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Updated: 1 hour 34 min ago

Trump Faces Probe Into Tax Fraud Following New York Times Exposé

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 15:46

The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance has opened an investigation into President Trump for fraud and tax evasion following a major exposé by the New York Times revealing that Trump inherited nearly half a billion dollars of his family’s wealth through tax dodges and outright fraud. New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio has also called for a city probe, and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden has urged the IRS to investigate the president. The Times’ 13,000-word investigative report found the late Fred and Mary Trump transferred more than $1 billion in wealth to their children, paying less than 5 percent of the $550 million in taxes they should have paid under inheritance tax rates. Donald Trump also helped his parents undervalue real estate holdings by hundreds of millions of dollars on IRS tax returns in order to reduce taxes. We speak with David Barstow, three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for The New York Times and the lead author on the new investigation, “Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Schemes as He Reaped Riches From His Father.” Barstow shares a byline with Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner.

Please check back later for full transcript.

The post Trump Faces Probe Into Tax Fraud Following New York Times Exposé appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Kavanaugh Is a Threat to All of Us. We’re Walking Out in Protest.

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 15:40

The International Women’s Strike (IWS) organization is calling for a National Walkout from all work, waged and unwaged, today, October 4, at 4:00 pm to protest the potential appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Several national organizations, including the Democratic Socialists of America and the National Lawyers Guild, have joined with us to organize against this threat.

The overwhelming response to the call has made all of us — and especially those of us who are survivors of sexual assault — feel validated and hopeful. Today people will be demonstrating in more than 30 cities. We have been flooded with solidarity messages from women who are breaking their silence about sexual violence in one of the most powerful ways possible: by taking to the street.

I, along with millions of other women, watched the extraordinarily brave testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford last week. I cried with her and raged for her. But I did not need her to testify on national television, before a hostile group of powerful (mostly white) men, to believe her story.

Christine Blasey Ford had nothing to gain from choosing to appear before the world. Indeed, the death threats and the loss of privacy for herself and her family show that she has suffered enormously because her life and her past have been opened up in this way.

Why is she doing this?

She is coming forward for us, and for every girl and every woman who is to come after us.

The battle over Kavanaugh’s nomination is about his history of sexual violence, but it is also about the future. His appointment would solidify policies that would produce the conditions for continued assault and misogyny on a larger scale. Let us look at just two examples.

Kavanaugh is a threat to abortion rights. In this country 49 percent of those seeking abortions live below the official poverty line, while another 26 percent are low income. These figures are further inflected by race. About two-thirds of those seeking abortion are women of color. So, let us look at this picture again: Brett Kavanaugh — a rich, white, ruling-class man — could be in a position of power to prevent access to abortion services for millions, but primarily for poor women of color.

He is also a threat to unions. He has consistently favored bosses against workers in his courtroom. Labor concerns include gender equity issues, such as equal wages, secure pensions, affordable health care (including abortion), the right to a robust public school network, and protections for workers, both documented and undocumented. These are all labor issues. Weakened unions and non-unionized workplaces make women more vulnerable to sexual assaults in the workplace and make it harder for them to leave abusive domestic relations at home. We need more unions to be aware of this deep connection between workplace conditions and the threat of gender violence, and to fight collectively to address both. What we do not need is a privileged Supreme Court judge either stopping workers from unionizing or strengthening the power of employers.

Brett Kavanaugh is not just a personal threat to Dr. Ford and Deborah Ramirez. He is a public threat to all women and working people in this country.

Kavanaugh has a similarly worrisome record on immigrant rights and the rights of disabled people, and given his commitment to “race-neutral” (i.e., discriminatory to people of color) policies I am pretty clear on how he will react when we lose another Tamir Rice or Trayvon Martin to police or vigilante violence. Everyday institutional racism and open racist violence on the streets are the lived reality of people of color in this country. Anyone who can be “race-neutral” in the face of that is anything but neutral.

Brett Kavanaugh is not just a personal threat to Dr. Ford and Deborah Ramirez. He is a public threat to all women and working people in this country.

We cannot rely on politicians or the FBI to save us.

This is a moment of reckoning. If Kavanaugh is confirmed, for years to come, he will have the power to decide our fates. Brett Kavanaugh’s life — nurtured in a haze of entitlement and misogyny — and Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination — strengthening the structures of such entitlement — expose the undemocratic character of the justice system. This justice system that overwhelmingly incarcerates Black and Brown people and exonerates white police officers who execute them, that always teeters on the brink of overturning Roe v. Wade, and that just attacked union rights in the Janus v. AFSCME decision, is not our ally. We cannot rely on it, and we cannot rely on politicians or the FBI to save us.

Our strength and our power lie in collective action. Women’s labor, paid and unpaid, runs this world and sustains it. Today, by walking out, we withdraw that labor until our lives, our work, our narratives are given the dignity and respect they deserve.

Today we stand with all survivors, till that category — survivor — is relevant no more.

The post Kavanaugh Is a Threat to All of Us. We’re Walking Out in Protest. appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

FBI’s Kavanaugh Probe Denounced as “Sham” as Witnesses Go Ignored

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 14:48

With the report summarizing the FBI’s less-than-a-week-long probe into sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh now in the hands of the Senate Judiciary Committee, his accusers as well as witnesses to the events—not to mention outraged lawmakers and public citizens — are speaking out forcefully Thursday morning to decry the entire process as a “sham” and a “charade” in which those with the most to offer investigators were clearly ignored and the constraints set by the White House more obvious than ever.

Calling into question the entire probe, lawyers for Dr. Christine Blasey Ford issued a statement late Wednesday confirming their client, who herself offered credible testimony about Kavanaugh assaulting her while in high school, was never contacted or interviewed by the FBI nor were numerous witnesses they might have corroborated her claims.

“An FBI supplemental background investigation that did not include an interview of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford — nor the witnesses who corroborate her testimony — cannot be called an investigation,” said the statement. “We are profoundly disappointed that after the tremendous sacrifice she made in coming forward, those directing the FBI investigation were not interested in seeking the truth.”

Interviewing the accuser & accused is Investigation 101. It is absolutely necessary to follow up on leads & corroborate details. The fact the FBI has not been authorized to take basic steps demonstrates the WH is turning this investigation into a sham & charade.

— Richard Blumenthal (@SenBlumenthal) October 3, 2018

While Kavanaugh’s freshman-year roommate James Roach came forth Wednesday night, both in an op-ed in Slate and with an interview on CNN, to say unequivocally that Kavanaugh lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee while under oath, he says the FBI refused to interview him.

“I saw him do the stuff that he said under oath that he didn’t do. I saw him use words in a different way than he said under oath they were used.”

Brett Kavanaugh’s Yale roommate, Jamie Roche, says he is in a “singular position” to speak to the integrity of his Senate testimony

— Anderson Cooper 360° (@AC360) October 4, 2018

Offering a widely-shared reaction, Joe Lockhart, a political commentator for CNN, said in response: “Kavanaugh’s college roommate tells CNN tonight that the FBI, over 6 separate background checks, never interviewed him. This is all a sham.”

In the dead of night, the White House announces that the FBI has completed its investigation. Dozens of people who could provide additional information weren’t contacted. Investigators weren’t even allowed to interview Kavanaugh or Ford. If this isn’t a sham I don’t know what is.

— Robert Reich (@RBReich) October 4, 2018

Relatedly, in a follow-up reporting by The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow published just before midnight on Wednesday, Debbie Ramirez — the Yale classmate of Kavanaugh’s who claimed that the nominee thrust his penis into her face while at a drunken party — said that while she was interviewed by federal agents, very few of the corroborating witnesses she provided, or that otherwise came forward, were contacted or deposed.

“I am very alarmed, first, that I was denied an F.B.I. investigation for five days, and then, when one was granted, that it was given on a short timeline and that the people who were key to corroborating my story have not been contacted,” Ramirez told The New Yorker. “I feel like I’m being silenced.”

According to Mayer and Farrow:

President Trump said that the Bureau should be able to interview “anybody they want within reason,” but the extent of the constraints placed on the investigating agents by the White House remained unclear. Late Wednesday night, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the F.B.I. probe was over and cleared the way for an important procedural vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination to take place on Friday. NBC News reported that dozens of people who said that they had information about Kavanaugh had contacted F.B.I. field offices, but agents had not been permitted to talk to many of them. Several people interested in speaking to the F.B.I. expressed exasperation in interviews with The New Yorker at what they perceived to be a lack of interest in their accounts.

While the White House has already begun leaking its assessment of the FBI report, leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein, will be the first members of the Senate to review it on Thursday morning followed by Republicans on the committee, then Democrats on the committee, and finally all Senate members. Despite their ability to read and review the documents, however, lawmakers are forbidden from releasing its contents to the public.

More troubling for critics is that even before Grassley received the report he went ahead and scheduled a procedural cloture vote for Kavanaugh, that is now set for Friday.

BREAKING: @SenateMajLdr McConnell just filed cloture on Kavanaugh’s #SCOTUS nomination before senators have had a chance to read and assess the FBI report. This power play demonstrates McConnell is more interested in hiding the truth than protecting the Supreme Court’s integrity.

— The Leadership Conference (@civilrightsorg) October 4, 2018

Amid all this, Sen. Patrick Leahy, the longest-serving member from either party on the committee, issued an epic mega-thread on Wednesday evening that lays out all the ways in which Kavanaugh has a serious and documented “veracity problem” that cannot simply be swept under the rug.

“I’ve pulled it all together and summarized it here,” announced Leahy. “With so much at stake in this lifetime appointment, the American people, and the Senate, need to know.”

After laying out his case in great detail, Leahy concluded:

BOTTOM LINE: It’s not just “Bart O’Kavanaugh,” or minimizing his contemporaneous drinking or misogyny in his yearbook. On issues big and small, anytime Judge Kavanaugh is faced with an incriminating or difficult question under oath, he cannot be trusted to tell the truth.

— Sen. Patrick Leahy (@SenatorLeahy) October 3, 2018

As Gowri Ramachandran and James Sample, law professors at Southwestern Law School and Hofstra Law School respectively, wrote in an op-ed for NBC News, “For a nominee to the nation’s highest court, an arms-length relationship with truth ought to be disqualifying in itself. Period.”


The post FBI’s Kavanaugh Probe Denounced as “Sham” as Witnesses Go Ignored appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Five Reasons Why the GOP Is Rushing to Confirm Kavanaugh

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 14:33

After Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, Trump and the GOP leadership mounted a full-court press to ram through his confirmation before October 1, the first day of the Court’s new term.

Why the rush?

In part they want Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court before the November 6 midterm elections. If the Democrats achieve a majority in the Senate, there may not be sufficient votes to confirm him.

But the hurry to get Kavanaugh confirmed has more to do with the cases on the Supreme Court’s docket: Republicans are hoping to ensure the outcome of several hot-button cases, including those involving double jeopardy, immigration, age discrimination and the Endangered Species Act. Moreover, there is the possibility that the Supreme Court could also decide to take up additional cases affecting gerrymandering, gay and transgender rights, and the separation of church and state.

Below is an in-depth explanation of these top five reasons for the GOP’s rush to confirm Kavanaugh in time for him to affect the cases currently on the Supreme Court docket.

1) Double Jeopardy

Potentially most consequential for Trump is the case of Gamble v. US, which could affect his ability to pardon his associates, and even himself. On June 4, 2018, Trump tweeted, “I have the absolute right to PARDON myself.”

The pardon power, located in Article II, section 2 of the Constitution, says, “The president … shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” It limits the president’s pardon power to federal offenses.

In Gamble v. US, the justices will decide whether prosecuting a person in both state and federal courts for the same crime violates the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which states, “No person shall … be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb …”

For 150 years, the Supreme Court has held that state and federal courts are separate sovereigns, so a person can be prosecuted in both jurisdictions. After the police officers who beat Rodney King were acquitted in state court, they were tried and convicted in federal court.

If the Court follows its long-standing precedent, Trump could exercise his pardon power in federal proceedings but not in subsequent state proceedings for the same offense. Even if Trump were to pardon Paul Manafort, who was convicted of fraud in federal court, New York and Virginia state prosecutors could still bring charges against him.

Republicans are hoping to ensure the outcome of several hot-button cases, including those involving double jeopardy, immigration, age discrimination and the Endangered Species Act.

It is not settled whether a sitting president can be indicted for a criminal offense. A presidential self-pardon is unprecedented. But if Trump were charged in a federal prosecution and he endeavored to pardon himself, the state of New York could then file criminal charges against him regarding the same matter. Under current law, Trump would be powerless to pardon himself in the state case.

If the justices narrow the scope of the Double Jeopardy Clause, however, state authorities would not likely be able to file criminal charges after Trump had exercised his pardon power in a federal case regarding the same matter.

Kavanaugh has said a sitting president should not be “distracted” by having to answer to a civil or criminal case, notwithstanding the Court’s ruling in Clinton v. Jones. He has demonstrated extreme deference to presidential power and would likely vote to limit the criminal exposure of Trump and his associates.

2) Immigrants’ Rights

The justices will decide in Nielson v. Preap whether the government can detain immigrants for the duration of their deportation proceedings, without a hearing, because they have past criminal records.

Kavanaugh’s record demonstrates contempt for immigrants’ rights.

In Garza v. Hargan, Kavanaugh wrote in dissent that the majority was creating “a new right for unlawful immigrant minors in US government detention to obtain immediate abortion on demand.” He would have imposed an even longer waiting period on a 17-year-old undocumented immigrant who had fulfilled all state requirements to secure an abortion.

Kavanaugh voted in Agri Processor v. NLRB to annul the results of a union election, charging it was “tainted” by immigrants’ votes.

And in Fogo de Chao v. Department of Homeland Security, Kavanaugh ruled against granting special visas to Brazilian workers in cases where US workers could perform the same jobs.

Kavanaugh would likely vote to uphold mandatory detention of immigrants in the pending case.

3) Age Discrimination

In Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido, the Supreme Court will determine whether the Age Discrimination in Employment Act applies to state and local employers who have less than 20 employees.

