdrew the application to move more coal ash to Lincoln Stone Quarry or whether the company might revive the request in the future. 

He said the company has been focused on the hearings before the pollution control board regarding the impoundments at four coal plants, as well as coal ash that environmental groups say is spread outside of impoundments at those sites. The hearings were triggered by a legal complaint by the Sierra Club and other groups, citing groundwater tests showing contamination and noting that the ash is near rivers and Lake Michigan. 

"NRG's environmental experts made the strong case that the constituents in the groundwater were not from Midwest Generation ash ponds, or ash areas, and Midwest Generation has already completed the work, monitoring and controls at each station to ensure there is no risk as required or requested by IEPA," Gaier said. "We remain baffled by the Sierra Club's attempt to litigate an issue when there is no risk to human health or the environment and where the ash ponds have already been resolved to the satisfaction of the agency charged by the state with protecting the environment."

During the recent hearings, NRG presented company and expert witnesses and said that there's no proof coal ash is causing contamination found at the sites. Among other things, an NRG witness testified that large amounts of road salt used in the area could cause high levels of contaminants. 

Longstanding Concerns

A public comment filed in October on behalf of CARE by Earthjustice and other environmental groups noted numerous and longstanding concerns about the coal ash that has been deposited in Lincoln Stone Quarry since 1962. It said that in 1994, former site owner Commonwealth Edison had reported to the pollution control board that coal ash in the quarry was 20 to 30 feet below the adjacent water table, "meaning that groundwater is perpetually flowing from that higher water table into the Quarry."

The Will County Land Use department's testimony described NRG's groundwater pumping system at the quarry, which creates a "cone of depression" meant to keep groundwater at bay. But department resource recovery and energy director Dean Olson noted that contamination has happened despite the system, and he fears it could be overwhelmed by an influx of new coal ash. 

The Earthjustice comment cited 2006 tests showing contamination of residential wells, and said: "Midwest Gen's consultants recognized then, and continue to acknowledge now, that contaminated groundwater is flowing not just north and west into the Des Plaines River but also southeast, toward an elementary school and businesses."

Rendulich said the coal ash "should never have been put in there in the first place."

"The quarry is fractured bedrock, it's very insecure," she said. "We'd like to see them clear out every coal ash pond everywhere, package it up and take it to a hazmat facility."

Many environmental advocates are upset that after a years-long federal process, coal ash was not designated as a hazardous waste. If it had been, storage and disposal requirements would be more stringent. 

"This big concern about Lincoln Stone Quarry is not finished," said Rendulich. "They pulled their permit [to move more ash into the quarry], which we were so excited about. But that doesn't mean they won't come back, that doesn't mean the issue is resolved. The issue is still there, the groundwater is still contaminated. Until they change the laws and designate this as hazardous, it's going to continue.

Categories: News

Lori Wallach and Michael Hudson Debate Trump's Plan to Impose Steel and Aluminum Tariffs

Tue, 03/06/2018 - 05:00

"Trade wars are good, and easy to win." That's the message President Trump tweeted on Friday, sending shockwaves across the globe and sparking fear of impending economic volatility. On Thursday, world stock markets tumbled after Trump announced he plans to impose new tariffs on imports of foreign steel and aluminum. The new tariffs -- 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum -- will benefit US producers of the metals, while raising prices for companies that manufacture everything from cars to airplanes to high-rise apartments. Prominent Republicans and business leaders have denounced Trump's plan, saying the tariffs will hurt the manufacturing industry and US competitiveness. Trump's announcement has also prompted concerns that other countries will impose retaliatory tariffs while challenging US protectionism at the World Trade Organization. For more, we host a debate. Lori Wallach is the director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch and author of "The Rise and Fall of Fast Track Trade Authority." Economist Michael Hudson is the author of "America's Protectionist Takeoff 1815-1914."

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

Senator Chris Murphy: The US Is Exporting Violence and Killing Civilians in Illegal War in Yemen

Tue, 03/06/2018 - 05:00

On Capitol Hill, three US senators have introduced a bill that would force Congress to vote for the first time on whether to continue US support for the Saudi-led coalition's war in Yemen. The measure was introduced by Republican Mike Lee, Democrat Chris Murphy and Vermont independent Bernie Sanders, who noted that the Constitution gives Congress -- and not the president -- the power to declare war. For more, we speak with Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

The US Is Poised to Become World's Top Fossil Fuel Producer

Tue, 03/06/2018 - 05:00

Thanks in part to the shale fracking boom, the US is poised to dominate fossil fuel production globally in the coming years. Wealth from oil and gas comes with the dangers posed by pollution, new pipelines and petrochemical infrastructure, pitting environmental activists and vulnerable communities against the world's wealthiest resource extractors.

 Anton Watman / Shutterstock; Edited: JR / TO)(Image: Anton Watman / Shutterstock; Edited: JR / TO)

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The United States is poised to become the world's top oil producer and may dominate fossil fuel production globally in the coming decades, thanks in part to the rise of fracking, which has unlocked deep reserves and sparked environmental controversies across the country.

By 2023, the US is expected to top competitors like Russia and Saudi Arabia, according to a report released Monday by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Under this projection, the country would produce 17 million barrels of raw liquid hydrocarbons a day, up from 13 million in 2017. In fact, the US alone is expected to meet 80 percent of new demand for oil globally by 2023. Growing output in Brazil, Canada and Norway could satisfy the rest.

 "The United States is poised to become the undisputed oil and gas producer in the world over the next several decades," IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol told the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in January, adding that by 2040 US will be producing 50 percent more oil and gas than any country has ever managed to pull from the ground.

By 2023, the US is expected to top competitors like Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Last year, OPEC countries agreed to combat falling prices by slowing oil production, putting a dent in global output. However, in the US, horizontal drilling, hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" and other new technologies have fueled an oil and gas boom across fields in Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and beyond. This trend has shifted the US from a major oil importer to a top producer and exporter over the past two decades.

Controversy, Protests and Pollution

The domestic energy boom comes with plenty of controversy. Fracking has divided close-knit rural communities. Activists across the country are opposing new oil and gas pipelines that they say threaten sensitive ecosystems and promise to feed an economy dependent on fossil fuels. Toxic pollution from oil refineries, petrochemical plants and natural gas processing sites sully the air in nearby communities, which are most often home to low-income people and people of color.

For example, in 2017, more than 1 million Black Americans lived within one half of a mile from an oil and gas facility, and that number grows every year, according to a report by the NAACP and the Clean Air Task Force. About 6.1 million Americans of all backgrounds live within three miles of one oil refinery or more. Refineries are known to belch toxic pollutants such as benzene, which has been linked to cancer and birth defects.

In 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux sparked an international resistance movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline, an oil pipeline that tribal activists said threatens sacred sites and drinking water. The pipeline carries crude oil from vast fields in North Dakota to Texas, where it can be distributed to refineries, petrochemical plants and export terminals across the Gulf South.

"The impact both to people's lives and to the things they depend on in the environment, whether it's water or land, is just going to continue to grow and grow," Bruce Baizel, the energy program director at Earthworks, an environmental group focused on fossil fuels, told Truthout.

Climate disruption caused by carbon pollution is also a top concern, particularly among less conservative voters. Carbon emissions from natural gas are expected to steadily rise over the next 30 years, according to the Energy Information Administration. Advances in renewable energy and vehicle efficiency may reduce domestic carbon emissions from oil over the next 15 years, but they will begin increasing again by 2035.

To curb fossil fuel consumption and pollution, environmentalists are increasingly opposing the construction of new oil and gas infrastructure, with the resistance camp at Standing Rock being one of the most famous examples. However, Brigham McCown, the former chief operating officer of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and a transition advisor for the Trump administration, told Truthout that he believes new infrastructure is necessary to support the current economy.

By 2040 US will be producing 50 percent more oil and gas than any country has ever managed to pull from the ground.

"Yes, we need to modernize our existing infrastructure, but we are getting oil and gas from places that we have not traditionally sourced these material from, and so that requires new infrastructure," McCown said. "I, like everyone else, want to be on renewables, but I think we need to be realistic about the amount of time that fossil fuels are going to be servicing are various industries."

McCown said that, by even conservative estimates, the US economy would still be "fossil-fuel dependent" by 2030 or 2040. However, Baizel says there's no room for complacency: Booming oil production in the US will have an immediate impact on climate, public health and environment.

"Increasingly, that stuff flowing in those pipelines will be exported, or will be used for the plastics that will end up in the ocean and are becoming a problem with not a whole lot of solution at the moment," Baizel said.

