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Could Texas Go Blue in 2018?

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 14:22
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Texas. Home of cowboy boots, remembering the Alamo and Republican President George W. Bush. The state legislature hasn't met an abortion ban it hasn't embraced, a discrimination bill it didn't champion or a Christian doctrine it didn't find a way to twist into far-right ideology.

Could such a state really vote blue? Yes, say political pundits -- and this may be the year it happens.

While Texas has long been one of the most conservative states in the nation, there's little doubt that it's changing its ways. Texas is growing younger, much more racially diverse and, with the help of the tech bubble and other economic changes, it's drawing more liberals into the state than ever before.

That changing demographic has resulted in what could be referred to as "peak Republican syndrome," the idea that the state hit its high point in GOP enthusiasm and will start to decrease as time passes. As Mary Beth Rogers wrote in Salon in early 2016:

The first indication of the potential shift here is that Republicans have finally reached their peak voting strength. They can't win more white votes than the 75 percent they got in the 2014 governor's race against the ill-fated Wendy Davis campaign. The percentage of eligible white voters among the Texas electorate is declining. With that decline we are beginning to see a drop in Republican vote margins in areas of their greatest strength  – the seven big suburbs that surround Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin. One of those once-reliable Republican suburbs outside of Houston has already moved into swing vote territory. Others will follow because Texas suburbs are no longer the sole domains of white voters. Over the past decade, an influx of African-American, Hispanic, and Asian homeowners has moved into Texas suburbs to create increasingly diverse communities. With the organic growth of traditional Democratic voters among African-Americans and Latinos who live in the cities, plus the in-migration of culturally progressive millennials who are flocking to Austin and Dallas, Republican dominance will soon diminish.

It's been two years since Rogers predicted Texas hit peak Republican, and one year into the Trump administration -- something no one could have seriously predicted in January of 2016 -- and if anything, that well may have accelerated Texas's GOP support.

President Trump's aggressive push to end DACA and send DREAMers back to their countries of origin, his continuous drumbeat for a wall between the US and Mexico and now his obsessive opposition to policies that help immigrants bring family members legally into the US have pressured Hispanics -- who may have embraced other GOP values, like religious liberty -- to abandon a party determined to harm them and their community.

In April, the the Washington Post reported:

The Texas Lyceum Poll found: "Texans believe that immigration is the number one issue facing the state and the nation, but a plurality of Texas adults (62 percent) also say that immigration helps the US more than it hurts. The younger the respondent, the more positively they view immigration. Moreover, 'Most Texas adults continue to oppose (61 percent) President Donald Trump's proposal to build a wall on the US- Mexico border, and most don't want him to deport millions of undocumented immigrants. Many support traditional immigration reform proposals, even a pathway to citizenship if significant restrictions are put in place." Remarkably, 63 percent support "allowing illegal immigrants living in the US the opportunity to become citizens after a long waiting period if they pay taxes and a penalty, pass a criminal background check, and learn English." Even on the hot-button issues of "sanctuary cities,; voters are split (45 percent approve, 49 percent do not) on whether local officials must 'automatically turn [someone here illegally] over to federal immigration enforcement officers."

Meanwhile, it's likely that, due in part to the new tax package passed by Congress, Texas could get bluer even faster.

According to Will Wilkenson in the New York Times, the impact of the new tax code on high tax, blue states like California and New York could drive more younger voters to relocate to red states like Texas, where taxes, cost of living and housing costs are lower. Bring enough millennials into the state, and it could be voting Democrat faster than you ever thought possible.

These shifts will certainly be on display this November, when Democratic Congressman Beto O'Rourke takes on Republican Senator and Tea Party champion Ted Cruz. Democrats haven't won a Senate race in Texas since 1988, but this year there's a referendum on an unpopular president and a highly partisan Republican-controlled Congress. Add to that the fact that Democrats are challenging Republicans in every one of the state's 36 congressional districts, and that opens up the best chance for Democratic turnout in decades.

Is Texas finally ready to turn blue? We'll all be waiting to find out in November.

Categories: News

Proposal to Let Bosses Keep Workers' Tips Provokes Investigation

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 14:19
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Trump labor officials sparked outrage late last year by proposing a reform that would allow bosses to pocket their employees' tips. But even these unabashedly anti-labor labor officials were apparently too embarrassed to reveal just how much this rule change would harm restaurant servers and other tipped workers.

According to a Bloomberg exposé, the Department "shelved" its own economic analysis of the proposal when the numbers indicated workers could lose billions of dollars in income. That cowardly maneuver has turned up the klieg lights on this whole nefarious, industry-driven effort. Under pressure from labor activists, the Department of Labor's Office of the Inspector General has just launched an audit of the rulemaking process.

The Institute for Policy Studies, the National Employment Law Project, and numerous other groups filed letters urging the Department of Labor to immediately withdraw the proposal. If the Department does not take this action, the pro-worker groups are demanding that the public be allowed to weigh in on the matter after the audit is completed.

Before the official public comment period closed on February 5, the Department of Labor received about 215,000 comment letters, with the vast majority in opposition to the proposal. Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, which advocates for better working conditions for restaurant workers, also organized a protest outside the Department's headquarters where a banner was hung off the side of the building with the slogan "Trump Don't Steal Our Tips."

"The Department of Labor should be focused on improving tipped workers' economic security," wrote Institute for Policy Studies Director John Cavanagh in the organization's public comment letter. "And yet by abolishing the regulation affirming that tips are the property of the employee who earned them, the Department would make these workers, who are primarily women and people of color, even more vulnerable to exploitation."

The Economic Policy Institute estimates the proposal would result in employers taking $5.8 billion in tips from workers. This would be a severe blow in an industry where abuse is already rampant. Employers of tipped workers are among the worst offenders in minimum wage violations, especially due to the subminimum tipped wage. Employers who pay a subminimum wage ($2.13 at the federal level) are technically required to ensure that tips bring employee wages up to at least the full minimum wage, but difficulties in enforcement result in high noncompliance rates.

The National Restaurant Association is attempting to frame the proposed rule as an initiative to allow for tip pooling to end pay disparities between the front and back of the house in restaurants. But there's no guarantee tips stay in the hands of workers -- whether they work in the front or the back of the house.

The language in the proposal suggests that employers could allocate tips to make capital improvements or lower menu prices, which the Department of Labor claims could have "potential benefits to employees and the economy overall." This is just "bogus trickledown theory," IPS Director Cavanagh wrote. "It's designed to distract attention from a rule that would clearly lead to even more severe exploitation of tipped workers."

By burying their internal economic analysis, Labor Department officials may have shot themselves in the foot, suggests Judy Conti of the National Employment Law Project. In an interview with the publication Law 360, Conti said the proposal could be "very vulnerable" to a legal challenge if the Labor Department finalizes it without publishing an underlying economic analysis on the costs and benefits.

Categories: News

Steve Coll on the CIA and the US's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 05:00

The US is intensifying its air war in Afghanistan as US Central Command has announced it is shifting military resources from Iraq and Syria back to Afghanistan, where the United States has been fighting for over 16 years in the longest war in US history. US Air Force Major General James Hecker recently said Afghanistan has "become CENTCOM's main effort." The news comes after a particularly bloody period in Afghanistan. Despite the spiraling violence, President Trump recently ruled out negotiations with the Taliban during a meeting of members of the United Nations Security Council. We speak to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Steve Coll about his new book, "Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

Black Lives Matter Activist Muhiyidin d'Baha, Who Grabbed Confederate Flag, Shot Dead in New Orleans

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 05:00

In New Orleans, Black Lives Matter activist and Charleston, South Carolina, community organizer Muhiyidin d'Baha died Tuesday, after he was struck in the thigh by a bullet as he rode his bicycle. Police have not named any motive or suspects in the killing. He made national headlines last year after he appeared in a viral video that shows him leaping over a police line in an attempt to grab a Confederate flag from a white supremacist at a rally in Charleston. In 2015, Democracy Now! spoke with Muhiyidin d'Baha outside the Emanuel AMEChurch amid the funerals of nine African-American worshipers who were gunned down by white supremacist Dylann Roof.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

Drug War and a Phantom $500 Million: Pentagon Watchdog Calls Out Two Commands for Financial Malfeasance

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 05:00

 D-Keine / Getty Images)(Photo: D-Keine / Getty Images)

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2017 was a year of investigations for US Africa Command (AFRICOM). There was the investigation of the two-star commander of US Army Africa who allegedly sent racy texts to an enlisted man's wife. There was the investigation into the alleged killing of a Special Forces soldier by Navy SEALs in Mali. There was the inquiry into reports of torture and killings on a remote base in Cameroon that was also used by American forces. There was the investigation of an alleged massacre of civilians by American special operators in Somalia. And don't forget the inquiry into the killing of four Special Forces soldiers by Islamic State militants in Niger.

And then there was the investigation that hardly anyone heard about, that didn't spark a single headline. And still, the question remains: Whatever became of that $500 million?

To be fair, this particular scandal isn't AFRICOM's alone, nor did that sizeable sum belong only to that one command. And unlike the possibly tens of thousands of dollars in cash that reportedly went missing in connection with the strangulation of the Green Beret in Mali, that $500 million didn't simply vanish. Still, a report by the Defense Department's Inspector General (IG), released into the news wasteland of the day after Christmas 2017, does raise questions about a combatant command with a history of scandals, including significant failures in planning, executing, tracking, and documenting projects across the African continent, as well as the effectiveness of US assistance efforts there.

From fiscal years 2014 through 2016, AFRICOM and Central Command (CENTCOM), the umbrella organization for US military activities in the Greater Middle East, received a combined $496 million to conduct counternarcotics (CN) activities. That substantial sum was used by the respective commands to fund myriad projects from the construction of border outposts in allied nations to training personnel in policing skills like evidence collection. Or at least, that's how it was supposed to be used. According to the IG, neither AFRICOM nor CENTCOM "maintained reliable data for the completion status and funding of training, equipping, and construction activities." That means no one -- not the IG investigators, not AFRICOM, not CENTCOM personnel -- seems to have any idea how much of that money was spent, what it was spent on, whether the funded projects were ever completed, or whether any of it made a difference in the fight against illegal drugs in Africa and the Middle East.

"US Central and US Africa Commands did not provide effective oversight of [fiscal years] 2014 through 2016 counternarcotics activities," wrote Michael Roark, an assistant inspector general, in a memorandum sent to the chiefs of both commands as well as to Pentagon officials in December 2017. "Specifically, neither US Central nor US Africa Command maintained reliable data for the completion status and funding of counternarcotics training, equipping, and construction activities." What is clear is that large sums of taxpayer dollars allotted to such training activities were inconsistently tracked or accounted for, including -- according to Bruce Anderson, a spokesman for the Office of Inspector General -- $73 million in AFRICOM counternarcotics funding. 