After the Mount Lemmon Fire District in Arizona laid off John Guido and Dennis Rankin, the district’s two oldest employees, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) concluded that the district had engaged in employment discrimination. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the EEOC, but since there is a split of authority among the courts of appeals on the parameters of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

Kavanaugh’s employment decisions favor employers over employees. He would likely rule against Guido and Rankin in the case pending before the Supreme Court.

4) Endangered Species Act

The first case argued before the Supreme Court on October 1 was Weyerhaeuser Co. v. US Fish and Wildlife Service. It pits the fate of the dusky gopher frog — an endangered species — against private property rights. The case also raises the issue of when courts should defer to rulings of government agencies.

Under the Endangered Species Act, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is charged with identifying species that are endangered and designating “critical habitats” that are “essential for their conservation.”

In this case, the Service designated private property in Louisiana as a “critical habitat” for the endangered frogs. The land is owned by a group of companies, including Weyerhaeuser, which holds a long-term timber lease for the entire area. The designated land contains ephemeral ponds the frogs require in order to breed, even though they don’t live there now. The designation could limit the development of the land and result in a substantial loss of profits, as the companies would be required to replace existing trees with different species, cease timber management activities, and permit the land to be managed and populated with frogs.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Service’s designation, relying on the long-standing “Chevron deference” — a doctrine requiring that when a law is ambiguous, courts must defer to an agency’s reasonable construction of the statute. The question is whether the courts should defer to the Service’s designation of “critical habitat” for the frogs.

Courts that have given deference to agency interpretations ensured essential protections, including deferring to:

– The National Labor Relations Board’s reasonable determination that live-haul workers, who catch and transport live chickens, are employees entitled to protections of the National Labor Relations Act;

– The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) rule requiring states to reduce emissions from power plants that travel across state lines and harm downwind states;

– The Department of Labor’s interpretation of portions of the Black Lung Benefits Act that make it easier for coal miners afflicted with black lung disease to receive compensation; and

– The EPA’s revision of regulations under the Toxic Substances Control Act that provide more protection from exposure to lead paint.

Kavanaugh favors narrowing Chevron deference. He would likely rule against the frogs and in favor of the property owners.

5) Possible Additional Cases Affecting Gerrymandering and More

The Supreme Court may also decide to hear cases involving gerrymandering, church-state separation, and employment discrimination against gay and transgender people.

Kavanaugh’s record on voting rights does not augur well for his willingness to limit gerrymandering that restricts voting rights.

And Kavanaugh consistently scorns the separation between church and state.

Anthony Kennedy, whom Kavanaugh would replace, wrote the Court’s landmark opinions upholding consensual homosexual conduct and same-sex marriage. During his confirmation hearing, Kavanaugh refused to say that Obergefell v. Hodges, in which the Court upheld the right of LGBTQ folks to marry, was correctly decided.

Republicans know that Kavanaugh would provide a reliable vote against immigrants, workers, voters, and gay and transgender people. He would deliver a dependable vote for employers, private property and church-state bonding. The GOP can also rest assured that Kavanaugh would do his best to immunize Trump from criminal liability and enable him to continue their mean-spirited, right-wing agenda.

For these reasons, Trump and the Republicans want Kavanaugh to join the Supreme Court immediately.

The post Five Reasons Why the GOP Is Rushing to Confirm Kavanaugh appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

This Organization Is Trying to Get Hurricane Florence Survivors Home Quicker

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 14:06

After Hurricane Florence made landfall in the Carolinas, the USDA’s Forest Service staff and FEMA coordinated to evacuate and rescue residents. Coaches and students at a school in mountainous Asheville, North Carolina, which was not affected by the storm, collected money and supply donations for neighbors. Volunteer firefighters from Oregon made the trek to North Carolina to help clear debris and deliver meals.

But this is just the beginning for North Carolinians whose homes have been destroyed.

“This deadly storm has left a lasting impact on families, neighborhoods, and communities across a wide swath of our state,” Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement. “Now is the time to pull together to help our fellow North Carolinians recover from Hurricane Florence and rebuild even stronger, and smarter, than before.”

Flooding is ongoing, but after floodwaters have cleared, contractors and volunteers will have to rebuild homes and clean up mold, spillage from septic systems, and other debris.

One group is already preparing its long-term recovery efforts in North Carolina. SBP, formerly known as the St. Bernard Project, was founded in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. The organization has assisted with long-term recovery in at least eight cities affected by other hurricanes or disasters since then, including Houston; Rockaway, New York; and Joplin, Missouri. Now, it’s setting up long-term assistance in North Carolina.

SBP began its efforts by sending a team of five AmeriCorps members and two full-time nonprofit staffers to New Bern, North Carolina, on September 18.

New Bern was hard hit by Hurricane Florence. On Sept. 21, the city of New Bern tweeted that initial assessments showed Hurricane Florence is responsible for $74.5 million in residential damage and $25.6 million in commercial damage.

“New Bern lost more than 4,200 homes during Hurricane Florence, and the area our team is working is a blue-collar community that needs a bunch of assistance,” said Reese May, chief strategy and innovation officer at SBP, noting that the organization likes to send its initial team to areas with the most need.

When a hurricane is looming, SPB staffers are assigned to track the storm and evaluate options for response. They watch for where it might make landfall, which resources the community already has, and which areas might be most affected. The organization seeks out existing partners in the area that can share resources related to preparedness to homeowners.SBP uses a number of interventions for long-term recovery. These include rebuilding homes quickly, training local organizations to clear debris and mold from buildings, and assisting homeowners with securing funds from their insurance company or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It also advises policymakers to get federal dollars out quickly and efficiently.

While SBP now operates in eight cities, where it will stay until disaster-related housing needs have been addressed in those communities, the organization doesn’t retain a force of volunteers and responders. When new disasters happen, they pull full-time staff and members from AmeriCorps, one of the organization’s partners.

Often the communities that need the most assistance—both immediate and long-term—after a disaster are those that are low-income and made up of people of color. The race breakdown in New Bern is 53.5 percent White, 31.4 percent Black, and 6.12 percent Latinx, according to Census data. And the median household income is $41,970, more than $6,000 less than the statewide median of $48,256, according to Census data.

“It’s not surprising that disasters affect richer people less, that they affect communities of color more, said Dr. Jacob Remes, clinical assistant professor of history at New York University’s Gallatin School for Individualized Study. “[It’s] not because disasters are racist or classist but because people with less power are more likely to be in more hazardous locations.”

That was the case in New Orleans, where Hurricane Katrina did the most harm to the working class, who stayed in the Louisiana Superdome, where their health and safety was threatened, for days after the storm. Also, the city’s elderly and Black populations “were much more likely to die than would be expected given their presence in the population,” according to a study published two years after the storm.

Remes, who started studying disasters after Hurricane Katrina, said that until Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, he thought response and recovery efforts had improved since 2006.

In Puerto Rico, racism and imperialism impeded the trend of improved recovery response when a disaster occurs, he said. While Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, a 1901 Supreme Court ruling set a precedent for the island to be denied the same rights as states because of its “alien races, differing from us in religion, customs, laws, methods of taxation, and modes of thought, the administration of government and justice.” The response and recovery efforts after Hurricane Maria were slow. An internal report from FEMA showed that the agency was ill-prepared to help with recovery in Puerto Rico.

Now with Hurricane Florence, individuals, organizations, and governments have a chance to get things right, Remes added.Yet, under the Stafford Act, a law that sets guidelines for the federal response to major disasters, the U.S. government should have treated Puerto Rico like a state.

“If you think about who lives near hog farms and who lives near coal ash dumps, those are created through environmental racism and class inequality,” Remes said, referencing the lagoons of hog waste and the pool of toxic coal ash that have been flooded by hurricane rains in North Carolina. “But I also think that we have the opportunity to say, ‘No, we’re going to try to do better this time.’”

In North Carolina’s census blocks with 80 or more percent people of color, the proportion of those living within 3 miles of an industrial hog operation is two times higher than in blocks with no people of color, according to a 2014 report from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In North Carolina so far, the seven-person team with SBP has led and trained volunteers and organizations to clear out carpet, appliances, and other large debris as well as remove mold from homes that were damaged during the storm.

May said he knows this small team has a limited reach, but that immediate response is helpful as the organization prepares to set up its long-term operating site in the state.

“SBP’s not a disaster-response organization,” May said. “We’re a long-term recovery group. But over the years, we’ve learned that if you don’t get in there quickly, many, many missteps can happen, so we’ve adopted the response phase as well.”

Once the long-term site is set up, SBP will accept applications for recovery assistance from hurricane survivors. The application will take into account both qualitative data about families’ needs and financial background, as well as, “qualitative considerations that get to the health and safety and sustainability of the family’s current condition after the storm,” May said.

Two of the main forms of long-term assistance SBP are to offer will be to rebuild homes and help homeowners obtain payouts from their insurance policies or government agencies, which typically take 12 to 18 months to process.

The nonprofit’s overall mission is to help shrink the amount of time it takes for communities to recover after disaster.

“Mississippi and Louisiana are still recovering [from Hurricane Katrina] and we don’t want that to be the case for New York and New Jersey [after Hurricane Sandy]. We don’t want it to be the case for Houston and South Carolina [after Hurricane Joaquin],” May said. “And we certainly don’t want it to be the case for the folks on the coast of North Carolina right now.”

The post This Organization Is Trying to Get Hurricane Florence Survivors Home Quicker appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The US Missed an Opportunity to Address Inequality During the Great Recession

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 13:44

Janine Jackson: When Donald Trump awarded himself top marks for his administration’s disaster response in Puerto Rico, media had little trouble looking askance, contrasting Trump’s assessment with empirical data and presenting him as, at least potentially, an unreliable narrator.

That critical posture is not much in evidence, though, as Ben Bernanke, Timothy Geithner and Henry Paulson offer their assessment of the country’s financial crisis, the ten-year anniversary of which was marked last month. In an op-ed in the New York Times, the trio of economic decision-makers discuss how, though they “did not foresee the crisis,” they “moved aggressively to stop it,” and now we’re enjoying the effects: banks that are “financially stronger” and regulators “more attuned to system-wide risks.”

Dean Baker is a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC, and author of a number of books, including Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were Structured to Make the Rich Richer. He joins us now by phone. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Dean Baker.

Dean Baker: Thanks for having me on, Janine.

A theme of Paulson and Geithner, Treasury secretaries under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, respectively, and former Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke, in their recent outings, is that they took the hard decisions and were misunderstood. On NPR, Paulson said, “We weren’t doing this for Wall Street,” and Bernanke added, “We didn’t make that case.” So this is referring, of course, to the bailout. Before we talk about the details of that, and the effects of it, that it was necessary to avoid 1929 all over again is taken as a given. But should it be?

No, I was in the middle of this at the time, and it was a very frustrating time for me, because here you had people — certainly these three, Bernanke, Paulson and Geithner at the center of it — who had totally missed the boat on everything that was going on in the economy. They missed the housing bubble. It was easy to see. I was writing about this. I was not the only one, but there, unfortunately, were not a lot of us, and it was in the economic data. So it’s not like I had some magic crystal ball. It was very clear in the data. They completely missed it.

It blows up, leads to financial disaster, which was predictable. Housing’s always a heavily leveraged asset. People typically buy homes with 20 percent off and 10 percent down; during the bubble years, they were often borrowing with zero down. So it’s always a heavily leveraged asset, but especially during the bubble years. It was predictable. Everything about this was totally predictable.

And then, suddenly, when it happens, they go, “Oh, guess what, we have to save the banks.” And they started yelling about, there’s going to be, you know, the economy won’t exist. They were saying stuff like this, these three. Just incredibly irresponsible, outrageous things that had no basis in reality.

And they set this bar that, “If we don’t have a second Great Depression, we’ve succeeded.” And it’s sort of like the Olympic runner going, “Oh, I’m going to have a great mile. I’m going to have a great mile. But the big thing is finishing.” If you’re an Olympic runner, finishing a mile is not an achievement. Avoiding a second Great Depression is not an achievement. It was a total crock, and basically what they were trying to do is save the Wall Street banks.

We had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to let the market work its magic. We’re supposed to have conservatives, people who believe in the market and everything. Let the market work its magic, and in one fell swoop, we would have had the most dramatic financial reform you’d have ever seen. We’d have gotten rid of Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup. We’d have downsized these institutions, and we’d have a financial system that does what it’s supposed to do: serves the real economy. We’d have gotten rid of massive bloat, these outrageous salaries, people getting tens of millions, sometimes hundreds of millions. That would have been gone in a flash, but they wanted to make sure, Geithner, Bernanke and Paulson wanted to make sure, that didn’t happen.

And the current talking point, explicitly: “We weren’t doing this for Wall Street,” Paulson says, but people just somehow didn’t understand that.

It might have helped if they didn’t lie all the time.

Exactly. Exactly.

Well, I certainly remember, also, media at the time about how it might “feel good” to see some folks actually being held accountable, but really, that was just simple-minded vengeance thinking, and, anyway, we’re going to achieve justice, or minimally deterrence, some other way, you know? And the idea was, “Really, it’s too complicated for you to really understand.” But wrongs were committed, were they not? And if that’s that case, what did we see that looked anything like accountability?

You know, the fact that all the same people are still turned to as authorities — certainly these three, but I saw Robert Rubin being prominently cited the other day. Robert Rubin was the person who, in the Clinton administration, was at the center of the movement for deregulation. He was a big proponent of it.

Then in 1998, after arranging to have Glass/Steagall repealed, he went to work for one of the biggest beneficiaries, Citigroup, and was a top executive there, and cleared over $100 million over the next, I guess it would have been, eight years. And, of course, Citigroup is absolutely at the center of the crisis. Might have been a good person to investigate. In fact, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission recommended that, but that didn’t happen.

And, in fact, Eric Holder’s kind of an incredible story. Eric Holder, of course, the first attorney general under President Obama, said, “Well, these institutions, it would be dangerous to the stability of the financial system to go after them,” and then he got questioned about that: “What do you mean, you’re not going to prosecute wrongdoing because you think the financial system — ?” And he said, “Oh, no no no. I didn’t mean that.”