To keep the oil pumping despite increasing interest in cleaner cars and renewables, the industry is shifting its focus toward petrochemical manufacturing, largely to make plastic products. The petrochemical industry will account for 25 percent of new demand for oil by 2023, according to IEA. Companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron are expanding petrochemical production in the US, particularly along the Gulf South.

As Truthout has reported, plastics pollution is increasingly becoming a high-profile environmental problem, particularly in the ocean, where plastic bits known as "microplastics" are harming sea creatures as they move up the food chain. If current consumption trends continue, the amount of plastic in the world's oceans will outweigh the entire mass of fish still living in them.

Pipeline Dangers

With 2.6 million miles of oil and gas pipelines crisscrossing the US and hundreds of facilities handling dangerous petrochemicals every day, safety will also be an issue for the world's fossil fuel leader. Watchdogs warn that the regulatory agencies in charge of chemical and pipeline safety are notoriously underfunded and ineffective. Since 2013, more than 600 major pipeline accidents were reported to federal authorities each year, and dangerous chemical accidents are quite common across the nation's industrial corridors.

As a former top official at PHMSA, the federal agency that regulates oil and gas pipelines, McCown acknowledged that the agency has suffered from serious mismanagement in recent years when well-meaning employees and pipeline inspectors were pulled away from doing critical work for the agency. However, he said PHMSA is now under new management and Congress has allocated money to hire more inspectors, and now the agency is in a "robust position." He added that pipelines remain the safest method for transporting fossil fuels.

However, Baizel said his organization works with citizen groups and activists to monitor pipelines and oil and gas facilities because there are still not enough government inspectors to do the job.

"It's a farce that there is any kind of inspection going on. There is none; you are on your own," Baizel said.

Categories: News

Arkansas to Become First State to Implement Trump's Cruel Assault on Medicaid

Tue, 03/06/2018 - 05:00

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services administrator Seema Verma and Arkansas' Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson at a press conference on Monday.Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma and Arkansas' Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson at a press conference on Monday. (Photo: Gov. Asa Hutchinson / Twitter)

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The Trump administration is waging a vicious war on Medicaid -- a program that provides life-saving healthcare to around 74 million Americans -- and its effects will soon be felt in the state of Arkansas.

On Monday, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) administrator Seema Verma -- who, prior to joining the Trump White House, helped craft Indiana's punitive Medicaid restrictions -- hand-delivered and signed a federal waiver granting Arkansas permission to begin imposing work requirements on the state's Medicaid recipients, 60 percent of whom already work.

According to state officials, the measure will go into effect June 1, which would make Arkansas the first state to implement Medicaid work requirements.

In an article on Monday, Vox's Dylan Scott made clear that Arkansas' plan amounts to just a fraction of the broad nationwide attacks on Medicaid launched by red states, which are "putting the lifeline for millions of poor Americans at risk."

"The stakes are huge: Work requirements for food stamps have been linked to substantial drops -- up to 50 percent in some isolated cases -- in the program's enrollment," Scott observes. "As many as 25 million people could be subject to Medicaid work requirements if they were instituted nationwide. In a very real sense, health coverage for millions of Americans who rely on Medicaid could be at risk under the agenda Trump is advancing."

While Arkansas' Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson insisted at a press conference that his plan "is not about punishing anyone," analysts argued that is precisely what it will do.

Citing provisions in the Arkansas waiver that will require those with disabilities to "prove" they are exempt from work requirements every two months and other forms of red tape, Judith Solomon, vice president for health policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), argued in a blog post on Monday that the measure is "certain" to increase "the gaps in coverage, worsen health outcomes, and possibly increase state costs."

Brad Woodhouse, director of the advocacy group Protect Our Care, denounced Arkansas' plan as "draconian" in a statement following Hutchinson's announcement.

"By imposing onerous monthly paperwork requirements on working people and forcing Arkansans with disabilities to re-prove their exempt status every two months, today's Arkansas plan breaks new ground in needless and ideologically-driven cruelty," Woodhouse said.

Numerous analyses have found that paperwork requirements like those proposed by Arkansas and other states will likely lead to thousands of eligible people losing health insurance.

Republicans love bureaucracy when it's aimed at making the lives of the poor more difficult.

— Jonathan Cohn (@JonathanCohn) March 5, 2018

 As Common Dreams reported, the Trump administration paved the way for states to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients in January by issuing guidance that granted states the ability to make healthcare contingent upon certain "performance" metrics, such as hours spent working or training for a job.

Since the guidance was issued, three states have had work requirements approved and eight other states have applied for federal waivers. According to Verma, nine additional states have expressed interest in applying for a waiver.

Under Arkansas' plan, if Medicaid recipients fail to comply with the new rules -- which require recipients to work, look for a job, or participate in job training for at least 80 hours a month -- for a period of three months, they will lose coverage for the rest of the calendar year.

Categories: News

Gun Profiteers: Who's Getting Rich Off the US Gun Crisis?

Tue, 03/06/2018 - 05:00

The shooting rampage earlier this month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School put renewed focus on the firearms manufacturing industry -- which, along with ammunitions production, accounts for an estimated $17 billion in revenue. As the Parkland students and others think through questions of strategy, tactics and targets, it's worth reflecting on who holds power in -- and who profits from -- the firearms industry.

 John Moore / Getty Images)Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein speaks at the Bloomberg Global Business Forum on September 20, 2017, in New York City. Blankfein is a large investor in gun retailer Bass Pro. (Photo: John Moore / Getty Images)

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The shooting rampage earlier this month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School put renewed focus on the firearms manufacturing industry -- which, along with ammunitions production, accounts for an estimated $17 billion in revenue. 

Thousands of students -- with those from Parkland, Florida leading the way -- have staged walk-outs across the nation to protest the firearms industry, the NRA, and industry's bought-off politicians. It's starting to feel like it could be some sort of turning point.

Even corporations are feeling the heat over their ties to the firearms industry. A slew of corporate have already ended partnerships with the NRA due to public pressure -- United Airlines, Delta Airlines, MetLife, and First National Bank of Omaha among them. Dick's Sporting Goods, a major firearms retailer, has just announced that it is halting all sales of automatic weapons, and both Dick's and Walmart are raising their minimum age to 21 for all gun buyers. 

BlackStone, the powerful private equity firm headed by billionaire Trump ally Stephen Schwarzman, even put out an urgent request to the funds it invests with to "detail their ownership in companies that make or sell guns," according to the Wall Street Journal.

As the Parkland students and others think through questions of strategy, tactics,and targets, it's worth reflecting on who holds power in -- and who profits from -- the firearms industry. Who are the billionaires and multi-millionaires that are profiting most off of gun sales in the US? Who are the executives and investors? Who holds power over the decisions that are made within the industry?

Some of these individuals come from the firearms manufacturing and retail industry itself -- for example, top executives in the companies that produce and sell the guns. Others come from Wall Street -- the hedge fund billionaires and big money managers that invest in the gun companies. Still others come from the big banks that finance the gun companies. 

While a lot of focus has been on the NRA, these other corporations and individuals hold a lot of power over the firearms industry. If banks, investors, and retailers felt strongly that the decisions of gun companies were hurting their owns brands, they could exert a lot of leverage -- the threat of pulling their credit arrangements and investment stakes, or limiting or ending gun sales -- to force change.

Understanding the powerful figures behind the gun industry helps provide a potential path for challenging it. We put together a list to help readers make sense of the different players who are profiting from firearms sales in the US. 

1. The Gun Manufacturer CEOs

The top executives of the major companies that make guns are the most obvious profiteers. Here are the CEOs of the top US gun manufacturers:

• P. James Debney, CEO of Smith & Wesson. Debney raked in $5.3 million in total compensation in 2017, and $12.5 million from 2015 to 2017. Debney is a big NRA supporter and a member of its "Ring of Freedom," an elite club for its biggest (read: seven-digit) donors. Debney told the NRA that "it's more important than ever that we come together in support of the NRA" and that the organization's efforts "are critical to the future of the country."

• Anthony Acitelli, CEO of Remington Outdoor. Since Remington is a private company, we don't know how much Acitelli is compensated -- but, given that it's the second biggest arms manufacturer in the US, with $603 million in sales in 2017, we can be sure it's a lot. Acitelli is a gun industry lifer -- prior to becoming CEO of Remington, he was CEO of Taurus Holdings, the ninth biggest US gun manufacturer. At Taurus, he settled a class-action lawsuit due to the poor quality of its pistols -- including that they could discharge when dropped.