TomDispatch repeatedly contacted Africa Command for comment about the IG's report. According to digital receipts, AFRICOM read the emailed questions but failed to respond prior to the publication of this piece.

The War on Drugs

Since 9/11, US military activity on the African continent has grown at an exponential rate. US troops are now conducting about 3,500 exercises, programs, and activities per year, an average of nearly 10 missions a day. Meanwhile, America's most elite troops -- including Navy SEALs and Green Berets -- deployed to no fewer than 33 of the 54 African countries last year. 

Many of the command's missions focus on training local allies and proxies. "AFRICOM's Theater Security Cooperation programs remain the cornerstone of our sustained security engagement with African partners," reads its "What We Do" credo. "Conditions for success of our security cooperation programs and activities on the continent are established through hundreds of engagements supporting a wide range of activities." These include not only foreign military aid and training, but also counternarcotics assistance.

By 2012, US Africa Command's Counternarcotics and Law Enforcement Assistance branch was already providing about $20 million in aid per year to various partner nations. In doing so, it relied on special legislation that allows the military to work not only with other armed forces but with interagency partners like the Drug Enforcement Agency and the FBI, as well as local law enforcement agencies and the justice, customs, and interior ministries of various African countries.

The command's African partners often suffer, however, from their own drug problems. "On the governance front, the proceeds of drug trafficking and other forms of illicit trafficking are fueling a dramatic increase in corruption among the very institutions responsible for fighting crime," observed David Luna of the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs last year in a speech on combating organized crime in Africa. "The collusion and complicity of some government officials with criminal networks have helped carve out an illicit trafficking corridor that stretches from the West African coast to the Horn of Africa, from North Africa south to the Gulf of Guinea."

But corrupt allies, as the Pentagon's Inspector General points out, are only one of the problems facing US counternarcotics efforts there. AFRICOM itself is another.

The Wisdom of the Crowd vs. a Simple Spreadsheet  

In 2014, Coast Guard captain Ted St. Pierre, the division chief of AFRICOM's Counter Narcotics and Law Enforcement Assistance branch, turned to the consulting firm Wikistrat to design and conduct a "scenario-driven simulation" to aid the command in developing strategies to combat drug trafficking in northwest Africa. That simulation was sold as a crowd-sourced, futuristic approach to a twenty-first-century problem. "The idea is that this technology leverages the 'wisdom of the crowd' just as averaging the guesses of the crowd at the county fair will come very close to the amount of jelly beans in a jar," said Tim Haffner, a program analyst for AFRICOM's Counter Narcotics and Law Enforcement Assistance branch and its point man for the simulation project. As it turned out, AFRICOM's counternarcotics officials could have benefited from far lower-tech assistance -- like help in maintaining accurate spreadsheets.

Take the radio equipment that the command procured to help Senegal battle narcotics trafficking. According to a spreadsheet provided to the Inspector General by AFRICOM, $1.1 million was budgeted for that in 2014. Leaving aside whether such equipment is helpful in curtailing drug trafficking, it was at least clear how much money was spent on those radios. Until, that is, IG investigators consulted another spreadsheet also provided by AFRICOM. Its data indicated that nearly triple that sum -- $3.1 million -- had been budgeted for and spent on those radios. The question was: Did Senegalese forces receive $1 million worth of radios or three times that figure? No one at AFRICOM knew. 

In fact, those two spreadsheets told radically different stories about the larger US counternarcotics campaign on the continent in 2014. One indicated that taxpayers had funded 55 different projects budgeted at $15 million; the other, 134 activities to the tune of $24 million. Investigators were especially troubled by the second spreadsheet in which the "budgeted, obligated, and expended amounts… were identical for each activity causing the team to question the reliability of the data." So which spreadsheet was right? How many projects were really carried out? How many millions of dollars were actually spent? The IG's office concluded that AFRICOM counternarcotics officials didn't know and so "could not verify which set of data was complete and accurate." 

Or take Cameroon in 2016. That year, according to AFRICOM officials, the United States budgeted $143,493 for training that country's forces in "evidence collection." (This was at a moment when AFRICOM officials seemed oblivious to copious evidence that civilian detainees were being tortured, sometimes even killed, on a Cameroonian base used by American forces.) Yet a 2016 spreadsheet examined by the Inspector General's investigators indicated that only $94,620 had actually been budgeted for such training, while $165,078 had been "obligated" -- that is, an agreement was made to pay that sum for services rendered -- for the same activities. In the end, according to the IG's December 2017 report, AFRICOM counternarcotics personnel couldn't say how much money had actually been spent on training Cameroonians in evidence collection because of "a law enforcement agency error in tracking funding."

Records of construction activities were in a similar state of disarray. While counternarcotics officials provided IG personnel with a spreadsheet specifically devoted to such projects, its information proved inconsistent with other AFRICOM documents. In reading the IG's account of this, I was reminded of an interview I conducted several years ago with Chris Gatz of the Army Corps of Engineers Africa about construction projects for Special Operations Command Africa. "I'll be totally frank with you," he told me, "as far as the scopes of these projects go, I don't have good insights." I then asked if some projects had been funded with counter-narco-terrorism funds. "No, actually there was not," he assured me, which led me to ask him about Niger. I knew that the US was devoting significant resources to such projects there, specifically in the towns of Arlit and Tahoua. When I explained that I had already uncovered that information, he promptly located the right paperwork, adding, "Oh, okay, I'm sorry. You're right, we have two of them... Both were actually awarded to construction."

That construction began -- at least on paper -- in 2013. It seems that, in the time since, little has changed when it comes to record-keeping. When IG investigators looked into more recent construction efforts in Niger for their report, they found, for example, a phantom counternarcotics project -- a classroom somehow integral to the fight against drugs in that West African country. When they requested documentation for the 2015 construction of this classroom, the investigators were told by AFRICOM officials that the project had been terminated. The classroom was actually never built. Yet none of the data in any of the spreadsheets previously provided by the command indicated that the construction had been canceled.

Both AFRICOM and CENTCOM also left substantial funds on the table, monies that were apparently never spent and might have been used for other counternarcotics activities, had they not been lost, according to the IG report. For example, a "law enforcement agency" conducted 20 counternarcotics training classes over two years in an unspecified African nation (or nations), leaving an estimated excess of $805,000 in funding untouched, at least based on the officially budgeted costs for such instruction. As it turned out, however, AFRICOM officials had no idea that all of the funds hadn't been spent. The report, in its typical bureaucratic prose, summed up the situation this way: "[T]he amount unused could be higher or lower because USAFRICOM does not know how much was actually expended for the trainings executed." 

In all, faulty accounting seems to have resulted in at least $128 million worth of CENTCOM and AFRICOM counternarcotics funding for 2014-2016 going unspent.

Prior Bad Acts

This is hardly the first time that Africa Command has run into trouble accounting for work performed and dollars spent. In 2014, TomDispatchrevealed the results of an Inspector General's report ("Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa Needed Better Guidance and Systems to Adequately Manage Civil-Military Operations") that was never publicly released. It uncovered failures in planning, executing, tracking, and documenting humanitarian projects by AFRICOM's subordinate Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA).

At the time, the IG found record-keeping so faulty that CJTF-HOA officials "did not have an effective system to manage or report community relations and low-cost activities." A spreadsheet tracking such projects was so incomplete that 43% of those efforts went unmentioned. Nonetheless, the IG did manage to review 49 of CJTF-HOA's 137 identified humanitarian assistance and civic assistance projects, which cost US taxpayers about $9 million, and found that the military officials overseeing the projects "did not adequately plan or execute" them in accordance with AFRICOM's objectives. Examining 66 community relations and low-cost activities (like the distribution of sports equipment and seminars on solar panel maintenance), investigators discovered that its officials had failed to accurately identify their strategic objectives for, or maintained limited documentation on, 62% of them.

In some cases, they failed to explain how their efforts supported AFRICOM's objectives on the continent; in others, financial documentation was missing; in yet more, personnel failed to ensure that local populations were equipped to keep the projects running once US forces moved on. The risk, the report suggested, was that projects like American-built wells, water fountains, and cisterns would quickly fall into disrepair and become what one official called "monuments to US failure."

Drug Problems

After years of failing to maintain reliable data about and effective oversight of its counternarcotics activities, Africa Command has, according to the Pentagon's Inspector General, finally taken corrective measures. "USAFRICOM officials developed standard operating procedures that fully addressed the recommendation" of the December 2017 IG report, Bruce Anderson of the Office of the Inspector General told TomDispatch. "They also provided their [fiscal year] 2018 Spend Plan as evidence of some of the processes being implemented." Whether these new measures will be effective and other types of assistance will also be comprehensively tracked remains to be seen.

While AFRICOM may be cleaning up its act, the same cannot be said of CENTCOM, which, according to Anderson, apparently wasted or didn't adequately track almost $423 million in counternarcotics funds between 2014 and 2016. Like AFRICOM, Central Command failed to provide answers to TomDispatch's questions prior to publication, although the command did respond to email messages. More than a month after the December 2017 report was issued, CENTCOM would not say if it had implemented the IG's recommendations. "As you know, this is a complex issue, and it needs to be coordinated within the chain of command," spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Earl Brown wrote in an email. Bruce Anderson of the IG's office was, however, able to shed further light on the matter. "The two recommendations to USCENTCOM remain unresolved," he told TomDispatch. "USCENTCOM implemented some corrective actions, but the actions only partially addressed the recommendations."

More troubling than the findings in the IG's report or CENTCOM's apparent refusal to heed its recommendations may be the actual trajectory of the drug trade in the two commands' areas of responsibility: Africa and the Greater Middle East. Last year, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime noted that while West Africa "has long been a transit zone for cocaine and heroin trafficking, it has now turned into a production zone for illicit substances such as amphetamines and precursors" and that drug use "is also a growing issue at the local level." Meanwhile, heroin trafficking has been on the rise in East Africa, along with personal use of the drug.

Even the Pentagon's Africa Center for Strategic Studies is sounding an alarm. "Drug trafficking is a major transnational threat in Africa that converges with other illicit activities ranging from money laundering to human trafficking and terrorism," it warned last November. "According to the 2017 U.N. World Drug Report, two-thirds of the cocaine smuggled between South America and Europe passes through West Africa, specifically Benin, Cape Verde, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Nigeria, and Togo. Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania are among the countries that have seen the highest traffic in opiates passing from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Western destinations." As badly as this may reflect on AFRICOM's efforts to bolster the counter-drug-trafficking prowess of key allies like Kenya, Mali, and Nigeria, it reflects even more dismally on CENTCOM, which oversees Washington's long-running war in Afghanistan and its seemingly ceaseless counternarcotics mission there. 