Mr. Holder’s a very intelligent person. He wouldn’t have said something like that unless he meant it. There was no ambiguity in his statement. It’s not like Trump, when he said, “Oh, not,” you know, about Russian involvement in the election.

There was a decision not to prosecute these people, and let me just be real clear, because there’s been a number of people saying, “Oh well, they were fooled by the bubble, as well.” There was actually a study, I think it was done by the Atlanta Fed, that found that a lot of bank executives were heavily involved in real estate; ipso facto, they couldn’t have possibly been doing anything illegal, because they believed the bubble too.

I believe they believed the bubble, but that’s not the issue. The question was, were they following normal legal practices in issuing mortgages and mortgage-backed securities, and selling those mortgage-backed securities? And I’m prepared to say, I don’t think that’s true.

So the fact that they were also deluded…. The guys doing the fraud at Enron, most of them owned huge amounts of Enron stock. They probably, in some way, believed that Enron, at the end of the day, would be a good company. But that doesn’t excuse fraud, and that’s, in effect, the argument that we’re getting here.

I think what’s also being skated over in the conversation, it’s as though it’s all on paper, and we can’t forget the real-life devastation that was wrought by the bubble, and by the pushing of these subprime mortgages, in which black and Latino homeowners were disproportionately affected. So when you get to the New York Times op-ed, again, by this triumvirate, and they say, “The desire to maintain living standards no doubt contributed to a surge in household borrowing before the crisis,” it sounds still a little bit like blaming the victims, to some extent.

Well, look, people made bad choices. They weren’t forced to borrow money; they were encouraged to. And, again, it was Geithner’s job, Bernanke’s job, Paulson’s job to prevent that, and again, they’re acting…. Reading that piece, they go, “We didn’t know.” How on Earth did you not know? The Commerce Department puts out data every month on savings, and that was going through the floor. How could they miss that? Are these guys idiots? I don’t think they are. I’m saying, I’m just pointing out: They didn’t look at what was in front of them.

Or, alternatively, they thought it was just fine. Greenspan actually wrote several pieces with one of the Fed economists, talking about, “Look at this. This is wonderful. People withdrawing equity from their homes. They’re refinancing and withdrawing equity from their homes.”

This was not a surprise. Everyone knew it was going on. They looked at this and said it was fine. So that they would tell us today that, “Oh, you know, people were borrowing more than they could afford to pay back” — that was known at the time, and it was their job to prevent that, and instead they just sat on their hands and said, “This is great.”

What are some of the impacts of the bailout itself, currently — not the crisis, but the response to it? What are some of the effects, that we’re still seeing, of the choices that were made at that time?

There’s two things. One, we have a massively bloated financial sector. So anyone who cares about inequality, if they really care about inequality, they should really be upset about the bailout, because that was a great opportunity to get rid of a lot of the inequality, because a lot of the very richest people in the country, they’re in finance. And the market was going to do it for us, but they wouldn’t let it. So that’s a really big thing.

As an ongoing matter, that’s a really big drain on the economy. If people at the New York banks are drawing salaries of millions, tens of millions, that’s the same impact on the economy as if the government were paying that out. This is a drain on the economy. These people with resources, they drive up rents, they drive up house prices, because they have a ton of money. So that’s a really big issue.

The other thing that I think is hugely important, and can be often overlooked: That really changed people’s attitudes towards the government. Not that they necessarily were warm and fuzzy towards the government, but everyone saw this. It was a massive thing. That, here it is: These guys got themselves in a pickle. No one forced Citigroup to make bad loans. No one forced Goldman Sachs to hold mortgage-backed securities. They acted in very irresponsible ways. Obviously, it hurt millions, tens of millions, in the process, but it was going to put them out of business, and what happens? Government runs to rescue them. So that creates a huge amount of hostility towards the government, both right and left, but the result was that after, as we went into the recession, it was much harder to get support for stimulus, because people didn’t trust the government.

And I don’t know how many times I heard people confusing the bailout with the stimulus. The stimulus was about creating jobs, getting the economy to grow. People confuse the two. I was once on an NPR show, I think it was Kansas City, but it really doesn’t matter where exactly it was, but the point was it was a fairly large city, and an NPR host totally confused the bailout with the stimulus. And it made it very difficult to get support for policies that would have revitalized the economy.

Finally, Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone wrote that, “History is written by the victors, and the banks that blew up the economy are somehow still winning the narrative.” Of course, a lot of that has to do with media coverage and media misunderstanding, as you note, of the crisis and of the response to the crisis. At this point, what can reporters be doing to correct the kind of misrepresentation of this whole set of issues?

It’s a little frustrating. I’d say doing a little homework. I did a paper on the housing bubble and the financial crisis, and I’ve argued strongly that this was about the housing bubble. That’s what gave us the Great Recession; the financial crisis is very much secondary. And I’ve been almost alone on that. I mean, Paul Krugman, obviously a very prominent economist, with a very strong voice in the New York Times, he basically agreed with me 100 percent.

I’m happy to engage in arguments on this. I don’t know anyone who’s got an argument on the other side, because, to my view, the data is just so overwhelmingly on the side that, “Look, it was a housing bubble.”

Just to put it as simply as possible: After the financial crisis had gone away — whatever year you want to pick, 2010, 2011, 2012 — the data looked much more like what it was at the trough of the recession in 2009 than it looked in 2007.

In other words, we had the bubble, it burst, and that was a one-time event. The financial crisis was very much secondary in that story. So I would encourage reporters to do a little homework. I’m happy to plug my paper, just because it’s free. They don’t have to pay anything for it. It’s not long. It’s not complicated. You don’t need a PhD in economics. People really should look at that. The financial crisis is very much secondary. The story was a very big bubble that people like Bernanke, Paulson and Geithner completely missed. It burst, and we paid an enormous price for it.

We’ve been speaking with Dean Baker, co-founder and senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Find their work, including Dean’s Beat the Press blog, at Dean Baker, thank you very much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

Thanks a lot for having me on.

The post The US Missed an Opportunity to Address Inequality During the Great Recession appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Kavanaugh, Continued

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 13:31

The post Kavanaugh, Continued appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Threat to the Obamacare Turns Up the Heat on Attorney General Races

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 13:23

For years, congressional Republicans have vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Now, in a case sending shock waves through midterm election campaigns, Republican attorneys general across the country may be poised to make good on that promise.

The case, Texas v. United States, reveals just how high the stakes are for health care in this year’s attorney general races, elections that rarely receive much attention but have the power to reverberate through the lives of Americans.

“It just shows that nothing is safe,” said Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, who is leading 16 states and the District of Columbia in defending the ACA in the case.

Both parties expect record-breaking fundraising for this year’s 30 contested elections for state attorneys general. Democrats aim to translate public outrage over the threat to the ACA into the votes needed to seize a handful of posts currently held by Republicans.

This will be the first major election since Republicans tore up a deal brokered with Democrats roughly two decades ago not to challenge each other’s incumbents in attorney general races. That gentlemen’s agreement acknowledged the need for attorneys general from both parties to collaborate on investigations and lawsuits.

But some of the same partisan forces that have embittered Capitol Hill have spilled into these contests. With Republicans in control of the executive and legislative branches — and close to staking their claim on the Supreme Court — Democratic attorneys general are seen as a check on Trump administration policies. Similarly, their Republican counterparts frequently took the Obama administration to court.

That pressure is likely to increase should congressional Democrats fail to win control of at least one chamber of Congress in November.

Raphael Sonenshein, the executive director of California State University’s Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs in Los Angeles, compared the politics invigorating state attorneys general to a bar brawl.

“Two people have a fight, and then it spills out into the street, and 20 people join in,” he said. “Everybody gets off the bench and joins the fight.”

A banner on the Democratic Attorneys General Association’s website captures their mindset, while states are busy challenging the Trump administration on issues like sanctuary cities and family separations at the border: “This office has never been more important.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden recently endorsed six attorney general candidates in races Democrats think they can win, including Ohio and Wisconsin, and the association plans to raise a record-breaking $15 million for November’s elections, said Lizzie Ulmer, a spokeswoman for the group.

By mid-June, the Republican Attorneys General Association had raised $26.6 million, continuing to break its fundraising records.

Of this year’s 30 contested attorney general races, 18 posts are held by Republicans and 12 are held by Democrats. (Another five are in play this year, but those posts are appointed by the governor or state lawmakers.)

Unlike in Congress, there is no inherent advantage to one party claiming the majority of attorneys general posts. It takes just one attorney general to file a lawsuit.

But Democratic attorneys general see themselves as a firewall against an administration and their Republican counterparts dead set on revoking many federal protections. In that arena, every lawyer counts.

That is especially the case with health care, where fights over issues like access to abortion have multiplied since President Donald Trump took office, with others liable to end up in the courts at any time.

In September, a federal judge heard arguments in Texas v. United States on the constitutionality of the individual mandate, the ACA’s requirement that all Americans obtain health insurance or pay a penalty.

Citing the law passed late last year that eliminated the penalty, the plaintiffs — a Texas-led coalition of 20 states and two individuals — argued the individual mandate was now unconstitutional. By extension, so was the rest of the ACA, they said. They asked for a preliminary injunction that could halt the sweeping ACA in its tracks — including popular provisions such as protections for people with preexisting conditions.

Ken Paxton, the attorney general of Texas, has defended his decision to challenge protections that have broad support, including among Republicans, saying he has a duty to fight laws that harm Texans and defy the US Constitution.

“The least compassionate thing we could do for those with preexisting health problems is to take away their access to high-quality care from doctors of their own choosing and place them entirely at the mercy of the federal government,” Matt Welch, Paxton’s campaign spokesman, said in a statement.

But the idea that insurers would no longer have to cover those with preexisting conditions has proven explosive, offering Democrats a powerful rallying cry beyond even attorney general races. In Missouri and West Virginia, states that Trump won in 2016 but are represented by Democratic senators, the issue has followed the Republican attorneys general — Missouri’s Josh Hawley and West Virginia’s Patrick Morrisey — as they run for Senate.

“We’re wasting millions and millions of dollars of taxpayer money trying to take away preexisting condition protections not just for all Texans but all Americans,” said Justin Nelson, Paxton’s Democratic challenger, who said he would withdraw Texas from the case should he win his long-shot bid.

In Wisconsin, the Republican attorney general, Brad Schimel, has also taken a leading role in Texas v. United States, as well as a 2016 challenge to a landmark Obama administration rule banning discrimination in health care based on a patient’s gender identity, among other cases.

This year, Schimel has drawn a formidable Democratic challenger, Josh Kaul. He’s a former assistant US attorney who prosecuted federal drug crimes and has promised to focus on the state’s backlog of untested rape kits and take a more aggressive approach to the opioid epidemic. “We’re not going to beat that without ensuring our efforts are targeting large-scale drug traffickers,” he said.

Experts caution a changing of the guard would not spell the end of a big case like Texas v. United States. For instance, even if Paxton were to defy expectations and lose, Texas’ legal and financial backing for the case could easily be picked up by another state.

However, the message voters would send by electing a Democratic attorney general in Texas — where no Democrat has won statewide office since 1994 — could have profound implications for Republican morale.

“Without Ken Paxton leading the charge, many Republicans may soften their opposition to Obamacare,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

The post Threat to the Obamacare Turns Up the Heat on Attorney General Races appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

California’s “Pro-Choice” Governor Vetoes Abortion Access Bill

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 13:16

On the 42nd anniversary of the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for abortions, California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation that would have ensured access to free medication abortion on all 34 of the state’s public university campuses.

Both Brown’s decision to veto and his selection of September 30 — widely described as a “dark day in abortion rights history” — on which to announce the veto were disappointing coming from a governor who describes himself as “pro-choice,” according to abortion rights advocates.

As Truthout reported recently, the College Student Right to Access Act (SB 320) was student-led, funding-neutral legislation sponsored by State Sen. Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) in conjunction with The Women’s Foundation of California — a statewide, publicly supported foundation dedicated to achieving gender, racial and economic justice.

“I am truly disappointed that Gov. Brown vetoed the ‘College Student Right to Access Act,’” Leyva said in a press release following Brown’s action. “At its core, SB 320 affirmed the constitutional right of college students to access abortion care promptly and without delay.”

Brown made it clear in his statement to the State Senate that he fundamentally does not understand the landscape of abortion access — or, frankly, of the state he governs.

“Access to reproductive health services, including abortion, is a long-protected right in California,” Brown’s statement reads. “According to a study sponsored by supporters of this legislation, the average distance to abortion providers in campus communities varies from five to seven miles, not an unreasonable distance. Because the services required by this bill are widely available off-campus, this bill is not necessary.”

As the supporters submitted multiple studies from campus-wide surveys, as well as from Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) — a collaborative research group at the University of California, San Francisco’s Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health, it’s unclear which study Brown is referencing. (His office did not return requests from Truthout for additional comment or clarification.)

No matter which study Brown was intending to reference, however, the governor has missed a fundamental point: Both the 2015 campus survey and the ANSIRH studies cited in SB 320 make clear that distance is not the only barrier to abortion access — cost is a significant barrier too. The legislation that Brown vetoed sought to address the barrier of cost by eliminating the copays and the expense of going off campus.

With his term ending this year, Jerry Brown will leave office with this veto as his reproductive rights legacy.

Students at California’s public universities are not an affluent group: 21 percent are food insecure and 25 percent have had to choose between paying for food and educational or housing expenses. With the student health plan leaving an average $604 out-of-pocket cost for medication abortion, having a clinic on the same block wouldn’t ensure access to treatment for the average of 519 students who seek it each month. Additionally, five to seven miles is still a difficult distance to traverse for students without a means of transportation in a state without much public transit. Paying to get to a clinic and back for both required appointments (one to dispense the medication and one to ensure the induced miscarriage was completed) adds up.