• Chris Killoy, CEO of Sturm Ruger. Chris Killoy took over in May 2017 as CEO of Sturm Ruger. Before that he was its Chief Operating officer. As COO, Killoy took in $2.54 million in total compensation in 2016, and close to $5 million from 2014 to 2016. While it's unknown how much he's earning as CEO, his predecessor earned $4.27 million in 2016 and around $8.7 million between 2014 and 2016. Killoy is a huge supporter of the NRA and, like Debney, a member of its Ring of Freedom. 

• Christopher T. Metz, CEO of Vista Outdoor. Metz became Vista Outdoor's CEO in October 2017, so there's no data yet on his compensation. But according to the company's proxy filing, his predecessor took over $25 million from 2015 to 2017. Vista Outdoor owns Savage Arms, a major gun manufacturer, and also makes ammunition and gun accessories.

2. The Gun Retailer CEOs

A wide range of retailers sell firearms, including assault-style weapons. One major player in the gun retail industry is Johnny Morris, CEO of Bass Pro. Morris, who founded and oversees the Bass Pro retail empire, is worth an estimated $4.3 billion. 

Bass Pro doesn't just sell firearms (including semi-automatic rifles) -- it's expanding its gun retail business. Last year, it acquired Cabela -- another major firearms retailer -- for around $4 billion. Bass Pro has also received hundreds of millions of dollars in public subsidies, as we detailed in 2010.

Other major gun retailers include Dick's Sporting Goods and WalMart -- whose CEO, Doug McMillon, took in$22.3 million in 2017 and a total of about $61.5 million from 2015 to 2017. 

But unlike Bass Pro, WalMart and Dick's have both stopped selling assault rifles (WalMart did so in 2015), and both are now raising the age to 21 for its gun buyers. It will be interesting to see if Bass Pro responds to the pressure to do the same.

3. The Banks

Gun manufacturers and retailers couldn't exist on the scale that they do without the backing of major banks. Wall Street CEOs like Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein, and others are tied to -- and profiting from -- the firearms industry.

Banks that offer lines of credit to major firearms companies include:

• Goldman Sachs has been a big backer of Bass Pro. In 2016 it bought $1.8 billion of Bass Pro stock to help finance the acquisition of Cabela. 

• Bank of America has a $40 million line of credit with Sturm Ruger. Interestingly, the credit agreement expires on June 15, 2018 -- a few months from now. Given that Bank of America is feeling the heat over its financing of the gun industry, this could be an opportunity for people to pressure it to not renew the credit agreement. 

• TD Bank, Branch Bank & Trust, Regions Bank, and Wells Fargo have a $350 million line of credit with the Smith & Wesson Holding Corporation. 

And there are more -- last week, ThinkProgress published a list of 16 banks financing firearms manufacturers: Bank of Montreal, Berkshire Bank, Branch Bank & Trust (BB&T), Capital One, Citizens Financial Group, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley Bank, MUFG Bank, Northern Trust Company, People's United Bank, Regions Bank, Stifel Bank & Trust, TD Bank, U.S. Bank, and Wells Fargo.

4. The Hedge Fund CEOs

Another group of firearms profiteers are billionaire hedge fund managers. One example is Stephen Feinberg, the CEO of Cerberus Capital, a hedge fund that manages around $30 billion in assets. 

Cerberus owns Remington Outdoors, the second biggest US gun manufacturer. Remington recently filed for bankruptcy and is being restructured, but Cerberus still controls it. In the process of the company's restructuring, its creditors will become owners -- these include Franklin Templeton Investments and JPMorgan Chase Asset Management. As the restructuring moves forward, it will be interesting to see who ends up buying stakes in Cerberus and what direction they take the company related to its production of assault rifles. 

Feinberg is worth around $1.6 billion. He's been a big donor to the NRA, and, as a long profile of him in New York Magazine shows, he has long been enamoured with firearms. Feinberg is also close to Donald Trump. He was a member of Trump's Economic Advisory Council (which disbanded amidst the controversy surrounding Trump's sympathetic remarks for white supremacists after Charlottesville). Feinberg also gave $678,800 to Trump at a fundraiser.

Cerberus owns DynCorp, a major defense contractor. Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly was a paid $166,000 a year to serve as an "advisor" to the company before he entered in the administration. Major pension funds also invest through with Cerberus -- for example, the California State Teachers' Retirement System and the Florida State Board of Administration  -- and college endowments. 

Feinberg and Cerberus also own chunks of major companies that millions of people shop from --  including Avon, Staples, and Albertsons.

Another hedge fund manager who has profited off the firearms industry is Paul Singer, the head of Elliott Management, which manages $33 billion in assets. Singer himself is worth around $2.8 billion. Singer and Elliott Management at one point owned 6 million shares of gun retailer Cabela -- they held over 11% of the company in late 2015. After Singer pressured Cabela to sell itself to rival gun retailer Bass Pro, Singer sold a chunk of its shares, profiting to to the tune of $90 million. 

Other hedge funds remain invested in the gun industry. For example, Renaissance Technologies -- which until recently was headed up by Trump and Breitbart benefactor Robert Mercer -- owns about 1.19% (around $11.5 million) of Sturm Ruger. Point72 Asset Management -- run by Steven Cohen, who until this month had been banned for two years from running hedge funds due to insider trading that went on in SAC Capital, his old firm -- owns about 1.8% (around $12.4 million) of American Outdoor Brands and about 0.54% (around $5.2 million) of Sturm Ruger.

5. The Money Managers

Another group that profits from the gun industry are the high-powered asset managers that invest trillions of dollars into hundreds of companies through a range of funds. Hundreds of thousands of people and institutions do business with these firms, and they are often some of the largest beneficial owners of publicly-traded companies -- indeed, they own a stake in almost everything. They have a lot of leverage if they choose to use it. 

Some CEOs of huge money managers invested in gun manufacturers and retailers include: 

• Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock. BlackRock is a giant asset manager that manages $6 trillion in assets. CEO Larry Fink earned over $25 million in total compensation in 2016 and pulled in a total $75 million between 2014 and 2016. All told, BlackRock owns a total of almost $350 million of three major publicly traded gun corporations: 16.9% of Sturm Ruger stock, worth about $165 million; 11.1% of American Outdoor Brands stock, worth about $77 million; and 12.7% of Vista Outdoor stock, worth about $106 million. BlackRock reportedly "has questions" for the gun industry now, and as we've noted before, Fink has called upon fellow CEOs to be more socially responsible. But Fink and BlackRock -- who are currently big investors in private prisons, fossil fuels, vulture banks, and arms manufacturers -- have a long way to go on this.

• Tim Buckley, CEO of Vanguard Group. Vanguard Group manages $5 trillion in assets. Tim Buckley recently became Vanguard's CEO at the end of 2017. Vanguard has tried to keep its management compensation a secret, but one report said that its CEO earned $10 to $15 million in 2015. Vanguard has owns over $225 million of three big publicly traded gun companies: 9.5% of Sturm Ruger stock, worth about $93 million; 8.3% of American Outdoor Brands stock, worth about $58 million; and 9.1% of Vista Outdoor stock, worth about $76 million. In November 2017, Buckley was explicit about playing down the importance of "morals" when investing. If you "create the sin factor," he said, you increase the likelihood that "you will underperform in the long run" (he used Philip Morris -- who "has done pretty well, above the market" -- as an example). With close to a quarter-billion invested in gun companies, he is living up to his investment philosophy.

• Abigail Johnson, CEO of Fidelity Investments. Fidelity oversees around $2.3 trillion in assets. As Fidelity CEO, Abigail Johnson is inheriting the family business. Her grandfather founded the firm in 1946, and her father had a long run as CEO too. Abigail Johnson owns around a quarter of the firm and is reportedly worth a whopping $16.8 billion. Fidelity owns 8,570,173 shares of Vista Outdoor -- about 15% of the company -- worth around $125 million. This makes Fidelity the largest beneficial owner of Vista Outdoor.

• Martin Flanagan, CEO of Invesco. Invesco manages nearly $1 trillion in assets. CEO Martin Flanagan Flanagan took in $14.6 million in total compensation in 2016 and about $46 million between 2014 and 2016. Invesco has major holdings in three big publicly traded gun companies worth about $104 million in total: 9% of American Outdoor Brands stock, worth about $62 million; 3.3% of Sturm Ruger stock, worth about $32 million; and 1.2% of Vista Outdoor stock, worth about $10 million. All told, Invesco owns around 6.13 million shares of the three companies for a total of In 2016, Flanagan was the highest paid CEO in the state of Georgia -- which includes the corporate headquarters of several major corporations. He lives in a lavish mansion in one of Atlanta's wealthiest districts.

While some billionaire investors like Warren Buffet think it would be "ridiculous" to not do business with gun manufacturers, others -- like those on this list, especially those from the Wall Street and the big retailers -- may be more open to popular pressure to follow the example of the corporations that have begun to loosen their ties with the gun industry.

