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Washington, DC: Where the Abusers Make the Rules

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 14:00
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After women stepped forward to tell their stories of how they had been sexually abused and harassed by members of Congress, it didn't take long for political leaders from both sides of the aisle to talk about how serious this all was.

But when the rules and regulations surrounding sexual assault allegations in Congress were finally made public, revealing all the ways that women are forced into silence, it became very clear that talk is cheap -- and that neither of the two parties that rule in Washington are prepared to act with seriousness about sexual assault.

Confidentiality agreements that prevent women from speaking in public, a process that bars women from getting co-workers to corroborate evidence, secret settlements paid out of the federal treasury -- all are part of a process where sexual assault claims never see the light of day, remaining confined to a rigged in-house system, with rules that Congress made up for itself.

Thanks to the #MeToo movement that began with women in the entertainment industry revealing producer Harvey Weinstein to be a sexual predator, accusations against men in positions of power are at least being taken seriously, including in Washington.

In politics, the spotlight has fallen mainly on Roy Moore, the bible-thumping Republican running for a crucial Senate seat from Alabama, and liberal favorite Al Franken, the senator from Minnesota.

When it was revealed that Moore had sexually assaulted and harassed women and girls who were teenagers at the time, some top Republicans called on Moore to step down as a Senate candidate -- but plenty of others, including the sexual harasser-in-chief Donald Trump, circled the wagons around a fellow reactionary and joined in smearing the women who accused him.

Several women have also come forward with allegations against Franken, and the response among liberals was tellingly similar: Some suggested Franken should pay a price, but for others, the first concern was naked political calculation about giving the Republicans a further advantage in the Senate if Franken had to step down.

The Republican reactionaries have been more openly vile in their defense of Moore, but more than a few members of the Democratic Party -- which claims to champion the oppressed against the horrible Republicans -- stooped to slandering accusers to back up one of their own.

What unites the two parties' callous and cynical attitude toward sexual abuse in the corridors of power in Washington is a shared commitment to the status quo -- something illustrated by the unsolvable maze that confronts anyone who dares to raise an allegation of sexual harassment or assault on Capitol Hill.

***

Most women who work on Capitol Hill know little about the Office of Compliance, which is charged with adjudicating complaints, or about the twisted mess of rules and regulations it is supposed to follow.

A complaint must be filed with the office within 180 days of the incident. In order make an official complaint, the accuser must submit to mandatory counseling, which usually takes 30 days, and then, if they continue with their complaint, they must complete another 30 days of mediation.

During the mediation process, women must follow strict rules of secrecy, including agreeing to a non-disclosure agreement that bind victims from talking.

"The trappings of confidentiality, they permeate the process," Alexis Ronickher, an attorney who has represented several people pursuing harassment claims, told Politico. "The law is written to create a system to disincentivize staffers from coming forward."

Maybe "Office of Silence" would be a better name.

If mediation fails, the person must wait 30 more days before seeking an administrative hearing or filing a lawsuit in federal court against their harasser.

If there is a settlement, any financial award comes from a special US Treasury fund. The Office of Compliance reports that it has paid out more than $17 million since 1997 to settle workplace disputes on Capitol Hill.

As Politico's Elana Schorr points out, there's no way to know how much was spent on sexual misconduct claims, because the $17 million includes payments over pay and workplace safety.

We also have no idea how much money has been spent by the offices of individual members of Congress, who may decide to settle harassment allegations using their own office budgets.

That was the case with a former aide who negotiated a settlement with Rep. John Conyers of Michigan -- one of the most powerful Democrats in the House, with close relationships to the party's establishment -- in 2015. Like Compliance Office payouts, these individual settlements are also funded by taxpayer money.

The identities of members of Congress or aides who reach settlements over misconduct allegations are kept secret -- so there's no warning system for potential victims. During congressional testimony, Rep. Jackie Speier of California described the Compliance Office as "an enabler of sexual harassment."

"This is not a victim-friendly process," Speier said in an interview on ABC News' "This Week". "One victim who I spoke with said, 'You know, the process was almost worse than the harassment.'"

***

Speier, who initiated a #MeTooCongress campaign at the end of October, also points to a larger problem of a work environment where sexual abuse is not only tolerated, but encouraged.

Only about 20 percent of members of Congress are women. Although almost half of congressional staffers are female, women are far more likely to hold lower-ranking positions, like office manager or constituent representative, than to serve as chief of staff or legislative director, according to FiveThirtyEight.org.

Men occupy the more powerful positions -- and there are few positions more powerful than the office of senator or representative. "The power disparities in Congress are enormous," Debra Katz, an attorney who specializes in sexual harassment and has represented congressional aides, told FiveThirtyEight.org.

Katz pointed to a 2016 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report that discussed "superstar harassers" or employees who are especially powerful or valuable to an organization, and therefore believe they are above the rules. "Members of Congress are, by definition, superstars," Katz said. "And many believe the rules do not apply to them."

For decades, sexual assault and harassment has been a sometimes open, sometimes closed secret on Capital Hill.

The Office of Compliance was put into effect as part of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 -- the year that Republican Sen. Bob Packwood of Oregon was forced to resign after multiple women stepped forward with allegations of sexual assault.

Two years before, amid several public allegations against Packwood, a Washington Post survey showed that one-third of female congressional employees said they were sexually harassed by members, supervisors, lobbyists or fellow aides.

Since then, there have been other high-profile cases, such as Florida Republican Rep. Mark Foley, who resigned in 2006 after it was revealed that he repeatedly made sexual advances to several congressional pages. The page program was suspended as a result.

But there were many more cases over the years that didn't seem to merit the front pages.

That changed with #MeToo. Since the campaign began with claims against Harvey Weinstein, dozens more women who work on Capital Hill have stepped forward to tell their stories and reveal the sexism that permeates the halls of government.

Some 1,500 former Capitol Hill aides signed an open letter to House and Senate leaders to demand that Congress put in place mandatory harassment training and revamp the Office of Compliance. Right now, training isn't mandatory and can be completed online -- and only one employee at the Compliance Office is dedicated to in-person harassment training.

***

Even if the rules are changed, a bigger problem remains, however -- the fact that the people who hold government office act as if they are above the law.

That's because they are -- the laws regarding Congress are mostly there to protect them from their victims, not the other way around. As a result, men who were known to be repeat offenders were given a pass, and the process itself kept women's stories hidden.

When allegations of misconduct do see the light of day, members of Congress and the media typically look at them through the lens of partisan political point-scoring, not as a wake-up call to the sexism that goes unconfronted in the halls of government.

It was certainly no surprise when a White House led by Donald Trump stood by Moore. But the behavior of liberals toward Franken -- with column after of column of hand-wringing about whether to stand by him as a "lesser evil" to the Republicans -- should especially anger anyone who cares about confronting sexism and sexual abuse.

Both political parties are showing themselves incapable of taking on the sexism that permeates the Washington political system. It was the millions of women stepping forward to say #MeToo that even forced a conversation about sexual harassment in Congress -- out in public, where it should be.

As Briony Whitehouse, who was a 19-year-old intern when she was groped in an elevator by a Republican senator in 2003, told the Washington Post: "At the time, I didn't know what to do, so I did nothing at all. Because this happened so early on for me, I just assumed this was the way things worked, and that I'd have to accept it."

She doesn't accept it anymore, and neither should anyone else.

Categories: News

Republican Politicians Got Away With Ridiculous Claims to Defend Their Tax Bill -- and It's Trump's Fault

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 05:00

Donald Trump has paved the way for Republicans to get away with statements that are nearly as outrageous as his own. Take the shameless claims the Republicans have used to push for the tax bill over the past two months. The only question that remains is, are GOP lawmakers saying these things because they truly believe them? Or are they pandering to the same base that gave Trump the White House?

 Mark Wilson / Getty Images)Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, listens to reporters questions about the tax reform bill the Senate passed last week, at US Capitol on december 5, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)   In these troubling and surreal times, honest journalism is more important than ever. Help us keep real news flowing: Make a donation to Truthout today.

Increasingly, it seems like Donald Trump has paved the way for Republicans to get away with statements that are nearly as outrageous as his own. Take the shameless claims the Republicans have used to push for the tax bill over the past two months. In case you're having trouble keeping up, here's a brief rundown of a few times Republican officials made it perfectly clear they prioritize the wealthy over the poor:

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham claimed that "financial contributions" to the GOP "will stop" if the party couldn't push through a tax rewrite.

  • Sen. Chuck. Grassley said he was tired of government assistance programs aiding Americans who are stuck in poverty because they're "spending every darn penny they have, whether it's on booze or women or movies."

  • Congressman Chris Collins admitted, "My donors are basically saying, 'Get it done or don't ever call me again'."

  • Sen. Orrin Hatch stated, "I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won't help themselves, won't lift a finger and expect the federal government to do everything."

In the good old days, politicians used to pretend they served their constituents. What happened? Why are our elected officials now so emboldened to make statements that outright insult the American people? Because of our president, of course. It may be that, amidst Trump's tweets baiting Kim Jong-un to launch a nuclear bomb, or his endorsements of white supremacist groups in the UK, Republicans know that the news cycle will drown out any of their especially dicey comments. Or, more ominously, it could be that Trump's election has made politicians feel they can truly say and do anything without fear of losing their seats. It isn't that the bar has dropped to a new low; it's that the bar to hold our politicians accountable has completely disappeared.

In our new Trump era, the president has paved the way for GOPers to publicly proclaim their disdain for the poor and their preference for the wealthy.

It's well documented that Trump's lies -- which now number over 1,600 since the beginning of his time in office -- have created a new normal in American politics. His campaign demonstrated an unprecedented level of hostility toward women, people of color, religious minorities and immigrants -- and it worked. In a way, he's flipped the script on the stereotypical dishonest politician. Since Watergate, Americans have been suspicious of politicians and their closed-door motives. Elected officials have always lied and made false promises, and that's been considered a staple of our flawed democracy. They've always taken money from private interests and corporate lobbyists. What's remarkable is that in 2017, Republicans seem to be turning against their old ways, taking on a Trump-like brazenness as they make bold claims like the ones we saw around their push for the tax bill. They're not merely lying: now they're telling us outright the harsh truth of the wheeling-and-dealing that takes place on Capitol Hill.

Sometimes, this bold new honesty works to their advantage, making them seem more trustworthy. When the repeal debates over the Affordable Care Act were underway in June and July, liberals lauded "brave voices" like John McCain and Suzanne Collins who opposed Mitch McConnell's plot to undo Obama's health care expansion without any plan for its replacement.

Those on the left thanked heaven for moderate Republican voices, as they celebrated the repeal's failure. Now, those esteemed "moderate voices" have turned against their constituents. Of all the Republican senators, only lame duck Sen. Bob Corker voted against the Senate's version of the tax bill.

"I wanted to get to yes," Corker said of his vote against the Senate's tax bill. "But at the end of the day, I am not able to cast aside my fiscal concerns and vote for legislation that I believe, based on the information I currently have, could deepen the debt burden on future generations."

This is a boldness we don't normally see in Republican lawmakers. Corker has similarly been praised for his honest remarks about Trump's outlandish lies, claiming that "when his term is over, I think the debasing of our nation, the constant non-truth telling and the name calling" will be Trump's legacy. Of course, it's easy for Corker to be brave. He's not up for re-election.

What Trump supporters think they love about their man is his willingness to tell it like it is. Political correctness culture has made it dangerous for Republican elected officials to say what's really on their (and their constituents') minds. They dance around their homophobia by talking about an assault on religious values; they skirt past their xenophobia by claiming undocumented immigrants are taking away American jobs. Trump's election showed them that a certain veil has been lifted. Not only is it no longer dangerous, it's now politically advantageous to trash-talk poor Americans, black athletes or you name it: anyone whom their white conservative base despises and vilifies. Trump hasn't made America great again, but he's made it acceptable for Republican politicians to be honest about their racism and classism on a level this country hasn't seen since the Jim Crow era.

The only question that remains is, are GOP lawmakers saying these vile things because they truly believe them? Or because they are pandering to the same base that gave Donald Trump the White House? The answer depends on whom you ask. Either way, there's a new normal for elected officials in Trump's America, that openly welcomes oligarchy and no longer bothers to pretend that democracy is at work.

Categories: News

Hey, Trump: Navajo Elders Aren’t Your Political Props

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 05:00
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Acting by fiat and claiming the opposite has been a hallmark of this presidency.

On Monday in Salt Lake City, President Trump announced he was reducing the Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent, from 1.3 million acres to 201,876 acres -- despite it being unclear whether he has the legal right to do so under the Antiquities Act.