In the spring of 2001, American experts concluded that a ban on opium-poppy cultivation by Afghanistan's Taliban government had wiped out the world's largest heroin-producing crop. Later that year, the US military invaded and, since 2002, America has pumped $8.7 billion in counternarcotics funding into that country. A report issued late last month by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction detailed the results of anti-drug efforts during CENTCOM's 16-year-old war: "Afghanistan's total area under opium cultivation and opium production reached an all-time high in 2017," it reads in part. "Afghanistan remains the world's largest opium producer and exporter, producing an estimated 80% of the world's opium." 

In many ways, these outcomes mirror those of the larger counterterror efforts of which these anti-drug campaigns are just a part. In 2001, for example, US forces were fighting just two enemy forces in Afghanistan: al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Now, according to a recent Pentagon report, they're battling more than 10 times that number. In Africa, an official count of five prime terror groups in 2012 has expanded, depending on the Pentagon source, to more than 20 or even closer to 50

Correlation doesn't equal causation, but given the outcomes of significant counternarcotics assistance from Africa Command and Central Command -- including some $500 million over just three recent years -- there's little evidence to suggest that better record-keeping can solve the problems plaguing the military's anti-drug efforts in the greater Middle East or Africa. While AFRICOM and, to a lesser extent, CENTCOM have made changes in how they track counternarcotics aid, both seemingly remain hooked on pouring money into efforts that have produced few successes. More effective use of spreadsheets won't solve the underlying problems of America's wars.

Categories: News

Officer Friendly

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 05:00
Categories: News

Schumer Agrees to Give up Shutdown Fights for Two Years, in Deal That Would Deprive Senate Democrats of Power

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 05:00

 Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call)Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer make their way to the Senate floor after announcing a two-year deal on the budget earlier in the day on February 7, 2018. (Photo: Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call)

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Senate Democrats look poised to relinquish significant leverage -- the threat of withholding government funding -- well into the next Congress.

Leaders from the Senate Majority and Minority said Wednesday that they agreed to a budget deal that would roll back short-term funding norms spearheaded by Congressional Republicans during the Obama administration.

The agreement would eliminate so-called sequestration caps created by the Budget Control Act of 2011. The spending limits were agreed to by Congress after Tea Party Republicans threatened to shutdown the government.

The compromise would hike spending on defense and domestic programs by $300 billion, and it would keep the government funded through October 2019.

"After months of legislative logjams, this budget deal is a genuine breakthrough," said Chuck Schumer (D-NY) from the Senate floor. "After months of fiscal brinkmanship, this budget deal is the real first sprout of bipartisanship, and it should break the long cycle of spending crises that have snarled this Congress and hampered the middle class."

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also hailed the agreement. Speaking just before Schumer, he said: "For the first time in years, our armed forces will have more of the resources they need to keep America safe."

The Pentagon, which received $700 billion this year, would see funding increase by $169 billion.

According to Schumer, the deal would boost spending on healthcare programs, infrastructure and higher education. The agreement would bolster community healthcare grants, while extending funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) by four years until 2027.

It would also deprive Senate Democrats of a tool they could use to stymie the Trump administration, which has been plagued by repeated accusations of Executive Branch abuses, including unprecedented nepotism and conflicts of interest, and obstruction of justice in the FBI inquiry into alleged election meddling in 2016. Republicans have the majority in both houses of Congress, but need Senate Democrats to guarantee that budget legislation won't be filibustered.

Schumer said the deal was hammered out "without a great deal of help from the White House," but Presidential aides praised the development. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that it would offer "certainty" and a "much needed" boost in defense spending.

The House might have other plans, however. Influential hardline conservatives look set to oppose the agreement. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), chair of the Freedom Caucus, came out early against the proposal, according to NBC News.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also said that she won't back the deal, according to The Hill.

Pelosi repeated demands for a government funding agreement that includes consideration of Dreamers -- 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children. The cohort had been granted protections from removal proceedings under the Obama administration. Last year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the program would expire in March

In his floor speech on Wednesday, McConnell said that the Senate would soon have an open debate on immigration legislation. He said there would be a "level playing field at the outset," and that the Majority and Minority would "alternate proposals for consideration and for votes." According to Reuters, the debate is expected to occur next week.

Before backing the Senate deal, Pelosi is asking House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to schedule similar deliberations.

"Without a commitment from Speaker Ryan, comparable to the commitment from Leader McConnell, this package does not have my support," she said on Wednesday.

Categories: News

The Importance of Antifa in Confronting Fascism

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 05:00

Some anti-fascists focus on destroying fascist organizing; others focus on building popular community power and inoculating society to fascism through promoting their leftist political vision. However, anti-fascism has always been just one facet of a larger struggle against white supremacy. 

About 400 people of the Antifa-Alliance "somewhere in Germany" demonstrated against neo-Nazi structures in the region during the "day of saxony" on September 2, 2017, in Wurzen, Germany. (Photo by Markus Heine/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)About 400 people of the Antifa-Alliance "somewhere in Germany" demonstrated against neo-Nazi structures in the region during the "day of saxony" on September 2, 2017, in Wurzen, Germany. (Photo by Markus Heine / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images)

Mark Bray does not shrink from defending antifa, the militant response to fascist movements and events. Read the book that The New Yorker calls "focused and persuasive." Get Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook from Truthout by clicking here.

Author Mark Bray dives into the debate over how confrontational the anti-fascist movement should be. In an excerpt from the introduction to Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, he defines the scope of his inquiry.

Before analyzing anti-fascism, we must first briefly examine fascism. More than perhaps any other mode of politics, fascism is notoriously difficult to pin down. The challenge of defining fascism stems from the fact that it "began as a charismatic movement" united by an "experience of faith" in direct opposition to rationality and the standard constraints of ideological precision. Mussolini explained that his movement did "not feel tied to any particular doctrinal form." "Our myth is the nation," he asserted, "and to this myth, to this grandeur we subordinate all the rest." As historian Robert Paxton argued, fascists "reject any universal value other than the success of chosen peoples in a Darwinian struggle for primacy." Even the party platforms that fascists put forward between the world wars were usually twisted or jettisoned entirely when the exigencies of the pursuit of power made those interwar fascists uneasy bedfellows with traditional conservatives. "Left" fascist rhetoric about defending the working class against the capitalist elite was often among the first of their values to be discarded. Postwar (after World War II) fascists have experimented with an even more dizzying array of positions by freely pilfering from Maoism, anarchism, Trotskyism, and other left-wing ideologies and cloaking themselves in "respectable" electoral guises on the model of France's Front National and other parties.

I agree with Angelo Tasca's argument that "to understand Fascism we must write its history." Yet, since that history will not be written here, a definition will have to suffice. Paxton defines fascism as:

... a form of political behavior marked by obsessive pre-occupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.

When compared to the challenges of defining fascism, getting a handle on anti-fascism may seem like an easy task at first glance. After all, literally, it is simply opposition to fascism. Some historians have used this literal, minimalist definition to describe as "anti-fascist" a wide variety of historical actors, including liberals, conservatives, and others, who combated fascist regimes prior to 1945. Yet, the reduction of the term to a mere negation obscures an understanding of anti-fascism as a method of politics, a locus of individual and group self-identification, and a transnational movement that adapted preexisting socialist, anarchist, and communist currents to a sudden need to react to the fascist menace. This political interpretation transcends the flattening dynamics of reducing anti-fascism to the simple negation of fascism by highlighting the strategic, cultural, and ideological foundation from which socialists of all stripes have fought back. Yet, even within the Left, debates have raged between many socialist and communist parties, anti-racist NGOs, and others who have advocated a legalistic pursuit of antiracist or anti-fascist legislation and those who have defended a confrontational, direct-action strategy of disrupting fascist organizing. These two perspectives have not always been mutually exclusive, and some anti-fascists have turned to the latter option after the failure of the former, but in general this strategic debate has divided leftist interpretations of anti-fascism.

This book explores the origins and evolution of a broad anti-fascist current that exists at the intersection of pan-socialist politics and direct-action strategy. This tendency is often called "radical anti-fascism" in France, "autonomous anti-fascism" in Germany, and "militant anti-fascism" in the United States, the U.K., and Italy, among today's antifa (the shorthand for anti-fascist in many languages). At the heart of the anti-fascist outlook is a rejection of the classical liberal phrase incorrectly ascribed to Voltaire that "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." After Auschwitz and Treblinka, anti-fascists committed themselves to fighting to the death the ability of organized Nazis to say anything.

Thus, anti-fascism is an illiberal politics of social revolutionism applied to fighting the Far Right, not only literal fascists. As we will see, anti-fascists have accomplished this goal in a wide variety of ways, from singing over fascist speeches, to occupying the sites of fascist meetings before they could set up, to sowing discord in their groups via infiltration, to breaking any veil of anonymity, to physically disrupting their newspaper sales, demonstrations, and other activities. Militant anti-fascists disagree with the pursuit of state bans against "extremist" politics because of their revolutionary, anti-state politics and because such bans are more often used against the Left than the Right.

Some antifa groups are more Marxist while others are more anarchist or antiauthoritarian. In the United States, most have been anarchist or antiauthoritarian since the emergence of modern antifa under the name Anti-Racist Action (ARA) in the late eighties. To some extent the predominance of one faction over the other can be discerned in a group's flag logo: whether the red flag is in front of the black or vice versa (or whether both flags are black). In other cases, one of the two flags can be substituted with the flag of a national liberation movement or a black flag can be paired with a purple flag to represent feminist antifa or a pink flag for queer antifa, etc. Despite such differences, the antifa I interviewed agreed that such ideological differences are usually subsumed in a more general strategic agreement on how to combat the common enemy.

A range of tendencies exist within that broader strategic consensus, however. Some antifa focus on destroying fascist organizing, others focus on building popular community power and inoculating society to fascism through promoting their leftist political vision. Many formations fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. In Germany in the 1990s, a debate emerged in the autonomous anti-fascist movement over whether antifa was mainly a form of self-defense necessitated by attacks from the Far Right or a holistic politics, often called "revolutionary anti-fascism," that could form the foundation of the broader revolutionary struggle. Depending on local contexts and politics, antifa can variously be described as a kind of ideology, an identity, a tendency or milieu, or an activity of self-defense.