Categories: News

Trump Wants to Get Rid of the Heating Support That Kept Me Safe

Tue, 03/06/2018 - 05:00

 Yevhen Prozhyrko / Shutterstock)(Photo: Yevhen Prozhyrko / Shutterstock)

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For the second year in a row, President Trump's budget plan eliminates the program that provides heating and cooling support for to 6 million households in the United States. To justify the cut to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), Trump claimed it is "low-performing," "ineffective," and has "difficulty demonstrating effective outcomes."

I'm here to offer an effective outcome: Me.

I grew up in a rural Western Massachusetts town surrounded by forest, farms, and shuttered mills, where it was a 30 minute drive to the nearest grocery store. Winters were a wonderland filled with snow days, cross-country skiing, roaring fires, and sledding. However, when I was 12 years old, my dad left and took our financial stability with him. After 21 years of marriage, my suddenly single-income mum had to find a way to pay the mortgage, keep food in the fridge, put gas in the car, and -- in a town where snowfall is measured in feet rather than inches -- heat a drafty home through the New England winters.

The original 1970s heating system was intended for a single floor house. Despite its best efforts, the heat would be sucked into the large, dank cement basement, and never reach the second floor that my crafty grandpa added himself. When the temperatures dropped outside, regularly into the single digits, the painful damp cold seeped through the walls and into my bones. I would layer socks with slippers and pair flannel pajamas with sweaters and thick robes. I walked around the house wrapped in blankets, gripped with a constant panic because I could not get warm. Then, when I looked at the thermostat, I would find the already-inadequate heating system was only set to 55 -- nowhere near the temperature that could have forced the heat up from the basement and into the termite-riddled corners of our house.

But my mum was rationing the heat.

We staged silent, passive-aggressive battles over the temperature for years. I could not understand why we didn't set the heat to 70 or 72 like my friends' warm, comfortable houses. So, as the temperatures went down, I would tip-toe to the thermostat at the top of the basement stairs and crank the heat up twenty degrees. Then, when I was caught -- and I always got caught -- conflict would erupt.

During one particularly tense argument, my mum snapped and told me that the only reason we could even afford to keep the heat in the 50s was the government assistance that helped pay for the oil that heated the house. She was still paying for heat, but the program helped shave a few dollars off each gallon. If I kept turning up the thermostat to more bearable temperatures, we would run out of oil for the month.

Our family only talked about finances during arguments like that: Once someone had been pushed too far, the truth would come rushing out. I pieced together my understanding of money, and adulthood, and class from my memories of those moments. But during the winters when I was still a teenager, I couldn't get past the disbelief. How could turning the dial to 70 mean we would be without heat in the heart of a Massachusetts winter? How could regions with extreme cold allow residents to live without a basic need like heat?

It took years for me to realize my mum was hiding our financial problems because she was trying to protect me. She was working hard to help our family recover in the aftermath of my financially abusive father. My dad hadn't allowed my mum to work, so when he left, she didn't have a career to fall back on. She paid the bills by begging friends and the family priest to let her clean their houses and edged her way up to juggling a variety of part-time jobs: temping in offices, restocking clothes at TJ Maxx, and working the night-shift as a receptionist in the emergency room. During this time, LIHEAP was a short-term resource that helped pull us out of a terrifying financial black hole.

When my mom finally secured a full-time receptionist position, she immediately donated to fuel assistance programs because she was so grateful that LIHEAP had given us a chance to stabilize financially. It didn't keep my house luxuriously warm, but it kept us safe and alive in dangerously cold weather.

Today, only 20 percent of all the households in the US that qualify for LIHEAP actually receive assistance paying for heat or weatherizing their houses. That means for the 6 million families who receive help, there are another 24 million families who are eligible but go without. The program has a brutal, "first come, first serve" policy: When each state's LIHEAP money runs out, agencies stop accepting applications for assistance -- often before winter ends. The families lucky enough to receive LIHEAP can find themselves exhausting their funds before winter is over. The remaining families are left with impossible choices: whether to pay for the heat or the mortgage, whether to live with the cold or to put kerosene heaters in the house.

Trump's budget would make that a reality for everyone.

Categories: News

In the Face of Trump's Volatility, DACA Wends Its Way Through Courts

Tue, 03/06/2018 - 05:00

 Samuel Corum / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)Demonstrators raise their fists in protest of President Trump's attempts to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, outside of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on March 5, 2018. (Photo: Samuel Corum / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)

As members of Congress worked against the March 5 deadline Donald Trump had imposed to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), two federal courts ruled that DACA would continue -- for now. It remains to be seen whether Congress or the Supreme Court will ultimately take action to protect the Dreamers.

 Samuel Corum / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)Demonstrators raise their fists in protest of President Trump's attempts to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, outside of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on March 5, 2018. (Photo: Samuel Corum / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)

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As members of Congress worked against the March 5 deadline Donald Trump had imposed to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), two federal district courts ruled that DACA would continue -- for now. It remains to be seen whether Congress or the Supreme Court will ultimately take action to protect the Dreamers.

"Anguish and Anxiety" for Dreamers

When she was three years old, Maria, a now 32-year-old Dreamer, came to the United States from Mexico. She eventually put herself through San Diego State University and is now working her way through graduate school. She helped raise her developmentally disabled, sight-impaired US citizen sister while their mother, who has a green card, worked seven days a week.

Maria told Truthout that being sent back to Mexico is "unimaginable;" it would be "heartbreaking" to be forced to leave her family. "All the work, all the efforts, all the time and dedication I've put in would go to waste," she said. Maria, who hopes to become a marriage and family counselor, is working full time at a children's mental health program as she pursues her graduate studies. "I work providing hope to others," she said. "My whole life is here. The uncertainty causes anguish and anxiety."

To read more stories like this, visit Human Rights and Global Wrongs.

Other Dreamers are anxious as well. "If there's no permanent solution, I lose everything," Eden N'Guessan stated at an event organized by the Staten Island Immigrants' Council in New York. "I have to drop out [of school] and basically can't work. I want to do social work and help the homeless, that's my passion," added N'Guessan, who arrived in the United States from West Africa at the age of eight, and whose comments were reported by the Staten Island Media Group.

"If I lose [DACA], I go back into the shadows again. I could [not] face going back to my native country, where it's not home to me. [US] is home; this is where I was raised, this is my country," said Jose Mejia, who was brought to the US when he was two years old. "If it expires, I lose everything. I lose my health care, my job, my schooling, and I'm not protected if I get deported," he stated at the council meeting. "I pay taxes and work as a nursing assistant at Eggers; I take care of American senior citizens, I contribute just as much as any other American."

Trump is holding the Dreamers hostage to his rabid anti-immigrant base.

The Obama administration established DACA in 2012 to grant people brought to the US before age 16 a reprieve from deportation if they continuously lived here, were enrolled in school and didn't pose a threat to national security. DACA applicants were assured that the personal information they submitted would not be used to deport them.

Nearly 1 million undocumented immigrants came out of the shadows and applied for DACA. Successful applicants received work authorizations in renewable two-year increments. As of September 2017, approximately 700,000 people were actively enrolled in DACA.

On September 5, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that DACA would expire on March 5, 2018. Sessions claimed that Obama had violated the Constitution when he created DACA.

Constrained by Trump's Demands, Congress Comes Up Short

Trump has vacillated on DACA -- ordering a March 5 termination of the program, issuing statements supporting the Dreamers, appealing federal court decisions that keep DACA temporarily in place, and most recently, erecting insurmountable obstacles to a congressional solution.

After Sessions's September 5 announcement, Trump tweeted, "Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama administration was unable to do). If they can't, I will revisit this issue!" Promising a presidential revisiting of DACA flies in the face of his administration's position that Obama had illegally bypassed Congress by establishing DACA. Two days later, in another tweet, Trump wrote, "For all those (DACA) that are concerned about your status during the six month period, you have nothing to worry about -- No action!"

Both judges concluded the Trump administration's decision to end DACA was "arbitrary and capricious."

Trump called the Dreamers "absolutely incredible kids" and "good, educated and accomplished young people." He pledged, "We're going to deal with DACA with heart ... because, you know, I love these kids." He later told reporters, "We love the Dreamers. We think the Dreamers are terrific." Trump said he wanted "a bill of love."

Yet when Congress members tried to hammer out a compromise bill to shield the Dreamers, Trump showed no love, opposing a standalone bill that would protect them. He indicated he would not sign any legislation that did not include $25 billion for construction of his border wall, an end to family migration and the implementation of a visa lottery system. When legislators could not agree on his terms, Trump accused Democrats of "doing nothing" to protect the Dreamers.

