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Two Years After Planned Parenthood Shooting, Abortion Clinics Are Still in Danger

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 05:00
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On November 27, 2015, evangelical Christian Robert Dear methodically drove to a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic -- asking for directions along the way -- entered the building and began shooting with a semi-automatic rifle. He ultimately killed three people and wounded another nine, all before eventually surrendering to police.

In the two years that have followed, Dear -- who proclaimed himself a "warrior for the babies" -- has yet to be found competent to stand trial, remaining in prison indefinitely while his case is on hold.

But while it has been two years since an anti-abortion extremist murdered staff or patients at a clinic, much has changed in the last year that makes another violent clinic attack nearly inevitable in the future.

In the last few months, there's been a significant increase in suspicious packages found at locations that perform abortions. In some cases, these have been hoax devices meant to cause fear but not damage. Others, such as a package in Champaign, Illinois, may not have been so benign.

The attempted arson at Women's Health Practice at the beginning of November and another two weeks later in California suggests that, once more, clinics are under attack as abortion opponents grow bolder with a new, anti-abortion administration at the national helm.

Arson and property damage are just a few ways that abortion opponents are showing they've been emboldened under the Trump administration. Trespassing, aggressive harassment and blockades are also on the rise, showing a newfound disdain for federal laws like the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act.

In the spring of 2017, about a dozen activists associated with Operation Save America physically blocked the doors to the only abortion clinic in Louisville, Kentucky, refusing to move until police physically pulled them aside. Then, in September, activists in three states coordinated simultaneous clinic "rescues" in three cities, entering clinics in Michigan, Virginia and New Mexico. They refused to leave the buildings until police arrested them and removed them physically from the premises.

So far, those arrested in the September actions have received only suspended fines and sentences. And organizer Monica Miller of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society announced plans to have a second "red rose rescue" in the future, noting in an email newsletter on November 21 that none of the earlier "rescuers" had been charged with a FACE Act violation.

Meanwhile, even those clinics that did have some protections are seeing them ebb in the first year of the Trump administration. An Engelwood, New Jersey, buffer zone enacted in March of 2014 has now been dismantled less than four years later, with the mere 8-foot buffer deemed "too expansive" and in violation of first amendment rights.

The ruling is one of the first attempts to roll back buffer and bubble zone protections in the wake of the Supreme Court's 2014 decision that struck down a Massachusetts buffer zone, with other cases still pending.

Trespassing, harassment, clinic invasions and even arson attempts all show that abortion opponents are escalating their tactics with the belief that we've turned a page on how aggressively the Department of Justice will prosecute those who attack abortion clinics, staff and patients.

The FACE Act is only as strong as the willingness of the federal government to charge the individuals who violate it. And without actual jail sentences as a deterrent, protesters will continue to test out the law. Slaps on the wrist only signal that activists who want to break what they believe is an "unjust" law can do so without repercussions, stripping down what little protections clinics currently have.

While those who are working to defang the FACE Act and trespass on clinic property may not be the ones committing acts like arson or murder, they're still contributing to widespread violence and intimidation.

With mass shootings happening in the US on a regular basis, it's lucky that we haven't experienced another situation like the one involving Robert Dear -- an abusive, mentally ill, white Christian who unloaded his weapon into an abortion clinic full of patients. Unfortunately, unless police and the judicial system fully defend and prosecute those who violate any laws at abortion clinics, another horrific act of violence will be inevitable.

Categories: News

Outside Spending Targets Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 05:00
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Outside spending against Democratic incumbent Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin has so far exceeded the combined outside spending against the other 21 Democratic Party senators up for reelection in 2018 by a factor of 5.

There has been $3.1 million in outside spending against Baldwin, and about $532,000 against the other Democratic incumbents combined. (Another $6,214 has been spent against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who caucuses with Democrats).  

Baldwin is one of 10 Senate Democrats running for reelection in states that President Donald Trump carried in 2016. Nearly all of the conservative-aligned outside spending has targeted Baldwin, however.

Baldwin has been a senator since 2013 and was formerly the representative for Wisconsin's 2nd Congressional District. 

Among Democratic senators in Trump-carried states, the next largest amount was about $47,000 targeting West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. About $42,000 has been spent against Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, according to FEC data.

"Outside spending" refers to political expenditures by groups or individuals not coordinated with candidates' fundraising committees.

On the Republican side, outside spending against GOP Senate candidates is even higher.

In the 2018 cycle, about $4.7 million of the roughly $5.2 million -- or around 90 percent -- of outside spending against all Republican candidates for the Senatehas targeted Alabama's Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. All but about $295,000 of the $4.7 million targeted Moore before the Republican primary in September. Outside spending after the primary has come from two groups, The Advocacy Fund and Highway 31.

Among Republicans, the next highest total was the $28,000 targeting one of Baldwin's Republican challengers, Kevin Nicholson, who has the support of former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.

Nicholson is a former Democrat who once worked for the Democratic National Committee and even spoke at its 2000 convention.

Uline Inc, a Wisconsin-based shipping supply company owned by Illinois-based conservative donor Richard Uihlein, gave $3.5 million to the pro-Nicholson super PAC Solutions for Wisconsin. Uihlein's investments also include several resorts, spas and restaurants in the state.

Solutions for Wisconsin, in turn, has contributed $1.5 million to Americas PAC and Restoration PAC, which represent the second and third largest outside spenders opposing Baldwin. Uihlein also gave $250,000 directly to Americas PAC. He is the chief donor to a super PAC that has funded ads benefiting Moore as well, The Daily Beast reported

Two advisors Nicholson is replacing on his campaign are taking positions at Solutions for Wisconsin.

So far in the 2018 cycle, Uihlein has funded roughly $6.1 million in outside spending, all of which went toward conservative groups.

The outside spending group that has spent the most against Baldwin is Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a politically active nonprofit that serves as the fundraising hub of the donor network spearheaded by billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch. 

Freedom Partners has spent around $1.7 million to defeat Baldwin, and as a 501(c)(6) trade association, it is not required to disclose its donors.

Categories: News

The Art of Keeping Guantánamo Open: What the Paintings by Its Prisoners Tell Us About Our Humanity and Theirs

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 05:00
 Muhammad Ansi, Untitled (Pier), 2016.)(Image: Muhammad Ansi, Untitled [Pier], 2016.)   Truthout is funded by readers, not by corporations, lobbyists or government interests. Help us publish more stories like this one: Click here to make a tax-deductible donation!

We spent the day at a beach in Brooklyn. Skyscrapers floated in the distance and my toddler kept handing me cigarette filters she had dug out of the sand. When we got home, I checked my email. I had been sent a picture of a very different beach: deserted, framed by distant headlands with unsullied sands and clear waters. As it happened, I was looking not at a photograph, but at a painting by a man imprisoned at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp.

Of the roughly 780 people once imprisoned there, he is one of 41 prisoners who remain, living yards away from the Caribbean Sea. Captives from the Bush administration's Global War on Terror began to arrive at that offshore prison in January 2002. Since Guantánamo is located on a military base in Cuba and the detainees were labeled "alien enemy combatants," they were conveniently to be without rights under either United States or international law and so open to years of whatever their jailers wanted to do to them (including torture). President Barack Obama released 197 of them in his years in office, but was unable to fulfill the promise he made on his first day: to close Guantánamo.

The man whose painting I saw has been held for nearly 15 years without trial, without even having charges filed against him. The email came from his lawyer who had volunteered to defend a number of Guantánamo detainees. Some had been released after she helped them convince a military tribunal that they were no longer "threats" to the United States. The others remain in indefinite detention. Many of her clients pass their time by making art and, of all the unexpected things to come into my life, she was now looking for a curator who wanted to exhibit some of their paintings.

Collecting the Art of Guantánamo

I'm a professor at John Jay College in New York City. It has a small art gallery and so one day in August 2016 I found myself in that lawyer's midtown Manhattan office preparing, however dubiously, to view the art of her clients. She was pushing aside speakerphones and notepads and laying out the artwork on a long table in a conference room whose windows overlooked the picturesque East River. As I waited, I watched from high up as the water cut a swath of silence through the city. When I finally turned my attention to the art, I was startled to see some eerily similar views. Painting after painting of water. Water trickling through the reeds at the edge of a pond. Water churning into foam as it ran over rocks in rivers. Calmly flowing water that reflected the buildings along a canal.

But above all, there was the sea. Everywhere, the sea. In those paintings in that conference room and in other work sent to me as word spread among detainees and their lawyers that I was willing to plan an exhibit, I found hundreds of depictions of the sea in all its moods. In some paintings, storms thrashed apart the last planks of sinking ships. In others, boats were moored safely at docks or scudded across vast expanses of water without a hint of shore in sight. Clouds bunched in blue midday skies or burned orange in mid-ocean sunsets. One detainee had even made elaborate models of sailing ships out of cardboard, old T-shirts, bottle caps, and other scraps of trash.

Puzzled, I asked the lawyer, "Why all the water?" She shrugged. Maybe the art instructor at the prison, she suggested, was giving the detainees lots of pictures of the sea. The detainees, it turned out, could actually take art classes as long as they remained "compliant." But when there was a crackdown, as there had, for instance, been during a mass hunger strike in 2013, the guards promptly confiscated their art -- and that was the reason the lawyer's clients had asked her to take it. They wanted to keep their work (and whatever it meant to them) safe from the guards.

As it turned out, the art doesn't leave Guantánamo that much more easily than the prisoners themselves. Military authorities scrutinized every piece for hidden messages and then stamped the back of each work, "Approved by US Forces." Those stamps generally bled through, floating up into the surface of the image on the other side. The lawyer had even nicknamed one of the model ships the U.S.S. Approved because the censors had stamped those words across its sails.

So I found myself beginning to plan an exhibition of a sort I had never in my wildest dreams imagined I would curate. And I began to worry. A curator makes so many choices, judgments, interpretations of art. But how could I make them with any kind of accuracy when I was a woman, a non-Muslim, and a citizen of the very nation that had detained these men for so many years without charges or trial? Wasn't I, in other words, the ultimate Other?

 Ghaleb Al-Bihani, Untitled [Red and Purple Boats], 2015.)(Image: Ghaleb Al-Bihani, Untitled [Red and Purple Boats], 2015.)Greek to Me

By training, I'm a classical art historian. I expand fragments. If I show my students a broken ancient Greek vase, I use my words to mend it. I pour in more words to fill it with the memory of the wine it once carried, yet more to conjure up the men who once drank from it, and still more to offer my students our best guesses at what they might have been talking about as they drank.

This mode of dealing with art was known to the ancient Greeks. They called it ekphrasis: the rhetorical exercise of describing a work of art in great detail. For them, ekphrasis was a creative act. The speaker often explained things not shown by the artist, such as what happened just before or just after the illustrated moment. The maiden in this painting is smiling because she has just received a declaration of love, they would say.

But faced with this art from Guantánamo, ekphrasis seemed somehow inappropriate. These artists are still alive, even if entombed. Their artworks are as they intended them, not the fragmentary remains of some past world that needs a framework of interpretation. And whatever interpretation these might need, how in the world was I to provide it? Who was I to pour my words over them?

And yet I knew that they needed help or why would that lawyer have come to me? The detainees certainly couldn't curate their own exhibit in New York because they would be barred from entering the United States even after being released from Guantánamo. So I told myself that I would have to help them realize their desire for an exhibit without inserting my own judgments. I told myself that I would instead be their amanuensis.

From the Latin: a manu, servant of the hand, the term once referring to someone who aided in an artistic project by taking dictation. Consider, for instance, John Milton's daughters, Mary and Deborah, who took down his seventeenth century epic poem Paradise Lost after he had gone blind. They were his amanuenses. He composed the verses in his head at night. Then, in the morning, as a contemporary of his wrote, he "sat leaning backward obliquely in an easy chair, with his leg flung over the elbow of it" while they wrote down what he recited. If they dawdled coming to him, he would complain that he needed to be milked.

I would similarly let the artists speak for themselves through me, or so I thought. I wrote out a list of questions for their lawyers to ask them, including "What do you like about making art?" and "What would you like people to think about when they are looking at your art?" Then I waited for those lawyers to pose them during their Guantánamo visits in the midst of conferences about legal matters.

The answers were strikingly uniform and seemingly unrevealing. They wanted people to see their art, they said, and through it know that they are actual human beings. Really? I didn't get it. Of course, they're human beings. What else could they be?

At first, I wasn't too concerned that their answers didn't really make much sense to me. That's part of the role of an amanuensis. Milton's daughters were ten and six when he began Paradise Lost. It would take them all nearly a decade to finish it. In those years, their father also taught them to read books aloud to him in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, of which they couldn't understand a word.

I was used to being an amanuensis myself. When I was a year and a half old and my mother was still pregnant with my sister, my father had an accident and broke his neck. The fractured edge of a vertebra sliced into his spinal cord, leaving his arms and legs paralyzed. As soon as we were old enough -- and I can't remember a time when we weren't considered old enough -- my sister and I would spend hours a day being his "hands." We opened mail, paid bills, slid computer disks in and out of the desktop that he operated by stabbing at the keys with a long pointer held in his mouth. Through us, two daydreamy little girls, he did all the work of a stereotypical man of the house -- fixing broken appliances, hanging Christmas lights, grilling steak.

To be an amanuensis is, by the way, anything but a passive act. After all, there wouldn't be enough time in the world if you had to tell your own hands what to do in every situation: reach for the coffee cup, close that finger around its handle, bring it to your mouth. In the same way, an amanuensis must anticipate needs, prepare tools, and know when something's missing.

And this sense that something was missing -- honed from my years with my father -- was growing in me as I looked at the artwork and thought about those responses. It was the midsummer of 2017 and the exhibit was set to open in the fall. The file cabinets in my office were filled with paintings, overflowing into piles on the floor that came up to my shins. After the struggle to pry those artworks out of Guantánamo, I didn't know how to say that one piece should be seen by the world and another should stay a prisoner in some dark drawer.

