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28-Year-Old Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Wins Primary, Backing Medicare for All and Abolishing ICE

Wed, 06/27/2018 - 16:32

In a stunning upset and the biggest surprise of the primary season this year, 28-year-old Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat 10-term incumbent Representative Joe Crowley in New York in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. Crowley is the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House, and he’d outraised Ocasio-Cortez by a 10-to-1 margin. Crowley was widely viewed as a possible future House speaker. Yet Ocasio-Cortez defeated Crowley after running a progressive grassroots campaign advocating for “Medicare for All” and the abolition of ICE, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Ocasio-Cortez speaks to Democracy Now! about her historic campaign.

Please check back later for full transcript.

The post 28-Year-Old Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Wins Primary, Backing Medicare for All and Abolishing ICE appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Federal Judge Orders US to Reunite Migrant Children with Their Families After Separation at Border

Wed, 06/27/2018 - 16:31

Hours after the Supreme Court issued its ruling upholding the Muslim travel ban, a federal judge in San Diego ruled immigration officials must stop separating immigrant children from their parents at the border and that migrant children already separated must be reunited with their parents. The ruling says all children under the age of 5 must be reunited with their parents within 14 days, and all children 5 and older must be reunited with their parents within 30 days. The ruling does not require the Trump administration to stop prosecuting people for crossing the border. More than 2,000 children remain separated from their parents, jailed in detention centers across the country. Immigration advocates are warning the Trump administration has no clear plan for how to reunite them with their parents, some of whom have already been deported. We speak to Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project; Linda Sarsour of MPower Change; and Diala Shamas of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Please check back later for full transcript.

The post Federal Judge Orders US to Reunite Migrant Children with Their Families After Separation at Border appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Despite Trump’s Promises, Drug Prices Are Not Dropping Yet

Wed, 06/27/2018 - 15:38

Last month, President Trump said that drug companies would soon announce “massive drops” in prescription drug prices in response to his administration’s plan for bringing down pharmaceutical costs.

“That’s going to be a fantastic thing,” said Trump, who suggested the announcements would come in two weeks.

Trump made these remarks well over three weeks ago, and as Democrats in Congress have gleefully pointed out, not a single drug maker has announced a significant voluntary decrease in drug prices. According to the Democrats’ calculations, drug makers have continued to aggressively raise prices during Trump’s tenure and show no signs of changing course.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar was a bit more realistic about the prospect of voluntary price reductions when he appeared before the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday.

“We’re, of course, are not counting on just voluntary reductions in price,” Azar said. “It would be nice if that happens, based on them seeing this is the northbound train, this is where it’s going, we are going to lower list prices … get on the train, get a competitive advantage by moving there first.”

Azar’s “northbound train” sums up the Trump administration’s approach to lowering runaway drug prices, which is a top priority among voters ahead of the midterms. Using the magic of market competition and the power of political suggestion, the Trump administration hopes to incentivize drug companies to lower their prices without heavy government intervention.

The White House blueprint for lowering drug costs is full of small regulatory tweaks meant to prod drug makers in this direction. There’s just one problem: Big Pharma refuses to take responsibility for skyrocketing prices. When Trump and Azar unveiled the blueprint in May after putting it off for weeks, pharmaceutical stocks soared because investors saw that it contained no serious threats to their profit margins.

As Truthout has reported, the major players in the pharmaceutical supply chain blame each other for prices that have consumers in the United States paying more for medicine than anyone else on the planet. Meanwhile, they all benefit from the status quo — a complex system of payments between drug companies and the pharmacy benefit managers that negotiate rebates and discounts on behalf of insurance companies, who in turn pass those savings down to their members.

That’s how it’s supposed to work, at least. For many patients — particularly those with higher deductibles and co-pays — this system still results in painful prices at the pharmacy counter. Growing numbers of consumers ration or go without medicine as a result. Voters are furious.

Drug companies could actually lose access to customers if they were to lower their prices.

These secret negotiations between drug makers, insurers and pharmacy benefit managers are supposed to bring costs down for consumers who have health coverage, but they also systematically inflate the market or “list” price of many drugs — including those such as insulin that certain patients depend on to survive. The higher drug companies set these initial prices, the more each player in the supply chain profits.

As a former pharmaceutical executive, Azar is well aware of this. As he explained on Tuesday, drug companies could actually lose access to customers if they were to lower their prices. This may sound counterintuitive, but as we have explained in previous coverage, that’s how the secretive pricing system works.

“We’ve had many major drug companies with major products who want to make substantial and material price decreases,” Azar said. “This has shown just how broken our system of drug pricing and drug distribution is in the United States.”

Ahead of Tuesday’s hearing with Azar, Wyden’s office released a detailed report on the complicated web of financial arrangements that determine the costs of pharmaceutical drugs in the US. The report concludes that no single player is to blame, and serious reforms across the supply chain are needed to bring down costs.Azar has threatened to take a “hard look” at this secretive rebating system if prices do not go down, but he also said that any changes to how a major market works would be years down the road. Sen. Ron Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, has introduced legislation that would bring some transparency to this secretive system, but a spokesman for his office confirmed that the bill remains stuck in committee because Republicans refuse to support it.

“While the Trump Administration has stated its commitment to lowering drug prices, the blueprint it introduced in May will do little to lower costs for American consumers,” the report reads. “Simply put, the Administration has fallen far short of addressing the long list of entities and financial relationships that push drug prices — and consumer costs — higher.

Indeed, despite Trump’s tough talk, Republicans remain quietly opposed to bold drug pricing reforms favored by patient advocates and some Democrats, including a popular proposal to let the Medicare program negotiate directly with drug companies. Instead, Azar is proposing slow-moving changes to regulatory rulebooks. Analysts have welcomed some of these tweaks, but say they would only result in modest price reductions for some consumers over a long period of time.

Azar has also threatened to require that drug companies include their prices in television commercials, an idea that raises legal questions and may not be as effective as it sounds. Like Azar’s threats to eventually open the secretive rebating system to public debate, this proposal sends a message to the pharmaceutical supply chain: Find a way to lower prices on your own, or we will place you under public scrutiny.

Trump has repeatedly made the bold promise that drug prices would come down while he is in office, but so far, his administration and Republicans in Congress have shied away from major reforms. Azar is betting that the players in the pharmaceutical supply chain will see the writing on the wall, but critics say they would never lower prices on their own.

Azar better hope his colleagues in the pharmaceutical industry prove them wrong before Trump is up for re-election. Trump hired Azar to keep a major promise to the public, and the president will need someone to blame if it falls through.

The post Despite Trump’s Promises, Drug Prices Are Not Dropping Yet appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Sunday Hot Takes: Civility Edition

Wed, 06/27/2018 - 15:10

The post Sunday Hot Takes: Civility Edition appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

AT&T Only Buys Time Warner Once in a Lifetime

Wed, 06/27/2018 - 14:42

 

Janine Jackson: When News Corp wanted an FCC waiver to allow it to take over another TV station owner here in New York years ago, the story was that a merged company would be stronger, and even serve news market diversity by keeping alive News Corp’s daily paper, the New York Post. The merger’s actual effect was better reflected in a bus ad I saw some time later, advertising, “Ricki Lake: Now on 2 Stations.”

The thing is, most people don’t take corporations’ promises about the benefits of mergers at face value. Perhaps especially in media, concerns about the concentration of power in a few hands are keen and, one would think, almost automatic.

But US District Court Richard Leon is not most people. Leon has just ruled that the merger of AT&T and Time Warner may proceed, rejecting antitrust concerns presented by the Department of Justice and, indeed, Leon says the giant telcomm carrier and the giant media company can merge with no conditions whatsoever.

The ruling is weird, bad and important, and worth understanding, our next guest says, for anyone who cares about how the government might restrain the power of giant media and tech companies. Technology journalist Nilay Patel is editor-in-chief and co-founder of The Verge. He joins us now by phone. Welcome to CounterSpin, Nilay Patel.

Nilay Patel: Thank you for having me.

Well, there are strata to this. There is the case the Justice Department might have made—and some say this maybe wasn’t a good deal for the state to focus on, to address antitrust concerns. Then there’s the case the Justice Department did make. And then there’s the judge’s ruling, both its likely impact in the real world and its rationales, which are, let’s say, concerning.

As you note, very few people are going to plow through this 170-page opinion, but you did. What do you think is most important for us to know about what’s in it?

The ruling is particularly strange, and Judge Leon seems very excited about the prospect of AT&T owning Time Warner. But I think the main thing for people to understand is that legacy media companies like Time  Warner are terrified of Google and Facebook and Netflix.

And they’re particularly terrified because typically, if you’re the CEO of HBO, your relationship to the end-consumer is mediated by a cable company. So you want to buy HBO? You call Spectrum cable, you get HBO, HBO sells the content to Spectrum, Spectrum sells the package to you.

Netflix has bypassed that. They sell you a direct subscription  to Netflix. Googleand Facebook have bypassed that, right? You have a direct relationship with Google and Facebook. Google and Facebook also own gigantic advertising businesses, which are directly threatening channels like CNN, which rely on an enormous amount of advertising revenue. So from Time Warner’s point-of-view, they needed to get closer to the consumer.

The argument the government did not make, and that Judge Leon did not even address, was the fact that Netflix and Google and Facebook are all extremely reliant on our internet providers to reach the consumer. So if AT&T decides to block Netflix tomorrow, Netflix’s power over HBO goes away, right? They simply just cannot reach you. And the government did not point that out, saying, “If AT&T buys Time Warner and starts to prioritize HBO, Netflix will be disadvantaged in a significant way.” They did not say, “If they start to bundle CNN for free with AT&T data plans, then that will obviously disadvantage MSNBC and Fox.”

And today, literally today, AT&T rolled out its new television package, called “AT&T Watch.” It will be preloaded on AT&T phones, and indeed, you will be able to watch CNN for free on AT&T phones as part of your data plan, and all other video will cost you money against that data plan. So there’s this very obvious anti-competitive effect that will occur because AT&T now owns video that it will give you for free, and other video services will hit your data cap, and you will effectively have to pay for them.

The government, I think, was not able to really make this argument, because that is fundamentally the net neutrality argument. And so the DoJ cannot make the net neutrality argument while at the same time Trump’s FCC is tearing down net neutrality. And I think that conceptual knot was the one the judge might have been able to untie, and he basically just declined to even think about it.

That’s really, really interesting, because, yeah, the surface thing we heard was, “AT&T is a distributor. Time Warner is a content producer,” so therefore their merger isn’t anti-competitive, because they’re not reducing the number of players on their particular level. But that’s a very shallow understanding of an anti-competitive effect.

And that’s the standard model. And I think that standard model has worked as well as it’s worked for 40 years. And there has not been a DoJ lawsuit to block a vertical merger of this type, using that model, for 40 years, as the judge knows.

I think where it becomes very difficult is, the lack of competition in internet service in this country is acute. So there’s only four national wireless providers. If you are looking for wired internet service, over half of the country actually only has one or two choices for wired internet service. So as these companies become bigger and bigger and bigger, their incentives to bundle their own content into their internet packages gets higher and higher and higher. And you, as a consumer, have less and less choice to get away from those bundles.

So at the same time AT&T is buying Time Warner, Verizon has bought the Huffington Post and AOL and Yahoo!, and they’re going to bundle their Go90 service into Verizon data plans, and they’re explicit about this. So they’re going to install ad-tracking technology that AOL has built at a pretty high level, and use it across their network of Verizon products and devices, Yahoo! fantasy footballand HuffPost Live and the millions of websites AOL owns, to create an ad-tracking network that can compete with Google and Facebook. And they’re going to use the location data of the phones.