Trump is holding the Dreamers hostage to his rabid anti-immigrant base.

Two Federal Judges Temporarily Continue DACA

Meanwhile, two federal district court judges disagreed with Sessions and granted nationwide injunctions against the March 5 termination of DACA. Judge William Alsup in San Francisco ruled on January 9, 2018, and Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis in New York ruled on February 13, 2018, that the plaintiffs challenging the termination of DACA were likely to prevail on the legal merits and would likely suffer irreparable harm if DACA were allowed to expire on March 5. The plaintiffs include individuals and several States as well. DACA recipients would lose their work authorizations and employer-sponsored health care coverage, and State plaintiffs would lose $215 billion in GDP over the next decade.

Both judges concluded the Trump administration's decision to end DACA was "arbitrary and capricious."

In his 55-page opinion, Judge Garaufis wrote the administration "acted arbitrarily and capriciously by ending that program without taking any account of reliance interests that program has engendered." He cited DACA recipients who "raised families, invested in their education, purchased homes and cars, and started careers" and employers who hired, trained and invested time in DACA-recipient employees. "Former DACA recipients will be separated from their families and communities," Judge Garaufis noted. "It is impossible to understand the full consequences of a decision of this magnitude."

Judge Alsup likewise argued in his 49-page opinion that the termination of DACA "would tear authorized workers from our nation's economy and would prejudice their being able to support themselves and their families, not to mention paying taxes to support our nation." Moreover, "authorized workers will lose the benefit of their employer-provided healthcare plans and thus place a greater burden on emergency healthcare services," he added.

"DACA is not unconstitutional simply because it was implemented by unilateral, executive action without express congressional authorization," Judge Garaufis stated. "The Executive Branch has wide discretion not to initiate or pursue specific [immigration] enforcement actions." His examples of "deferred action" included victims of trafficking and violence against women, foreign students affected by Hurricane Katrina, and some widows and widowers of US citizens.

In a footnote, Judge Garaufis said, "It is not clear how the President would 'revisit' the decision to rescind the DACA program if the DACA program were, as the Attorney General has stated, 'an unconstitutional exercise of authority of the Executive Branch.'"

Both judges ruled that the administration must continue to accept renewal applications from current DACA enrollees but need not accept new applications.

The Courts' Next Steps for DACA

In the ordinary course, these district court rulings would be appealed and reviewed by the circuit courts of appeals. The Supreme Court would then take up the cases after the appellate courts had ruled on them.

However, Trump asked the Supreme Court to bypass the circuit courts and conduct an expedited appeal of the district court injunctions. The high court circumvents intermediate appellate review only when a case is of "such imperative public importance as to justify deviation from normal appellate practice." This unusual procedure occurred when the nation's steel production was threatened by a 1952 strike, and when Richard Nixon refused to relinquish White House tapes in 1974.

The Dreamers' case does not satisfy that standard of urgency. Thus, the Supreme Court, without dissent, declined to review Trump's appeals of the injunctions until after the circuit courts have issued their decisions. The high court stated that it expects the appeals courts to proceed expeditiously. A final determination could take a year and will probably not come before 2019.

Meanwhile, a September Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 86 percent of those polled support allowing the Dreamers to remain in the United States.

But until Congress or the courts take lasting action to protect them, the Dreamers remain in legal limbo. 

Categories: News

Why Is the FDA Banning Kratom?

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 14:12

The FDA's dangerously unscientific decision to classify the herb Kratom as an opioid will do nothing whatsoever to stop America's opioid crisis.

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With the opioid crisis growing ever more dire, what is the significance of the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) recent decision to ban the herb Kratom?

Kratom is a plant indigenous to Southeast Asia that has been utilized for millennia to treat pain and illness, and improve mood, among other uses. In the past few years, Kratom has become increasingly popular in the US, with an estimated 5 million users today. It's become particularly popular among people trying to get off prescription and non-prescription opioids, as well as those who suffer from chronic pain.

Though the FDA claims that there are several dozen deaths related to the use of Kratom and supplements that contain it, the herb has proven to be a generally safe, cheap and effective alternative in comparison to the treatments offered by the pharmaceutical industry.

As part of the effort to address the opioid crisis that continues unabated across the US, especially in the Upper Midwest "Rust Belt," the FDA recently announced it was classifying Kratom as an opioid, paving the way for criminalization.

The backdrop to this classification of Kratom is the ongoing opioid crisis. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, there were more than 42,249 opioid overdose deaths in 2016 -- an average of 115 deaths a day. An estimated 2.1 million Americans have an opioid use disorder.

This isn't the first time there has been an attempt to ban Kratom. A 2016 move by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to ban the herb testified to the importance it holds for many sufferers of chronic pain, as well as recovering addicts.

The ban was staved off temporarily after a widespread negative response, including a petition signed by 142,000 people, as well 1,175 statements against the ban from doctors, veterinarians, scientists and law enforcement officials.


The FDA's current decision to classify Kratom as an opioid is both alarmist and dangerously unscientific.

Given its current unscheduled classification, the listing of Kratom as an opioid appears as an obvious attempt to whip up hysteria about the threat it supposedly represents and to strengthen the case for criminalization.

More astounding, but perhaps unsurprising, is the FDA's blatant fabrication in this move. The key factor in the classification of a substance as an opioid is whether it binds with opioid receptors in the brain. Kratom, though it interacts with opioid receptors, does so in a way that differs from traditional opioids.

This unique interaction with opioid receptors results in Kratom having some different effects from traditional opioids, as well as the low addictiveness that has led many opioid users to embrace the drug as a form of self-treatment. The reality of Kratom's interaction with the brain suggests that the FDA is stretching the category of opioids for political, rather than scientific, reasons.

As for its safety, as a recent CNN article pointed out, the 44 overdose deaths that the FDA has attributed to Kratom have been based on a highly questionable methodology of self-reporting. Only a few of these claimed overdoses have been medically investigated, and each time, Kratom could not be attributed as the sole cause of death.

The character of the FDA's study demonstrates that its key concern is certainly not the threat Kratom poses to Americans, but how it can shore up the monopoly of the pharmaceutical industry and bolster industries around drug treatment and incarceration.

The pharmaceutical industry has made billions of dollars through the production, dissemination and misuse of opioids for pain management.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, between 21 and 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them, and about 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids. A significant market has developed through both the legal and illegal production and distribution of these drugs.

In take just one example, drug distributors shipped nearly 21 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to the town of Williamson, West Virginia, between 2008 and 2015. Williamson's population is just 3,000.

At the same time, there is a major and growing industry around both rehabilitation for opioid users -- and incarcerating them.

Much of the treatment for opioid addiction consists of expensive live-in programs or drug cocktails. The US government also exacerbates the impact and stigmatization of addiction by incarcerating addicts.

Thus, the opioid crisis has been exacerbated by both the cost of treatment and the fear produced by the looming specter of incarceration.


The push to ban Kratom is nothing new. Before every new drug criminalization, the US government steps up rhetoric about the dangers of addiction and the threats of crime.

For nearly a century, the US government has utilized drug criminalization against primarily poor and working class people. In particular, the "war on drugs" policies begun under Richard Nixon in the 1970s and continued ever since have helped make the US the country with the world's largest prison population by an order of magnitude, with a disproportionate representation of Black and Brown people.

Drug criminalization has done nothing to prevent crime or rates of addiction. What it has done is cost US citizens billions of dollars and increased the budget for policing and incarceration, lining the pockets of some of the wealthiest, decimating poor and working-class communities across the country, and transforming countries like Mexico into war zones by creating an illegal black market.

The decision to ban Kratom will not prevent the opioid crisis from escalating. Instead, it will leave millions of recovering addicts and those with chronic pain without a means of coping.

The entire ideology of drug policy in the US is reactionary: Addiction is labeled a personal flaw and criminalized. However, the opioid crisis and drug abuse generally are primarily a social phenomenon -- a product of the declining living standards, wages and the stability of working-class life, as well as a lack of medical care and other factors.

We should oppose the Kratom ban. But we must also do much more if we want to combat the opioid crisis that is killing thousands across the country.

Two things in particular would be vital. The first would be to end the failed "war on drugs," which treats criminalization of drug addicts as a method of reducing drug use. Such policies have uprooted the lives of countless people in this country and across the world through violence and imprisonment, while doing nothing to stop drug abuse and addiction.

The second would be to establish universal health care so that those with addiction and chronic pain could receive compassionate and medically appropriate treatment.

