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Bush Sr.’s Ignored Legacy: War Crimes, Racism, Obstruction of Justice

Mon, 12/03/2018 - 17:15

George H.W. Bush died in Houston on Friday night at the age of 94. Bush was elected the 41st president of the United States in 1988, becoming the first and only former CIA director to lead the country. He served as Ronald Reagan’s vice president from 1981 to 1989. Since Bush’s death, the media has honored the former president by focusing on his years of service and his call as president for a kinder, gentler America. But the headlines have largely glossed over and ignored other parts of Bush’s legacy. We look at the 1991 Gulf War, Bush’s pardoning of six Reagan officials involved in the Iran-Contra scandal and how a racist election ad helped him become president. We speak with Intercept columnist Mehdi Hasan. His latest piece is titled “The Ignored Legacy of George H.W. Bush: War Crimes, Racism, and Obstruction of Justice.”

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to look at the life and legacy of George H.W. Bush, the nation’s 41st president, the father of the 43rd president. President Bush died in Houston on Friday night at the age of 94. His body will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda from tonight until Wednesday. He’ll be buried later this week in Houston. There will be two memorial services: one at the National Cathedral on Wednesday and then one in Houston. Bush was elected president in 1988, becoming the first and only former CIA director to lead the country. From 1981 to 1989, he served as Ronald Reagan’s vice president.

Over the weekend, the media honored Bush and his legacy, focusing on Bush’s years of service, from his time in the Navy during World War II to his call as president for a kinder, gentler America. But the focus of the media’s coverage has largely glossed over, or even ignored, other parts of Bush’s legacy, from his expansion of the racist so-called war on drugs to his reluctance to tackle climate change, famously saying, quote, “The American way of life is not up for negotiation,” unquote. It was also George H.W. Bush who nominated and continued supporting future Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas even after Thomas was accused of sexual harassment by Anita Hill. Internationally, the ramifications of Bush’s foreign policy in the Middle East are still being felt. In 1991, Bush launched the Gulf War in Iraq.

PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Our objectives are clear: Saddam Hussein’s forces will leave Kuwait, will be restored to its rightful place, and Kuwait will once again the free. Iraq will eventually comply with all relevant United Nations resolutions. And then, when peace is restored, it is our hope that Iraq will live as a peaceful and cooperative member of the family of nations, thus enhancing the security and stability of the Gulf. Some may ask, “Why act now? Why not wait?” The answer is clear: The world could wait no longer.

AMY GOODMAN: Over the next 42 days, US forces devastated the Iraqi civilian infrastructure and killed an unknown number of Iraqi civilians. On February 13, 1991, the US bombed an air-raid shelter in the Amiriyah neighborhood of Baghdad. Four hundred eight civilians were killed. Some Iraqi relatives of the dead later sued Bush and his defense secretary, Dick Cheney, for war crimes. While the Gulf War technically ended in February of 1991, the US war on Iraq would continue for decades, first in the form of devastating sanctions, then in the 2003 invasion launched by George H.W. Bush’s son, President George W. Bush, the 43rd president. Thousands of US troops and contractors remain in Iraq today.

President Bush’s invasion of Iraq came just over a year after he sent tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of aircraft into Panama to execute an arrest warrant against its leader, Manuel Noriega, on charges of drug trafficking. General Noriega was once a close ally to Washington and on the CIA payroll. During the attack, the US unleashed a force of 24,000 troops equipped with highly sophisticated weaponry and aircraft against a country with an army smaller than the New York City Police Department. An estimated 3,000 Panamanians died in the attack. Last month, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called on Washington to pay reparations to Panama over what was widely seen as an illegal invasion.

In one of his last acts in office, President George H.W. Bush granted pardons to six former Reagan officials who were involved in the Iran-Contra scandal, when the Reagan administration secretly sold arms to Iran to help raise money for the Nicaraguan Contras despite a congressional ban on providing aid to the Contras in Nicaragua. Bush was never held liable for his role in the scandal. The ex-CIA director claimed he was, quote, “out of the loop,” even though other participants and a paper trail suggested otherwise.