Adiba Khan, co-founder of Berkeley Students United for Reproductive Justice, released a statement drawing attention to these barriers, arguing: “Gov. Jerry Brown chose to turn his back on students’ experiences and instead hide behind bogus claims to deny increased access to abortion. He completely discounted the burden that travel, time, and additional costs can impose on students.”

“I am hopeful that our incoming Legislature and Governor will agree that the right to choose isn’t just a slogan,” she said in a statement, “but rather a commitment to improving true access to abortion for students across California.”With his term ending this year, Jerry Brown will leave office with this veto as his reproductive rights legacy. It’s unclear whether either candidate — Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom or President Trump-endorsed John Cox — will be likely to heed the wishes of the 6 in 10 Californians who support abortion care on campus if the legislation manages to reach the governor’s desk again. Whoever wins in November, Leyva has pledged to keep fighting for campus access to free medication abortion for the 238,000 students at the state’s public universities.

Jerry Brown may not be politically accountable to those who live in Utah, Arizona, West Texas or Idaho, but that won’t stop his actions from reverberating beyond California’s borders.

With the likely addition of a second Trump appointee to the Supreme Court bench and resulting fears about the possible nullification of Roe v. Wade, Brown’s decision to veto the medication abortion bill may affect abortion access beyond his state’s borders. Only eight other states — Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon and Washington — explicitly protect the right to abortion. Eleven states had adopted 22 new abortion restrictions as of July 1 of this year; Iowa is attempting to ban abortion at six weeks (before most people know they’re pregnant) and Kentucky is trying for a 12-week ban.

Twenty-nine states are already designated as “hostile” or “extremely hostile” to abortion rights, according to the sexual and reproductive health and rights nonprofit, the Guttmacher Institute. Four — North and South Dakota, Louisiana and Alabama — have “trigger bans” that automatically ban all abortion should Roe v. Wade be nullified or overturned. Patients in the barren abortion care landscape that would be left would then have to crowd into the clinics that remain. Jerry Brown may not be politically accountable to those who live in Utah, Arizona, West Texas or Idaho, but that won’t stop his actions from reverberating beyond California’s borders.As abortion becomes harder to access, pregnant people are faced with additional costs for travel, which can cause delays that put the procedure even further out of reach. Last year’s report from the Abortion Care Network, the national association for independent community-based, abortion care providers and their allies, outlined a clinic closure trend that can only make waiting times for appointments longer. Analysis by Rewire.News two years ago following the wave of Texas clinic closures found that, predictably, “states bordering Texas had reported a surge in the number of out-of-state patients seeking abortion care.” Combine these trends and it’s hard to nonchalantly turn away from legislation like SB 320 that would have freed up over 1,000 appointments (two for each of the 516 students seeking medication abortion) per month across the state.

The post California’s “Pro-Choice” Governor Vetoes Abortion Access Bill appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Climate Change Is a Major Midterm Issue. Corporate Media Are Ignoring It.

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 16:20

Recent polling shows that 73 percent of voters believe climate change is occurring, while 57 percent of voters understand it is caused by human activity.

These poll numbers are surprising, given the context of an overall lack of adequate reportage of climate change in the corporate media.

With midterm elections nearing, the fact that most US citizens now understand that climate change is happening — and more than half of them know it is human-caused – means that climate may increasingly be a major issue for voters.

A growing number of both Republican and Democratic representatives (90 thus far) have already joined the Climate Solutions Caucus, “a bipartisan group in the US House of Representatives which will explore policy options that address the impacts, causes, and challenges of our changing climate,” according to their website.

Debates Not Addressing Climate Change

Media watchdog group Media Matters released a report recently showing that, from an analysis of 17 debates in competitive Senate and governors’ races this year, only one of them has included a question related to climate change.

This is a far worse tally than the Media Matters analysis for the 2016 races, in which less than one-quarter of the debates featured a climate change question.

This ignorance, dismissal and devaluing of the largest global threat to the human species is occurring against the backdrop of increasingly expensive disasters: 2017 saw climate and extreme weather disasters costing the US at least $306 billion, an all-time record.

Moreover, the recent Media Matters analysis reveals a stunning lack of concern about climate change in states that are at risk of being impacted by it the most severely.

For example, in Alaska — which is at risk from warmer temperatures, coastal flooding and erosion, wildfires and thawing permafrost — there have been two gubernatorial debates analyzed by Media Matters and not a single question about climate change was asked.

Connecticut, which is at risk from coastal and inland flooding, has had three gubernatorial debates, without a single climate change question.

The same is true for Kansas, which is at risk from drought, increasing tornadoes, extreme heat, crop failure and inland flooding; and Maine, which is at risk from coastal and inland flooding, as well as extreme heat and drought.

Rhode Island, which is at risk from coastal flooding, extreme heat, sea level rise and inland flooding, had no climate change questions asked during a gubernatorial debate. The same is true for Texas, which faces extreme heat, increasing hurricanes, drought, wildfires, and coastal and inland flooding.

Thus far, the one instance where climate change was brought into the debate was during a gubernatorial race debate in Minnesota, which is at risk from drought and extreme heat.

This lack of attention to climate change is particularly worrisome in states where the climate impacts are already severe and obvious.

For example, the gubernatorial debate in New Mexico, which is already suffering from lack of adequate water, drought, wildfires and extreme heat, saw no questions about climate change.

The post Climate Change Is a Major Midterm Issue. Corporate Media Are Ignoring It. appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The Activists on the Front Lines of the Battle for Educational Justice in the US

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 15:45

As Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh objects to being held accountable for his behavior in high school, we look at the criminalization of black and brown students that has led to what is known as the school-to-prison pipeline. We speak with a roundtable of community activists engaged in the fight to save schools and push for alternatives to punishment and privatization. Their voices are highlighted in a new book titled, Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out! Voices from the Front Lines of the Educational Justice Movement. In Chicago, we speak with Jitu Brown, the national director of the Journey for Justice. In Washington, DC, we speak with Zakiya Sankara-Jabar, the co-founder of Racial JusticeNOW! and Field Organizer for the Dignity in Schools Campaign. And in New York City, we speak with high school teacher and restorative justice coordinator E.M. Eisen-Markowitz and Mark Warren, co-author of Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out.


AMY GOODMAN: As Brett Kavanaugh objects to being held accountable for his behavior in high school, we look at the criminalization of black and brown students that’s led to what is known as the school to prison pipeline. The movement saw a setback on Sunday when California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have expanded a statewide ban on suspensions for students in kindergarten to third grade to include fourth through eighth graders. The ban focused on suspensions for “disruption and defiance.” A recent UCLA study found black seventh and eighth graders lost nearly four times the number of school days to such suspensions than white students. Just last week at Oak View Elementary in Decatur, Georgia, two teachers resigned after students complained they punished them by zip-tying their hands behind their backs like they were under arrest by police. The students were four years old. Writer and activist Sean King tweeted, “This is the pre-school to prison pipeline.” One of the girls’ mothers spoke to WSB-TV.

PARENT: — has really shaken me to the core. She said that one teacher tied her up and the other cut it loose. And she said, mommy, I was scared to tell you because I thought I was going to get in trouble. I want them to pay. I want them to not have any license to teach because they don’t need to teach. Who would do this? I mean, would they like this to happen to their own kids?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we’re joined by a roundtable of community activists engaged in the fight to save schools and push for alternatives to punishment and privatization. Their voices highlighted in an incredible new book titled, “Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out! Voices from the Front Lines of the Educational Justice Movement.” In Chicago, Jitu Brown joins us, National Director of the Journey for Justice. He’s been an education activist for the past quarter of a century. In 2015, he led a successful 34-day hunger strike to prevent the closing of Dyett High School in Chicago’s South Side. In Washington, D.C., Zakiya Sankara-Jabar is Co-Founder of Racial Justice NOW!, Field Organizer for the Dignity in Schools Campaign, became active when her black son was repeatedly suspended in pre-school in Dayton, Ohio. She then campaigned for Dayton Public Schools to adopt a moratorium on pre-K suspensions. Here in New York, E.M. Eisen-Markowitz is a Restorative Justice Coordinator and High schoolteacher, a board member of Teachers Unite. Also with us, Mark Warren, who along with my brother, journalist David Goodman, co-authored “Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out,” which brings together these voices and many more. Mark is a professor of public policy and public affairs at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, Founder and Co-Chair of the Urban Research-Based Action Network. We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Jitu Brown, I want to begin with you. And posit that issue. Brett Kavanaugh and many of his supporters saying, why are you going back to high school? He should not be held accountable for his high school behavior. Even if it involved an attempted rape, that’s the allegation. Can you talk about what is happening to black and brown children, not just 17, 16, and 15, but as young as four years old in school?

JITU BROWN: Absolutely, and Amy, thank you for having me on. I would just say that we don’t have a policy problem in public education. We have a values problem. There’s a believe system that is rooted in the hatred of black and brown children that fuels education policy. Just think that parent, Zakiya, had to fight because her son was being suspended in preschool. I’ve seen the story over and over again. In Pittsburgh, parents had organized to stop the suspension of kindergarten through third graders. In New York, this has been a fight. In Chicago, young people fought to stop 10-day suspensions in Chicago public schools. If the discipline policies are administered through a lens of hatred that often these policy makers would not apply to their own children. And that’s why the numbers around the suspension of black, brown, and white students for the same infractions are so glaring. That there is a believe system — and we know research says this, first — that black and brown children are viewed as older than their white counterparts.

So, I think we have to challenge that. And not just challenge that strictly around discipline, but also around just the starving of neighborhood schools. I’ve experienced in Journey for Justice Alliance across the country black and brown schools not having pre-K services. Half-day kindergartens. Not having libraries. No teacher aides in the building. Overcrowded classrooms. But, then in the same cities, their white counterparts having a completely different experience. Now, we don’t have any acrimony toward those babies that happen to be white or wealthy having the things they need, but the fight should be to make sure that all children have what they need, not punish those schools for being starved. So, along with the suspension policies, the policy of closing — of starving and then closing schools, has had a disastrous impact in our communities across the country.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go now to Zakiya Sankara-Jabar, who is now in Washington, D.C., but talk about what happened to your child when he was four years old in Dayton, Ohio, Zakiya.

ZAKIYA SANKARA–JABAR: Hi Amy, thank you for having me on. Yes, I began organizing very organically as a parent, pushing back when my son was actually three, what is now known as the preschool to prison pipeline as you mentioned. One of the things that I did as a parent, you know, not thinking initially that it was a race issue or a class issue, is that I just questioned their policies and practices or questioned what was actual normal behavior for a three-year-old to be exhibiting in a classroom. Some of the things that they would complain about was, oh, he has problems transitioning or he’s having temper tantrums. And so, what I saw was happening and began to realize was that there was a pathologizing of normal childhood behavior of my son. I then began to take a deeper look and noticed that he was the only black boy out of only two black students in a class of 19. And then just the overall, teacher representation, as well at the school, was overwhelmingly white. The administration was all white. And beginning to put those factors together as I began to ask other black women, black parents at the school if they were having similar experiences. And so, once I did that, I went to my co-founder of Racial Justice NOW, Professor Vernelia Randall, and talked to her about what I was experiencing. And that was basically how Racial Justice NOW was founded in her living room, saying that we needed to really have a response to this, to organize and begin to shift and change policies and practices of how young people, particularly black students and our families, were being treated in the school at that time.

And so, that has led to a deeper analysis. And until just recently, because of the work of working-class poor, and working class black parents, in the city of Dayton, Ohio, just recently passed the law house Bill 318 to ban most out of school pre-K through third grade suspensions across the entire state. And so, that’s a huge victory for a small organization of — community-based organization like Racial Justice NOW, in a very conservative state like Ohio, but it took years of organizing and being supported by national organizations like Dignity in Schools campaign, and even Journey for Justice Alliance — being supported on the ground to be able to get that work done, and be able to get something so big accomplished in a very conservative state.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Warren, you have written this book “Lift Us Up.” You’ve edited a book of essays that include our guests today. Talk about the studies that have been done that show what happens in this preschool — I mean it is hard to believe, preschool to prison pipeline. How the more kids are suspended, what happens to them as they move through the system?

*MARK WARREN Sure. Thank you, Amy, for having us. Yes, it’s becoming increasingly known now that the school to prison pipeline starts in pre-K, which is really shocking. So, these are children as young as three and four-year-olds who are often exhibiting normal behavior — jumping around in the class or acting out in different kinds of ways. And unfortunately, many of these children, particularly if they are black and brown children, particularly if they are boys or special needs, but also girls, are labeled very early on. And the solution is seen as pushing them out of the classroom, getting rid of the so-called troublemakers. And this starts a train of labeling, harsh discipline that carries on through elementary school and into middle school. And many studies have found that students who are repeatedly suspended in elementary, and particularly middle school, are very likely to fail to graduate from high school. Either they’re expelled or become so alienated and so far behind that they choose to leave school on their own. And then once that happens, they are out on the streets or — where they are also subject to oftentimes discriminatory policing and police abuse, and then they end up in the juvenile criminal justice system. We actually have now more law enforcement officers in our schools than we have social workers. So, it’s not just that they’re facing police in the streets, many young children and high school children are facing police right in their schools.

In Chicago, people may not know that the Chicago Police department actually has substations located in high schools. These are not school police. These are Chicago police, and they are arresting and booking children in schools. And so, in this book, what we try to do is to bring together the voices of people who are actually working to combat the school to prison pipeline. Our starting point is the systemic racism that children are facing. But, what we’re trying to show people is that there our alternatives. And when grassroots people, whether they are organizers and parents like Jitu and Zakiya, or whether they are teacher organizers and activists, like E. M. that we’ll be hearing from, start to organize in their community’s, they can change these kinds of discipline policies and they can organize and build alternatives like restorative justice.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to our last guest E. M. we will do that after break, to talk about what restorative justice means in this context. She’s a teacher in the New York City schools and organizer with Teachers Unite. We’re talking to Jitu Brown, Zakiya Sankara-Jabar, Mark Warren, editor of “Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out.” Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Our roundtable of teachers and activists around the schools and what’s happening to the black and brown children, the children of color throughout the United States in schools, is — includes E.M. Eisen-Markowitz, Restorative Justice Coordinator and High School Teacher, Teachers Unite board member. We’re also joined by the author of “Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out,” Mark Warren, “Voices from the Front Lines of Educational Justice Movement.” Just out. Zakiya Sankara-Jabar with Racial Justice NOW and Dignity in Schools campaign, as well as Jitu Brown with journey for justice alliance in Chicago. E.M., if you can talk about what restorative justice means. This preschool to prison pipeline, is — it’s just astounding. And the disproportionate number of children of color who are going through this pipeline and what suspensions mean.