AT&T, when they talk about Time Warner, they talk a little bit about preserving the value of CNN, and making sure that it keeps its journalistic integrity, and the great HBO shows that everybody loves. But they also very explicitly talk about needing to build an ad network that can compete with Google and Facebook. And I think that is the piece of this puzzle that seems to go unremarked upon, except when Judge Leon, in his decision, talks about how interesting it could be, and how innovative it could be, if the advertising was more personalized on AT&T devices. Which to me, if you’ve experience personalized advertising on mobile phones, does not seem very exciting, because it’s often very bad, but that’s where we’ve arrived.

Exactly. And the Dallas Morning News, in the piece headlined, “Merger May Mean More Choices for Consumers”—you know, “may mean,” I guess it may mean cupcakes rain from the sky, also—but within that, they mention “targeted ads” as one of the things the new company may “serve up” for consumers, as though that’s really something that consumers are waiting for with bated breath.

But I wanted to ask you about media coverage of media mergers like this, because we see no shortage of stock market impact reports. And then for everybody else, the angle is one that I saw in a local daily: “How will the marriage of the two companies affect your binge-watching abilities?” And it’s not that the end user, “What’s going to happen when I turn on my device?”—that’s an angle, of course, but the consumer-as-citizen piece seems to be largely missing.

And not even the bromides that we used to get, where there’d be a story of a merger and there’d be a quote somewhere in there, “something something public interest,” you know. These companies are shaping our social and our political interactions. It just seems to warrant more scrutiny from the media itself than it’s getting.

Look, if you’re a conservative and you watch Fox News…I’m confused, but let’s say that you were doing that. You should be troubled by the fact that AT&T’s going to start preloading CNN on every single one of its Android phones and giving away for free, and Fox consumers will have to effectively have to pay against their data plan. That should concern you. That should actually concern everybody, that one major news network will now be prioritized on AT&T devices and all the other ones will not.

What I think is also true, and you brought this up a little bit ago, the classic merger analysis has been a consumer-benefit analysis, and the way that you measure consumer benefit is, “Do we think this merger is going to drive prices up,” right? If we reduce competition in the market, the incentive to raise prices will go up, because there’s less competition to drive prices down.

And the real problem, in a lot of cases, in particular the tech industry, is that prices are already free. So it’s very hard to look at AT&T saying, “We’re going to buy this company and give you things for free,” and plug it into that analysis, because prices can’t go lower than free. And I think the public interest analysis of, “Are we making sure this market is actually competitive?” If everything’s free, there’s still other ways to measure competition. “Are we making sure that other people have access to the market? If AT&T is one of four carriers—and they are by far the largest carrier—are we confident that other people have access to the consumers that rely on AT&T for connectivity?”

And I think we’re now at a point where both on the left and the right, there is a lot of interest in rethinking our antitrust law to account for competitiveness, instead of simply price. And price-as-a-proxy-for-competitiveness works when there are prices, and it obviously fails when things are trending to free. And I think that the long history of the internet is we give things away for free. And so it is time, and I think you are seeing this again, both on the left and the right, a rethinking of how we should apply our antitrust law.

This wasn’t the right case, but I hardly think that the lesson that the DoJ is going to take, or that anyone is going to take, is, “Well, let’s go back and find the right case and do this again right now.”

Yeah, AT&T only buys Time Warner once in a lifetime.

Yeah, and I really do think we have to find a new—from the reporting angle—we have to find a new consumer angle that isn’t just—you know, I found this “Five Things to Know,” this explainer that ran, and “Number 1: You likely won’t pay more.” You know? “Number 3: More intense competition could equal lower costs down the road.” Two of the five are, “it’s not going to cost you more,” and that frame has to shift.If you’re interested, it has two names: One is a fuddy-duddy academic name and the other one is a fun name. But the fuddy-duddy academic name is the New Brandeis Movement for Antitrust, and there’s a bunch of conferences, the Open Market Institute’s all over it. And the other name that people are using is the “Hipster Antitrust,” because all of the proponents are basically young people who look cool, and it’s a growing movement. I mean, there’s been, just in the past year, the Economist has touched on it, the Nation has touched on it, BuzzFeed just went to a conference where the CEO of News Corp was arguing with the head of the antitrust division about it.

I run a consumer technology publication. It’s crazy to me that I have an audience that wants to know about antitrust, but really the answer to, “How do you regulate Amazon when they are constantly pushing prices lower?” is fascinating.

We’ve been speaking with Nilay Patel. You can read his piece, “The Court’s Decision to Let AT&T and Time Warner Merge Is Ridiculously Bad,” at TheVerge.com. Nilay Patel, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

Thank you for having me.

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Categories: News

Grave Warnings as Wall Street Vultures Circle Puerto Rico’s Water System

Wed, 06/27/2018 - 14:37

Previous attempts by Wall Street financiers and government officials to privatize Puerto Rico’s water system have produced “disastrous results,” but private equity vultures are exploiting the death and destruction caused by Hurricane Maria to plow ahead with yet another privatization effort—one that environmentalists warn could further imperil the island’s public water infrastructure.

“While the water system urgently needs repairs and upgrades following the destructive Hurricane Maria, privatization is not the answer,” declared Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter on Tuesday after Puerto Rico’s Public-Private Partnerships Authority officially kicked off the process (pdf) of partially privatizing the Puerto Rico Aqueducts and Sewers Authority (PRASA), a government-owned entity responsible for water quality and management.

“Responsible, public control of the system is the best way to ensure that every person on the island has access to safe and affordable water and that PRASA operates in the service of the people, not in the service of profits,” Hauter added. “With the privatization of Puerto Rico’s water authority, we expect Wall Street profiteers and corporate water operators will seek to extract wealth without addressing the long-standing issues with the commonwealth’s water system.”

Citing the Puerto Rican government’s newly unveiled bid to begin the privatization process, Food & Water Watch notes that island officials are looking to “crack down on ‘illegal’ access to water, a troubling sign that the bid is focused on profits, not remedying the systemic issues plaguing the water system that is hampering accessibility to safe, clean drinking water for all Puerto Ricans.”

While access to clean water on the island appears to be improving slowly in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, many Puerto Ricans are still being forced to boil their water, and the island’s infrastructure still faces systemic problems that existed prior to last year’s Category 4 hurricane.

According to a report (pdf) released by the Natural Resources Defense Council last year, “99.5 percent of Puerto Rico’s population was served by community water systems in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act” in 2015.

Privatization, Hauter argued on Wednesday, would exacerbate these systemic issues while leading to “excessively high water bills for households and businesses already struggling to rebuild in the wake of the climate disaster.”

“PRASA can’t afford another privatization failure now,” Hauter concluded. “It should instead focus on basic services and ensure that every Puerto Rican has access to safe public water.”

The post Grave Warnings as Wall Street Vultures Circle Puerto Rico’s Water System appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Family Separation Isn’t Just Happening at the Border, It’s Happening in Our Backyards

Wed, 06/27/2018 - 14:05

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. We’re now more than 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 also about how to build a better world. Today’s interview is the 128th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

Today we bring you a conversation with Jess Morales Rocketto, political director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Morales Rocketto discusses how ICE raids around the US are less reported forms of family separation, and how domestic workers are at the forefront of fighting for a just immigration policy in a country that has never had one.

Sarah Jaffe: We are talking today because the Trump administration pretended to solve the problem of family separations on the border, but that has clearly not been solved. Start out by telling us where things are right now as we are talking, Monday afternoon.

Jess Morales Rocketto: Last week, President Trump put out the executive order which was a complete and total sham that did not end family separations, but was the result of the public pressure that the administration in the White House has been feeling around the humanitarian crisis they have created. As of today, there still has not been a change to the most important policy that really created this crisis: the “zero tolerance” policy that prosecutes all migrants as criminals at the border.

Even more than that, in the aftermath of this executive order that they put out, there is no plan to reunify the families that have been separated. Literally, after that executive order came out and since then, we have more than a dozen reports that I personally know … of families that have been separated at the border when they were presenting themselves for asylum.

Honestly, in fact, the more we uncover about this, the more horrifying it is. There is no level of hyperbole that could be had here, because every … hour, it feels like, there is a new article that comes out about some other atrocity that is associated with this crisis. I really do feel like we are at an all-time low moment around immigration policy, which is really saying something.

It is really saying something. And the Trump administration’s answer to “We are not going to separate families” is “We are going to build family jails.” As you said, the history is bad. There is not a good past that we are turning away from here. To really be able to get worse is impressive. Talk a little bit about the history of this and the various ways that our immigration policy has always separated families.

Honestly, it goes all the way back to slavery, as people were separated in slave ships to Africa and then, when they were separated on plantations by their masters. It goes back to Native Americans who were forced to go to Indian schools and separated from their families because of colonization. This is absolutely in the fabric of our country.

And even if you are just talking about the near future, it is absolutely true that the infrastructure for a lot of these problems was erected in the Obama administration that deported more folks than the last three presidents combined. The family separation issue is a part of our past and also a part of our present — of how we think about what to do with migrants who are trying to cross the border when they are apprehended by Border Patrol or immigration enforcement.

But, what I will say is true, because I think sometimes people are making a little bit of a false equivalency, like all of this was happening under Obama. It is true that President Obama’s administration was particularly egregious in their enforcement standards, and at the time it felt like, “Wow! How can it get worse? And under a Democratic president?” and the answer is: “Under a fascist president is how it gets worse.”

What Trump has done is absolutely so much worse. It is this family separation policy, but it is also prioritizing detention. It is refusing to recognize domestic violence survivors who come and seek asylum…. It is also ramping up immigration enforcement at workforce raids, etc. Which happened literally the day before the executive order. This is a particularly acute moment in the crisis, but it has absolutely been a crisis for a long time.

Talk about the workplace raids. Again, it is not a new practice, but it is definitely ramping up once again under this administration. It is, also, a way that people are taken away from their families: They are pulled off the worksite and meanwhile, the employers face very few consequences for any of this.

Completely. A couple of weeks ago in Ohio, there were huge workplace raids and children actually get caught in the middle of that. When they go to the fields and they detain and then potentially put into deportation proceedings everyone in the fields in the middle of the day, their children literally come home from school to their parents not there and they become wards of the state and are completely in limbo and, just like these families who are separated at the border, may not be aware of where their parents have been taken. Parents aren’t aware of where their children are taken. Neither of them knows when they will see each other again. It is not just happening at the border. It is absolutely happening in our backyards.

One of the things that is happening right now is there is growing momentum … to abolish ICE. Can you talk a little bit about the history of this agency? Because it is, again, not very old.

I am loving the messages that people are putting out on social media that say, “We have lived in a world without ICE. It is possible to imagine a world without ICE.” That is a post-September 11 enforcement measure in and of itself: the creation of ICE.

I think what is really incredible about this moment is that we are opening up a conversation around immigration that is causing us to really try to imagine what a future looks like with humane immigration policies. We have never had that in this country. Absolutely, that includes ending family detention, ending family separations, thinking about these agencies — which are in and of themselves enforcement measures — how to just completely change those and have a policy that actually reflects the values that we say we care about.

You work with the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA). One of the things that I keep thinking of when we are talking about family separation is how many migrants come to this country and end up doing domestic work and end up caring for American families while their own families are far away. I would love for you to talk about why it is that it is important for domestic workers to be at the forefront of this fight.

Our immigration campaign at National Domestic Workers Alliance is called We Belong Together and it is focused on family separation because this was something that we knew was a problem in our immigration system and was something that we understood was being totally mismanaged and the consequences were happening [among] our members and our families.