Bush’s time in office coincided with the collapse of the Soviet Union. He termed the post-Soviet era the New World Order and was a key architect of neoliberal globalization, setting the stage for, among other things, NAFTA and the WTO.

To talk more about the legacy of George H.W. Bush, we’re joined by Mehdi Hasan. He’s a columnist for The Intercept, host of their Deconstructed podcast. He’s also host of UpFront at Al Jazeera English. His most recent piece for The Intercept, “The Ignored Legacy of George H.W. Bush: War Crimes, Racism, and Obstruction of Justice.”

Mehdi, we want to thank you for being with us. Of course, when someone dies, people — and certainly in the media, when it comes to a US leader — they focus on what they feel was the important praiseworthy accomplishments of a person. And it’s the instinct of all not to speak ill of the dead. But, Mehdi Hasan, if you can talk about the significance of the presidency of George H.W. Bush?

MEHDI HASAN: I mean, huge significance, Amy. And you’re right. You know, not speaking ill of the dead is true, and it’s a basic — you know, basic courtesy and decency. But this is not about speaking ill of the dead. This is about evaluating the record of a president of the United States, the 41st president of the United States, and one of the most important human beings of the 20th century, technically.

And, yes, a lot happened on his, you know, 4-year watch. You mentioned a great deal of it in your introduction there. And I think the problem is — I find it astonishing, as a Briton living in Washington, DC, watching cable news on Saturday and seeing this hagiography masquerading as journalism, just talking about what a great guy he was, what a great president he was, what a civil and decent human being he was, ending the Cold War, and many achievements. You know, he stood up to the NRA. He stood up to AIPAC. He did do some good things. But the idea that you only focus on the positive and you ignore the negatives, especially when the negatives involve the loss of huge amounts of human life — in Iraq, for example, in Panama — I think, is absurd. It’s a dereliction of journalistic duty for a president to die and journalists to act as if they’re cheerleaders and put, you know, their own, whatever, patriotism or nationalism ahead of their duty to really give a full set of facts to the viewers, you know, a first draft of history, Amy.

A president is dead. We should look back on George Bush Sr. and say, “Hold on.” You know, this is a president who is being described now as the anti-Trump, right? And yet he did some things which were similar to Trump. You mentioned in your intro the pardoning of the Iran-Contra perpetrators. He pardoned Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger on the eve of his trial. And the independent special counsel at that time — the independent special counsel at that time said this was misconduct. He said this was helping cover up the crimes. And today we get all worked up when Trump says, “Oh, I might pardon Paul Manafort.” I think we should hold him to the same account we hold other people. The fact that, you know, he was nicer than Trump or less aggressive than his son doesn’t change the fact that he has a lot to answer for.

AMY GOODMAN: Mehdi Hasan, and then we’re going to come back and look at his record, from the Iraq War to the so-called war on drugs, the Willie Horton ad that became so famous, that one of his top aides, Lee Atwater, who really devised the scheme, apologized for on his deathbed. Mehdi Hasan is a columnist for The Intercept. We’ll be back with him in a moment.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Rockin’ in the Free World,” Neil Young. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Mehdi Hasan is our guest, a columnist for The Intercept, host of the Deconstructed podcast, also is host of UpFront for Al Jazeera English. You mentioned the Iran-Contra scandal. If you can explain what the Iran-Contra scandal was?

MEHDI HASAN: Yeah. So, in the 1980s, there was congressional ban on the United States government supporting the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, which were trying to bring down a communist government in South America. And you had this issue where the Reagan administration decided to sell weapons to Iran, which was supposedly an enemy country at that time, fighting Iraq, and use the proceeds from that money to fund the Contras, in violation of a congressional ban.