Despite the various shades of interpretation, antifa should not be understood as a single-issue movement. Instead, it is simply one of a number of manifestations of revolutionary socialist politics (broadly construed). Most of the anti-fascists I interviewed also spend a great deal of their time on other forms of politics (e.g., labor organizing, squatting, environmental activism, antiwar mobilization, or migrant solidarity work). In fact, the vast majority would rather devote their time to these productive activities than have to risk their safety and well-being to confront dangerous neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Antifa act out of collective self-defense.

The success or failure of militant anti-fascism often depends on whether it can mobilize broader society to confront fascists, as occurred so famously with London's 1936 Battle of Cable Street, or tap into wider societal opposition to fascism to ostracize emerging groups and leaders.

At the core of this complex process of opinion-making is the construction of societal taboos against racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of oppression that constitute the bedrocks of fascism. These taboos are maintained through a dynamic that I call "everyday anti-fascism."

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Finally, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that anti-fascism has always been just one facet of a larger struggle against white supremacy and authoritarianism. In his legendary 1950 essay "Discourse on Colonialism," the Martiniquan writer and theorist Aimé Césaire argued convincingly that "Hitlerism" was abhorrent to Europeans because of its "humiliation of the white man, and the fact that [Hitler] applied to Europe colonialist procedures which until then had been reserved exclusively for the Arabs of Algeria, the 'coolies' of India, and the 'niggers' of Africa." Without in any way diminishing the horror of the Holocaust, to a certain extent we can understand Nazism as European colonialism and imperialism brought home. The decimation of the indigenous populations of the Americas and Australia, the tens of millions who died of famine in India under British rule, the ten million killed by Belgian king Leopold's Congo Free State, and the horrors of transatlantic slavery are but a sliver of the mass death and societal decimation wrought by European powers prior to the rise of Hitler. Early concentration camps (known as "reservations") were set up by the American government to imprison indigenous populations, by the Spanish monarchy to contain Cuban revolutionaries in the 1890s, and by the British during the Boer War at the turn of the century. Well before the Holocaust, the German government had committed genocide against the Herero and Nama people of southwest Africa through the use of concentration camps and other methods between 1904 and 1907.

For this reason, it is vital to understand anti-fascism as a solitary component of a larger legacy of resistance to white supremacy in all its forms. My focus on militant anti-fascism is in no way intended to minimize the importance of other forms of antiracist organizing that identify with anti-imperialism, black nationalism, or other traditions. Rather than imposing an anti-fascist framework on groups and movements that conceive of themselves differently, even if they are battling the same enemies using similar methods, I focus largely on groups that self-consciously situate themselves within the anti-fascist tradition.

Copyright (2017) by Mark Bray. Not to be reposted without permission of the publisher, Melville House Publishing.

Categories: News

Black Americans Mostly Left Behind by Progress Since Dr. King's Death

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 05:00
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On Apr. 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, while assisting striking sanitation workers.

That was almost 50 years ago. Back then, the wholesale racial integration required by the 1964 Civil Rights Act was just beginning to chip away at discrimination in education, jobs and public facilities. Black voters had only obtained legal protections two years earlier, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act was about to become law.

African-Americans were only beginning to move into neighborhoods, colleges and careers once reserved for whites only.

I'm too young to remember those days. But hearing my parents talk about the late 1960s, it sounds in some ways like another world. Numerous African-Americans now hold positions of power, from mayor to governor to corporate chief executive -- and, yes, once upon a time, president. The US is a very different place than it was 50 years ago.

Or is it? As a scholar of minority politics, I know that while some things have improved markedly for black Americans since 1968, today we are still fighting many of the same battles as Dr. King did in his day.

That Was Then

The 1960s were tumultuous years indeed. During the long, hot summers from 1965 to 1968, American cities saw approximately 150 race riots and other uprisings. The protests were a sign of profound citizen anger about a nation that was, according to the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, "moving toward two societies, one black, one white -- separate and unequal."

Economically, that was certainly true. In 1968, just 10 percent of whites lived below the poverty level, while nearly 34 percent of African-Americans did. Likewise, just 2.6 percent of white job seekers were unemployed, compared to 6.7 percent of black job seekers.

A year before his death, Dr. King and others began organizing a Poor People's Campaign to "dramatize the plight of America's poor of all races and make very clear that they are sick and tired of waiting for a better life."

On May 28, 1968, one month after King's assassination, the mass anti-poverty march took place. Individuals from across the nation erected a tent city on the National Mall, in Washington, calling it Resurrection City. The aim was to bring attention to the problems associated with poverty.

Ralph Abernathy, an African-American minister, led the way in his fallen friend's place.

"We come with an appeal to open the doors of America to the almost 50 million Americans who have not been given a fair share of America's wealth and opportunity," Abernathy said, "and we will stay until we get it."

This Is Now

So, how far have black people progressed since 1968? Have we gotten our fair share yet? Those questions have been on my mind a lot this month.

In some ways, we've barely budged as a people. Poverty is still too common in the US In 1968, 25 million Americans -- roughly 13 percent of the population --  lived below poverty level. In 2016, 43.1 million -- or more than 12.7 percent -- do.

Today's black poverty rate of 22 percent is almost three times that of whites. Compared to the 1968 rate of 32 percent, there's not been a huge improvement.

Financial security, too, still differs dramatically by race. Black households earn $57.30 for every $100 in income earned by white families. And for every $100 in white family wealth, black families hold just $5.04.

Another troubling aspect about black social progress -- or should I say the lack thereof -- is how many black families are headed by single women. In the 1960s, unmarried women were the main breadwinners for 20 percent of households. In recent years, the percentage has risen as high as 72 percent.

This is important, but not because of some outmoded sexist ideal of the family. In the US, as across the Americas, there's a powerful connection between poverty and female-headed households.

Black Americans today are also more dependent on government aid than they were in 1968. Currently, almost 40 percent of African-Americans are poor enough to qualify for welfare, housing assistance and other government programs that offer modest support to families living under the poverty line.

That's higher than any other US racial group. Just 21 percent of Latinos, 18 percent Asian-Americans and 17 percent of whites are on welfare.

Finding the Bright Spots

There are, of course, positive trends. Today, far more African-Americans graduate from college -- 38 percent --  than they did 50 years ago.

Our incomes are also way up. Black adults experienced a more significant income increase from 1980 to 2016 --  from $28,667 to $39,490  -- than any other US demographic group. This, in part, is why there's now a significant black middle class.

Legally, African-Americans may live in any community they want -- and from Beverly Hills to the Upper East Side, they can and do.

But why aren't those gains deeper and more widespread?

Some prominent thinkers -- including the award-winning writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and The New Jim Crow author Michelle Alexander -- put the onus on institutional racism. Coates argues, among other things, that racism has so held back African-Americans throughout history that we deserve reparations, resurfacing a claim with a long history in black activism.

Alexander, for her part, has famously said that racial profiling and the mass incarceration of African-Americans are just modern-day forms of the legal, institutionalized racism that once ruled across the American South.

More conservative thinkers may hold black people solely accountable for their problems. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson is in this "personal responsibility" camp, along with public intellectuals like Thomas Sowell and Larry Elder.

Depending on who you ask, then, black people aren't much better off than in 1968 because either there's not enough government help or there's way too much.

What Would MLK Do?

I don't have to wonder what Dr. King would recommend. He believed in institutional racism.

In 1968, King and the Southern Christian Leadership Council sought to tackle inequality with the Economic Bill of Rights. This was not a legislative proposal, per se, but a moral vision of a just America where all citizens had educational opportunities, a home, "access to land," "a meaningful job at a living wage" and "a secure and adequate income."

To achieve that, King wrote, the US government should create an initiative to "abolish unemployment," by developing incentives to increase the number of jobs for black Americans. He also recommended "another program to supplement the income of those whose earnings are below the poverty level."

Those ideas were revolutionary in 1968. Today, they seem prescient. King's notion that all citizens need a living wage portends the universal basic income concept now gaining traction worldwide.

King's rhetoric and ideology are also obvious influences on Sen. Bernie Sanders, who in the 2016 presidential primaries advocated equality for all people, economic incentives for working families, improved schools, greater access to higher education and for anti-poverty initiatives.

Progress has been made. Just not as much as many of us would like. To put it in Dr. King's words, "Lord, we ain't what we oughta be. We ain't what we want to be. We ain't what we gonna be. But, thank God, we ain't what we was."

The Conversation

Categories: News

Mother War Hawk

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 05:00
Categories: News

Bresha Meadows, Teenage Girl Who Killed Her Abusive Father, Finally Freed After 10 Months in Jail

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 05:00

In Ohio, a 16-year-old girl who killed her abusive father is finally home from juvenile detention, after her case sparked national outcry over the treatment of domestic violence survivors. The young girl, Bresha Meadows, was just 14 years old when she shot dead her abusive father, Jonathan Meadows, with a bullet to his head as he slept. Only two months earlier, Bresha had run away from home, telling relatives that she was scared for her life "because her father was beating her mother and threatening to kill the whole family." Bresha was sentenced to a year in juvenile detention, with credit for time served, as well as six months at a mental health treatment center. We speak to journalist Victoria Law, who has been closely following the story.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

New York City Taxi Driver Kills Himself at City Hall After Condemning Uber and Politicians for Financial Ruin

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 05:00

New York City taxi drivers held a vigil on Tuesday to honor livery car driver Douglas Schifter, who killed himself in front of City Hall Monday morning after writing a long Facebook post condemning local politicians and Wall Street-backed apps like Uber for pushing him into financial ruin. He wrote, "I worked 100-120 consecutive hours almost every week for the past fourteen plus years. When the industry started in 1981, I averaged 40-50 hours. I cannot survive any longer with working 120 hours! I am not a Slave and I refuse to be one. … There seems to be a strong bias by the Mayor and Governor in favor of Uber. A Company that is a known liar, cheat and thief." Over the past five years, the number of for-hire cars has more than doubled in the city, largely thanks to Uber. But the soaring number of cars has resulted in a financial crisis for many longtime taxi drivers who now struggle to get customers. We speak to Bhairavi Desai, executive director and co-founder of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents over 19,000 taxi drivers in New York City.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

Judge to Preside Over Border Wall Case Two Years After Trump Attacked His Mexican Heritage

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 05:00

 Doug Turetsky)Protesters display signs during a demonstration against Donald Trump's attempted Muslim travel ban and proposed border wall on January 29, 2017, in New York City. (Photo: Doug Turetsky)

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The fate of President Donald Trump's signature agenda item, a wall along the southern US border, may be in the hands of a judge who was at the center of a controversy during Trump's 2016 campaign.

US District Judge Gonzalo Curiel will preside over a case involving three lawsuits that challenge the Trump administration's construction of the wall.

