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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Is 70 This Year — and There’s Still No Justice for the People of Chagos

Fri, 06/08/2018 - 14:51

People like to talk about “conspiracy theories,” but now-declassified records show that in the 1960s there was a literal conspiracy instigated by the British Foreign Office, at the behest of the US, to cleanse the population of the Chagos archipelago so that the US could build a military base there. The islands are located in the Indian Ocean, south of India and east of Africa. The largest of the islands is Diego Garcia. From there, the US has bombed Afghanistan and Iraq without needing further refuelling bases.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is 70 this year. Not only should it protect the people of Chagos, the survivors and their offspring who now live in the UK and Mauritius, but in addition, the tragic case of the islanders reveals that Britons are citizens on paper but de facto royal subjects. It was the queen who, in 2004, overturned a High Court decision allowing the islanders to return.

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of the new book, Human Wrongs: British Social Policy and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Iff Books).

The Status of Britons

Article 1 of the UDHR says in full: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” Britain’s national status is Constitutional Monarchy and Parliamentary Democracy. One may assume, then, that British citizens are actually subjects of the crown, not “free and equal” citizens, as the UDHR demands. The case of Chagos bears that out.

Part 1(1) of the British Nationality Act 1948 states: “Every person who under this Act is a citizen of the British United Kingdom and Colonies or … [has] the status of a British subject” for persons living in the Commonwealth. In other words, English, Welsh and Scots as former subjects were granted formal citizenship, but Irish and Commonwealth subjects remained subjects (until 1983, more below).   

All of this is irrelevant in a Constitutional Monarchy by virtue of an obscure veto the reigning monarch holds over all legislation, known as the Royal Prerogative (also known as the Crown Prerogative).    

Subsection 2 of the British Nationality Act 1948 states: “the expression ‘British subject’ and the expression ‘Commonwealth citizen’ shall have the same meaning.” This is important for the people of Chagos, which makes for a tragic test-case because future Acts granted them citizenship, yet the Royal Prerogative reduced them to the status of subjects. Her Majesty’s Government website states that if one of numerous criteria were met, “You became a British overseas territories citizen on 1 January 1983 if both of these apply [1] you were a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies on 31 December 1982 [2] you had connections with a British overseas territory because you, your parents or your grandparents were born, registered or naturalised in that British overseas territory.”

This should apply to the people of Chagos.

A History of the Islands

Diego Garcians were known as Ilois, French Creole for “islanders,” now as Chagossians. They inhabited the island(s) from the late-18th century to the early-1970s, when they were expelled by the British military. The Chagossians descended from slaves, plantation workers and managers. During the 19th century, they developed a unique democratic culture. “No one was involuntarily unemployed. Most of the Chagossians were illiterate and their skills were confined to those needed for the activities on the islands. But they had a rich community life,” says the British House of Lords. “[T]he Roman Catholic religion and their own distinctive dialect derived (like those of Mauritius and the Seychelles) from the French. Into this innocent world there intruded, in the 1960s, the brutal realities of global politics.”

The brutal realities were the shift from British to US global domination.

Diego Garcia was ceded to Britain by France with the Treaty of Paris 1814, after the Napoleonic Wars. Its formal status was a Dependency of Mauritius, the latter being a British crown colony, also taken from France. Diego Garcia’s unique position protects islanders from floods, hurricanes and earthquakes, making it an ideal site for military operations, hence the establishment of a Royal Air Force base on the island during Second World War.

In 1965, Britain created the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), Diego Garcia being the main island. The purpose was to regain control of Diego Garcia after Mauritius was decolonized so that the United States, under a 50-year lease, renewable in 20-year periods, could use it as a military base. The excision of Diego Garcia from Mauritius through the Lancaster House Agreement — a violation of UN laws on decolonization and an issue still disputed with Mauritius — was formalized by an Order in Council; a monarchic legal ritual in which government appointees read legislation to the monarch, who approves or rejects the given Order. The Lords confirm that “by an exception in the Mauritius Independence Act 1968, [the Chagossians] did not lose their UK citizenship.”

So, the Lords confirm that they are citizens but the monarch’s vetoing of their rights makes them de facto subjects.

Legal specialist Maureen Tong writes: “The UN General Assembly Resolution 2066 (XX) of 16 December 1965 prohibited the dismemberment of Mauritius to establish the US military base in Diego Garcia.” She continues: “The excision of the Chagos archipelago to establish the BIOT in 1965 contravened Resolution 1514 (XV).” The original Order in Council establishing Diego Garcia as British Indian Ocean Territory was arguably the first royal act that sought to deprive the Chagossians of their rights. It is also worth noting that as part of the 1966 agreement with the US, Britain received a £14 million reduction in its sea-based Polaris nuclear system, which it purchased from the US.

Getting the People Off

From 1968 to 1973, the islanders were forcibly removed by the British military and deported to the slums of the Seychelles, Mauritius and London, where they have remained ever since. Depopulation was necessitated by UN regulations regarding decolonization. It would have been contrary to international law for the US to take over a populated territory (colonialism), so the solution was to depopulate. Britain’s act of forcible exile prevented the US from being scrutinized by the UN Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.

The British Colonial Office made this perfectly clear in secret, internal records:

“…to recognise that there are any permanent inhabitants will imply that there is a population whose democratic rights will have to be safeguarded and which will therefore be deemed by the UN to come within its purlieu. The solution proposed is to issue them with documents making it clear that they are ‘belongers’ of Mauritius and the Seychelles and only temporary residents of BIOT. This devise, although rather transparent, would at least give us a defensible position to take up [at the UN].”

Denis (later Lord) Greenhill, head of the Colonial Office, explained the UK’s position in a memorandum to the British Delegation at the UN: “The object of the exercise is to get some rocks which will remain ours; there will be no indigenous population except seagulls who have not yet got a committee. Unfortunately, along with the seagulls go some few [sic] Tarzans and Men Fridays that are hopefully being wished on Mauritius.”

When Members of Parliament began asking questions, the Foreign Office strategy was to administer briefing papers to MPs. Eleanor Emery, head of the Foreign Office’s Indian Ocean department outlined the strategy in a secret paper: “We would not wish it to become general knowledge that some of the inhabitants have lived on Diego Garcia for several generations and could, therefore, be regarded as ‘belongers’.” She went on to say that: “We shall advise ministers in handling supplementary questions to say that there is only a small number of contract workers from the Seychelles and Mauritius, engaged to work on the copra plantations.”

In 1967, the British Commissioner declared an Acquisition of Land for Public Purposes (Private Treaty) Ordinance, preventing the Chagos Agalega Company from operating on the islands. This meant that temporary workers had to leave, draining the economy with the possible intended effect of impelling the indigenous islanders to leave. This was phase two of the expulsion preparations. Phase three was the issuance of an Immigration Ordinance to clear the island of its inhabitants. In another secret memo, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office explained: “The purpose of the Immigration Ordinance is to maintain the fiction that the inhabitants of the Chagos [sic] are not a permanent or semi-permanent population.” These were secret admissions that the population had a right to stay.

Phase one of the physical expulsion of approximately 1,700 Chagossians began in 1969, when the working contracts were terminated. This left those working in Mauritius stranded. When relatives travelled to Mauritius to assist their families, they too became stranded.

As for phase two: “British officials began restricting supplies to the islands and more Chagossians left as food and medicines dwindled … U.K. officials forced the remaining islanders to board overcrowded cargo ships and left them on the docks in Mauritius and the Seychelles,” says researcher David Vine. “Just before the last deportations, British agents and US troops on Diego Garcia herded the Chagossians’ pet dogs into sealed sheds and gassed and burned them in front of their traumatized owners awaiting deportation.”

Survivor and exile Rita Bancoult, who has suffered further personal tragedies in the slums of Mauritius, says: “It’s as if I was pulled from my paradise to put me in hell. Everything here you need to buy. I don’t have the means to buy them. My children go without eating. How am I supposed to bear this life?” Rita’s son, Olivier, formed the Chagos Refugees Group. Olivier and others continued to struggle for repatriation, becoming official citizens in 1981. In 2000, Olivier brought a case against then-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Robin Cook) to the High Court.

The Right of Return?

The High Court granted the islanders the right to return to Diego Garcia. They had not the means to return and legislated for compensation in 2004. In June of that year, the queen overruled the High Court decision with two Orders in Council, banning the islanders from their home in perpetuity. One of the Orders was the British Indian Ocean Territory (Constitution) Order 2004, which states: “no person has the right of abode in the Territory.”

But that doesn’t stop US service people from living there.

In May 2006, the High Court declared the government’s decision unlawful, stating: “The suggestion that a minister can, through the means of an order in council, exile a whole population from a British overseas territory and claim that he is doing so for the ‘peace, order and good government’ of the territory is, to us, repugnant.”

The Court of Appeal dismissed the government’s 2007 action against the High Court. In 2008, the government brought the matter to the Appellate Committee House of Lords, which overturned the High Court’s ruling by a judgement of three to two: Lords Carwell, Hoffman and Rodger voting in the government’s favour, that the Royal Prerogative was appropriate. This tells us much about the nature of British democracy, particularly that the Lords can overrule High Court decisions and that the monarch has “full power to establish such executive, legislative, and judicial arrangements as this Crown thinks fit,” particularly in relation to colonies, to quote Halsbury’s Laws of England.

In 2009, the British government sought to make the BIOT a “marine nature reserve,” with exceptions for US military purposes. A leaked memo written by Political Counsel Richard Mills states: “the BIOT’s former inhabitants would find it difficult, if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands if the entire Chagos Archipelago were a marine reserve.”

Mills quotes and paraphrases Colin Roberts, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Commissioner of the BIOT: “‘there are proposals (for a marine park) that could provide the Chagossians warden jobs’ within the BIOT. However, Roberts stated that, according to the HGM’s [Her Majesty’s Government’s] current thinking on a reserve, there would be ‘no human footprints’ or ‘Man Fridays’ on the BIOT’s uninhabited island” — note the same language and attitude fifty years on. “He asserted that establishing a marine park would, in effect, put paid to resettlement claims of the archipelago’s former residents … [Roberts said] ‘We do not regret the removal of the population.'”    

Conclusion: Struggle Continues

In 2015, Mauritius took Britain to the International Court of Justice over its obligation, agreed in 1965, to decolonise the Chagos archipelago, including Diego Garcia. Mauritius’s specific complaint was that the UK had illegally drawn a Marine Protection Area (MPA) in 2010, restricting operations (including fishing) around the British Indian Ocean Territory. The Permanent Council for Arbitration ruled “that the creation of the MPA violated international law.” The UK has ignored the ruling and the islanders are left to wonder where the decision puts them, legally speaking.

The Chagossians continue their struggle and can be assisted in Britain via the UK Chagos Support Association.

The post The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Is 70 This Year — and There’s Still No Justice for the People of Chagos appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Why the GOP Really Wants to Cancel the Senate’s August Recess

Fri, 06/08/2018 - 14:50

Americans have complained for years about the do-nothing politicians in Congress. Obstructionism has dogged any substantial work for close to a decade as our elected officials spend more time arguing across the aisle than crafting useful legislation. Now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to bring that to an end — and the timing couldn’t be more suspect.

On June 5, McConnell announced that he would be suspending the Senate’s upcoming August recess — instead giving lawmakers just one week to return to their home states before requesting their presence back in the Capitol. The leading Republican cites outstanding judicial nominations and other pending Congressional action as the impetus for his decision to keep senators in D.C.

Politico reports:

The Senate majority leader said Tuesday that the Senate will only take a break for the first week of August because of “historic obstruction” by Senate Democrats and will stay in session the rest of the month. McConnell was under enormous pressure from his own caucus as well as the president to cancel as much of the recess as possible, but the majority leader also saw an opportunity to unite Republicans and annoy incumbent Democrats.

McConnell cites a “judicial crisis” of empty seats that still need to be filled — ignoring the fact that the reason so many seats remain open is because the Senate GOP refused to confirm President Barack Obama’s nominations. Regardless, for Republicans the need is real.

After all, come January 2019, there’s a strong possibility that Republicans will no longer hold the majority — and it will be the Democrats with the power to confirm or deny.

But filling up judicial vacancies is only a fig leaf for the real reason behind the clamor to keep Senate in session as often as possible. According to The Hill, the other goal is to prevent Democratic incumbents from campaigning at home, giving an advantage to their GOP challengers.

The Hill reports:

Democrats immediately cried foul over the move, arguing it was a clear political play by McConnell. ‘The fact that the Republicans have resorted to keeping Democrats off the campaign trail in August shows you just how nervous they are about November,’ said a senior Democratic aide.

David Bergstein, a spokesman for the DSCC, added that McConnell is “terrified” about letting Democrats campaign. “Given his horrendous recruits, Senator McConnell is right to be terrified of Senate Democrats on the campaign trail, but whenever the GOP Congress is in session they find new ways to alienate and disgust voters,” he said.

If the move is meant to put Democratic senators at an electoral disadvantage, well, apparently they aren’t getting the message.

According to Roll Call:

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, the Democrat from Maryland who is the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, is portraying the schedule change as an opportunity for legislating and messaging. “Our members are eager to actually get some things done like addressing the problem of increasing health care costs, the increasing costs of prescription drugs,” Van Hollen said. “We hope we’ll use this time period on something the American people care about.”

In fact, the progressive wing’s embrace of the plan could reveal that McConnell’s real reason for keeping senators in Washington wasn’t about harming Democrats up for reelection, but protecting Republicans in the same situation.

After all, without a long stretch at home, vulnerable GOP senators now have an excuse to avoid public meetings, town halls and other face-to-face forums where they would be forced to interact directly with their constituents. They will no longer need to fear being ambushed by those concerned about a lack of affordable health care coverage or underfunded safety net programs like Medicare and Social Security. And senators won’t have to answer questions about why — even with a lower unemployment rate – wages remain stagnant, or why Congress would rather see children murdered in their school desks than enact simple, practical gun reform.

Actually, come to think of it, it’s surprising that McConnell is letting senators come home at all — or that they even want to. These legislators may be far more comfortable staying in their D.C. bubble, where voters can’t demand the answers to hard questions.

The post Why the GOP Really Wants to Cancel the Senate’s August Recess appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

State’s Rights Bill on Marijuana Threatens to Divide Trump Administration

Fri, 06/08/2018 - 14:07

Lawmakers have introduced bipartisan legislation that would end federal marijuana prohibition in states that have legalized cannabis products for medical and recreational use. President Trump has previously indicated that he would support such a bill, setting the stage for a potential showdown with the Justice Department and one of his least favorite employees: Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Unveiled on Thursday by members of Congress from states that have legalized weed, the legislation takes a “state’s rights” approach to marijuana favored by many Republicans and even Trump, although the president is known to change his mind. The bill, known as the STATES Act, would not legalize marijuana nationally. Instead, it allows US states, territories and tribal governments to develop their own marijuana regulations without fear of federal interference, as long as the regulations meet certain guidelines.

Sessions, a seasoned drug warrior who hates marijuana, has rescinded an Obama-era memo that generally protected legal marijuana businesses from federal raids, and asked lawmakers to ditch a longstanding policy that has prevented federal law enforcement from interfering with the medical marijuana industry.

Sessions’s hard-line approach to marijuana has put him at odds with members of his own party, and as the midterms approach, polls show that 70 percent of voters oppose the enforcement of federal prohibition in legalized states, so the legislation could very well find its way to the president’s desk. The top Republican sponsoring the bill, Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, is chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) charged with winning elections and strengthening the GOP’s majority in the Senate.

Earlier this year, Gardner retaliated against Sessions’s attacks on legal weed by threatening to block Justice Department nominations in the Senate. This won him a phone call with the president, who reportedly promised to support legislation protecting states that have legalized marijuana from federal crackdowns. During his campaign for office, Trump repeatedly said the legalization question should be left up to the states.

“The bipartisan, commonsense bill ensures the federal government will respect the will of the voters — whether that is legalization or prohibition — and not interfere in any states’ legal marijuana industry,” Gardner said in a statement.

Justin Strekal, political director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the bill introduced this week falls within the parameters of what Trump told Gardner he would support during their discussion in April. By signaling early support for such legislation, Trump has gone “way further” toward supporting major marijuana reform than any previous president.

“Given that this bill is being co-led by Sen. Gardner, who is the head of the NRSC, it is a sign that it is time for the Republican-led Senate to address this issue and move the legislation forward,” Strekal said in an email to Truthout.