Today, the wanton way the US health care system and the for-profit corporations that run it treat the issue of pain management and the marketing of opioids has dovetailed with a lack of affordable and safe means to treat addiction.

The danger today is not Kratom, but a social system that criminalizes the only means millions of people have to cope.

Categories: News

From Coal Miners to Teachers: West Virginia Continues to Lead Radical Labor Struggle in the US

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 05:00

For decades, West Virginia has been at the forefront of labor activism in the United States. As the state's teachers continue their historic strike, which has shut down every single West Virginia school, we look at the history of the labor activism in the Mountain State. We speak with Jay O'Neal, a middle school teacher and a union activist in Charleston, West Virginia. And we speak with Mike Elk, senior labor reporter at Payday Report. His most recent piece is titled "West Virginia Teachers' Strike Fever Starting to Spread to Other States."

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

"The Oscars Are Still So White": While Awards Project Diversity, Most Winners Remain White Men

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 05:00

The 90th Academy Awards were held Sunday night, where the vast majority of the awards went to white men, despite years of activism demanding increased racial and gender diversity in Hollywood. The awards show came on the heels of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, which rocked Hollywood after dozens of actresses came forward to accuse Hollywood's most powerful producer, Harvey Weinstein, of rape, sexual assault and harassment that stretched back decades. For more, we speak with April Reign, creator of the viral hashtag #OscarsSoWhite and senior director of marketing for Fractured Atlas, a nonprofit arts service organization. And we speak with Soraya Chemaly, a journalist who covers the intersection of gender and politics. She is the director of the Women's Media Center Speech Project.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

The False Case Against "Foreign-Born Terrorists"

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 05:00

 Janko Ferlic)(Photo: Janko Ferlic)

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When you see an immigrant or a foreign visitor, especially from a Muslim country, should your first thought be that you might be looking at a possible terrorist?

Clearly, that's how the Trump administration wants Americans to react. It was the message in the president's first address to Congress a year ago last week when he declared that "the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country." At that time, he urged that the US immigration system be reshaped because "we cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America."

There's a misleading omission in Trump's formulation, though: homegrown fanatics have killed many more Americans on US soil than foreign-born terrorists have. The disparity grows much wider if you include mass killings carried out not for any religious or ideological cause but (as we have recently been tragically reminded) by mentally troubled individuals. Indeed, in just two such shootings in the last five months in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Parkland, Florida, deranged shooters with assault rifles killed more than three times as many people as all foreign-born jihadists have killed in this country in the last 16 years.

Another key fact is missing, too: only a fairly small number of those "terror-related" convictions were for acts committed or planned in the United States. Many more involved support, in various forms, for terrorist activity in other countries.

Still, Trump and his associates have repeatedly declared that terrorists sneaking into the country through a too-lax immigration system are a pressing threat to public safety in the United States. That was, for instance, the administration's principal headline earlier this year when it released a reportfrom the Justice and Homeland Security departments, which claimed that nearly three out of every four individuals convicted in international terror cases in US federal courts from 9/11 through 2016 were foreign born -- a total of 402, by their count. Announcing that report, Attorney General Jeff Sessions proclaimed that it highlighted the ways in which "our immigration system has undermined our national security and public safety.” In the same press release, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen warned that the United States "cannot continue to rely on immigration policy based on pre-9/11 thinking that leaves us woefully vulnerable to foreign-born terrorists."

Those and a long list of similar statements range from simply misleading to completely false. The deceptions occur in two stages. As a start, the data compiled within government agencies significantly overstate the incidence of Islamist terrorism in this country. Then the president and his associates regularly misrepresent what that already flawed data actually tells us, leaving the truth even farther behind.

"Terror-Related Cases" That Have No Relation to Terrorism 

The basic database on which Trump and his associates rely is the "Chart of Public/Unsealed International Terrorism and Terrorism-Related Convictions." It’s compiled and updated every year by the Justice Department's National Security Division and lists defendants convicted on federal charges in cases since September 11, 2001. Despite its title, the list includes a significant number of cases that are verifiably not terrorism-related and a good many more in which a terrorism connection was not only not proved but remains highly unlikely.

Take Ansar Mahmood's case. It’s far from the only example, but what makes it unusual is that the public record includes an explicit official acknowledgement that terrorism turned out not to be involved.

Mahmood, a 24-year-old legal immigrant from Pakistan, came under suspicion a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks when he was noticed taking photographs at a scenic spot along New York’s Hudson River. A nervous security guard called the police to report that a Muslim-looking man might be taking pictures of a nearby reservoir and water treatment facility.

He was soon picked up, but investigators quickly concluded that he had no connection whatsoever to terrorism. They did, however, turn up evidence that he had registered a car and cosigned an apartment lease for a Pakistani couple who had overstayed their non-immigrant visas and were in the United States illegally. He was quickly charged with "harboring aliens," a deportable offense, and convicted. After a drawn-out appeal process, Mahmood was deported in 2005.

In a letter notifying him that his final appeal to set aside the deportation order had been rejected, William Cleary, a Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement official, wrote: "It was determined that you were not engaged in any terrorist activity and were quickly cleared of any suspicion of terrorist activity." A few lines later, Cleary added a second time, "I am confident you did not engage in terrorist activity, you have never been charged as a terrorist or accused as being a terrorist."

There could hardly be more conclusive evidence that Mahmood's case had nothing to do with terrorism. Yet, years later, his name still appears on that Justice Department list of "Terrorism and Terrorism-Related Convictions." His two friends, also deported after being found guilty of visa violations and obtaining false IDs, are on the list, too, although there was absolutely no suggestion of any terror connection in their cases, either.

Nor are these isolated examples. Others on the conviction list who clearly were not terrorists include three Arab Americans, at least two of them naturalized US citizens, convicted for buying a truckload of stolen breakfast cereal, and a group of 20 defendants, predominantly Iraqis, found guilty in a scheme to fraudulently obtain commercial driver’s licenses and permits to transport hazardous material. There are also cases involving defendants convicted for false marriage claims, foreign students who illegally got jobs in violation of student visa rules, a young man from Saudi Arabia who stored child pornography on his computer, and various others where the record shows no mention of any terrorist link.

Even the most dangerous sounding of these, the one involving hazardous-material permits, may sound ominous, but the scam itself occurred in the 1990s, well before the 9/11 attacks, and prosecutors made it clear that there was no link with terrorism. So did the trial judge, who said he could not "characterize this as a successful prosecution of a terrorism case, because it was not."

None of the 20 defendants who illegally obtained those licenses received any prison time. All were given probation; some paid modest fines. Those sentences would certainly have been far harsher if there had been any genuine suspicion that the defendants might be dangerous. (The driver's license examiner they paid off at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, an American, remains on the "terror-related convictions" list, too.)

Why Are They on the List?

Given the clear evidence that they were never terrorists, why are Mahmood and his friends, as well as those Iraqi truckers and others in similar cases, still officially identified as having been "convicted of terrorism," as the Trump White House has inaccurately characterized everyone named on the Justice Department chart? Or, in the only marginally more careful wording used in the list itself, why are they still guilty of "international terrorism-related offenses"?

The immediate reason is that, like Mahmood, they originally came to the attention of investigators looking for possible terrorist ties. In other words, their cases started out as possible terrorism ones and, under Justice Department procedures, simply remained in that category even when no such ties were found. The broader reason: counting them and others like them that way plays right into the Trump administration's anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, and anti-Muslim agenda. It magnifies, falsely, the supposed threat of "foreign nationals" connected with "terrorism-related activity" in the United States.

Setting aside the cases that were clearly not in any way linked to terrorism, there are many more on the chart in which individuals were suspected of ties of some kind to terrorism but were never charged. In those cases, the question is simply left unanswered, but there can be no doubt that some of those suspects, too, were neither terrorists nor supporters of terror movements. In other words, that group similarly inflates the claimed total.

There is another strong hint that many on the Justice Department list are unlikely to have been either terrorists or to have had serious ties to such organizations and it requires no additional research. It's right there on the chart itself in a column listing the sentences that defendants received for their crimes. More than 130 of the offenders on the list (both foreign and US-born), when convicted, were given probation but no prison time at all or were sentenced only to time served before trial. Another 45 were sentenced to one year or less, including several token sentences of one day or, in a single case, a week.

Those light sentences -- for more than a quarter of all the cases on the chart -- certainly seem to indicate that no authority thought the defendants represented a terror threat.

Another Distortion...

Counting cases that have nothing to do with terrorism as "terror-related" isn’t the only way the administration has distorted the facts about immigration and the threat of terrorism. It also counts cases that have nothing to do with immigration.