Freedom of the Seas

So I asked again -- this time by emailing Mansoor Adayfi, a former detainee working on a memoir about his time at Guantánamo. He explained that the cells of detainees were right by the sea. They could smell and hear the surf, but because tarps blocked their view, they could never see it. Only once, when a hurricane was coming, had the guards removed those tarps from the fences that separated them from the water. A few days later, when they went back up, the artist-inmates began to draw pictures of the sea as a substitute for what they had glimpsed during that brief moment of visual freedom.

Suddenly, those endless visions of water -- that is, of freedom -- made sense to me. And I understood something else as well. Guantánamo is a system designed to paint the men it holds as monsters, animals, sub-humans who don't deserve basic rights like fair trials. That was the reason those prisoners were speaking, but not speaking, in their art. Why would they say anything that risked a further fall from whatever precarious hold on humanity they still had?

They hoped someday to be released, which was unlikely to happen if the authorities became convinced that they bore any anger towards the United States. And even release would not mean freedom of speech, since they would be sent to countries that had agreed to host them. Dependent on the good graces of these governments, they would continue to live constrained lives in constrained circumstances, needing never to offend these new sets of authorities either.

 Khalid Qasim, Untitled [Fins in the Ocean], 2016.)(Image: Khalid Qasim, Untitled [Fins in the Ocean], 2016.)

I was indeed the Other. I might misinterpret and misrepresent, but so undoubtedly would anyone else in our world speaking for those artists. And they were incapable of speaking for themselves.

So I added an essay of my own to the catalog, becoming ekphrastic. I pointed out what was movingly missing in their artwork. It wasn't that there weren't people in their paintings. It was that those works had invisible holes where the people should have been. All those unmanned boats, sailing across those open waters, were carrying invisible self-portraits of the artists as they hardly dared to imagine themselves: free. Even when there were no boats, the famously mutable sea served as the perfect disguise. Its winds and waves and rocks represented the all-too-human emotions of the artists without ever making them visible to the censors.

It was, of course, so much less dangerous for me to interpret what they were saying than for them to say it directly. I had held many doors open for my father when I was his amanuensis, running ahead to make sure the path was clear and that there were no surprising flights of stairs. If there were, it was up to me to find a new way.

This is what I wanted to do for the artists. Open doors, scout out paths -- but their choice of doors, their choice of paths, not mine. They had told me they wanted people to see them as human beings and that was the case I tried to make for them.

As it turned out, I evidently succeeded a little too well. After the exhibit opened and received a surprising amount of media attention, the artists' lawyers noticed that the authorities were taking longer and longer to clear artworks to leave Guantánamo. Then, three weeks ago, the Department of Defense declared that all art made at Guantánamo is government property. Detainees reported that their guards then told them any art left behind if they were ever released would be burned and works in their cells deemed "excess" would simply be discarded.

As with so many policy decisions about Guantánamo, the true rationale for this one remains hidden. My guess: the US authorities there were surprised that the artwork they had been scrutinizing so carefully for hidden messages had a unifying one they had missed: that its makers were human beings. Which is precisely the realization the authorities need to stop the rest of us from having if Guantánamo is to remain open.

Categories: News

After a Dizzying Weekend, the White House Is Rattled: What's Next?

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 05:00
 Alex Wong / Getty Images)President Trump approaches members of the media to speak on former national security adviser Michael Flynn's lying to the FBI prior to his Marine One departure from the South Lawn of the White House December 4, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)   In these troubling and surreal times, honest journalism is more important than ever. Help us keep real news flowing: Make a donation to Truthout today.

President Trump had quite a week. He lied about his "Access Hollywood" tape, attacked CNN International -- prompting authoritarians all over the globe to follow suit -- made a racist slur in front of Native American war heroes and tweeted out far-right conspiracy websites and anti-Muslim videos, prompting a major diplomatic crisis with America's closest ally. It didn't get any better over the weekend.

The Daily Beast reported that Trump had been worried for a while that former national security adviser Michael Flynn had "turned on him" and that the president was "personally hurt" by the news Flynn was potentially cooperating with the special counsel. When it turned out on Friday that Flynn had agreed to plead guilty to lying to the FBI in exchange for telling the prosecutors everything he knows, Trump pretty much lost it. From the tenor of his tweeting over the weekend, hurt has given way to panic.

He managed to stay quiet through Friday night while he attended several fundraisers in New York to deliver the good news to his fellow multi-millionaires that their massive tax cut was one step closer to fruition -- and collect his commission. As he always says, "To the victors belong the spoils!" But by Saturday it had all obviously become too much and Trump tweeted: "I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!"

It appeared that the staff hastily tweeted a tribute to Rosa Parks and yet another Melania Trump "Christmas at the White House" picture in a vain attempt to make that tweet slide down the timeline, but it was too late. Everyone saw that the president had admitted to something he'd never admitted to before: He already knew Flynn had lied to the FBI when he fired him. Knowing that, Trump took FBI Director James Comey aside the very next day and asked him to go easy on his buddy. That would be known as obstruction of justice.

That tweet sent the White House spinning like a top. At first officials insisted it was a "paraphrase" of the statement White House lawyer Ty Cobb had released the day before. But when reporters went to check, there was nothing like that to paraphrase. Finally, Trump's personal lawyer John Dowd fell on his sword and said he had composed the tweet and made a mistake in the way it was worded. He hadn't meant to say that Trump knew Flynn had lied to the FBI before he fired him.

Normally, if a lawyer made such a mistake they would be fired, particularly if the client was the president of the United States. Moreover, nobody believes that anyone but Trump wrote that tweet, because nobody but him would be stupid enough to think that tweet should be written in the first place. The idea that his lawyer would think it was a good idea to tweet anything about the case is simply absurd. It was a foolish admission, right up there with Trump going on TV with Lester Holt and admitting that he fired Comey over the Russia investigation.

Unfortunately for Trump, Dowd went on to confuse the matter even more by telling The Washington Post that Trump "knew in late January that then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had probably given FBI agents the same inaccurate account he provided to Vice President Pence about a call with the Russian ambassador." In other words, Trump knew that Flynn had lied, since lying to Pence was supposedly the reason he was fired.

More importantly, why in the world would Trump have asked the FBI director to go easy on Flynn if he hadn't known Flynn was in legal trouble? That never made any sense at all. Trump attempted to clean that little matter up on Sunday morning with this tweet:

I never asked Comey to stop investigating Flynn. Just more Fake News covering another Comey lie!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 3, 2017

That, of course, is where this was always headed. It's Comey's word against Trump about what happened when he shooed everyone out of the Oval Office to talk to the FBI Director alone the day after Flynn was fired. Comey took notes and told other members of the Justice Department what happened at the time. We don't know if Trump told anyone. But since Trump lies compulsively, it's going to be tough to make the case that the country should take his word over Comey's -- or anyone's.

What this bizarre episode over the weekend showed was the degree of stress that Trump is under, knowing that Flynn is cooperating. It also reveals the right's bold strategy to save him. Trump only tweeted a few words about Flynn. But he was obviously watching Fox News and issued a flurry of tweets about the counter-narrative that network is launching to discredit the Department of Justice and the FBI.

The idea is that Comey and his cronies covered up Hillary Clinton's crimes because they were against Trump from the beginning. (Yes, I know this doesn't make sense; it's a narrative, not a legal brief.) Trump's allies were helped along with that this weekend when news broke that a high ranking FBI agent, whom Mueller had dismissed last summer because he had sent some anti-Trump texts to his girlfriend, was also involved with the Clinton email case.

House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who has supposedly recused himself from the Russia investigation but is obviously up to his eyeballs in it, has declared war on the Justice Department, saying it isn't cooperating. (The department says it is.) Now Attorney General Jeff Sessions has gotten involved, saying that he will ensure that Justice is operating with integrity.

Trump was very excited about this and posted a series of rambling hysterical tweets claiming that the FBI is "in tatters, the worst in history" but that he will "bring it back to greatness." FBI agents and Department of Justice employees were not amused. Former Attorney General Eric Holder tweeted, "you’ll find integrity and honesty at FBI headquarters and not at 1600 Penn Ave right now."

All this dragging on the FBI is a smokescreen, of course. But it will give the right-wing media and Trump supporters a storyline, and Trump loyalists like Nunes probably hope it will eventually turn up something to give Trump a reason to fire Mueller. It hard to see why they bother. If he wants to do it, he'll do it. After this weekend it feels as though the odds of such an impulsive action just went up. For an innocent man, the president is sure acting rattled.

Categories: News

Trump's Scheme to Tie Up a Weakling Watchdog

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 05:00
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Count Mick Mulvaney as one of the many people Donald Trump has appointed to head up agencies they actively want to destroy.

Back at a 2015 House of Representatives hearing, Mulvaney -- a former congressional representative before Trump appointed him to be the director of the Office of Management and Budget -- made it clear how much he loathes the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

"I don't like the fact that CFPB exists, I'll be perfectly honest with you," Mulvaney said of the agency created after the 2008 Great Recession to act as a consumer watchdog overseeing the practices of banks, credit unions, pay-day lenders, mortgage and foreclosure services, and other financial companies.

Of course, Mulvaney isn't alone in his feelings about the CFPB. Many in the Washington political establishment, and definitely the Wall Street bosses who back them, dislike even minimal oversight of the financial sector -- so they've been on a mission to destroy the agency since before it was even established.

"Wall Street hates it like the devil hates holy water," said Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin.

Under Trump, the assault on the CFPB has escalated. When its former Director Richard Cordray announced his resignation and then departed earlier than anticipated from his position in late November, it opened the door for Trump to try to ram through Mulvaney's appointment as director.

The idea was that Mulvaney could do what so many other Trump appointees have excelled at: aim a wrecking ball at a government agency.

In a statement, Teddy Kỳ-Nam Miller, the economic equity director of the Greenlining Institute, predicted that "Mulvaney will be as big a gift to Wall Street grifters as Scott Pruitt has been to polluters."

***

It's not clear that Trump has the power to simply appoint Mulvaney to head up the CFPB -- though, as usual, he is insisting he can do whatever he wants.

A dispute over presidential powers left the CFPB with two possible directors as this story was being written: Trump's pick Mulvaney, and Leandra English, who Cordray named as the CFPB's deputy director before he left and who many believe is legally entitled to head the agency.

At least in theory, the CFPB is supposed to be nonpartisan. Established in 2010 as part of the post-Wall Street meltdown legislation known as the Dodd-Frank Act, the CFPB was meant to be a watchdog to protect consumers from the kind of predatory lending practices that helped wreck the economy in 2008 and disproportionately targeted working-class people and minorities.

Cordray's term wasn't due to end until July 2018. Trump tried to use the opportunity to install Mulvaney -- despite the fact that architects of Dodd-Frank Act say the law provides the CFPB with its own internal mechanism for succession in the event of a vacancy before the end of a director's five-year term. With that in mind, Cordray appointed English as deputy director, expecting she would then become the acting director in his absence.

The struggle for control led to both Mulvaney and English declaring they were the agency's director at the start of this week. On Monday, English sent a memo to CFPB employees as the "acting director" -- countered two hours later by one from Mulvaney, in which he directed employees to "disregard any instructions you receive from Ms. English in her presumed capacity as acting director."

As this article was being written, Trump had won the first battle in the courts, with -- surprise! -- a Trump nominee, Federal District Court Judge Timothy Kelly, refusing a request from English for a restraining order to block Mulvaney's appointment.

***

Make no mistake: The Republicans and Wall Street would love to see the CFPB completely defanged -- and they harbored a particular hatred for Cordray, as the New York Times reported:

Mr. Cordray's critics were quick to cheer his departure. Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas, the Republican chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, called the bureau a "rogue agency" that is "long overdue for new leadership."

Mr. Cordray has been a whipping boy on Capitol Hill for years -- Congress called him to testify nearly 30 times -- but in recent months he also came under attack from other federal agencies. In one case, the Justice Department sided with a mortgage lender that questioned the agency's constitutionality.

The CPFB has had some modest successes -- which is why Wall Street and their political backers hate it. While Cordray was director, the CFPB was able to win "$12 billion in refunds and canceled debts for 29 million consumers," the Times reported. "It cracked down on abusive debt collectors, strengthened protections for mortgage borrowers and created a complaints system that helped hundreds of thousands of people resolve disputes with financial companies."

But the CFPB's successes are overshadowed by the many ways that it was -- along with other portions of Dodd-Frank -- deliberately designed to not be effective at holding large Wall Street firms accountable.

While $12 billion in refunds might seem like a lot, one 2014 estimate by three Federal Reserve Bank economists found that the total cost of the Great Recession bailout of Wall Street would end being between $6 trillion and $14 trillion -- all of it borne by taxpayers.

That's $19,000 to 45,000 per American to bail out banks that were deemed "too big to fail" -- even as millions lost their homes or ended up underwater on their mortgages.

In the specific case of the CFPB, Dodd-Frank limited the agency's effectiveness by putting what the Consumer Federation of America called "a number of unprecedented controls" on its authority -- such as requiring an annual audit; making its actions subject to judicial review; allowing other agencies to petition to veto CFPB rules; and including a cap on its budget, something that no other government financial regulator is subject to.

***

The focus now on the legal question of who should succeed Cordray obscures a larger issue: that the CPFB, as well as the other post-recession "reforms" passed as part of Dodd-Frank, were largely toothless to begin with -- window dressing to allow Democrats in particular to talk about bringing large banks to heel, while never doing much to threaten the power or profits of Wall Street.