Folks who came here and were not connected with their children for 20 years at a time because they were back in their home countries. Or trying to sponsor their family members and having to be waiting 15-20 years for their family members to be able to come over. I think that part of why we felt like it was really critical to sound the alarm is that in the same way that people don’t value domestic work because it is women’s labor, because it is women of color’s labor, because it is mostly immigrant women’s labor, they also weren’t valuing what they were saying about the immigration system … and about … the reason that people come here is because they are seeking a better life, often for their family. That could be their chosen family, it could be their children, it could be their extended family.

For us, there was just a really clear gap of talking about this from a perspective where women’s voices were at the forefront and where immigrant women’s voices were at the forefront talking about what drives them to make this economic decision — because it absolutely is an economic decision. I think that what is really incredible is the women that we have talked to — we also have been able, in many cases, to engage with their children….

We absolutely are committed to doing everything we can to ensure that this crisis is fixed, but also that this problem of family separation that has been happening is dealt with once and for all.

NDWA put out a report recently about the conditions, particularly of immigrant domestic workers, in the border region because we have this specific border region policy that is … I don’t even know how to describe it. Maybe you can describe it for us. Where, if you are within 100 miles of the border, you are essentially always in a hyper-enforcement zone.

Yes, it is incredible all the ways we criminalize families who live at the border. Even ones who are not a flight risk, add to the community, who are providing vital services. It is just making it even more difficult for them to do their work and it is especially difficult because domestic workers have been a part of the Texas-Mexico border region for years … now they are facing … in addition to long work hours, high rates of wage theft, vulnerability to sexual harassment, lack of benefits or paid time off, or even breaks in some cases, they are also now facing heightened immigration enforcement regardless of status.

Immigrant women should never have to face family separation, especially women who likely have first-hand experience for what it is really like at the border.

It also just struck me that one of the things that people always say about domestic workers as an excuse sort of for bad working conditions is, “Oh, you are part of the family,” so we don’t need to give you a raise. Once again, thinking about that in this context of what we think about whose families matter is really interesting.

Completely. I actually got my start in anti-genocide organizing and I never thought that domestic worker organizing and anti-genocide organizing would roll up against each other as much as they are right now. One of the things that we used to talk about in relation to that work — which, when I was doing it at the time, was really focused in the Horn of Africa — was about the dehumanization that happened and how that is such a clear indicator of a potential humanitarian crisis like ethnic cleansing.

The reason that I personally am so passionate about this right now … is that in many ways, we are actually seeing direct parallels to things like what happened in Rwanda, things like what happened in Sudan, to things like what happened in the Holocaust. I think that sometimes people get worried, like, “Is that hyperbole?” and just being a person at the border, talking to domestic workers about what they are experiencing, talking to families who are crossing, I can definitively say, “It is not hyperbole….”

I think the difference between those past historical crises and this moment is that there is a huge outpouring of people who are saying, “We are not going to stand by while this happens. We are going to raise noise immediately,” and we are also noticing that that pressure is actually working. I just think … it is just so important for everyone to really think about how they can actually make a difference in this.

What can they do? Whether that is going to FamiliesBelongTogether.org and signing up to go to one of our rallies or donating to the legal defense services or the organizing or, honestly, talking to your friends and family about it. That is not Pollyanna. Most people still don’t know that this is still actually happening…. We have to do everything we possibly can to stop this.

There are protests at ICE offices across the country going on, it seems like every day. Tell us what is being planned for the next few days and where people can plug into things in their community.

Yes, you are right. One of the best things is that there is so much stuff happening that I can’t keep track of all of it, which is an organizer’s dream. On [June] 28, we are really turning our eyes to Texas [for a rally in] Brownsville that is sponsored by the ACLU. We really want to lift up the stories of the folks at the border and the work of the folks at the border. We are really excited about turning our eyes toward Texas.

Then, on [June] 30, we have over 600 events in all 50 states and a huge mobilization happening in DC. You can find events near you or RSVP at FamiliesBelongTogether.org and we are really, really excited. I think this is a pretty unprecedented amount of action around immigration. Just doing everything we can to make sure it is as incredible as the people that we are fighting for.

Where can people keep up with you and find out more about the report that Domestic Workers Alliance put out?

You can find out more about us at www.DomesticWorkers.org or @DomesticWorkers on Twitter. I am @JessLivMo on Twitter.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

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.

The post Family Separation Isn’t Just Happening at the Border, It’s Happening in Our Backyards appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Oil Companies and Lobbyists Say They’re Ready to Solve Climate Change. Check the Fine Print.

Wed, 06/27/2018 - 14:01

Last week, former senators Trent Lott (R-MS) and John Breaux (D-LA) announced, with a big public relations blitz, a new campaign, Americans for Carbon Dividends, to address the threat of climate change. The effort is being heralded as a breakthrough by some because it is endorsed by big oil and gas companies Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP, and Total, and it calls for a $40-a-ton carbon tax, incurred at the source of emissions, with revenues to be returned to citizens as dividends, perhaps $2000 a year for each American family of four.

A Lott-Breaux op-ed in the New York Times presents the deal as a compelling bipartisan solution and touts the support not only of oil companies but also the non-profit Nature Conservancy. The campaign website lists a bunch of newspaper and environmental group endorsements for the underlying $40 carbon tax concept, which was proposed last year under the banner of a group called the Climate Leadership Council, launched by Republican former secretaries of state James Baker and George Shultz and other conservatives, and now including oil companies and various establishment Democrats and Republicans.

The website of the new, affiliated Americans for Carbon Dividends shows its own campaign leadership roster that includes not only Republican Lott and Democrat Breaux, but also former George W. Bush adviser Karen Hughes and Mark McKinnon, plus Bill Clinton White House press secretary Joe Lockhart.

So it sounds like Democrats and Republicans alike, and even some environmental groups, are supportive, the oil companies are at last willing to pay for their dangerous carbon emissions, citizens will get a dividend, and everyone will be happy.

But when one examines the fine print of the deal — and the financial benefits flowing to some of the people touting it — the effort looks much less utopian.

Lott and Breaux vaguely mention in the op-ed that there are “various policy details that will need to be addressed,” and assert that “this market-based solution would render carbon regulations unnecessary.” What they don’t tell you in the op-ed, but you can find on the campaign website, is that their plan is more concrete than that in terms of guaranteeing benefits to the fossil fuel industries.

“Much of the EPA’s regulatory authority over carbon dioxide emissions would be phased out, including an outright repeal of the Clean Power Plan,” according to the Lott-Breaux campaign site. That’s a reference to the 2015 plan issued by the Obama administration to control greenhouse gas emissions, after Congress rejected climate change legislation in 2009. The Trump administration is trying to kill the plan, but they will need to win a court battle to do so.

Some critics are calling the new initiative an empty public relations gesture on the part of the fossil fuel companies, and just maybe it is: A carbon tax is unlikely to pass Congress in the present environment. Even if it did, energy companies would likely be able to pass the costs of a new carbon tax on to consumers, thus wiping out the gains of the promised dividend checks. But properly constructed, a carbon tax could perhaps achieve many of the aims of the Clean Power Plan.

However, there’s another twist.

The Lott-Breaux website adds, as the penultimate sentence in their plan outline, something the Lott-Breaux Times op-ed conveniently omits: “Robust carbon taxes would also make possible an end to federal and state tort liability for emitters.” (The Climate Leadership Council calls for the same outcome in one of its documents and a more vague prescription in another.) That gentle formulation seems to mean this: The plan proponents are insisting that a solution must bar everyone and anyone from suing fossil fuel companies for the harms done by global warming — past, present, and future.

You might be aware by now that some thirteen cities and counties in the states of California, Colorado, New York, and Washington have recently sued major fossil fuel companies over alleged harms from emissions — coastal erosion, floods, wildfires, drought, floods, and other effects of climate change.

These new lawsuits could pack a powerful punch. They allege that ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and others knew for decades that fossil fuel-driven global warming and rising seas threatened human life, but continued to expand their production, while deceiving consumers about the risks. Asserting that this conduct violates various state tort rules — public nuisance, failure to warn, design defect, negligence, trespass, conspiracy — the suits demand that the companies, rather than taxpayers, cover the costs of the environmental harms.

Prior lawsuits using similar theories, brought a decade or more ago, were dismissed. But today there is much more evidence that global warming is real, accelerating, and caused by burning fossil fuels, and that oil companies knew such information, suppressed it, and sought to counter it. Also, lawyers for cities and counties believe that recent scientific advances will make it easier to prove that the specific defendants’ activities harmed or threaten their client communities.

Which is why the big oil companies are scared. They face potentially billions in liability, plus the likelihood that protracted litigation will disclose new internal company records and highlight the extensive efforts made by Exxon and other companies over decades to conceal the dangers of fossil fueling burning, and to support fake-science climate denial organizations and politicians.

In addition to seeking to dismiss the cases and keep their company documents hidden, the oil companies have resorted to filing desperate countersuits claiming that the cities, as well as the Massachusetts and New York state attorneys generals, plus private lawyers, are engaged in conspiracies to violate their constitutional rights. These efforts are succeeding in delaying and wasting money, but they are unlikely to wipe out the threat the suits pose.

So the fossil fuel companies want badly to get rid of these cases. And now, they have joined hands with Lott and Breaux for a comprehensive climate change solution, one that would let them off the hook for enormous potential liability for past and ongoing harms. (The case law is not entirely settled as to whether a federal ban on liability would conclusively bar all such state tort law suits, given the constitutional due process rights of those injured, but for the fossil fuel industries, it’s certainly worth a try.)

The effort includes some deceptions already. Linked to a page on the Lott-Breaux campaign site called “Who Supports” is a June 20 statement from the pro-environment Union of Concerned Scientists. But that UCS statement, while praising the concept of a carbon tax, expressly opposes key elements of the new Lott-Bureaux package: the trading away of government regulations and the rights of municipalities to obtain compensation for climate change harms. The statement concludes: “Taking away legal rights and rolling back public health safeguards are clearly not in the American public’s interest.”

In addition to overstating support for the plan and soft-pedaling the oil companies’ demand for immunity from ongoing lawsuits, Lott, Breaux, and company aren’t offering all the details of the financial incentives behind the new coalition.

Ted Halstead, CEO of the Climate Leadership Council, the partner group to the new Lott-Breaux effort, told the New York Times that his group, which includes as members Exxon, Shell, BP, Total, and other big companies inside and outside of the energy sector, did not accept corporate contributions.

But given the New York Times’ enhanced policy of disclosure of conflicts of interest by op-ed writers, the two former senators were compelled to mention that Americans for Carbon Dividends “has hired” their law firm, DC lobbying powerhouse Squire Patton Boggs, “to help with the campaign,” which they call “a multifaceted media and lobbying campaign to promote this winning solution.”  That means that, however sincerely Trent Lott and John Breaux believe in this cause, they are not acting merely as elder statesmen; they also are getting paid to advance it, just as they have been paid for years to lobby for oil companies, health care companies, for-profit collegesRussian government-owned Gazprombank, tech companies, and other special interests. In the case of this new campaign, we don’t know how much money they’re getting, or where it’s all coming from.

As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, Americans for Carbon Dividends is not required to disclose its donors, but Axios reports that funders so far include nuclear-power giant Exelon ($1 million), First Solar, and the American Wind Energy Association.  “Other corporate donors exist,” writes Axios, “but are opting not to disclose…. No oil and gas companies are funding the effort yet, but they’re likely to in the coming months, according to a source familiar with the effort.”