For example, a White House fact sheet, summarizing the main findings of the January 16th Justice/Homeland Security report, says that 402 foreign-born defendants -- the total given in the report -- all "entered the United States through our immigration system."

That is false. The report doesn’t say that at all. You have to look carefully to find it, but the document explicitly says the opposite, stating that along with those defendants who had at one time or another passed through immigration controls, the 402 foreign-born offenders also include individuals "who were transported to the United States for prosecution." Presumably, some of them were captured overseas by US military or security agencies and some were turned over to the US by a foreign government.

The Justice Department has not disclosed how many such individuals are on the list. The number, however, is apparently substantial. Researchers for the Lawfare Blog, working from an earlier version of the chart, determined that an even 100 defendants (later reduced to 99) "were extradited, or brought, to the United States for prosecution" without going through any immigration procedure. Including those cases as evidence of a lax immigration system is plainly deceptive.

They undercut the Trump administration's anti-immigration narrative in another way, too. Obviously, defendants who were extradited or otherwise brought into the United States for prosecution were more likely than those on the list as a whole to be charged with serious offenses and to receive much stiffer sentences. So adding them to the overall “foreign-born” figure not only gives a false impression of failures in immigration screening, but also inflates the threat that actual immigrants represent.

...and One More

The Trump administration's message about "foreign-born terrorists" and the US immigration system is clear enough: dangerous people are coming into this country to do bad things to Americans. Though you wouldn't guess it from listening to the president or his attorney general and homeland security secretary, a much larger number of cases involved exactly the opposite problem: people leaving the United States, or trying to leave, to do bad things elsewhere.

Only a small minority of the guilty verdicts on the Justice Department's conviction list were for committing or planning violent acts on US soil. Significantly more defendants were tried for supporting terrorism abroad.

The comparison is dramatically clear in an analysis by the Cato Institute's Alex Nowrasteh. Examining an earlier version of the Justice Department's chart of convictions, he discovered that only 40 foreign-born defendants had been found guilty of "planning, attempting, or carrying out a terrorist attack on US soil." More than 200 were, however, convicted for "material support for foreign terrorists, attempting to join foreign terrorist organizations, planning a terrorist attack abroad, or a similar offense taking place abroad." 

The same pattern is evident even in the recent Justice/Homeland Security report, despite all the accompanying dire rhetoric about threats to public safety in America.

The report summarizes eight terror-related cases as "illustrative examples" of crimes by foreign-born offenders. Not one of those crimes caused harm to a person or damage to property in the United States itself. Three of the eight defendants came to the United States as young children. No immigration process, no matter how rigorous, could have screened them out. The same is true of a significant number of others on the Justice Department's list. Just one of the eight defendants -- the only offenders actually identified in the report -- had anything resembling a concrete plan for a terror attack in this country. Of the other seven, one made vague threats about carrying out "an act of martyrdom" in the United States, but only if he wasn't able to go to Syria to join jihadist forces there. The other six cases involved individuals accused of supporting terror groups in other countries, with no mention of any possible acts inside the United States. The case summaries give no indication that any of the eight killed or injured an American anywhere.

A Chilling Footnote

There is one other revealing thread in the administration's campaign to link immigration to terrorism. In the Justice/Homeland Security report's statistical breakdown of terror-related convictions, a footnote to the last line, which shows that 147 defendants were "US citizens by birth," says: "Information pertaining to the citizenship status of the parents of these 147 individuals was not available at the time of this report’s issuance."

The White House fact sheet repeated that point in its summary of the report, noting that it "does not contain information regarding the number of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses committed by individuals who are the children of foreign-born individuals." It then added: "Terrorist attacks carried out by children of foreign-born individuals include the attack in Orlando by Omar Mateen, which killed 49 people and wounded more than 50 others, and the attack in San Bernardino, California, by Syed Rizwan Farook, which killed 14 people and injured 22 others." (For the record, and it’s odd the White House didn't mention it, Syed Farook's wife, who accompanied him in the San Bernardino shootings, was an immigrant.)

Neither the report nor the White House statement explained what crimes committed by US-born shooters have to do with its declared subject: terror-related acts by "foreign nationals in the United States." Nor, obviously, does a mass shooting by a killer born in Chicago (Farook) or Long Island, New York, (Mateen) tell us anything about the effectiveness of immigration screening procedures or any other aspect of the US immigration system, though it does fit a Trumpian vision of a world under threat from dangerous Muslims.

Perhaps those references to the "children of foreign-born individuals" were not meant to cast suspicion on the entire Muslim-American community. Possibly the White House and the Justice Department were not intentionally stoking public hostility and fear by implying that all Muslims, whether immigrants or born in the United States, should be regarded as potentially disloyal or dangerous. But if there was a less chilling motive, it’s hard to imagine what it might be.

Categories: News

Mueller Is Going After Documents From Trump and Nine Named Campaign Associates

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 05:00

 Alex Wong / Getty Images)Special counsel Robert Mueller leaves after a closed meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee June 21, 2017, at the Capitol in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

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Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation appears to be zeroing in on President Donald Trump as new details leak about a subpoena requesting wide-ranging information about the president and his associates going back to 2015. 

NBC News reports,

"According to the subpoena, which was sent to a witness by special counsel Robert Mueller, investigators want emails, text messages, work papers, telephone logs and other documents going back to Nov. 1, 2015, 4½ months after Trump launched his campaign."

The subpoena seeks documents about the president and nine of his associates.

Steve Bannon, Michael Cohen, Rick Gates, Hope Hicks, Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Keith Schiller and Roger Stone are all named.

According to NBC News, this latest revelation indicates Mueller's intent to find out what Trump knew personally about Russia's efforts to interfere with the 2016 election.

Categories: News

The Leaked Rule That Could Ban Immigrants Based on Income, Explained by Experts

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 05:00

In February, leaked documents revealed that the Trump administration is preparing new rules that would effectively end the United States' family-based immigration system. If implemented, the regulation would prevent low-income and working-class immigrants from entering the country by denying legal status to immigrants considered "likely" to become a so-called "public charge."

The US / Mexico border fence just south of San Diego, California. (Photo: Tony Webster; Edited: LW / Truthout)The US-Mexico border fence just south of San Diego, California. (Photo: Tony Webster; Edited: LW / Truthout)

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In February, leaked documents revealed that the Trump administration is preparing new rules that would effectively end the United States' family-based immigration system. If implemented, the regulation would prevent low-income and working-class immigrants from entering the country by denying legal status to immigrants considered "likely" to become a so-called "public charge."

Currently, immigration officials can only consider the use of cash assistance, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families -- a program that serves very few people -- in determining whether someone is likely to become a "public charge." But under Trump's new rules, immigrants could be barred from legal status for turning to a whole range of public programs that millions of families rely on, including Head Start, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), nutrition assistance for Women Infants and Children (WIC), housing assistance, home heating assistance -- even the Children's Health Insurance Program and subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.

To understand what this new policy will mean for immigrant families if it goes into effect, I spoke with Shawn Fremstad, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, and Hidetaka Hirota, professor of history at the City College of New York and author of Expelling the Poor, which examines the United States' long history of keeping out immigrants who come from poverty.

Rebecca Vallas: What is the Trump administration considering in this moment, and what do we know about the rules they're working on from the leaks?

Shawn Fremstad: So, as we all know, this is not a very pro-immigrant administration. Just this week they've taken out the "nation of immigrants" language from the actual motto of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), what used to be known as the INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service]. But now we know the administration is doing a stealth campaign using this longstanding "public charge" provision in immigration law. It's a way to undermine the family-based immigration system we have and target working-class immigrants from low-income countries, from Mexico, from countries that Trump called "shithole countries."

I was going to say it if you didn't.

Shawn Fremstad: At its core, it's about keeping out poor immigrants. This is a rewriting of a longstanding rule. What it meant historically is that you're a "public charge" if you're basically going to become completely dependent on welfare-cash type benefits, or institutionalized for long-term care with Medicaid. So it's really someone who is not working, not able to work, and doesn't have anybody else supporting them and they're primarily dependent on benefits. So it's a very limited thing.

But what the administration is saying is that it's no longer going to be about whether you're primarily dependent and not working; it's are you going to be low-income? Are you going to be below median income? What they say is they'll weigh it heavily in your favor if you have 250 percent of the poverty line as an income, which is basically around median earnings for a white male worker in the United States.

They also have a long list of benefits that if you're likely to access them after being admitted to the United States as a green card, as a lawful immigrant, those are the kind of things that will be held against you. This is quite radical. It includes things like the Premium Tax Credit that was part of the ACA, which goes up to 400 percent of poverty. For many families that's a middle-class benefit. That would not be something that "makes you a public charge." You could be working full time, making a good salary, and the only issue is you're not getting health care from an employer, so you need to access this.