Trump may choose to stay silent on the bill for the time being, but if it advances through Congress, he will be forced to take a position. Coming out in favor of the bill could further sour his already troubled relationship with Sessions, who left the president fuming last year when he recused himself from the federal probe into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, despite Trump’s orders.

The bill would effectively set the minimum legal age for using marijuana at 21 nationwide.

The bill would exempt states that have legalized marijuana from the section of the Controlled Substances Act that prohibits cannabis use and lists the drug as a dangerous substance with no medical value. This would protect both businesses and individual users, as long as they follow state rules around marijuana use and distribution. State and federal law enforcement could still target black market marijuana operations.

The legislation would also clarify that financial transactions with legal marijuana businesses do not constitute drug trafficking. For years, major banks and other financial institutions have refused to open accounts for legal marijuana growers and retailers due to federal prohibition, forcing entrepreneurs to do business with large amounts of cash.

The STATES Act requires state marijuana regulations to meet certain stipulations, including rules prohibiting marijuana businesses from hiring employees under the age of 18 and selling marijuana in highway rest areas and truck stops. The bill would also effectively set the minimum legal age for using marijuana at 21 nationwide.

It would also amend the statute to recognize that industrial hemp is not the same as marijuana, which would benefit the growing industry behind a crop used to make food, medicine, textiles and other products.

Several marijuana proposals are floating around Congress, including sweeping bills embraced by leading Democrats that would end federal prohibition for good and decriminalize marijuana nationwide. However, with Republicans in control of Congress and Trump in the White House, legislation that leaves marijuana legalization up to the states has the best chance of gaining traction — and furthering the divide between the president and his attorney general.

The post State’s Rights Bill on Marijuana Threatens to Divide Trump Administration appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Unions Forge Partnerships With Communities for the Common Good

Fri, 06/08/2018 - 13:54

Before teachers in Mercer County, West Virginia, went on strike in late February, they had to ensure that the students who depend on schools for free or reduced-cost meals would not go hungry. “We had to make sure that the kids would be fed,” Nicole McCormick, incoming president of the Mercer County Education Association, told Truthout. “So, we reached out to churches and service organizations and asked, ‘If we do this, will you provide a meal?’”

Laying the groundwork, McCormick explains, took months, and included speaking not just to potential food providers, but also to parents as they dropped off their sons and daughters each morning. The union’s goal was to make sure that parents and guardians understood why their children’s teachers were walking out and knew where they could go for food if they needed it. The Mercer County Education Association also engaged in ongoing discussions with both teachers and other state employees, all of whom were facing large increases in their health insurance premiums.

“The situation was something of a perfect storm,” McCormick adds. Annual pay increases had not kept up with inflation and insurance costs, copays and deductibles had ballooned. “We’d reached the point where everyone said, ‘enough.’” Teachers were ready, she says, to reclaim the ground they’d lost and turn the tide in a more worker-friendly direction. Furthermore, the teachers felt that it was time to meet with parents and community residents to ask how public schools could better serve West Virginia’s children.

This strategy — inviting everyone, whether a union member, community resident, activist, religious leader, parent, school child or elder — to strategize, prioritize, set an agenda and support one another’s efforts is now known as “bargaining for the common good.”

In the case of teachers’ unions, and the spate of recent strikes taking place around the country, teachers have not only recognized that they should be paid more but have also zeroed in on what students need to flourish—a focus that has included alleviating hunger, poverty, racism, sexism, discrimination against LGBTQ and disabled students, gun violence and excessive policing, and punitive school discipline.

West Virginia’s teachers know that winning social equity—and reducing the penury of their students—will take years of dogged work. Nonetheless, by holding out for nearly two weeks, and standing firm until the governor agreed to a 5 percent wage hike for every state employee before agreeing to return to the classroom, they showed what can happen when the community and its unions work in tandem. In addition to the salary increase—which will take effect in July—a Task Force made up of union leaders and legislators is studying how to make health insurance more affordable.

Not surprisingly, the West Virginia strike—like similar teacher strikes in Arizona, Colorado and Oklahoma—has inspired a groundswell of union activism. “Common good bargaining is exciting because it allows unions to bargain for the world they want to see,” says Marilyn Schneiderman, director of the Center for Innovation in Worker Organization at Rutgers University. “There is a real thirst on the part of union leaders and members to join together with activists to build better communities and a better world.”

Common Good Bargaining Is Nothing New

Social justice unionism is not a new idea, but it’s significant that unions have recently started “going on the offense in a time of cutbacks and anti-union attacks,” Schneiderman says. And although it takes time to build trust between unions and community groups, she notes that if the labor movement wants to grow, members will need to make these connections. “Union members go to doctors and hospitals, rent or own homes, buy food, and live in communities plagued by police and gun violence,” she told Truthout. “Engaging with these issues helps us engage for the common good and create what we want to see in the world.”

As a union, we have to use our power to create better conditions for others in the community.

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) provide a pertinent example. CTU is a member of the Grassroots Education Movement, which supports a community school model of public education. The idea, says Jennifer Johnson, CTU’s Education Issues Manager, is that teachers, school staff, students and parents are experts who should be trusted as decision makers when it comes to educational policy.

“Our work at CTU … emphasizes that the only way for a union to be successful is to operate like a three-legged stool,” Johnson explains. “The first leg focuses on bread-and-butter union issues, things like salary and benefits for workers. The second leg is about creating the best conditions for teaching and learning … the third leg is about fighting for racial and social justice.”

Keeping simultaneous tabs on these three “legs” is, of course, a challenge, but the CTU plans to put theory into practice beginning in September 2018 when a one-year pilot program, funded by Chicago Public Schools, will retool 20 existing schools—elementary through high school level, all of them in high-poverty neighborhoods—with governance shared between school personnel, parents, students and community leaders. The schools will have wrap-around services: on-site health centers, counseling and after-school programming. “We want a model where it is normal for a high school and an elementary school that feed into one another to communicate,” Johnson says. “Our community partners are involved in the Poor People’s Campaign and numerous restorative justice efforts; we will bring these campaigns into the school to teach our students to be engaged as leaders.” The CTU further intends to involve these partners in upcoming contract campaign efforts before its current contract expires in the summer of 2019.

Community Partnership Victory in Minnesota

Members of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers know how much can be won by partnering with others. “A few years back we noticed that many school nursing offices were operating like Urgent Care Centers,” Mary Cathryn Ricker, executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers and an active member of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, told Truthout.

As part of a community-labor coalition, the union actively supported legislation that expanded state Medicaid coverage; its passage reduced the number of uninsured kids in the state by half. They have since begun working with community groups throughout Minnesota on immigration reform, restoring voting rights to the formerly incarcerated, creating more affordable housing and providing better training for teachers who need support because they are switching subject areas or grade level.

“As a union, we have to use our power to create better conditions for others in the community,” Ricker says. “People now look to the union to support them in their organizing. When we stand with others—people like cleaning crews, who tend to feel invisible—it helps them know that they’re valued and seen. It builds stronger bonds between community members.”

Coral Itzcalli, a spokeswoman for the Service Employees International Union, Local 721, in Los Angeles, agrees that these partnerships can bear long-lasting fruit. About five years ago, a coalition of approximately 20 community organizations, unions and clergy people came together and formed the Fix LA Coalition.

“Back in 2007, more than 5,000 city jobs were cut due to budget problems,” Itzcalli says. “By 2013-2014 the city was recuperating financially. Still, the jobs were not restored and residents were upset about the loss of services. We were told that there was no money but we investigated and learned that $300 million had been moved to Wall Street or given to real estate developers. Our campaign, Our Streets, Not Wall Street, stood up to Wall Street’s power and greed.” In 2014, when the union went to the bargaining table, its organizers brought clergy and Fix LA members to negotiate with them. “There were youth of color and a mom with a stroller,” Itzcalli recalls. “At first, the city refused to sit down with us, saying that they would not bargain with people who did not work for them. Our people held their ground and said that since the contract impacted them, they were not going to leave.”

The fight continued for months, but the city eventually caved, allowing community residents and activists to participate in the process. Unfortunately, Itzcalli reports, while the mayor agreed to replace the 5,000 laid-off workers, to date only 1,000 new people have been added. “The city has decreased the number of 911 operators by 23 percent,” Itzcalli says. “When you call 911 you don’t want to hear, ‘please hold.’” A 2012 study by the Los Angeles Times bears this out, revealing that processing time for emergencies increased significantly after the layoffs. Likewise, Itzcalli notes that cuts to other essential services—from tree trimmers to wastewater catch basin cleaners—have left large deficits in city maintenance. “This is why the Fix LA Coalition is still pressing city officials to do the right thing,” she says.

Nonetheless, Itzcalli concedes that it’s been difficult to keep the coalition together and get the rank-and-file to understand the imperative of broadening their demands to include community health and safety. “Our members had to be educated to understand that bargaining could not just be about wages and benefits because there are bigger issues at play,” she said. This task was made somewhat easier, however, by the fact that most union members are LA residents who have experienced firsthand the lack of services and inadequate access to a program they need.

Likewise, Arizona teachers’ unions have begun collaborating with others—notably the Teamsters, UNITE HERE and community groups like the Arizona Educators United—to oppose school vouchers and ongoing public school privatization efforts. They are currently collecting signatures to get the Invest in Education Act on the November ballot. If passed, the measure will charge more from the wealthiest taxpayers, levying a 3.46 percent surcharge on single people making more than $250,000 and married couples making more than $500,000, and a 4.46 percent surcharge on single people making more than $500,000 and married couples earning $1 million or more annually. The additional revenue will be used to fund public education.

Common Good Bargaining Can Go Beyond City Services

Although most common good bargaining has addressed K-12 public education and municipal services, it has also served to protect beloved community institutions. For one, when the City College of San Francisco was at risk of losing its accreditation in 2013, unions, alongside students, alumni and community residents formed the Save City College of San Francisco Coalition, seeing the college as essential to community well-being.

Joe Berry, a retired labor studies and history professor, reports that City College of San Francisco is … “the site of the longest student strike in US history—four-and-a-half months in 1968-69—a strike that led to the creation of the ethnic studies department. That heritage of resistance still exists.”

During the accreditation crisis, the college had support from some of the biggest unions in San Francisco, including the Hotel and Restaurant Workers, many of whose members had been trained at City College of San Francisco. “We did a lot of outreach to diverse community activists and groups, which was relatively easy because it is widely believed that CCSF has touched the lives of one of every two San Francisco residents,” Berry says. “The public pressure worked. By 2017 we were reaccredited and went tuition-free.”

Other coalitions across the country are bringing together union and community activists to organize for an end to predatory lending by banks and financial entities; oppose austerity measures demanded by lenders; create safer workplaces for women, LGBTQ folks and trans people; restore environmental sanity; open up immigration; and fix decrepit bridges, tunnels and roadways, among other concerns.

“Common good bargaining gives us the opportunity to raise issues and win on all kinds of things that we used to think of as separate,” Stephen Lerner, a fellow at the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor and one of the creators of Justice for Janitors, concludes. “It can turn bargaining into something that people can aspire to. It’s giving folks a way to go for what they want, not just settling on negotiating about a narrow set of demands that do nothing to improve their communities.”

The post Unions Forge Partnerships With Communities for the Common Good appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Trump Frees Alice Johnson, but What About Thousands Still Serving Life for Nonviolent Drug Offenses?

Thu, 06/07/2018 - 16:00

President Trump has commuted the life sentence of a woman who was imprisoned for a first-time nonviolent drug offense, after her cause was taken up by reality television star Kim Kardashian West. Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old grandmother from Memphis, was released Wednesday from federal prison in Aliceville, Alabama, where she had been serving her sentence for nearly 22 years. While Alice Marie Johnson has been released, thousands of other prisoners are still serving life without parole for nonviolent drug offenses. We speak with Jennifer Turner, who was part of the legal team representing Johnson in her application for clemency. She is a human rights researcher with the American Civil Liberties Union and author of the ACLU report titled “A Living Death: Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses.”

Please check back later for full transcript.

The post Trump Frees Alice Johnson, but What About Thousands Still Serving Life for Nonviolent Drug Offenses? appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Students Push to Oust Nicaraguan President Ortega as Death Toll Rises Amid Bloody Police Crackdown

Thu, 06/07/2018 - 15:57

At least five people were killed over the weekend in Nicaragua amid escalating anti-government protests that have engulfed the country since mid-April. More than 110 people have been killed since widespread demonstrations to oust Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega began in mid-April, when his government announced plans to overhaul and slash social security. The protests, and the government’s bloody repression, mark the biggest crisis since Ortega was elected 11 years ago. In Abuja, Nigeria, we speak with Alejandro Bendaña, former Nicaraguan ambassador to the United Nations and secretary general of the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry during Sandinista rule in Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990. In Managua, Nicaragua, we speak with Mónica López Baltodano, a human rights activist who is on the front lines of protests. We also speak with Stephen Hellinger, president of The Development Group for Alternative Policies.

Please check back later for full transcript.

The post Students Push to Oust Nicaraguan President Ortega as Death Toll Rises Amid Bloody Police Crackdown appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Infinite War: The Gravy Train Rolls On

Thu, 06/07/2018 - 15:28

The United States of Amnesia.” That’s what Gore Vidal once called us. We remember what we find it convenient to remember and forget everything else. That forgetfulness especially applies to the history of others. How could their past, way back when, have any meaning for us today? Well, it just might. Take the European conflagration of 1914-1918, for example.

You may not have noticed. There’s no reason why you should have, fixated as we all are on the daily torrent of presidential tweets and the flood of mindless rejoinders they elicit. But let me note for the record that the centenary of the conflict once known as The Great War is well underway and before the present year ends will have concluded.

Indeed, a hundred years ago this month, the 1918 German Spring Offensive — codenamed Operation Michael — was sputtering to an unsuccessful conclusion. A last desperate German gamble, aimed at shattering Allied defenses and gaining a decisive victory, had fallen short. In early August of that year, with large numbers of our own doughboys now on the front lines, a massive Allied counteroffensive was to commence, continuing until the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, when an armistice finally took effect and the guns fell silent.

In the years that followed, Americans demoted The Great War. It became World War I, vaguely related to but overshadowed by the debacle next in line, known as World War II. Today, the average citizen knows little about that earlier conflict other than that it preceded and somehow paved the way for an even more brutal bloodletting. Also, on both occasions, the bad guys spoke German.

So, among Americans, the war of 1914-1918 became a neglected stepsister of sorts, perhaps in part because the United States only got around to suiting up for that conflict about halfway through the fourth quarter. With the war of 1939-1945 having been sacralized as the moment when the Greatest Generation saved humankind, the war-formerly-known-as-The-Great-War collects dust in the bottom drawer of American collective consciousness.

From time to time, some politician or newspaper columnist will resurrect the file labeled “August 1914,” the grim opening weeks of that war, and sound off about the dangers of sleepwalking into a devastating conflict that nobody wants or understands. Indeed, with Washington today having become a carnival of buncombe so sublimely preposterous that even that great journalistic iconoclast H.L. Mencken might have been struck dumb, ours is perhaps an apt moment for just such a reminder.

Yet a different aspect of World War I may possess even greater relevance to the American present. I’m thinking of its duration: the longer it lasted, the less sense it made. But on it went, impervious to human control like the sequence of Biblical plagues that God had inflicted on the ancient Egyptians.

So the relevant question for our present American moment is this: once it becomes apparent that a war is a mistake, why would those in power insist on its perpetuation, regardless of costs and consequences? In short, when getting in turns out to have been a bad idea, why is getting out so difficult, even (or especially) for powerful nations that presumably should be capable of exercising choice on such matters? Or more bluntly, how did the people in charge during The Great War get away with inflicting such extraordinary damage on the nations and peoples for which they were responsible?

For those countries that endured World War I from start to finish — especially Great Britain, France, and Germany — specific circumstances provided their leaders with an excuse for suppressing second thoughts about the cataclysm they had touched off.

Among them were:

* mostly compliant civilian populations deeply loyal to some version of King and Country, further kept in line by unremitting propaganda that minimized dissent;

* draconian discipline — deserters and malingerers faced firing squads — that maintained order in the ranks (most of the time) despite the unprecedented scope of the slaughter;

* the comprehensive industrialization of war, which ensured a seemingly endless supply of the weaponry, munitions, and other equipment necessary for outfitting mass conscript armies and replenishing losses as they occurred.