E. M. EISEN–MARKOWITZ: Hi. Thanks for having me and for being here. It’s good to be here with Jitu and Zakiya and Mark. So, restorative justice in this context, in the way that we’re advocating for it to be grown at school sites around the country, is a relational approach to discipline. We talk about it in sort of three tiers. And the base of the tiers is intentional community and relationship building, which is a shame that we have to even put that in there that schools are not doing and not prioritizing, not allocating resources to. But, as you heard from Jitu who explained very clearly what’s happening to starving schools across the country, especially in black and brown neighborhoods, there is an intentional community building and relationship building. Once those relationships are there, restorative justice practices are there to help people reflect on behavior and change from those behaviors. A lot of that looks like mediation. It looks like guidance interventions. It looks like community circles related to conflict that’s happened.

AMY GOODMAN: Who gets suspended and what are they suspended for?

E. M. EISEN–MARKOWITZ: So, you heard from other contributors that disproportionally. Like in New York City, there are 27% of New York City students are black and 54 of our suspension — 54% of our suspensions are black students.

AMY GOODMAN: Suspended for what?

E. M. EISEN–MARKOWITZ: Well, they’re suspended for all sorts of things, but, the biggest — like the disproportionate suspensions that are happening are around subjective offenses like insubordination or defying authority, which you heard a little bit about from Zakiya and from Jitu. So, what that means is that teachers — teacher bias is influencing a large number of students that are being suspended, even for five days or more for relatively minor offenses. We’re not talking about even fighting or bringing a weapon to school, we’re talking about insubordination or defying authority.

AMY GOODMAN: So these children, many of them being suspended for defiance. I wanted to go back to Jitu. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced in August she would allow states to use federal funds to purchase firearms for teachers and school employees. The plan using federal Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants to pay for guns and training teachers in their use, reversing longstanding federal policy prohibiting federal funds for arming educators. Talk about the significance of this. Moving the money from education to guns.

JITU BROWN: Absolutely. I would like to make a connection to Betsy DeVos, if I could. So, Betsy DeVos, who has been a major contributor to ruining education in the state of Michigan, who helped destroy the elected school board in Detroit, and took Detroit — or Michigan schools from near the middle of the pack to almost at the bottom educational achievement in the United States, was rewarded with the promotion to be the U.S. education secretary. And so, of course, she’s going to have policies that are outlandish that make no sense in regards to educational achievement, and are hyper-political in regards to their views. But there’s a problem that I don’t think that we connect to. Arne Duncan was also unqualified to be superintendent of Chicago public schools, so they made him CEO. Educational achievement flatlined on his watch. Massive resistance to school closings, students doing actions on him around the school to prison pipeline. And he was rewarded with becoming the education secretary of the United States. And what is the real difference between him and Betsy DeVos? Vouchers? So, I think, if there was no Arne Duncan, there would be no Betsy DeVos. We have to realize that education is too important for talking points. Education is — the education for black people has been a way to combat a suffocating oppression and a way to build a future for our families and communities across the United States. For immigrant families, it has been a way to make sure their children don’t have to live in fear and that they can build a future in the United States. So, we should be making policy that is rooted in sound educational principle. Like where Arne Duncan sends his children, a University of Chicago Lab School. They don’t have metal detectors in Lab School.

AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.

JITU BROWN: OK. They don’t have overcrowded classrooms. So, I think Betsy DeVos is doing what she’s supposed to do as an ultra right-wing, unqualified person in a position she has no reason to be in other than to advance an agenda.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to continue this discussion, part two, in webex in Jitu Brown of Journey for Justice Alliance in Chicago, and Zakiya Sankara-Jabar speaking to us from Washington, Racial Justice NOW, Mark Warren, the book is “Lift Us Up,” and E.M. Thank so much. I’m Amy Goodman, thanks for joining us.

The post The Activists on the Front Lines of the Battle for Educational Justice in the US appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

State Ballot Initiatives Challenge Gerrymandering and Voter Suppression

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 15:44

Florida voters will consider a ballot initiative this November that would restore voting rights to an estimated 1.6 million people with a felony conviction — including one out of every 13 Black voters in the state. A ballot initiative in Maryland would allow people to register to vote at the polls on Election Day.

In Michigan, a sweeping ballot proposal would increase access to the ballot box and require election results to be audited, among other reforms. Another ballot initiative would hand the state legislature’s power to redraw voting districts over to an independent commission to combat partisan gerrymandering.

In the deeply red state of South Dakota, voters are considering an amendment to the state constitution that would tighten campaign finance and lobbying rules and create a government accountability board. The proposed amendment looks a lot like an anti-corruption measure that voters approved in 2016, only to have state lawmakers brazenly take it off the books last year. The latest ballot proposal would prevent lawmakers from doing so again.

Across the country, voters are considering more than two dozen ballot initiatives aimed at expanding ballot access and voting rights, as well rooting out political corruption, according to civil rights advocates and nonpartisan good government groups who held a briefing with reporters on Tuesday. Call it “draining the swamp” if you like, but these efforts are driven by activists and everyday citizens who pounded the pavement collecting signatures, not by loudmouth politicians in Washington, DC.

“We’re seeing this year an unprecedented number of democracy reforms and voting rights reforms on the ballot that could affect millions of voters … at a time when we absolutely need that,” said Dana Laurent, a director at the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, in the briefing.

On the national stage, state-level battles over campaign finance, voting rights and redistricting are often viewed through a partisan lens. For example, state laws that create barriers to the ballot and voter registration — including voter ID laws and Florida’s law barring most felons from the ballot, which dates back to the days of Jim Crow — benefit Republicans by disenfranchising lower-income voters and voters of color who tend to vote Democrat.

Consider North Carolina, where GOP lawmakers unconstitutionally redrew voting districts along partisan and racial lines back in 2011, according to a 2016 ruling issued by a court. Republicans now enjoy a supermajority in the state legislature and have proposed two amendments to the state constitution on the November ballot that opponents characterize as a misleading and bold-faced “power grab.” One measure would reinstate voter ID requirements in a state where an ID law was struck down in federal court for targeting Black voters “with almost surgical precision.” The other would rob the state’s Democratic governor of the power to appoint judges between elections and members to state boards and commissions.

“In short, the GOP legislative majority in North Carolina appears to be trying to mislead their own constituents to push through changes that will ensure vastly fewer checks on their own power, including their power to continue changing rules to help themselves stay in office,” wrote Wendy R. Weiser and Daniel I. Weiner, two experts with the Brennan Center for Justice, in a recent analysis at Truthout.

However, Laurent said the ballot initiatives promoting positive state-level reforms this year far outnumber “regressive” initiatives like those in North Carolina. In fact, research shows that well-explained ballot measures that impact voter’s rights and day-to-day lives tend to bring people out to the polls, including voters who do not participate in every election. Eliminating political corruption and favoritism also tends to transcend partisan concerns.

For example, Colorado, Utah and Missouri – three states known to lean conservative – as well as Michigan, a swing state, are considering ballot initiatives to create independent or bipartisan state commissions to draw up voting districts, rather than allowing whatever party is in control of the state legislature to gerrymander district lines in their favor.

“This is more about power than party,” said Dan Krassner, director of RepresentUS, a good government group promoting ballot reforms in North and South Dakota.

Krassner, a registered Republican, said both Democrats in blue states and Republicans in red states try to protect their political power with gerrymandering and ballot access. This explains why polling shows that voters on both the left and right rate corruption among their top concerns, and ballot initiatives aimed at returning power to voters are backed by coalitions of citizens from across the political spectrum. Krassner pointed to Ohio, a swing state where an overwhelming 75 percent of voters approved a 2018 ballot measure aimed at curtailing gerrymandering.

Ballot initiatives’ ability to transcend partisan politics may explain why the movement behind them is growing, despite notoriously low rates of voter turnout in the United States.

“We’re seeing a movement on the rise to fix America’s corrupt political system,” Krassner said. “The growth of this movement and the wins from this movement are like nothing we have ever seen.”

Correction: The Ohio gerrymandering ballot initiative passed in early 2018, not 2017 as this article originally stated.

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Categories: News

GOP Senators Are Running Away From Women Sharing Their Sexual Assault Stories

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 15:06

In the days since Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to respond to the sexual misconduct allegations raised against him by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, several women who claim they are sexual assault survivors have confronted Republican Senators in an effort to convince them to walk back their decision to back Kavanaugh. Some GOP lawmakers ignored the victims or ran away. One hid in a men’s bathroom. Some protesters were arrested for trespassing.

In a video shared to Twitter, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., appeared to be ignoring several women at an airport who approached him in the hope of sharing their survivor stories with him. At one point, the Republican from Kentucky can be seen greeting a man instead.

“Senator McConnell it is really telling that you shook the hand of a man while a woman is trying to tell you her story,” one of the women said to him.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., was also approached by sexual assault survivors and was seen in another viral video telling alleged sexual assaualt victims, “I know this is enjoyable to ya’ll.”

“This is not enjoyable,” a woman can be heard responding. “I am a sexual assault victim!”

Corker was asked if the Senate was doing enough for victims. “I know this is enjoyable for y’all” he snorted.

“This is not enjoyable for us” she corrected, staring straight at his face til he darted away. Thank you, @traceyecorder for your strength and consistent work for women.

— feminist next door (@emrazz) October 2, 2018

In another video, Republican Sen. David Perdue of Georgia can be seen refusing to shake hands with Jennifer Addison-Epps, the president and co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, a liberal advocacy group.

“Don’t touch me,” Perdue can be heard telling her after she tried to tell him her survivor story. Later in the video, Perdue is seen walking into the men’s bathroom — likely in an aim to hide from the female activists.

WATCH: @sendavidperdue refuses to shake hands with survivors who are trying to share their stories with him. “Don’t touch me” he says when our co-ed @jeppsaddison reaches out.

Fine. You don’t want to be touched. Yeah, neither do women. #Stopkavanaugh#CancelKavanaugh

— CPD Action (@CPDAction) October 1, 2018

In Maine, three sexual assault survivors objecting to Kavanaugh’s nomination were arrested for trespassing at Senator Susan Collins’ office on Monday, according to The Maine Beacon. The local newspaper said that the women in attendance detailed their own sexual assaults and urged Collins, who has become a key Republican in the confirmation battle, to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination.

Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland, a Republican, “had his office door pushed through and was assaulted by demonstrators,” HuffPost’s Jennifer Bendery reported, citing a Capitol Police officer.

On Monday, anti-Kavanaugh protesters converged at Boston’s City Hall, where Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who has played a pivotal role in the nomination battle, was scheduled to appear as part of the Forbes Under 30 Summit, The Boston Globe reported. The Arizona Republican was also confronted by women last week who claimed they were sexual assault survivors on Capitol Hill. The emotional exchange was captured on television and seemingly shamed Flake to temper his decision to vote “yes” on Kavanaugh by calling for an FBI investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct made against the Supreme Court nominee. Before calling for the supplemental probe into Kavanaugh, the Arizona Senator announced that he would vote to confirm Kavanaugh and defeated a motion supported by all Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee to subpoena Mark Judge — the key witness surrounding Ford’s allegations. (Ford has alleged that Judge was present when Kavanaugh attacked her.)

During a Sunday interview on “60 Minutes” Flake admitted that he would not have called for the investigation if he were running for reelection.

“No, not a chance,” Flake said when asked if he would’ve made the same decision had he been vying to keep his Senate seat. “There’s no value to reaching across the aisle, there’s not currency for that anymore, there’s no incentive.”

And earlier last week, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was chased out of a restaurant in Washington, D.C. by anti-Kavanaugh protesters who were shouting “We believe survivors!”

Most recently, President Donald Trump ordered the FBI to launch a one-week investigation into misconduct claims made against Kavanaugh. The scope of the probe, however, remains largely unclear. Trump on Monday said that federal agents would “essentially” have free reign in the investigation, but also said that he had set the scope based on a request by Senate Republicans. What the weeklong probe will unearth is anyone’s guess.

The post GOP Senators Are Running Away From Women Sharing Their Sexual Assault Stories appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Trump EPA Plans to Weaken Mercury Regulations

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 14:53

A new proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would weaken a rule regulating toxic pollutants — including mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants — by eliminating government mandates that currently allow regulators to look at the health and environmental costs stemming from industrial waste and emissions.

The agency is proposing a major change to an Obama-era rule which states that when the government considers the cost of compliance with a regulation of a toxic chemical such as mercury, which has been found to harm the nervous systems of children and fetuses, it must also consider the “co-benefits” of the rule. As the New York Times reported Monday:

Under the mercury program, the economic benefits of those health effects, known as “co-benefits,” helped to provide a legal and economic justification for the cost to industry of the regulation. For example, as the nation’s power plants have complied with [the] rule by installing technology to reduce emissions of mercury, they also created the side benefit of reducing pollution of soot and nitrogen oxide, pollutants linked to asthma and lung disease.

The rollback was included on a “wish list” that coal CEO Robert Murray passed along to Energy Secretary Rick Perry shortly after President Donald Trump took office in 2017, due to the costs of compliance for the coal industry.

Another example of the toxic agenda of @EPA‘s industry insiders: weakening safety standards that protect us from poisonous #mercury to boost coal company profits.

— Friends of the Earth (@foe_us) October 1, 2018

Acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler counted Murray’s company, Murray Energy, among his clients when he worked as a lobbyist before entering government. Bill Wehrum, another top EPA official who authored the proposal, has also represented energy companies as a lawyer.