Lott, one of the swampiest lobbyists in the DC swamp, knows well how to play this game. He is also a senior fellow and energy policy project co-chair at a DC think-tank called the Bipartisan Policy Center, which also has styled itself as presenting sensible non-partisan answers to difficult problems, but which has tilted its positions in favor of fossil fuel industries and has accepted funding from numerous companies in those industries.

Given the urgent need to fight climate change, and the Trump administration’s outright hostility to addressing the problem, advocates for a carbon tax, including Republicans, deserve credit for seeking a bold solution. But tying the approach to an end to legitimate claims by cities and counties that they have been harmed by global warming, as Lott and Breaux seek, is asking way too much. As the debate goes forward, advocates for taxpayers, consumers, and the environment should guard against including in any deal a grant of immunity to the fossil fuel industries for decades of climate change deception.

The post Oil Companies and Lobbyists Say They’re Ready to Solve Climate Change. Check the Fine Print. appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Fearing Deportation, Immigrant Parents Are Opting Out of Health Benefits for Kids

Tue, 06/26/2018 - 21:09

The fear of family separation is nothing new for many immigrants already living in the US. In fact, that fear, heightened in recent weeks, has been forcing a tough decision for a while. Advocates say a growing number of American children are dropping out of Medicaid and other government programs because their parents are not citizens.

Marlene is an undocumented resident of Texas and has two children who are US citizens who qualify for Medicaid, the federal-state program for low-income people. (Kaiser Health News is not using Marlene’s last name because of her immigration status.) One of her children has some disabilities.

“My son is receiving speech therapy,” she said in Spanish. “But it’s been difficult.”

It was a long journey to get the right evaluations and diagnoses, and her son is finally making progress, Marlene said. But she braces for a day when he might have to do without this therapy and others that are paid for through Medicaid. Because she’s undocumented, she’s extremely nervous about filling out applications for government programs like this.

Already, she has decided to stop receiving food stamps, now known as SNAP, which her children, as citizens, are entitled to based on the family’s income.

She dropped it because the application to receive those benefits changed, she said.

“They are asking a lot of questions,” she said. “They are investigating one’s life from head to toe.”

Marlene said she was nervous, in particular, about being asked to provide years of pay stubs and other eligibility requirements she had not experienced before. Marlene said the application alone made her “sick from stress.”

Repeated calls and emails to Texas health officials to ask about the changes in the benefits application process went unanswered.

Marlene’s son has Medicaid for the next several months. But she is worried how that application will change, too, next time she has to apply.

Health care groups say they’ve observed other immigrant families making similar choices, and they think it will accelerate if a proposed change to green card eligibility becomes law. Under the proposed change, if family members receive government services — even if those family members are citizens — it would ding the applicants’ chances of approval for permanent residency.

“We are seeing families having to make this impossible choice,” said Maria Hernandez, the founder of Vela, a nonprofit in Austin that helps parents who have children with disabilities.

Hernandez instructs parents how to advocate for their children and how to find the appropriate health care and therapies for their kids, and helps them find community support, among other things.

She conducts many of these classes in what used to be an elementary school on the east side of Austin, known as one of the most diverse areas of the city. She said about seven in 10 of the families she works with are immigrants — mostly from Mexico.

“We are working with families who the parents are immigrants but the children are born here,” Hernandez said.

Parents tell Hernandez they feel like they can’t risk any attention from the government, even if that means losing badly needed benefits for their kids.

In the first year of the Trump administration, Central Texas experienced an uptick in immigration raids and deportations. Since then, Hernandez said, a lot of people in the immigrant community have been making critical choices out of fear.

“It’s out of fear of deportation,” she said. “It’s out of fear of having their children being penalized in some way and potentially losing a parent that until this point has been their fierce advocate.”

In Texas, this is a decision that is bound to affect a significant number of children, said Anne Dunkelberg with the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin. Dunkelberg has been closely watching various immigration proposals and their effect on access to government services.

“A quarter of Texas children have at least one parent who is not a US citizen,” she said. “Now, I am sure that not a hundred percent of those kids — and it’s about 1.8 million kids — not a hundred percent of them are using a public benefit, but a very high percentage will be.”

Dunkelberg said families opting out of Medicaid could further raise the number of uninsured in Texas, which is already the highest in the nation.

Hernandez said parents who have children with disabilities have told her that without Medicaid they’ll rely on emergency rooms “as needed.”

“We know that that is not a good plan for kids that for forever have been followed by a neurologist because they have seizures or have been going to occupational therapy for years and are finally making progress,” she said.

Approximately 10 million citizen children in the US have at least one non-citizen parent.

This story is part of a partnership that includes KUTNPR and Kaiser Health News.

KHN’s coverage of children’s health care issues is supported in part by the Heising-Simons Foundation.

The post Fearing Deportation, Immigrant Parents Are Opting Out of Health Benefits for Kids appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Separating Children at the Border Creates Trauma Passed Down Through Generations

Tue, 06/26/2018 - 15:51

More than 2,000 migrant children remain separated from their parents, jailed in detention centers across the country. The Washington Post reports that US authorities are collecting mug shots of the detained minors, some showing the children in tears. Immigrant children jailed in a converted Walmart in Texas are being forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in English each morning. At some of the facilities, the children are counted in “prison-style” head counts. In some cases, parents have already been deported, while their children remain in United States custody. For more, we speak with Dr. Dana Sinopoli, a psychologist who penned an open letter condemning the Trump administration’s practice of separating children from their parents at the border.

Please check back later for full transcript.

The post Separating Children at the Border Creates Trauma Passed Down Through Generations appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

NFL’s Michael Bennett on Police Brutality and Kneeling for Racial Justice

Tue, 06/26/2018 - 15:51

Over the past two seasons, dozens of National Football League players have knelt during the national anthem to protest police shootings of black teenagers and men like Antwon Rose, a 17-year-old unarmed African-American teenager who was shot dead by East Pittsburgh police last week. The NFL’s on-field protests began in August 2016 when quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the anthem to protest racism and police brutality. The National Football League announced last month that it will fine teams if players refuse to stand for the national anthem before games. Under the new rules adopted by the league’s 32 owners, players will be allowed to stay in the locker room during the anthem. We speak with NFL three-time Pro Bowler and longtime activist Michael Bennett, who has been part of a movement, led by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, protesting police shootings of unarmed black men. Bennett was recently traded to the Super Bowl champions Philadelphia Eagles—the same team President Trump recently disinvited to the White House. He is the author of a new book, Things That Make White People Uncomfortable.

Please check back later for full transcript.

The post NFL’s Michael Bennett on Police Brutality and Kneeling for Racial Justice appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Open Internet Defenders Gear Up for Day of Advocacy With Demand for House Vote

Tue, 06/26/2018 - 15:42

Open internet defenders warned members of Congress that on Tuesday’s Day of Advocacy for net neutrality rules, they will be hearing directly from their constituents about how they should vote on saving the regulations — and how the wrong decision could affect their job security.

“Most days the FCC and Congress are dominated by the opinions of large cable and telecom companies with armies of well-paid Washington lobbyists,” said Chris Lewis, vice president at the public interest group Public Knowledge. “Tuesday, in both Washington and in communities around the country, Americans are lobbying for themselves. Some FCC commissioners have dismissed the overwhelming public support for restoring net neutrality rules, but they are unelected. Members of Congress ignore the overwhelming bipartisan support for net neutrality at their own risk.”

TOMORROW: On June 26 we’re teaming up with allies to hold a Net Neutrality Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill. Join us as we urge House reps to pass the #NetNeutrality CRA and restore the open-internet rules.

Sign up here: https://t.co/oNr6jKyWUM https://t.co/oNr6jKyWUM

— Free Press (@freepress) June 25, 2018

Public Knowledge and Free Press will be joined by a number of other groups — including Fight for the Future, Common Cause, and the National Hispanic Media Coalition — for the day of advocacy.

The Senate voted in favor of the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to overturn the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality in May — moving a step closer to preventing internet service providers like Verizon and Comcast from blocking and throttling websites and creating “fast lanes” that give priority to certain content.

Advocates are now demanding that members of the House of Representatives support a petition to force a vote on the CRA.

Activists will be at the US Capitol on Tuesday, talking to their elected officials about how the end of net neutrality would affect their lives and work.

#NetNeutrality ended last Monday. A large #publisher could pay to increase their traffic while internet service providers #ISP could slow down traffic to my small #publishing business. Special interest with $ could pay to suppress other points of view while advancing their own. https://t.co/tiTVsk8DNr

— Matthew Barron (@authorMBarron) June 18, 2018

“People have been using the internet to save the internet every day,” said Sandra Fulton, director of government relations at Free Press Action Fund. “Tomorrow, they’re taking action in person, urging their elected representatives to stand with the vast majority of Americans who oppose the FCC’s unpopular decision to repeal net neutrality protections​. We know that the open internet is critical for marginalized communities that ​​corporate media have misrepresented; that it’s essential for free speech and political organizing online; and that working families need an open network to survive just as much as tech entrepreneurs do​.”

Dozens of events are also planned in cities and towns across the country, with internet freedom advocates set to protest at their elected officials’ offices.

“The overwhelming majority of Americans understand that strong net neutrality rules are the prerequisite for an open and citizen-friendly internet,” said Yosef Getachew of Common Cause. “Members of Congress will hear directly from their constituents — everyday Americans from all walks of life — on why net neutrality is important to them. Tomorrow’s advocacy demonstrates the strong voice of the American people demanding an open internet and urging their elected officials to support the resolution restoring the FCC’s net neutrality rules.”

The post Open Internet Defenders Gear Up for Day of Advocacy With Demand for House Vote appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

A Children’s Guantánamo on the Border Is the Heartless US’s Latest Nightmare

Tue, 06/26/2018 - 14:29

By the time Donald J. Trump threw in the towel, who among us hadn’t seen or heard the chilling videos in which US border officials shamelessly grabbed uncomprehending children and toddlers from their pleading mothers and fathers? Some were told they were being taken to bathe or shower by people with little sense of the resonances of history. They were, of course, creating scenes that couldn’t help but bring to mind those moments when Jews, brought to Nazi concentration camps, were told that they were being sent to take “showers,” only to be murdered en masse in the gas chambers. Some of those children didn’t even realize that they had missed the chance to say goodbye to their mothers or fathers. Those weeping toddlers, breast-deprived infants, and distressed teens were just the most recent signs of the Trump administration’s war against decency, compassion, and justice.

Because the victims were children, however, it was easy to ignore one reality: new as all this may have seemed, it actually wasn’t. Dehumanized, traumatized, and scared, those children — their predicament — shocked many Americans who insisted, along with former First Lady Laura Bush, that this was truly un-American. As she wrote in the Washington Post:

“Americans pride ourselves on being a moral nation, on being the nation that sends humanitarian relief to places devastated by natural disasters or famine or war. We pride ourselves on believing that people should be seen for the content of their character, not the color of their skin. We pride ourselves on acceptance. If we are truly that country, then it is our obligation to reunite these detained children with their parents — and to stop separating parents and children in the first place.”

Her essay essentially asked one question: Who have we become? Former CIA Director Michael Hayden, tweeting out a picture of the Birkenau concentration camp over the words “Other governments have separated women and children,”suggestedan answer: we were planting the seeds that could make us the new Nazi Germany.

But let me assure you, much of what we saw in these last weeks with those children had its origins in policies and “laws” so much closer to home than Germany three-quarters of a century ago. If you wanted to see where their ravaging really began, you needed to look elsewhere (which, surprisingly enough, no one has) — specifically, to those who created the Guantánamo Bay Detention Facility. From its inception beyond the reach of American courts or, in any normal sense, justice, this prison camp set the stage structurally, institutionally, and legally for what we’ve just been witnessing at the border.