"Your timeless bond with the outdoors should not be replaced with the whims of regulators thousands and thousands of miles away," he assured supporters inside the state Capitol as hundreds protested outside (an estimated 5,000 had protested the expected reduction of Bears Ears and Grand Escalante National Monuments at the Capitol the day before).

And yet, strangely, fellow heads of state from five indigenous nations (Navajo Nation, Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute, and Uintah and Ouray Ute) which have a "timeless bond" with the area in question and who wrote the national monument proposal for Bears Ears were nowhere to be seen in the Capitol. Instead, tribal leaders could be found outside protesting. These included the vice president of the Navajo Nation -- an indigenous nation the size of Ireland -- which has 350,000 members.

"The Navajo Nation has made repeated requests to meet with President Trump on this issue. The Bears Ears Monument is of critical importance, not only to the Navajo Nation, but to many tribes in the region," Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said in a statement to the press. "The decision to reduce the size of the monument is being made with no tribal consultation."

Instead, Secretary Ryan Zinke brought onstage to stand behind Trump a diminutive and traditionally dressed Navajo grandmother, Betty Jones of McCracken Mesa in San Juan County, Utah. Zinke, who's over 6 feet tall, held her by her shoulders, and Trump turned to engage her awkwardly from time to time.

This is the second time in as many weeks that Trump has used Navajo elders as what can only be called political props. Last week he caused a furor during a ceremony honoring Navajo Code Talkers from WWII, men in their 90s, when he took a potshot at potential presidential contender Sen. Elizabeth Warren, calling her "Pocahontas."

The Bears Ears National Monument signed into law in December 2016 by former President Obama was heralded as an advance in nation-to-nation relations between the US government and indigenous nations. The monument proclamation not only recognizes these tribes' inherent national interests and ancient connections to the Bears Ears area, but gives them a seat at the table to co-manage the monument, which contains an estimated 100,000 archaeological sites.

Tribal leaders chose to pursue national monument status for Bears Ears in 2015 when discussions with Utah Republican politicians, including Rep. Rob Bishop (who stood beside Trump when he made his announcement), broke down. Looting and vandalism of ancient petroglyphs and stunning cliff dwellings have been ongoing in the area, even since the monument's designation last year.

San Juan County, which is one of the largest counties in the country, has a history of suppressing the Navajo vote. The county, which has a population that is over 50 percent Navajo, was sued by the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission and in 2016 was found in violation of the Voting Rights Act by racially segregating Navajo voters into a single district.

Before Trump spoke on Monday, San Juan County Commissioner Rebecca Benally spoke, claiming the creation of the Bears Ears National Monument "was disheartening for my community." But while Benally is a Navajo woman, she's not a tribal leader, and San Juan County's stance opposing the monument is not shared by the Navajo Nation.

Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch pointed out that consulting with one Navajo person is not the same as consulting with the nation. "He's ignoring the fact that we are sovereigns, we are governments, and expect to be engaged on a nation-to-nation basis," said Branch in an interview with MSNBC. "If they think talking to one Navajo person constitutes talking to the Navajo Nation, then [Zinke and Trump] are both gravely mistaken." 

In fact, it's been reported that in the past few months 98 percent of Navajo community members bordering Bears Ears have voted in favor of the monument designation at chapter house meetings (similar to counties on the Navajo Nation).

Echoing Trump, Benally added, "It was insulting that bureaucrats thousands of miles away didn't believe we were capable of protecting our land."

In contrast, Begaye seemed confident that his nation was doing just that.

"The Navajo Nation will defend Bears Ears. The reduction in the size of the monument leaves us no choice but to litigate this decision."

Categories: News

High-Profile Women Break the Silence on Sex Assaults, but Low-Wage Workers Are Still Vulnerable to Abuse

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 05:00

On Wednesday, Time magazine announced the 2017 "Person of the Year" goes to the women who have spoken out against sexual assault and harassment, sparking an international movement. It called the group "the Silence Breakers" and included Hollywood actresses, journalists, farmworkers and hotel cleaners. We look at how sexual abuse also thrives in low-wage sectors like farm work, hotel cleaning and domestic work, where workers are disproportionately women of color and immigrant women and are highly vulnerable to sexual harassment and sexual violence. We speak with Tarana Burke, founder of the "Me Too" movement and one of the women featured in Time’s new issue. She founded the organization in 2006 to focus on young women who have endured sexual abuse, assault or exploitation. She is now a senior director at Girls for Gender Equity. We are also joined by Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter and strategy and partnership director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and by Mily Treviño-Sauceda, co-founder and vice president of the National Alliance of Women Farmworkers. She is a former farmworker and union organizer with the United Farm Workers.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

"Settlers in the White House": Palestinians Denounce Trump Jerusalem Order and Protest in Day of Rage

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 05:00

As Palestinians protest President Trump's announcement that he would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and begin moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, we go to East Jerusalem to speak with Budour Hassan, a Palestinian writer and project coordinator for the Jerusalem Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights, and speak with Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace. We are also joined in Ramallah by Hanan Ashrawi, Palestinian politician and scholar.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

Anti-Muslim Violence Is Being Perpetrated at the Highest Levels of Government

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 05:00

 Drew Angerer / Getty Images)A woman wearing a hijab stands outside the US Supreme Court, October 11, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

The Supreme Court decision to uphold Trump's Muslim Ban is a reminder of the high court's history of institutionalizing, legitimizing and normalizing racism. In upholding systemic anti-Muslim racism, the Court has emboldened Customs and Border Protection officers, validated anti-Muslim violence and further threatened the safety and security of Muslims around the country.

 Drew Angerer / Getty Images) A woman wearing a hijab stands outside the US Supreme Court, October 11, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

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Two days before Trump officially recognized illegally occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and five days after he retweeted a string of false, anti-Muslim videos from the deputy leader of British white supremacist group Britain First, the US Supreme Court ruled that Trump's Muslim ban does not unfairly discriminate against Muslims and should be fully enforced. The small but significant exemptions from the ban that lower courts had allowed -- such as for those with "bone fide" relationships to US institutions or grandparents and cousins -- are now no longer valid.

The ruling reminds us that anti-Muslim racism is systemic.

Supporters of the ban argue that the ban does not singularly target Muslims, as the addition of Venezuela and North Korea to the list of six Muslim-majority countries underlines its goal of "national security" rather than Trump's obsession with what he regularly labels a "Muslim problem." Solicitor General Noel Francisco, for example, notes that "... these differences confirm that the Proclamation is based on national-security and foreign-affairs objectives, not religious animus." But history would disagree: Notwithstanding that "protecting national security" and establishing anti-Muslim policies have become virtually synonymous, such policies and the "war on terror" framework itself are regularly expanded to target other communities of color.

Acknowledging that the ban is still a Muslim ban, what can be learned from this Supreme Court decision?

Most clearly, the ruling reminds us that Islamophobia, or, more accurately, anti-Muslim racism, is systemic. Created, upheld and enforced by the state, the Muslim ban has emboldened Customs and Border Protections officers, validated anti-Muslim violence and added to a further loss of already minimal feelings of safety for Muslims across the country.

The Supreme Court maintains a history of institutionalizing, legitimizing and normalizing racism.

In practical terms, this means that symbolic gestures like wearing Hijabs for a day in solidarity, fast-fashion brands' attempts at surface-level representation, visionless interfaith work and campaigns to "humanize" Muslims aren't going to cut it. These inadequate steps address anti-Muslim racism as simply "individual bias" that necessitates little more than "love over hate" to solve. This oversimplification of the internationally funded anti-Muslim machine, which is driven by both profit and ideology, allows for simplified understandings of solidarity and organizing. It allows people to pretend that police militarization is not intimately tied to the "war on terror" framework, that Trump is unique in being a racist head of state, and that the ban does not have historical precedent. Moreover, it allows for the belief that the same systems that enact anti-Muslim violence (such as the police, military industry and Countering Violence Extremism programs) can be primary actors in its alleviation.

For Muslims, challenging the ban means moving beyond a reliance on institutions for liberation.

Rather, if the Supreme Court's decision teaches us anything, it is that we cannot rely on the systems that oppress us to free us. In fact, the decision follows a long legacy of racist and oppressive Supreme Court decisions, including the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford case enforcing slavery and excluding African Americans from the Bill of Rights, the 1883 Pace v. Alabama case upholding state laws criminalizing interracial marriage, the infamous "separate but equal" ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, and the more recent rulings in the mid-20th century backing Executive Order 9066, which created internment camps for over 120,000 Japanese Americans. The Supreme Court maintains a history of institutionalizing, legitimizing and normalizing racism.

For Muslims, this serves as yet another reminder that assimilation is not a liberation strategy when the system one is being assimilated into is white supremacy.

Challenging the ban means challenging the attempted establishment of new norms of violence, and moving beyond a reliance on institutions for liberation. Understanding the legacies of systemic discrimination upon which such executive orders and Supreme Court rulings are built -- and will continue to be built -- is integral for developing a strategy to truly move forward.

Categories: News

The Corporate Ruler

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 05:00
Categories: News

The Era of Walls: Greeting Climate-Change Victims With a Man-Made Dystopia

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 05:00
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When I first talked to the three Honduran men in the train yard in the southern Mexican town of Tenosique, I had no idea that they were climate-change refugees. We were 20 miles from the border with Guatemala at a rail yard where Central American refugees often congregated to try to board La Bestia ("the Beast"), the nickname given to the infamous train that has proven so deadly for those traveling north toward the United States.

The men hid momentarily as a Mexican army truck with masked, heavily armed soldiers drove by. Given Washington's pressure on Mexico to fortify its southern border, US Border Patrol agents might have trained those very soldiers. As soon as they were gone, the Hondurans told me that they had been stuck here for six long days. The night before, they had tried to jump on La Bestia, but it was moving too fast.

When I asked why they were heading for the United States, one responded simply, "No hubo lluvia." ("There was no rain.") In their community, without rain, there had been neither crops, nor a harvest, nor food for their families, an increasingly common phenomenon in Central America. In 2015, for instance, 400,000 people living in what has become Honduras's "dry corridor" planted their seeds and waited for rain that never came. As in a number of other places on this planet in this century, what came instead was an extreme drought that stole their livelihoods.

For Central America, this was not an anomaly. Not only had the region been experiencing increasing mid-summer droughts, but also, as the best climate forecasting models predict, a "much greater occurrence of very dry seasons" lies in its future. Central America is, in fact, "ground zero" for climate change in the Americas, as University of Arizona hydrology and atmospheric sciences professor Chris Castro told me. And on that isthmus, the scrambling of the seasons, an increasingly deadly combination of drenching hurricanes and parching droughts, will hit people already living in the most precarious economic and political situations. Across Honduras, for example, more than 76% of the population lives in conditions of acute poverty. The coming climate breakdowns will only worsen that or will, as Castro put it, be part of a global situation in which "the wet gets wetter, the dry gets drier, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Everything gets more extreme."

Talking with those farmers in the Tenosique train yard felt, in a way, like a scene from a sequel to the movie The Road in which a father and son walk across a post-apocalyptic North America devastated by an unknown cataclysm. In reality, though, I was just in a typical border zone of the Anthropocene, the proposed new geologic era characterized by human activity as the dominant force on the climate and environment. And these young, unarmed farmers with failing harvests are now facing the only welcome this planet presently has to offer for such victims of climate change: expanding border regimes of surveillance, razor-wire walls, guns, and incarceration centers.

As they keep heading north, they will have to be on guard against ever more army and police patrols, while enduring hunger and thirst as well as painful separations from their families. They will have to evade endless roadside checkpoints, which Fray Tomás Tómas González Castillo, director of a nearby shelter for migrants in Tenosique, told me were almost "impossible" to avoid, at a time when, he noted, "organized crime" controlled the trains.

Such a predicament is hardly unique to the Mexico-Guatemalan border region or even the US-Mexican version of the same. Think of the maritime divide between North Africa and the European Union or the Jordanian border where patrols now reportedly shoot at "anything that moves" coming from Syria -- or so a Jordanian official who prefers to remain anonymous told me. And Syria was just one of the places where the ever-increasing impacts of climate change, migration, and tightly enforced border zones intersected. 

Now, homeland security regimes are increasingly unleashing their wrath on the world's growing numbers of displaced people, sharpening the divide between the secure and the dispossessed. Whether in Mexico or on the Mediterranean Sea, as ever more human beings find themselves uprooted from their homes and desperate, such dynamics will only intensify in the decades to come. In the process, the geopolitics and potentially the very geography of the globe will be reshaped. It's not just Donald Trump. Everywhere on Planet Earth, we seem to be entering the era of the wall.