A 2012 Rolling Stone report titled "How Wall Street Killed Financial Reform" reported that:

many of the new regulatory concepts survived in the final bill, [but] most of them wound up whittled down to such an extreme degree that they were barely recognizable in the end...[T]he Consumer Financial Protection Bureau...went from being a powerful, independent agency run by Elizabeth Warren to a smaller bureau within the Federal Reserve System run by -- well, anyone but Elizabeth Warren.

As Christopher Baum noted in Socialist Worker last March:

Dodd-Frank limited the scope and effectiveness of its activities by explicitly capping the bureau's annual budget -- uniquely among bank regulators -- and imposing substantial burdens, some of them also unique, on its rulemaking process. The CFPB's regulations can also be blocked by the interagency Financial Services Oversight Council, if that body decides they are a threat to financial stability.

Or Congress can block them -- as it did recently when the CFPB proposed, after five years of study, measures to stop financial institutions from forcing consumers into arbitration, allowing banks to hide fraudulent practices with non-disclosure orders, as in the recent case of Wells Fargo and its creation of fake accounts.

Despite widespread support for the CFPB's proposal to allow consumers to refuse arbitration, Congress came down squarely on the side of the banks.

None of this, of course, is to say that Trump's push to dismantle the CFPB doesn't matter. Every instance in which his administration is able to get its way and his political hacks are able to bulldoze their way through government agencies or tear up regulations only strengthens the administration's hand, while harming ordinary people.

At a time when Washington is poised to pass a massive tax giveaway to the wealthy, the attack on the CFPB is one more slap in the face to working people -- one that again exposes the lie at the heart of Trump's supposed "economic populism."

Categories: News

Tax Cuts Boost Growth and Other Things They Tell Children

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 05:00
 Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call)Speaker Paul Ryan greets Rep. Virginia Foxx during a news conference in the Capitol after the House passed the the GOP's tax reform bill on November 16, 2017. (Photo: Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call)   Who are the powerful funders behind Truthout? Our readers! Help us publish more stories like this one by making a tax-deductible donation.

It is a bit incredible that we are again being told that tax cuts directed primarily toward the wealthy will create a surge of investment and growth, thereby benefitting everyone. The Republicans may have the power to push their tax cut through Congress, but the claim that ordinary workers will benefit is not the sort of thing that serious people should take seriously.

The GOP's basic story is that a cut in the corporate income tax will lead to a huge burst of investment. More investment will lead to gains in productivity, which will allow workers to have higher pay.

There are theoretical models that show this sort of result. But there are also all sorts of assumptions in these models that clearly do not correspond to the real world.

In these models, investment is highly responsive to changes in the after-tax profit rate. But we know this is not the case in the real world. This is demonstrated most immediately by the fact that investment is currently relatively weak.

The real world conflicts with these models since the after-tax profit rate has soared in the last 15 years as the before-tax profit share of income hit its highest level in 50 years. (In the models, investment doesn't care if the after-tax profit rate goes up because of lower taxes or higher before-tax profits.) If a surge in profit rates due to higher before-tax profits didn't lead to an investment boom, why would anyone think that a further increase in profit rates due to lower taxes would spur investment?

We also have tried this tax cut scheme before in the recent past. The 1986 tax reform lowered the tax rate on corporate profits from 46 percent to 35 percent. This is roughly the same size as the current proposed cut. Investment actually fell over the next two years, and even six years out it was less than 10 percent higher, translating into a dismal 1.6 percent annual growth rate.

But President Trump and the Republicans in Congress want us to ignore the evidence, to pay no attention to recent history, and to trust them on this. Okay, more realistically they don't give a damn what the public thinks because the rich campaign contributors, who will be the primary beneficiaries of this tax cut, own enough members of Congress to get it through.

While it is silly to imagine that this tax cut will lead to a surge of growth, there is another possible scenario that is being entirely missed in the debate over the tax cut. Economic growth may be picking up for reasons having nothing to do with the tax cut.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is projecting weak growth of just 1.8 percent over the next decade. That compares to an average of 3.5 percent over the 60 years prior to the collapse in 2008.

Part of the reason for the weaker projected growth is the expectation of slower labor force growth. The main factor here is demographics; the baby boomers are now retiring. There is little likelihood the demographic story will change substantially unless we were to see a big increase in immigration.

However, the other part of the story is productivity growth. The CBO projects that productivity growth will remain close to the 1.0 percent annual rate of the last decade, as opposed to being near the 2.0 percent average for the prior 60 years.

That could be right, but it is also possible that productivity growth will bounce back to something closer to its longer-term average. Productivity growth was over 3.0 percent in the third quarter and it is on track to be close to 2.0 percent in the fourth quarter.

Productivity data are notoriously erratic, but it is certainly possible that we are witnessing the beginning of an uptick in the growth rate. If that proves to be the case, then the projections of large deficits from the tax cut will turn out not to be true. The more rapid growth will mean more tax revenue and less money paid out for transfer programs like food stamps and unemployment insurance.

In this respect, it is worth noting that CBO's ability to predict turning points in productivity has been close to zero. It completely missed the huge upturn in productivity growth in 1995, from less than 1.5 percent annually to almost 3.0 percent. It also completely missed the falloff in rates of close to 1.0 percent in the years after 2005.

Given this track record, it is absurd that people would confidently proclaim that the economy cannot grow faster than 1.8 percent. The people who know anything about economics know that we have very little basis for confidence in such predictions.

This is not an argument for tax cuts targeted for the rich; it is the exact opposite. We already are seeing low unemployment and a tightening labor market. As a result, workers up and down the wage ladder are seeing respectable growth in wages.

There is also evidence that the tighter labor market is leading to faster productivity growth, as companies attempt to economize on labor. In this context, what possible purpose can be served by having a tax cut targeted to rich people, except, of course, making the rich richer. 

Categories: News

When ICE Strikes, Volunteers Hope to Be There to Help Immigrants

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 05:00

In a small back room at Victory in Praise, a predominantly African American church in California, community organizer Arturo Palato gathered a disparate group of citizens. Palato's mission: Convince these people that they have a crucial role to play when immigration authorities come to round up their neighbors. The "rapid response" training program was one of a half-dozen being carried out by Faith in the Valley, an interfaith nonprofit that is seeking ways legal residents and citizens can respond if massive roundups and deportations begin.

 Peg Hunter)Activists display signs in the May Day march in San Francisco, California, on May 1, 2017. (Photo: Peg Hunter)   Nonprofit, independent news outlets like Truthout are critical to countering the mainstream media narrative. Help get the real stories out by supporting Truthout with a tax-deductible donation.

This story was originally published by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Learn more at revealnews.org and subscribe to the Reveal podcast, produced with PRX, at revealnews.org/podcast.

In a small back room at Victory in Praise, a predominantly African American church in this Central Valley city, community organizer Arturo Palato assessed his troops. The gathering included a teacher, a social worker, a salesman and a student -- about a dozen in all.

Palato's mission: Convince this disparate crew that they have a crucial role to play when immigration authorities come to round up their neighbors. Take notes. Take photos. And provide key eyewitness accounts if something goes awry.

"We cannot stop ICE from doing what they do," said Curtis Smith, a local pastor and community organizer, as he warned the volunteers not to interfere with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "But we can offer support so that people know they can count on their community to show up in their time of need."

The "rapid response" training program was one of a half-dozen being carried out this fall by Faith in the Valley, an interfaith nonprofit in California's Central Valley that is seeking ways legal residents and citizens can respond if massive roundups and deportations begin. The programs have attracted about 150 volunteers who are signing up to manage distress calls, show up where ICE is conducting roundups and help children who are left behind.

Similar volunteer squads are being organized across the country, including in Virginia, Colorado and Massachusetts. But California's effort promises to be among the largest and most sophisticated, in part because of sheer numbers. It is the state with the most people thought to be living without authorization in the United States: more than 2 million. The Central Valley, with more than 300 varieties of crops that need to be harvested to feed the nation and beyond, is one clear magnet for them.

And even in California, where the governor recently signed a law to discourage law enforcement cooperation with ICE, the impact of Trump administration policies will be felt as federal immigrant assistance programs are cut. That's where grassroots efforts such as the rapid response program come in.

Sukaina Hussain, who teamed with Palato at Victory in Praise, spoke in a rapid cadence to the prospective volunteers, as if to underscore her message: Speed is crucial. She told the story of a man who recently was picked up by ICE in Merced and within a few hours transferred to Fresno, then Bakersfield.

"We called our colleagues in Bakersfield, and by the time they got there, they had already signed deportation orders," Hussain said. The man who was detained, she said, "did not know what to do." And the responders? "All we could do was bring him his clothing."

Faith in the Valley has been working for the past six months to set up the rapid response system.

The effort -- funded by member congregations, individuals and foundations such as the California Endowment, Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Sierra Health Foundation -- is built on a network of volunteers who are contacted via text message. They agree to show up at an ICE raid at a moment's notice to take names, notes and photos to track authorities' actions and find out where the arrested are being sent. Then they can try to send legal help.

So far, the system has been used only once, before the cellphone dispatching was set up. Amanda Peterson, who teaches at Sunnyside High School in Fresno, got a Facebook message from a student that ICE was at a nearby grocery store. She called the emergency number Faith in the Valley had provided and went to see what was happening herself.

"I cruised the parking lot to look for government cars and talked to the manager," she said.

It turned out the ICE officers had gone to the store to get groceries. But Peterson said it was a good test run.

Juan Schwanker, who offer various types of support, including legal aid, to troubled youths at Fathers & Families of San Joaquin, attended the training session at Victory in Praise. He was planning to take part in additional online training to become a dispatcher.

"It seems that the administration agenda is to make folks of different ethnic backgrounds and beliefs feel uncomfortable," he said to the group.

It is making him uncomfortable, too.

"I don't like seeing children being scared," he said. "They come to America, where they have the possibility of seeing their dreams come true. That seems like a distant reality now."

That fear is weighing on many people living in the US without authorization. In the first six months of 2017, there was a steady increase in ICE arrests of those who had no criminal record in the US beyond entry without authorization, federal data show.

The California Assembly recently passed a group of bills aimed at protecting such immigrants and discouraging police cooperation with ICE unless the person ICE is seeking has a substantial criminal record. Many state officials have sparred openly with the Trump administration about its approach.

"These are uncertain times for undocumented Californians and their families," Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement when he signed one of the laws discouraging information sharing with ICE. "And this bill strikes a balance that will protect public safety, while bringing a measure of comfort to those families who are now living in fear every day."

Groups such as Faith in the Valley hope to do just that. However, these types of volunteer assistance programs soon might face new challenges, as the Trump administration is using several methods to try to restrict immigration and those who offer assistance, including legal aid to immigrants.

Immigration policies quietly restricted Ada Muniz attends a rapid response training program at Victory in Praise in Stockton, Calif. The programs have attracted about 150 volunteers in California's Central Valley. Credit: Miranda S. Spivack for Reveal

While Congress and the Trump administration have yet to begin serious negotiations about immigration, officials already have taken several steps to slow the flow of immigrants.

Media attention has focused on the flashpoints: raids outside churches and detentions of parents without their children, of sick children, of people who have lived in their communities for decades, and of a teenager who sought an abortion and had just crossed the border.

But many details of the more sweeping threats by the Trump administration have been ignored or their significance underestimated. Those plans are hiding in plain sight and portend a broader series of anti-immigrant actions in the next few months, whether or not the administration and Congress change the laws.

The Trump administration recently said it is ending a program that helped fund lawyers who provide assistance to children who cross the border illegally without an adult. The Trump tax overhaul proposal recommends removing the deduction undocumented parents can take for each child, even if the children are US citizens.

The Department of Homeland Security, ICE's parent agency, quietly announced another significant policy change in the Federal Register on Aug. 16. It will end a program that aided thousands of children who arrived at the border after traveling on their own from Central America. Many of those children already had been approved to enter the US because an adult with legal status awaited them here.

This move, said Wendy Young -- president of Kids in Need of Defense -- left as many as 2,700 children and family members "trapped in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala."

The newest target is longtime residents who have lived legally in the US under a program known as Temporary Protected Status. In the next few months, the clock is ticking for a large group of immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Haitian visa holders, for instance, were cautioned by federal authorities "to prepare for their return to Haiti in the event Haiti's designation is not extended again." In November, the administration made it official: It is ending the program for Haitians and Nicaraguans. The administration already had announced it would end the program for the Sudanese.

The administration's moves have sent chills through the grower community, as well as the hospitality and construction industries. So far, though, there has been no movement in the Trump administration to pressure employers -- just the workers.

However, employers are beginning to look at other hiring methods. Labor Department data show that in the first three months of 2017, farmers filed more than 4,400 applications to hire more than 69,000 guest workers through the H-2A visa program for temporary laborers. That was up by more than a third since last year.

At Victory in Praise, as the rapid response team was beginning to take shape, Schwanker saw the effort's potential.

"Everybody should bring in another person and then another person," he said. "We are going to have a big, strong train to have safety measures in place to protect our folks."

And then he frowned. There really is no choice, he said.

"I have never seen it so bad in my lifetime."

Categories: News

Keeping US Education Segregated Is a Highly Profitable Business for Some

Sun, 12/03/2017 - 05:00

The US has a long history of educating economically vulnerable children in completely different ways than children who are wealthy, says Noliwe Rooks, author of Cutting School. The racial and economic segregation of schools is actually a lucrative business for companies that create these separate and unequal educational experiments with taxpayer funds and very little oversight, she explains.

 Paul Marotta / Getty Images)Protesters demonstrate as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks at the Harvard University John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum on "A Conversation On Empowering Parents" on September 28, 2017, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. DeVos was met by protesters both outside the venue and inside during her remarks. (Photo: Paul Marotta / Getty Images)

Why are schools in the United States more segregated than they have been since the mid-20th century? In Cutting School, a book that Naomi Klein calls "astounding" and Bill Ayers calls "smart" and "wise," Noliwe Rooks delivers a timely indictment of the corporate takeover and dismantling of public education. Order your copy today by making a donation to Truthout!