“If finalized, this shameful plan would undermine standards that have already been widely implemented, exposing our kids to more toxic mercury and arsenic just so Andrew Wheeler and Bill Wehrum can appease a handful of their former clients in the coal industry,” said Mary Ann Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal program, in a statement. “If anyone needed further proof that Wheeler and Wehrum are still working for coal millionaires, this is it.”

While the Obama administration’s rule demanding companies reduce their mercury emissions costs the $386 billion electric power industry about $9.6 billion annually, according to the Times, it also saved a total of $80 billion per year in healthcare costs associated with health conditions caused by pollution. Additionally, the rules saved another $6 billion in health benefits associated with the reduction of mercury.

In allowing the government to stop acknowledging the benefits of mercury regulation, the Trump administration is taking “the first legal step toward eliminating the standard entirely,” John Walke of the Natural Resources Defense Council told the Times.

If approved, Walke warned, the deregulatory move would be a “sweeping attack” on the progress made under the Obama administration.

“Any sensible, rational person would recognize these basic protections for pregnant women and young children are already working, and throwing them out is a direct attack on their health and development. But Wheeler and Wehrum are putting the interests of their former employers before logic and before the health of our kids,” said Hitt. “This disgraceful move by Wheeler and Wehrum directly endangers the health of our kids and we will do everything we can to stop it.”

The post Trump EPA Plans to Weaken Mercury Regulations appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The Dubious Fiction of Donald Trump’s Fortune Has Been Exposed

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 14:46

A vital element of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign was the fiction-filled autobiography he foisted on us, the beating heart of which was, “Vote for me because I’m a self-made rich man.” For a variety of reasons best contemplated after a tall glass of neat whiskey and a nap, it worked. Erasing the presidency of Barack Obama while enshrining “Owning the Libs” as a national policy priority became the grease to lubricate the machine. Nearly two years later the mythology of the billionaire president remains highly motivational to Trump’s still-frantic supporters.

That mythology took a torpedo shot below the waterline on Tuesday courtesy of The New York Times, which unleashed a meticulous 14,000-word analysis of the origins of Trump’s fortune. David Cay Johnston, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Beat Reporting, wrote of the Times report, “As the paper’s former tax reporter, and the journalist who has covered Trump the longest, I’m in a solid position to judge the depth and quality of their work. It is masterful.”

The details, based on a review of more than 100,000 Trump documents, are shattering. Instead of one “small” million-dollar loan from his father to get things started, Trump received over the years what would be today the equivalent of $413 million. That money started coming when his father put him on a $200,000-a-year salary when he was three years old.

Dodging taxes became a family affair. Trump and his siblings put together a sham corporation in 1992 called All County Building Supply & Maintenance, using it to hide massive financial gifts from their parents. Trump also helped his father undervalue his real estate holdings to avoid paying taxes. Many of the tactics used to dodge the tax man amount to “outright fraud,” in the words of the Times report.

When all was said and done, Fred and Mary Trump transferred more than $1 billion to their children in ways that allowed them to avoid paying approximately $550 million in gift and inheritance taxes. According to the Times report, and with the direct assistance of Donald Trump, the Trump family only paid about $52 million in taxes, a rate of about 5 percent. It’s amazing how rich you can get when you don’t pay your bills.

The Trump administration coughed up a boilerplate denial of the findings, which was “thin gruel” according to Johnston, given the scope and depth of the report. “The New York Times’ allegations of fraud and tax evasion are 100% false, and highly defamatory,” wrote Trump attorney Charles Harder. “There was no fraud or tax evasion by anyone. The facts upon which the Times bases its false allegations are extremely inaccurate.… President Trump had virtually no involvement whatsoever with these matters.… Should the Times state or imply that President Trump participated in fraud, tax evasion, or any other crime, it will be exposing itself to substantial liability and damages for defamation.”

Amusing last sentence there, particularly the bit about “Should.” Harder is basically threatening suit if the Times dares to call Trump crooked, as if the paper hadn’t already done precisely that with its Tuesday bombshell. Here is a Trump tactic of old: Threaten to sue anyone who calls The Great Man a fraud in the public prints. Sometimes it even works and the accuser is silenced, but in this instance, the cat is out of the bag and over the hills.

The filthy truth of the matter, however, is that Harder isn’t entirely wrong about Trump’s potential criminal liability. Tax laws, and the enforcement of same, are dramatically different for rich people. A wealthy person who actually pays their full, fair share is either not trying hard enough to dodge their taxes or has a sense of responsibility wider than their wallet. Paying taxes is for lesser mortals, a fact Trump himself has bragged about on live television. When Hillary Clinton tagged him for not paying taxes during a September 2016 presidential debate, Trump glibly retorted, “That makes me smart.”

It’s amazing how rich you can get when you don’t pay your bills.

The legal consequences of this article for Trump are nebulous. Those who want the grisly revelations contained within to be the silver bullet that removes Trump from office should anticipate those hopes getting dashed against the reef of pliant tax laws. “According to tax experts,” reads the Times report, “it is unlikely that Mr. Trump would be vulnerable to criminal prosecution for helping his parents evade taxes, because the acts happened too long ago and are past the statute of limitations.”

That being said, Donald Trump is not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination. The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance has taken a keen interest in the information provided by The New York Times. Its review comes in addition to an ongoing Taxation and Finance Department investigation into the Trump Foundation that may be linked to another investigation being carried out by New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood. “There is no time limit,” notes the Times report, “on civil fines for tax fraud.”

The political consequences, on the other hand, are another entirely fascinating matter altogether. Thanks to the Times report, we now fully understand why Donald Trump has been so unwilling to release his tax returns. Among other things, his calamitous financial history goes a long way toward explaining how he got himself all tangled up with Russian oligarch money in the first place.

We now fully understand why Donald Trump has been so unwilling to release his tax returns.

After Trump had wrung the last coppers from his father’s empire in an effort to paper over his failures (which begs the question: How does one go bankrupt multiple times after getting millions from Mom and Dad?), those willing to loan him money were few and far between. Should we ever see the final report from the Mueller investigation, odds are it will begin with the highly mobile decimal point on Trump’s bottom line.

This is only part of the problem for Trump today. His entire adult existence, beginning well before he monsooned his way into national politics, is premised on the long fiction of his wealth, power and ability to cut a deal. The Times report strips this mythology to the bone in a way that those crying “fake news” will find difficult to rebut.

In his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, author Yuval Noah Harari makes a compelling argument about the power of fiction in human affairs. Unlike the other subspecies of humans who shared the planet with us for millions of years, homo sapiens possessed a genetic mutation that allowed us to organize in huge numbers around an idea.

If enough people believe in a common fiction, the purveyor of that fiction can move mountains.

Be it a god, a nation-state or the value of money, homo sapiens came to be the dominant species on Earth because of their ability to devote themselves in massive numbers to something that could not be seen or touched, according to Harari. Seen through this lens, politics becomes nothing more or less than the art of myth-building. If enough people believe in a common fiction, the purveyor of that fiction can move mountains.

Thanks to the report by The New York Times, the Trump mythology has been dealt a mighty blow. Many, if not most, of his supporters will brush it off as just another callow Deep State attack upon their beloved leader … but stories like this, like the slow dripping of water in a deep cavern, have a way of wearing down even the strongest stones. Donald Trump became president because enough people believed in the fiction he was peddling. It will be a hard sell going forward, and even harder with the creeping burn of time.

The post The Dubious Fiction of Donald Trump’s Fortune Has Been Exposed appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Why Domestic Workers Are Fighting Like Hell to Stop Brett Kavanaugh

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 14:45

Like many parents, Daniela Contreras woke up last Thursday and helped her daughter get ready for school. But the long-time domestic worker who now organizes with the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) then hopped on a train to Washington, DC to take part in the protests against Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

During a September 27 press conference of sexual assault survivors and supporters, including #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Representative Annie Kuster, Contreras spoke about her experience being assaulted as a 16-year-old childcare provider.

“Every day, I hear stories of working women just like me, stories full of pain, fear, silence and same,” Contreras said in her remarks. “But through our organizing, we’ve passed laws and policies to protect domestic workers.”

Thanks to Domestic Workers United, NDWA and others, a 2010 New York Domestic Worker’s Bill of Rights now protects against harassment, abuse, wage theft and other workplace violations. Last December, NDWA helped change New York City anti-discrimination law that required a business to have four or more employees in order for a claim to be filed. Now workers can file a claim even if they are the only employee, as is the case for many cleaners, nannies and other domestic positions.

But when she’s not fighting for change in New York City or at the capital, Contreras is meeting with domestic workers out in the world, encouraging them to stand up for their rights. In These Times talked with Contreras about NDWA’s role in protesting Kavanaugh nomination — and how the activism continues after the media spotlight ends.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank: Why did you participate in the press conference?

Daniela Contreras: I was asked, but I wanted to be part of this. If you’re a new organizer, a lot of workers will not trust you. But if they see me in the media, they’ll feel I’m more credible. It gives us more credit. The other reason is because I was 16 when I was assaulted, but never said anything. The more I talk about it, the more people will be able to come forward at any point.

A year ago, I came out publically as part of #MeToo. I have friends who just now are coming forward. It does strain me a lot because I’m feeling exhausting at the end of the day. But I’m no longer afraid. I’m speaking out. I felt powerful being in that space with all these amazing, powerful women. We are doing this together. I remember that 16-year-old girl who couldn’t say anything. Now I’m this older woman talking in front of all the women supporting me.

It is sad to see all these women who have been through all of this. You would think it’s only you, but then having all these women, it makes you realize how many more are out there who have not come forward. Is this what this society looks like? It is very upsetting to know this, but at the same time, I think that it was a very powerful moment. There’s a saying in Spanish that translates to, “Where there’s unity, there’s power.” I know they went through all of this, but we’re all standing alone together. If he doesn’t get nominated, then we won.

Do you feel connected to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford?

When all this allegedly happened to her, she was only around 15. She said the reason she didn’t want to say anything was because she was going to be believed. She was afraid. It was shameful to talk about it. I felt the exact same way. I didn’t come forward for the same reason. I was afraid. I had no one. What was I supposed to tell my mother? Just because I’m supposed to go and help her out financially, this is what happened to me. I didn’t want to make my mother feel guilty about it. I felt nobody would have believed me if would have said something. The trauma goes on with you for the rest of your life. I’m wondering now what would have happened if I had said something.

How did you become involved with the National Domestic Workers Alliance?

I was a domestic worker not by choice, but necessity. I needed to get a job. I was pretty much engaged to my daughter’s father, but a week before she was born, he left us. He took everything with him and left us pretty much on the streets. I had a newborn baby and my mother was sick. I had bills to pay, because he stopped paying the bills. I was no longer working because he asked me not to while I was pregnant. I became a nanny again because getting a regular job was going to take me a while. My daughter wasn’t going to wait. Her hunger wasn’t going to wait.

One day, in the neighborhood where I was working, another nanny told me about a meeting with the National Domestic Workers Alliance. I didn’t know there was such an organization. The title excited me. I kept going to every single meeting. The first thing I liked about being in that space was I felt welcomed. For the first time, I was able to bring my daughter to a meeting. They had a program called Groundbreakers where you learn about Bill of Rights in New York. You pretty much become a lawyer. You go through this training for six weeks and then you can apply to do outreach where you talk to other workers. It’s the same way the other nanny invited me to a meeting. We go to the parks. We listen to their stories and try to find any red flag, if any workers are going through sexual harassment or wage theft.

How do you build trust and community with domestic workers?

One thing I have to tell them is I’ve been a domestic worker. I know what they’re going through. I know the struggles, good or bad. Sometimes because of immigration status, language, or because there will be retaliation, they don’t want to say anything. Or they come forward either after they’ve quit their job or when they no longer can take it anymore. Some of them went through sexual harassment when they were little.

I had a housecleaner who I’ve been talking to for two years. One day I met with her and brought up the topic of abuse. She said, “It happened to me when I was six.” It might take a while to build trust. It might take a hint, like someone saying, “Things are not so great at work. I feel uncomfortable.” They’re not really telling exactly what’s happening, but you have an idea.

Personally, I wasn’t sexually harassed just as a nanny. I was at many different jobs because before I didn’t have a status, I was more vulnerable to these kinds of incidents where employers knew that. They felt like, “Okay if you’re undocumented and you don’t speak the language I can take advantage of you.”

The last time it happened was a decade ago. I was working at a restaurant where most of the waitresses were undocumented, but the owner knew we needed the jobs. He would do the nastiest things to us. Sometimes he just picked on me. One time I didn’t stay quiet. I went to his apartment and made him file a report. I said, “You’re not going to do this anymore. I’m no longer afraid of anybody, and this is going to change.” That gave me power, but it didn’t work in my favor because he had a good lawyer. He was able to change the story on me. The lawyer said that, according to the employer, I was the one harassing him. It made me upset, but my coworkers saw what happened. A few years later all the waitresses organized. They filed another lawsuit and this time they won.

Why is it important to highlight the stories of domestic workers in #MeToo?

One, because the places where they work, it’s pretty much the employer and the worker. There are no supervisors. There’s no one you can go and tell, “Look this is what’s happening.” The only person you can tell is your employer, but what if they’re the perpetrator? That’s why we had to go and say something. That’s why we felt like we needed to be there. We need to be heard.

At the 2018 Golden Globes, our executive director Ai-jen Poo was Meryl Streep’s guest. While receiving the Cecil B. DeMille Award, Oprah talked about her mom who was a domestic worker and why they have to choose between bringing a paycheck and or coming forward. I met a few Hollywood people who have done domestic work, so they understand too.

What changes would you like to see for domestic worker?

The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights was passed in 2010, but even now domestic workers don’t know about it. That’s why we’re going on the streets and giving them this information. We want them to know they’re protected and have an extended statute of limitations. But I still wish there would be more time. It took me 20 years to come forward. We want to provide protection for them, but also let employers know that, yes, you have someone working in your place and it’s private, but there are workers’ rights and sexual harassement is included on the job.