There was a massive investigation. It was a huge scandal — think Russiagate times 10 — at the time, in the 1980s. Reagan obviously left office without being punished for it. There was a special counsel, Bob Mueller-style, which was tasked to look into this: Lawrence Walsh, a former deputy attorney general under Eisenhower, I think it was. And when he tried to look into this, he found resistance from Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush. We’re now being told what an honest and transparent man he was; he followed the rule of law, unlike Donald Trump today. And yet, at the time, he refused to hand over his diary. He refused to cooperate with the special counsel. He refused to give an interview. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it, Amy? And then he pardoned the six top perpetrators — Elliott Abrams, the neocon; Caspar Weinberger, Reagan’s defense secretary.

And the special counsel report, which is online — you can go and look at it now — very, very clearly says that Bush helped perpetrate the cover-up. Bush did not cooperate. And he says, I think, it’s the first time a president pardoned someone on the eve of a trial that the president would have had to testify in. That’s what Bush Sr. did. So when we’re told today, “Oh, look at the difference between George Bush Sr. and Donald Trump,” well, when it comes to obstruction of justice, when it comes to cover-ups, actually they were more similar than some of the media and some of the journalists would have you believe.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s turn to the Gulf War. In January of 1991, George H.W. Bush addressed the nation on the invasion of Iraq.

PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH: As I report to you, air attacks are underway against military targets in Iraq. We are determined to knock out Saddam Hussein’s nuclear bomb potential. … Some may ask, “Why act now? Why not wait?” The answer is clear: The world could wait no longer.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s President George H.W. Bush in January of 1991. Of course, flags were at half-mast in Washington this weekend, as they were in Kuwait. Mehdi Hasan, you remind us of a very important part of the story, the lead-up to what took place and how it was the US responded the way they did to Iraq and Kuwait.

MEHDI HASAN: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell that story.

MEHDI HASAN: So, you heard the statement from George Bush Sr. Look, let’s be very clear. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait illegally, in violation of international law. It was a brutal occupation of Kuwait. No one is denying any of that. But what Bush Sr. told the country was that this came without any warning, without any provocation, when in actual fact his own ambassador at that time in Iraq, the US ambassador, April Glaspie, had told Saddam, just weeks before the invasion, that we in America have no opinion on your border dispute with Kuwait. It was interpreted as a green light. Historians — many historians have suggested that was a green light to Saddam from the Bush administration to invade. After Saddam invaded, we were also told by Bush Sr. that America had to go in to protect Saudi Arabia, because that was coming next. Saddam was about to invade Saudi, as well. There were Iraqi troops massing on the border. In fact, one reporter — I think her name is Jean Heller, if I remember correctly — went and bought some private commercial satellite data and found there were no Iraqi troops massing on the border to invade Saudi Arabia. It was another lie, like his son told in the run-up to the 2003 invasion. So, it was a war built on half-truths, evasions, lies. No one is denying Saddam invaded. But what George Bush told the nation was not the full truth.

And even after he went to war, as you mentioned in your introduction, how many civilians were killed? The United States government bombed an air-raid shelter in Baghdad, the Amiriyah shelter, killed more than 400 civilians. Human Rights Watch called it a serious violation of the laws of war, because the US knew — the US had been told beforehand — the US intel knew that that was a place where civilians were congregating. They didn’t just bomb an air-raid shelter, Amy. They bombed power stations, electricity-generating facilities, food-processing plants, flour mills — the civilian infrastructure of Iraq. And this was not collateral damage. Planners from the United States government told The Washington Post, told Barton Gellman, in 1991, that they were doing this on purpose so that they would have leverage with a postwar Iraq which would be forced to supplicate in the international arena for foreign assistance. And we know what happened next, with the sanctions, with the devastation that came in the ’90s and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi kids who died. That all started on George Bush Sr.’s watch.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to go back to the election of George H.W. Bush.

MEHDI HASAN: Oh, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: During his 1988 presidential bid, his campaign released a now-notorious television ad called “Weekend Passes.”