Kenneling Children

The fingerprints of those who created and sustained that offshore island prison for war-on-terror detainees were all over that policy. Not surprisingly, White House Chief of Staff and retired General John Kelly, former head of SOUTHCOM, the US military combatant command that oversees Guantánamo, was the first official in the Trump administration to publicly float the idea of such a separation policy on the border. In March 2017, answering a question from CNN’s Wolf Blitzer about the separation of children from their mothers, he said, “I would do almost anything to deter the people from Central America” from making the journey here.

Just such separations, of course, became the well-publicized essence of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy at the border and, until the president’s executive order issued last week, the numbers of children affected were mounting exponentially — more than 2,000 of them in the previous six weeks, some still in diapers. (And keep in mind that there already were 11,000 migrant children in US custody at that point.)

Apprehended at the border, the children were taken to processing facilities, separated from their parents thanks to a mix of Department of Homeland Security, Department of Health and Human Services, and Department of Justice policy directives, and then locked up. From the moment they arrived at those facilities, the echoes of Guantánamo were obvious (at least for those of us who had long followed developments there over the years). First, there were the most visible signs; above all, the children being placed in wire cages that, as journalists and others who saw them attested, looked more like holding cells for animals at a zoo or dogs at a kennel than for humans, no less children. This was, of course, exactly how the first Gitmo detainees were held back in 2002 as that prison was being built.

President Trump foreshadowed the treatment to come. “These aren’t people,”he said in May, referring to undocumented migrants crossing the border, “these are animals.” To make the children’s caged existence worse still, the lights were kept on around the clock and the children subjected to interruptions all night, recalling the sleep deprivation and constant light used as a matter of policy on detainees at Guantánamo Bay. In addition, caregivers were not allowed to touch the children. Even shelter workers were forbidden to do so, which meant adults were not able to console them either. And bad as any of this sounded, such conditions were but a prelude to a much deeper tale of abuse at government hands.

As at Guantánamo, those children were also being subjected to a regime of intentional abuse. The cruel and inhuman treatment began, of course, with the trauma of separation from their parents and often from their siblings as well, since children of different genders were sent to different facilities (or at least different parts of the same facility). Such policies, according to pediatrician and Columbia professor Dr. Irwin Redlener, a leading authority on public policy and children in harm’s way, amount to “child abuse by the government.” In other words, it all added up to a new form of torture, this time visited upon children.

Asking for Congress and the White House to end the policy of separation, members of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry weighed in on the harm that the trauma of forced separation can cause: “Separating these children from their families in times of stress creates unnecessary and high-risk trauma, at the very time they need care and support the most.” In addition, the “children who experience sudden separation from one or both parents, especially under frightening, unpredictable, and chaotic circumstances, are at higher risk for developing illnesses such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other trauma-induced reactions.” (Ironically, one of the few characteristics Justice Department lawyers in George W. Bush’s administration acknowledged would constitute torture was “prolonged mental harm.” In their words, for severe pain or suffering to amount to torture would require that “the acts giving rise to the harm must cause some lasting, though not necessarily permanent, damage.”)

Name me the parent who doesn’t think that his or her child would suffer lasting harm if separated from his or her closest attachments. Yet, in a press briefing, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen bluntly insisted that “claiming these children and their parents are treated inhumanely is not true.” It’s worth mentioning, by the way, that the parents of the children were being tortured, too, not knowing where their children were being sent or held and when (or even if) they would ever see them again.

Perversely, administration spokespersons seemed to think that a trade-off had occurred: the loss of basic human rights for at least the pretense of pleasant cosmetic props. Some of the children at least were given toys and games. Nielsen even bragged that Trump administration officials had “high standards. We give them meals, we give them education, we give them medical care. There is videos, there is TVs.”

This, too, should have been a reminder of Guantánamo logic. The more the prisoners there were deprived of in terms of legal and human rights, the more the Bush administration boasted about the creature comforts offered to them, like movies, halal food, and even comfortable chairs (while they were being force-fed) — as if the presence of toys could counteract the wrenching separation from a parent (or a comfortable chair, force-feeding).

Dr. Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, caught the hypocrisy of it all, reporting that the children she saw were surrounded by “toys, books and crayons,” but banging the floor and crying out in pain.

Creating Gitmos

Beyond the physical and emotional deprivations, there were the legal ones. The stay of those children was indefinite, the defining characteristic of Gitmo. Before the Trump separation policy started, children, as minors whose parents were awaiting decisions on immigration status, could only be held by the government for 20 days. With “zero tolerance,” their saga suddenly became interminable.

Legally, like their parents, they were also reclassified. These were no longer the children of migrants or asylum seekers in immigration court, for whom there were strict policies and time limits on detention. They were now the children of alleged criminals, having essentially been rendered orphans. At Guantánamo, changing legal categories in a similar fashion — that is, defining the prisoners’ detentions as military, not criminal in nature — accomplished the same trick, avoiding the application of due process and rights for the detainees.

Which brings up yet another fundamental parallel between Gitmo’s prisoners and the children’s Gitmo at the border. Those being held were described in both places using the same crucial term: detainee. Guantánamo branded this word forever as beyond the bounds of normal legality because the Bush administration officials who set up that system wanted to ensure that the normal legal protections of both national and international law would not be extended to those captured and held there. Guantánamo, the government insisted, was not a prison. It was merely a “detention center.” So many years later, it still is, while those incarcerated there have often served “sentences” of a decade and more, even though only a handful of them were ever actually sentenced by a court of any sort. In 2018, that same label was taken from those accused of being battlefield enemies and slapped on the children of asylum seekers.

As with Guantánamo, lawyers who wanted to represent the parents, whose fates were to determine those of their separated children, found themselves impeded in their access to the detained adults. No one familiar with Gitmo could have missed the parallel. Lawyers seeking to provide assistance to war-on-terror detainees were kept out of Guantánamo for more than two years after it opened.

The Southern Poverty Law Center recently filed suit claiming that, at two detention centers, authorities had limited the access of those undocumented immigrants to lawyers, violating due process. To make matters worse, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s Department of Justice recently decided not to renew two programs that offered legal aid lawyers to undocumented immigrants facing deportation. Meanwhile, that department has instituted a new policy in which pro-bono lawyers (those from NGO groups seeking to represent the detainees) now have to go through a certification process before taking them on at their own expense.

The media has been similarly restricted. Photographs of the detention “camps” for those children were left to the government alone to provide. So, too, when Guantánamo opened, visiting journalists were ordered to leave their cameras behind. These restrictions stayed in place as official policy, intensified by none other than John Kelly. (Ironically, the Pentagon itself sent out the iconic early 2002 images of kneeling, shackled, orange-jump-suited detainees.)

For 16 years now, opponents of the US detention center on the island of Cuba have understandably warned that its remarkable disregard for the rule of law would inevitably creep into America’s institutions. For the most part, their worries centered on the federal court system and the possibility that defendants there might someday lose basic rights. Now, we know that Guantánamo found a future in those detention camps on our southern border. Don’t think it will be the last place that the influence of that infamous prison will pop up.

While this moment of crisis may have passed, consider this piece, at best, a requiem for a tragedy that has barely ended (if it has) — and also a warning. The legacy of Guantánamo continues to haunt our laws, our imaginations, and our way of life. It’s time to do what we have failed to do for so long now: push back hard on the truly un-American policies spawned by that prison and apparent in so much else of Donald Trump’s America. We need to do so now, before the way of life we once knew is largely erased. It’s time to insist on the right to bring up our children in an America of compassion, law, and respect for the rights of all, not in one whose leaders are intent on robbing them — and so many other children — of their future.

The post A Children’s Guantánamo on the Border Is the Heartless US’s Latest Nightmare appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Preventing Crimes Against Humanity in the US

Tue, 06/26/2018 - 14:24

There are those who say that comparing President Donald Trump’s rhetoric to that of Adolf Hitler is alarmist, unfair and counterproductive.

And yet, there has been no dearth of such comparisons nearly one and a half years into his term.

Many commentators have also drawn parallels between the conduct and language of Trump supporters and Holocaust-era Nazis. Recent news of ICE agents separating immigrant families and housing children in cages have generated further comparisons by world leaders, as well as Holocaust survivors and scholars. Trump’s use of the word “infest” to refer to immigrants coming to the US is particularly striking. Nazis referred to infestations of Jewish vermin, and Rwandan Hutu’s labeled Tutsi as cockroaches.

In August 2017, in the wake of the Charlottesville violence, the president used a familiar rhetorical strategy for signaling support to violent groups. He referenced violence on “both sides,” implying moral equivalence between protesters calling for the removal of Confederate statues and those asserting white supremacy. His comments gave white supremacists and neo-Nazis the implied approval of the president of the United States.

Many of these groups explicitly seek to eliminate from the US African-Americans, Jews, immigrants and other groups, and are willing to do so through violence. As co-directors of Binghamton University’s Institute for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention, we emphasize the importance of recognizing and responding to early warning signs of potential genocide and other atrocity crimes. Usually, government officials, scholars and nongovernmental organizations look for these signals in other parts of the world – Syria, Sudan or Burma.

But what about the US? President Trump’s executive order halting family separations provides Congress an opportunity to act. How the legislators respond will be an important indicator of where the US is headed.

Is It Possible in the US?

The term “genocide” invokes images of gas chambers the Nazis used to exterminate Jews during World War II, the Khmer Rouge killing fields of Cambodia and thousands of Tutsi bodies in the Kagera River in Rwanda. On that scale and in that manner, genocide is highly unlikely in the United States.

But genocidal violence can happen in the US. It has happened. Organized policies passed by elected US lawmakers have targeted both Native Americans and African-Americans. Public policies defined these groups as not fully human and not protected by basic laws. Current policies treat immigrants the same way.

The threat of genocide is present wherever a country’s political leadership tolerates or even encourages acts with an intent to destroy a racial, ethnic, national or religious group, whether in whole or in part. While genocide is unlikely in the United States, atrocities which amount to mass violations of human rights and crimes against humanity are evident. The UN defines crimes against humanity as any “deliberate act, typically as part of a systematic campaign, that causes human suffering or death on a large scale.” Unlike genocide, it does not need to include the actual destruction or intent to destroy a group.

According to Holocaust survivors, the current visual and audio accounts of children separated from their parents in border detention facilities reminds them of practices of the Nazis in ghettos and concentration and extermination camps.

The Holocaust took the international community by surprise. In hindsight, there were many signs. In fact, scholars have learned a great deal about the danger signals for the risk of large-scale violence against vulnerable groups.

In 1996, the founder and first president of the US-based advocacy group Genocide WatchGregory H. Stanton, introduced a model that identified eight stages – later increased to 10 – that societies frequently pass through on the way to genocidal violence and other mass atrocities. Stanton’s model has its critics. Like any such model, it can’t be applied in all cases and can’t predict the future. But it has been influential in our understanding of the sources of mass violence in RwandaBurmaSyria and other nations.

The 10 Stages of Genocide

The early stages of Stanton’s model include “classification” and “symbolization.” These are processes in which groups of people are saddled with labels or imagined characteristics that encourage active discrimination. These stages emphasize “us-versus-them” thinking, and define a group as “the other.”

As Stanton makes clear, these processes are universally human. They do not necessarily result in a progression toward mass violence. But they prepare the ground for the next stages: active “discrimination,” “dehumanization,” “organization” and “polarization.” These middle stages may be warning signs of an increasing risk of large-scale violence.

Where Are We Now?