Economists would no doubt add sunk costs to the mix. With so much treasure already squandered and so many lives already lost, the urge to press on a bit longer in hopes of salvaging at least some meager benefit in return for what (and who) had been done in was difficult to resist.

Even so, none of these, nor any combination of them, can adequately explain why, in the midst of an unspeakable orgy of self-destruction, with staggering losses and nations in ruin, not one monarch or president or premier had the wit or gumption to declare: Enough! 

Instead, the politicians sat on their hands while actual authority devolved onto the likes of British Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, French Marshals Ferdinand Foch and Philippe Petain, and German commanders Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff. In other words, to solve a conundrum they themselves had created, the politicians of the warring states all deferred to their warrior chieftains. For their part, the opposing warriors jointly subscribed to a perverted inversion of strategy best summarized by Ludendorff as “punch a hole [in the front] and let the rest follow.” And so the conflict dragged on and on.

The Forfeiture of Policy

Put simply, in Europe, a hundred years ago, war had become politically purposeless. Yet the leaders of the world’s principal powers — including, by 1917, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson — could conceive of no alternative but to try harder, even as the seat of Western civilization became a charnel house.

Only one leader bucked the trend: Vladimir Lenin. In March 1918, soon after seizing power in Russia, Lenin took that country out of the war. In doing so, he reasserted the primacy of politics and restored the possibility of strategy. Lenin had his priorities straight. Nothing in his estimation took precedence over ensuring the survival of the Bolshevik Revolution. Liquidating the war against Germany therefore became an imperative.

Allow me to suggest that the United States should consider taking a page out of Lenin’s playbook. Granted, prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, such a suggestion might have smacked of treason. Today, however, in the midst of our never-ending efforts to expunge terrorism, we might look to Lenin for guidance on how to get our priorities straight.

As was the case with Great Britain, France, and Germany a century ago, the United States now finds itself mired in a senseless war. Back then, political leaders in London, Paris, and Berlin had abrogated control of basic policy to warrior chieftains. Today, ostensibly responsible political leaders in Washington have done likewise. Some of those latter-day American warrior chieftains who gather in the White House or testify on Capitol Hill may wear suits rather than uniforms, but all remain enamored with the twenty-first-century equivalent of Ludendorff’s notorious dictum.

Of course, our post-9/11 military enterprise — the undertaking once known as the Global War on Terrorism — differs from The Great War in myriad ways. The ongoing hostilities in which U.S. forces are involved in various parts of the Islamic world do not qualify, even metaphorically, as “great.” Nor will there be anything great about an armed conflict with Iran, should members of the current administration get their apparent wish to provoke one.

Today, Washington need not even bother to propagandize the public into supporting its war. By and large, members of the public are indifferent to its very existence. And given our reliance on a professional military, shooting citizen-soldiers who want to opt out of the fight is no longer required.

There are also obvious differences in scale, particularly when it comes to the total number of casualties involved. Cumulative deaths from the various U.S. interventions, large and small, undertaken since 9/11, number in the hundreds of thousands. The precise tally of those lost during the European debacle of 1914-1918 will never be known, but the total probably surpassed 13 million.

Even so, similarities between the Great War as it unspooled and our own not-in-the-least-great war(s) deserve consideration. Today, as then, strategy — that is, the principled use of power to achieve the larger interests of the state — has ceased to exist. Indeed, war has become an excuse for ignoring the absence of strategy.

For years now, U.S. military officers and at least some national security aficionados have referred to ongoing military hostilities as “the Long War.” To describe our conglomeration of spreading conflicts as “long” obviates any need to suggest when or under what circumstances (if any) they might actually end. It’s like the meteorologist forecasting a “long winter” or the betrothed telling his or her beloved that theirs will be a “long engagement.” The implicit vagueness is not especially encouraging.

Some high-ranking officers of late have offered a more forthright explanation of what “long” may really mean. In the Washington Post, the journalist Greg Jaffe recently reported that “winning for much of the US military’s top brass has come to be synonymous with staying put.” Winning, according to Air Force General Mike Holmes, is simply “not losing. It’s staying in the game.”

Not so long ago, America’s armed forces adhered to a concept called victory, which implied conclusive, expeditious, and economical mission accomplished. No more. Victory, it turns out, is too tough to achieve, too restrictive, or, in the words of Army Lieutenant General Michael Lundy, “too absolute.” The United States military now grades itself instead on a curve. As Lundy puts it, “winning is more of a continuum,” an approach that allows you to claim mission accomplishment without, you know, actually accomplishing anything.

It’s like soccer for six-year-olds. Everyone tries hard so everyone gets a trophy. Regardless of outcomes, no one goes home feeling bad. In the U.S. military’s case, every general gets a medal (or, more likely, a chest full of them).

“These days,” in the Pentagon, Jaffe writes, “senior officers talk about ‘infinite war.’”

I would like to believe that Jaffe is pulling our leg. But given that he’s a conscientious reporter with excellent sources, I fear he knows what he’s talking about. If he’s right, as far as the top brass are concerned, the Long War has now officially gone beyond long. It has been deemed endless and is accepted as such by those who preside over its conduct.

Strategic Abomination

In truth, infinite war is a strategic abomination, an admission of professional military bankruptcy. Erster General-Quartiermeister Ludendorff might have endorsed the term, but Ludendorff was a military fanatic.

Check that. Infinite war is a strategic abomination except for arms merchants, so-called defense contractors, and the “emergency men” (and women) devoted to climbing the greasy pole of what we choose to call the national security establishment. In other words, candor obliges us to acknowledge that, in some quarters, infinite war is a pure positive, carrying with it a promise of yet more profits, promotions, and opportunities to come. War keeps the gravy train rolling. And, of course, that’s part of the problem.

Who should we hold accountable for this abomination? Not the generals, in my view. If they come across as a dutiful yet unimaginative lot, remember that a lifetime of military service rarely nurtures imagination or creativity. So they come and go at regular intervals, each new commander promising success and departing after a couple years to make way for someone else to give it a try.

It tells us something about our prevailing standards of generalship that, by resurrecting an old idea — counterinsurgency — and applying it with temporary success to one particular theater of war, General David Petraeus acquired a reputation as a military genius. If Petraeus is a military genius, so, too, is General George McClellan. After winning the Battle of Rich Mountain in 1861, newspapers dubbed McClellan “the Napoleon of the Present War.” But the action at Rich Mountain decided nothing and McClellan didn’t win the Civil War any more than Petraeus won the Iraq War.

No, it’s not the generals who have let us down, but the politicians to whom they supposedly report and from whom they nominally take their orders. Of course, under the heading of politician, we quickly come to our current commander-in-chief. Yet it would be manifestly unfair to blame President Trump for the mess he inherited, even if he is presently engaged in making matters worse.

The failure is a collective one, to which several presidents and both political parties have contributed over the years. Although the carnage may not be as horrific today as it was on the European battlefields on the Western and Eastern Fronts, members of our political class are failing us as strikingly and repeatedly as the political leaders of Great Britain, France, and Germany failed their peoples back then. They have abdicated responsibility for policy to our own homegrown equivalents of Haig, Foch, Petain, Hindenburg, and Ludendorff. Their failure is unforgivable.

Congressional midterm elections are just months away and another presidential election already looms. Who will be the political leader with the courage and presence of mind to declare: “Enough!” Man or woman, straight or gay, black, brown, or white, that person will deserve the nation’s gratitude and the support of the electorate.

Until that occurs, however, the American penchant for war will stretch on toward infinity. No doubt Saudi and Israeli leaders will cheer, Europeans who remember their Great War will scratch their heads in wonder, and the Chinese will laugh themselves silly. Meanwhile, issues of genuinely strategic importance — climate change offers one obvious example — will continue to be treated like an afterthought. As for the gravy train, it will roll on.

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Categories: News

“Jaw-Dropping” Report Reveals Rampant Wage Theft Among Top US Corporations

Thu, 06/07/2018 - 15:16

A “jaw-dropping” wage theft report out this week reveals that many top US corporations—from Walmart to Bank of America to AT&T—”have fattened their profits by forcing employees to work off the clock or depriving them of required overtime pay,” based on a review of labor lawsuits and enforcement actions.

Grand Theft Paycheck: The Large Corporations Shortchanging Their Workers’ Wages (pdf), produced by Good Jobs First and the Jobs With Justice Education Fund, found that hundreds of firms have collectively paid billions of dollars in wage theft penalties since 2000.

The report identifies several wage theft practices such as off-the-clock work, job title misclassifications that unfairly exempt workers from overtime pay, and uncompensated clothing purchase requirements, as well as overtime, minimum wage, meal break, and tip violations.

Researchers uncovered more than 1,200 successful collective actions challenging large companies’ bad behavior. Those cases cost top corporations a total of $8.8 billion. A review of actions by the U.S. Department of Labor and eight state regulatory agencies uncovered another 4,220 cases against major corporations, which produced $9.2 billion in penalites.

“Our findings make it clear that wage theft goes far beyond sweatshops, fast-food outlets, and retailers. It is built into the business model of a substantial portion of corporate America,” said Good Jobs First research director Philip Mattera, the report’s lead author.

The employers who paid the most penalties for wage theft violations ranged from retailers and banks to insurance and telecommunications companies, the report highlights:

Among the dozen most penalized corporations, Walmart, with $1.4 billion in total settlements and fines, is the only retailer. Second is FedEx with $502 million. Half of the top dozen are banks and insurance companies, including Bank of America ($381 million); Wells Fargo ($205 million); JPMorgan Chase ($160 million); and State Farm Insurance ($140 million). The top 25 also include prominent companies in sectors not typically associated with wage theft, including telecommunications (AT&T); information technology (Microsoft and Oracle); pharmaceuticals (Novartis); and investment services (Morgan Stanley and UBS).

Kilian Colin, who worked for Wells Fargo from 2013 to 2016, said that “aggressive sales quotas based on exploiting vulnerable customers forced me into 12-hour shifts with no breaks and no food allowed—and threats to withhold my paycheck if I didn’t sign off on working extra hours for free.”

The report suggests such experiences are common among those who work for major American companies. Demos Action researcher Tamara Draut, who was not involved in the study, said the report’s documentation of stolen wages provides “one more reason for unions.”

Jobs With Justice Education Fund senior policy analyst Adam Shah, who contributed to the report, said that in light of the findings, there’s also a need for crafting stronger policies to protect workers, and that recent developments in government have renewed energy to address the issue of wage theft.

“We see increased urgency for policymakers to step up with solutions,” Shah noted, “because the US Supreme Court recently made it harder to bring collective action lawsuits to stop wage theft and the Trump Administration may weaken federal enforcement.”

Pointing to California’s enhanced labor protections as a potential blueprint, Shah concluded, “While wage theft is pervasive, it is also preventable.”

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Categories: News

Republicans Are Finally Ready to Limit Trump’s Power — but Only on Trade and Tariffs

Thu, 06/07/2018 - 14:21

Republicans in the Senate are finally taking a stand against President Donald Trump, introducing legislation to curtail his executive power.

The free trade champions in the Republican Party, upset by newly imposed tariffs on US allies, are leading one of the first serious drives to push back against a president who has used his authority to advance a protectionist agenda. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., revealed a bill on Wednesday that would require congressional approval for any tariffs that are levied in the name of national security, a direct reference to the steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by Trump on Canada, the European Union and Mexico. Tariffs and revenues, Corker argues, are the responsibilities of the Congress and not the executive branch.

Co-sponsored by four other Senate Republicans, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, this united campaign against the president stands in stark opposition to Republicans’ responses to other controversial Trump administration policy, like immigrant children being forcibly separated from their parents.

Trump is reportedly unhappy with Corker’s move to restrict his powers and had a lengthy conversation with him on Wednesday in the hope of convincing him to drop the bill, according to CNN. Corker described the conversation as “heartfelt” but said that he stood his ground with the president.

“I am a United States senator, and I have responsibilities and I’m going to continue to carry them out,” Corker told reporters.

Corker also said that while many Republicans share his views on trade policy, they remain afraid of crossing the president.

“I understand there’s a fear — fearful of the president, let’s be honest. On policy grounds, they strongly support this. But there are concerns about countering the president by some … there’s no doubt fear out there,” Corker said, regarding the attitude of his fellow Senate Republicans.

Reaction from some members of the House Freedom Caucus has been less muted.

“I’m dumbfounded,” House Financial Services Committee chair Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, told Bloomberg. “I can’t be silent and complicit in this.”

Trump has long made trade one of his cornerstone issues, a topic he brought up as when he first publicly discussed running for president in 1988. It was a repeated rhetorical theme of his on the campaign trail, where he became the first presidential candidate from a major party to be an outspoken protectionist since Herbert Hoover in 1932.

Yet while Trump liked to talk tough on trade during the campaign, he has found it much more difficult to succeed in pushing for various trade policies as president. On Tuesday Mexico retaliated against Trump’s tariffs by implementing roughly $3 billion of its own tariffs on American imports, including cheese, pork, steel and other goods, according to the New York Times. The new tariffs had been announced last week but came into effect as the Trump administration decided that it would negotiate new trade deals with Canada and Mexico separately rather than continuing the trilateral precedent established by NAFTA.

“These tariffs will exact immediate and painful consequences on many American farmers. Hog, apple, potato and dairy farmers are among those suddenly facing a 10 or 20 percent tax hike on the exports they depend on for their livelihoods. Farmers need certainty and open markets to make ends meet. Right now they are getting chaos and protectionism,” Angela Hofmann, deputy director of Farmers for Free Trade, said in a statement.

The impact of Trump’s trade policies spans beyond Mexico, however. According to a report by Bloomberg:

A roundup of recent developments from the front lines of the Great Trade War doesn’t look good. President Donald Trump has publicly waffled on his plans for major tariffs on Chinese imports, seeming to reverse his position several times and provoking immediate threats of retaliation. After seeming to  back off in the face of determined Chinese opposition, Trump then turned his fire on softer targets — U.S. allies. First announcing his intent to tax imported autos, then revoking promises to exempt allies from tariffs on steel and aluminum, Trump may have underestimated the world’s democracies — the European Union, Canada and Mexico swiftly made their own counterthreats.

By contrast, Peter Navarro, the director of the White House National Trade Council, took to USA Today last month to pen an editorial defending Trump’s trade policies.

No president has done more to defend the American manufacturing base from unfair trade practices than Donald J. Trump. What may surprise even his critics is that no president — since Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “war on poverty” — has done more to lift the prospects of low- and moderate-income families than President Trump.

After describing a new aluminum mill that will be constructed in Ashland, Kentucky — and arguing that Trump’s tax reform bill played also played a large in making that plant’s construction possible — Navarro concluded by framing Trump’s trade policies as part of his larger “Make America Great Again” platform.

There can be no better way to make America — and American manufacturing — great again than to start to rebuild those communities of America most harmed by the forces of globalization. These new facilities will stand as shining testimony to the success of tough trade actions, smart tax policies and targeted worker-training programs.

The post Republicans Are Finally Ready to Limit Trump’s Power — but Only on Trade and Tariffs appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Trump, Ersatz Patriotism and the Divine Right of Kings

Thu, 06/07/2018 - 14:00

I’m not supposed to like the Philadelphia Eagles for several silly sports reasons, the most immediate being they spent the last Super Bowl making my team look like a herd of addled goats. Yes, I’m a Patriots fan just like Donald Trump. I was a Patriots fan long before he polluted the experience, and I’ll be a fan long after they wind him in his tangerine shroud. Bad people like your team, too.

I’m not supposed to like the Eagles, and then along comes safety Malcolm Jenkins to lay an open-field hit on Trump you could hear from the back of the parking lot. Jenkins was compelled to call the president of the United States a liar in public because, well, the president of the United States is a liar in public.

Early this week, Trump petulantly cancelled the traditional White House visit for championship teams after several Eagles players said they would not attend, reigniting the ongoing fatuous anthem argument by claiming once again that kneeling players were disrespecting soldiers and the flag.

Deliberately, no mention was made of the true reason for the anthem protests — ongoing police violence against people of color all across the country — and so Malcolm Jenkins responded. In football terms, Trump crossed over the middle of the secondary and Jenkins laid him out flat on his own team logo, because that’s what safeties do:

This is what my colleagues and I have been facing for the past two years. Players have met with police departments, elected officials and community advocates around the country. Chris Long played for free last year and donated his entire salary to charity. We’ve fed the hungry, we’ve mentored our youth, we’ve fought to create opportunities for communities and individuals who have been disenfranchised, we’ve given scholarships, and the list goes on.