Two weeks ago, we had our monthly meeting and we had new workers. A nanny said that her employer told her, “I looked at the Bill of Rights, and according to what it said, you don’t have that many protections.” The nanny was upset. She said she knows what her rights were and that her employer was taking advantage of her. That’s what makes me really upset: When employers know that domestic workers are very vulnerable and they still take advantage of them. I would love to see a change with that.

What self-care do you take part in after sharing your story?

I just come home and hug my daughter. I’ve also been disconnecting myself from the world, staying home with the people I love and just doing regular mommy things. I’m always playing music. I’ve also been sleeping a lot. It does take a lot out of me to do this. It takes me two to three days to feel back to normal.

What hope do you have for the future?

I would love for my daughter — hopefully she never have to deal with this — but if she ever goes through something like this, she will be believed at any age. I hope she or any survivor won’t have to wait all these years. And I hope that person who’s done it will suffer consequences. I am very optimistic. Like a lot of women, I came forward for a reason. It’s hard. It’s painful. But we want to see change, and I know there will be change. I want to say that I made a difference for future generations by just speaking out. I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I want to say that I was part of it.

The post Why Domestic Workers Are Fighting Like Hell to Stop Brett Kavanaugh appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

New Gulf Coast Fossil Fuel Projects Produce as Much Pollution as Coal

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 14:17

In the last six years, officials in Texas and Louisiana issued permits allowing 74 petrochemical, oil, and gas projects to pump as much climate-warming pollution into the atmosphere as running 29 coal-fired power plants around the clock, according to numbers released September 26 by the nonprofit watchdog Environmental Integrity Project.

And construction appears to be speeding up, with over 40 percent of those projects permitted between 2016 and mid-2018. The 31 most recent projects combined will add 50 million tons of greenhouse gases — equal to 11 new coal-fired power plants — to the world’s atmosphere in a year, the watchdog adds.

Environmentalists pointed to the risks that climate change poses to Gulf Coast states, where these projects are being built, and noted that the greenhouse effect has already led to sea level rise and a higher risk of extreme storms.

“Louisiana is already sinking into the Gulf of Mexico, and yet our state government is permitting more of the emissions that cause flooding and storms,” Anne Rolfes, Founding Director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, said in a statement accompanying the numbers. “It’s mind boggling.”

The most recent projects tallied by the group include seven Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plants or terminals, 15 chemical and plastic resin plants, five petroleum refineries, and two natural gas processing plants, as well as a fertilizer manufacturer and hydrogen plant, all in Texas and Louisiana.

Looking North

The count does not include plants outside the Gulf Coast, like the Marcellus shale region of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, where a glut of natural gas liquids (NGLs) like ethane, a petrochemical feedstock produced by many shale wells, is attracting attention from plastics and chemical manufacturers.

The Marcellus region now produces 27 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day, roughly a third of total U.S. output. That’s up from just 1.7 billion cubic feet a day in early 2010, according to the Energy Information Administration. At the same time, the area’s NGL production expanded from 20,000 barrels a day in 2010 up to 660,000 barrels a day, according to Department of Energy figures, and industry analysts predict that NGL flow from the region will double again by 2025.

Another report, issued last week by Food and Water Watch, called attention to $35.8 billion worth of petrochemical and plastics projects in central Appalachia, including the Appalachia Development Group’s $10 billion NGL storage hub proposed in West Virginia.

“The proposed storage complex may be a profit bonanza for industry, but it is a pollution pitfall for communities and ecosystems of the Appalachian basin,” Food and Water Watch wrote. “Converting the region into the second largest concentration of plastics and chemical manufacturing outside the highly polluted Gulf Coast will compound the Tri-State area’s already substantial exposure to industrial toxic emissions, while increasing plastic materials that largely end up polluting the earth’s oceans.”

Some of the most heavily polluting new Gulf Coast facilities are liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, including the Driftwood LNG terminal in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, and the Sabine Pass LNG terminal in Cameron Parish. The Environmental Integrity Project report noted that combined, the two terminals have recently issued state Clean Air Act permits to release an additional 19.7 million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere a year.

Oil and Water

As North and South Carolina begin to dry out from record-breaking flooding from Hurricane Florence, the new report called attention to the harm that Hurricanes Harvey and Katrina caused to the Gulf Coast’s petrochemical industry.

During Katrina, Murphy Oil USA’s Chalmette, Louisiana, refinery saw oil and chemical tanks rip off of their moorings, the report notes, causing spills that harmed rivers and surrounding neighborhoods.

An investigative report this year by the Associated Press and the Houston Chronicle linked Hurricane Harvey to over 100 separate toxic discharges from pipelines, refineries, and chemical plants, including a spill of nearly a half billion gallons of stormwater mixed with industrial waste from ExxonMobil Corp.’s Olefins plant in Baytown, Texas. Many of the spills and accidents resulting from Harvey were never publicized, the investigation found, and officials had downplayed some of the largest events and failed to collect data about potential contamination.

“As we saw from Hurricane Harvey last year, building massive refineries and petrochemical plants in the flood zone without adequate planning or engineering is not just a risk to the environment, but a real potential health hazard, as well,” said Bakeyah Nelson, Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston.

During Florence, spills of coal ash, sewage, and hog waste have made headlines. The region is also home to over 1,000 sites where chemicals are stored or used, according to The New York Times, and to over 70 high-priority Superfund sites. The Environmental Protection Agency asked four families in Cheraw, South Carolina, to evacuate their homes on Wednesday after finding high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a long-lasting class of toxic and banned chemicals, from a nearby Superfund site.

The region that flooded from Florence contains far less chemical, oil, and gas production infrastructure than either the Gulf Coast or Marcellus region.

“Hurricane season is a good time to think about the impact these big greenhouse gas emitters will have on global warming,” Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project, said in a statement accompanying the new report. “We had better start thinking about whether all this oil and gas infrastructure is strong enough and safe enough to withstand the severe storms that are sure to follow.”

The post New Gulf Coast Fossil Fuel Projects Produce as Much Pollution as Coal appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Muslims in the US Fear Worse Repression If Kavanaugh Joins the Court

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 14:06

Amid the ongoing protests against Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, there is yet another reason for upset and outrage about this nominee: the threat Kavanaugh poses to the Muslim American community. If his record is any indication, Kavanaugh would support legal rulings that further marginalize Muslim Americans and other oppressed communities in the US and abroad.

Attorney Madihha Ahussain, who provides special counsel for anti-Muslim bigotry at Muslim Advocates, a national legal advocacy and educational organization, is troubled by Kavanaugh’s nomination. “A lot of the mobilizing we have seen from allies and partners has been in the space of health care and women’s rights issues, given Kavanaugh’s record on some of these issues specifically,” Ahussain said. “However, when it comes to issues related to the American Muslim community, much of the concern stems from his views on presidential power and national security/detention issues.”

For starters, Judge Kavanaugh played an important role in crafting President George W. Bush’s ludicrous detention and interrogation policies.

In Omar v. McHugh, Kavanaugh supported rejecting the habeas petition of a Muslim US citizen who was in US military custody and facing transfer to potential torture in Iraqi custody. Similarly, in Saleh v. Titan Corp, Judge Kavanaugh decided to support barring of state law tort claims against a private military contractor despite the fact that there are no federal statutes required for such an outcome. A review of Kavanaugh’s rulings on national security showed an unwillingness to protect detainees from a “risk of torture and other abuse in a receiving country.” He has also shielded military contractors from lawsuits and defended the bulk collection of citizens’ phone records by the NSA.

Additionally, for the Muslim American community, Kavanaugh’s dissent is concerning since polls show Muslims already feel threatened by the president.

Kavanaugh’s lenient views on presidential power were also apparent in a dissent after the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the Affordable Care Act in 2011. In his dissent, he argued the president could ignore courts and the law: “Under the Constitution, the president may decline to enforce a statute that regulates private individuals when the president deems the statute unconstitutional, even if a court has held or would hold the statute constitutional.” Jeffrey Toobin, a staff writer at The New Yorker and senior legal analyst for CNN, wrote that Kavanaugh’s dissent was “bizarre” and that he “wasn’t interpreting the Constitution; he was pandering to the base.”

Further, Kavanaugh has argued a sitting president should not be able to be criminally indicted. He said the president “should have absolute discretion [about] whether and when to appoint an independent counsel” and also decide who does the investigating. He has also stated “the President and the Attorney General, rather than any court, [should] define and monitor the independent counsel’s jurisdiction,” and that any special prosecutor should be removable at will by the president.

“If the President were the sole subject of a criminal investigation, I would say no one should be investigating that” at all, he told the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier in September.

Zahra Billoo, the executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations in San Francisco is worried about Kavanaugh’s “support from the right wing and alignment with the Trump administration.”

“Issues like the Muslim Ban, extreme vetting, and even hate crimes are at the forefront of the fight for civil rights in our country, which means that if Kavanaugh is appointed to the Court he too will have a stake in [the Muslim American community’s] fate,” says Billoo.

With Muslim Americans already unduly implicated in our government’s national security policies, it should be extremely concerning––if not shocking––to American Muslims that Kavanaugh is unlikely to act as a check on the current administration’s extreme anti-Muslim policies.

“On issues of religious freedom, reproductive rights, voting rights, economic justice and a host of other issues, Kavanaugh has shown fierce hostility to the priorities and values of an overwhelming majority of our [Muslim American] community,” Sufyan Sohel, deputy director of the Chicago office of the Council on American Islamic Relations, told Truthout.

This is beyond a Muslim issue, Sohel says, but one that affects all people who believe in justice and fairness. Kavanaugh would most likely stand firm behind many decisions coming from the White House and vote to uphold them if brought before the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh also has a documented history of favoring the powerful over the marginalized and ruling against women’s rights. “As a community, we must reach out to our elected officials in full force to ask them to not support this nomination,” Sohel says.

Kavanaugh has also displayed a disregard for upholding freedom of religion––except where it serves to privilege Christianity. He has long opposed the separation of church and state: while in private practice, Kavanaugh submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in Good News Club v. Milford Central School, where he argued against longstanding precedent prohibiting the use of public funds for religious activities. In fact, Judge Kavanaugh has specifically expressed hostility toward the very idea of a distinction between church and state. During a 2017 lecture at the American Enterprise Institute, Judge Kavanaugh praised former Chief Justice William Rehnquist for “persuasively criticiz[ing]” the metaphor of “a strict wall of separation between church and state.” Abandoning the separation of church and state would come at the expense of religious minorities and other vulnerable groups.

Meanwhile, political activist and former executive director of the Arab American Association of New York Linda Sarsour encourages resistance from the Muslim American community and its allies. “We need to ensure that no Democrats vote for this nomination and urge the vote is delayed until after the midterm elections,” Sarsour told Truthout. “This means using every nonviolent tactic in our toolbox: calls, emails, social media, op-eds, sit-ins at their offices, rallies, creative actions. We cannot allow this nomination to go through because it will take us back decades on women’s reproductive rights, voting rights, immigration and so much more.”

The confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court would have grave consequences for our democracy. Muslim and non-Muslim alike, we all have a responsibility to oppose him.

The post Muslims in the US Fear Worse Repression If Kavanaugh Joins the Court appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Trump’s New NAFTA Would Drive Up Drug Prices

Tue, 10/02/2018 - 16:42

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump set himself apart from fellow Republicans and even Hillary Clinton by advancing a protectionist trade agenda and promising to renegotiate or scrap the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico. So, the president celebrated on Monday after last-minute negotiations with Canada advanced a new version of NAFTA.

“It’s an amazing deal for a lot of people,” Trump said during an address at the White House.

However, critics say the current draft of the $1.2 trillion deal would not completely halt the outsourcing of US jobs to Mexico, and it imperils one of Trump’s other campaign promises: reducing the price of prescription drugs for US consumers.

The draft of the deal, known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), includes updates to reflect advances in digital technology and changes meant to address NAFTA’s most controversial impacts in the US, namely the outsourcing of domestic manufacturing jobs in the automobile sector. And while the proposed agreement includes some new limits on corporate power that progressives have demanded for years, unions have been reluctant to throw their support behind the current draft of the deal.

“The bottom line is that we simply do not have enough information at this time to know whether NAFTA 2018 is in the economic interests of the United States,” said AFL-CIO Trade Policy Specialist Celeste Drake in a statement, shortly after the USMCA was released on Monday.

Congress still has to vote on the deal, and environmental and public health groups are already demanding lawmakers reject the new NAFTA altogether.

“The Trump administration released the text of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement trade deal that would enshrine and globalize Trump’s deregulatory zealotry into a trade pact that would outlast the administration and imperil future efforts to protect consumers, workers and the environment,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, in a statement.

The Trump administration is eagerly rolling back environmental regulations and encouraging greater fossil fuel production while Mexico denationalizes its oil industry and Canada works to increase energy exports, so it’s no surprise the new NAFTA has angered environmentalists. In fact, there is not a single mention of climate change anywhere in the working draft, which would weaken international environmental standards, according to an analysis by the Sierra Club.

Raising the Cost of Biologic Drugs

Trump, of course, did not campaign on climate or environmental protection. However, throughout his campaign and presidency, he has repeatedly promised to lower prescription drug prices for US consumers, even accusing drug makers of “getting away with murder.”

Trump tapped a former pharmaceutical executive to tackle the problem and has publicly pressured drug makers to lower their prices. Yet a recent investigation by the Associated Press found that for every drug that saw a price drop since Trump took office, the price of 96 drugs has increased.

Peter Maybarduk, director of the Access to Medicines Program at Public Citizen, said the new NAFTA contains intellectual property protections for pharmaceutical companies that go “significantly beyond” the original deal. These protections, he said, would further insulate US-based drug manufacturers from generic competition and drive up the price of medicine at home and abroad.

The new NAFTA contains intellectual property protections for pharmaceutical companies that go “significantly beyond” the original deal.

“The revised rules would further strain health care budgets, contribute to people’s suffering and family financial hardship, and most likely cost people their lives,” Maybarduk said in a statement on Monday.