They also include things like Head Start, Pell grants -- it's an extraordinary list.

Even the Children's Health Insurance Program.

Shawn Fremstad: Yes. It's a long list of programs that legal immigrants are often eligible for in the United States.

Help us understand how this is actually going to look in practice.

Shawn Fremstad: This public charge test comes up in two broad scenarios. One is you're a family member here in the United States, you want to bring over a family member and get a family-based visa for them. They are subject to this public charge test so they have to meet that before they can get the visa. So if that person looks like somebody who might get any of these benefits, then the public charge test could be used to exclude them.

The other situation is there are a lot of people in the United States -- some undocumented, some under different lawful statuses -- who have children in the household who are US citizens, and the child is getting Medicaid because they're eligible as US citizens. The child is getting SNAP or WIC. Now the test can be applied to the parents simply because they got food stamps or Medicaid or other benefits for that child. So there's a potential to keep people out who haven't come to the United States and to penalize people who are here now. It'll make people much less likely to turn to programs that could help their child's healthy development, education, et. cetera.

Professor Hirota, effectively barring entry to immigrants who come from poor or low- income backgrounds is something that you've called "poverty-based immigration control." Tell us about the history of this public charge provision that Shawn's been describing and how it fits into the country's broader history of keeping out immigrants for economic reasons.

Hidetaka Hirota: The public charge clause has a really long history in the United States, with origins in the colonial period. British settlers essentially brought their mother country's poor law, which banished the "transient beggar" -- that is, the poor people who did not belong to the community beyond the boundary of the community. This kind of poor law was eventually inherited by states after the American Revolution, and when a large number of impoverished Irish immigrants arrived in the US over the first half of the 19th century, these laws eventually developed into immigration laws. So America's first immigration law really originated from poor law, and the primary purpose of the law was the deportation back to Europe of the destitute Irish immigrants already in the US.

In the late 19th century these poor laws developed into the nation's first national immigration law -- the Immigration Act of 1882. This law, along with the Chinese exclusion law of 1882, laid the foundation for subsequent national immigration law. And the anti-poverty clause, or likely to become "public charge" laws, remained in national immigration laws. So anti-poverty sentiment was really deeply integrated into the American system of selecting immigrants and this has a longer history than we think.

In the 1930s refugees from Nazi Germany became targeted.

Shawn Fremstad: In different nativist periods this has been interpreted in different ways to target different communities. So in the 1930s refugees from Nazi Germany became targeted. In some periods it's been so-called "degenerates," denying people based on sexual orientation. Nobody says public charge in real language today. It's an archaic, ancient term and it gets filled with whatever the animus is today.

Hidetaka Hirota: I would add that a central feature of this "likely to become public charge" law is massive discretionary power of the inspecting officer. They have tremendous power to determine who could be enter and who should be expelled thanks to this vague clause.

In the mid 19th century, when there were Anglo-American officers, Irish people suffered disproportionately because of this clause compared to other immigrant groups like Germans. And in the early 20th century, Asian immigrants like Japanese and South Asians were targeted for this clause. There were middle class Japanese immigrants with some cash, and they did not appear likely to become a "public charge" from an economic point of view. But the officers excluded them as potential paupers on the grounds that in America, racism was too strong, so these immigrants wouldn't gain employment. Despite the possession of potential cash and middle-class appearance, they were deemed likely to become public charge.

The whole clause can operate with very strong racist dimensions, and this also applies to the Trump administration's proposed new rule. The new rule would not apply to immigrants equally. The officers could have very strong discretionary power in deciding whose visas can be renewable by simply manipulating this "likely to become public charge" rule.

Shawn, how do we expect this to move forward in the weeks ahead and how should folks get involved if they want to try to stop this from becoming the policy of the land?

Shawn Fremstad: Right now it's still in a draft form but we think it will get published in what's called the Federal Register as a proposed rule probably in the next 30 to 60 days. And this will be an opportunity to formerly comment and an important point to really lift this up and focus. I think it's been very under the radar so far because it isn't out there officially and there's so much else going on right now.

And we're seeing chilling effects playing out in communities across this country with immigrant families, actually going into social services office and saying stop my food stamps, stop my kid's Headstart, because I'm afraid this is exposing my family to danger and perhaps the risk of being split up.

Shawn Fremstad: I think at this point people should not panic, one important thing to know is that the draft version of the rule says it will be prospective so it's looking forward; if you had received these benefits in the past we're not going to count that. So making sure you're in touch with immigrant advocacy organizations who can tell you more about this is important.

As the National Immigration Law Center has put it, and I think these are probably the right words to end on with a heavy and truly demoralizing topic: if this policy goes into effect, "no longer would we be the country that serves as a beacon for the world's dreamers and strivers. Instead America's doors would be open only the highest bidder."

This interview was conducted for Off-Kilter and aired as part of a complete episode on February 23. It was edited for length and clarity.

Categories: News

The Lessons of Mass Incarceration for Child Welfare

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 05:00
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The platinum anniversary of the most important shift in American child welfare policy in a generation just passed without notice or public discussion. But almost 20 years to the day after President Clinton signed the Adoption and Safe Families Act into law, those in the waiting area of the Bronx Family courthouse heard a 12-year-old sobbing inconsolably outside the courtroom, where he had just told the judge he did not want to be adopted. The judge had gone ahead anyway to terminate his mother's parental rights -- as judges around the country do tens of thousands of times a year to comply with ASFA.

Touted at the time as a victory for children, ASFA has instead put America first in the world in the legal destruction of families. We are now the only country in the world that routinely pays people to adopt children whose birth parents want desperately to raise them. And we turn thousands of children who will never be adopted into legal orphans, dooming them to remain in foster care until they come of age.

With striking similarity to the 1994 Crime Bill, ASFA was a draconian response to a real social problem. Just as crime was skyrocketing, so too was the number of kids caught in foster care -- both fed by an increase in economic disparities, urban decay and drug abuse. Like the Crime Bill, ASFA addressed these social problems by punishing those who were suffering most from them. Twenty years later, we have a child welfare system that, like our system of mass incarceration, pours unprecedented funds into an industry that destroys families and wreaks generations of damage on underprivileged communities. The racial disproportionality of these harms is undeniable, with Black children substantially more likely than white children to have their relationships to their parents severed. 

Sometimes, of course, children need to be separated from their families to protect them. But the vast majority of children who enter foster care in the United States do so not because their parents have abused them, but because their parents are poor. Homelessness, lack of child care, domestic violence inflicted on mothers and substance abuse are the most common reasons children go into foster care. 

ASFA was motivated by a well-founded concern that children were spending too long in foster care. Momentously, a choice was made to get them out of foster care primarily by creating financial incentives for adoption. Under ASFA, states receive monetary bonuses for getting children adopted quickly, and the federal government pays ongoing subsidies each month to those who adopt children from foster care. Today the United States spends an astonishing $2.6 billion per year subsidizing more than 440,000 adoptions. The Congressional Budget Office anticipates that amount will rise dramatically over the next 10 years. 

Of course, sometimes adoption is the very best possible outcome for a child, but at other times it is harmful to impose one-size-fits-all adoptions. Many of these children remain strongly bonded to their birth parents. Some run back to them from their adoptive homes as soon as they are able to.

In addition, ASFA's unquestioning emphasis on rushing to adoption means this country now annually terminates the rights of thousands of parents of children who will never be adopted. 

What steps could be taken to reduce the harms of ASFA? We could take the steps that other affluent democracies take to help protect poor children: provide universal child care, housing and drug treatment and mental health care that allows parents to address the predictable social ills of poverty while their children remain with them. Those who balk at the cost of such social programs should understand that we are already spending the money. We're simply spending it on keeping children in foster care and subsidized adoptive homes rather than on keeping them safe at home. 

We also could revamp the draconian timeframes imposed by ASFA. We would never say that middle class white parents' relationships to their children should be cut off forever because the parent suffered from an alcohol problem or opioid addiction or mental health issue that the parent did not wholly overcome in 15 months, as ASFA commands for poor families. 

The 12-year-old who tried in vain to convince the Bronx judge to give his mother more time went into foster care because his mother was a victim of domestic violence. She worked hard to get him back, visiting him frequently and doing therapeutic services, but not quickly enough. 

A growing swell of Republicans and Democrats alike have admitted we must address the troubling mass incarceration that is the legacy of the crime legislation they supported in the 1900s. It is time to give the same unflinching attention to the children and families being damaged by the unintended consequences of ASFA. Twenty years of unquestioned, systematic harm is enough.

Categories: News