It’s not our job. No one elected us to do this. We do it because we love this country and our communities. Everyone, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, deserves to be treated equally. We are fighting for racial and social equality…. Instead the decision was made to lie, and to paint the picture that these players are anti-America, anti-flag and anti-military. We will continue to fight for impacted citizens and give a voice to those who never had one.

It should be noted at this juncture that, while Trump did win the state in 2016, Pennsylvania remains a swing state with the midterms right around the corner. By publicly denouncing and disinviting the entire Philadelphia Eagles team, he took a giant public dump on one of Pennsylvania’s major secular religions.

That’s not a small thing; Eagles fans are singularly rabid, pridefully so, there are quite a lot of them, and even if they claim not to care what Trump has to say about their team, they’ll remember. Like, forever. Politically speaking, this is Trump urinating on a cheesesteak from Geno’s because someone told him to get Whiz on it. No good comes of angering that fan base. Just ask Michael Irvin, or Santa Claus.

On Tuesday afternoon, Trump’s flag-humping football sideshow traversed the realm of pathetic and staggered into the dominion of the bizarre right there on the South Lawn of the White House. In place of the cancelled Eagles event, Trump decreed there be a “Celebration of America,” complete with the Marine Corps Band and the US Army Chorus, and all the Eagles fans who had been “abandoned” by their team (according to Trump) were invited to attend.

Exactly one Eagles logo was spotted in the ensuing gathering. The rest of the crowd looked precisely like what they were — harried White House staffers and lobbyists who were dragooned into participating in the farce to make sure the press had more to film than Trump, the band and a wide expanse of empty grass. According to reporters, no one in the crowd who was asked could name the Eagles’ quarterback, which is funny all by itself because the team has two right now, as every Philly fan knows full well.

That doesn’t mean there wasn’t any excitement. Brendan Martin, a software developer in the crowd, shouted Trump down as the farce was beginning: “Stop hiding behind the armed services and the national anthem to attack your fellow citizens!” he bellowed while taking a knee. The crowd booed him, but from the perspective of the cameras, it looked and sounded like they were booing Trump. Martin then yelled, “Go Eagles!” and was booed again, making it seem like the crowd was booing the team during what was supposed to be an Eagles rally. The best part: Brendan Martin actually is an Eagles fan.

From there, it got positively surreal. Donald Trump, self-appointed arbiter of all things patriotic, who seemed to have cobbled together this whole tepid display of limp nationalism because a football team hurt his fee-fees, completely failed to remember the words to “God Bless America” when the time came to sing the one song they all showed up to sing. It was a perfection of absurdity, and all on video. Did I mention it was on video? It was. All of it.

Fairly preposterous behavior coming from someone who is attempting to lay claim to the Divine Right of Kings, no? One would think someone seeking absolute power for himself, in direct contradiction to the Constitution and the rule of law, would at least make a stab at playing the part of the statesman, or something. That’s not how Don rolls, though. When he wants to rob the barn in the middle, he lights the barns to the left and right on fire first. Magnificent distraction, fire. Gets people running without looking where they’re going.

Reading the welcome words of Malcolm Jenkins, I am strengthened in my conviction that this country desperately needs a crash course in civics and the perils of recent history. This country is an idea — actually, it’s a series of ideas, some of them awful, all wound into one cord — and like any idea, it is fragile. It takes hard work and the will of good people to hold it together, especially when the grifters and barn-burners are about, making mischief and stealing whatever isn’t nailed down.

None of this freedom stuff is automatic, and when the president says he is above the law to such a degree that he can actually pardon himself (“What, me guilty?”), we have entered the realm of the Stuart monarchs, the Divine Right run amok, and all the reasons why the Constitution and Bill of Rights were laid out as bulwarks against institutionalized tyranny with the ability to self-improve as circumstances warrant. It is not exceptional, but it is pretty damned impressive when put to work for We the People instead of They the Powerful.

“No one elected us to do this,” wrote Jenkins as he crossed the middle and lowered his shoulder. “We do it because we love this country and our communities. Everyone, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, deserves to be treated equally.”

The players’ protests are important. Trump’s noise about them, however, is a big burning barn meant to distract us from his efforts to put himself beyond the reach of justice and the law. Do not lose sight of this president who wants everyone to believe he can’t be touched.

Everyone can be touched. Just ask a safety.

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Categories: News

Return of the Unbelievable Trump

Thu, 06/07/2018 - 13:46

The post Return of the Unbelievable Trump appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Sanders-Inspired Activists Push Referendum for Universal Health Care in Washington State

Thu, 06/07/2018 - 13:39

Activists in Washington State are busy gathering signatures in the hopes of putting a universal health care system on the ballot for a referendum in 2018.

Organizers for Whole Washington, who are leading the effort, tell Truthout they have about 60,000 signatures and need a total of 259,622 by July 6. Such a high threshold is difficult for a grassroots organization to meet, but head organizers — who were largely brought together from their experience working for Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign in 2016 — are hoping to defy the odds.

If Initiative 1600 (I-1600) makes the ballot, the state would vote on it in November. The plan would create the Whole Washington Health Trust, the agency created by the state to create and administer the health system. It would lead to universal coverage and save the state $9 billion annually, according to an analysis from Gerald Friedman, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts.

The savings would be largely due to reduced administrative costs, the reduction in profits raked in by drug monopolies, and lower drug prices since the Washington Health Trust would have such a large pool of patients. “A single agency negotiating prices for 7 million residents of Washington should negotiate dramatically lower price,” the report said. Polling shows 64 percent of Washington State respondents believe the government has the responsibility to provide health care to all Americans.

The Origins of I-1600

Georgia Davenport, campaign director for Whole Washington, has heard the argument against single-payer many times: Such policies are “politically impossible,” would “never happen” and amount to giving away “free stuff.”

Since the Bernie Sanders campaign brought the issue into mainstream political discourse, however, Davenport and many others see a different reality: one where the richest nation in human history is a shameful outlier within the industrialized world because it does not guarantee universal health care. The Sanders campaign’s emphasis on creating a Medicare for All single-payer system, organizers tell Truthout, was both inspiring and educational for advocates in Washington State.

“Most of us thought that these policies were ‘pie in the sky’ because our elected officials and media would never discuss them,” Davenport told Truthout. “By finding each other at [campaign] events, through running as delegates and on social media, his supporters, like myself, discovered that the ideas are not revolutionary at all.”

Her statement captures the importance of Sanders’s losing bid for the presidency in the movement for single-payer. Not only did he bring the issue into mainstream political debate — in the media, in presidential debates and in town hall meetings — but the campaign also brought like-minded people together.

So, Davenport and several other organizers, many of whom met each other during Sanders’s presidential campaign, decided to get active. This is how I-1600 was born.

“I would say it wasn’t his campaign that inspired me to be more involved, but the knowledge that there were millions of other people who believed in single-payer health care, economic and racial justice, living wages,” Davenport says. “Basically, everything that all other developed countries have figured out for years, but our own representatives seem incapable of comprehending, let alone passing.”

In a sense, Initiative 1600 is the first ballot referendum for universal health care to spring from the Sanders movement. Given the growing importance of ballot initiatives for progressive change, this could be a significant development. Could more ballot referendums, in addition to an influx of progressive candidates, be on the way? Could the first state to pass universal and/or single-payer health care do it with a ballot question, rather than legislation? It isn’t unthinkable: It’s how marijuana is becoming legal, for instance.

What Would I-1600 Do?

While statewide plans of this nature are often described as “single-payer” — a sort of catch-all for terms that create a (mostly) public, universal system — they technically adopt multiple payers. “States acting alone cannot establish a bona fide single payer system. There are too many major barriers that would prevent states from totally replacing their fragmented financing infrastructure,” writes Don McCanne, a Health Policy Fellow with Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP).

This is true of virtually any statewide “single-payer,” plan. Federal funding streams, such as Medicare, Medicaid and the Veterans Health Administration, “prevent a state from creating a pure single-payer system,” as Public Citizen observed in a 2013 report. Despite this, it is common to see the term “single-payer” used. In fact, it’s this language that is used in Friedman’s economic analysis of I-1600.

Nonetheless, these plans do reduce the number of payers in a significant way. Washington currently has 13 different private companies, a total of 154 separate health insurance plans, Friedman writes. This “inflates costs for insurers and providers” and leads to “monopoly pricing.”

The organizers behind the plan tell Truthout they have been using the term “universal health care” to describe the bill to constituents.

The plan for I-600 would “create a single nonprofit health financing entity called the [W]hole Washington Health Trust,” it says. “All residents of the state of Washington are eligible for coverage through this chapter.” The plan also mandates that administrative costs do not exceed 7 percent of total expenditures. This would be down from administrative costs of about 25 percent, according to Friedman’s analysis.

One unique aspect of I-1600 is that it gives Medicare beneficiaries a chance to transition into the state health trust, pending federal waivers, and the state will reimburse anyone making under 200 percent of the federal poverty level for some of their premiums in the interim.

The language in I-1600 clearly leaves room for supplemental private and employer-based health insurance as well. “Nothing in this chapter limits a resident’s right to obtain coverage for health care benefits in excess of those available under the trust.” The plan also gives employers the ability to offer additional, supplemental insurance coverage.

The Argument Over Cost Sharing

While Washington residents would not have to deal with a co-pay to see a doctor, they are potentially liable for a maximum $250 annually in co-pays for prescription drugs. Likewise, citizens earning more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level would have to pay monthly premiums which would be tiered based on their income. In Friedman’s analysis, someone making $25,000 a year would pay $34 a month, while someone making over the limit would pay $134.

Initiative I-1600 has plans to have a means tested system for premiums. Those who earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level are exempt. Initiative I-1600 has plans to have a means tested system for premiums. Those who earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level are exempt.Whole WashingtonUnder Initiative 1600 more money is spent on providing care, rather than administrative costs or monopoly profits.Under Initiative 1600 more money is spent on providing care, rather than administrative costs or monopoly profits.Gerald Friedman

These means-tested premiums and drug co-pays do make some activists nervous. The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), for instance, demands the following in its statement of principles on health care: “No copays, no fees, no deductibles and no premiums. Ever.” Likewise, Sanders’s Medicare for All plan does not have co-pays or means-testing, in part due to pressure from single-payer activists, such as Margaret Flowers, who implored the senator not to “begin from a position of compromise.”

DSA member Andrej Markovčič argued that local chapters of the organization should not support the measure, saying it was well-intentioned but would maintain “vulnerabilities that can only be fully overcome by a truly universal, free at point of service, federal single-payer healthcare system.” Instead he wants “a system that is fully funded through our collective (income based) tax dollars.”

It must be noted, however, that the DSA statement and Sanders’s legislation are federal proposals, and the federal government can print money, while states cannot (one of many reasons federal plans have more savings).

Organizers for I-1600 share the goal of a national Medicare for All plan. They also know that getting even a committee hearing on federal plans is impossible given the current makeup of Congress, while the Washington referendum process gives them a chance to get something done now. Even if the Democrats were to take back both houses, as of this writing, the Democratic leaders in Congress (Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer) are opponents of the policy.

“This is as close to single-payer as we could get,” Davenport says.

A “savings calculator” on the Whole Washington website allows residents and business owners to see if the new plan would benefit or hurt them, and by how much. Davenport says the tool has helped reach new people and produce new volunteers.

Organizers also point to the Canadian example. Saskatchewan passed universal hospital care in 1947 and a full province-wide universal system in 1962. Soon the rest of the country caught on, province by province, until Canada passed its Medicare system in 1984. The system, while far from perfect, is well-liked in Canada and ranks ahead of the United States in almost every metric while costing much less as a percentage of GDP.

Defying the Odds

It is extremely rare for citizen-led ballot initiatives to meet mandated signature requirements without paid help to collect them, organizers say. To combat these long odds, Whole Washington is asking residents of the state to order and sign petitions, and asking anyone who supports the plan, in any state, to donate to the effort.

“A lot of these organizers do not have a lot of experience or contacts with unions and politicians, except for their work for Sanders,” Friedman told Truthout. “What they have is a tenacious energy and a desire to act — and act now.”

Recent efforts to create a statewide universal health care system have run into problems. In Vermont, a timid legislature and governor gave up on a promising effort to bring single-payer — or something close to it — to the state in 2014. In California and New York, single-payer bills have been vetoed or stalled in the legislature. In Colorado, Koch-funded groups smeared “ColoradoCare,” which was beat handily in a ballot referendum in 2016.

As a result, some labor unions and progressive organizations are hesitant to get behind the new initiative. “They are worried about electing Democrats to Congress, and they are wary of putting resources and institutional support behind another ballot referendum,” Friedman says.

For instance, Health Care for All, Washington (HCFA-WA), which does support single-payer legislation for the state, has not publicly commented on I-1600 at all.

“Health Care for All WA is not on the list [of supporters] due to their hesitation to go the path of a ballot measure. They are afraid if we lose, like Colorado did, that it will set back the single-payer movement,” Davenport said. “I disagree. Many social justice issues failed miserably until they succeeded…. I also feel like allies staying out of the fight makes it harder to win.”

The legislation for single-payer in Washington State, called the Washington Apple Care Trust, has been around for years, she notes, and has never made it out of committee.

Truthout reached out to HCFA-WA, to ask if the group supported or opposed the ballot initiative. HCFA-WA President Marcia Stedman declined to comment.

Advocates for the ballot question do have their share of allies, however. More than 50 organizations have already endorsed the plan. They include Our Revolution and several of its local chapters, PNHP – Western Washington, Washington NOW, and scores of other local groups.

Support from women’s groups has also proved important for the initiative. In Colorado, for instance, state laws have made covering abortion through a statewide health care plan more difficult, leading to opposition from some women’s groups. This is not the case in Washington State.

While Democrats control all three branches of the Washington State government, the state party and most of its politicians remain on the sidelines for I-1600. In contrast, Colorado’s effort to pass a similar ballot initiative was opposed by a Democratic governor and some progressive organizations like Progress Now Colorado.

There are also other potential complications. For instance, federal waivers will be required at some point, although organizers said they intentionally planned the system in such a way as to minimize the disruption caused by the waiver process.

“The state is given a year to propose a plan for seeking waivers,” said Whole Washington organizer Erin Georgen. “In the meantime, residents eligible for Medicaid, public employee benefits and Medicare will be able to enroll into the trust to administer their federally funded benefits…. The trust will then use state level revenues to supplement those benefits [and] to reimburse low income Medicare eligible residents.”

“There Is Always a Reason Not to Do Something”

Still, some unions, progressive groups and politicians are staying away, concerned about another misfire at the state level and focused on electing Democrats to Congress.

“You know, there is always a reason not to do something,” Friedman told Truthout. “Sometimes you just have to do it.” Davenport agrees. “Luckily, we have a way to circumvent our own ineffective elected officials here,” she says.

And if they fail to gather the signatures?

“Then we will get them in a future election on our second try,” Davenport says. It’s clear that residents are no longer accepting “no” for an answer when they demand that health care be a human right.

Eventually, a state is bound to win.

The post Sanders-Inspired Activists Push Referendum for Universal Health Care in Washington State appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

A Democracy in Exile Fights Against Fascism

Thu, 06/07/2018 - 13:37
At the forefront of public intellectuals, Henry Giroux writes a scintillating book, American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism, that connects the dots between historical fascism and the age of Trump. Giroux urges that the resistance not falter, and that the democracy in exile vigorously challenge the current order. The following excerpt is the conclusion to the book. “We don’t live in the best of all possible worlds. This is a Kafkaesque time…. Yet somehow the old discredited values and longings persist … We still believe that we can save ourselves and our damaged earth — an indescribably difficult task…. But we keep on trying, because there is nothing else to do.”—Annie Proulx

While Trumpism attempts to expand its alt-right social base under its authoritarian hierarchy, forces of grassroots resistance are mobilizing around a renewed sense of ethical courage, social solidarity, and a revival of the political imagination. We see this happening in the increasing number of mass demonstrations in which individuals are putting their bodies on the line, refusing the fascist machinery of misogyny, nativism, and white supremacy. Airports are being occupied, people are demonstrating in the streets of major cities, town halls have become sites of resistance, campuses are being transformed into sanctuaries to protect undocumented students, scientists are marching en masse against climate change deniers, and progressive cultural workers, public intellectuals, and politicians are speaking out against the emerging authoritarianism. In a number of red states, middle-aged women are engaged in the “grinding scutwork of grassroots organizing” while addressing big issues such as “health care and gerrymandering, followed by dark money in politics, education, and the environment.” Democracy may be in exile in the United States, and imperiled in Europe and other parts of the globe, but the spirit that animates it remains resilient. Once again the public memory of an educated and prophetic hope is in the air, echoing Martin Luther King Jr.’s call “to make real the promise of democracy.