Noliwe Rooks argues that educational apartheid has existed throughout the history of the United States, and continues to this day. Not only is this segregated education an abomination, but it also has been a revenue source for white school districts, entrepreneurs and even philanthropy. Rooks sees hope for change in the resistance of young students who are demanding accountability.

Mark Karlin: How has "educational apartheid" changed, and how is it still the same in the United States?

Noliwe Rooks: When I first thought about writing Cutting School I planned to begin in the 21st century. I knew that the racial and economic segregation I was seeing in this century wasn't new, but I thought that the role that philanthropies, corporations, business leaders and politicians played -- in shaping how and why so many of our children today attend schools that are overwhelmingly segregated and that deliver idiosyncratic, often experimental educational forms that are very different from those wealthy students enjoy, and with teachers and curriculum and disciplinary methods that could only be found in poor schools -- was somehow a sign of our particular time. I didn't understand that there was a disturbing continuity.

 Cornell Marketing)Noliwe Rooks. (Photo: Cornell Marketing)However, as I completed the research and writing for the book, I found that in this country we have had and continue to have a stubborn insistence on educating children who are economically vulnerable in completely different ways than we do the children who are wealthy. We try to convince students who are not wealthy that certain forms of education (such as those that are vocational in nature, or that include art, music and support for different learning styles) would work best for them. In this way, educational apartheid has remained constant.

At the same time, children of color, or poor children who are somehow able to live in school districts and neighborhoods that have high performing schools can actually attend them. So, that's a definite change. The late poet, Amiri Baraka, referred to [the US] as a "changing same." I think in many ways that construct aptly describes our nation's educational system relative to students who are poor and of color. Educational apartheid is a changing same.

How is capitalism related to the "segrenomics" of education in the US?

Segrenomics is a term I came up with to describe what I saw in so many discrete educational periods in [the US] where there was a consistent cycle for plundering funds supposedly for our nation's most vulnerable students and then hoarding those same funds to educate students who were either wealthy, or white and often times ... both.

I began to see that the separately unequal educations that define our nation were not merely the product of an apartheid imagination designed to educate different segments of our society into what a scholar named Horace Mann Bond termed the American social order, but was also a lucrative business model that from the 19th century on has aided the financial bottom lines of wealthy businesses. Looked at with that understanding, I began to see that the thicket of separate and unequal educational experiments described in the book (vouchers, charter schools, alternatively certified teachers and superintendents), many of which failed to educate the children they were created for, simply would not have been proposed if there was no money to be made from them.

Segrenomics explains how high levels of racial and economic segregation become a business strategy for companies providing educational strategies designed for children who are poor. It is a specific form of capitalism that relies on segregation to do its work.

In what way does this play itself out in white philanthropy and Black education?

Since the earliest days of taxpayer-supported public education, there have been white foundations and philanthropic organizations that in the south joined with white elected officials to propose schools that offered unequal educations (although in the context of a situation where education is either separate or nonexistent, many people in poor communities will choose separate every single time).

"The folks running these foundations may think they are doing good in the world but often they are segregation's bankers."

One of the most impactful was called the Rosenwald Fund and was started by the child of Jewish immigrants who rose to become the president of Sears, Roebuck [and Company]. His name was Julius Rosenwald. Rosenwald used his fortune to aid in building over 5,000 schools for Black children in the rural south between 1912 and 1960 when the Fund ran out of money.

The Fund was a matching grant and the way it worked was, if a community wanted to apply to the Rosenwald Fund for support they first, as a community, had to raise $500. Then they had to find land on which to build the school and often had to deed that land to county educational officials. Then the community, many of whom were often sharecroppers, had to find the wood and other materials to build the school. Then they had to find the labor to do the work of building the schools.

Once all of that was done, the Rosenwald Fund would contribute the $500 in matching grant fees. County educational officials benefited financially because they got the deed to [the] land. The philanthropy benefited because, starting in 1917, there were huge financial benefits for charitable deductions. State coffers benefited because Black communities were often required to pay an extra tax to educate their children (many former slaveholding states forbade using "white" tax dollars to educate Black children so those communities had to pay to educate white children and then again to educate their own).

The only reason any of this was necessary was because white legislatures simply didn't want to spend the federal money sent South to educate Black children. They took it for the education of white children.

Today, we see deep-pocketed foundations continue this pattern, in that they will fund 90/90/90 charter school chains (schools with 90 percent students of color, 90 percent students who fall below federal poverty levels and 90 percent failing to meet educational standards), contribute to Teach for America (which often charges highly segregated school systems a finder's fee of between $2,000-$5,000 per teacher to provide it with teachers), or fund experiments with educational vouchers that often enrich middle and upper middle class white parents at the same time that they disadvantage low-income students of color. The folks running these foundations may think they are doing good in the world but often they are segregation's bankers.

Where does the wrecking ball to public education, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, fit in this current privatization of public education?

The first point I want to make about Betsy DeVos is that she holds extreme versions of educational views that are centrist in terms of what billionaires, millionaires and the political and financial elite believe. She is extreme in that she does not believe in "government schools" as she calls them and thinks that the government should just give parents educational dollars for them to go off and find whatever type of educational experience they think is best for their kids. She literally doesn't believe in the educational system that she was installed to run, or perhaps dismantle, depending on how you want to look at it.

She's extreme in that, but in general, elected officials are sort of on this educational spectrum and believe we should make it easier for lightly regulated educational businesses to take a bigger and bigger share of the $500-$600 billion-dollar educational market, which is comprised of taxpayer funds often with very little oversight. Schools almost function like ATM machines for folks who have figured out how to use them that way. We have not heard Betsy DeVos offer any type of critique at all about what is often just outright theft.

"All over the country young people are demanding more from their educational experiences. They are winning."

Taken as a whole, the education system is comprised of a majority of students who are of color and fall below federal set poverty levels. Those then are the students most negatively impacted by DeVos' failure of oversight.

Describe your concept of "stealing school."

Over the past five or so years, we have seen a real uptick in the numbers of parents who are trying to escape their public-school systems, which are populated with low-performing charter schools and dysfunctional and low-achieving traditional public schools. What they do is enroll their children in higher-performing schools outside of their districts using the addresses of friends or family. Many districts across the country have begun to hire private investigators to surveil their students and when they discover that the students are enrolled in schools outside of the district in which they live, they are arresting the parents and charging them with educational theft, or stealing school.

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The dollar figures involved often make these charges felonies and so when convicted, these parents are faced with felony convictions on their records that can preclude them from voting, and make it more difficult for them to get jobs. When wealthy parents are caught doing the same thing, they are never sent to jail. This is one of the ways that we can really see how education has become a commodity. We are willing to send parents to jail for wanting the same type of education for their kids as wealthy parents get. We simply do not believe that economically vulnerable children deserve the same type of education.

What should we be aiming for in terms of resistance?

One of the things that I learned writing this book is that all over the country young people are demanding more from their educational experiences. They are winning. They are pushing back against abusive disciplinary practices, against overtesting and against narrowing educational practices and experimental educational forms.

I end the book with the life stories of two of my former students (one from Princeton, another from Cornell) who went into the business of education following their graduations from college. Their words and experiences end the book, not mine. They believe communities need to be consulted about the education of their children and not have outsiders come in and make top-down decisions. They believe that teaching children about politics, sexism, racism and identity is as important for children of color in struggling schools as is science and math. They believe that children always need to be treated with respect -- and that how we discipline in schools matters as much as if and why we discipline. I think that resistance looks like us following where these young people want to lead us.

Categories: News

Jeff Sessions's Constant Lying Is Being Used to Help the Criminal Defense of the White Cop Who Murdered Walter Scott

Sun, 12/03/2017 - 05:00

 Joe Raedle / Getty Images)People join hands in prayer as they visit a memorial set up on the site where Walter Scott was killed on April 11, 2015, in North Charleston, South Carolina. Scott was killed on April 4 by North Charleston police officer Michael T. Slager after a traffic stop. (Photo: Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

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The execution of Walter Scott by South Carolina police officer Michael Slager was an unambiguous example of racist police abuse. Cell phone footage clearly shows Slager, who is white, pumping eight bullets into the retreating figure of Scott, who was black, as he fled from the officer. The distance between the two at the moment Slager began firing on the unarmed Scott appears to be anywhere from 18 to 20 feet, much too far for Scott to have been any kind of credible danger to the officer. Yet Slager falsely reported that Scott ran at him and attempted to wrestle away his Taser, causing the officer to feel "threatened" and necessitating use of lethal force.

Thanks to the emergence of bystander video proving Slager's story of self-defense was a lie, federal prosecutors have charged the ex-officer with obstruction of justice, which Slager is attempting to beat by relying on the case of another well-known liar: Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Slager's defense team is pointing to Sessions' constantly shifting and contradictory congressional testimony to show that their client suffers from the same condition that makes it so hard for the Trump administration official to remember the truth.

The absurd defense is explained in court papers recently filed by attorneys for Slager, who pleaded guilty to federal charges of violating Scott's civil rights in May. This is basically a last-ditch effort by federal officials to get any jail time for Slager, whom a South Carolina jury refused to convict on charges of murder last year despite an abundance of evidence. The new tack being taken by his legal team is to insist that Slager's falsified description of his encounter with Scott -- which is directly contradicted by cell phone video -- wasn't motivated by self-interest or his desire to avoid jail time. Instead, Slager's lawyers argue, those seeming falsehoods are a natural consequence of the pressure the officer was under. "A Swiss cheese memory is a symptom of stress," Slager's lawyers wrote in court papers, "not an indicator of lying."

They go on to compare Slager's truthiness problem with that of Sessions, who over multiple congressional hearings used the phrase "I don't recall" more than 85 times in response to questions. The attorney general has also backtracked on answers he previously provided under oath, miraculously and quite suddenly remembering details, specifically those that potentially absolve him of guilt, when presented with evidence. After multiple tweaks to his story about Trump campaign officials' contact with Russian operatives, including denials about taking part in a meeting where campaign aide George Papadopoulos had suggested brokering a meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin, Sessions newly recalled that he had, in fact, been involved in the meeting after his memory was rejiggered by "news reports."

"I do now recall the March 2016 meeting at Trump Hotel that Mr. Papadopoulos attended, but I have no clear recollection of the details of what he said at that meeting," Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee in November. "After reading his account, and to the best of my recollection, I believe that I wanted to make clear to him that he was not authorized to represent the campaign with the Russian government, or any other foreign government, for that matter."

It's curious that Sessions, as writer Eric Levitz notes, "has no clear memory of the meeting, but has a vivid recollection of behaving admirably during it." Despite the sheer unbelievability of his ever-changing testimony, the attorney general insisted his new insights weren't straight-up textbook perjury, but an honest failure to retain information, which seems like a problematic issue for a man who heads a department dedicated to getting the facts straight.

"I will not accept and reject accusations that I have ever lied," Session explained during a November hearing, chalking at least some of his forgetfulness up to the hectic pace of the Trump campaign, "a form of chaos every day from day one." Sessions added that his "story has never changed. I've always told the truth. And I've answered every question to the best of my recollection and I will continue to do so today."

Slager's lawyers are now seizing on that claim for their own client, essentially stating that if Sessions wants us to believe the nonstop speed of the campaign trail served as a mind eraser, murdering a man in cold blood would be at least as hard on one's ability to remember events with clarity. His defense team wrote:

Unlike Slager, who had been in what he perceived as a life and death struggle before he made his statements, Sessions had time to prepare for his congressional testimony, yet still often got it wrong. Why? According to Sessions, he was working in chaotic conditions created by the Trump campaign. This was undoubtedly stressful, though not as stressful as having shot a man to death, or dealing with the aftermath of that, or facing the death penalty or life in prison. As Sessions made clear in his statement, a failure to recall, or an inaccurate recollection, does not a liar make.

America's criminal justice system has always been something of a joke for black folks, who are consistently denied a presumption of innocence, fairness in sentencing or equal treatment under the law. Black victims of crime rarely receive justice, and when those crimes -- including unjustifiable murder -- are committed by cops, punitive action is the exception to the rule. But in Slager's "Sessions defense," we see the consequence of having a division charged with pursuing truth be led by a liar whose dishonesty is so transparent he serves as fodder for late-night talk show monologues and comedy skits.

Michelle Mark, writing at Business Insider, notes that Slager's defense is "somewhat of a taunt to the Justice Department" tasked with handling his prosecution. Each time DOJ officials "call Slager a liar, they could risk appearing to call Sessions, the head of their department, a liar."

While the Trump administration simultaneously talks out of one side of its mouth about its commitment to "law and order," it's become so renowned for its baldfaced lies that criminals can now almost dare it to challenge their own made-up stories. A top-down system of liars, led by a president who spews deception anytime his lips are moving, creates an environment where the very concept of truth is murky and elusive. It's horrifying enough that the DOJ is being transformed by Sessions et al. to achieve his own anti-black and brown political and ideological agenda. The Trump campaign's dedication to establishing its own alternative truth holds genuinely terrifying implications for the future, and even less hope of justice, particularly for the already marginalized.

"Like Sessions, Slager never lied or misled anyone," defense attorneys note in court files. "Like Sessions, he answered the questions that were asked. When he had his memory refreshed, he added the refreshed recollection to his testimony. When he failed to remember certain items, it can be attributed to the stress or chaos of the event during which the memory should have been formed."

The documents include examples from Sessions' sworn testimony of moments when his memory supposedly failed him. Those citations, defense lawyers indicate, show just how much Slager and Sessions have in common. They're basically -- I'm paraphrasing here -- two lying, racist peas in a pod. "The text…[is] particularly apropos to describe memory's imperfections," the court papers note, "and, in fact, could have been spoken by Slager himself."