NATIONAL SECURITY PAC AD: Bush and Dukakis on crime. Bush supports the death penalty for first-degree murderers. Dukakis not only opposes the death penalty, he allowed first-degree murderers to have weekend passes from prison. One was Willie Horton, who murdered a boy in a robbery, stabbing him 19 times. Despite a life sentence, Horton received 10 weekend passes from prison. Horton fled, kidnapped a young couple, stabbing the man and repeatedly raping his girlfriend. Weekend prison passes: Dukakis on crime.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the ad that Lee Atwater — Roger Ailes and Lee Atwater, top aides to George Bush at the time —

MEHDI HASAN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: — would apologize for on his deathbed. Explain how significant this was.

MEHDI HASAN: Hugely significant, Amy. And even today, in media journalism classes across the country, that ad is taught, that ad is studied. Until Donald Trump came along, until the migrant caravan ad came along, it was considered to be the most racist ad in modern American political history. It was the 1988 election, and George Bush Sr. and his team decided that they were going to tie Michael Dukakis, the Massachusetts liberal, to this black rapist who had been released on a weekend furlough program. I think Atwater — there’s a quote from Atwater where he said, “We’re going to talk about Willie Horton so much that people are going to think he’s Michael Dukakis’s running mate.” And this was — Bush Sr. approved of this campaign ad. Bush Sr. talked about Willie Horton in press conferences.

And he never apologized. He never — you know, Atwater, on his deathbed, apologized. Bush Sr. never apologized. Roger Stone, Amy, one of the most vile political operatives of our time, close adviser to Donald Trump, former adviser to Richard Nixon, he went up to Atwater and the Bush campaign and said, “You will regret this, because this is a clearly racist ad.” When Roger Stone is telling you that you’re too racist, you know you’ve gone too far. And yet, on Saturday, on Sunday, I heard former Bush aides and advisers going on cable news saying, “He was a thoroughly decent man. He believed in civility. He didn’t believe in rancor. He wanted, you know, to unify Americans.” And I have two words in response to that: “Willie Horton.”

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, as you quote, Lee Atwater bragged at the time, “By the time we’re finished, they’re going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis’s running mate.”

MEHDI HASAN: Exactly.

AMY GOODMAN: And he was talking about a policy that was actually a law in a number of states —

MEHDI HASAN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: — including California.

MEHDI HASAN: Yes, indeed. I think Reagan had signed off on a similar thing, if I’m not correct. But, you know, it was a deliberate attempt to stoke racial division, to scare white voters into thinking that Michael Dukakis was going to release a bunch of black murderers and rapists who were going to come and kill and rape them. It was vicious. And even recently, Amy, what’s so ironic is the same cable news hosts who have been kind of, you know, praising George Bush Sr. to the hilt since Saturday morning, a few weeks ago they were all referring to Willie Horton when they were condemning Donald Trump’s migrant caravan ad, you know, the ad that came out during the midterms about the Democrats let in this murderer, cop killer. We were all reminded of Willie Horton back then, but it seems like we won’t make the logical collection which says that Willie Horton, that ad, came from the Bush Sr. campaign, this guy who was supposed to be a throwback to an era of civility and decency, yet he had no problem running this racist election campaign. Nor did he have a problem escalating a racist drug war.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about that drug war and what George H.W. Bush did, especially around the issue of crack.

MEHDI HASAN: Yeah. So, he sat in the White House, in the Oval Office, in 1989, and he held up a bag of crack cocaine, which he said, famously, “Well, this was found just outside the White House, in a park across from the White House. That’s how bad the drug problem is.” It was a great dramatic visual prop. And yet, we discovered, thanks to reporting from The Washington Post, that that drug dealer, the drug seller, had been arrested by federal agents, yes, in Lafayette Square, but he had been “lured” there, to quote The Washington Post, by those federal agents. He was told to come and sell his — by an undercover operative. And he’s even heard on tape, I believe, saying, “Well, where is the White House? What’s the address? I have no idea how to get there.”