In today’s historical moment, such a promise finds sanctuary in the notion of “democracy in exile.” This concept is meant as a counterforce and remedy to the Jacksonian intolerance, violence, expulsion, and racism of Donald Trump, Stephen Miller, and Trumpism as a nationalist movement drifting in plain sight from plutocracy and authoritarian nepotism to fascism. Democracy in exile is the space in which people, families, networks, and communities fight back. It unites the promise of insurrectional political engagement with the creation of expansive new manifestations of justice — social, economic, environmental. The concept speaks to the rise of innumerable marches, protests, and acts of political resistance that form a growing challenge to existing power relations and the expanding forces of authoritarianism and tyranny consolidated under Trump’s rule. It argues for a model of critical consciousness and an “ethical space where we encounter the pain of others and truly reflect on its significance to a shared human community.” Such sanctuaries function as alternative spheres of a democracy in exile and do more than offer refugees protection and services such “as emergency shelters, recreation, public transit, libraries, food banks, and police and fire services without asking questions about their status.” They also point toward and beyond the identification of structures of domination and repression in search of new understanding and imaginative response to the need to live well together in diverse communities. In part, this means responding to the ominous forces at work in US society, now marked by a collapse of civic culture, shared literacy, and meaningful citizenship. Such spaces call for new apparatuses enabling people to learn together, to engage in extended dialogue, and to develop new social formations in the service of advancing political, economic, and environmental justice and transformation. As democracy cannot survive without informed and socially responsible citizens, such spaces are driven by community-centered education, culture, and family.

What might it mean for educators to create sanctuaries that preserve the ideals, values, and experiences of an insurrectional democracy? What might it mean to imagine a landscape of resistance in which the metaphor of democracy in exile inspires and energizes young people, educators, workers, artists, and others to engage in political and pedagogical forms of resistance that are disruptive, transformative, resilient, and emancipatory? What might it mean to create multiple protective spaces of resistance that would allow us to think critically, ask troubling questions, take risks, transgress established norms, and fill the spaces of everyday life with ongoing acts of nonviolent organizing resistance? What might it mean to create cities, states, and other public spheres defined as sanctuaries for a democracy in exile? Cities such as Boston and Hamilton, Ontario, have declared themselves sanctuaries, or what I am calling democracies in exile. Brit McCandless recently reported that “more than 800 places of worship have volunteered to shelter undocumented immigrants who face deportation and their families — double the number since the 2016 election. They join the more than 600 cities and counties that have declared themselves sanctuaries — ordering their police not to detain people solely because of their immigration status.”

These cities and counties have not only refused to comply with Trump’s repressive policies on climate change and travel bans, but they have also defined themselves, in part, as public spaces designed to protect those who fear expulsion and state terrorism. In many respects, cities have become front lines in the fight against Trump’s repressive immigration policies and disastrous attack on climate change reform. As of February 2017, more than sixty-eight mayors have signed an open letter protesting Trump’s opposition to limiting greenhouse gases. Cities such as Seattle and Burlington, Vermont, are on the cutting edge, enacting radical legislation while promoting broad-based progressive political formations heavily indebted to the values and policies of democratic socialism. In fact, an avowed socialist, Kshama Sawant, sits on the city council in Seattle, one of America’s most insurgent cities.

In the face of Trump’s January 25, 2017, executive order in which he called for stripping federal funds from cities that defy his border enforcement and immigration policies, many cities have chosen to resist Trump anyway, because of his attacks on environmental protections and public schools. In the face of such attacks, new coalitions are emerging between labor groups, young people, immigrant rights groups, evangelicals, church groups, and others that Adriana Cadena, coordinator for Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance, points to as a reservoir of “untapped voices.” At the same time, such struggles will not be easy. Not only is the threat of repression by the federal government a looming reality, but a similar threat is posed by Republican-controlled state legislatures, which now number thirty-two. Yet many progressive states such as California are finding new ways to pass laws “that grant undocumented immigrants access to state driver’s licenses, in-state tuition, financial aid, health care and professional licenses, and that shield them by limiting state participation in enforcing federal law.”

Such cities and counties, and a host of diverse public spheres, function as parallel structures that create alternative modes of communication, social relations, education, health care, and cultural work, including popular music, social media, the performing arts, and literature. These spaces are what Vaclav Benda has called a “parallel polis,” which brings pressure on official structures, implements new modes of pedagogical resistance, and provides the basis for organizing larger day-to-day protests and more organized and sustainable social movements. Just as dissidents in Eastern Europe developed the concept of a parallel polis, there is a need in the current historical moment to create new modes of organizing, community, and resistance: democracies in exile.

Cities have become front lines in the fight against Trump’s repressive immigration policies and disastrous attack on climate change reform.

The concept of democracy in exile is grounded in community building, economic justice, and a discourse of critique, hope, social justice, and self-reflection. As a mode of critique, it models the call for diverse forms of resistance, critical dialogue, collaboration, and a rethinking of political processes and the kinds of public spaces where they can take place. As a discourse of hope, it offers the possibility of organizing new forms of social networking designed to dismantle proto-fascist formations from consolidating further. As a model for a new progressive politics, democracies in exile are open communities and collectivities joined in the spirit of mutual aid and justice; they mark the antithesis of Trumpism’s falsehoods, walls, guns, white supremacy, and menacing intolerance. These models for democracy signal a mode of witnessing and organized resistance inspired by a renewed commitment to justice and equality. This is a spirit of redemption matched by mass protests such as the “Day Without Immigrants” strike, the 4.2 million people who took to the streets in protest on Trump’s second day in office, and the thousands of scientists and their supporters who participated in the 2017 March for Science. In all of these cases, the aim was “to demonstrate the productive power of the people” in the struggle to take back democracy.

Democracy in exile offers the opportunity to fuse popular movements and reinvigorate educational spheres that include traditional sites of struggle such as unions, churches, and synagogues. For example, churches throughout the United States are using private homes in their parishes as shelters while at the same time “creating a modern-day underground railroad to ferry undocumented immigrants from house to house or into Canada.” Hiding and housing immigrants is but one important register of political resistance that such sanctuaries can provide. Organizations such as the Protective Leadership Institute and the State Innovation Exchange are fighting back against conservative state legislation by modeling progressive legislation, putting ongoing pressure on politicians, educating people on issues and how to develop the skills for disruptive political strategies, and building “a progressive power base in the states.” In addition, cities such as New York have proclaimed themselves sanctuary cities, and students in “as many as 100 colleges and universities across the country” have held protests “demanding their schools become sanctuary campuses.”

The concept of democracy in exile offers a new rhetorical approach to understanding such resistance and the new stage of authoritarianism that has made it necessary. Such outposts of exile offer new models of collaboration, united by a perpetual striving for a more just society. As such, they join in solidarity and in their differences, mediated by a respect for the common good, human dignity, and decency. Together they offer a new map for resisting a demagogue and his coterie of reactionaries who harbor a rapacious desire for concentrating power in the hands of a financial elite and the economic, political, and religious fundamentalists who seek to amass wealth and power by any means necessary. This call for a new mode of opposition connects the educational challenge of raising individual and collective consciousness with mobilizing against the suffocating ideologies, worldviews, and policies that are driving the new species of authoritarianism. These alternative spaces and new public spheres reflect what Sara Evans and Harry Boyte have called “free spaces,” which welcome the challenge of ongoing community engagement designed to revitalize civic education and civic courage.

The language of exile also projects a threat to pro-fascist nationalist networks, for it signals the rival mobilization of emancipatory social forces organizing against political intolerance, white supremacy, economic oppression, police violence, and the constant fabrications that serve to normalize and enforce them. The creation of new spaces for community resistance asserts the right to reject all such formations of domination, impunity, and abuse.

Rethinking the possibility for social movements and a new form of politics can begin by reconceptualizing what might it mean to create public spheres and institutions that represent models of a democracy in exile — sanctuaries that preserve the ideals, values, and experiences of a radical democracy. What will it take to create communities whose diverse institutions function as sanctuaries for those who fear expulsion and state terror? How might we together generate a multi-pronged resistance that revives and defends the ideals of an already fragile and wounded democracy — one that cultivates educated hope and actions that safeguard our future? Such a society would foster “the eradication of all forms of racial, gender, class, and sexual hierarchy” and would be based on a call not for reform but for a radical restructuring, a substantive socialist democracy that rejects the notion that capitalism and democracy are synonymous. 

New coalitions are emerging between labor groups, young people, immigrant rights groups, evangelicals, church groups, and others.

This certainly raises further questions about what proactive roles educational institutions can take to counter the creeping influence and further normalization of authoritarianism in all its forms. One of the challenges confronting the current generation of educators, students, progressives, and other concerned citizens is the need to address the role they might play in any resistance effort. What can and should education accomplish in a democracy under siege? What work must educators do to create the economic, political, and ethical conditions necessary to endow young people and the general public with the capacities to think, question, doubt, imagine the unimaginable, and defend education as essential for inspiring an informed, thoughtful citizenry integral to the existence of a robust democracy? In a world witnessing an increasing abandonment of egalitarian and democratic impulses and the erasure of historical memory, what will it take to educate young people and the broader polity to learn from the past and understand the present in order to challenge rabid, unbridled authority and hold power accountable?

Many of the resources are already available. In his book On Tyranny, historian Timothy Snyder provides a list of suggestions that range from not being afraid to disobey, to defending democratic institutions. Michael Lerner has produced a number of invaluable proposals that include what he calls a global Marshall Plan and a strategy for US progressives to take seriously matters of education, subjectivity, compassion, and care in any political struggle. George Lakoff has provided a number of useful suggestions for engaging in the individual and collective practice of resistance, including the call to re-examine the nature of power and to focus on substance not sideshows in the realm of criticism. Bill Quigley has offered a number of substantive points on how to engage in direct action to stop government raids. Reverend William J. Barber II has written extensively on the need to create broad-based alliances, especially among the religious left, and in doing so has infused the call for resistance with an energizing sense of moral and political outrage. In The American Prospect, Theo Anderson has provided an insightful commentary on how the left’s long march of resistance must include direct action at the state level. Robin D.G. Kelley has written a series of brilliant articles on the need to develop emancipatory strategies in the university that call for students and faculty to move beyond framing grievances in the discourse of victimhood and personal travail. Harper’s Magazine engaged a number of intellectuals to talk about what the ecology of resistance under a Trump regime might look like. These are only a few of the many valuable sources that can be studied, talked about, and potentially used to advance networks and movements for democracies in exile.

Universities have an essential role to play in midwifing democracies in exile. In addition to creating safe spaces for undocumented immigrants and others deemed vulnerable or disposable, universities can also equip people with the knowledge, skills, experiences, and values they need to organize, litigate, and achieve higher levels of justice, openness, and accountability. For many universities, this would mean renouncing their instrumental approach to knowledge, creating the conditions for faculty to connect their work with important social issues, refusing to treat students as customers, and choosing administrative leaders who have a vision rooted in the imperatives of justice, ethics, social responsibility, and democratic values. The culture of business has produced the business of education, and to be frank, it has corrupted the mission of too many universities. It is necessary for students, faculty, and others to reverse this trend at a time when the dark shadows of authoritarianism and fascism threaten both the spaces for critical inquiry and democracy itself. 

Democracies in exile are open communities and collectivities joined in the spirit of mutual aid and justice.

At the very least, students and others need the historical knowledge, critical tools, and analytical skills to be able to understand the underlying factors and forces that gave rise to Trump’s ascendency to the presidency of the United States. Understanding how “the possible triumph in America of a fascist-tinged authoritarian regime” is poised to destroy “a fragile liberal democracy” is the first step toward a viable and sustained resistance. It is crucial to repeat that this authoritarian regime draws on a fascist legacy that not only decreed the death of the civic imagination but also unleashed nothing short of a mass-scale terror and violence.We must also ask what role education, historical memory, and critical pedagogy might have in the larger society, where the social has been individualized, political life has collapsed, and education has been reduced to either a private affair or a kind of algorithmic mode of regulation in which everything is narrowly focused on achieving a desired empirical outcome? What role could a resuscitated critical education play in challenging the deadly neoliberal claim that all problems are individual, when the roots of such problems lie in larger systemic forces? What role might universities fulfill in preserving and scrutinizing cultural memory in order to ensure our current generation and the next are on the right side of history? What might it mean to return to and rethink critically the ideals of the 1960s and 1970s, when university life was defined by students and faculty? What will it take to give power back to faculty and students so they can play a major role in the governing of higher education? How might faculty and students best collaborate in order to eliminate the tsunami of exploitative part-time labor that has been employed by the corporatized university to de-skill and punish faculty since the 1970s?

Historical memory is too easily subverted by manufactured ignorance. The corporate-controlled media and entertainment industries make it easy to forget that Trump is more than the product of the deep-seated racism, attacks on the welfare state, and corporate-centered priorities that have characterized the Republican Party since the 1980s. He is also the result of a Democratic Party that has separated itself from the needs of working people, minorities of color, and young people by becoming nothing more than the party of the financial elite. There is a certain dreadful irony in the fact that the neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party has been quick to condemn Trump and his coterie as demagogic and authoritarian. What cannot be forgotten is that this is the same ruling elite who gave us the surveillance state, bailed out Wall Street, ushered in the mass incarceration state, and punished whistleblowers. Chris Hedges is right in arguing that the Democratic Party is an “appendage of the consumer society” and its embrace of “neoliberalism and [refusal] to challenge the imperial wars empowered the economic and political structures that destroyed our democracy and gave rise to Trump.” The only answer the Democratic Party has to Trump is to strike back when he overreaches and make a case for the good old days when they were in power. What they refuse to acknowledge is that their policies helped render Trump’s victory possible and that what they share with Trump is a mutual support for bankers, the rule of big corporations, neoliberalism, and the erroneous and fatal assumption that capitalism is democracy, and vice versa. What is needed is a new understanding of the political, a new democratic socialist party, and a radical restructuring of politics itself.

At the same time, any confrontation with the current historical moment has to be infused with hope, possibility, and new forms of political practice. While many countries have been transformed into what Stanley Aronowitz calls a repressive “national security state,” there are signs that authoritarianism in its various versions is currently being challenged, especially by young people, and that the radical imagination is still alive. Marine Le Pen’s National Front Party lost the presidential election in France; Jeremy Corbyn’s Labor Party just dealt a blow in the United Kingdom to Theresa May and the conservatives in the 2016 election; and young people under thirty across the globe are marching for a radical democracy. No society is without resistance, and hope can never be reduced to a mere abstraction. Hope has to be informed, militant, and concrete.

Historical memory is too easily subverted by manufactured ignorance.

The dark clouds of an American-style fascism are brewing on the horizon and can be seen in a countless number of Trump’s statements and orders, including his instructions to the Department of Homeland Security to draw up a list of “Muslim organizations and individuals that, in the language of the executive action, have been ‘radicalized.’” Given Trump’s intolerance of criticism and dissent, it is plausible that this list could be expanded to target Black Lives Matter activists, investigative journalists, feminists, community organizers, university professors, and other outspoken left-wing intellectuals. One indication that the Trump regime is compiling a larger list of alleged wrongdoers was the Trump transition team’s request that the Energy Department deliver a list of the names of individuals who had worked on climate change. Under public pressure, the Trump regime later rescinded this request. Couple these political interventions with the unprecedented attack on the media and the barring of the New York Times, CNN, and other alleged “fake news” media outlets from press conferences, and what becomes clear is that the professional institutions that make democracy possible are not only under siege but face the threat of being abolished. Trumpists’ constant cry of “fake news” to discredit critical media outlets is part of a massive disinformation campaign designed to undermine investigative journalism, eyewitness news, fact-based analysis, reason, evidence, and any knowledge-based standard of judgment.Nothing will change unless people begin to take seriously the deeply rooted structural, cultural, and subjective underpinnings of oppression in the United States and what it might require to make such issues meaningful, in both personal and collective ways, in order to make them critical and transformative. This is fundamentally a pedagogical as well as a political concern. As Charles Derber has explained, knowing “how to express possibilities and convey them authentically and persuasively seems crucially important” if any viable form of resistance is to take shape. Trumpism normalizes official falsehoods, intolerance, violence, and pro-fascist social manifestations. Taken as a whole, these conditions do not simply repress independent thought, but constitute their own mode of indoctrinated perceptions that are reinforced through a diverse set of cultural apparatuses ranging from local gun clubs and hate groups to corporate media such as Fox News and online commercial operations like Infowars and Breitbart News.