Two years ago, while campaigning, Trump said Curiel could not act as an impartial judge when ruling on two class action suits regarding Trump University, the president's for-profit college, because Curiel was of Mexican heritage.

Remember the U.S. district judge Trump dismissed on national television as "Mexican" and "a hater"?

He's presiding over Trump's border wall case now. https://t.co/qpjUJ49Aqh

— Jennifer Bendery (@jbendery) February 6, 2018

Curiel was born in the US to parents who immigrated from Mexico, and then became naturalized citizens.

The judge will decide whether the Trump administration can use waivers, issued by Congress in 1996 and 2005, that have allowed the government to bypass certain laws, including environmental regulations, in the interest of border security projects. The Department of Homeland Security has already waived 37 environmental laws just for the construction of wall prototypes.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who is party to one of the three lawsuits, argues that the waivers are out of date and never took into account a potential border wall. Other plaintiffs, including the state of California and several conservation groups, argue that the construction of a wall would harm wildlife in the area.

"Nobody is above the law. Environmental laws were enacted to protect imperiled wildlife, delicate landscapes, and the American public," Defenders of Wildlife, one of the groups, said when the case was mounted last year.

Curiel has never publicly acknowledged the president's remarks about his ethnicity, and Gregory Vega, a former colleague, told McClatchy that the incident "will not impact him at all. He will follow the rule of law."

But on social media, Trump critics relished the news that Curiel will play a role in deciding whether the construction of a wall meant to keep people like his family out of the country, will move forward.

Hot Off the Karma Wire...https://t.co/FIB3pjFXZS

— Jeffrey St. Clair (@JSCCounterPunch) February 6, 2018

Anyone else ready to see how this all plays out? RT @HuffPostPol: "Judge Dissed by Trump as 'Mexican' Presiding Over Border Wall Case" https://t.co/R5mFnV9KAs pic.twitter.com/w8okfFYnWz

— #DreamActNow (@votolatino) February 6, 2018
Categories: News

Lawmakers From Both Parties Move to Ban Fracking in Florida

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 05:00

A bipartisan effort to place a statewide ban on fracking is moving ahead in Florida, where Republican lawmakers are taking a not-in-my-backyard-style departure from the GOP's love affair with fossil fuels. Fracking has yet to take hold in Florida, and conservationists fear unconventional oil and gas drilling could threaten underground reserves of fresh water due to the state's unique geology.

 Sasacvetkovic33 / Getty Images)(Photo: Sasacvetkovic33 / Getty Images)

The effort to prevent fracking in Florida cleared a major hurdle on Monday as the state senate's environmental conservation committee approved a bipartisan bill to ban fracking statewide by a 10-0 vote.

The bill would place a permanent ban on "advanced well stimulation techniques" for producing oil and gas, including fracking and acidizing. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves injecting large volumes of water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into oil and gas wells to break up underground rock formations and release raw fossil fuels. Acidizing is a similar technique that dissolves underground formations with corrosive acids.

The bill was introduced by State Sen. Dana Young, a Republican from Tampa who said in a statement that the legislation is a "priority" for protecting "drinking water and our one-of-a-kind natural resources."

Along with several Republican cosponsors, Young appears to be taking a not-in-my-backyard-style departure from the GOP party line. Republicans on Capitol Hill and in statehouses across the country have long worked to dismantle environmental regulations and support the rapid expansion of fracking, which has stoked nationwide controversy over drinking water contamination, air pollution and the disposal of fracking wastewater.

Now, under the Trump administration, efforts to sweep away environmental protections and expand oil and gas production have gone into hyper drive, particularly on public land. However, the industry has hit a snag in Florida, where both Democrats and Republicans remain concerned about potential impacts that industrial oil and gas development could have on the Sunshine State's rich natural resources and tourism-heavy economy.

Trump's Interior Department recently removed waters off the coast of Florida from a list of areas where the government wants to expand offshore drilling after a plea from Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican who otherwise supports fossil fuels production.

"[Fracking] is a bipartisan issue, just like the opposition to offshore drilling, because Florida is really dependent on a tourism economy," said Jorge Aguilar, the southern regional director of Food & Water Watch, a group that campaigns to ban fracking. He added that memories of the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico are still fresh in many Floridians' minds.

Fracking has yet to gain a foothold in Florida, where unique limestone geology holds large underground water reserves and feeds freshwater springs that attract tourists from around the world. Fracking would drain large amounts of fresh water from these reserves, and conservationists worry that the porous limestone puts aquifers at risk of being contaminated by fracking chemicals and waste fluids.

Floridians are also concerned with protecting sensitive ecosystems such as the Everglades from industrialization. In fact, 90 local city and county governments have passed measures restricting unconventional oil and gas production in their areas, according to Food & Water Watch. Lawmakers from both parties have taken notice.

"What we see in Florida is a real focus on protecting its water resources; the geology of the state is really porous," Aguilar said. "There is a real fear by [both] conservatives and Democrats that the fracking industry -- which is a new, unconventional type of drilling -- could really contaminate water resources and use up millions of gallons of water."

Aguilar said oil and gas operators are exploring drilling permits in the Florida panhandle and the southwestern part of the state despite local opposition. Industry lobbyists are also pushing back against the proposed ban in the legislature.

"You're sending a message to the rest of the country that fracking is not good, and I think that's the wrong message," Florida Petroleum Council Associate Director Eric Hamilton told the Sun Sentinel, a south Florida newspaper, explaining that fracking can be done "safely" in Florida if large reserves of oil and gas are discovered in the future.

The Sun Sentinel reports that the bill to ban fracking in Florida faces a tough road in the legislature's lower chamber, where Republican leaders prefer compromise legislation that would place a temporary moratorium on fracking while regulators study its potential impacts on the state's unique environment.

However, anti-fracking activists remain hopeful that the ban will succeed. Aguilar said the ban would appeal to fiscal conservatives who may cringe at the idea of spending taxpayer dollars to fund studies on fracking, which is already unpopular among their constituents.

"What we have argued is that there are enough studies to show the inherent harms of fracking that we don't need to spend any more taxpayer money to ... make sure it's not right for Florida," Aguilar said.

Three states -- Vermont, New York and Maryland -- have banned fracking, while other states with large oil and gas reserves have embraced it as an economic boon, despite environmental concerns. A campaign to ban fracking is currently underway in Illinois, where at least one fossil fuel company has pursued high-volume fracking and wastewater injection permits, according to Food & Water Watch.

That company withdrew its permit applications in October in the face of tight regulations and environmentalist opposition. Now, activists in Illinois are asking state lawmakers to put tougher restrictions on fracking or ban it altogether.

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Categories: News

Voices of Resistance: Bringing Black Voices to the Immigration Reform Debate

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 05:00
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A Haitian American who grew up in Miami's Little Haiti community, Francesca Menes remembers the global cries for "Democracy for Haiti" following the 1991 coup. Amidst the current threats to American democracy, she sees a reawakening of the political consciousness of American citizens and an opportunity to build real people power.  As a longtime social justice activist and member of the Black Immigration Network's steering committee, Menes has learned to use her resources to lift up the voices of the most vulnerable.

We recently spoke with Menes by phone about her work for our ongoing "Voices of Resistance" series, which aims to draw insight and inspiration from the South's deep history of struggle for social change and to learn from a new generation of Southern leaders working in today's volatile political climate. Her responses have been lightly edited for clarity. If you have ideas for other Southern change makers to feature in the series, please contact Rebekah Barber at rebekah@southernstudies.org.

Rebekah Barber: Tell me about your background and how you became involved in activism.

Francesca Menes: I got involved in activism pretty early. When I was growing up in Little Haiti, my parents would take me to rallies in the '90s when Haiti was going through the coup and the president was being taken out. The Haitian diaspora was very frustrated with the instability in the country, and I remember at the rallies I would attend people would be shouting "Democracy for Haiti!"

Then as a high school debater, I was exposed to topics like how to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and whether or not mental health is something that we need to be addressing in the United States. Learning about these topics continued to open my eyes -- so much so that I underwent a shift about what I wanted to study in college. Originally, I went to school as a biology major because Haitian parents think that if you are not a doctor or lawyer you don't have many opportunities. And often, we don't really talk about being involved in politics because we don't know what politics means. When I told my mom that I was switching to political science, she was very surprised. She said, "That's the one thing I would never want you to be because God knows where that’s gonna take you."

When I was in college at Florida International University, I was a student activist, particularly around women's rights issues. I worked at the women's center, which hosted an annual "Women Who Lead" conference to expose women on campus to the gender lens and how powerful we can be. Not only did I study political science and women's rights, but I received a certificate in national security. I originally thought I was going to enter the intelligence community as an intelligence analyst, but on a visit to D.C. right before graduation, I met with some intelligence analysts and I realized that was not the world for me. A world where your actions have no consequences is very bleak.

That's when I found Public Allies [a nonprofit that operates the AmeriCorps service program]. I was grateful to them because when I realized I had no interest in being an intelligence analyst anymore, I literally did not know where I was going to go in my life. I got placed with the Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC). After two years with AmeriCorps, FLIC took me on for about nine years. I recently began working at Local Progress [a national organization that builds power to transform local and state politics] as their Florida state coordinator.

Working with FLIC politicized me even more because I was working on immigration issues through an economic justice lens that lifted up workers' rights and an education lens that lifted up the fact that undocumented students do not have equal access to higher education. We even spoke about reproductive justice, although it was hard sometimes because we were focusing on immigrant rights. But we did make sure to insert the gender lens.

As I got more politically involved, I did things outside of FLIC. I became more of a presence in the community. I was appointed to county advisory boards and I sat on the county commission for women for almost eight years. I sit on another advisory board that focuses on county services, which include Head Start, etc.

I try to be inside, to maneuver and advocate from the inside. I feel like sometimes we tend to fail as a movement because we shy away from working within the system, but I like to remember Freddie Brooks from the TV show "A Different World." As an attorney, when she was told she was going into the system, she said, "No, I'm trying to learn the system, so I can know how to fight the system."

If we don't know how the system is operating, we won't be able to change it. And so that's where I was coming from. I believe in being inside the system and having relationships inside the system, so I can give people opportunities to walk through more doors.

Can you talk about the importance of people asserting their agency and advocating for themselves?

That’s one of the most important things to me. I will not organize if those who are affected are not at the table. Because for movements, when we say we are trying to protect individuals but are making decisions for them as opposed to them lending their voices and helping us make those decisions, we are operating as the opposite of what we claim to be. Those who are directly impacted must be at the center of everything we do.

Last year I launched my company, CommUnity Strategies, and I've been doing trainings called "Embracing Your Power and Understanding the Legislative Process." My trainings focus on state-level advocacy and teach people about how their stories have power.