The Displaced

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, the "impact and threat of climate-related hazards" displaced an average of 21.5 million people annually between 2008 and 2015. The growing impact of the Anthropocene -- of intensifying droughts, rising seas, and mega-storms -- is already adding to a host of other factors, including poverty, war, and persecution, that in these years have unsettled record numbers of people. While many of the climate-displaced stay close to home, hoping to salvage both their lives and livelihoods, ever more are crossing international borders in what many are now calling a "refugee crisis."

"Catastrophic convergence" is the term sociologist Christian Parenti uses to describe this twenty-first-century turmoil, since many of these factors combine to displace staggering numbers of people. As Camila Minerva of Oxfam puts it, "The poorest and the most marginalized are five times more likely to be displaced and to remain so for a longer time than people in higher income countries and it is increasing with climate change."

Though the numbers are often debated, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees suggests that climate breakdowns will displace 250 million people by 2050. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre suggests that those numbers could actually range from 150 million to a staggering 350 million by that year. In reporting on how climate change is already affecting Mexico City, Michael Kimmelman, the architecture critic of the New York Times, cited a report suggesting that the number may be far higher than that, possibly reaching 700 million -- and that, by 2050, 10% percent of all Mexicans between 15 and 65 might be heading north, thanks to rising temperatures, droughts, and floods.

"Although the exact number of people that will be on the move by mid-century is uncertain," wrote the authors of the report In Search of Shelter: Mapping the Effects of Climate Change on Human Migration and Displacement, "the scope and scale could vastly exceed anything that has occurred before." And here's the sad reality of our moment: for such developments, the world is remarkably unprepared. There isn't even a legal framework for dealing with climate refugees, either in international law or the laws of specific countries. The only possible exception: New Zealand's "special refugee visas" for small numbers of Pacific Islanders displaced by rising seas.

The only real preparations for such a world are grim ones: walls and the surveillance technology that goes with them. Most climate-displaced people travelling internationally without authorization will sooner or later run up against those walls and the armed border guards meant to turn them back. And if the United States or the European Union is their destination, any possible doors such migrants might enter will be slammed shut by countries that, historically, are the world's largest greenhouse gas polluters and so most implicated in climate change. (Between 1850 and 2011, the United States was responsible for 27% of the world's emissions and the countries of the European Union, 25%.)

A Booming Market in Walls

I have no idea what happened to those three farmers after our brief meeting in Tenosique. I did, however, think of them again a couple of months later when I was 1,000 miles to the north. Under a mesquite tree in northern Mexico, there was a lonely plastic bottle with a few droplets of water still in it. Somebody had left it as they crossed into the United States.

I was just east of Agua Prieta in the Mexican state of Sonora, a mere 25 feet from the US-Mexican border. I could clearly see the barrier there and a US Border Patrol agent in a green-striped truck looking back at me from the other side of the divide. Perhaps a quarter mile from where I stood, I could also spot an Integrated Fixed Tower, one of 52 new high-tech surveillance platforms built in the last two years in southern Arizona by the Israeli company Elbit Systems. Since that tower's cameras are capable of spotting objects and people seven miles away, I had little doubt that agents in a nearby command and control center were watching me as well. There, they would also have had access to the video feeds from Predator B drones, once used on the battlefields of the Greater Middle East, but now flying surveillance missions in the skies above the border. There, too, the beeping alarms of thousands of motion sensors implanted throughout the US border zone would ring if you dared cross the international divide.

Only 15 years ago, very little of this existed. Now, the whole region -- and most of this preceded Donald Trump's election victory -- has become a de facto war zone. Climate refugees, having made their way through the checkpoints and perils of Mexico, will now enter a land where people without papers are tracked in complex, high-tech electronic ways, hunted, arrested, incarcerated, and expelled, sometimes with unfathomable cruelty. To a border agent, the circumstances behind the flight of those three Honduran farmers would not matter. Only one thing would -- not how or why you had come, but if you were in the United States without the proper documentation.

Climate change, increased global migration, and expanding border enforcement are three linked phenomena guaranteed to come to an explosive head in this century. In the United States, the annual budgets for border and immigration policing regimes have already skyrocketed from about $1.5 billion in the early 1990s to $20 billion in 2017, a number that represents the combined budgets of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. During that period, the number of Border Patrol agents quintupled, 700 miles of walls and barriers were constructed (long before Donald Trump began talking about his "big, fat, beautiful wall"), and billions of dollars of technology were deployed in the border region.

Such massive border fortification isn't just a US phenomenon. In 1988, when the Berlin Wall fell, there were 15 border walls in the world. Now, according to border scholar Elisabeth Vallet, there are 70. These walls generally have risen between the richer countries and the poorer ones, between those that have the heavier carbon footprints and those plunged into Parenti's "catastrophic convergence" of political, economic, and ecological crises. This is true whether you're talking about the Americas, Africa, the Middle East, or Asia.

As Paul Currion points out, even some countries that are only comparatively wealthy are building such "walls," often under pressure and with considerable financial help. Take Turkey. Its new "smart border" with drought-stricken and conflict-embroiled Syria is one of many examples globally. It now has a new tower every 1,000 feet, a three-language alarm system, and "automated firing zones" supported by hovering zeppelin drones. "It appears that we've entered a new arms race," writes Currion, "one appropriate for an age of asymmetric warfare, with border walls replacing ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles]."

India is typical in constructing a steel wall along its lengthy border with Bangladesh, a country expected to have millions of displaced people in the decades to come, thanks to sea level rise and storm surges. In these years, with so many people on the move from the embattled Greater Middle East and Africa, the countries of the European Union have also been doubling down on border protection, with enforcement budgets soaring to 50 times what they were in 2005.

The trends are already clear: the world will be increasingly carved up into highly monitored border surveillance zones. Market projections show that global border and homeland security industries are already booming across the planet. The broader global security market is poised to nearly double between 2011 and 2022 (from $305 billion to $546 billion). And, not so surprisingly, a market geared to climate-related catastrophes is already on the verge of surpassing $150 billion.

Climate Change as a National Security Threat (and Bonanza)

Don't just take my word for it when it comes to predictions about this planet's increasingly bordered future. Consider the forecasts of the US military and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). One of the first crude assessments of such a walled-in world appeared in a 2003 Pentagon-commissioned reportAn Abrupt Climate Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security, and it already had a distinctly Trumpian ring to it:

"The United States and Australia are likely to build defensive fortresses around their countries because they have the resources and reserves to achieve self-sufficiency... Borders will be strengthened around [the United States] to hold back unwanted starving immigrants from the Caribbean islands (an especially severe problem), Mexico, and South America."

That identification of the Caribbean as "an especially severe problem" almost a decade and a half ago was prescient indeed in this year of super-storms Irma and Maria that left Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands in shambles and the island of Barbuda "extinguished."

While the Trump administration is scrubbing government websites and policies clean of climate change, other parts of the government are still in the business of preparing for it, big time, rather than denying its existence. At both the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security, global warming is seen as a "threat multiplier" that must be factored into any long-term planning -- and that should surprise no one. After all, the future time frame of a national security planner can be as much as 30 years. It sometimes takes that long for a major weapons system to go "from the drawing board to the battlefield," according to former Assistant Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, editor of Climatic Cataclysm: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Climate Change, a 2008 report coordinated by the Center for a New American Security and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Unlike the president and the present heads of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, US military and homeland security risk assessors aren't likely to deny the 97% consensus of scientists on climate change. In Climatic Cataclysm, Campbell wrote that the "sheer numbers of potentially displaced people" are prospectively "staggering." In one assessment of what a possible 2.6 degree Celsius rise in the global temperature by 2040 might mean, Leon Fuerth, a former security adviser to Al Gore, concluded that "border problems" would overwhelm US capabilities "beyond the possibility of control, except by drastic methods and perhaps not even then."

In 2009, the Obama administration declared climate change a top national security threat. This prompted both the Pentagon and the DHS to prepare climate-change adaptation "roadmaps" and action plans. In 2014, the DHS added climate change as a top threat to its Quadrennial Homeland Security Review, its main public mission document. During a 2015 congressional hearing, Thomas Smith, one of that review's authors, testified that climate change was "a major area of homeland security risk," and that "more frequent severe droughts and tropical storms, especially in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, could increase population movements, both legal and illegal, toward or across the US border."

In other words, you don't have to turn to climate-change activists and experts like Bill McKibben or Naomi Klein to understand why those Central American droughts are getting worse and why those three Honduran men were in that train yard. All of this was predicted by the Department of Homeland Security.

Those in the DHS, like those in the Pentagon, grasp what's coming and they're going to meet it with what they know how to do best, what Donald Trump himself would approve of if he weren't ignoring the potentially most devastating phenomenon on this planet: hardened enforced borders, big brother biometrics, and high tech surveillance systems. In other words, they will face the victims of climate change with a man-made dystopia.

The Alternative Border Wall

Now, remember that water bottle under the mesquite tree near the US-Mexico border? I came across it while being taken on a tour by Juan Manuel Pérez, the project manager of Cuenca Los Ojos, an organization dedicated to the preservation and restoration of biological diversity along those same borderlands. I was there to see a water-harvesting project. But first, Pérez took me to a spot where a portion of a barrier wall the CBP had once built across this part of the border lay wrecked like some ancient archeological ruin. It had been swept into Mexican territory in 2014 by a deluge of water, as the remnants of Hurricane Odile lashed the washes of the Chiricahua Mountains in Eastern Arizona. Now, planet Earth was devouring the carcass of that former wall, those hundreds of pounds of metal. Three years after it was deposited here, that wall fragment was already partially covered with soil. Purple flowers sprouted from its crevasses. When I got close enough, I could see spiders hanging from their webs on it. If the rest of that $20 billion in border infrastructure were left alone, in the end this is what would happen to it. This is how the earth would welcome it back.

From there, I could see where DHS had built a new barrier to replace the destroyed one. Near it, that same border patrol vehicle was idling and that same surveillance tower stuck up in the distance, all part of a desperate attempt to keep that "catastrophic convergence" at bay, to keep the world of such hurricanes and the climate-change displaced who will go with it, from the United States.

Nearby, I also saw what Pérez told me were gabions -- steel cages filled with rocks embedded in the nearby streambed on the Mexican side of the border. They were there, he explained to me, to slow down the rushing rainwaters during the summer monsoon season so the soil could drink them in and be replenished. Remarkably, they had done their job. In this parched territory, in the middle of a 15-year drought, the water table had risen 30 feet.

It was, I said, a miracle.

Native grasses were growing back, as were the desert willows. The rising water, no respecter of borders or border patrols, had similarly begun to replenish the aquifers on the Arizona side and water was appearing in places that hadn't seen anything like this before. Mind you, national security assessments stress that in Mexico and Central America water scarcity issues will be a factor driving climate breakdowns and increased migration. That was certainly the case for those three Honduran farmers.

Here, however, those gabions, embedded in the dry river, were bringing water back to places where it had become scarce. Remarkably, from my vantage point in that border landscape, the cages of rocks began to look like parts of some intricately carved stonewall. It was a strange illusion and it made me think that in a world of the grimmest sorts of walls meant to turn back everyone and offer greetings to no one, perhaps this was the real "border wall" that people needed, that planet earth needed, something that welcomed us to a better, not a desperately worse world.

Categories: News

Challenging the Neoliberalism at the Root of Trump's Authoritarianism

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 05:00

Donald Trump's election marked a perilous watershed for the descent of democracy in the United States into authoritarianism. Not only is the public in peril, it is on the brink of collapse as the economic, political and cultural institutions necessary for democracy to survive are being aggressively undermined. There is hope, however: A robust intersectional resistance can result in radical social and political change. 

 Gage Skidmore)Donald Trump speaks to supporters at a campaign rally at the Prescott Valley Event Center in Prescott Valley, Arizona, on October 4, 2016. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

What are the longer term trends that give rise to the presidency of Donald Trump? What will be the national and global impacts? And what do we need to do to resist? Henry A. Giroux tackles these questions in The Public in Peril: Trump and the Menace of American Authoritarianism. "This courageous and timely book is the first and best book on Trump's neo-fascism in the making," says Cornel West. To order your copy, click here and make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout now!

Confronted with the undermining of constitutional democracy, Henry A. Giroux argues for a radical social transformation in The Public in Peril. In the following excerpt, he argues that in order to succeed, the uprising must include both "a change of consciousness and structural change."