Despite everything, optimism and resistance are in the air, and the urgency of mass action has a renewed relevance. Workers, young people, environmental activists, demonstrations against the massive tax cuts for the rich posing as health-care reform, along with numerous expressions of protest against Trump’s draconian policies are popping up all over the United States and symbolize an emerging collective opposition to pro-fascist tendencies. As I pointed out earlier, thousands of scientists have rallied against the assaults being waged on scientific inquiry, the veracity of catastrophic climate change, and other forms of evidence-based research, and are planning further marches in the future. Mass protests movements at the local level are coming into play, as seen in the Moral Monday movement and the anti-pipeline campaigns. In addition, a number of big city mayors are refusing to obey Trump’s orders; demonstrations are taking place every day throughout the country; students are mobilizing on campuses; and all over the globe women are marching for their rights. Many people entering politics for the first time are demonstrating for affordable health care, a social wage, and a jobs program, especially for young people. Some individuals and groups are working hard to build a mass movement organized against militarism, inequality, racism, the increasing possibility of nuclear war, and the ecological destabilization of the planet.

We are witnessing the imminent emergence of new forms of resistance willing to support broad-based struggles intent on producing ongoing forms of nonviolent resistance at all levels of society. It is important to heed Rabbi Michael Lerner’s insistence that a democratically minded public, comprised of workers and activists of various stripes, needs a new language of critique and possibility, one that embraces a movement for a world of love, courage, and justice while being committed to a mode of nonviolence in which the means are as ethical as the ends sought by such struggles. Such a call is as historically mindful as it is insightful, drawing upon legacies of nonviolent resistance left to us by renowned activists as diverse as Bertrand Russell, Saul Alinsky, Paulo Freire, and Martin Luther King Jr. Despite their diverse projects and methods, these voices for change all shared a commitment to a fearless collective struggle in which nonviolent strategies rejected passivity and compromise to engage in powerful expressions of opposition. To be successful, such struggles have to be coordinated, focused, and relentless. Single-issue movements will have to join with others in supporting both a comprehensive politics and a mass collective movement. We would do well to heed the words of the great abolitionist, Frederick Douglass:

Facing the challenge of fascism will not be easy, but Americans are marching, protesting, and organizing in record-breaking numbers.

It is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and the crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

The political repression of our times requires that we work together to redefine politics and challenge the pro-corporate two-party system. In the process, we will reclaim the struggle to produce meaningful educational visions and practices, find new ways to change individual and collective consciousness, engage in meaningful dialogue with people living at the margins of the political landscape, and overcome the factionalism of single-issue movements in order to build broad-based social movements. Proto-fascist conditions are with us again. Fortunately, Trump’s arrogance as a champion of such forces is not going entirely unchecked as the great collective power of resistance to his regime deepens. Mass actions are taking place with renewed urgency every day. Facing the challenge of fascism will not be easy, but Americans are marching, protesting, and organizing in record-breaking numbers. Hopefully, mass indignation will evolve into a worldwide movement whose power will be on the side of justice not impunity, bridges not walls, dignity not disrespect, kindness not cruelty. The American nightmare is not something happening somewhere else to someone else. It’s happening here, to us. The time to wake up is now. To quote James Baldwin’s letter to Angela Davis:

Some of us, white and black, know how great a price has already been paid to bring into existence a new consciousness, a new people, an unprecedented nation. If we know, and do nothing, we are worse than the murderers hired in our name. If we know, then we must fight for your life as though it were our own — which it is — and render impassable with our bodies the corridor to the gas chamber. For, if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.

In the end, there is no democracy without informed citizens, no justice without a language critical of injustice, and no change without a broad-based movement of collective resistance.

Copyright (2018) by Henry Giroux. Not to be reprinted without permission of the publisher, City Lights Publishers.

The post A Democracy in Exile Fights Against Fascism appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Eliminating DC’s Tipped Wage Would Reduce Poverty

Thu, 06/07/2018 - 04:35
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This week, polls opened for early voting in Washington, D.C. This season’s campaign has been contentious when it comes to Initiative 77, a ballot measure that would gradually phase out D.C.’s tipped minimum wage, currently $3.33 per hour, and replace it with a unified minimum wage by 2026. The National Restaurant Association has come out hard against it, and signs opposing the measure have appeared in high-end dining establishments across the city.

The trouble is, there isn’t much actual information beyond the signage—and the information being shared isn’t backed by research.

D.C.’s overall minimum wage is $12.50 per hour, and will increase to $15 by 2020. By law, employers have to ensure that tipped workers make that amount as well—by combining the base wage of $3.33 with their tips—and if workers’ wages are too low, employers are required to supplement them. In practice, employers often fail to do this. Research by the Economic Policy Institute found that recent Department of Labor investigations of close to 9,000 restaurants resulted in workers receiving nearly $5.5 million in back pay because of tipped wage violations.

Low wages have left many tipped workers struggling to make ends meet. Roughly 1 in 4 D.C. bartenders, servers, manicurists and pedicurists, and shampooers made $11.71 per hour or less in 2017*—well below a living wage in the district. D.C.’s tipped workers are also nearly twice as likely to live in poverty compared to the city’s overall workforce.

The concerns with the tipped wage go beyond just money—the power dynamics of the tipping system allow discrimination and inequality to flourish. One study showed that black servers receive tips that average 15 percent to 25 percent less than white servers, and in D.C., tipped female workers are twice as likely as tipped male workers to live in poverty. It also paves the way for sexual harassment: 1 in 7 sexual harassment charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are in the accommodation and food service industry.

While the evidence is clear on the positive impacts for D.C.’s lower-wage tipped workers, the District’s high-end restaurant and bar scene, with its higher-paid workforce, has been the center of attention during much of the debate, with figures ranging from Mayor Muriel Bowser to Chef José Andrés voicing concerns that the unified minimum wage will lead to higher prices and lower pay.In contrast, research shows that the eight states without a tipped minimum wage have higher average earnings and lower poverty rates among tipped workers, without hurting their employment rates. Specifically, in equal treatment states, tipped workers’ median earnings are 14 percent higher and the growth of restaurants and restaurant employment is more robust compared with states that use the federal minimum tipped wage of $2.13 per hour. Research also suggests that abolishing the tipped minimum wage may be particularly advantageous for women, as the average wage gap for women tipped workers in equal treatment states is one-third smaller than the wage gap for women tipped workers in states that maintain the federal tipped minimum wage.

It’s tough to envision that high-end establishments’ well-off clientele, wine-and-dine lobbyists, and company-credit-card-wielding business travelers will suddenly become highly price-sensitive if the cost of a meal rises slightly. And any increase would likely be relatively small: Labor costs only account for an average of 30 percent of restaurant operating costs, and businesses absorb higher minimum wages through reductions in costly turnover and increases in productivity. It’s also unlikely diners would compensate for higher prices by offering a smaller gratuity: data on tipping show that tipping behavior in equal treatment states is virtually indistinguishable from tipping behavior in states that have different minimum wages for tipped workers.

What’s more, this focus on D.C.’s high-end establishments misses the bigger picture. Not only is the district home to many restaurant workers who struggle to make ends meet—even after tips—but one-fifth of D.C.’s tipped workers aren’t in the restaurant industry at all. Many valets and manicurists, for example, don’t earn 20 percent on top of an expensive meal, but the Department of Labor allows their employers to pay them D.C.’s $3.33 per hour base wage as long as they “customarily and regularly” receive $30 or more per month in tips.

Initiative 77—which 70 percent of voters support—would reduce poverty and increase economic security among tipped workers in the district, as well as better protect them against discrimination, wage theft, and sexual harassment. The effects would be particularly powerful for women and people of color. Chipping in a little more for craft cocktails and small plates at happy hour seems like a small price to pay.

* Note: At the time these data were collected, the minimum wage in Washington, D.C. was $11.50 per hour.

The post Eliminating DC’s Tipped Wage Would Reduce Poverty appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Trump’s Newest Pardon Should Alarm Everyone

Thu, 06/07/2018 - 04:30

President Donald Trump has only held office for a year and a half, and already he’s made some pretty controversial pardons. Between Scooter Libby – who unmasked a CIA secret agent – and Sheriff Joe Arpaio – who specialized in racial profiling and other anti-immigration attacks on people of color in Arizona, these pardons show that the president loves nothing more than rewarding his most extreme supporters and their allies.

But when it comes to his latest pardon, President Trump is signaling an even more dangerous mindset: absolutely no respect for federal election law. And with the Russia investigation continuing, the midterms just around the corner and a reelection campaign in the near future, that perspective poses a major threat to the American democratic ideal.

Last week, President Trump announced that he would pardon conservative pundit and felon Dinesh D’Souza, a vocal far-right commentator. D’Souza is a longtime warrior against progressive politics, heavily criticizing President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as peddling in conspiracy theories about Obama being “unAmerican” and blaming liberals for the September 11 attacks.

D’Souza also became directly involved in one GOP campaign, an action that eventually resulted in his eventual conviction on campaign finance violations.

The New York Times reports:

In 2014, Mr. D’Souza was accused of using straw donors to donate $20,000 to a Republican Senate candidate in New York, exceeding the personal limit of $5,000. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a $30,000 fine and five years of probation, including eight months living under supervision in a ‘community confinement center’ in San Diego.

Prosecutors said he enlisted two people to donate $10,000 apiece on behalf of themselves and their spouses to Wendy E. Long, a friend from Dartmouth who lost in a landslide to Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, a Democrat. He then reimbursed the donors in cash.

D’Souza escaped any actual jail time, but he still felt aggressively attacked by the charges, claiming that he was only targeted because of his conservative background. Now he has an ally in this assertion, and the president has agreed to wipe his slate clean.

“Will be giving a Full Pardon to Dinesh D’Souza today. He was treated very unfairly by our government!” President Trump tweeted on May 31 to the applause of conservatives and the jeers of liberals across the country.

Legal analysts, though, assert that D’Souza’s conviction was clearly not politically motivated — regardless of the pundit’s claims.

Ken White, a former federal prosecutor, wrote for NBC Think:

D’Souza tried, and the federal judge hearing his case rejected his arguments. The judge pointed out that the government demonstrated that it had prosecuted both Republican and Democratic straw buyers, and that D’Souza had presented no evidence of discriminatory intent and no evidence that similar people with different politics were not prosecuted. D’Souza therefore couldn’t even make enough of a showing to get discovery into his assertion of selective prosecution, let alone a dismissal.

The lack of evidence doesn’t appear to have swayed President Trump, who — according to D’Souza — called the pundit to inform him that he “got screwed” and would receive a full pardon. But it’s the president’s reason for the pardon that should have all of America alarmed.

“President Trump said I did something that would normally get a slap on the wrist and a fine, but instead the previous administration went after me with the full force of its powers,” D’Souza wrote for Fox News. “President Trump termed my case as an injustice, one that he was in a position to correct.”

President Trump clearly and unequivocally saw a gross and premeditated violation of federal campaign finance law as no big deal. He believes that the true “injustice” is being punished for breaking the law in the first place. Campaign finance rules, in other words, should not have an actual legal weight — and in the cases where they are ignored and broken, you should simply be able to buy your way out of any repercussions.

It’s a horrifying message, especially as what are expected to be the most expensive midterms in history approach. This troubling line of thinking comes from a president who is currently under investigation for illegal campaign coordination with foreign powers — and whose personal lawyer is believed to have spend massive amounts in undeclared donations for hush money to keep derogatory stories out of the press.

President Donald Trump — and the GOP in general — firmly believe that campaign finance laws shouldn’t exist. As long as they do exist, Republicans believe that they should be allowed to buy their way free of those rules simply because they can. And now they know that if they’re convicted, even those charges can eventually be wiped clean.

In just one pardon, President Donald Trump has essentially erased any weight that the FEC held — and the midterms are just six months away.

The post Trump’s Newest Pardon Should Alarm Everyone appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The Delusion of Deporting the Country’s Troubles Away by Banishing “Criminal Aliens”

Thu, 06/07/2018 - 03:54

On April 17 the Supreme Court handed down a ruling that limited some of the excuses the government can use for deporting people. At issue in the case, Sessions v. Dimaya, was the meaning of “crime of violence” in immigration law; immigration judges have relied on this very broad category to order some non-citizens deported as “criminal aliens.” The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2015 that the category was unconstitutionally vague and therefore not a basis for deportation, and the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision upheld the Ninth Circuit’s ruling.

The decision got a good deal of media attention. Time ran a headline claiming that the Court had “Dealt the White House a Big Blow on Immigration.” But this type of coverage probably exaggerates the ruling’s practical effect. The people most likely to be impacted are green card holders, while the current administration’s main change in deportation policy has been its increased targeting of undocumented immigrants without criminal convictions. Besides, two laws signed by Bill Clinton in 1996 leave the administration with the authority to deport immigrants, including green card holders, for any of a long list of “aggravated felonies” and “crimes of moral turpitude” — in some cases, for shoplifting, fraud or possession of relatively small quantities of marijuana.

All the same, the Court’s decision presents the nation with a chance to address a more fundamental issue: Is there really any reason for the US government to deport non-citizens with criminal records?

“Banishment or Exile”

It’s hard to make the case that these deportations are equitable. A US citizen convicted of a crime is released after serving prison time. A non-citizen may serve the same prison time but then is held in immigration detention — possibly for years — and subsequently deported. This is a sort of double jeopardy based simply on the place of a person’s birth.

US courts have gotten around the inherent inequity by creating a legal fiction. Based on a 1893 Supreme Court decision, Fong Yue Ting v. United States et al., the courts pretend deportation isn’t a punishment — it’s just an administrative procedure, they hold. In reality, of course, deportation often means that immigrants who have lived here for decades are separated from their families and communities and sent to countries which they barely remember and where they may not even speak the language. In 1948, the Supreme Court itself recognized that “deportation is a drastic measure, and at times the equivalent of banishment or exile” (Fong Haw Tan v. Phelan, cited in the majority opinion on Sessions v. Dimaya).

In many cases deportation isn’t just unfair to the immigrants; it’s also unfair to their countries of origin.

“The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems,” Donald Trump claimed in his first speech as a presidential candidate. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” But Trump had it exactly backwards.

Numerous studies show that immigrants have a significantly lower rate of criminal convictions than native-born US citizens. (Yes, this includes undocumented immigrants, according to analyses the conservative Cato Institute performed on prison data from Texas.) And when immigrants do commit crimes, they haven’t necessarily brought “criminal tendencies” with them. Immigrants’ children generally have higher conviction rates than their parents, more in line with those of the native-born, a strong indication that assimilation into US society makes people more prone to breaking the law.

So if immigrants slip into illegal activities after coming here as youths or small children, it’s usually not because they were born in other countries — it’s a result of the conditions and influences they experienced here in the United States. And yet, we “repatriate” them to places that have nothing to do with their involvement in crime.

Trump’s Scare Stories

But even if the deportations are unfair, many people think that deporting immigrants with convictions is a no-brainer solution that reduces crime here.

In 2014 two law professors published the results of a study testing this assumption. They analyzed the effects of the government’s Secure Communities program, which was specifically designed to identify and remove non-citizens with criminal convictions. According to immigration authorities, more than 288,000 people with criminal convictions were deported through the program from October 2008 to May 2014. The study found “no observable effect on the overall crime rate.” This result “calls into question the longstanding assumption that deporting non-citizens who commit crimes is an effective crime-control strategy,” the professors concluded.

There are many reasons for this. We can see some of them in two scare stories the president likes to tell about immigration.