Trump is Trump. We can't waste but so much energy on him. Instead, we fight back -- not with our words but with our power. ... We can get distracted and argue with this crazy man, or we can accomplish something.

The Alliance for Safety and Justice contracted me to do four trainings, so over the course of three weeks I recently trained between 40 and 50 people to be prepared to go to the state legislature. The people I trained are survivors of crime. They are survivors of domestic violence and shootings, and they did not feel comfortable telling their stories. But one of the things that gives me hope is seeing the person who didn’t even know they had a story to tell because they weren't directly impacted say, "Wow, I do have a story to tell because I was impacted by someone I love who happens to be a survivor."

Or sometimes people say, "I don't want to share my story because it just hurts too much to speak it and bring it back up." And then they realize that they may be afraid to share their stories but doing so is part of their therapy. When you share your story, you give a voice to other people and break that individualistic mindset that makes us think, "I'm the only one going through this, I'm the only one suffering." America has created us to be very individualistic, but we are part of a community.

How did the Black Immigration Network (BIN) come to be?

That was a beautiful moment, back in 2009. At the time, I didn't even realize what I was walking into.

My boss at FLIC had gotten an email about a meeting that was taking place about Black immigrants and told me I should go. The conversation was about the lack of presence of Black immigrants in the central conversations around immigration reform, especially regarding strategically inserting the race lens to start developing a conversation and build up this network.

We left that space with plans to create a network, the sole purpose of which would be bringing together Black Americans and Black immigrants to have a conversation around racial disparities and racial inequalities related to immigration and to talk about the root causes of migration so we can build stronger alliances. We understood that if more African-American communities understood why immigrants are coming here we would be able to connect on a deeper level because of our connected history. African Americans were brought here on chains against their will, and now new forms of migration are happening because people do not have another choice.

Imagine if more Americans understood foreign policy and what these senators and congressional members are doing and how foreign policy is impacting migration. Ultimately migration is impacting jobs, but that is what the corporotocracy wants. They want to be able to bring wages down so they can maximize their profits.

So that's why the Black Immigration Network was created. We wanted to shift the conversation. And 10 years later, it's beautiful to see that Black immigrants have become a more integral part of the conversation.

Before we created BIN, there were no Black immigrant networks except for the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. BAJI was the one that brought everyone together, but now you have African Communities Together in New York, you have UndocuBlack.

We always had very dispersed Haitian organizations and African organizations, but we never had a streamlined national organization, and that is what BIN became. Being able to have general assemblies where we bring 200 or 300 Black immigrants together in a space to talk about what's happening in our communities and how we can make an impact is a beautiful and powerful thing.

And now we are pivoting our work to talk about electoral power. Black immigrants are a big part of the immigrant rights movement, but we continue to be ignored, even in the conversations around DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] and TPS [Temporary Protected Status]. Often, when people talk about TPS, they talk about Honduras and Nicaragua; rarely do they talk about Haiti, unless we force them to. But we've realized that we have our own power -- electoral power.

The statistics show that Black immigrants are more likely to naturalize than any other immigrant community. Not only are they naturalizing, but they are becoming eligible voters. And so the shift toward electoral politics is going to start happening within the next couple of years.

By calling majority-Black countries "shitholes," President Trump has characterized Black immigrants as unworthy of migration to the US How has BIN responded?

Trump is Trump. We can't waste but so much energy on him. Instead, we fight back -- not with our words but with our power. And so that's why organizations like BIN, BAJI, and UndocuBlack are shifting the conversation toward building political power. We can get distracted and argue with this crazy man, or we can accomplish something.

Have you been gearing up for the 2018 election?

For sure. We are in the preliminary phases of having conversations around electoral power. I'm glad we are finally shifting the mindset. We are not just going to keep rallying and reaching out to congressional members because we now have to figure out how to make an impact in electoral politics.

That's part of what Opal [Tometi, BAJI's executive director], has been doing. In Miami they just hired a Haitian organizer; they had never been in the South beyond Georgia before. They have organizers now in Atlanta, Miami, Brooklyn, and Oakland. They are spreading themselves across the country in very strategic areas to be able to build that impact. More than anything else, we are focused on being strategic.

What impact do you think this strategic, grassroots organizing will have across the South?

The dynamics are shifting, especially as the issue of restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated is coming up, or when we're talking about naturalization numbers and the fact that there is a whole group of people that we have never thought of as part of the electorate.

We talk about the importance of registering youth when they turn 18, but we forget about registering people who have been living in the United States for 20 years but never became citizens. We need them to become citizens and start voting because that's about a couple of million people of untapped political potential.

And that's what's happening in the South -- we're starting to see all the strategic ways of unifying ourselves.  In the South, people who look like us -- everyday people -- are reenergized to plug in. Before Trump, people were unplugged for so long, but now we're in a political moment.  Although we still wouldn't have been OK under a Clinton presidency, we wouldn't be in this moment. We wouldn't have seen the Women's March. We wouldn't have seen the March for Black Women.  So we have to understand the moment that we are in and leverage our anger and frustration to swing the pendulum as much to the left as possible so we can maintain some sort of power for a couple of years.

Then we need to leverage the moment again by getting our people elected -- not career politicians but people who can challenge the norm. We have opportunities in America that people in other countries don't, and we need to exercise those opportunities.

In the South it's starting to click for us, but we have to keep the momentum going. The census is coming up in 2020, and we need to make sure that we are counted.

Categories: News

Congress Keeps Funding a War Machine That the Public Should Divest From

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 05:00

The move to boost military spending in the national budget to $716 billion hardly comes as a surprise, given how much money flows from weapons makers to congressional campaigns for both parties. However, divestment offers an alternate means of addressing the blight of war profiteering in an era in which traditional political routes have been closed by our craven representatives.

 John Martinez / US Army)US Army soldiers in Afghanistan walk by military equipment on December 19, 2017. (Photo: John Martinez / US Army)

In recent budget negotiations, Senate Democrats agreed to a boost in military spending that exceeded the cap for fiscal 2018 by $70 billion, bringing the total request to an enormous $716 billion. Inevitably, this means more Pentagon contracts will be awarded to private corporations that use endless war to line their pockets. Democrats capitulated to this massive increase without so much as a scuffle. But the move hardly comes as a surprise, given how much money flows from weapons makers to the coffers of congressional campaigns for both parties.  

While the majority of the weapons money goes to Republicans, Democratic Senators Tim Kaine and Bill Nelson appear in the top ten recipients of campaign contributions -- in both chambers and parties -- from military contractors in 2017 and 2018. Northrop Grumman gave $785,000 to Democratic candidates since 2017. Hillary Clinton took over $1 million from the industry in 2016. Even progressive darlings like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders take money from weapons manufacturers, and Sanders supported Boeing's disastrous F-35 because his home state had a financial stake in the program.

If neither major political party will stand up to this status quo, what can be done?

One answer might be found in the recent push to divest from fossil fuel companies undertaken by, among others, Norway and New York City. By December of 2016, 688 institutions, representing over $5 trillion in assets, had divested from fossil fuels. In an interview with The Guardian, author Naomi Klein described the fossil fuel divestment effort as "a process of delegitimizing" the sector and of affirming that it yields "odious profits."

An analogous campaign to delegitimize beneficiaries of war is long overdue. In addition to pressuring our members of Congress to refuse campaign donations from weapons manufacturers and war profiteers, we must mount a divestment effort at the institutional and municipal level. Investment in war must come at the cost of public disgrace.

University students can request holdings information from their schools. Often, investments in military corporations are bundled into more complex financial instruments whose investments are not publicly disclosed. The content of these instruments can be determined by contacting a university board of trustees or endowment manager. Then a divestment campaign can be launched, building campus coalitions, creating petitions, organizing direct actions and passing resolutions through student government bodies. A helpful guide for student activists can be found here.

Activists can launch municipal divestment efforts by determining the holdings of city pension, utility, or insurance funds. In 2017 the US Conference of Mayors, the national association of cities with populations over 30,000, adopted a resolution acknowledging the need to transform funding priorities away from war-making and into local communities. Divestment campaigns can leverage this resolution in order to hold city leaders to their word. More information for activists at the city level is available here.

Divestment offers an alternate means of addressing the blight of war profiteering in an era in which traditional political routes have been closed by our craven representatives. It also brings the message into smaller communities -- communities that crumble while defense contractors live in luxury.

A new coalition of about 70 groups across the country has formed to launch a Divest From the War Machine campaign. The coalition is inviting all those who are disgusted by the war profiteers to help galvanize university, city, pension and faith institutions to divest from war. Learn more here.

In a 2015 speech to the US Congress, the very Congress that is so beholden to the war machine, Pope Francis asked why deadly weapons were being sold to those who inflict untold suffering on society. The answer, he said, was money, "money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood." Looking at a room full of congresspeople who benefit from what he called "merchants of death," the Pope called for the elimination of the arms trade. One way to heed the Pope's call is to eat away at the profits of those who make a killing on killing.

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Categories: News

A Government Shutdown Could Have Disastrous Effects on Everyone's Health and Safety

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 05:00

President Trump says he would "love to see a shutdown" if Democrats don't accept his xenophobic immigration plan. A shutdown would have repercussions for many of the safety mechanisms we rely on, such as the bureaus tasked with overseeing drug quality, medical devices and food products. Lapses in this oversight can have serious consequences, often for the most vulnerable among us.

 Spencer Platt / Getty Images)Demonstrators, many of them recent immigrants to America, protest the government shutdown and the lack of a deal on DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) outside of Federal Plaza on January 22, 2018, in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

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A year into the Trump experiment, political pageantry continues unabated. However, the lives and daily realities of 700,000 young people in the US are directly imperiled by this ongoing sideshow.

The January government shutdown is an example of an empty spectacle with a very real and very human cost. That cost includes the lives of Dreamers and the future of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) legislation; in this case, Republicans are using many hundreds of thousands of human beings as a bargaining chip. Meanwhile, the president seems to be stoking the fires, remarking on Tuesday that if Democrats don't accept his immigration plan, he'd "love to see a shutdown." With the threat of another government shutdown looming, a number of other lives hang in the balance, too.

With another vote scheduled for February 8 -- at which time another shutdown is possible -- it's time to come to terms with who, precisely, a shuttered government most affects. Many critics are focused on the short-term effects of our government shutting down, such as temporarily furloughed employees and the delay of US mail, but there are also longer-term impacts at stake.

When government shuts down, so do many of our safety mechanisms -- including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and many other bureaucratic entities whose job it is to ensure safe products make it to market and unsafe ones are pulled from shelves immediately. We're talking about prescription and over-the-counter drugs, medical devices and even food products; in these areas, even a brief lapse of judgment and oversight costs lives.