 "To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair inevitable." -- Raymond Williams 

The United States stands at the endpoint of a long series of attacks on democracy, and the choices faced by the American public today point to the divide between those who are committed to democracy and those who are not. Debates over whether Donald Trump was a fascist or Hillary Clinton was a right-wing warmonger and tool of Wall Street were a tactical diversion. The real questions that should have been debated include: What measures could have been taken to prevent the United States from sliding further into a distinctive form of authoritarianism? And what could have been done to imagine a mode of civic courage and militant hope needed to enable the promise of a democracy as a governing principle? Such questions take on a significant urgency in light of the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. Under such circumstances, not only is the public in peril, it is on the brink of collapse as the economic, political, and cultural institutions necessary for democracy to survive are being aggressively undermined. As Robert Kuttner observes:

It is hard to contemplate the new administration without experiencing alarm bordering on despair: Alarm about the risks of war, the fate of constitutional democracy, the devastation of a century of social progress. Trump’s populism was a total fraud. Every single Trump appointment has come from the pool of far-right conservatives, crackpots, and billionaire kleptocrats. More alarming still is the man himself -- his vanity, impulsivity, and willful ignorance, combined with an intuitive genius as a demagogue. A petulant fifth-grader with nuclear weapons will now control the awesome power of the U.S. government. One has to nourish the hope that Trump can yet be contained. Above all, that will take passionate and strategic engagement, not just to resist but to win, to discredit him and get him out of office while this is still a democracy. We can feel sick at heart -- we would be fools not to -- but despair is not an option.[1]

Kuttner rightly mitigates such despair with a call for resistance. Yet, such deep-seated anxiety is not unwarranted given the willingness of contemporary politicians and pundits during the 2016 presidential battle to use themes that echoed alarmingly fascist and totalitarian elements of the past. According to Drucilla Cornell and Stephen D. Seely, Trump’s campaign mobilized a movement that was "unambiguously fascist."[2] They write:

We are not using the word "fascist" glibly here. Nor are we referencing only the so-called "alt-right" contingent of his supporters. No, Trump’s entire movement is rooted in an ethnic, racial, and linguistic nationalism that sanctions and glorifies violence against designated enemies and outsiders, is animated by a myth of decline and nostalgic renewal and centered on a masculine cult of personality.[3]

 Large segments of the American public have been written out of politics over what they view as a failed state and the inability of the basic machinery of government to serve their interests.[4] As market mentalities and moralities tighten their grip on all aspects of society, democratic institutions and public spheres are being downsized, if not altogether disappearing. As these institutions vanish -- from public schools to health-care centers -- there is also a serious erosion of the discourses of community, justice, equality, public values, and the common good. This grim reality has been called a "failed sociality" -- a failure in the power of the civic imagination, political will, and open democracy.[5] As the consolidation of power by the corporate and financial elite empties politics of any substance, the political realm merges elements of Monty Python, Kafka, and Aldous Huxley. Mainstream politics is now dominated by hard-right extremists who have brought to the center of politics a shameful white supremacist ideology, poisonous xenophobic ideas, and the blunt, malicious tenets and practices of Islamophobia.

To read more articles by Henry A. Giroux and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

On the other side of the political spectrum, the Democratic Party operates in the service of the war machine, financial elite, and various registers of the military-industrial-academic-surveillance complex. In the current political climate, centrism and extremism increasingly become indistinguishable. The older political establishment’s calls for regime change and war are now supplemented by the discourse of state-sanctioned torture, armed ignorance, and a deep hatred of democracy. One consequence is that both parties have thrown, in different degrees, immigrants, poor minorities of class and color, refugees, the working class, and especially young people under the bus. Neoliberalism, with its full-fledged assault on the welfare state and public goods, the destruction of the manufacturing sector, and a dramatic shift in wealth to the upper 1 percent, has destroyed the faith of millions in democracy, which lost its power to contain the rich in a runaway form of casino capitalism. With the erosion of the social contract and the increasing power of the rich to control both the commanding institutions of society and politics itself, democracy has lost any legitimacy as a counterweight to protect the ever widening sphere of people considered vulnerable and disposable. One consequence has been that the dangerous playbook to neo-fascist appeals has gained more and more credence. In addition, large portions of the American public have turned willingly to Trump’s brand of authoritarianism.

Trump’s election has produced widespread despair, fear, and anxiety in the most vulnerable, largely confirmed by the fact that "over a thousand hate crimes have been reported since Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election."[6] Even more foreboding is the fact that not only does Trump inherit the repressive policies and practices that followed 9/11 such as a growing national security state, the National Defense Authorization Act, a permanent war culture, the paramilitarization of the police, widespread intrusive surveillance, and the illegality of drone assassinations, but he has at his disposal the ability to wield a massive degree of executive power. As Kuttner makes clear:

But one should not minimize the perils. Trump will wield a massive amount of executive power. This is a man with a short fuse and a long enemies list . . . he can use the power of the presidency to conduct vast surveillance, threaten the commercial interests of the free press, selectively prosecute, and further weaken the labor movement while his allies in Congress change the ground rules of federalism to undermine progressive policies of blue states and cities. Trump will float above cadres of conservative professionals with detailed playbooks. They will try to back-load the impact of unpopular policies such as deep cuts in Social Security and Medicare.[7]

The future looks bleak, especially for youth as they are burdened with debt, dead-end jobs, unemployment, and, if you are black and poor, the increasing possibility of being either incarcerated or shot by the police.[8] Trump has redefined government as the enemy of economic and social justice and in doing so has created a number of cabinet positions that will run what might be called ministries of repression and injustice. The United States has become a war culture and immediate massive forms of resistance and civil disobedience are essential if the planet and human life is going to survive.[9] Domestic terrorism defined as intentional and criminal acts of violence by the state against civilian populations has become the new norm in the United  States.

The savagery of a war culture and its sundry forms of domestic terrorism was on full display in the United States with the September 13, 2016 shooting of Tyre King in Columbus, Ohio, a 13-year-old child who ran from the police while holding a BB gun. Tyre was "5ft tall and weighed less than 100lbs . . . [and was an] eighth-grader [who] played football and other sports, and was in a young scholars program."[10] After this innocent child was killed, there were more shootings of unarmed African Americans in spite of growing public protest against police violence. For example, Keith Lamont Scott, 43, of Charlotte, North Carolina, was shot dead while sitting in his truck while waiting for his son to return home on a bus from school. On May 2, 2017, a Texas police officer in Balch Springs, Texas shot into a car killing 15-year-old Jordan Edwards. These shootings barely scratch the surface of the workings of a police state and the increasing number of assaults waged against poor communities of color. As Nicholas Powers points out,

The old racial line between "Black" and "White" has been redrawn as the line between criminal and citizen. Up and down the class hierarchy from poor to wealthy, Black people have to dodge violence, from macroaggressions to economic sabotage and from public shaming to physical attacks . . . every day another person of color is shot by police, and the hole left inside families are where loved ones used to breathe. The cops not only steal the lives of our children; they steal the lives of everyone who loved them. A part of us freezes, goes numb.[11]

There can be little doubt that America is at war with its own ideals and that war is being waged against minorities of color and class, immigrants, Muslims, and Syrian refugees. Such brutality amounts to acts of domestic terrorism and demands not only massive collective opposition but also a new understanding of the conditions that are causing such sanctioned violence and the need for a fresh notion of politics to resist it. This suggests putting democratic socialism on the agenda for change.

The struggle for democratic socialism is an important goal, especially in light of the reign of terror of the existing neoliberal mode of governance. It is crucial to remember that as a firm defender of the harsh politics and values of neoliberalism, Trump preyed on the atomization and loneliness many people felt in a neoliberal social order that derides dependency, solidarity, community, and any viable notion of the commons. He encouraged both the fantasy of a rugged individualism and the toxic discourse of a hyper-masculine notion of nativism, while at the same time offering his followers the swindle of a community rooted in an embrace of white supremacy, a white public sphere, and a hatred of those deemed irrevocably other. The ideology and public pedagogy of neoliberalism at the root of Trump’s embrace of a new authoritarianism must be challenged and dismantled ideologically and politically.

Yet, the task of challenging the new authoritarianism will only succeed if progressives embrace an expansive understanding of politics. This means, among other things, refusing to view elections as the ultimate litmus test of democratic participation and rejecting the assumption that capitalism and democracy are synonymous. The demise of democracy must be challenged at all levels of public participation and must serve as a rallying cry to call into question the power and control of all institutions that bear down on everyday life. Moreover, any progressive struggle must move beyond the fragmentation that has undermined the left for decades. This suggests moving beyond single-issue movements in order to develop and emphasize the connections between diverse social formations. At stake here is the struggle for building a broad alliance that brings together different political movements and, as Cornell and Seely observe, a political formation willing to promote an ethical revolution whose goal "is not only socialism as an economic form of organization but a new way of being together with others that could begin to provide a collectively shared horizon of meaning."[12]

Truthout Progressive Pick  Trump and the Menace of American Authoritarianism

A critical analysis of Trumpism in the context of longer term trends.

Click here now to get the book!

Central to The Public in Peril is a refusal of the mainstream politics of disconnect. In its place is a plea for expansive social movements and a more comprehensive understanding of politics in order to connect the dots between, for instance, police brutality and mass incarceration, on the one hand, and the diverse crises producing massive poverty, the destruction of the welfare state, and the assaults on the environment, workers, young people, and women on the other. As Peter Bohmer observes, the call for a meaningful living wage and full employment cannot be separated from demands "for access to quality education, affordable and quality housing and medical care, for quality child care, for reproductive rights and for clean air, drinkable water," and the pillaging of the environment by the ultra-rich and mega corporations.[13] He rightly argues:

Connecting issues and social movements and organizations to each other has the potential to build a powerful movement of movements that is stronger than any of its individual parts. This means educating ourselves and in our groups about these issues and their causes and their interconnection.[14]

One approach to such a task would be to develop an expansive understanding of politics that necessarily links the calls for a living wage and environmental justice to demands for accessible quality health care and the elimination of conditions that enable the state to wage assaults against Black people, immigrants, workers, and women. Such relational analyses also suggest the merging of labor unions and social movements. In addition, progressives must address the crucial challenge of producing cultural apparatuses such as alternative media, think tanks, and social services in order to provide models of education that enhance the ability of individuals to make informed judgments and discriminate between evidence-based arguments and opinions, and to provide theoretical and political frameworks for rethinking the relationship between the self and others based on notions of compassion, justice, and solidarity.

Crucial to rethinking the space and meaning of the political imagination is the need to reach across specific identities and to move beyond single-issue movements and their specific agendas. This is not a matter of dismissing such movements, but creating new alliances that allow them to become stronger in the fight to succeed both in advancing their specific concerns and in enlarging the possibility of developing a radical democracy that benefits not just specific but general interests. As the Fifteenth Street Manifesto group expressed in its 2008 piece, "Left Turn: An Open Letter to U.S. Radicals," many groups on the left would grow stronger if they were to "perceive and refocus their struggles as part of a larger movement for social transformation."[15] Any feasible political agenda must merge the pedagogical and the political by employing a language and mode of analysis that resonates with people’s needs while making social change a crucial element of the political and public imagination. At the same time, any politics that is going to take real change seriously must be highly critical of any reformist politics that does not include both a change of consciousness and structural change.

Copyright (2017) by Henry A. Giroux. Not to be reprinted without permission of the publisher,  Routledge.

[1] Robert Kuttner, "The Audacity of Hope," American Prospect (December 16, 2016). Online:  http://prospect.org/article/audacity-hope

[2] Drucilla Cornell and Stephen D. Seely, "Seven Theses on Trump," Critical Legal Thinking (November 28, 2016). Online: http://criticallegalthinking.com/2016/11/28/seven-theses-trump/

[3] Ibid

[4] For a brilliant analysis of the anger and fears among those working-class individuals and groups written out of the American Dream, see Arlie Russell Hochschild, Strangers in Their Own Land (New York: New Press, 2016). See also, George Packer, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014).

[5] Alex Honneth, Pathologies of Reason (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), p. 188.

[6] TelSur, "In Aftermath of Trump’s Win, We Are Witnessing More than 1,000 Hate Crimes in a Month," AlterNet (December 19, 2016). Online: www.alternet.org/human-rights/aftermath-trumps-win-we-are-witnessing-more-1000-hate-crimes-month

[7] Kuttner, "The Audacity of Hope."