On the campaign trail, Trump frequently brought up the July 2015 shooting death of Kate Steinle in San Francisco by a homeless Mexican immigrant, José Inés García Zárate. Last November, a jury acquitted the suspect of all charges except illegal possession of a gun, apparently agreeing with the defense that the gun could have been fired accidentally. Still, the tragedy clearly wouldn’t have occurred if García Zárate hadn’t been in the United States. For Trump and his supporters the issue is simple: The man should have been deported.

The problem is that he was deported — five times from 1994 to 2009. Like many other deportees, he returned.

Following this logic, conservatives argue we need tighter border security to keep immigrants from coming back. Actually, in García Zárate’s case, our massive and often brutal border security system worked exactly the way Trump and his supporters say they want. García Zárate was apprehended by Border Patrol officials as he tried to cross into the United States soon after his 2009 deportation. Charged with illegal reentry, he was imprisoned until March 2015 and would have been deported yet again if immigration authorities hadn’t taken him to San Francisco to face decades-old drug charges. These were eventually dropped, and García Zárate, who apparently has mental health and substance abuse issues, was left living on the city’s streets without any support services.

Trump’s other scare story is about the growth of the MS-13 youth gang in the United States.

While García Zárate’s multiple deportations failed to make anyone safer, deporting MS-13 members has actually made the world less safe. The gang was formed in Los Angeles during the 1980s by young Salvadorans who had fled a devastating civil war, one funded in part by the US government. In the early 1990s, immigration authorities started deporting suspected MS-13 members back to El Salvador, a country still in chaos as the conflict was ending. Cut off from family and work opportunities, the deportees often had few options other than to stay connected to gangs. As The New Yorker writer Jonathan Blitzer remarks, our deportation policies “took a local gang problem that was festering on the streets of Los Angeles and … turned it into an international crisis.”

Can We Learn From Experience?

The US government seems to have learned nothing from the experience: It continues to deport Salvadoran youths suspected of gang affiliations. In one case, reported by ProPublica’s Hannah Dreier, the target is a teen who cooperated with Long Island and federal agents investigating gang activities. If the government succeeds, the gang is likely to murder the youth as an informer once he arrives in El Salvador — a result guaranteed to discourage other youths from cooperating with law enforcement.

So what should the nation do instead of deporting immigrants who’ve been arrested for crimes?

First, officials must recognize that our criminal legal system is plagued with bias and injustice. Incarceration breaks up families, hurts children and provokes a costly human rights crisis. Moreover, the country needs much more effective programs for reintegrating released prisoners into society. Other models such as restorative justice offer appropriate forms of accountability for a wide range of offenses and should be developed and supported.

Still, even the existing resources might have helped García Zárate overcome his problems if he’d been allowed to remain in the United States; a rehabilitation effort would certainly have made more sense than spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on repeated prosecutions, incarcerations and deportations. As for MS-13, people with experience in rehabilitating gang members have emphasized to The New Yorker’s Blitzer the effectiveness of after-school programs, vocational training, educational efforts and counseling services in containing MS-13’s influence.

Unfortunately, the supposed need to remove “criminal aliens” is so firmly entrenched in our laws and our popular consciousness that common-sense proposals like these may sound hopelessly utopian. But we’re living in a period when minds can change quickly; goals that seemed utopian a few years ago — same-sex marriage, a $15 minimum wage, Medicare for All — now have widespread support. It’s time to start confronting the national delusion that we can just deport our “troubles” away.

The post The Delusion of Deporting the Country’s Troubles Away by Banishing “Criminal Aliens” appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Trump’s Disinvitation of the Philadelphia Eagles: An Act of Symbolic Racism

Wed, 06/06/2018 - 16:02

It is an American tradition that the winner of the Super Bowl is honored with a visit to the White House. But these are not normal times.

Like the petulant man-child he is, President Donald Trump cancelled the 2018 NFL champion Philadelphia Eagles’ visit to the White House.

On Twitter, Trump announced it this way:

The Philadelphia Eagles Football Team was invited to the White House. Unfortunately, only a small number of players decided to come, and we canceled the event. Staying in the Locker Room for the playing of our National Anthem is as disrespectful to our country as kneeling. Sorry!

Trump was angry that most of the Eagles team had declined the invitation because of his repeated insults towards black NFL players (and other athletes) who have chosen to take a knee during the national anthem in protest against police brutality and institutional racism. It would seem that the black and brown players of the Eagles do not like being called “sons of bitches” and being threatened with deportation if they are not suitably “patriotic” as judged by Trump. This is part of a larger pattern of behavior where Trump and his inner circle have shown disdain and rage toward black people they believe are “uppity” and “do not know their place.

But the more significant insult and threat to both the Eagles players, specifically, and American democracy, more generally, was Trump’s official statement, released on Monday.

The Philadelphia Eagles are unable to come to the White House with their full team to be celebrated tomorrow. They disagree with their President because he insists that they proudly stand for the National Anthem, hand on heart, in honor of the great men and women of our military and the people of our country. The Eagles wanted to send a smaller delegation, but the 1,000 fans planning to attend the event deserve better.

The context for this fusillade is a perilous and almost unprecedented moment in the country’s history, when Trump and his lawyers have all but declared that he is an American emperor who is above the law and could even murder his political enemies with no consequences while in office.

Trump’s official statement is but the most recent among many examples of his authoritarian or proto-fascist beliefs and behavior. For example, Trump’s statement includes peculiar third-person language: “They disagree with their President because he insists that they proudly stand for the National Anthem.” This makes loyalty to Trump a prerequisite for being a “loyal” and “true” America. In practice, Trump and his supporters believe that he is the State, and as such transcends the office of the presidency and democracy itself. This is the ruling logic of monarchs, dictators and autocrats.

Fascism usually features a racial and ethnic dimension where those who are “real” citizens and of the “blood and soil” are deemed superior to some targeted Other who is marked as a type of human pollutant in the body politic, to be suppressed and eventually removed. With his nativism, racism and eliminationist rhetoric towards nonwhites, Muslims and immigrants, Donald Trump fulfills this criterion. He also signals to the division between “us” and “them” with his claim that “the 1,000 fans planning to attend the event deserve better.”

In post civil rights era America, such racial authoritarianism often takes the form of what social scientists describe as “symbolic racism.” This is a sociopolitical dynamic that deems nonwhites — especially black people — as disloyal to the country. They are seen to violate cherished cultural norms and values about “hard work,” “self-reliance,” “thrift” and “responsibility,” as well as to possess “bad culture” and other pathologies that explain social inequality across the color line.

Trump’s personal statement about the Philadelphia Eagles visit is literally a textbook example of symbolic racism as practice.

Trump is a racial authoritarian whose contract with his voters is that he will elevate white (Christian) conservatives over all others. In return, he and his inner circle will become even more fabulously rich while the commons and America’s democratic institutions and norms are destroyed. Trump’s voters have enthusiastically endorsed this transaction.

At President Barack Obama’s first inauguration, the Rev. Joseph Lowery concluded the official benediction with the following passage:

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around — (laughter) — when yellow will be mellow — (laughter) — when the red man can get ahead, man — (laughter) — and when white will embrace what is right.

Donald Trump is wielding the bludgeoning corrective of whiteness against this more inclusive, fair and democratic version of America. The unifying theme of Trump’s presidency has been to destroy Obama’s legacy. His de facto mantra, and that of the entire Republican Party and right-wing media, seems to be, “If Obama did it, it must be wrong.” Extreme partisanship combined with racism is civic poison, and Trump’s disastrous presidency is proof of this fact.

One should never forget that the beating heart of racism is a virulent and dangerous type of hypocrisy, an existential contradiction.

On Tuesday, Donald Trump held his White House “Celebration of America” event without the players from the Philadelphia Eagles. In the midst of his puffery, menace, pomp and circumstance, Donald Trump, the would-be fascist who wallows in trite and superficial displays of patriotism like a sick person bathing in the waters at Lourdes, could not even successfully lip-sync or fake his way through a singing of “God Bless America.”

White conservatives wanted to run Obama out of town on a rail for the supposed transgression of wearing a tan suit. Trump will face no such condemnation for being unable to sing “God Bless America.” Why? Because Donald Trump will get the benefit of every possible doubt from the Republican Party, its captive media and the right-wing public. For them he is the quintessential American — a role-model whose supreme whiteness makes his patriotism, loyalty and “Americanness” exemplary and beyond reproach. Even if he conspires with foreign autocrats and their agents to steal a presidential election, and then spits on the Constitution to conceal his crimes.

The post Trump’s Disinvitation of the Philadelphia Eagles: An Act of Symbolic Racism appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Naomi Klein: 4,645 Deaths in Puerto Rico From Hurricane Maria Were “State-Sponsored Mass Killing”

Wed, 06/06/2018 - 15:11

We look at Puerto Rico as it continues to recover from Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island last September. Researchers at Harvard recently revealed the death toll from Hurricane Maria may be a staggering 70 times higher than the official count. The official death toll still stands at 64, but the new study estimates a death toll of at least 4,645, with some projections topping 5,700. The Harvard study found that “interruption of medical care was the primary cause of sustained high mortality rates in the months after the hurricane, a finding consistent with the widely reported disruption of health systems. Health care disruption is now a growing contributor to both morbidity and mortality in natural disasters.” We speak with Naomi Klein, author, journalist and a senior correspondent for The Intercept. Her new book is titled “The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes on the Disaster Capitalists.” We also speak with Katia Avilés-Vázquez, a Puerto Rican environmental activist and member of Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica, and Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of UPROSE and co-chair of the Climate Justice Alliance.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Hurricane Season is officially underway. And today we spend the hour looking at Puerto Rico as it continues to recover from Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island last September. Researchers at Harvard University recently revealed the death toll from Hurricane Maria may be a staggering 70 times higher than the official count. The official death toll still stands at 64, but the new study estimates a death toll of at least 4,645, with some projections topping 5,700. This is one of the report’s co-authors, Dr. Domingo Marqués of Carlos Albizu University.

DOMINGO MARQUÉS: [translated] Four thousand six hundred forty-five. So, to add something, I’ll tell you that in our study we found that in terms of the people who suffered from the hurricane, was due to the fact that the average Puerto Rican was exposed to 84 days without electric power. Moreover, it was more than 60 days without drinking water, which is a huge public health problem. And it was more than 40 days for the average person without cellular communications. So, just those three things really give reasons to the mortality numbers. Nine-one-one wasn’t only not working in small towns. It was down in all of Puerto Rico. So, when you think about those things, you can understand why the number was so high.

AMY GOODMAN: President Trump has so far not responded to the new study. But in October, during a visit to Puerto Rico, Trump boasted about the low official death count.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Now, I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack, because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico. And that’s fine. We’ve saved a lot of lives. If you look at the—every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here with really a storm that was just totally overpowering—nobody’s ever seen anything like this—and what is your—what is your death count as of this moment? Seventeen?

GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLÓ: Sixteen certified.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Sixteen people certified. Sixteen people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud of all of your people, all of our people, working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was President Trump in the days after Hurricane Maria. That was the same visit where he tossed paper towels to some of the residents of San Juan.

Cable news networks are facing criticism for spending far more time covering the Roseanne story than the stunning new Harvard report, that found at least 4,645 people died in Puerto Rico because of the hurricane. According to Media Matters, the main cable news networks covered Roseanne for over 10 hours in the first day of coverage; they covered Hurricane Maria’s death toll in Puerto Rico for just over 30 minutes. Fox News spent just 48 seconds covering the Puerto Rico story.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz posted a message on Twitter reading, “Never forgotten! Never again!” In an attached photo, she was wearing a hat with the number 4,645.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we host a roundtable discussion for the hour. We’re joined by Naomi Klein, author, journalist, senior correspondent for The Intercept. She has a new book out; it’s called The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes on the Disaster Capitalists. She’s also author of No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We NeedThis Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate and The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, among others. Also joining us, straight from Puerto Rico, Katia Avilés-Vázquez, a Puerto Rican environmental activist, member of a sustainable farming resource group called the Boricuá Organization for Ecological Agriculture, which is part of the Climate Justice Alliance, based in San Juan. Elizabeth Yeampierre is also with us, executive director of UPROSE and co-chair of the Climate Justice Alliance.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! You have just come, Katia, from the island. You were there when this Harvard study came out. It’s not that a lot of people on the island weren’t saying it’s actually the opposite of what Trump said at the time. He’s consulting the governor, and he said what? Sixteen, 17 people have died. That was right after. But now this number, maybe it’s 4,600. Maybe it’s 5,700 people who have died. Was that your sense of things? And what, as we move into this next hurricane season, are your major concerns right now?

KATIA AVILÉS-VÁZQUEZ: So, I think the first thing is to highlight Omaya Sosa and the Center for Investigative Journalism. They were the first ones to document and call out what we all were feeling and knew and had seen, which was that we had died in the thousands. And I think it’s really important to highlight their work. And particularly, they were able to gain a victory yesterday, to have access to the number of deaths, thanks to esquire Luis José Torres Asencio, among other people that were in the team. The 4,645 number is a statistical mean.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Excuse me. When you say that they were able to gain access, that was a judge ordering the government—


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —of Puerto Rico to finally release—

KATIA AVILÉS-VÁZQUEZ: To release the numbers, finally. Yeah, that was—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —the death certificates, actually.

KATIA AVILÉS-VÁZQUEZ: That came down yesterday, yeah. So, after—come in June. And the numbers, we knew that it was going to be in the thousands. And I think it’s important to not focus on whether it’s 4,645 or 5,700, because we knew it was going to be in the thousands. The study remains within a 3-month window, which is October, November, December. And it looks specifically at the survey that they were doing, and then they extrapolated based on that survey. But it doesn’t necessarily count older people that went out of time, for example, our elderly and sick, that maybe could have lasted—our knowledge bearers, that could have lasted a little bit longer, and suffered before they finally—their bodies gave up, because they couldn’t take the heat or the lack of food.

I think it’s important to—that highlights not only that it was kept secret, but the fact that it was kept secret to serve a political agenda, in the case of Governor Rosselló. That day, right after Trump left, the government recognized that the number went up to 34. So when he answered Trump’s question, it’s very unlikely that he didn’t know the number was not 16 already, so that, again, it’s just highlighting that the numbers and the entire situation has been usurped to serve Rosselló’s political agenda and the capitalists that are now taking over the island.

I think the other part that needs to be taken into consideration, like you mentioned this, that the number of deaths now, and since January, has continued to increase due to Maria. And we have not only the suicide rates that are increasing, but stoplights literally falling on people and killing them, power plants blowing up and catching fire and killing people, and then people that have continued to die because of the lack of the necessary and appropriate resources. So, if we actually take into account all those indirect deaths, again, we’re in the thousands of deaths.

And coming into the next hurricane season, infrastructure is still very weakened. Houses are still with tarps. There’s very—a lot of debris on the streets. There’s still—the water hasn’t been restored everywhere. Electricity hasn’t been restored everywhere. The boat system, La Lancha, that goes from the main island to Vieques and Culebra, is still not functioning properly. So, we’re in a very weakened state to face the new hurricane season.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I wanted to go back to that issue. The Harvard study only, as you mentioned, goes from September 20th to December 31st, yet there were hundreds of thousands of people in January and February that still didn’t have electricity, so that there were undoubtedly other deaths that occurred—


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —in the early part of this year, as well.

KATIA AVILÉS-VÁZQUEZ: Correct. And there are still some that happened a couple of weeks ago, because—indirectly, because of that. Like I mentioned, literally, a stoplight fell, and the person that it hit recently died. So, we’ve had continuous deaths indirectly to the hurricane and its impact on infrastructure.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Naomi, I wanted to ask you about—you first did an article, a long article, and now this book, in terms of what you saw when you went down to Puerto Rico, and also the—how much Puerto Rico has fit into one of your main theses that you’ve developed over the years of disaster capitalism.

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, I was there—I was actually there with Elizabeth Yeampierre, and we were lucky enough to be shown around to some parts of the country by Katia. And, you know, we saw people in February having to travel very long ways to plug in their oxygen machines, you know, elderly people, because they still didn’t have electricity. So I think that this goes to the point that the deaths were continuing after the count stopped for this particular study.