Trump’s political rhetoric helped propel him into office by playing on the fears and resentments of the electorate. He has used derogatory labels for certain religious and ethnic groups, hinted at dark conspiracies, winked at violence and appealed to nativist and nationalist sentiments. He has promoted discriminatory policies including travel restrictions and gender-based exclusions.

Classification, symbolization, discrimination and dehumanization of Muslims, Mexicans, African-Americans, immigrants, the media and even the political opposition may be leading to polarization, stage six of Stanton’s model.

Stanton writes that polarization further drives wedges between social groups through extremism. Hate groups find an opening to send messages that further dehumanize and demonize targeted groups. Political moderates are edged out of the political arena, and extremist groups attempt to move from the former political fringes into mainstream politics.

Do Trump’s implied claims of a moral equivalence between neo-Nazis and counterprotesters in Charlottesville move us closer to the stage of polarization?

Does housing children in cages at border detention facilities in the name of deterrence represent a deepening dehumanization?

Certainly, there are reasons for deep concern. Moral equivalence – the claim that when both “sides” in a conflict use similar tactics, then one “side” must be as morally good or bad as the other – is what logicians call an informal fallacy. Philosophers take their red pens to student essays that commit it. But when a president is called on to address his nation in times of political turmoil, the claim of moral equivalence is a lot more than an undergraduate mistake.

Similarly, when warehousing children in cages and tent cities is justified as a policy of deterrence, this is more than an academic policy debate. We suggest this is a deliberate effort to dehumanize and polarize, and an invitation to what may come next.

While the US may not be on the path to genocide in the sense of mass killings, it clearly is engaging in other crimes against humanity – deliberately and systematically causing human suffering on a large scale and violating fundamental human rights.

Responding and Preventing

Polarization is a warning of the increased risk of violence, not a guarantee. Stanton’s model also argues that every stage offers opportunities for prevention. Extremist groups can have their financial assets frozen. Hate crimes and hate atrocities can be more consistently investigated and prosecuted. Moderate politicians, human rights activists, representatives of threatened groups and members of the independent media can be provided increased security.

Encouraging responses have come from the international community, the electorate, business leaders and government officials. German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the racist and far-right violence displayed in Charlottesville, and UK Prime Minister Theresa May harshly criticized Trump’s use of moral equivalence. More recently, Pope Francis and the governments of various countries have spoken out about US family separation practices.

The recent withdrawal of the US from the UN Human Rights Council suggests that international pressure may not be effective. Domestic actors may have more luck.

Individuals and groups are following the recommendations presented in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s guide to combating hate in supporting victims, speaking up, pressuring leaders and staying engaged. Business leaders have also expressed their discontent with Trump’s polarizing statements and actions. The American Academy of Pediatrics has gone so far as to label the immigrant family separations a form of mass child abuse.

Local governments are struggling to maintain their status as sanctuary cities or cities of resistance. These cities try to provide refuge for immigrants despite ICE raids and arrests. The general public and politicians of both parties and at all levels are speaking out about the separations, and it appears they may be heard.

In our assessment, these actions represent essential forms of resistance to the movement toward escalating atrocities. The executive order issued by President Trump this week provides the elected representatives in Congress with an important opportunity. Will they be complicit in or act to prevent further atrocities?

It also provides the general public an opportunity to strongly assert a commitment to human rights. How Congress responds will be a clear indicator of whether our democratic checks and balances are functioning to stop atrocities from escalating, or whether we are continuing down a dangerous path.

The Conversation

The post Preventing Crimes Against Humanity in the US appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Abusive Employers Are Threatening to Call Immigration Authorities on Domestic Workers

Tue, 06/26/2018 - 14:22

Nearly one third of house cleaners in the Texas-Mexico border region say their employers have threatened to report them to immigration authorities, according to a report released June 19 by the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA). Titled “Living in the Shadows,” the study paints a troubling picture of anti-immigrant sentiment within the domestic workplace, finding that employers use workers’ immigrant status to instill fear, as well as coerce and threaten them.

In 2016, three community-based organizations in the borderlands—A.Y.U.D.A. Inc., Fuerza del Valle Workers’ Center and Comité de Justicia Laboral—collaborated and trained 36 surveyors, most of whom were domestic workers themselves, to interview 516 domestic workers. The report is based off of these interviews. According to the surveys, 25 percent of undocumented domestic workers were threatened by their employers, 19 percent were pushed or physically hurt on the job and nearly 50 percent were asked to do work different from what they were hired for. Comparatively, the report finds, their documented counterparts faced these conditions at 10 percent, 6 percent and 18 percent respectively.

Domestic care workers are the backbone of the formal economy, doing the work that allows their employers to attend to their own jobs. They care for elders, disabled people and children, and cultivate functional households. Work in this private and hidden-away field is far less regulated, which leads to unlivable working conditions for the domestic care workforce. On the Texas-Mexico border, the domestic care workplace is flooded with chronic abuse. Twenty-seven percent of undocumented domestic workers said they were yelled at and 12 percent had been physically hurt. And six percent of elder care workers faced sexual assault.

The domestic workforce in the region is largely silenced. The study determines that 45 percent of the domestic workers surveyed did not go to their employers to advocate on their own behalf because they worried they that would lose their jobs. Twenty-nine percent of the total population surveyed feared their hours would be cut, and 26 percent of undocumented workers believed that their complaints would be met with violence. Eight percent of the workers surveyed, reported that an employer told them they could not leave their job if they wanted to, while 6 percent of the total reported than an employer kept their passport, visa or other immigrations papers. 

Elena, 46, is a domestic worker in the Rio Grande Valley and one of the subjects of the report, as well as one of the interviewers. “I heard stories that truly shocked me,” she tells In These Times. “I met one live-in domestic worker whose employer made her sleep in the closet. Women who have been sexually assaulted but couldn’t speak up out of fear of their immigration status being used against them.”

2016 report by NDWA documented that 48 percent of domestic workers surveyed across 14 metropolitan areas are paid an hourly wage that is below the level needed to adequately support a family. Of the women surveyed at the Texas-Mexico border, 24 percent experienced wage theft. Many domestic workers provide round-the-clock service, but the 2018 report found that only 3 percent were paid overtime.

The 2018 study concludes that living conditions are even worse in the borderlands for domestic workers than nationally. Thirty-six percent of the total population surveyed reported that in the past 12 months someone in their house went hungry, compared to 20 percent of national respondents. 

The care economy in the United States is characterized by long hours, low pay, low status and an employer-employee relationship that is private—and often harrowing. At the Texas-Mexico border, these conditions are exacerbated because of local immigration policies. The borderlands have seen an influx of people who seek to escape poverty South of the border to fulfill an ongoing demand of labor in the North. Texas hosts the second-largest undocumented population, with unauthorized immigrants making up more than 8 percent of the entire workforce.

Politically, the Texas government is strappingly anti-immigrant. Sanctuary policies are forbidden among municipalities, colleges and universities. In May 2017, SB4 was signed into law directing local governments and law enforcement to assume responsibility for immigration control, which has since seen a heightened surveillance program on the ground.

Many of the women surveyed live in colonias on the periphery of the major metropolitan areas of Texas. The colonias are sites of poverty and food insecurity and lack access to paved roads, potable water, adequate sewage systems or safe housing.

In These Times spoke with Rosa, 59, who is a part-time domestic worker and community organizer with Fuerza del Valle Workers’ Center. “With this new administration, things have definitely changed. Right now the wall of fear is larger than the wall separating the United States and Mexico,” Rosa said. “Immigrants are under constant surveillance in the colonias with border patrol, police, and the sheriff’s department constantly patrolling. We continue to see more arrests and deportations every day.”

Through grassroots organizing among domestic workers, with the support of the NDWA, and community-based workers’ rights organizations, domestic workers won a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights in New York (2010), Hawaii (2013), California (2014) and Massachusetts (2015). Some hope Texas will be next.

“For six years, I was seeing how domestic workers were organizing in California. And thought, how do we do that here in the valley! This report is allowing us to make public these struggles. I see it as a great step forward for us,” Elena told In These Times.

“This is an important step in raising our voices and making visible the fight for domestic workers’ rights,” Rosa said of the report. “We hope this will push the Texas government to raise the standards in the industry.”

The post Abusive Employers Are Threatening to Call Immigration Authorities on Domestic Workers appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Attorneys Rush to Protect Families as Trump Calls for Stripping Due Process

Tue, 06/26/2018 - 14:13

Legal fights over due process rights for migrants and asylum-seekers who illegally cross the US border are reaching a fever pitch this week on both the national and world stages as President Trump viciously attacked immigrants’ constitutionally mandated due process rights Sunday.

“When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came,” the president tweeted.

Pushing to protect such rights for vulnerable populations arriving at the southern border from Central America, attorneys are in a frantic rush to petition US courts and international governing bodies to halt any further separations and challenge the president’s recent executive order to detain families together.

Trump’s order directs Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials to continue the administration’s draconian “zero-tolerance” policy of criminally prosecuting all undocumented border crossers, and contains exceptions that still allow for the splitting up of families.

While the administration maintains there has been no change in the policy, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said his agency would stop handing over migrants for prosecution until the government decided on a policy that didn’t result in the “extended” separation of families.

Attorneys, however, argue that Trump does not have the legal authority to indefinitely detain families, as his order conflicts with the nearly 20-year-old Flores court agreement requiring that children must be held in the “least-restrictive” conditions possible. In 2015, a federal court ruled that to uphold the older settlement, children must be released from detention jails within 20 days. Trump’s executive power can’t overturn a federal court decision.

Thus, the Justice Department asked Federal Judge Dolly Gee Thursday to alter the settlement to allow the Trump administration to indefinitely detain families after illegally crossing the border. The emergency motion, filed in Los Angeles, seeks to change the provisions of Flores that prohibit detention of migrant children for longer than 20 days, as well as its requirement that children be held in licensed, state-approved daycare-like jails.

Peter Schey, the lead attorney representing migrant children in the Flores case, told The Washington Times he is considering asking the District Court to block any deportation of a parent who has been separated from their child until they can be reunited. Digging in, Schey said that the government’s filing Thursday is “deceptive and dishonest,” and that the administration is trying to deflect blame for separating families after intense public backlash.

Karen Tumlin, director of legal strategy at the National Immigration Law Center concurs, saying that under the general rules of civil procedure, the Trump administration could have at any time requested a modification of the Flores injunction, and could have done so even before it implemented its zero-tolerance policy. “Creating your own crisis by a policy choice to rip families apart, in my mind, doesn’t justify a change in the law,” she told reporters last week.

Trump administration officials have falsely insisted that they have had to separate families under its zero-tolerance policy because of Flores protections. Trump has called the protections “loopholes,” and has blamed Democrats for failing to reverse them, saying the laws “force” the administration to have to separate families under its zero-tolerance policy.

Moreover, as Truthout previously reported in an in-depth piece this month, not only is there no statute mandating that the government criminally charge families who cross the border without permission, there have long been alternatives to both separating families and placing them together in immigrant jails.

The Trump administration shuttered the most humane, least-restrictive alternative program that provided families with social services last June, for instance. The terminated Family Case Management Program and other, similar programs have proven to be cheaper, more legally effective and less of a strain on an already-overburdened immigration system.

Meanwhile, Trump’s executive order has sown confusion among federal officials trying to carry it out at the southern border. The order instructs heads of government agencies to make jail space available for families, including instructing the Department of Defense to “construct such facilities if necessary.” Immigration officials followed the order with a notice Friday seeking up to 15,000 more beds to detain families.

Additionally, the Pentagon told The New York Times that as many as 20,000 migrant children could be incarcerated on four US military bases. Officials, however, didn’t say whether their parents would also be detained on the bases. Worse still, according to documents obtained by Time, the US Navy is planning to construct “temporary and austere” tent cities to detain 25,000 migrants at abandoned airfields on remote bases in California, Alabama and Arizona.