[8] See, for instance, a number of insightful articles on police violence against people of color in Maya Schenwar, Joe Macaré, and Alana Yu-lan Price, eds, Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016).

[9] On the militarization of everyday life, see: Rosa Brooks, How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon (New York: Simon and Fraser, 2016); Radley Balko, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces (New York: Public Affairs, 2014); Nick Turse, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008).

[10] Guardian staff, "Tyre King, 13-Year-Old Boy Shot Dead by Columbus Police, Laid  to Rest in Ohio," Guardian (September 24, 2016). Online: www.theguardian.com/us- news/2016/sep/24/tyre-king-shooting-funeral-columbus-police-officer-bryan-mason

[11] Nicholas Powers, "Killing the Future: The Theft of Black Life." In Maya Schenwar, Joe Macaré, and Alana Yu-lan Price, eds, Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016), p. 14.

[12] Cornell and Seely, "Seven Theses on Trump."

[13] Peter Bohmer, "Connecting $15 an Hour Movement to Other Social Movements," CounterPunch (September 28, 2015). Online: www.counterpunch.org/2015/09/28/connecting-15-an-hour-movement-to-other-social-movements/; see also, Charles Derber, Welcome to the Revolution: Universalizing Resistance for Social Justice and Democracy in Perilous Times (New York: Routledge, 2018)

[14] Ibid.

[15] Situations, Left Turn: An Open Letter to U.S. Radicals (New York: Fifteenth Street Manifesto Group, March 2008), p.  1.

Categories: News

Warren, Sanders Threaten Shutdown if GOP Doesn't "Respect Working People in this Country"

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 05:00
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Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) raised the heat on Republicans' scramble this week to keep the government funded.

The two Senators called on their colleagues to increase spending on the neglected, patchwork federal safety net, and threatened to withhold support for a push to avert a government shutdown.

The US government runs out of money on Friday. Congressional Republicans are hoping to pass a two-week extension of funding, while simultaneously attempting to finalize watershed legislation that would slash corporate tax rates.

"The Republicans who run Congress, they don't care much about middle class families," Warren said. "But if they expect Democratic support from their funding bill, then they need to do more to respect working people in this country," she added.

Sanders called on "millions of people to begin to stand up and demand that the United States Congress represents all of us, and not just a handful of campaign contributors."

To avert a possible filibuster in the Senate, Republicans need the support of eight Democrats for their short-term funding legislation.

Sanders and Warren made their appeal directly to the public on Wednesday morning, through a video broadcast on Facebook.

President Trump also talked about the possibility of a government shutdown during a Wednesday morning cabinet meeting.

"It could happen," he said, casting blame across the aisle. "The Democrats are really looking at something that is very dangerous to our country. They are looking at shutting down."

Republicans repeatedly threatened to shutdown the government during the Obama administration, bringing wider policy debates into short-term spending measures.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) managed to engineer a two-week shutdown in October 2013, riding a wave of Republican discontent over Obamacare's impending implementation.

Congress "shutting down the government" means the temporary furloughing of "non-essential" federal employees.

Sanders and Warren raised the prospect of rallying enough dissatisfied Senate Democrats after last week's passage of tax reform -- a process marred by a lack of public hearings and a questionable legislative process. Republican leaders circulated a partially-handwritten bill just hours before a final vote.

The pair pointed out that Republicans have been poor stewards of community health grants and the Children's Health Insurance Program. Both initiatives, which are routinely re-approved by Congress, ran out of money at the end of September.

Warren and Sanders also called on the Senate to take up legislation that would give status to Dreamers -- the 800,000 undocumented immigrants, brought to this country as children, who received conditional protections under the Obama administration.

They also called on Congress to allocate more money to child care, mental healthcare, student loan forgiveness, veterans affairs, and broadband infrastructure, among other programs.

The senators said last week's trillion dollar tax cut should take concerns about the cost of modest funding proposals off the table.

Chuch Schumer (D-NY), the Senate Minority Leader, is scheduled to negotiate a government funding bill on Thursday with President Trump and his House counterpart, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

A previous meeting between the trio last week was canceled by the Democrats after a tweet from President Trump soured relations.

"Problem is they want illegal immigrants flooding into our Country unchecked, are weak on Crime and want to substantially RAISE Taxes," Trump had tweeted. "I don't see a deal!"

Categories: News

A Government Shutdown May Still Be on the Way

Wed, 12/06/2017 - 14:29
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If you are one of the millions of Americans who could be impacted by a government shutdown, take a deep breath of relief -- there will no longer be any sort of catastrophe if a deal isn't reached by December 8. Now the government may simply shut down two weeks later, instead.

Yes, it seems like the government shutdown -- formerly a once-in-a-lifetime threat -- is yet again looming around the corner. The Republican majority in Congress remains so determined to push its agenda that they are again proposing to close down the US government, rather than pass a reasonable budget that requires any sort of compromise with Democrats.

But they have offered a little wiggle room. Right now, the GOP has agreed to put the actual shutdown on hold for an additional two weeks, in order to push through their unpopular tax plan -- one that benefits large corporations and the independently wealthy.

"House Republican leaders are likely to try averting a partial government shutdown next week by extending talks on a longer-term funding deal until just before Christmas and possibly again into early 2018, senior House GOP aides said Thursday," the Washington Post reports. "Up against a Dec. 8 spending deadline, House Republican leaders are likely to introduce a measure that would extend current funding until Dec. 22, said the aides, who were granted anonymity to describe private deliberations."

Republicans hope that a short deadline extension will allow them to pull in the few Democratic votes needed in the Senate to help overcome a filibuster. Meanwhile, Democrats appear unwilling to approve any legislation that fails to address President Donald Trump's decision to end the DREAM Act for undocumented immigrants living in the US.

According to Politico:

Immigration discussions are likely to complicate spending negotiations further since Democrats say they won't do anything without a solution for Dreamers. A small group of Senate Republicans has been trying to negotiate an immigration package that includes a Dreamer fix paired with security provisions that can win over conservatives as well as Democrats. But there's been little bipartisan consensus behind the scenes.

And the defense budget is also causing headaches, as war hawks demand more funding for military endeavors. Meanwhile, the fiscal GOP hopes to push off the budget deal until their tax plan reaches the president's desk.

Lost in much of the chatter and political posturing is the health of thousands of low and middle income children insured under the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.

CHIP, a bipartisan health care policy, was supposed to have its funding reauthorized almost two months ago, but Congress failed to act -- and dragged its feet ever since. Without a new federal budget,  CHIP programs in most states will quickly go broke, and many are already on the verge of it. And that means millions of children will be cut off from their medical services, foregoing even basic preventative care until a budget is eventually passed.

"Congress must pass a spending bill by next Friday, and CHIP funding is expected to be part of the omnibus bill," reports ABC News. "But CHIP funding has been held up by disagreements between the House and Senate over how to offset funds. CHIP will cost the federal government approximately $15 billion to fund, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates."

Just like in past years, a government shutdown would mean financial harm to military families, government employees, those who need federal aid and more. But this year there are the added concerns of those children who will lose health care, as well as undocumented immigrants who lack legal protections. Meanwhile, with Congress more rabidly divided than ever before, a shutdown may be almost unavoidable.

And after Republicans pass massive handouts to the wealthy and big business, the GOP will have no one to blame but themselves.

Categories: News

Maintaining Momentum Against the Tax Bill

Wed, 12/06/2017 - 14:13

How do you pass a tax bill that hurts the bulk of your constituents while lining the pockets of the wealthy? Members of Congress have been speeding to push their historically unpopular tax cuts, voting in the dead of night on a bill covered in handwritten notes with the hope that their haste will prevent their plans from being derailed. But across the country, people have been telling their elected officials: the bill comes with a disastrous price tag for the constituents they're supposed to represent. 

The weeks preceding the Senate vote saw a flurry of protests and rallies aimed at stopping the tax bill in its tracks. Groups like Americans For Tax Fairness have been publishing nonstop updates and fact sheets to educate the public. 

And even as the tax bill cleared another hurdle over the weekend, the actions have continued. Maine residents protested outside the office of Senator Susan Collins, calling her vote in favor of the bill a "betrayal." Just hours after the vote, hundreds in New York City demonstrated outside of a GOP fundraising event attended by President Trump. Protesters around the country have shown that despite the rush to pass tax cuts, they already know about the potential costs of the bill -- and not just the economic kind.

For Rebecca Wood, that cost could come to her five-year-old daughter Charlie, who relies on Medicaid for her healthcare. Wood is concerned about what potential cuts to the program could mean for her child, whom she describes as medically complex. 

So on November 28, Wood, along with several other protesters, attended a Senate Budget Committee hearing to make sure their elected officials knew of their concerns. The group interrupted the meeting, sharing personal stories while chanting "don't kill us, kill the bill," a popular refrain from the health care protests earlier this year. Capitol police arrested several of the demonstrators, including Wood.

"I'm glad I did it, because I felt like I was finally heard," Wood told Inequality.org. "The Republicans never want to meet with us. They never want to see us. Even if you try to talk to them in the hallways, they don't listen. So what choice did they give us?"

Crosby King, another protester arrested on Tuesday, had a similar motive. "It was important for us to make Republican senators realize that most Americans will be hurt by this legislation," King told Inequality.org. "And if they didn't know it then, they certainly do now."

King, an organizer with the Maryland branch of the disability rights organization ADAPT, says the health care components of the bill drew him to action. "Any time people with disabilities are threatened, I make a stand." The bill is one of the worst pieces of legislation King says he's seen in his lifetime, so he plans on keeping pressure on Congress as it moves through the conference process. "We'd like to let them know that they're on the wrong side of history."

Protests continued throughout the week outside the halls of Congress as well -- including right outside on the Capitol lawn, where a coalition held a People's Filibuster for more than 24 hours to voice their displeasure before the Senate vote. Graduate students from Georgetown and the University of Maryland were among the speakers at the rally. The students denounced one particularly confusing provision in the House version of the bill, which would end the tax break graduate students receive on tuition waivers -- a move that could heavily increase taxes on a group that's already facing economic precarity. 

Chad Frazier, a Georgetown PhD candidate and one of the event's speakers, told Inequality.org that he doesn't have more than a couple hundred dollars a month in discretionary spending already. He's not sure if he could manage with a huge hike in his tax bill. "My parents work in retail. They can't give me some big cash infusion to make up for my lost income." 

Eben Levey, a PhD candidate at the University of Maryland, was similarly concerned about who would be most affected by the bill, especially given the high cost of living in and around Washington, DC "There's no way, unless we're independently wealthy, that we can afford to live here," Levey said. "We already don't make it. This would be a fatal blow." 

Levey and Frazier are only two of the many students protesting the bill. On November 29th, graduate students around the country held a day of action to voice their anger over the tax plan. PhD candidate Nick Millman was one of the organizers of a "work-in" held that day at the University of Pennsylvania. It wasn't his first time protesting against the tax bill -- that came the week before, when he joined students from other universities in the area to demonstrate outside of Senator Pat Toomey's offices. 

Millman found the lack of deliberation around the bill particularly troubling. "I want to see a more critical democracy in place, in which there's a true consultation with the people affected," he told Inequality.org. But he wasn't disheartened. The work-in was a show of strength for the school's budding graduate student union, GET-UP. And while the group doesn't have immediate plans for another protest, "there is now a structure through which we can organize that rather quickly," he said. 

There's also a glimmer of hope for graduate students across the country, as the Senate version of the bill doesn't consider waived tuition as taxable income. Whether that holds true for the final proposal remains to be seen.

Even if the graduate students win their fight against the tuition waiver provision, there's still a lot of injustice tucked into every corner of the tax bill, much of it yet to be fully understood. Wood hopes that people around the country will stand up against the bill as it enters its next stage in Congress. "Do you know how much you have to lose? Why are you not outraged?" Wood asks of people who haven't been following the debate over the tax cuts.

But she won't end her battle with the bill prematurely. "You have to fight until they actually vote," she said on Friday afternoon as she headed back to DC for the Senate deliberations. And even if the bill passes, she promises that Congress will keep hearing from her: "Hell hath no fury like a pissed off mom."

How do you pass a tax bill that hurts the bulk of your constituents while lining the pockets of the wealthy? Members of Congress have been speeding to push their historically unpopular tax cuts, voting in the dead of night on a bill covered in handwritten notes with the hope that their haste will prevent their plans from being derailed. But across the country, people have been telling their elected officials: the bill comes with a disastrous price tag for the constituents they're supposed to represent. 