A rule buried in the agreement would give pharmaceutical companies at minimum 10 years of market exclusivity for biologic drugs, which are among the most important and expensive new medical technologies. Biologics are made from the cells of living organisms and microorganisms — think vaccines or genetically modified human hormones — and change the way the body works at the cellular level, revolutionizing the treatment of ailments varying from cancer to arthritis.

Many biologic drug makers are based in the US, and Trump claims that the USMCA’s intellectual property protections would protect profits and ensure the drugs are produced domestically.

“We want our drugs to be made here,” Trump said on Monday. “When you talk prescription drugs, we don’t like getting them from foreign countries. We don’t know what’s happening with those drugs, how they’re being made.”

However, Maybarduk said the USMCA essentially gives drug makers a government-sponsored monopoly on new drugs, and the 10-year patent rule is the “worst” of its kind to appear in a trade deal negotiated by the US. With this patent exclusivity, drug makers can keep the price of biologics sky high for a decade before facing any market competition from generic versions produced in countries outside the trade bloc.

“Canada and Mexico should be embarrassed — perhaps even ashamed — for agreeing to such terms,” Maybarduk said. “At least as regards their own peoples’ access to medicines and health, Mexico and Canada have failed to stand up to North America’s neighborhood bully.”

The new NAFTA also grants marketing exclusivity for new uses and forms of medicines that already exist on the market. This means pharmaceutical companies can enjoy monopolies on drugs that have existed for years by developing new ways to use or administer them. For example, patents on insulin products have sent health care prices for diabetics through the roof, even though insulin has been around for decades.

Similar intellectual property protections for pharmaceutical companies and other corporations helped make the Trans-Pacific Partnership deeply unpopular among US voters, and the Obama administration was unable to push the major deal through Congress back in 2016.

“Rather than learning from the mistakes of prior trade rules that have increased the price of medicines in developing countries and that made the Trans-Pacific Partnership so deeply unpopular, NAFTA 2018 incorporates nearly wholesale the wish list of big pharmaceutical companies, with respect to intellectual property rights and drug pricing provisions,” Drake said.

The New NAFTA Is Not Done Yet

Trump is betting that voters will focus on the new NAFTA’s protections for American manufacturing workers rather than the fine print. The deal would require more auto parts to be manufactured in the trade region in order to avoid taxes, and more auto workers to be paid a living wage of at least $16 an hour.

The revised deal also nearly eliminates special corporate tribunals that critics say allow multinational companies to undermine public health, labor and environmental standards at the expense of taxpayers, although a controversial carve-out for energy and telecom firms operating in Mexico remains.

According to the Trump administration, these policies are meant to reduce incentives to outsource jobs to cheaper plants in Mexico and encourage Mexican lawmakers to pass much-needed labor reforms. However, progressives remain concerned that measures intended to raise labor and environmental standards in Mexico are non-binding, and American manufacturers will still seek out low-wage workers and loose environmental laws south of the border.

“More work remains to be done,” said Lori Wallach, a progressive trade expert and director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “Unless there are strong labor and environmental standards that are subject to swift and certain enforcement, US firms will continue to outsource jobs to pay Mexican workers poverty wages, dump toxins and bring their products back here for sale.”

USMCA is expected to undergo more changes before late November, when Trump and his counterparts hope to sign the deal before Mexico’s sitting president leaves office. In statements released Monday, various unions and labor groups said they were committed to working with the administration to improve the draft text as Congress debates the agreement.

“It is vital to understand that this debate is not about free trade, protectionism or ivory-tower academic arguments,” said United Steelworkers International President Leo W. Gerard, in a statement. “It is about what will happen to real people. NAFTA’s long-term impact has been devastating, and reforms are sorely needed.”

The post Trump’s New NAFTA Would Drive Up Drug Prices appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The Link Between Human Trafficking and Dirty Energy in Minnesota

Tue, 10/02/2018 - 15:56

The FBI recently notified Mysti Babineau that — after 20 years — they had closed their missing persons case on her mother, who disappeared when she was just two. “So when it comes to losing a woman and not knowing where she is, that is incredibly close to my heart,” Babineau says.

Babineau is a member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians in northwestern Minnesota and has spent much of her life on the Leech Lake Reservation. When it comes to a missing loved one, she isn’t alone — almost anyone you speak with in tribal communities knows an Indigenous woman who has gone missing.

“This is something that has been happening in my community since the 1400s [since White settlers began colonizing North America],” Babineau says.

After her mom’s disappearance, Babineau entered the foster care system, and spent much of her childhood in homes across Minnesota. In middle school, she was adopted by an ex-girlfriend of her father. “She saved my life, but I also experienced a lot of horrific things that maybe I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t adopted into a Native family,” Babineau says.

When she was 12, Babineau’s grandmother was stabbed to death in front of her. The attacker then advanced upon her and her adoptive mother. She survived that encounter, stopping the knife with her hand. At 22, she was kidnapped and taken to St. Paul. “I was beaten. I was raped. And I fought and got away.”

Babineau’s survival story informs her day-to-day work as a water protector and climate justice organizer for the environmental group MN350, a Minnesota chapter of Her fight feels urgent, as Canadian pipeline giant Enbridge Energy seeks to build one of the largest crude oil pipelines in the country through tribal land in Minnesota, including treaty territory where tribes hunt, fish, and gather wild rice. The pipeline, known as “Line 3,” will transport oil from the Alberta tar sand mines in Canada all the way to Wisconsin for processing in Midwest refineries. Oil pipeline construction brings with it an influx of workers — and as a result — the growth of so-called “man camps” to house workers along the pipeline route.

Man camp establishments near oil extraction sites and along pipelines often look like makeshift trailer parks, and they correlate with an increased number of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and Two Spirit people (who are believed to have both feminine and masculine spirits), or MMIWG2S as they are referred to collectively within the Indigenous rights movement. Pipelines also coincide with higher rates of human trafficking, domestic violence, drug and alcohol use, toxin exposures, and other societal stressors.

“They [extractive industries] treat Mother Earth like they treat women,” Lisa Brunner, a member of the White Earth Ojibwe Nation and former program specialist for the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, said several years ago at a rally to oppose the Keystone XL Pipeline. “They think they can own us, buy us, sell us, trade us, rent us, poison us, rape us, destroy us, use us as entertainment, and kill us.”

According to the UN Development Program, fossil fuel industries perpetuate violence, environmental harm, gender inequalities, and displacement. Even the US Department of State admitted last year that the link between extractive industries and sex-trafficking is “increasingly an issue of grave concern.”

In North Dakota, this link is clear. The Bakken oil boom, which began in 2006, brought more than 10,000 itinerant workers to the state. Crews are made up of mostly young men who work long days, are socially isolated, and are paid good money. Crime in North Dakota increased roughly 18 percent between 2008 and 2013 (during the peak of the oil boom). When Indigenous girls go missing in northern Minnesota, the Bakken oil fields is often the first place that the authorities look.

Now, Indigenous communities in Minnesota are fatigued by yet another pipeline threatening to exacerbate a pattern of violence against women while also eviscerating their sacred treaty land. But the Line 3 project, which will replace the company’s existing Line 3 pipeline, seems to be proceeding as planned. In June this year, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted to approve the Certificate of Need for Enbridge’s proposed pipeline, essentially giving the project the green light. Indigenous and environmental groups are planning to appeal this decision.

During final testimony before the Public Utilities Commission, Enbridge declared that they would not build “man camps” along the pipeline route to house the 1,800 itinerant workers expected to help lay the pipe. Instead, they will put up their contractors in hotels and resorts. For this reason — and because they also employ women workers — Enbridge refutes the term “man camp” in relation to the project. The company has also committed to developing an education plan and awareness campaign around the issue of MMIWG2S with the companies and subcontractors it hires to construct, restore, and operate the pipeline. Despite the fact that it is now a condition of their permit, organizers point out that Enbridge has not demonstrated progress or met self-imposed deadlines to develop such a training.

Sheila Lamb, an Indigenous woman and MMIWG2S advocate, says she is not convinced that integrating these men so closely within local communities in hotels will mitigate potential threats. “This is such a huge concern that it is going to overburden our police officers,” she says. “It’s also going to have a great socioeconomic impact as you’re dealing with multigenerational historical trauma.”

The Public Utility Commission’s decision regarding the pipeline is viewed by many as part of an ongoing erasure of Native sovereignty and cultural identity. “This is a continuation of cultural genocide … that we have been trying to heal from,” says Lamb. “It is going to put a great burden on our tribe and on the state of Minnesota if [Line 3] is allowed to happen.”

Lamb works at Sol House in Duluth, MN where she provides a loving and nurturing home to sexually exploited teens. Her job entails running cultural competency training groups for kids, cooking with them, participating in family meals, and putting positivity into food.

Teaching kids how to bead or speak their native language is a conduit for them to reconnect with their culture, the earth, and their creator, all as a way for them to heal.

Lamb says traffickers prey on kids who run away from home or find fliers for after-school jobs that prove to be set-ups. Sometimes girls are ambushed while simply walking to and from school. But more often they enter into a relationship with pimps who “groom them and love them.”

“They move in together and they’re living with a guy that they think is so good to them,” Lamb says. “He hooks them on drugs. They’re gang-raped, desensitized. They break them, their self-worth, their self-esteem … Who at 14 or 15 is able to handle that?”

Indigenous women are two-and-a-half times more likely to be sexually assaulted than any other demographic in the US, and the expansion of extractive industries in and around tribal lands often leads to rates of violence that are even higher. The fact that boom towns often form in remote places makes it hard for victims to access protective services, legal advocates, and allies. According to a 2016 National Institute of Justice Report, 56 percent of Indigenous women have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime, and 38 percent were unable to receive any type of victim services.

“National stats of missing and murdered Indigenous women [are] mind-blowing,” says Lamb. “If I can touch one of them, just one, and help them change lives and never go back to that again, to heal, in my eyes that’s huge.”

Sharyl Downwind/WhiteHawk, a counselor for White Earth Tribe in Minnesota and advocate for MMIWG2S, says that in 30 years of counseling survivors of abuse, it’s rare for her to find an Indigenous woman who has not experienced abduction, rape, or other forms of violence. Downwind/WhiteHawk — who has suffered abuse herself — says her main purpose in the world is to prevent these things from happening to her daughters.

“Gangs intentionally target Native girls because no one comes looking for them once they disappear,” she says, in reference to local and federal law enforcement. “If you sell drugs and guns, then [they’re] gone, [but] you can sell a woman many times.”

Murder, kidnapping, and trafficking of Indigenous women, girls, and Two Spirits is hard to fight, in part, because the scope of the problem is hard to quantify. There is no accurate data on how many women actually go missing.

For instance, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, the US Department of Justice’s public database of missing persons, lists only 16 cases of missing or unidentified Indigenous females, all 16 of which are unidentified human remains. In comparison, the National Crime Information Center lists 5,700 missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Fear of retaliation and distrust of law enforcement means that many Indigenous women rarely report offenses to local or federal agencies. When crimes are reported, many women say they go uninvestigated or unprosecuted.

Barriers within the legal system pose an added challenge, since it can be difficult to even determine whether the state, the tribe, or the federal government has jurisdiction in many of these cases. And though Indigenous women are much more likely to be victimized by non-Native offenders than by tribal members, in 1978, the US Supreme Court stripped tribes of their ability to prosecute and punish non-Native offenders in tribal courts.

The US made progress when Congress passed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act in 2013. This law allows tribes to prosecute non-tribal members, but only in cases of partner violence. In 2015 Obama also signed the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act that is meant to prevent trafficking and improve services for victims. Among other things, it requires the Department of Justice to better train law enforcement agencies on handling trafficking cases, punishes people that advertise for and profit from commercial sex with minors, and enforces a $5,000 fine for offenders.

Currently, there’s also a bill under consideration in Congress that specifically addresses the issue of MMIWG2S. Named Savanah’s law for Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind — a young Indigenous woman murdered in Fargo last year when she was eight months pregnant — the bill would mandate development of law enforcement protocols for addressing the problem of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

In Minnesota — where in some parts of the state, Indigenous women are murdered at rates more than ten times the national average — Representative Mary Kunesh-Podein (a descendant of the Standing Rock tribe) authored a house bill for the creation of a Governor’s Task Force on MMIWG2S to develop culturally appropriate ways to collect data on the issue, analyze the systemic problems perpetuating this epidemic, and provide recommendations to reduce and end this violence. The bill was defeated in May.

Outside the legislative realm, Indigenous women are also leading a movement to increase public awareness around MMIWG2S, elevate one another’s stories, and support healing among all who have been impacted.

“I really feel like nothing is ever going to get better until we start dialoguing with our men,” Downwind/WhiteHawk says. “We’ve got to get people to help in all areas. We have to start healing the moms so they can raise healthy children. We’ve got to start healing our men, so they can fulfill their role that they’re meant to — to protect us and not perpetuate [violence] against us and to raise good sons.”

Kahea Pacheco with Women’s Earth Alliance, an Earth Island Institute project, stresses the importance of solutions that are community-based and Indigenous-led, and that treat the systemic root causes of violence.

“The point is to support communities to address and heal from the colonial, patriarchal legacies that allow for the devaluation of Indigenous lands and bodies,” says Pacheco. “This work to address environmental violence has been going on for generations. Grandmothers and aunties and sisters working for the protection of land and body because they understand that it’s all connected … This is not new. It’s built on a solid foundation laid down by these Indigenous leaders and knowledge keepers.”

Despite the enormity of the challenge and the continued approval of projects like the Line 3 pipeline, advocates aren’t losing hope. Babineau is working to reintroduce a version of Kunesh-Podein’s MMIWG2S bill in the Minnesota legislature, and she’s optimistic that it will receive bipartisan support. Downwind/WhiteHawk, for her part, continues to bring healing to her community.

“I will say it’s unbelievable the feeling of triumph I get when I can take something I went through that was horrible and turn it around and use it to help someone else. It’s that feeling of victory that it didn’t take me down, and I’m using it to help someone else.”

The post The Link Between Human Trafficking and Dirty Energy in Minnesota appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News