Categories: News

White House May Share Nuclear Power Technology With Saudi Arabia

Sun, 12/03/2017 - 05:00

 Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images)President Trump makes his way to board Air Force One in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as he heads with the first lady to Israel on May 22, 2017. (Photo: Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images)

The Trump administration is holding talks on providing nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia -- a move that critics say could upend decades of US policy and lead to an arms race in the Middle East.

The Saudi government wants nuclear power to free up more oil for export, but current and former American officials suspect the country's leaders also want to keep up with the enrichment capabilities of their rival, Iran.

Saudi Arabia needs approval from the US in order to receive sensitive American technology. Past negotiations broke down because the Saudi government wouldn't commit to certain safeguards against eventually using the technology for weapons.

Now the Trump administration has reopened those talks and might not insist on the same precautions. At a Senate hearing on Nov. 28, Christopher Ford, the National Security Council's senior director for weapons of mass destruction and counterproliferation, disclosed that the US is discussing the issue with the Saudi government. He called the safeguards a "desired outcome" but didn't commit to them.

Abandoning the safeguards would set up a showdown with powerful skeptics in Congress. "It could be a hell of a fight," one senior Democratic congressional aide said.

The idea of sharing nuclear technology with Saudi Arabia took an unlikely path to the highest levels of government. An eccentric inventor and a murky group of retired military brass -- most of them with plenty of medals but no experience in commercial nuclear energy -- have peddled various incarnations of the plan for years.

Many US officials didn't think the idea was serious, reputable or in the national interest. "It smelled so bad I said I never wanted to be anywhere close to that," one former White House official said. But the proponents persisted, and finally found an opening in the chaotic early days of the Trump administration, when advisers Michael Flynn and Tom Barrack championed the idea.

***

The Saudis have a legitimate reason to want nuclear power: Their domestic energy demand is growing rapidly, and burning crude oil is an expensive and inefficient way to generate electricity.

There's also an obvious political motive. Many experts believe the Saudis aren't currently trying to develop a nuclear bomb but want to lay the groundwork to do so in case Iran develops one. "There's no question: Why do you have a nuclear reactor in the Persian Gulf? Because you want to have some kind of nuclear contingency capability," said Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

A Saudi spokesperson provided a written statement noting that the country's electricity needs have grown "due to our population and industrial growth." The statement noted that "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, hence is diversifying its energy mix to serve its domestic needs in accordance with international laws and standards. The Kingdom has been actively exploring diverse energy sources for nearly the last decade to meet growing domestic demand."

The technology for nuclear weapons is different from that for nuclear energy, but there is some overlap. The fuel for a power plant can be used for a bomb if it's enriched to a much higher level. Also, the waste from a power plant can be reprocessed into weapons grade material. That's why nonproliferation experts generally prefer that countries that use nuclear power buy fuel on the international market instead of doing their own enrichment and reprocessing.

In 2008, the Saudi government made a nonbinding commitment not to pursue enrichment and reprocessing. They then entered negotiations with the US for a pact on peaceful nuclear cooperation, known as a 123 agreement, after a section of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954. A 123 agreement is a prerequisite for receiving American technology.

The talks stalled a few years later because the Saudi government backed away from its pledge not to pursue enrichment and reprocessing, according to current and former officials. "They wouldn't commit, and it was a sticking point," said Max Bergmann, a former special assistant to the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security at the time those negotiations occurred.

US officials feared a domino effect. Accords with the United Arab Emirates and Egypt restrict those countries from receiving the most sensitive technologies unless the US allows them in another Middle Eastern country. "If we accepted that from the Saudis, nobody else will give us legally binding commitment," a former State Department official said.

During that same period, the Obama administration was pursuing an agreement to stop Iran's progress toward building a nuclear bomb while letting the country keep some domestic enrichment capabilities it had already achieved. The Saudi government publicly supported the Iran deal but privately made clear they wanted to match Iran's technology. A former official summarized the Saudi position as, "We're going to develop this kind of technology if they have this kind of technology."

The Obama administration held firm with the Saudis because it's one thing to cap nuclear technology where it already exists, but it's longstanding US policy not to spread the technology to new countries. As Saudi Arabia and Iran -- ideological and religious opponents -- increasingly squared off in a battle for political sway in the Middle East, Republicans argued that the Obama administration had it backwards: It was enshrining hostile Iran's ability to enrich uranium while denying the same to America's ally Saudi Arabia.

***

One such critic of Obama's Iran policy was Michael Flynn, a lieutenant general who was forced out as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014. Flynn quickly took up a variety of consulting assignments and joined some corporate boards. One of the former was an advisory position for a company called ACU Strategic Partners, which, according to a later financial disclosure, paid Flynn more than $5,000.

Flynn was one of many retired military officers whom ACU recruited. ACU's chief was a man named Alex Copson, who is most often described in press accounts as a "colorful British-American dealmaker." Copson reportedly made a fortune inventing a piece of diving equipment, may or may not have been a bass player in the band Iron Butterfly, and has been touting wildly ambitious nuclear-power plans since the 1980s. (He didn't answer repeated requests for comment.)

By 2015, Copson was telling people he had a group of US, European, Arab and Russian companies that would build as many as 40 nuclear reactors in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Copson's company pitched the Obama administration, but officials figured he didn't really have the backers he claimed. "They would say 'We have Rolls-Royce on board,' and then someone would ask Rolls-Royce and they would say, 'No, we took a meeting and nothing happened,'" recalled a then-White House official.

In his role with ACU, Flynn flew to Egypt to convince officials there to hold off on a Russian offer (this one unrelated to ACU) to build nuclear power plants. Flynn tried to persuade the Egyptian government to consider Copson's proposal instead, according to documents released by Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Flynn also tried to persuade the Israeli government to support the plan and spoke at a conference in Saudi Arabia. (The trip would later present legal problems for Flynn because he didn't report contacts with foreign officials on his application to renew his security clearance, according to Cummings. Cummings referred the information to Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Trump's associates and Russia's interference in the 2016 election. Flynn's lawyer declined to comment.)

Copson's outfit eventually splintered. A retired admiral named Michael Hewitt, who was to head up the security services part of the project, struck out on his own in mid-2016. Flynn went with him.

Hewitt's new company is called IP3 International, which is short for "International Peace Power & Prosperity." IP3 signed up other prominent national security alumni including Gens. Keith Alexander, Jack Keane and James Cartwright, former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, Bush Homeland Security adviser Fran Townsend, and Reagan National Security adviser Robert "Bud" McFarlane.

IP3's idea was a variation on ACU's. Hewitt swapped out one notional foreign partner for another (Russia was out, China was in), then later shifted to an all-American approach. That idea resonated with the US nuclear-construction industry, which never recovered from the Three Mile Island disaster in the 1970s and was looking to new markets overseas.

But nuclear exports are tightly controlled because the technology is potentially so dangerous. A 123 agreement is only the first step for a foreign country that wants to employ US nuclear-power technology. In addition, the Energy Department has to approve the transfer of technology related to nuclear reactors and fuel. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses reactor equipment, and the Commerce Department reviews exports for equipment throughout the rest of the power plant.

IP3 -- whose sole project to date is the Saudi nuclear plan -- never went through those normal channels. Instead, the company went straight to the top.

***

At the start of the Trump administration, IP3 found an ally in Tom Barrack, the new president's close friend and informal adviser and an ultra-wealthy investor in his own right. During the campaign, Barrack wrote a series of white papers proposing a new approach to the Middle East in which economic cooperation would theoretically reduce the conditions for breeding terrorism and lead to improved relations.

Barrack wasn't familiar with nuclear power as an option for the Middle East until he heard from Bud McFarlane. McFarlane, 80, is most remembered for his role in the defining scandal of the Reagan years: secretly selling arms to Iran and using the money to support Nicaraguan rebels. He pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress but was pardoned by George H.W. Bush.

Nevertheless, Barrack was dazzled by McFarlane and his IP3 colleagues. "I was like a kid in a candy shop -- these guys were all generals and admirals," Barrack said in an interview. "They found an advocate in me in saying I was keen on trying to establish a realignment of US business interests with the Gulf's business interests."

McFarlane followed up the meeting by emailing Flynn in late January, according to six people who read the message or were told about it. McFarlane attached two documents. One outlined IP3's plan, describing it as consistent with Trump's philosophy. The second was a draft memo for the president to sign that would officially endorse the plan and instruct his cabinet secretaries to implement it. Barrack would take charge of the project as the interagency coordinator. Barrack had discussions about becoming ambassador to Egypt or a special envoy to the Middle East but never committed to such a role. (McFarlane disputed that account but repeatedly declined to specify any inaccuracies. IP3 declined to comment on the memos.)

Flynn, now on the receiving end of IP3's lobbying, told his staff to put together a formal proposal to present to Trump for his signature, according to current and former officials.

The seeming end run sparked alarm. National Security Council staff brought the proposal to the attention of the agency's lawyers, five people said, because they were concerned about the plan and how it was being advanced. Ordinarily, before presenting such a sensitive proposal to the president, NSC staff would consult with experts throughout government about practical and legal concerns. Bypassing those procedures raised the risks that private interests might use the White House to their own advantage, former officials said. "Circumventing that process has the ability not only to invite decisions that aren't fully vetted but that are potentially unwise and have the potential to put our interests and our people at risk," said Ned Price, a former CIA analyst and NSC spokesman.

Even after those concerns were raised, Derek Harvey, then the NSC's senior director for the Middle East, continued discussing the IP3 proposal with Barrack and his representative, Rick Gates, according to two people. Gates, a longtime associate of former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort, worked for Barrack on Trump's inaugural committee and then for Barrack's investment company, Colony NorthStar.

By then, Barrack was no longer considering a government position. Instead, he and Gates were seeking investment ideas based on the administration's Middle East policy. Barrack pondered the notion, for example, of buying a piece of Westinghouse, the bankrupt US manufacturer of nuclear reactors. (Harvey, now on the staff of the House intelligence committee, declined to comment through a spokesman. In October, Mueller charged Manafort and Gates with 12 counts including conspiracy against the US, unregistered foreign lobbying, and money laundering. They both pleaded not guilty. Gates' spokesman didn't answer requests for comment.)

Ultimately, it wasn't the NSC staff's concerns that stalled IP3's momentum. Rather, Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior aide tasked with reviving a Middle East peace process, wanted to table the nuclear question in favor of simpler alliance-building measures with the Saudis, centered on Trump's visit in May, according to a person familiar with the discussions. (A spokesperson for Kushner, asked for comment, had not provided one at the time this article was published; we'll update the article if he provides one later.)

***

In recent months, the proposal has stirred back to life as the Saudi government kicked off a formal process to solicit bids for their first reactors. In October, the Saudis sent a request for information to the US, France, South Korea, Russia and China -- the strongest signal yet that they're serious about nuclear power.

The Saudi solicitation also gave IP3 the problem its solution was searching for. The company pivoted again, narrowing its pitch to organizing a consortium of US companies to compete for the Saudi tender. IP3 won't say which companies it has signed up. IP3 also won't discuss the fees it hopes to receive if it were part of a Saudi nuclear plan, but it's vying to supply cyber and physical site security for the plants. "IP3 has communicated its strategy to multiple government entities and policy makers in both the Obama and Trump administrations," the company said in a statement. "We view these meetings and any documents relating to them as private, and we won't discuss them."

The Saudi steps lit a fire under administration officials. Leading the charge is Rick Perry, the energy secretary who famously proposed eliminating the department and then admitted he didn't understand its function. (It includes dealing with nuclear power and weapons.) Perry had also heard IP3's pitch, a person familiar with the situation said. In September, Perry met with Saudi delegates to an international atomic energy conference and discussed energy cooperation, according to a photo posted on his Facebook page. Perry's spokeswoman didn't answer requests for comment.

Other steps followed. Soon after, a senior State Department official flew to Riyadh to restart formal 123 negotiations, according to an industry source. (A State Department spokeswoman declined to comment.) In November, Energy and State Department officials joined a commercial delegation to Abu Dhabi led by the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's main lobby in Washington. Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Edward McGinnis said the administration wants to revitalize the US nuclear energy industry, including by pursuing exports to Saudi Arabia. The Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration and the Energy Department are organizing another industry visit in December to meet with Saudi officials, according to a notice obtained by ProPublica. And in the days before Thanksgiving, senior US officials from several agencies met at the White House to discuss the policy, according to current and former officials.

The Trump administration hasn't stated a position on whether it will let the Saudis have enrichment and reprocessing technology. An NSC spokesman declined to comment. But administration officials have begun sounding out advisers on how Congress might react to a deal that gives the Saudis enrichment and reprocessing, a person familiar with the discussions said.

Senators have started demanding answers. At the Nov. 28 hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ford, the NSC nonproliferation official who has been nominated to lead the State Department's Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, testified that preliminary talks with the Saudis are underway but declined to discuss the details in public. As noted, Ford wouldn't commit to barring the Saudi government from obtaining enrichment and reprocessing technology. "It remains US policy, as it has been for some time, to seek the strongest possible nonproliferation protections in every instance," he told the senators. "It is not a legal requirement. It is a desired outcome." Ford added that the Iran deal makes it harder to insist on limiting other countries' capabilities.

Sen. Ed Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat who led the questioning of Ford on this topic, seemed highly resistant to the idea of the US helping Saudi Arabia get nuclear technology. "If we continue down this pathway," he said, "then there's a recipe for disaster which we are absolutely creating ourselves." Markey also accused the administration of neglecting its statutory obligation to brief the committee on the negotiations. (The White House declined to comment.)

Any agreement, in this case with Saudi Arabia, would not require Senate approval. However, should an agreement be reached, Congress could kill the deal. The two houses would have 90 days to pass a joint resolution disapproving it. The committee's ranking Democrat, Ben Cardin, suggested they wouldn't accept a deal that lacked the same protections as the ones in the UAE's agreement. "If we don't draw a line in the Middle East, it's going to be all-out proliferation," he said. "We need to maintain the UAE's standards in our 123 agreements. There's just too many other countries that could start proliferating issues that could be against our national interest."