The weeks preceding the Senate vote saw a flurry of protests and rallies aimed at stopping the tax bill in its tracks. Groups like Americans For Tax Fairness have been publishing nonstop updates and fact sheets to educate the public. 

And even as the tax bill cleared another hurdle over the weekend, the actions have continued. Maine residents protested outside the office of Senator Susan Collins, calling her vote in favor of the bill a "betrayal." Just hours after the vote, hundreds in New York City demonstrated outside of a GOP fundraising event attended by President Trump. Protesters around the country have shown that despite the rush to pass tax cuts, they already know about the potential costs of the bill -- and not just the economic kind.

For Rebecca Wood, that cost could come to her five-year-old daughter Charlie, who relies on Medicaid for her healthcare. Wood is concerned about what potential cuts to the program could mean for her child, whom she describes as medically complex. 

So on November 28, Wood, along with several other protesters, attended a Senate Budget Committee hearing to make sure their elected officials knew of their concerns. The group interrupted the meeting, sharing personal stories while chanting "don't kill us, kill the bill," a popular refrain from the health care protests earlier this year. Capitol police arrested several of the demonstrators, including Wood.

"I'm glad I did it, because I felt like I was finally heard," Wood told Inequality.org. "The Republicans never want to meet with us. They never want to see us. Even if you try to talk to them in the hallways, they don't listen. So what choice did they give us?"

Crosby King, another protester arrested on Tuesday, had a similar motive. "It was important for us to make Republican senators realize that most Americans will be hurt by this legislation," King told Inequality.org. "And if they didn't know it then, they certainly do now."

King, an organizer with the Maryland branch of the disability rights organization ADAPT, says the health care components of the bill drew him to action. "Any time people with disabilities are threatened, I make a stand." The bill is one of the worst pieces of legislation King says he's seen in his lifetime, so he plans on keeping pressure on Congress as it moves through the conference process. "We'd like to let them know that they're on the wrong side of history."

Protests continued throughout the week outside the halls of Congress as well -- including right outside on the Capitol lawn, where a coalition held a People's Filibuster for more than 24 hours to voice their displeasure before the Senate vote. Graduate students from Georgetown and the University of Maryland were among the speakers at the rally. The students denounced one particularly confusing provision in the House version of the bill, which would end the tax break graduate students receive on tuition waivers -- a move that could heavily increase taxes on a group that's already facing economic precarity. 

Chad Frazier, a Georgetown PhD candidate and one of the event's speakers, told Inequality.org that he doesn't have more than a couple hundred dollars a month in discretionary spending already. He's not sure if he could manage with a huge hike in his tax bill. "My parents work in retail. They can't give me some big cash infusion to make up for my lost income." 

Eben Levey, a PhD candidate at the University of Maryland, was similarly concerned about who would be most affected by the bill, especially given the high cost of living in and around Washington, DC "There's no way, unless we're independently wealthy, that we can afford to live here," Levey said. "We already don't make it. This would be a fatal blow." 

Levey and Frazier are only two of the many students protesting the bill. On November 29th, graduate students around the country held a day of action to voice their anger over the tax plan. PhD candidate Nick Millman was one of the organizers of a "work-in" held that day at the University of Pennsylvania. It wasn't his first time protesting against the tax bill -- that came the week before, when he joined students from other universities in the area to demonstrate outside of Senator Pat Toomey's offices. 

Millman found the lack of deliberation around the bill particularly troubling. "I want to see a more critical democracy in place, in which there's a true consultation with the people affected," he told Inequality.org. But he wasn't disheartened. The work-in was a show of strength for the school's budding graduate student union, GET-UP. And while the group doesn't have immediate plans for another protest, "there is now a structure through which we can organize that rather quickly," he said. 

There's also a glimmer of hope for graduate students across the country, as the Senate version of the bill doesn't consider waived tuition as taxable income. Whether that holds true for the final proposal remains to be seen.

Even if the graduate students win their fight against the tuition waiver provision, there's still a lot of injustice tucked into every corner of the tax bill, much of it yet to be fully understood. Wood hopes that people around the country will stand up against the bill as it enters its next stage in Congress. "Do you know how much you have to lose? Why are you not outraged?" Wood asks of people who haven't been following the debate over the tax cuts.

But she won't end her battle with the bill prematurely. "You have to fight until they actually vote," she said on Friday afternoon as she headed back to DC for the Senate deliberations. And even if the bill passes, she promises that Congress will keep hearing from her: "Hell hath no fury like a pissed off mom."

Categories: News

Daniel Ellsberg Reveals He Was a Nuclear War Planner, Warns of Nuclear Winter and Global Starvation

Wed, 12/06/2017 - 05:00

Could tension between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un bring us to the brink of nuclear war? As tensions ramp up, we discuss what nuclear war would look like with a former nuclear war planner and one of the world's most famous whistleblowers -- Daniel Ellsberg. In 1971, Ellsberg was a high-level defense analyst when he leaked a top-secret report on US involvement in Vietnam to The New York Times and other publications, which came to be known as the Pentagon Papers. He played a key role in ending the Vietnam War. Few know Ellsberg was also a Pentagon and White House consultant who drafted plans for nuclear war. His new book, published Tuesday, is titled The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. We speak with Ellsberg about his top-secret nuclear studies, his front row seat to the Cuban missile crisis, whether Trump could start a nuclear war and how contemporary whistleblowers Chelsea Manning and Ed Snowden are his heroes.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

How a Tax Bill Becomes Law

Wed, 12/06/2017 - 05:00
Categories: News

Trump's Anti-Muslim Video Retweets Presented as Evidence in New Travel Ban Challenge

Wed, 12/06/2017 - 05:00

The Supreme Court is allowing the Trump administration to enforce its latest travel ban as challenges wind through lower courts, but the victory could be short-lived. Civil rights attorneys say federal judges must look no further than Trump's own Twitter account for evidence that "Muslim Ban 3.0" illegally targets Muslims based on their religion and nation of origin.

 Drew Angerer / Getty Images)Following a rally in Lafayette Park, activists march toward Trump International Hotel during a protest against the Trump administration's proposed travel ban, October 18, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

As the Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the Trump administration can enforce the latest version of its travel ban while lower courts hear legal challenges, civil rights groups were busy filing a brief in a federal appeals court providing new evidence for their case against the ban. The brief points out that President Trump posted anti-Muslim propaganda videos promoted by a British right-wing hate group on Twitter last week.

The Supreme Court's decision to honor the Trump administration's request and stay lower court rulings that have blocked full enforcement of what civil rights groups call the "Muslim Ban 3.0" was a win for Trump, who has spent most of his first term seeking severe restrictions on travelers from several Muslim-majority countries. However, victory may be short-lived if plaintiffs challenging the ban can convince federal judges that Trump is acting out of animus toward Muslims rather than the pure desire to protect the United States from terrorists.

Gadeir Abbas, a senior attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told Truthout that the legal challenges to the latest travel ban, as well as other civil rights lawsuits alleging Trump has unfairly stigmatized Muslims, will show that the ban "is intended to and does in fact broadcast a message that Muslims are dangerous and worthy and special treatment."

"There's a lot of litigation that is bubbling below the surface," Abbas said.

Trump supplies the evidence himself. Last week, Trump faced condemnation from leaders in the United Kingdom and across the globe for retweeting propaganda videos purporting to show Muslims committing violence against Christians. The videos came from Britain First, an ultra-nationalist hate group in the UK that promotes the message that we are in the midst of a civilizational war between Islam and Christianity. Analysts and media outlets quickly determined that the images in the videos were taken out of context or presented alongside false information to further the group's extremist agenda.

Trump did not back down in the face of international criticism. In fact, he responded to a rebuke from British Prime Minister Theresa May with a tweet demanding that she instead focus on the "Radical Islamic Terrorism" in her own country. That tweet was reminiscent of a now infamous 2015 tweet in which Trump accused the UK of having a "massive Muslim problem."

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders defended Trump, saying the "threat is real" whether the videos are or not. Sanders also asserted that Trump was using the videos to raise issues around "security and public safety for the American people." Sanders also said Trump has been talking about these security issues since he was on the campaign trail, and he "addressed these issues with the travel order that he issued earlier this year and the companion proclamation."

In a brief filed with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday, a coalition of civil rights groups and advocates for immigrants and Muslims pointed to the Britain First video retweets -- as well as the press secretary's defense of Trump's decision to post them -- as clear evidence that animosity toward Muslims is still motivating the Trump administration.

"While Plaintiffs' arguments before this Court remain the same, this new evidence provides further support for those arguments because the President's statements express hostility towards Muslims and foment conflict between Christians and Muslims in the United States, and his spokesperson's remarks directly link the anti-Muslim statements to the [travel ban] itself," the groups wrote.

Trump's comments on the campaign trial -- he proposed banning all Muslims from entering the US and contemplated creating a database of Muslim immigrants -- came back to haunt his legal team as they fought off challenges to the earlier versions of the travel ban. Civil rights attorneys argued that his statements showed the intent to illegally discriminate against Muslims based on their religion, and federal judges considered the statements in rulings blocking all or parts of the previous travel bans.

Unlike previous versions, the latest travel ban includes travelers from North Korea and certain government officials from Venezuela, two countries that are not majority-Muslim. The Trump administration says those countries, along with Chad, Somalia, Iran, Yemen and Syria, were chosen because a "worldwide review" determined that the governments of these nations do not use adequate screening measures and security protocols to prevent potentially dangerous individuals from finding their way to the US.

Critics argue that the Trump administration added Venezuela and North Korea to defend itself against allegations that it is illegally discriminating against immigrants based on their national origin and unconstitutionally targeting Muslims based on their religion.

The Fourth and Ninth Circuit appeals courts will hear oral arguments in the two main challenges to the travel ban before the end of the week. Still, it will likely be the Supreme Court that decides the ban's ultimate fate. Expect Trump's Twitter account to take center stage in the courtroom. 

This story was published because of support from readers like you. If you care about maintaining a free and independent media, make a donation to Truthout!
Categories: News

Trump Denounced for "Reckless, Irresponsible" Decision to Move US Embassy to Jerusalem

Wed, 12/06/2017 - 05:00

 MUSA AL SHAER / AFP / Getty Images)Palestinian protesters burn pictures of President Trump at the manger square in Bethlehem on December 5, 2017. President Trump told Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in a phone call that he intends to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Abbas's office said. (Photo: MUSA AL SHAER / AFP / Getty Images)

Critics warned of violent consequences and immediately condemned President Donald Trump on Tuesday after it was reported he told regional leaders the US will recognize Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel and relocate the US Embassy in the coming months.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that "Trump has informed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas he intends to move the US Embassy," and Jordan told reporters Trump gave King Abdullah II a similar notice. After the call, "Abbas appealed to the Pope and the Russian, French, and Jordanian leaders to intervene," according to The Independent

During a Tuesday afternoon press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders indicated Trump will make the announcement official on Wednesday in a prepared speech. And while Sanders acknowledged that the threat of violence in reaction to the move was considered as part of the president's decision-making process, she said that ultimately Trump is "pretty solid in his thinking." The president is expected to sign a six-month waiver for the Embassy to remain in Tel Aviv until the logistical details of a relocation can be sorted out.

While Israel claimed Jerusalem as its capitol in the late 1960s, Palestinians claim East Jerusalem -- which is home to several holy sites for Christians, Jews, and Muslims -- as their own. Critics of the decision worry it will further inflame decades-long tensions, tighten the grip of Israel's stranglehold on the Occupied Territories, and further embolden the right-wing Likkud government.

"For 70 years, the US has given Israel tacit approval to steal Palestinian land, build illegal Jewish settlements, and deny Palestinians in East Jerusalem and elsewhere their rights," said Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson. "Trump's decision takes these ongoing policies to the next level and is reckless, irresponsible, and endangers the lives of Palestinians and Israelis."

"Jerusalem is a symbol of holiness and hope for many people of many religions the world over," said Rabbi Alissa Wise, the deputy director of JVP. "We want there to be a shared and peaceful Jerusalem." 

While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the relocation would cross a "red line" for Muslims, Palestinian-American journalist Ali Abunimah cautioned against using such language, tweeting:

I get that Trump moving US Embassy to Jerusalem is Bad. But when you call it a “red line,” it implies all Israel’s other crimes were fine.

— Ali Abunimah (@AliAbunimah) December 5, 2017

Yousef Munayyer, executive director of US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, called the decision "both morally wrong and politically dangerous."