Children and/or families’ time within these new jailing spaces, however, still remains temporary as long as Flores remains intact. Flores attorneys believe the prior legal precedent is in their favor — something Justice Department attorneys may also be wary of, as a Department spokesperson emphasized that the administration’s recent request to alter Flores “is no substitute for a move by lawmakers.”

Congress Seeks Legislative Changes

After rejecting a more hard-line immigration package last week, House lawmakers are expected to vote Wednesday on a “compromise” immigration measure backed by House Speaker Paul Ryan that would codify the president’s order seeking to detain migrant families together indefinitely.

The measure would carve out a path for Dreamers facing the loss of protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to apply for legal status. The bill, however, also includes a promise of more than $23 billion for Trump’s border wall, and would curb authorized family-based immigration. The bill also does nothing to reunify the more than 3,700 children who have been separated from their parents since October.

Before Trump signed the executive order last week, Republicans drafted a new version of the compromise bill that would undo Flores with a provision requiring DHS to keep families together while parents go through legal proceedings. The bill’s latest draft now allocates $7 billion to expand three family detention jails that Immigration and Customs Enforcement already operates.

“[The Ryan-compromise bill] moves toward the idea that ‘OK, we’ll do bigger and better detentions, but we’ll do it around families, and the separations might not occur, but we’re going to ratchet up the detention facilities for for-profit private prisons,'” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona) during a press call.

Additionally, several Republican lawmakers have introduced their own stand-alone bills focusing on how asylum cases are handled at the border. Those bills would mostly keep families together in detention jails while authorizing hundreds of new immigration judges and requiring the DHS to prioritize resolving family cases. If the compromise bill fails — a likely outcome — the House may look to a narrower measure addressing the detention of migrant families.

“I think the entire purpose of this manufactured crisis by the Trump administration was to try to jam through legislation in Congress to give them very broad powers to detain and deport people with no due process or protections,” said Kerri Talbot, legislative director of the immigrant rights advocacy group Immigration Hub.

Flores lead attorney Schey told Huffington Post that even if the compromise bill passed, however, “it wouldn’t have an immediate impact.” Rather, according to Schey, the government would again have to return to court and ask Judge Gee to terminate the settlement, which Schey and his counsel will oppose.

Even if they lose after an appeal, Schey and his team will simply file another lawsuit and put the federal government right back where it started before trying to defeat Flores through legislation. “Even if they succeed in getting some legislation that’s onerous and inhumane, I wouldn’t be surprised if a year or two later we can get it set aside,” Schey said.

Still, Congress maintains broad authority to change immigration laws, making legal challenges more difficult. Ultimately though, Congress cannot pass laws that are ruled unconstitutional, and courts could, in the end, find that lengthy family detentions violate the rights of families — though that process could take years.

“By no means is [the Flores case] the exclusive place where challenges can be brought to the administration. Current and ever-changing challenges can be brought regarding separations, and now family jailing,” Tumlin said. “I think that litigators across the country … will be looking to ensure that the administration is abiding by its duties under the existing [Flores] injunction, under the Constitution and under other federal immigration law.”

Prior Challenge Moves Forward

As Congress and attorneys battle over Flores this week, a separate class-action challenge brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in February over the administration’s practice of separating families could be decided as early as Wednesday.

ACLU lead attorney Lee Gelernt has requested that District Judge Dana Sabraw issue an expedited preliminary injunction forcing the government to immediately halt separations and create a speedy process for reunification since Trump’s order contains broad exemptions and provides no process to reunite families.

The ACLU filed the federal lawsuit in California on behalf of “Ms. L,” a 39-year-old asylum-seeking mother who traveled with her 7-year-old daughter from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Mexico. Ms. L was separated from her daughter shortly after surrendering to immigration agents at the San Ysidro Port of Entry near San Diego in December.

Although Ms. L and her daughter were reunited in March, the class action lawsuit remains ongoing, contending Ms. L’s constitutional right to due process was violated.

On Friday, an attorney for the government confirmed numerous reports that the government has no real mechanism in place for reunification. Attorney Sarah Fabian told the court that there’s no system of communication between the Office of Refugee Resettlement, tasked with the care of separated children, and the detention jails where their parents are incarcerated.

A fact sheet released Saturday by the DHS, however, claims that authorities know the location of all separated children, and are working to reunite them. Still, reports of now-freed migrants who remain unable to find their kids contradict the government’s assertions.

Moreover, the fact sheet sparked further controversy by outlining that parents who sign a “voluntary departure order” green lighting their own deportation can expect to be reunited with their children.

“We have no reason to believe that [voluntary deportation] is the fastest way for parents to be reunited with their children,” Efrén Olivares, an attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project, told reporters on Sunday. “Putting them in that position is not a voluntary [deportation]; it’s being obtained under duress.”

The Justice Department has until Wednesday afternoon to respond to the ACLU’s request for a preliminary injunction.

International Lawyers Join the Fray

Legal battles are also playing out at the international level this week.

Last month, the Texas Civil Rights Project, Women’s Refugee Commission and the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, among others, filed emergency request to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to put a stop to the administration’s practices. The request was filed on behalf of five parents who had been separated from their young children by CBP officials in South Texas.

The IACHR followed up on that request Friday, demanding details about the Trump administration’s treatment of separated children and the reunification process, including details about the locations of separated families, their psychological state and conditions inside the federal jailing spaces in which they are being detained. The government likewise has until Wednesday to respond, but can file for an extension.

“This demand for answers by the Inter-American Commission represents a key first step toward rendering a decision that could lead to stopping the Trump administration’s inhumane and illegal practices,” Texas Civil Rights Project’s Olivares said Sunday. “The Commission has asked the government to provide the justification for separating the children from their parents. … So, we’ll see how the State Department responds to that question.”

The United States is a founding member of the Organization of American States, from which the IACHR draws its jurisdiction, and its decisions are binding for signatory members. Still, the IACHR has no international enforcement mechanism, and the Trump administration has recently dismissed other international governing bodies.

The administration left the United Nations Human Rights Council last week after a UN special rapporteur on the rights of migrants issued a strongly worded statement condemning the practice of separating families, and urging the government to reunite families.

In response to the UN’s criticism of the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy, among other long-standing international issues, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, claimed the international community is disproportionately focused on Trump’s actions while ignoring the “reprehensible human rights records of several members of its own Human Rights Council.”

According to Olivares, however, the UN could still request to visit detention jails and interview state officials. Responding to Truthout’s question about whether the legal organizations would file a separate petition to the IACHR challenging the conditions of detention if the Flores settlement is overturned or modified, Olivares said attorneys “will review each development as it comes.”

Still, immigrant rights advocates and attorneys continue to stress that, instead of any legislative or legal action that would kill Flores and detain families together indefinitely, the Trump administration must simply reverse its zero-tolerance policy.

The post Attorneys Rush to Protect Families as Trump Calls for Stripping Due Process appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Un-American Invasion

Tue, 06/26/2018 - 13:59

The post Un-American Invasion appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Supreme Court’s “Janus” Ruling Will Hurt Children

Tue, 06/26/2018 - 13:51

If the Supreme Court rules against workers in Janus v. AFSCME, it will hurt children at a time when it’s become shamefully commonplace for our government to abuse those of a tender age.

Pushing the Janus case to a compliant Supreme Court is the conservative movement’s counterpunch against the collective power of working people. But as is so often the case, when rightwing billionaires take a swing at a progressive cause, they hit children too.

The case targets public employees – such as teachers, custodians, cafeteria employees, and daycare workers – and the so-called “agency” or “fair-share” fees they pay to their unions in 22 states.

The defendant, AFSCME, wants to preserve the union’s right to charge the fees to workers who choose not to join but are still represented by the union in collective bargaining. The defendant contends all workers gain from the bargaining the union does for salaries and other benefits, so paying the fees is fair.

The plaintiff, Janus, argues these policies violate free speech because workers are forced to pay money to a group that advocates for causes they may not support.

A Blow to Teachers’ Unions

There’s little doubt a ruling in favor of Janus will weaken the power of public-sector workers to organize for the public good. The impact will be a particularly staggering blow to teachers’ unions.

Teachers’ unions will likely lose revenues due to workers who opt not to pay the fees, and fewer workers paying fees likely will lead to losses in membership.

An analysis by education reporter Madeline Will in Education Week notes leaked reports from the National Education Association and the California teachers union have revealed those organizations are likely anticipating large losses of revenue and members.

Will also points to an analysis of steep declines in teacher union strength in Michigan and Wisconsin after those states passed legislation that prohibited unions from collecting agency fees from non-members.

In a different article, Will finds strong evidence “teachers who do not belong to their unions see value in the organizations, but still say they would opt out of paying mandatory fees if given the choice.”

What does this have to do with children?

Impact on Children

Because school teachers have become society’s first responders, anything that diminishes their voices diminishes advocacy for children. Because public schools remain one of the few truly public institutions, the social and economic ills in society show up in schools first, when students come to school with signs of the ravages of poverty and malnourishment, lack of access to health care, and the stresses of living in homes where adults are hard pressed to make ends meet or family members are undocumented or incarcerated.

Teachers who’ve recently walked out of classrooms, shut down schools, and held huge rallies at state capitals in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Colorado, Arizona, and North Carolina have showed the power of teacher voice. “They were not just fighting for their own self-interest,” write Keron Blair and Jay Travis, the co-directors of Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, a civil rights and public education advocacy group. “They were fighting for better schools. Their protests pulled back the curtain on decades of policy decisions that have stripped public schools of resources.”

Teachers have engaged in these disruptions and won concessions without angering the general populace. Nearly two-thirds Americans approve of national teacher unions, according to a recent poll.

But the benefits of teachers’ unions, and unions of all kinds, to the wellbeing of children go beyond the advocacy teachers engage in for their schools and their students.

Unions Are Good for Kids

A 2015 study found strong empirical evidence that unions may help children move up the economic ladder.

According to the study, the New York Times reports, “Children born to low-income families typically ascend to higher incomes in metropolitan areas where union membership is higher. The size of the effect is small, but there aren’t many other factors that are as strongly correlated with mobility.”

The positive impact of unions on children’s upward mobility isn’t exclusive to low-income children, the Times reporters note, and they extend beyond families with union workers to nonunion families too.

“We’ve seen the strength of unions in action, particularly for working women and mothers like us,” write two California educators in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Daily News. Because unions have fought and won concessions on benefits like employee guaranteed sick time, parents can care for their sick children and attend teacher conferences.

Because of union advocacy, they note, “African-American union members today earn 14.7 percent more – and Latino union workers 21.8 percent more – than their nonunion counterparts. And union membership is even more beneficial for women of color. African-American women in unions earn an average of $21.90 an hour while nonunion women earn $17.04. For Latina union members, the difference is even greater.”

All About Politics

Many have noted the Janus case has more to do with politics than principles.

The point of contention in the case is actually already a settled matter. A previous case in 1977, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, supported union agency fees for the very same reasons the Janus defendant is arguing. But activist judges appointed to the court by Republicans have been signaling for years their ambition to overturn the 1977 decision should the right case come along.

Also, the Janus case has been financed by a small group of foundations with ties to powerful rightwing billionaires including the Koch Brothers and the DeVos family who want to weaken the bargaining power of all workers, shred the safety net, abolish the minimum wage, and privatize the public sector, including our schools. They’re attacking public sector workers because it’s the sector with the highest union density, and curtailing union clout will have a direct impact on electing fewer progressive candidates to political office.