Bob Corker, the committee's chairman, has been a stickler on nonproliferation in the past; he criticized the Obama administration for not being tough enough. Corker isn't running for reelection and has criticized Trump for being immature and reckless in foreign affairs, so he's unlikely to shy away from a fight. (A spokesman declined to comment.) "The absence of a consistent policy weakens our nuclear nonproliferation efforts, and sends a mixed message to those nations we seek to prevent from gaining or enhancing such capability," Corker said at a hearing in 2014. "Which standards can we expect the administration to reach for negotiating new agreements with Jordan or Saudi Arabia?"

Categories: News

There's an Insidious Strategy Behind Donald Trump's Retweets

Sun, 12/03/2017 - 05:00
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On Nov. 29, President Trump retweeted a series of videos that purported to depict violence committed by Muslims. They had originated from the account of a far-right British ultranationalist who had been convicted for harassing a Muslim. The backlash was swift, with British Prime Minister Theresa May saying "the President is wrong to have done this."

But Trump's retweeting of controversial (sometimes outright false) content is part of a pattern.

For example, during the 2016 campaign, George Stephanopoulos asked Donald Trump about his retweet of a follower who insisted that both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz were ineligible for the presidency.

"@ResisTyr: Mr.Trump...BOTH Cruz AND Rubio are ineligible to be POTUS! It's a SLAM DUNK CASE!! Check it! https://t.co/NjqWP0pP6X"

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 20, 2016

Trump dismissed Stephanopoulos' question with "it was a retweet" -- as if to say that retweeting someone else's claim meant that he wasn't responsible for the content.

When pressed, Trump continued:

"I mean, let people make their own determination. I've never looked at it, George. I honestly have never looked at it. As somebody said, he's not [eligible]…and I retweet things and we start dialogue and it's very interesting."

It's a response that can be reduced to I'm not saying it, I'm just saying it.

As a scholar of American political rhetoric, I've previously written about the ways that Donald Trump's rhetorical style mirrors that of polarizing figures like George Wallace and Joseph McCarthy.

But it's becoming increasingly clear that what sets Trump apart is his reliance upon paralipsis, a device that enables him to publicly say things that he can later disavow -- without ever having to take responsibility for his words.

Just Saying…

The art of rhetoric -- or persuasive communication -- can include any number of forms: speeches, essays, tweets, images, films and more.

Paralipsis (para, "side" and leipein, "to leave") is a Greek term that translates to "leave to the side." It's thought to be an ironic way for a speaker to say two things at once.

For example, say you wanted to imply that your coworker takes too many coffee breaks without actually accusing him wasting time at work. You might say something like, "I'm not saying that he drinks more coffee than anyone else in the office, but every time I go to the break room, he's in there." You might also shrug and make a "something seems kind of off" facial expression.

Paralipsis is a powerful rhetorical device because it can also allow someone to make a false accusation -- or spread a false rumor -- while skirting consequences.

And Trump has become a master at wielding this tool.

For example, after he was widely condemned for retweeting a graphic of homicide data delineated by race, FactCheck.org found that "almost every figure in the graphic is wrong." His response on the Bill O'Reilly Show was:

Bill, I didn't tweet, I retweeted somebody that was supposedly an expert, and it was also a radio show…am I gonna check every statistic? …All it was is a retweet. And it wasn't from me. It came out of a radio show, and other places…This was a retweet. And it comes from sources that are very credible, what can I tell you?

In other words: I'm not saying, I'm just saying.

Meanwhile, Trump has repeatedly used paralipsis to deflect criticism that he's courting white supremacists.

In January 2016, Trump retweeted a photoshopped image of Jeb Bush from a user with the handle WhiteGenocideTM. In response to the backlash he received for retweeting a white supremacist, Trump simply shrugged: "I don't know about retweeting. You retweet somebody and they turn out to be white supremacists. I know nothing about these groups that are supporting me."

Likewise, he blamed a faulty earpiece for his unwillingness to disavow David Duke and the KKK in a CNN interview:

I don't know anything about what you're even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So I don't know. I don't know -- did he endorse me, or what's going on? Because I know nothing about David Duke; I know nothing about white supremacists.

I'm not saying, I'm just saying.

And when Gawker tricked Trump into retweeting a quote from Benito Mussolini during the campaign, his response was "What difference does it make whether it's Mussolini or somebody else? It's certainly a very interesting quote."

Accountability and Responsibility

Certainly it's a good thing to "start dialogue." Trump knows that "interesting" content attracts retweets, followers, audiences and media attention.

However, there's danger in circulating accusations and rumors, even if the purpose is to "start dialogue." Research shows that once an accusation or a rumor begins to circulate, it's very difficult to retract. Often, a retraction or clarification doesn't receive as much attention as the initial accusation. Meanwhile, the mere act of retracting misinformation can reaffirm the deceptive assertions as facts, even after the clarification.

So what does it mean when a political figure gains a devoted following and rises to prominence -- yet consistently avoids taking responsibility for the content of his public messages?

Political theorists, rhetoricians and historians have grappled with this exact problem since the rise of the "demagogue" in Athens in 429 BC, when Pericles' death created a vacuum for "unofficial" leaders of the people to rise to power.

The danger, according to political scientist Ernest Barker, was that "such a leader -- having no official executive position -- could exercise initiative and determine policy without incurring political responsibility, since it was not his duty to execute the policy which he had induced the assembly to accept."

In the Greek context, Barker described the danger of demagogues who weren't tasked with implementing the policies for which they advocated. In our current political context, Trump can argue that he can't be held accountable because he wasn't the one who originally posted the tweet. He can shrug and claim that he's simply giving a voice to an idea.

In both cases, the defining feature of demagogues is their refusal to accept responsibility for their actions.

Yet Donald Trump (the television star) routinely fired people on his show "The Apprentice" for failing to take responsibility for their team's failures. And he's often given lectures on "responsibility" to his Twitter followers, like on February 14, 2013 when he invited his followers to "take responsibility for yourself -- it's a very empowering attitude."

To use the President's brand of paralipsis: I'm not saying that Trump's a hypocrite and a demagogue. I'm just saying that he doesn't exactly follow his own advice.

Editor's note from The Conversation: This is an updated version of an article first published on March 8, 2016.

The Conversation

Categories: News

Unless You're Rich, the Economy Is Not Working for You -- and the GOP Tax Plan Will Only Make It Worse

Sun, 12/03/2017 - 05:00

Update: In the early hours of Saturday morning, Senate Republicans passed the tax overhaul.

By this point we've all heard about the cartoonish immorality of the GOP tax plan -- raising taxes on the working poor while cutting taxes for the super-rich.

But setting aside these moral considerations, the Republican tax reform package is also a catastrophe as economic policy. As designed, it will super-charge trends that have stalled growth and wages in the United States for the last four decades. Neither the House nor the Senate plan will do anything to spur investment and both will bolster a tax code that incentivizes short-term speculation and the squeezing of workers, supply chains and consumers. 

Our economy has plenty of problems, but too little cash at the top is not one of them. Tax cuts for corporations and the rich -- along with a suite of policies pushed over 40 years -- have shifted how, when and where corporations and individuals decide to invest, spend and save.

Today, corporations are not investing because shareholders pressure managers to deliver immediate returns and because industries are so consolidated that dominant firms don't actually need to invest or innovate to remain competitive. Private investors are not putting their money into productive new enterprises, but rather are earning their returns from the sky-rocketing value of assets -- stocks, financial products, real estate, art -- that can be passed down to future generations.

What this means is that businesses have plenty of profits, but they're not using those funds to do things that actually create jobs or grow the economy. Instead of funding new research to create better products, expanding operations to boost jobs or increasing wages, these businesses are instead choosing to give money to shareholders -- a practice that benefits short-term investors but not the workers who make the company run. A massive tax cut to corporate profits will increase that pool of available money, while also increasing the returns to short-term investors now tempted by an even bigger potential payout.

When not rewarding shareholders directly, businesses have been busy buying up other firms. By providing companies more cash on hand, the GOP tax bill would likely mean even more mergers, which frequently result in cuts to jobs, the erection of barriers for small business and the curbing of consumer benefits. Activist investors will have greater incentive to push for such mergers as the super-rich see a chance to pass un-taxed estates on to the next generation.

The GOP tax plan will exacerbate these trends, increasing shareholder payouts at the expense of creating jobs. As a result, middle-class Americans will face both tax increases and a weaker safety net.

Under the Senate tax plan, almost everyone loses. On average, the bottom three-fifths of income earners would see a tax increase, according to analysis from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. As a result of the individual mandate repeal, 13 million Americans could lose health insurance by 2027, according to the CBO. New methods for calculating the Earned Income Tax Credit will result in lower payouts to the working poor. The loss in government revenue forecloses the possibility of job-creating public investment in infrastructure, education and care work.

All of this is unfair, but it's also bad economics. Too often, progressives cede economic arguments to the Right, but we should not hesitate to combat the tax plan over the issues of jobs and growth. By further consolidating wealth and power in the hands of the very few, the GOP tax plan is designed to double down on the same strategy that has failed working Americans for decades. 

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Categories: News

Why Redneck Revolt Says Deal With Racism First, Then Economics

Sun, 12/03/2017 - 05:00
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"Moved by the need for control, for an unchallenged top tier, the power elite in American history has thrived by placating the vulnerable and creating for them a false sense of identification -- denying real class differences where possible." -- Nancy Isenberg, White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America

There is no shortage of media commentary discrediting "identity politics," particularly the focus on Black, Latinx, LGBTQ, and immigrant communities calling for justice and equity. Economics is our real problem, a counter argument goes, not race, sex, gender, citizenship. But as author Nancy Isenberg points out in White Trash, "identity has always been a part of politics."

Laws have been written to oppress and exploit particular identities -- Native Americans, Black Americans, Asians, homosexuals, transgender, and women -- in a successful effort to maintain a system of White supremacy. Yet, members of these communities have worked for the rights and equality of everyone. In turn, White allies have joined in these anti-racism fights.

The Redneck Revolt is one such organization. The self-described anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-fascist group challenges working-class White people to stand against White supremacy.

I recently talked to Brett, one of the members who heads up the network's Southeast Michigan Chapter. (Because of hostilities toward the organization, Redneck Revolt members use only their first names publicly.) There are about 40 chapters nationwide. He explained why the group focuses on anti-racism rather than economics even though it seeks out white working-class and poor people in economically struggling rural areas.

The interview has been condensed and lightly edited.

Zenobia Jeffries: What is the significance of the name Redneck Revolt? Why did the name change from the John Brown Gun Club?

Brett: They're two sides of the same coin. We have some branches that are still the John Brown Gun Club. Our national network is Redneck Revolt.

Redneck Revolt chapters like ours in Michigan here primarily focus on outreach, and winning hearts and minds, counter recruitment, showing up, being present, being allies, being where we need to be to show our community support.

Whereas, John Brown Gun Club pretty much only deals with the firearm aspect of things. It deals with a lot of tactical training, a lot of information security-type stuff.

Can you give an example of what you mean by "changing hearts and minds." What does that look like?

A really great example would be back in June. The ACT for America folks did an anti-sharia law march. Redneck Revolt was there. We were on one side of the barricades along with a slew of other leftist organizations. On the other side of the barricades were Proud Boys, Vanguard America, and a hodgepodge of other alt-right groups. But one of the most prominent was the Michigan Liberty Militia, which is famously racist and famously exclusionary.

Toward the end of the demonstration, this one older gentleman -- he was an older White man up at the barricade with all the gear on, and armed -- had his rifle. One of my members and [I] went up to this guy and were like, "I understand mixing state and religion is not good. Nobody here wants to mix state and religion, nobody is protesting that. [But] it's clearly anti-Muslim. This protest is against Muslims.

"Furthermore, it's against all people of color because this neighborhood [is] first-generation Somali, first-generation people form sub-Saharan Africa who are fleeing abject poverty and warfare, starvation, disease. So how can you be in this neighborhood and be like, 'This is what America stands for'?

"Not only that, if you look to your left and right, those kids with the sun wheel on their shields, and the eagle on their shirts, those guys are self-described, literal Nazis. We fought a war about this. I thought we were all in unanimous agreement that Nazis are bad."

And this guy he kind of started tearing up, and he was like, "You know, I'll tell you, my dad died in World War II in Europe fighting Nazis." And he goes, "This really has given me [something to think about]. You know I may not agree with everything you say. But associating myself like this has really given me pause, and has really made me think about what I'm doing here."

We don't expect anybody to walk away from someplace where we're counter-recruiting waving the red flag of revolution. But if we can at least pull them out of that mindset, that's a win for us.

One of the things I find fascinating about Redneck Revolt is that your primary focus is organizing working-class Whites, yet you center race and anti-racism in the work that you do. So many are putting the focus on the economy, and calling anti-racism work "identity politics." How did you all decide that you wanted to focus on White supremacy -- that it is just as much of a problem for working-class Whites as for people of color?

Our stance is that our entire capitalist system is built on a bedrock of White supremacy, and as White folks we have access to spaces that people of color don't. So we try to exploit the spaces and put ourselves in those positions to reach the White working class because it's like the old IWW [Industrial Workers World] saying, "If we don't get to them first, the Klan will."

And we understand that if there's going to be any kind of serious discourse about dismantling capitalism, about building the new world from the ashes of the old, as they say, that description can't be had until the underlying issue of racism is addressed.

That's why [we] don't engage law enforcement. We believe law enforcement is an extension of the old slave catchers.

We don't engage with anything that reinforces the current system that basically is built on White supremacy. We go to great lengths to dismantle that system and empower people to help us do that, but at the same time using the spaces that we have access to, to get other people to see that.