For instance, during the October 2013 government shutdown, only 22 out of the CPSC's 500 employees remained at their positions. These few employees had the impossible task of weeding out only products that posed an "imminent threat" to the health of consumers.

In 2013, 20,000 patients reported serious complications from a blood thinner called Pradaxa. More than 1,000 Pradaxa patients died before the FDA responded by bundling together thousands of individual complaints and lawsuits into one multidistrict litigation case. Had any of this happened while the government was shut down, many more lives may have been lost. The judge tasked with the case "recommended" at the end of 2017 that the case be closed. Affected parties are now encouraged to seek representation on their own, without the strength of numbers.

The potential harm from a government shutdown also extends to patients who are waiting for new treatments to become available. There is an extensive approval process in place before new drugs, devices and treatments hit the market. In the event of a government shutdown, this approval process grinds to a halt. In instances where time is of the essence -- as is often the case when patients receive discouraging prognoses -- a government shutdown might make the difference between a patient receiving treatment before the worst comes to pass and waiting until it's too late.

The federal government and its courts are also responsible for facilitating product liability lawsuits. Recent examples include the literally thousands of lawsuits brought against Johnson & Johnson alleging they knowingly sold talc-based products for years, despite strong links with various cancers. One high-profile lawsuit in California was thrown out late in 2017, but many more remain.

Johnson & Johnson also sold a drug called Risperdal under the false claim that it could address the symptoms of dementia, bipolar disorder and a variety of other psychiatric conditions -- conditions for which it never actually acquired approval from the FDA.

As partisan politics delivers intermittent shutdowns, you'd be hard-pressed to find a demographic more likely to be affected than Native Americans. Western colonialism has painted the original people of this land and their cultures into a corner, to the point where keeping basic services operational often comes down to the availability of public grant money. In an average month, public funds provide healthful food to 76,500 Native Americans hailing from 276 tribes, for example.

In the 2013 shutdown, Native Alaskans saw vitally important grant money dry up -- money they rely on to provide health care, schooling, ambulance and firefighting services, and tuition for Native children to attend college.

Most of these are not optional spending boondoggles for the federal government -- they are obligations protected by treaty. While treaties are meant to ensure these expenditures, hundreds of them have been broken or changed by the US government -- yet another step in the direction of destruction wrought by colonialism.

More than ever, the American people need to insist that our leaders remain fiercely in defense of all people. Government shutdowns, like partisan politics, appear as pageantry -- but they have real consequences, and often for people without the means to defend themselves or even publicize their situation.

Shock politics and partisan gridlock would be a lot rarer if we insisted on voting for leaders who value people first and their own job security a distant second.

Categories: News

Efforts to Decrease Prison Populations Are Leaving Women Behind

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 05:00

 Lauren Walker / Truthout)(Image: Lauren Walker / Truthout)

For years, women have been the fastest-growing segment of people in prison. But recent efforts to decrease prison populations seem to be leaving them behind bars. In eight states, women's incarceration continues to increase while the men's population decreases. In 19 other states, women's incarceration rates are growing faster than those of men.

 Lauren Walker / Truthout)(Image: Lauren Walker / Truthout)

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Anastazia Schmid has spent the past 17 years behind bars in Indiana. During that time, she's seen firsthand the impacts of changes and trends within the state's prison system -- and the ways in which criminal legal reform efforts continue to leave women behind bars.

Schmid, who has spent many of these years studying mass incarceration as well as Indiana's history of female incarceration, isn't surprised. "It has been easy to disregard, really not even have anyone notice, this astronomical increase in female prisoners when women have completely been left out of any major criminal justice discourse in recent times, particularly public discussions," she wrote in an email to Truthout.

Indiana is one of eight states where the women's prison population continues to grow even as the men's prison population has declined, according to "The Gender Divide: Tracking Women's State Prison Growth," a recent report by the Prison Policy Institute. Between 2009 and 2015, Indiana's rate of men's incarceration dropped by 6 percent while women's incarceration increased by 1 percent.

Other states have even more extreme disparities. In Michigan, between 2009 and 2015, the number of men in state prisons dropped 8 percent while the number of women in prisons increased 30 percent. Texas reduced its male prison population by 6,000, but increased the number of women by 1,100. In 19 other states, the rate of women's incarceration grew faster than that of their male counterparts.

"Women have become the fastest-growing segment of the incarcerated population, but despite recent interest in the alarming national trend, few people know what's happening in their own states," the report noted. "Examining these state trends is critical for making the state-level policy choices that will dictate the future of mass incarceration."

Fewer Diversions and Lengthy Sentences for Women

Why the contrast? The report offers a few hypotheses. On the front end, fewer diversion programs, or programs that offer alternatives to incarceration, are offered to women. The report points to Wyoming, where young men facing their first prison sentence can instead be sentenced to six months at a state-run boot camp, a rigorous alternative-to-incarceration similar to a military boot camp. However, no similar option exists for women, leaving no alternative but years in prison for the same conviction.

Incarcerated women are often penalized for acts that are not illegal outside prison walls.

In Oklahoma, which continues to lead the nation in women's incarceration and where the women's prison population is outpacing that of men's prisons, the Department of Corrections recently instituted a diversion program for women facing nonviolent charges in Tulsa and Oklahoma Counties. The program may keep some women out of prison moving forward, but doesn't apply retroactively to the 3,082 women already behind bars.

In addition to fewer diversions, women may also lack the information necessary to plead to a lesser charge and a shorter prison sentence. D'Adre Cunningham has worked as a public defender in Washington State for 15 years. Now the lead attorney at the Incarcerated Parents Project, she noted that during her time as a defense attorney, many women facing violent charges were in codefendant relationships, meaning that they were arrested and prosecuted alongside other people. Cunningham compares their prosecution -- and their sentences -- to those of women in federal drug conspiracy cases who often know the least -- and thus have little to no information to offer the prosecutor. "Often, the [other] codefendant knows more and can get a better deal," she told Truthout. "The least culpable, least knowledgeable person ends up with more time because they don't have any [information] to reduce their time."

Domestic violence -- and the accompanying coercion -- plays a role in some cases. Another exacerbating factor is the erroneous notion that women are less likely to be prosecuted to the same extent as their male counterparts. "There's a mistaken belief by the male partner that the girlfriend will get off easier," noted Cunningham. Once convicted, Washington has mandatory sentencing enhancements, which compounds long sentences and bloats the prison population. This means that, even if a smaller number of people are entering the prison system, they're staying for longer periods of time. In Washington, for example, 8,113 people entered state prison in 2017; that same year, 8,055 people left. According to a Department of Corrections report to the state Senate, the overall state prison system is currently at 103 percent capacity; the main women's prison, however, is at 127 percent capacity.

For Women, Petty Offenses in Prison Can Lead to More Time

Once inside prison, women are likely to receive disciplinary tickets and other sanctions for behaviors that are ignored in men's prisons. These sanctions decrease chances of parole or other forms of earlier release (such as earned good time).

"This is particularly prevalent in the state of Indiana," wrote Schmid, who has been in four different state prisons and has seen little violence between incarcerated women. This might be why officers focus on pettier rules violations. "One thing that remains consistent, and I believe is partially because there is so little violence within these facilities, is the high charges and sanctions for petty internal offenses." In other words, incarcerated women are often penalized for acts that are not illegal outside prison walls.

"One of the main targeted areas for sanctioning is ANY offense that is deemed 'sexual,'" she continued. But, she explained, an action need not actually be sexual to incur a ticket. Any form of physical contact, such as holding hands or giving someone a hug, can result in a ticket which, in turn, can take away a person's good time or time off for good behavior. Another common internal offense is possession of contraband, which can range from drugs or weapons to tobacco or unauthorized food items. "I recently encountered a woman who has served an additional two months in prison for [possessing] tobacco," she noted.

These internal charges reduce a person's chance for a sentence reduction. In Indiana, a person requesting a sentence reduction or modification must send a progress report to the judge and prosecutor as part of their request. That progress report will list any and all rules violations, but not the specific details of that violation. "In other words, all the court sees is 'Class B violation: sex act' or 'possession of unauthorized contraband,'" says Schmid, noting that there is no further elaboration as to whether the "sex act" was actually two people hugging or if the contraband was a burrito made by a friend. But this vagueness means that courts are apt to look less favorably upon reducing a prison sentence and allowing a woman to go home earlier.

These tickets for seemingly minor infractions aren't limited to Indiana. Lauren Johnson, a Texas prisoner-rights advocate who is formerly incarcerated, characterizes the reasons behind disciplinary write-ups for women as "petty and silly." For instance, after seeing the prison's obstetrician, Johnson noticed a dispenser for hand sanitizer on the wall outside the medical office. "I reached out to use it and the guard snapped, 'You know that's not for you!' and wrote me up for using hand sanitizer," she told Truthout.

Cutting Away the Safety Net

Women's incarceration is also connected with the way in which supportive systems have diminished in recent decades. For years, the cutting away of Oklahoma's social safety net has left women with few options for survival, causing their incarceration to balloon into overcrowded prisons. In terms of "poverty and opportunity" for women, Oklahoma ranks among the country's bottom four states, according to the Institute for Women's Policy Research. Nearly 29 percent of its employed women are working low-wage jobs, and women on average earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

That's still better than Texas, where women earn 77.8 cents for every male dollar and 29.9 percent of employed women work in low-wage jobs. Texas did not expand Medicaid eligibility, leaving nearly 30 percent of its female residents without health insurance in 2013. "Many people don't have access to health care or mental health care," said Johnson. She also noted that, during the last legislative session, the drop in the male prison population allowed the state to close four men's prisons.

Kentucky is another state where the growth in women's incarceration outpaced that of men's. Nearly 20 percent of the state's women live below the poverty line, a lower percentage than Oklahoma or Indiana; additionally, 80 percent of women had health insurance in 2013. But that may change, now that Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has overhauled Medicaid, imposing work requirements on some recipients, as well as monthly premiums. Bevin also issued an executive order ending the state's Medicaid expansion if any part of his overhaul is struck down by a court, a move that would eliminate coverage for nearly 500,000 people. Research shows that poverty, combined with lack of opportunity, is often a pathway to prison; dismantling the social safety net pushes even more people down that pathway.

In Indiana, which boasts a women's prison population of over 27,000, women outside of prison earn 75.6 cents for every male dollar; 31 percent of women workers are in low-wage jobs. This makes it even more difficult for women to find the support they need to stay out of prison.