"Not only is Donald Trump deliberately insulting the Palestinian people, but also Arabs and Muslims around the world. In doing so, he is relinquishing what little credibility the United States had left in a region that is already rife with conflict and division," Munayyer said. "The United States has attempted to shepherd the so-called 'peace process' on the basis that it can play the role of mediator but by clearly adopting an Israeli position as its own, it makes clear it is not even pretending anymore."

The United Nations told the AP Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is against any action with regard to Jerusalem that could undermine a two-state solution to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric saying Tuesday that "we've always regarded Jerusalem as a final status issue that must be resolved through direct negotiations by the two parties based on relevant Security Council resolutions."

Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the PLO Executive Committee and a former chief Palestinian negotiator, told Haaretz that the decision will make the United States unfit to mediate future negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Erekat said the move "directly encourages the colonialist occupation whose purpose is to trigger wars and to sow an ethnic and religious conflict, in a manner that does not befit the national interests of the American people."

He warned that such a decision "will contribute to further destabilization of the region and will discourage many of those who still believe that a peaceful solution is achievable to end over 50 years of Israeli occupation, 70 years of exile, and decades of systematic violations of Palestinian national and human rights."

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Categories: News

Maine's Susan Collins Has Betrayed Seniors, Small Businesses and Rural Constituents by Voting for the GOP Tax Bill

Wed, 12/06/2017 - 05:00

If Sen. Susan Collins had set out to do maximum harm to her constituents, she couldn't have done better than the GOP tax bill, which especially targets seniors, small businesses and rural areas, says Mike Tipping, communications director for the Maine People's Alliance. Activists in Maine are pulling out all stops in holding the senator accountable before a final vote.

 Fortune Live Media)Sen. Susan Collins speaks at Fortune's Most Powerful Women summit in Washington, DC, on October 16, 2013. (Photo: Fortune Live Media)

Exposing the wrongdoing of those in power has never been more important. Support Truthout's independent, investigative journalism by making a donation!

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. We're now nearly a year into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators and educators, not only about how to resist, but how to build a better world. Today's interview is the 97th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

Today we bring you a conversation with Mike Tipping, the communications director for the Maine People's Alliance. Tipping discusses how Maine Sen. Susan Collins broke promises to constituents by voting for the GOP tax bill, and how activists are pushing to hold the senator accountable before a final vote.

Sarah Jaffe: Yesterday was Monday, the first weekday since the Republican Senate passed the tax bill. Tell us what went on in Maine yesterday after your senator voted for the tax cuts.

Mike Tipping: As you may remember, Susan Collins, upon returning to Maine after voting against the Republican health care repeal, got applauded at the airport. There were several scenes of people on the street thanking her for her vote. She did not have the same reaction in Maine [after voting for the tax bill]. Actually, she stayed in DC and did the Sunday shows, but in Maine, people were protesting up and down the state and they are continuing to do so all this week.

[Monday] in Bangor, dozens of people were outside her office and five very brave souls went inside and refused to leave until she talked to them about her vote, and she did not, and they got arrested and carted out in a police van. So, things are definitely escalating here. I think people believe that she's not listening to them, that she's doing real damage to the state, that she's been lying about her votes and about the policy, and ... they're not going to take it anymore.

She was one of the three votes that stopped the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and she's known for being somewhat of an independent Republican. Talk about the process of watching her go through this and decide to vote "yes" for the tax cuts.

I think one thing to remember about Susan Collins is that she has been moderate on many issues, but the second part of the formulation -- the Republican part -- is almost more important. She may not be as ideological as Ted Cruz, but she is a hardcore Republican. She cares about the party, she cares about her leadership, she doesn't want to offend her colleagues. If she can find a way to vote for something, if it's procedural tricks or being able to claim she got some kind of deal or something, she will do it to advance their interests.

So, on this bill, it was an interesting process: She sat down with President Trump and apparently got some promises out of him, and is apparently the only person in the world that trusts promises from President Trump. But said that she would get some health care bills that do a bit of work around the edges, that she would get some tax cuts changed in some slight ways, and it looks like not even that is going to happen. But even if she did get those, they are fig leaves for just an awful bill that dramatically increases inequality, that blows a hole in the deficit, that will lead to deep health care cuts and cuts to Medicare and Social Security.

Maine ... [has] 300,000 people that rely on Medicare, and it is an incredibly damaging vote for her constituents.

 Sarah Bigney)On Monday, December 4, activists affiliated with the Maine People's Alliance occupied the office of Sen. Susan Collins, protesting her vote in favor of a tax bill that would gut Medicare and Social Security. (Photo: Sarah Bigney)

Talk a little more about Maine in particular, what this bill would do to Maine.

Well, Maine is not the home of a lot of giant multinational corporations and rich CEOs.... There's a lot of people who work in traditional industries on the ocean or in the forest, there's a ton of people that work or run small businesses -- we have one of the highest rates of small business employment in the country. And we are the "oldest" state in the country now: Our population has the oldest average age. And we're the most rural state east of the Mississippi, so the provisions in this bill that target seniors and small businesses and rural areas -- it is a bill designed to harm people in Maine.

That's why there's been so much protest and so much of a feeling of betrayal from Susan Collins, who has claimed to speak on these kinds of things. And just a few weeks ago, [she] said she would not vote for the health care bill because it made some of the same cuts. Just a few months ago, [she] said she would never vote for a bill without a full [Congressional Budget Office] score and hearings and everything else -- really defending the institution of the Senate -- and then she goes and votes for a bill that has handwritten scribbles in the margins and things crossed out. She betrayed a lot of the things that she claimed to stand for and which she really built her reputation as a commonsense moderate around; those are out the window.

And we already have Marco Rubio saying that this is the path to cutting Social Security and Medicare, which is certainly important to the oldest state in the country.

[He] really let the cat out of the bag there; you're supposed to wait until it passes to start talking about how they're going to use it to cut Social Security.

But yeah, along those lines, Collins also went on the Sunday shows and said that this won't actually increase the deficit, that the growth we'll see will outpace that. She even cited some economists, apparently the only economists she could find that said anything like that, and now they've walked that back and ... even the most conservative-leaning estimate still puts half a trillion dollars into the deficit; the [Joint Committee on Taxation] says a trillion dollars, and of course, that is going to have to come from cuts to health care and Social Security -- that's what they want and that's what they'll push for.

Before this happened, Susan Collins was recently chosen as co-chair of No Labels, which is that centrist deficit hawk group, and their whole thing is saying that the deficit is already so large that they have to go after people's health care and go after Social Security, and now she's voted to explode it further and really damage those things she claims to care about.

Well the Republicans are certainly proving with this bill that anyone pretending to care about deficits was lying. But I wanted to ask about this: Chuck Schumer and others are handwringing about deficits when this bill is going to cause actual harm. I can't imagine that that is the most compelling argument to the people you work with on the ground in Maine.

I think people understand ... what that means is cuts to Medicare and Social Security, they're definitely worried about that. Obviously, this bill makes a $25 billion cut to Medicare right off the bat through the Paygo rule. And there is ... the "sneaky repeal" of the Affordable Care Act ... getting rid of the insurance mandates and plunging 13 million people into not having health care; so all those things are immediate and scary, but there's the bigger picture, too.

And it's interesting, I think a lot of people said that those kinds of concerns were artificial when they were being made and being used as claims why we had to cut Medicare and Social Security, but Senator Collins has always trumpeted them. She is the one that made President Obama scale back the stimulus package during the Great Recession. That's actually one of the more interesting things, I think, in her career. She didn't have an ideological basis for the number that she wanted for the stimulus, she just chose a number exactly in the middle of what the Republicans wanted and what President Obama wanted and said this is where I stand.

She is a centrist but not a moderate in many ways. And what that did ... it made the stimulus less effective, a lot more of it was in tax cuts, some of that to the wealthy, than it probably should have been. It delayed the recovery, it allowed Republicans to campaign on a bad economy, it got a lot more of them elected and it turns out all of that was a terrible farce because she doesn't actually care about the deficit anyway here.

That is the most perfect description of centrism I've ever heard, actually. So, what do you think the odds are of getting her to flip on this final bill, whatever it is that comes out of conference?

Well, I think we're already seeing some movement. She has tried to defend her vote and tried to even defend the Republicans when they've broken their promises to her and said that no it actually won't be part of the continuing resolution -- these other bills she wanted in exchange for her vote; and first she said, "Maybe it'll be by the end of the year." She's changed her story on that. She's also walked back a little bit: "Oh it has the potential to create growth, it won't necessarily create enough growth to erase the deficit," changing her story a little. I don't know if she'll change it enough before the next vote, which obviously could come later this week, as this comes out of conference, to stop it.

But I think she's definitely feeling the pressure.... These people got arrested, her staff was apparently having a heated conversation with the police, trying not to make this a visual thing -- these people being hauled out in handcuffs -- she was very concerned about that moderate image that she has tried to project. I think that is at risk here. If people continue to speak out, I think there could be a chance at stopping her final vote.

And so, what are the plans for the rest of the week?

There are protests scheduled ... later in the week in Orland and in Lewiston, and more in Bangor. People are doing things all over. There's a ton of Indivisible groups that are doing things independently all the time, really trying to find Senator Collins to talk to her about this, to flood her phone lines. People can call 202-224-2523 ... her Washington office -- and leave a message and let her know where you stand. It's really all-out the rest of the week to try to make sure that this lasting damage isn't done to Maine and to our country.

Do you have folks from Maine going to DC as well?

We've had folks from Maine ... bringing stories and handwritten notes directly to her offices. The phone calls are good, emails are good, but having a handwritten letter we can deliver ... letting her know these are the voices of her constituents and the stories they are telling.

How can people keep up with you and with Maine People's Alliance?

You can follow Maine People's Alliance on Facebook and you can follow our news site, Maine Beacon, at mainebeacon.com.

Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission.

Categories: News

Why Have Banks Stopped Lending to Low-Income Americans?

Wed, 12/06/2017 - 05:00

This article was published by TalkPoverty.org.

At the end of September, the Federal Reserve released its annual collection of data gathered under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. Among other findings, the report details that the country's three largest banks -- Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and JPMorgan Chase -- have sharply cut back on lending to low-income people over the past few years. The three banks' mortgages to low-income borrowers declined from 32 percent in 2010 to 15 percent in 2016.

The report also shows that in 2016, black and Latino borrowers had more difficulty acquiring home loans than whites. And it revealed that last year, for the first time since the 1990s, most mortgages didn't come from banks; they came from other institutions -- often less-regulated online entitites like Loan Depot or Quicken Loans. These companies, technically known as nonbank financial institutions, can be more flexible than traditional banks, but may also charge higher rates and fees.

Martin Eakes and other employees of Self-Help, the innovative North Carolina-based credit union, must be wondering if they've stepped back in time.

Eakes, who founded Self-Help, has spent the past few decades working to expand credit, particularly conventional mortgages, to low-income borrowers, and to publicize and eliminate hazards that could wipe out a poor family's wealth. He and his staff recognized early on the key role that homeownership could play in allowing low-income families to move into the middle class. Those efforts are chronicled in Lending Power, a new book by Howard Covington that illustrates the organization's rise and longtime efforts to help low-income people buy homes and establish small businesses.

In the 1980s, when Self-Help was finding its footing, the financial world had several major blind spots when it came to lending to low-income people. Above all, most banks considered low-income families, especially families of color, to be credit risks, rarely providing them with mortgages at conventional rates.

In less than a decade, Self-Help helped turned that truism on its head.

"There'd been a real struggle to figure out how to expand homeownership into that segment at the margin of sustainable credit in a way that works," explains Jim Parrott, a fellow at the Urban Institute.

Self-Help enlisted the help of foundations and big banks to build capital, and provided individualized lending that looked beyond borrowers' credit reports -- examining instead their ability to consistently pay their rent, for example. The organization also created a reserve fund to help borrowers struggling to meet payments.

Thanks in part to Self-Help's efforts, lending to low- and moderate-income people (LMI, in industry-speak) began to gain traction in the late 1990s. But during the housing boom of the early 2000s, low-income borrowers faced increasing threats from predatory lenders. These lenders often saddled responsible borrowers who could have qualified for conventional loans with expensive fees and add-ons -- things like increased points, balloon mortgages with payments that swelled over time, and pre-payment penalties. In many cases, the loans were particularly targeted to black families. Black Americans earning annual salaries of $100,000 were more likely to receive subprime loans than whites making $30,000. Many of those folks wound up in foreclosure during the recession due to the untenable terms of their loans.