And I believe that a lot of people we speak to may generally not be racist in a conventional sense. But they're certainly benefitting from the system of White supremacy that has been built. They're not doing anything to actually help dismantle it.

So, that's kind of the message that we try to bring across. Nobody is saying [to them], "You're like burning crosses, you're actively racist." But you have to acknowledge that … as a White person in America, you are benefitting from White supremacy.

So, in order to address capitalism, in order to address economics, the issue of systemic racism first has to be addressed.

I would imagine that when you're in those spaces, and saying what you're saying, that people respond, "But Black people are racist, too."

Yes, we get that a lot.

For an example, I was talking to a gentleman the other day. He was like, "Blacks have a whole month. They have Black History Month, where we do nothing but celebrate Black history. Blacks have their own channel. People would be up in arms if we had a White Entertainment Television." And that's the kind of thing we get most often.

What I say, first of all, is there is no such thing as White culture -- that's a myth.

Secondly, we do celebrate White holidays: Oktoberfest, St. Patrick's Day, arguably Columbus Day. Not to mention our entire society is [tilted toward] celebrating Whiteness. What I try to tell people is, Look at your ancestors. Most White people can point to a single village. I'll use myself as an example. I can point to a single village in Sweden. I know exactly where my people are from. That's why I take a lot of pride in my Scandinavian heritage.

Whereas with Black folks -- and other people of color, but especially Black folks -- the reason they celebrate Black culture is because their culture, everything Blacks had, was ripped away from them when they were taken from Africa. So that's why it's celebrated; that's why it's important.

Because it's the counter narrative to hundreds of years of systemic murder, oppression, just brutal slavery. That's why we celebrate Black culture, because that's all most folks have.

The conversation we have to have is how can we look at ourselves and say, "I'm benefitting from this culture that has been built to only make sure people that look like me get the advantage."

And, obviously, the topic of privilege comes up, and most White folks will deny that they have White privilege. They'll say things like, "I pulled myself up by my bootstraps" or "My grandfather started his own business."

It's hard to get people out of that mindset.

[We] start explaining to them that "I'm sure your grandfather was a hardworking man, I'd never doubt that he was. But the fact that he was able to do that, and given that opportunity, I can promise you that postwar United States, a Black man applying to that same position definitely would not have gotten it."

Along the lines of the "I pulled myself up by my bootstraps" mindset, I'm sure you also get folks who say, "Why should we poor and working-class Whites care about what's happening to Blacks and other people of color when we're struggling, too?" Especially, when the issue of crime is brought up.

We get a lot of reactionary questions, and it keeps us on our toes. But it makes our practice better. What we try to explain is that Black communities have their own set of problems just as other communities have their set of problems.

The difference is White communities have the support of the state. For example, [when] a Black family moves into a primarily White neighborhood, then the housing values tend to go down. So what happens? The state intervenes and then makes the price of housing so high that then that Black family has to leave. That's one example of how the state supports White supremacy. I've given that example a whole lot, and it tends to resonate with people.

I have the clarity to understand that I am a college-educated [man] … who's had uncountable numbers of opportunities thrown my way because I'm White. And given the same circumstances with a young Black man, that most certainly would not have happened. That's what I try to explain: that people of color in the United States categorically do not have the same opportunities as White folks. Even if you are poor, which a lot are.

But there are systems in place to make sure that I succeed. There are systems in place that make sure that my Black counterpart does not. And it's designed that way.

Until we as White folks can recognize collectively that we are benefitting from a system of oppression, then economics is secondary, or tertiary at best. There is no point in talking about economics when the only people affected by these economics are White people.

I've read some articles stating that Redneck Revolution doesn't have a political ideology. While you may not align yourselves with the status quo parties of Democrat or Republican, your actions and principles are very much political. How do you describe your politics?

We're broadly on the left. We're what's called a "big tent" organization. We're overwhelmingly anarchists, but we have some communists in our ranks, we have some capitalist Democrats, progressives, and Republicans, believe it or not. I mean, we have people from all political stripes.

That being said, we do understand there's not going to be any grand revolution tomorrow. But the best thing that we can do short of a revolution is revolutionary change. We believe that revolutionary change comes in the form of dismantling the system of White supremacy that exists.

What is the end goal of Redneck Revolt?

Part of it is dismantling White supremacy. Another part of it is creating spaces inside of communities [where we can] help people not rely on the state. We help to create and encourage radical spaces that encourage things like mutual aid and direct action, as opposed to relying on the state for whatever means.

For example, we're working very closely with the IWW, one of the oldest radical unions in the country. They have a soup kitchen in Detroit where they distribute food and clothes every second and fourth Sunday in Cass Park. They've been doing it since 1996, or something like that. We're trying to build a sustainable model like that close to Ypsilanti [in Michigan], especially with the winter months coming up. There's another organization called the Michigan People of Defense, who do a lot of street medic training. There are a lot of us, including myself, who have military experience. I'm a combat lifesaver, so I have skills I can teach people.

People get hung up on the firearms thing, but we also believe that it's very important for the working class to be armed. We also understand that that puts people of color at a very high risk. So we try to put ourselves at the tip of the spear, so that way we can teach people the knowledge that we have. We can show them safe operation of firearms. How to use them, how to safely handle them.

In [one community], there are a bunch of Hammerskins [a White supremacist group]. They basically patrol the neighborhood, and we have people of color over there who are in fear for their lives, and they've been reaching out to Redneck Revolt to help show them to use firearms.

We've taken proactive steps, and if a community needs us, they know they can call on us, and in a heartbeat we'll be there to help in any capacity that we're able.

The big point is building mutual aid, radical spaces inside of existing communities to not have to rely on the state, and while doing that trying to dismantle the system of White supremacy.

We think that by doing that, one kind of complements the other.

Was the Trump campaign for the presidency the catalyst for Redneck Revolt?

We were already around, it's just people didn't know about us. And that's probably one of the problems that we face, is that people don't know we exist. And I want to say it's our own fault, but we do things very intentionally.

We don't have much of a social media presence, and we do that on purpose because we have no interest in getting bogged down in spam wars on the internet. If you have a legitimate critique of our practices, meet us in the streets, tell us what we're doing wrong. And if your idea is better, then we'll incorporate your idea. That's the way we operate.

We feel like we're an organization that is meant to be in the streets with the people doing things, making differences in people's lives, not sitting behind a keyboard crying about capitalism.

You can be any [ideology] you want. If you agree with the fact that capitalism is a system of oppression, and that system of oppression is largely held up by White supremacy, and you're willing to dismantle that system, then welcome aboard.

What would be your message to the middle and upper-middle classes, to so-called elite/progressive/liberal Whites who dismiss rural poor and working-class Whites simply as Trump supporters?

The major issue is getting them to come out of their bubble of comfort. They hear the word "redneck" and they don't see it through the [same] lens that we do.

The word redneck has always been used pejoratively, but we don't see it that way. We look at our grandfathers, great-grandfathers, and great-great-grandfathers and understand why they were called rednecks. You look back at the Harlem County wars, and those folks would wear bandanas to keep the sun off their necks, and that's where the term redneck comes from. We embrace that term, and say, "Yeah, that's who we are. We're working-class people who are out in the streets."

If you can take the blinders off, you'll see that … your comfort is still built on a system of White supremacy. Your comfort and the things that you're enjoying are a byproduct of 150 years of working-class struggle. If you like the weekends, thank a union man. You like your 40-hour work week, you like that there are no kids slaving in textile factories, thank a union worker.

It's working-class people who brought those changes. It wasn't [the] middle-class bourgeois who brought that change. It was working-class people out fighting in the streets. That's who we are, that's what we do.

Categories: News

Senate Passes Tax Overhaul Bill With Last-Minute Changes and Hand-Written Scribbles

Sat, 12/02/2017 - 05:00

2017.12.2.TaxBill mainSenate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) walks to the Senate floor after saying to the media that Republicans have enough votes to pass the tax reform bill on December 1, 2017. (Photo by Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call)

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Following weeks of uncertainty and months of legislative setbacks, Senate Republicans mustered up 51 votes in the early hours of Saturday morning to pass the most extensive tax rewrite in recent decades. The bill marks the party's first major policy achievement under President Donald Trump.

The legislation was drawn up by Senate Republicans through an almost entirely secretive process, and despite concerns from a few Republicans over the bill's potential impact, they were swayed with a series of last-minute changes. The massive tax overhaul passed along a 51-49 vote margin with no Democrats voting for the bill, and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., as the lone Republican opposition vote.

Just hours prior to the vote senators were given the 479-page bill which was filled with changes and differed from the original version that passed through two Senate panels in recent weeks. Democrats sharply criticized the secretive legislative process, as well as the last-minute changes and the fact that they had been expected to vote on a sweeping piece of legislation that impacts the entire country mere hours after seeing the bill for the first time.

Democrats also slammed the Republicans for one specific page of the bill that contained practically illegible hand-written changes.

While the plan has been pitched by both Trump and Republicans as a tax break for middle and low-income families, economists and nonpartisan analyses have indicated that's hardly what will happen under the bill. 

"By 2027, all that's really left is a big corporate tax cut," Joseph Rosenberg, a senior research associate at the Tax Policy Center explained, Salon previously reported. "This primarily benefits high-income people -- people with a lot of capital income -- shareholders, people who have capital gains dividends, and people who have interest income."

The tax plan heavily favors multinational corporations as the corporate tax rate will permanently be cut to 20 percent, from the current 35 percent. The legislation also "eliminates some tax breaks like the deduction for state and local income taxes and phases out the individual tax cuts at the end of 2025," which will disproportionately impact working class earners, the New York Times reported.

I was just handed a 479-page tax bill a few hours before the vote. One page literally has hand scribbled policy changes on it that can't be read. This is Washington, D.C. at its worst. Montanans deserve so much better. pic.twitter.com/q6lTpXoXS0

-- Senator Jon Tester (@SenatorTester) December 2, 2017

UPDATE: Senate Republicans are so desperate to pass their tax bill tonight that they're now making handwritten changes to their already handwritten changes...

Seriously. pic.twitter.com/KQfW7bOyk1

-- Senator Dick Durbin (@SenatorDurbin) December 2, 2017

Tonight, I feel mostly regret at what could have been.

Tax reform is an issue that is ripe for bipartisan compromise. There is a sincere desire on this side of the aisle to work with the GOP, particularly on tax reform, but we have been rebuffed, time & time again

-- Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) December 2, 2017

With an elimination of the alternative minimum tax, and the estate tax it's hard to argue the wealthiest earners in the nation will not be showered with tax cuts while middle-class families will either see no change, or an increase in their taxes.

The bill is largely reliant on a $1.5 trillion tax cut that Republicans and the Trump administration have said will spur substantial economic growth, and pay for itself despite explicit contradictions from CEOs.

However, the party that has long been known for its concern of the national debt and deficit, downplayed any concerns.

"I'm totally confident this is a revenue-neutral bill," McConnell said, according to the Times. "I think it's going to be a revenue producer."

Since GOP tax reform plans have now passed in both the House and the Senate, the chambers will reconcile any differences in order to place a final version on the president's desk.

"We are one step closer to delivering MASSIVE tax cuts for working families across America. Special thanks to @SenateMajLdr Mitch McConnell and Chairman @SenOrrinHatch for shepherding our bill through the Senate. Look forward to signing a final bill before Christmas!" Trump tweeted in approval.

We are one step closer to delivering MASSIVE tax cuts for working families across America. Special thanks to @SenateMajLdr Mitch McConnell and Chairman @SenOrrinHatch for shepherding our bill through the Senate. Look forward to signing a final bill before Christmas! pic.twitter.com/gmWTny3SfS

-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 2, 2017

Biggest Tax Bill and Tax Cuts in history just passed in the Senate. Now these great Republicans will be going for final passage. Thank you to House and Senate Republicans for your hard work and commitment!

-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 2, 2017
Categories: News

Ex-Union Buster Turned NLRB Member Divulges Over 100 Additional Former Clients

Sat, 12/02/2017 - 05:00

2017.12.2.WellsFargo MainRepublican member of the National Labor Relations Board William Emanuel's most recent disclosures show that the union avoidance specialist was hired by Wells Fargo and other major companies. (Photo: raymondclarkeimages / Flickr)

Republican member of the National Labor Relations Board revealed the names of more than a hundred more former clients and committed to recusing himself from matters they might have before his agency.

William Emanuel disclosed a more complete list of firms who employed his legal services in the past two years, after prodding from Democratic Senators. Before his appointment to the NLRB, Emanuel worked as a partner for Littler Mendelson, a law firm that specializes in union-busting consultancy.

The lawmakers had noted that while the confirmation process merely asks nominees to declare who had recently hired them for $5,000 or more, the Trump administration had asked its nominees to avoid government work that directly involves all past clients.

Emanuel's most recent disclosures show that the union avoidance specialist was hired by Amazon, CarMax, Direct TV, Target, Wells Fargo, and Wegmans, among other major companies.  The management side attorney's services were also sought by major players in the media world: CBS, the Hearst Corporation, and Time, Inc.

Emanuel had previously revealed he was paid more than $5,000 each by 48 companies -- not including his law firm. That list included major brand names: FedEx, Uber, Toshiba, Staples, Safeway, Rite Aid, and Nissan, among others.

The updated disclosures show Emanuel was hired by a total of 161 companies in the past two years.

"As I pledged under Executive Order 13770, for two years following my appointment to the NLRB, I will recuse myself in all Board cases in which my 'former employer,' Littler Mendelson, or my own 'former clients,' are a party or represent a party," Emanuel wrote last week.

The NLRB member also listed current cases that Littler attorneys are arguing before the board, enumerating almost fifty disputes involving the likes of Uber, Nissan and AT&T, among other major corporations.

The Democratic Senators had pressed Emanuel for a complete list of Littler's clients, but the labor regulator said it wasn't possible.