And I’m really struck by this phrase that these are deaths “due to” Hurricane Maria, you know? It’s not due to Hurricane Maria. Maria was the catalyst. But if you look at the study, the cause of death in so many of the cases, the largest cause, was the collapse of the healthcare system, which is intimately tied to the collapse of the electricity system, which is intimately tied to the collapse of the water system. So, this is really about a total infrastructure failure, right? And it didn’t just fail. A total society doesn’t have its infrastructure fail, unless you systematically knock out every support structure and you do so knowingly.

You know, I keep thinking about this phrase, from four decades ago, by the great late investigative journalist Rodolfo Walsh, the Argentinian kind of inventor of investigative journalists in so many—of investigative journalism in so many ways. When he was describing the economic policies of Argentina’s military junta, he called it “planned misery.” And I think that applies so much to what is going on in Puerto Rico right now, that this has been a planned system of immiseration. Maria comes along, and it’s just the final blow.

But, you know, I keep searching for a phrase to describe this. It’s not a natural disaster. It’s not just a tragedy. It’s state-sponsored mass killing. That’s what we’re talking about here, because maybe there wasn’t the intent to kill, but there was the knowledge that the infrastructure was being destroyed. And even after we see the results, the deadly results of it, they’re doing it still. And, you know, this comes to what, Juan, you’re asking me about how this fits into what I’ve written in the past about disaster capitalism in The Shock Doctrine. Even after seeing the effects of such brutal austerity and the thousands of lives it has taken, what is the response? More of the same—huge doses of austerity that they’re pushing right now, trying to kill–trying to close hundreds of schools, more layoffs, more neglect. And the cost of this is counted in thousands and thousands of lives.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to the White House press briefing Tuesday. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about Puerto Rico.

HUNTER WALKER: Does the president still think his response to the hurricane in Puerto Rico deserves a 10-out-of-10 score, now that estimates say almost 5,000 people died there?

PRESS SECRETARY SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: The federal response, once again, was at a historic proportion. We’re continuing to work with the people of Puerto Rico and do the best we can to provide federal assistance, particularly working with the governor there in Puerto Rico, and we’ll continue to do so. Peter?

HUNTER WALKER: Any concern about the massive volume of the death toll there?

AMY GOODMAN: So, there are the reporters asking about the volume of the death toll, and the White House spokesperson saying, “Doing the best we can.” Elizabeth Yeampierre?

ELIZABETH YEAMPIERRE: Well, what we understand is that FEMA is evacuating people instead of rebuilding. We know that even before the hurricane, that lots of people were being pushed out of Puerto Rico, so many of them moving to Central Florida. We estimate that by 2020, I think something like 600,000 Puerto Ricans will have been pushed out of the island. We know that here, in New York City, those people who are in temporary shelters are also faced with eviction. They’re living under the worst kind of circumstances. They get frisked when they get into their homes. They have to show their ID as if they were in some form of incarceration.

And I think that one of the things that concerns us the most is that this effort of evacuating the island is really an opportunity to really privatize the entire island. And so, if there are no people there, it really makes it easier for the United States to support corporate interests. One of the things that I’ve been concerned about is what happens, for example, with those 23 Superfunds that exist in Puerto Rico and a lot of the toxic exposure that people are being exposed to. None of that is being addressed by the U.S. government. Those are U.S. corporate interests, and those are sites that are managed by U.S. corporations. And that’s another source of death for people in Puerto Rico. So, it’s really disappointing.

But I also think that there’s not a lot that is being expected of the U.S. government in this situation. We saw what happened in New Orleans, and we saw how people were treated in New Orleans. And people in Puerto Rico have not fared better than that.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break. When we come back, we’re going to take a little of the trip with you that Naomi Klein and Elizabeth Yeampierre went on in Puerto Rico, when they followed you, Katia, and others. We’re talking to Naomi Klein. This is the day the book The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes on the Disaster Capitalists is released, with the big event tonight at Cooper Union. Elizabeth Yeampierre is with us. She is co-chair of Climate Justice [Alliance], among other groups. And Katia Avilés is with us. Katia Avilés is a well-known Puerto Rican environmentalist working in agriculture with the group Boricuá Ecological Agriculture. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: “Resilience,” a new song by the Puerto Rican artist Taina Asili.” This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Juan?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yea, I wanted to follow up. Elizabeth, before the break, you were talking about the federal response. And one of the things that folks have not gotten much—paid much attention to is that the—Trump’s Federal Communications Commission recently decided that they were going to sharply reduce the Lifeline project, which most people are not aware of, but the Lifeline project is a project that provides cellphone and broadband services to low-income Americans. And there are 500,000 people in Puerto Rico who receive that Lifeline. It’s a government subsidy for communications. Now, we all talk about the communications catastrophe that occurred in Puerto Rico, but 369,000 people in Puerto Rico are going to lose—there’s 500,000 in Puerto Rico who receive this service; 369,000 are going to be cut off as a result of this decision. And they’re not going to have access to even government-subsidized communications in an emergency situation like this. Another example of how, in very—in many different ways, the federal government is failing the people of Puerto Rico.

ELIZABETH YEAMPIERRE: You know, what’s really interesting is that we’re living in the age of climate change. And everyone who is talking about climate adaptation, resiliency, building social cohesion, one of the central things to making it possible for people to survive recurrent extreme weather events is a good communications system. And so, we just finished hearing about a report where people lost their lives because they had no access to communication. They couldn’t get access to healthcare. They couldn’t get access to—you know, if they had diabetes and they needed medical care.

And so, by doing that, by dismantling that and by diminishing that, it really increases the chances that more people are going to die. It increases vulnerability. It destroys social cohesion. And it really is an attack on the survivability of the Puerto Rican people. And I think people think of communications, and they don’t see the relationship between the ability for people to have access to all of their needs, through that system, and their survival. And there really is a direct relationship. And that’s just one of the many things that is happening in Puerto Rico to really make it impossible for people to make it through.

The post Naomi Klein: 4,645 Deaths in Puerto Rico From Hurricane Maria Were “State-Sponsored Mass Killing” appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

New Banking Deregulation Could Lead to More Lending Discrimination

Wed, 06/06/2018 - 15:02
Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. We’re now more than a year into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators and educators not only about how to resist but also about how to build a better world. Today’s interview is the 125th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

Today we bring you a conversation with Alexis Goldstein, a senior policy analyst at Americans for Financial Reform, which is a coalition of about 200 organizations that fight for a safer and a fair economy. Goldstein discusses recent bipartisan bank deregulations, what defanging the Volcker Rule would mean, and why the US hasn’t moved on from the 2008 global financial crisis.

Sarah Jaffe: I wanted to start off by having you give us an overall picture of what the Trump administration, with the help of Congress and various other allies, has done in terms of bank deregulation.

Alexis Goldstein: It is basically déjà vu all over again, is the short answer. It is like it is the 1990s and it is full speed ahead on ripping up all of the rules that we put in place after the last financial crisis.

There are a few different things that are going on. One thing that is happening is in the consumer space. One of the best things that came out of the last crisis was the creation of this consumer bureau that was the brainchild of Elizabeth Warren, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It was one of the few places that was actually looking out for the little guy….

The other thing that they did is they sued companies and tried to get back money that financial companies had stolen from people. They got back billions of dollars to millions of Americans. Trump installed this guy, Mick Mulvaney, who is this Tea Party guy who was already at the Office of Management and Budget, so this is his other job. He is basically like Scott Pruitt at the EPA, a long-time foe of the bureau, running the bureau and dismantling it from within.

When you complain, there is this database you can look at. So, if you have a company that is really giving you the run-around, you can look into the database and see if other people have had the same problem. Mulvaney wants to take the complaints offline so you can’t read them anymore. There were a bunch of lawsuits that the Bureau was pursuing against payday lenders that were totally scamming people and charging them like 300 percent interest. He dropped some of those lawsuits. He totally eliminated the office [that looked out] for students [at the Bureau of] Consumer Protection, which was one of the best — in my opinion — offices looking out for student loan borrowers. That is the consumer space.

Then, if you look into the more bank-y, more systemic risk, more crisis kind of stuff, we are also seeing rollbacks there. We are seeing proposals to undo Dodd-Frank. Then, the third piece is partially Trump, partially GOP, but also, there are Democrats to blame. There were these really big pieces of legislation … recently signed into law that kind of make a future bailout more likely. It is sort of like Congress is doing bad things, and then Trump is doing bad things in both the consumer space and the financial systemic risk space. It is all the bad things.

The thing that tipped me off to have this particular conversation this week was that the Volcker Rule … is one of the things that is up on the chopping block. Can you tell our listeners what the Volcker Rule is, first of all, and then, what they are trying to do to it now?

The Volcker Rule was part of Dodd-Frank, which is the 2010 law put together after the financial crisis. The Volcker Rule basically said, “If you are a bank that enjoys taxpayer backing, you cannot do risky, reckless gambling….” And, of course, no bank really exists without government support. Banks are basically this intermediary between the government and us, that they basically give money to through this thing called the “discount window.” It is a pretty good racket. It is nice work if you can get it.

The Volcker Rule not only just said, “You can’t do this risky gambling,” it also defined what that meant. Not only could you not do what is called proprietary trading and just gamble on random securities, you also couldn’t take a huge investment in a hedge fund. You couldn’t take a huge investment in … private equity fund[s], which are really risky and have a tendency to blow up. The rule isn’t perfect. I, and a bunch of other people in this group called Occupy the SEC, wrote a really long wonky comment letter to try to make it better. It got marginally better in some ways and marginally worse in other ways. But it was a decent rule.

Now, they are basically proposing a total redo. I would say the biggest thing they are trying to do is just exempt a bunch of institutions from it altogether if they are not “big” enough. In my opinion, if you enjoy taxpayer backing, it doesn’t really matter how big or how small you are. If you don’t want the taxpayer support, then just don’t take it. But, of course, nobody does that. They are trying to not only exempt a bunch of smaller firms, they are also trying to get rid of a bunch of the reporting. Long story short, just essentially defang it.

But the good news … this is a great pivot point to do what we did in the health care battle, which is, yes, to fight back, but to ask for what we really want. I would urge people to push their members of Congress to sign onto Elizabeth Warren’s modernized Glass-Steagall, which is going back to the true separation of the casino banking and the boring banking and actually forcing firms to break themselves up.

That is a really good point: that we have a lot of policies like this under Obama, that were a little piece of what we want and then, a lot of compromises with right-wing policy ideas that the right was never going to want to go along with anyway.

It is like, you compromise with yourself and when you sort of pre-compromise, it never gets better from there. You are never like, “Oh, we did it wrong. Let’s make it stronger now.” It just sort of gets weaker over time. So, if you don’t start with the big bold idea, when it gets chipped away it just sort of dissolves into nothing.

I want to backtrack a little bit, because on the campaign trail, Donald Trump loved to play fake populist and to accuse everybody from Ted Cruz to Hillary Clinton [of] being in the pockets of Wall Street. I want to unpack that a little bit, but also, is there a space to use these various rollbacks that he is either directly or indirectly involved in, to play off some of his audience who maybe believed that against what he is actually doing?

We are certainly trying to do that at the organization that I work for. I think the problem is his core base just likes him as a person and I think that many of his voters, they are sort of animated by forces like racial resentment. Certainly, we are trying to call out the hypocrisy and we have pointed out many times that he said that hedge funds or private equity funds were getting away with murder and then he gave them a big present in the tax bill and a bunch of other places.

That brings us to the people that say they care about these things, but then vote for deregulating the banks….

There were 16 Democrats in the Senate and then Sen. Angus King, the Independent from Maine. Which is pretty surprising. He is usually better on these issues. Then, in the House, I think it was 33 Democrats who voted for this. Which is still high, but believe it or not, is actually a lower percentage than the percentage in the Senate. So, in a way, even though the number is higher, the House Democrats were more progressive on this bad bill than the Senate Democrats.

The Senate Democrats really pushed this. I mean, Mark Warner of Virginia — this is something that he said openly in interviews, “We have been pushing this for long since before Trump came into office. This has nothing to do with Trump.” And this was the kind of thing that would not have been able to pass in the Senate without Democratic support, unlike the House where they could have passed it regardless.

There were a bunch of rules for banks with over $50 billion in assets. Those are enormous banks. Just a higher level of scrutiny, a higher level of monitoring. This bill raises that extra monitoring from banks over $50 billion to banks over $250 billion. The banks in that sort of intermediate spot between $50 billion and $250 billion…. First of all, $249 billion is still a quarter of a trillion dollars. That is still an enormous amount of money. These are banks like Capital One and BB&T.

If people remember the name Countrywide, that was a huge, huge player in the crisis. They were responsible for tons of subprime mortgages. They originated one out of five of every mortgage in the country and they were around $100 billion. Now, they don’t exist anymore because Bank of America bought them up, but the point is, banks of that size have been significant in crashes in the past and, presumably, will be significant in crashes in the future. And this really stodgy government agency, the Government Accountability Office, was asked to evaluate the risk that this bill presented, and did it present the larger risk of a future bailout, and their answer was, “Yes.”

The other thing that the bill did that is really offensive is that, after Dodd-Frank, they increased the amount of data that banks needed to report through something called the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. Basically, that data is used to catch racial discrimination in lending … discrimination in lending, period. They were already publishing some data, but they weren’t giving, for example, credit scores. Sometimes you will see things where a Black American will have the same credit scores as a white American and the same income, but they will get the bad mortgage and the white American will get the good one. We need that information to catch that.

Part of this bill also exempts basically four out of five banks in the country from doing that extra reporting. It is basically giving a green light to more discrimination in lending, or at least making it really hard to catch it when it happens….

They argued that these were community banks, that this wasn’t just a giveaway to Wall Street.

They absolutely did…. The other thing is, some of this stuff also impacted foreign banks that are definitely not community banks. There were little gimmes to Deutsche Bank and UBS, too, in this because Deutsche Bank and UBS are obviously bigger than $250 billion, but their US branch isn’t. So, UBS and Deutsche Bank also get to benefit, at least on the US side from this bill. It is just nonsense.

In my opinion, a lot of folks just wanted to do a bipartisan thing. And they felt like this was the bipartisan thing that they wanted to do. And you know, it has the benefit of more campaign contributions and all that, but I could never find a coherent argument for why this legislation…. Even if I disagreed with it, which I did, no one really articulated one. Everything they said was just not true. “Oh, it is for community banks.” That is not true. “Oh, small banks are getting squeezed.” Also, not true.

And again, I cannot imagine that the sort of mythical Trump voter in West Virginia or Arizona or wherever is chomping at the bit to give $50 billion institutions more leeway to do whatever they want. I just can’t imagine this is a popular issue.

No, it is not. My organization had a poll done about this and you are right. They are not. The polling on this was bad regardless of political party…. I think what they were banking on is we are in this media environment when there is just so much trash on fire all the time, that they were like, “Maybe people won’t notice.” But we did see a lot of op-eds in local papers in red states about this, and I do think that people, to the extent that they heard about it, were not happy. I don’t think it was strategic, but … I don’t know. They seem to think it was.

We haven’t moved on from 2008…. Every political issue that is alive — not only in the US, but across the world — is clearly in the shadow of 2008. It is striking to me sometimes how little politicians still seem to get that.

That is always the problem, because they are wealthy, for the most part. If I put aside my day job hat for a second and just speak in a personal capacity, most of these politicians are incredibly wealthy and so they are just totally out of touch and they don’t know. There was a hearing, I remember, either before the financial crisis or right after, and I unfortunately can’t remember who asked this question, but someone was like, “How many of you know anyone who has been foreclosed on [or] been foreclosed on yourselves?” and none of the politicians were able to raise their hand because they just live in this bubble….

How can people keep up with your work and keep up with what is going on with Deregulate-A-Palooza so that they can respond to these things when they are happening?

My day job, I work at Americans for Financial Reform. Our website is and at the top right there is a button “Join Our Mailing List.” We send out alerts pretty much every week, either with a request to email your senator or your house member or to call them, but usually it is email. We pre-write the email for you and everything and it is really easy. That is a great way if you do want to keep up with every bill and every piece of deregulation. We will definitely be sure to do that. You can also follow me on Twitter. I am @alexisgoldstein and I talk about this on my podcast Humorless Queers, too, but we try to be like, “And here is how you can stop this,” or “Here is where you can complain about this.” “Humorless” is meant to be a joke. We do try to make it funny.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

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

The post New Banking Deregulation Could Lead to More Lending Discrimination appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Things Trump Can Do, Technically

Wed, 06/06/2018 - 14:49

The post Things Trump Can Do, Technically appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News