Swing at Workers, Hit Children

As the Times article points out, “It is well established that unions provide benefits to workers – that they raise wages for their members (and even for nonmembers). They can help reduce inequality.”

Unions are very effective at pushing the political system to deliver policies like a higher minimum wage. And as we’ve seen with the results of the teacher walkouts this spring, the collective power of teachers can be very effective at forcing state governments to spend more on schools and other government programs.

The Janus case represents the culmination of the conservative movement’s decades-long effort to strike at the heart of workers’ ability to organize, as well as their long march to stack the Supreme Court with an arch-conservative majority that will prove pliant to their wishes.

As they drive forward with their eyes on this long-desired prize, children are the collateral damage, caught under the treads of this slow-moving, deadly machine.

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Categories: News

EPA Will Finally Strengthen Standards Protecting Children From Lead

Tue, 06/26/2018 - 13:47

After working to systematically roll back environmental protections nationwide, the Trump administration has announced plans to strengthen Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards that protect children from hazardous lead dust in aging homes and public housing units — but only after being sued by environmentalists and ordered to do so by a federal appeals court.

The EPA announced on Monday a proposal to strengthen its standards for lead dust on floors and windowsills for the first time since 2001. The number of children with elevated levels of lead in their blood has declined over the past two decades, thanks in part to the dust standards and rules removing lead from gasoline. However, the science around lead exposure has also evolved to show that the heavy metal can impact human health at lower levels than previously thought.

Lead is a potent neurotoxin, particularly in children. Even low levels of lead in the blood have been shown to affect a child’s ability to pay attention and perform well on tests. Lead dust tends to be a particular concern in older homes and public housing units built before 1978, when regulators began restricting the amount of lead in lead-based paints. More than 25 million older housing units across the United States contain lead paint, according to the environmental group Earthjustice.

In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics said most of the EPA’s current lead paint and dust standards followed by regulators, federal housing officials and home renovators provide only “an illusion of safety” because the most recent science shows that there is no safe level of lead exposure for children.

The EPA’s announcement comes on the heels of two reports issued last week by federal watchdogs showing that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) failed to protect thousands of children living in subsidized housing from potential exposure to lead dust and to properly respond to reports of childhood lead poisoning. Lead in aging public housing buildings has long been a nationwide concern, and the reports confirm that HUD’s programs for identifying and eliminating sources of lead lack proper oversight and transparency.

Despite the advances in the scientific understanding of lead exposure, advocates say the EPA dragged its feet on updating its dust standards for years. In 2009, the EPA granted a citizens’ petition to update its lead dust standards and agreed to initiate rulemaking proceedings. Years passed, and the EPA failed to set new standards.

In 2016, environmental justice groups filed a lawsuit against the EPA claiming the agency’s inaction was putting children in danger, particularly those living in public housing, low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. In such neighborhoods, direct lead exposure from paint chips and dust can be compounded by soil contaminated by lead left over from industrial facilities and cleanup sites, which are disproportionately placed near areas where people of color tend to live.

“In litigation, EPA insisted that its protracted timeline was perfectly reasonable and that it would need at least another six years to reach a final rulemaking,” said Hannah Chang, an attorney for Earthjustice, one of the organizations that filed the 2016 lawsuit. “Without the litigation and the court’s order, we’d still be faced with the prospect of this effectively indefinite delay.”

In December 2017, a the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the EPA to propose a rule revising its 2001 standards for lead dust, nearly a decade after advocates for low-income children began petitioning the agency to update the rules. The court gave the EPA 90 days to roll out the proposal, which was finally unveiled on Friday.

Chang said she is happy that the EPA is finally moving to update its lead dust standards, but concerns remain over what concentrations of lead meet the agency’s definition of “lead-based paint.” Under current definitions, which the EPA has proposed to leave unchanged, it’s possible for paint with banned levels of lead to be present in a home but not disclosed to a new owner or lessor, according to Earthjustice.

“We’re pleased to see that EPA has issued the proposed rule in compliance with the court’s order in our case, but we are concerned, among other things, that the agency is not proposing to update the definition of lead-based paint,” Chang said. “The plaintiff groups will be taking a close look at the proposal and will be weighing in during the public comment period to ensure that the agency enacts standards that actually protect public health.”

The Trump administration is under mounting pressure to do something about lead exposure in homes and drinking water. As Truthout has reported, exposure to lead is a concern wherever lead pipes deliver drinking water, including schools nationwide. Four years after contamination from lead pipes caused a prolonged and painful crisis for residents in Flint, Michigan, officials in that state recently declared federal drinking water standards unsatisfactory and introduced their own plan for reducing lead contamination.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, whose tenure has been marred by scandals, said in a statement on Monday that “reducing childhood lead exposure [is] a top priority” for his agency. However, since taking office in 2017, Pruitt has worked diligently to advance President Trump’s agenda and roll back environmental protections on behalf of polluting industries.

In fact, in 2017 an executive order issued by President Trump required the EPA to consider gutting the lead dust standards it is now working to update as part of a broader deregulatory push. In a public hearing last July, representatives from construction and remodeling industries that are expected to adhere to the standards lined up to offer their comments, with many supporting the EPA’s current rules and training programs for removing lead dust hazards, if not calling for them to be strengthened, according to a transcript.

The post EPA Will Finally Strengthen Standards Protecting Children From Lead appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Trump Is Handing Us the Weapon We Need to Avert Climate Catastrophe

Tue, 06/26/2018 - 13:38

Recently, President Trump launched his latest scheme to keep imperiled coal and nuclear plants kicking. According to a memo obtained by Bloomberg News, the Department of Energy (DOE) plans to use Cold War-era authorization to require grid operators to buy energy generation from “at-risk” coal and nuclear facilities. News reports have breathtakingly referred to this plan as “nationalization.” In reality, it is just another bailout of a failing private industry.

Just a few months ago, energy regulators denied the Trump administration’s efforts to modify energy markets to benefit coal and nuclear power in the name of grid reliability. The administration is now seeking to use broad powers given to the president in the 68-year-old Defense Production Act to override those decisions. The Act allows the president to either nationalize vital companies or require purchasers to contract with them in order to avert a national security catastrophe.

Trump’s plan uses his authority under this Act to require grid operators to buy enough energy from the plants to stop any “further actions toward retirements, decommissioning, or deactivation” for two years while the DOE conducts additional grid resilience studies.

The circulated DOE memo argues that coal and nuclear power plants secure grid resilience because they store fuel on site, unlike renewables or gas (a claim disputed by grid regulators), and “too many of these fuel-secure plants have retired prematurely and many more have recently announced retirement.” Therefore, the administration insists, the federal government must manage the decommissioning and “stop the further premature retirements of fuel-secure generation capacity.”

This is crony capitalism at its worst. The proposal was actually put forth by FirstEnergy, a for-profit electric utility in Ohio, in a thinly veiled attempt to get the government to subsidize its failing business model. Unable to compete with increasingly cheaper, cleaner sources of energy such as renewables, energy corporations like FirstEnergy are using their political power to extract a public bailout.

As was the case with the big Wall Street banks 10 years ago, this plan once again exposes the dangerous myth of the supposed superiority of free markets and for-profit, corporate forms of ownership. In reality, corporations have long known that in US capitalism, they can extract as much profit as possible when times are good and rely on the government to protect them against losses when the going gets rough.

A Real Nationalization Plan

In some regards, the Trump administration is right. The United States is facing an energy catastrophe that is likely going to require decisive and dramatic government intervention (and soon).

However, the real catastrophe is climate disruption from anthropogenic carbon emissions, almost entirely due to the very industry Trump is trying to protect. Last year was not only the second-hottest year on record, but the most costly — with damages from natural disasters mounting to $309.5 billion. Fossil fuel companies show no signs of stopping extraction, adding new reserves to their portfolio year-in and year-out, exactly at the moment when our window for action is rapidly closing.

Unable to compete with renewables, energy corporations are using their political power to extract a public bailout.

Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, estimates that stranded assets put as much as one-third of global wealth, including pension funds, at risk. Rather than saving old and failing fossil-fuel infrastructure, as the Trump administration is proposing, we actually need to hasten their decommissioning process.These companies’ coordinated inaction on climate disruption has also created a financial threat. Their amassing of stranded assets (assets that cannot be burned without locking in disastrous warming) was estimated by Citi Group to potentially amount to as much as $100 trillion, a sum significantly greater than the global losses from the 2007-2008 financial crisis.

A real nationalization plan could be used as a tool to expressly manage a rapid and crucial decline of fossil fuels. To date, policies designed to mitigate climate change have been incremental and piecemeal — afraid to displease fossil fuel companies that bankroll both sides of the political aisle. Instead of subsidizing an extractive and climate-threatening industry, a plan should be developed that puts all fossil fuel infrastructure — from extraction to power plant and anything in between — into public hands. This would remove one of the greatest roadblocks for climate action in United States today.

Shifting away from the state-owned enterprises of the past, a nationalized fossil-fuel industry should harken a new era of public ownership. Participatory planning, transparency and accountable leadership would allow the public to play an active role in transitioning the energy system. Through public ownership, the government would work alongside communities and workers directly affected by fossil fuel extraction to define a plan for a rapid winding down of its dirty assets in a just and equitable way.

This is not as far-fetched as it seems. In the UK, the British Labour Party’s recent manifesto, “For the Many, Not the Few,” pledged to nationalize the grid to fulfill its energy policy principles of energy security, affordability and climate change targets. As Party leader Jeremy Corbyn recently put it,

Transforming the grid will require investment and planning on a scale that is simply not happening under the current system…. We need public ownership and democratic control to make that happen and use the skills and knowledge of the workforce and communities across the country…. In public hands, under democratic control, workforces and their unions will be the managers of this change, not its casualties.

In fact, nationalization could be taken a step beyond the Labour Party’s manifesto, to enable public control across the full supply chain for all fossil fuels. In other words, the US should not only nationalize FirstEnergy’s power plants, but also ExxonMobil’s offshore drilling sites, Murray Energy’s coal mines and Energy Transfer Partners’ pipelines.

A Just Transition

Under public democratic control, the US fossil-fuel industry could strategically divert investments from its dirty assets — consequently managing the decline of fossil-fuel supply — into green assets, expanding the creation of new large-scale projects, such as offshore wind.

Rather than saving old and failing fossil-fuel infrastructure, we actually need to hasten their decommissioning process.

Not only could this help the United States accelerate renewable energy, it could create pathways for good-paying jobs. Particularly, it could help to ensure that 80,000 coal mine workers and many others involved in the fossil-fuel industry (who Trump claims to be eager to help) get the fair and equitable chance for employment they deserve in an industry that does not destroy their health.

Keeping unburnable carbon in the ground while at the same time scaling up renewable sources of energy so as to not disrupt supply and ensuring jobs and investment for fossil-fuel-reliant communities is going to require a serious and well-managed transition plan. Public ownership of fossil-fuel companies can help make that process easier to navigate and more accountable to the public.The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was created through the New Deal to invest in the impoverished Tennessee Valley region and provides an example for larger-scale energy generation that could be invigorated with a 21st century public ownership. While far from perfect (including on ecological grounds), the TVA employed thousands of people, and could be a model for a just transition that includes renewable energy and democratic participation. The publicly run company still operates today, providing energy to municipally owned utilities and millions of residents in the region.

It is time to move beyond crony capitalism’s attempts to extend the lifetime of a dying industry and toward a real democratic nationalization plan that will make way for a system based on renewable energy.

The post Trump Is Handing Us the Weapon We Need to Avert Climate Catastrophe appeared first on Truthout.

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