"As a Member of the NLRB and neutral adjudicator, I do not have access to the current client lists of private firms, including my former employer, Littler Mendelson," Emanuel said. "As such, I am unable to provide the list requested."

The new details about Emanuel's former clientele was announced on Tuesday, in a press release from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

Warren had previously asked for more information about Emanuel's past work alongside eleven other members of the Senate Democratic Caucus, including Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

Any move by Emanuel to recuse himself will make it harder for Republicans to advance policy initiatives through the NLRB.

The board is an independent agency with three voting Republicans and two voting Democratic members. Emanuel sitting out matters "could leave many cases before the NLRB that are decided along party lines in a 2-2 deadlock," as Warren's staff noted on Tuesday.

Emanuel's recusals might even see Trump's NRLB temporarily with a Democratic majority, in certain cases. Current Chair Phil Miscimarra isn't seeking to stay on at the board, after his term expires in December. The White House hasn't yet nominated a replacement.

The current political climate is hostile to real accountability. Help us keep lawmakers and corporations in check -- support the independent journalism at Truthout today!
Categories: News

Pharmaceutical Companies Played a Key Role in Sparking the Opioid Crisis

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 14:59

A new phenomenon has emerged in the United States: 64,000 people died in 2016 of a drug overdose -- with 80% from opioids -- with levels of addiction nearly 500% higher over the last six years. Behind this epidemic is a multi-billion dollar industry, that feeds drug manufacturing giants, distributers and more. With the US government failing to address the crisis, one law firm has taken to a massive lawsuit. Head of that case is Mike Papantonio, who also won major lawsuits against big tobacco, chemical corporations and more. Abby Martin interviews him about this new suit, and why he is pushing for many executives to go to jail.

Categories: News

The Blue-Collar Hellscape of the Startup Industry

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 14:55
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On November 13, Marcus Vaughn filed a class-action lawsuit against his former employer. Vaughn, who'd worked in the Fremont, California factory for electric automaker Tesla, alleged that the manufacturing plant had become a "hotbed for racist behavior." Employees and supervisors, he asserted, had routinely lobbed racial epithets at him and his fellow Black colleagues. 

Vaughn said he complained in writing to the company's human resources department and CEO Elon Musk, but Tesla neglected to investigate his claims. In true tech executive fashion, Musk deflected Vaughn's misgivings, shifting the blame to the assailed worker. "In fairness, if someone is a jerk to you, but sincerely apologizes, it is important to be thick-skinned and accept that apology," he wrote in a May email. In late October, according to Vaughn's suit, he was fired for "not having a positive attitude."

The news of rancorous working conditions for Tesla employees is merely the latest in a series. Vaughn's case signals the broader social and physical perils of couching traditional factory models within the frenzied, breakneck tech-startup framework of high demand, long hours and antipathy toward regulation.

Tesla's Fremont facility has bred a number of allegations of abuse, from discrimination to physical harm. Vaughn's is at least the third discrimination suit filed this year by Black Tesla workers alleging racism. A former third-party contracted factory worker, Jorge Ferro, has taken legal action to combat alleged homophobic harassment. The cruelty wasn't strictly verbal: Not long before, in an ostensibly unrelated but similarly alarming turn of events, reports surfaced that production-floor employees sustained such work-related maladies as loss of muscle strength, fainting and herniated discs.

In response to Ferro's allegations, Tesla told In These Times that it "takes any and every form of discrimination or harassment extremely seriously." But the company denied responsibility on the grounds that Ferro was contractor, not an employee.

Tesla's factory conditions evoke those reported at another Silicon Valley darling: Blue Apron. In the fall of 2016, BuzzFeed detailed the consequences of the lax hiring practices and safety standards governing the food-delivery company's Richmond, Calif. warehouse. Employees reported pain and numbness from the frigid indoor temperatures and injuries from warehouse equipment. Many filed police reports stating co-workers had punched, choked, bitten or groped them, amid threats of violence with knives, guns and bombs.

At the time of these complaints, both companies had fully ingratiated themselves to investors. Tesla's reported worth is so astronomical even the most technocratic corporate media -- and Musk himself -- question it. Blue Apron, which went public this year, snagged a $2 billion valuation in 2015. (Blue Apron has since seen a marked decline, a development that maybe have been spurred by BuzzFeed's report.) As a result, both companies have habitually placed escalating pressure upon their employees to generate product, their executives eyeing the potential profits.

Predictably, these companies' legal compliance appears to have fallen to the wayside in the name of expediency. Tesla and Blue Apron factory employees have found themselves working 12-hour shifts, in some cases more than five days a week. Tesla employee Jose Moran wrote of "excessive mandatory overtime" and "a constant push to work faster to meet production goals."

In 2015, Blue Apron appeared to violate a litany of OSHA regulations, ranging from wiring to chemical storage. It also hired local temporary workers via third-party staffing agencies -- likely to circumvent the costs of such benefits as health insurance. As BuzzFeed noted, these staffing agencies independently screened candidates in lieu of internal background checks. Compounding the problem, the company expected temps to operate machinery they were unqualified to handle. (Blue Apron has sinceeuphemized its OSHA violations and claimed to have axed these staffing agencies. The company has not responded to requests for comment.)

Aggravating an already fraught atmosphere, the companies appear to have used punitive tactics to coerce laborers into greater productivity. While some Tesla workers are placed in lower-paying "light duty" programs after reporting their injuries, others are chided for them. One production employee, Alan Ochoa, relayed to the Guardiana quote from his manager in response to his pain complaint: "We all hurt. You can't man up?"

Equally culpable is e-commerce goliath Amazon. Bloomberg reported that the company mounts flat-screen televisions in its fulfillment centers to display anti-theft propaganda relating the stories of warehouse workers terminated for stealing on the job. (This offers a blue-collar complement to the 2016 New York Times exposé on its draconian treatment of office employees.) According to a former employee, managers upbraid workers who fail to pack 120 items per hour, heightening their quotas and, in some cases, requiring them to work an extra day. Those who don't accept overtime shifts, meanwhile, lose vacation time.

Amazon told In These Times, "We support people who are not performing to the levels expected with dedicated coaching to help them improve."

It's no wonder, then, that Blue Apron and Amazon warehouses generate highturnover. In fact, this is likely by design. By creating working conditions that not only extract vast amounts of labor at low costs, but also drive workers away, tech companies can skirt the obligation to reward employees with raises and promotions. A companion to the profit-mongering schemes of Uber, Lyft and now Amazon (through its Amazon Flex delivery vertical) to classify workers as contractors, this form of labor arbitrage ensures that owners of capital avoid the risk of losing wealth to hourly workers -- a class they deem thoroughly disposable.

Tesla has caused similar workforce tumult, firing employees for the foggy offense of underperformance. Of the hundreds of terminated employees from both its Palo Alto, Calif. headquarters and its Fremont facility, many were union sympathizers who'd been in talks with the United Auto Workers. The move has thus aroused suspicions that the company sought to purge dissidents -- a reflection of the anti-union posture that has characterized Silicon Valley for decades.

If the near-ubiquity of factory and warehouse worker exploitation in the news cycle is any indication, tech capitalists -- through their regulatory negligence and toothless "solutions" -- have fostered a culture of barbarism. Low-wage laborers have little to no recourse: They're either left to endure imminent social and physical harm, or, should they seek protections against the anguish they've borne, are stripped of their livelihood.

The blue-collar hellscape Tesla, Blue Apron and Amazon have wrought is what laissez-faire, startup-styled late capitalism looks like. At a time of such disregard for the fundamental health, safety and humanity of low-tier workers, the tech-executive class has proven nothing is sacred -- except, of course, the urge to scale.

Categories: News

Marcy Wheeler: Mike Flynn's Guilty Plea to FBI Will Shape How GOP Handles Russia Investigation

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 05:00

Just before news broke that President Trump's former national security adviser Mike Flynn will plead guilty this morning to lying to the FBI, we spoke with national security reporter Marcy Wheeler, who anticipated the news and said it could "dramatically change how Republicans face the Russian investigation."

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: On Thursday, The New York Times reported President Trump pressured senior Senate Republicans over the summer, including the chair of the Senate intelligence committee, to drop Mueller's probe into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. News coming amidst reports that Mueller's investigators recently questioned senior White House advisor and Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, over a meeting with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition.

MARCY WHEELER: Right, and this is actually one of the reasons why this switch isn't going to happen, because I don't think Pompeo is confirmable by the senate foreign relations committee, because we have learned a lot more of his implication in the Russian story.

The Kushner meeting was reported as kind of one of the last things that Mueller had to put into place before this plea agreement that people have been talking about with Mike Flynn. And that suggests that there is more news about to drop regarding Mike Flynn that I think is going to really dramatically change how Republicans take the Russian investigation.

Flynn had been avoiding discussing plea agreements for months and months and months, and then really in the last two weeks, all of a sudden it seems like it's about to happen. Mueller has more leverage over Flynn in the last couple of weeks. It may be Turkey, because a key witness in New York has turned state's evidence and apparently has information on Flynn. I think there's some other information.

And so, Flynn, we expect, is moving towards a plea agreement. We expect, or I expect, that's going to add a lot more pressure on Trump. And I have been saying for months that the way to get to Kushner is through Flynn. Because a lot of the events in which Flynn was involved, such as meeting with Sergei Kislyak in December, they connect very closely with activities that Kushner is known to be involved with.

So that seems to be where things are moving. And this Pompeo news seems impossible against that background, because Pompeo has helped Trump to cover up this Russia thing. And I don't see Bob Corker and I don't see Marco Rubio, who are both Senate foreign relations committee members, I do not see them supporting Pompeo having an even bigger role in the administration as this Russia stuff opens up.

AMY GOODMAN: And Flynn and Turkey. Can you explain what has been uncovered at this point?

MARCY WHEELER: Flynn was a consultant for the Turkish government, but through some cutouts, right? And he is alleged to have A, discussed on two different occasions basically kidnapping a cleric who lives in Pennsylvania that the Turkish government considers one of their big enemies. They blame him for the attempted coup earlier this year. So that's one thing is that he has talked about kidnapping an American permanent resident on behalf of another government.

The other thing is that there was a guy named Reza Zarrab who was charged in a sanctions avoidance laundering case in New York. Basically, laundering money to get gold to Iran. That connects very closely with Turkey's president. But that guy, Zarrab, made a plea agreement basically, and that just came out this week. The trial in which he is testifying is rolling out. But he is believed to have some information about Flynn's efforts to free him on behalf of the Turkish government.

And again, this is another case where Flynn did not disclose these monies. He was working as the transition national security adviser and being paid by a foreign government. There is a much stronger case against him on this Turkish stuff even than on the Russian stuff. So I think not only is it easier to charge him with this stuff -- and that would be kind of similar to what happened to Paul Manafort -- but also it would -- one of the things that has been reported to happen is it would implicate his son, Mike Flynn, Jr., who was involved in some of these things. And so one of the motives that Flynn might have for flipping, for cooperating with Mueller, is to keep his son out of prison.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, do you think this could account for all these developments this week? Could account for the further unraveling of President Trump? Tweeting out these racist, Islamophobic videos, talking about President Obama once again -- as he led the birther movement, Trump did -- and all of the things he has done? You know, the "Pocahontas comments in the midst of a Navajo code talker ceremony in the oval office in front of a portrait of Andrew Jackson. But all of this coming one after another has Republicans scratching their heads as well.

MARCY WHEELER: It is hard to measure the next outrage from the president, but I do think that he is hearing footsteps. I do think he continues to try and convince those around him that he is not in any risk of this investigation. That is ridiculous at this point. It is clear that Mueller is investigating him for obstruction, if not far more. And these attempts to distract attention -- but I also think -- and this will segue into your next piece, but I also think he is also attempting to distract from the fact that he is about to, in the name of tax reform, carry out this vast looting of the American poor and middle class. So, it serves two purposes -- distract from Russia but also distract from the tax bill that they are rushing through Congress this week.

AMY GOODMAN: Marcy Wheeler, we want to thank you so much for being with us. Independent journalist who covers national security and civil liberties, runs the website Emptywheel.net. We'll link to your piece,  Throwing H2O on the Pompeo to State Move. This is Democracy Now!

When we come back, we go to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to talk about a little-known provision of the tax law that has to do with opening up the Arctic to drilling. And then we will go to Mogadishu. We will talk about the latest on a massacre that took place there. What was the US involvement? Finally, we will look at the Impeach Trump movement. Stay with us. 

Categories: News

Religious Services

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 05:00
Categories: News

Trump Pressured Top Republicans to End Senate Intel Committee Russia Probe

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 05:00
 NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP / Getty Images)Donald Trump speaks about the Republican tax plan at the St. Charles, Missouri, Convention Center on November 29, 2017. (Photo: NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP / Getty Images)   In these troubling and surreal times, honest journalism is more important than ever. Help us keep real news flowing: Make a donation to Truthout today.

A startling Thursday night report from the New York Times outlines how President Donald Trump tried to pressure top Republican lawmakers in the US Senate to end the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russia.

"It was something along the lines of, ‘I hope you can conclude this as quickly as possible,’" Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), the committee’s chairman, said to the Times.

Trump reportedly called Burr's congressional colleagues to secure assistance in pushing Burr to end the investigation. The president also urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) to "swiftly" bring the probe to an end.

An unnamed Republican lawmaker says Trump called him to suggest he investigate Hillary Clinton and her ties to Fusion GPS, which had a role in compiling the dossier on Trump.

White House spokesperson Raj Shah said Trump  "at no point has attempted to apply undue influence on committee members."

But Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), a former chairwoman of the intelligence committee, said Trump's behavior is a breach of the separation of powers.

"It is pressure that should never be brought to bear by an official when the legislative branch is in the process of an investigation," she said.

Categories: News

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