"There need to be more programs," said Brittany J., who was released from an Indiana prison in 2016 to a county with only one small women's shelter and few supports for formerly incarcerated women. "The state hospitals we have are all gone," she told Truthout. "The government just says, 'Lock 'em up.' I know women who have been to prison six, seven times. A lot of people don't have support systems."

At the same time, prison rules keep formerly incarcerated women away from the support networks they cultivate in prison. Brittany notes that the Indiana Women's Prison has numerous programs, including a well-respected college program. But once out, women are cut off from those supports. "You can't speak to them anymore," she said. Prison rules prohibited Brittany's college mentor from communicating with her; the same goes for the various church volunteers whom she had connected with through their in-prison programs. This left Brittany to navigate post-prison life on her own. Those without support systems on the outside are at heightened risk for reincarceration.

"You need a support system," Brittany reflected. "It's hard to do it by yourself."

Increasing Women's Prison Populations May Lead to More Women's Prisons

In Washington State, which eliminated parole in 1984, the women's prison population has increased 4 percent since 2009. The state's two women's prisons have been overcrowded for years. The Washington Correction Center for Women (WCCW) is over capacity by more than 200 people. The women there are constantly at risk of being transferred to the less-crowded (but still slightly over capacity) Mission Creek Corrections Center.

But the move can have long-lasting consequences extending beyond their time behind bars. This is what happened to V.R., a mother of five who has spent nearly three years at WCCW. (She asked that she only be identified using her initials because her custody case is ongoing.) To avoid having her parental rights terminated, V.R. must participate in reunification therapy. The prison itself does not offer reunification therapy, so a licensed therapist must drive the 1.5 hours from Seattle to work with her. But in November 2017, V.R. was abruptly transferred to Mission Creek, 30 miles (or roughly half an hour) further from Seattle. The therapist said that she was unable to travel that far, and so the reunification therapy sessions stopped. V.R. worries that the family court judge will look unfavorably on her inability to continue the court-ordered therapy sessions without considering the fact that the transfer was beyond her control.

In Yakima County Jail in the eastern part of the state women have no access to programs where they can earn time off their sentences, fulfill court mandates to reunite with their children or develop skills to help with reentry. Furthermore, the 150-mile distance from Seattle means far fewer, if any, visits from children and family members.

Even then, the state's women's prisons remain at capacity. According to its 2018 operating budget request, the Department predicted a shortage of 185 beds in female prisons by 2021 and 229 beds by 2027. Noting that the state currently has only two women's prisons, the Department plans to include 128 new beds for women in its upcoming 700-bed prison for adults with mental illnesses built on a now-closed juvenile detention center, and requested additional money to add another 16 beds to WCCW. (It also requested funds to add 114 beds in minimum security men's prisons.)

Indiana is not planning to increase prison beds for women anytime soon. But, reflects Schmidt, this doesn't mean that incarcerated women should continue to be ignored in decarceration efforts. "We need to address and repair the systemic problems that foster crime: poverty, abuse, addiction, mental illness, un/underemployment, lack of [or] inadequate housing, food, education, skills training," she said. Otherwise, she predicts that the numbers of women sent to jail and prison will continue to grow.

"How many women do we need to lock up before we do something to change it?" Schmidt asked. "Do we have to surpass the million mark like men, in order to have large numbers of women released from captivity, or before powerful leaders take notice and redeem the error of the system's ways?"

Categories: News

ETP Reroutes Controversial Bayou Bridge Pipeline Around "L'eau Est La Vie" Resistance Camp

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 05:00

Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) has confirmed that the controversial Bayou Bridge pipeline has been rerouted to go around the L'eau Est La Vie resistance camp.

"We are glad that we are safe in our little corner, but we still have grave concerns for our neighbors whose land has been taken by this disaster-prone company," said Cherri Foytlin, a representative from L'eau Est La Vie camp.

"We will continue to work with citizens across Louisiana to stop this pipeline -- if we can stop it from coming on our land, so can landowners across Louisiana," said Foytlin.

Located southwest of Baton Rouge, the camp lies on land purchased in December by pipeline opponents, who call themselves water protectors. It is thought to be the first time that water protectors have purchased land that lies in the path of a proposed pipeline.

The Bayou Bridge pipeline is the southern leg of Energy Transfer Partners' Bakken pipeline system, which includes the now-complete Dakota Access pipeline. The company received its final required permit in December and began construction on January 11.

When completed, the 163-mile Bayou Bridge pipeline will run from Lake Charles to St. James Louisiana, cutting through 11 Louisiana parishes and crossing 700 bodies of water. Clearing has already begun in the Atchafalaya Basin, the nation's largest river swamp and a natural heritage area.  

During a recent flight over the Basin, large machinery operated by pipeline construction crews could be seen ripping up trees, pulverizing the wood and spewing out a long trail of newly mulched wood chips.

"We saw trees being shredded in an instant by these machines that then spray the chips everywhere. Some of these trees are between 50 and 200 years old -- it's devastating," said Scott Eustis, Community Science Director for the Gulf Restoration Network.

"What we saw was Bayou Bridge beginning to build their pipeline, damming the Atchafalaya Basin without having an Environmental Impact Statement," said Eustis, who said the pipeline has many impacts beyond its immediate footprint.

"Even in their death, the trees are telling a story -- we can look at the chips flowing or not flowing in the water and they tell the story of how these pipelines are damming the Basin," said Eustis.

Third-generation crawfisherman Jodi Meche said the basin has changed dramatically in recent years.

"All of our deep bottoms have become elevated to where it doesn't sustain the traditional habitat that the basin was known for," said Meche, 48, whose father was born and raised on a houseboat in the basin.

"I mean areas that I used to be able to go in, you know, with a boat and fish and use and see all of the different habitat that's native to the Atchafalaya basin, it's becoming high ground from all of these pipelines that have been constructed across the basin," Meche said at a fundraiser held last week for the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper.

Foytlin said water protectors have been camping out at L'eau Est La Vie since December, protecting the land and preparing it to be used by the surrounding communities as a hub for environmental education and sustainable agriculture.

Energy Transfer Partners confirmed the pipeline will go around the camp.

"In this case, we were able to adjust the route to increase our co-location with other utilities in the area," said Alexis Daniel, a spokesperson for Energy Transfer Partners.

In an emailed statement, Daniel said adjustments are not uncommon and have been made in other locations along the pipeline path, but did not elaborate on the location of other changes.

Monique Verdin, a filmmaker and member of the Tribal Council for the United Houma Nation, said the Bayou Bridge pipeline is another false promise.

"Louisiana, her waters and her people take all the risks, while our politicians weigh profits over ethics and industry dictates what is suppose to be democratic processes, set in place for the protections of our environment and social wellbeing, with the foresight to protect for generations to come," said Verdin. "But that isn't how ETP, the Army Corps and the governor of Louisiana have been operating."

Eustis said route changes like the one made around what L'eau Est La Vie show that Louisiana residents can protect themselves and their environment from destruction.

"Louisiana's had a lot of hurt but we also have a lot of treasures and when we bear witness, we can protect our treasures," he said. "That's what L'eau Est La Vie shows -- that we can protect our treasures from these companies."

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Categories: News

After String of GOP Retirements, Pence Aims to Secure Congressional Majorities

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 05:00
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The 2018 midterms are just nine months away, and Republican incumbents continue to drop out of Congress left and right. Yet the ongoing stream of deserters doesn't appear to concern the current Republican administration. In fact, according to the White House, the GOP will extend their majorities, not lose them.

The last week has been an impressive one when it comes to GOP retirements from the House. The most well-known Congressman to announce he will not run for reelection is US Representative Trey Gowdy.

As Care2′s Kevin Matthews notes, Gowdy is a four-term incumbent from a very red district in South Carolina, so technically he shouldn't be in danger of losing his seat. Local pundits suspected the decision had something to do with a fresh opening on the appeals court in his district -- a lifetime appointment – but Gowdy's close acquaintances say he's not interested in the job.

Gowdy joins Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, who announced on January 29 that he will not seek reelection, ending a two decades long career in the House. Frelinghuysen represented a wealthy district that President Donald Trump won by just one point in 2016.

Together, Frelinghuysen and Gowdy are the eighth and ninth GOP congressmen to retire since the beginning of 2018, bringing the full set of Republican House defectors up to 34. Democrats need to gain 24 seats in order to take the House.

Even so, the White House appears undaunted about the midterm prospects. Not only is the Trump administration dismissing the idea of a Democratic wave, but officials are also suggesting that the Republican party will actually increase their majorities in both chambers. As Politico reports:

Vice President Mike Pence is launching one of the most aggressive campaign strategies in recent White House history: He will hopscotch the country over the next three months, making nearly three dozen stops that could raise tens of millions of dollars for House and Senate Republicans, all while promoting the party's legislative accomplishments. If done right, Pence said in an exclusive interview with POLITICO backstage before his speech to the House and Senate GOP here Wednesday night, Republicans could expand their majority in both chambers.

The vice president's plan relies on a couple of key factors. The first is the idea that Republicans can swerve away from their less popular policies -- deporting immigrants, dismantling health care and ceaseless race-baiting -- and pivot to the new tax reform package that just went into effect.

Based on the assumption that most workers are now seeing an increase in their take-home pay, the GOP hopes to ride that newly stuffed pocket into November. But when the 2018 tax season arrives and workers realize that the government under-withheld income taxes to provide an economic boost -- and that many may not get refunds, or may even owe taxes -- the election will already be over.

The second strategy relies on a massive money advantage. The RNC raised almost twice the funds that the DNC did, although individual committees on the DNC side made up for some of that disparity. And that's only the beginning of the money Republicans will have to invest in elections.

According to Politico, big donors are prepared to give very generously to the GOP now that they have received extremely large tax cuts -- essentially using a percentage of their new windfall to pay politicians to run for office so they can get more windfalls in the future:

"Luckily, the Senate passed tax reform and someone came up with the brilliant idea of repealing the individual mandate -- which essentially shoots a hole in the boat of [the Affordable Care Act] so it will die a slow, simple death," Texas-based donor and fundraiser Doug Deason said. "The gravy was drilling in [the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge], which Republicans have wanted forever." Deason, who was one such donor frustrated with the party's efforts, built a Lone Star State coalition of wealthy Republican donors last year who refused to give money to Washington Republicans until the gridlock broke in Congress. Pleased with the tax reform efforts, he said he's since called off the strike.

With a virtually endless stream of dark money at hand and a vice president ready to spend the next nine months on the campaign trail rallying his troops -- and using administrative power and resources to do it -- the Republican party very well could blunt, or even reverse, the potential blue wave expected this midterm. And considering how much damage the GOP has managed to do with just their small majorities, the idea of Republicans gaining more seats should terrify us all.

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