Self-Help had uncovered some of these predatory lending practices a decade earlier, eventually helping to pass groundbreaking anti-predatory legislation in North Carolina. And the organization's spinoff group, the Center for Responsible Lending, had a major hand in arming the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which protects consumers from predatory mortgages and debt traps. [Editor's note: Read more about the latest threats to the CFPB here].

Now that this type of predatory lending has been mostly snuffed out, advocates are dealing with another problem: Credit to low-income communities has dried up since the foreclosure epidemic. Lending standards have become significantly more stringent, with many lenders unwilling to take a risk on low-income families. "We've seen no significant recovery of lending to LMI neighborhoods," explains Jason Richardson, director of research and evaluation at the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, citing the recently-released Federal Reserve data.

African American homeownership is at its lowest level in more than 40 years

Banks that receive deposits from low-income neighborhoods have an obligation to make loans to those same communities. But now, it's unclear whether the Trump administration's regulators are adequately enforcing this. Over 98 percent of banks are currently given passing grades by regulators, and in October, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency revised its regulations to further limit the number of downgrades banks receive.

"We absolutely feel there should be more examination of what the banks are doing," says Richardson.

Until then, however, low-income and minority families are practically back where they started. African American homeownership is at its lowest level in more than 40 years, and the gap between black and white homeowners is the largest since World War II.

Meanwhile, although much lending to low-income people has disappeared, Self-Help is continuing to issue mortgages to poor families in its network. And Parrott, at the Urban Institute, thinks the organization might still have something to teach other lenders.

"To me, the question is whether or not the lessons that Self-Help is learning are scalable and transferable into the market" -- in a sustainable way, Parrott says. "Because if they are, Self-Help is a wonderful resource because it'll help us figure out how to better serve a segment of the population that could be homeowners."

Translation: Despite a decade of setbacks, the game is definitely not over for low-income borrowers.

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Categories: News

Goodbye, Bear Ears -- a "Move That Could Alter the Course of American Land Conservation"

Wed, 12/06/2017 - 05:00

In July, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's re-evaluated the national monuments created by the Obama administration. That interim report pegged Bear Ears National Monument in Utah as a sure bet for alteration. The monument as designated by Obama encompasses more than 2,000 square miles long argued over by environmentalists, Native tribes and energy, ranching and development interests.

 John Fowler)The Valley of the Gods in Bears Ears National Monument. (Photo: John Fowler)

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We reported in July on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's re-evalution of the national monuments created by the Obama administration. That interim report pegged Bear Ears National Monument in Utah as a sure bet for alteration. The monument as designated by Obama encompasses more than 2,000 square miles long argued over by environmentalists, native tribes and energy, ranching and development interests. At that time any reduction would have been unprecedented and left some experts wondering if it's even legal.

Well, now we know the score -- and it is far worse than expected. According to The New York Times

President Trump said he would dramatically reduce the size of a vast expanse of protected federal land in Utah on Monday, a rollback of some 2 million acres that is the largest in scale in the nation's history.

The administration said it would shrink Bears Ears National Monument, a sprawling region of red rock canyons, by about 85 percent, and cut another area, Grand Staircase-Escalante, to about half its current size. The move, a reversal of protections put in place by Democratic predecessors, comes as the administration pushes for fewer restrictions and more development on public lands.

The decision to reduce Bears Ears is expected to trigger a legal battle that could alter the course of American land conservation, possibly opening millions of protected public acres to oil and gas extraction, mining, logging and other commercial activities.

Under New Management

Neither Donald Trump nor Interior Secretary Zinke has a reputation as a conservationist, much less an environmentalist. And they are certainly not sentimental about the National Park System -- what Ken Burns so lovingly titled "America's Best Idea." Earlier this year, we reported on Zinke's tendency to load his advisory councils with industry executives rather than scientists or "the public."

To see more stories like this, visit Moyers & Company at Truthout. 

The removal of any information pertaining to climate change from federal websites is well known. Earlier this year Trump NPS appointees went so far as the prohibit the Glacier National Park superintendent and the climate scientist from accompanying Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on a tour of the park. "Gracie the Bark Ranger, the popular border collie who prevents bighorn sheep and mountain goats from getting too close to park visitors, was invited to tag along."

Of course President Trump did donate the first part of his salary give-back to the National Park Service. The total amount was $78,333, which covers the first 10 weeks Trump was in office. Meanwhile, the president's budget proposes an overall cut of 12 percent to the Department of Interior, which translates to roughly $1.6 billion less annually and the loss of 4,000 jobs. The cuts to the National Park Service itself will be near 13 percent -- around $400 million. This is while Zinke himself admits that "We're about $229 million behind in deferred maintenance on our battlefields alone." Altogether in the park system, there is about $11.5 billon in overdue road and infrastructure repair.  

High on Trump and Zinke's agenda is something that can be called "privatization" of the parks. That means that many services currently provided by National Park Service staff will be taken over by contractors -- and even more park features will be turned over to concessionaires. Experts debate the amount of the budget cut that this strategy will replace. Currently the situation stands as thus

Each year, concessionaires generate roughly $1.5 billion in sales from their NPS operations. In 2016, the park service received $113 million in franchise fees from these companies, as well as $30.8 million in other payments including maintenance fees. Revenue from concessions makes up only around 1 percent of the current deferred maintenance costs.

The Fee Increases

Of course there are other ways to make money off the parks. A proposed fee hike from $25 -$30 to $70 per family for 17 of the most popular (the "crown jewels") national parks was not well received. The parks that would see fee increases include Acadia, Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Denali, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Joshua Tree, Mount Rainier, Olympic, Rocky Mountain, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, Shenandoah, Yellowstone, Yosemite and Zion. As Audrey Peterman wrote for The Hill, the fee structure will make for a national park "class system." She states, "the national parks are supposed to be the most egalitarian spaces in our country, veritably the public square." No park officials are authorized to address fee increases. All questions must go through the office of communications.

The Drilling Permits

Another revenue stream favored by the new administration is opening up federal land, even those adjacent to pristine national parks, to extraction industries. As The Guardian noted early in Zinke's tenure:

He has reversed an Obama-era ban on coal mining on public lands, and proposed changes that would shrink the borders of four national monuments set aside by previous presidents… He's announced plans to repeal an important fracking safety rule, and loosened safety guidelines for underwater drilling, both major shifts away from Obama-era environmental protection regulations.

One of Zinke's signature proposals has found its way into the new tax bill. With the agreement of Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the administration will open a portion of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, to oil drilling. 

The Bottle Ban

The headline from The Washington Post says it all: "The National Park Service showed that its restrictions on bottled water sale worked -- then lifted it." The single-use plastic water bottle ban was put into place in 2011 to help parks cut down on plastic waste. It was in effect in only 23 out of 417 parks, but nevertheless appeared to work. Through Freedom of Information Act requests organizations learned, and reported to The Post: "It resulted in yearly savings of up to 2 million water bottles, according to an estimate in the report, and 'demonstrates the commitment of the [National Park Service] to environmental stewardship.'" The National Park Service announced the policy rollback as an effort to "expand hydration options for recreationalists, hikers, and other visitors to national parks." 

The nonprofit group Corporate Accountability International noted that reversal of the policy had been high on the bottled water industry's wish list since it was it was instituted. 

Every Kid in a Park: Status Unknown

The future of one of President Obama's initiatives, "Every Kid in a Park," remains unknown. The program, created to encourage the introduction of "the sites that belong to all of us" -- all those under the governance of the US Bureau of Land Management, US Bureau of Reclamation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service and the US Army Corps of Engineers. Under the program every family with a fourth grader was given free admission to all these sites -- "so [they] and their families could discover our wildlife, resources and history for free."

Pushback

Undoubtedly there will be efforts in the courts to undo some of these Trump administration changes. One thing is certain: The parks are more popular than ever -- and many suffer from serious overcrowding. According to The New York Times:

In 2016, the National Park Service tracked a record 331 million visits, and after a busy summer, the system is likely to surpass that number this year. In August alone, some 40 million people came through park service gates.

At Acadia National Park in Maine, which was celebrating the NPS' 100th birthday and its own in 2016 more than 3 million visitors smashed all previous visitation records. According to park superintendent Kevin Schneider, 2017 will at least be on par with, if not surpass, the 2016 record.

According to Jim Tobias, writing for Pacific Standard magazine, the National Park Service may be in violation of law. Tobias notes that "the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978 explicitly directs the agency to create management plans that identify and implement 'visitor-carrying capacities for all areas' of each and every national park." But with dwindling budgets, disappearing staff and a massive backlog of infrastructure work -- the NPS doesn't look like it will make much headway on this mandate -- currently only seven of 108 major park and recreation areas had begun the planning process. 

Learn more about the history of the National Park Service, and plan a trip at the NPS.gov website. The Guardian has great ongoing coverage of these issues in its "This Land Is Your Land" section.

Categories: News

Help the Women of Walmart Today

Tue, 12/05/2017 - 14:06
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My mom died without me by her side because my boss at Walmart wouldn't let me leave work.

In 2015, my mom had a stroke, so I upended my life in North Carolina, and moved to Texas with my son to take care of her. When I found a new job, I explained I was there to look after my dying mom, so I would need a flexible schedule to take care of her.

Walmart supervisors ignored my requests time and again, and when I got the call that she was about to die, my boss told me I'd be fired if I left. 

So she died without me there, as I listened on the phone and cried.

Never Alone

My story isn't unique: you can walk into any Walmart store and hear stories just like mine. Being a Walmart worker means being expected to put up with poverty pay, inflexible schedules, and disrespect from bosses. 

For the majority of store associates like me, the regular folks who stack the shelves and work the registers, working at Walmart often means being punished when we need to be there for our families. I wasn't allowed to leave work to be with my mom when she died, and I know of other Walmart workers who can tell similar stories. One Walmart associate I know had to go back to work with week old newborn at home, only to find her hours and pay got slashed when she had a baby.

But even if you already know how badly Walmart treats workers like me, you might be still be shopping at Walmart without even realizing it.

Bad Behavior By Any Name

Earlier this year, to try and win over the kind of customers you don't often see in big-box stores, Walmart bought several online brands including ModCloth, Moosejaw, and Bonobos. 

Walmart is trying hard to sell more online to compete with Amazon, but they're having a hard time. I think it's because too many people know about Walmart mistreat workers.

That's why Walmart has kept pretty quiet about taking over these brands. If you go to the ModCloth website, for example, they tell you all about how the site was started by high school sweethearts in their college dorm, but they never mention that ModCloth is in fact part of Walmart. 

What you do find is a lot of talk about women's empowerment, and they make a point of featuring plus-size models in their photos. ModCloth definitely wants you to think that they're a women-friendly company. 

But how can you be women-friendly when you're owned by a company like Walmart that treats women workers like me so badly?

Taking Back Walmart

On Cyber Monday, I joined other Walmart workers to launch our #ByeModCloth campaign. We've collected signatures from 100,000 former ModCloth customers and allies who aren't falling for Walmart's tricks. 

Ours is a message Walmart won't be able to ignore, and it's not too late for you to add your name. I'm a member of OUR Walmart, a community of Walmart associates, and together we've talked to hundreds of former ModCloth customers about what it's like to work at Walmart. 

Most of these shoppers had no idea the company had been bought by Walmart. When we told them, they were outraged and promised to stop shopping there. 

One even told us finding out Walmart owns ModCloth was “adult feminist version of finding out Santa Claus isn't real.” 

I've got bad news: Santa Claus isn't real. And Walmart really does own ModCloth.

That's why ModCloth's talk of being great for women is just that – all talk. ModCloth is owned by Walmart, and Walmart's policies of low pay, unfair schedules, and no paid leave are hurting hundreds of thousands of women like me. 

Help the Women of Walmart

Even though most Walmart associates are women, most senior execs are men. They won't reveal if they pay men more than women, but a study in 2003 found that the average Walmart man makes $5200 more than the average Walmart woman. No wonder there have been over 2,000 claims filed at Walmart alleging bias in pay and promotions.  

It's a disgrace, but the sad truth is that Walmart doesn't listen to workers like me. They chew us up and spit us out, and never treat the work we do for them with respect. But they do listen to their customers, especially the customers of the new online brands they're pinning their hopes on. That means if you're a ModCloth customer, then Walmart is listening to you, and Walmart workers need you to use your voice.

So here's what I'm asking every one of you to do: keep your eyes open, and know where your money goes. If you're a customer of ModCloth, now you know that you were shopping at Walmart, and you can help us now. 

If you think workers shouldn't be treated the way I was treated, sign our #ByeModCloth pledge. And if anyone from their customer service team asks you why, tell them that the women of Walmart sent you.

Categories: News

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