This was — I mean, this is pure cynicism, Amy, to use this prop in this fake stunt basically to mislead the nation, from this supposedly honest Republican president, which then led to a $1.5 billion increase in spending, which is what Bush Sr. called for. He called for more prosecutors, more jails, more prison, more courts. And we know how that story ends, Amy: mass incarceration, the imprisonment, disproportionately, of young black men, lives lost, thousands of innocent lives lost in the so-called drug war both at home and abroad. And today you have people like Rand Paul, a Republican senator, who will admit, Republican senators who will admit — Chris Christie — will say this was a failed and racist drug war.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Mehdi Hasan, I want to thank you for being with us, columnist for The Intercept, host of the Deconstructed podcast. Most recent piece for The Intercept, we’ll link to, “The Ignored Legacy of George H.W. Bush: War Crimes, Racism, and Obstruction of Justice.” Tomorrow we’ll look at what happened in Panama, George H.W. Bush’s invasion of Panama, and the thousands of people who died there, as this week we continue to honor the dead.

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Categories: News

Bush Sr. Ignored the AIDS Crisis and Detained HIV+ Haitians

Mon, 12/03/2018 - 17:14

George H.W. Bush died on the eve of World AIDS Day, an irony not lost on many HIV/AIDS activists who remember the 41st president of the United States for his lack of action in the 1990s as the HIV/AIDS crisis raged on. Bush said little about the crisis during his years as vice president under Ronald Reagan, who didn’t even mention AIDS until the penultimate year of his presidency. Despite promises to do more after he was elected president, George H.W. Bush refused to address and fund programs around HIV/AIDS education and prevention, as well as drug treatment. We speak with Steven Thrasher, journalist and doctoral candidate in American studies at New York University. He was recently appointed Daniel H. Renberg chair of media coverage in sexual and gender minorities at Northwestern University. His recent article for The Nation is titled “It’s a Disgrace to Celebrate George H.W. Bush on World AIDS Day.”

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, looking at now the legacy of George H.W. Bush by taking a closer look at the former president’s record on HIV and AIDS. Bush died the day of World AIDS Day, right in the evening, an irony not lost on many HIV/AIDS activists who remember Bush Sr. for his lack of action in the 1990s as the HIV/AIDS crisis raged on. Bush said little about the crisis during his vice presidency under Ronald Reagan, who didn’t even mention AIDS for over six-and-a-half years of his presidency. Despite promises to do more after he was elected president, George H.W. Bush refused to address and fund programs around HIV/AIDS education and prevention, as well as drug treatment.

For more, we’re joined by Steven Thrasher, journalist, doctoral candidate in American studies at New York University, recently appointed the Daniel H. Renberg chair of media coverage in sexual and gender minorities at Northwestern University. He’ll begin next year. His recent piece in The Nation is headlined “It’s a Disgrace to Celebrate George H.W. Bush on World AIDS Day.” Why?

STEVEN THRASHER: Because, as you said, Amy, it’s ironic that Bush died on this evening. I had been at — I had been at events here in New York City honoring the dead. And George H.W. Bush was a very focal point of activism of gay activists while he was in office. By the time he left office, about 100,000 people had died of AIDShere in the United States, about more than a million had died globally. And he wasn’t some bystander at any point. He was vice president of the United States throughout the Reagan administration when the Reagan administration was not taking active steps. And as president, he had — he was spending money on the wrong things. He was spending money to invade Iraq, to continue militarism and many of the things that exacerbate HIV and AIDS when you’re not putting the right resources into them.

I think it’s good to really remember a couple things about this legacy — one, that one of the most salient actions against the inaction of the United States around HIV/AIDS was President — was when AIDS activists went to the White House in the ashes action, and they took the —

AMY GOODMAN: When was this?

STEVEN THRASHER: This was October 11th, 1991, I believe. And thousands of people marched to the White House, and they actually took the remains of their dead loved ones, and they threw them onto the White House lawn. And if you haven’t seen it, it brings tears to your eyes to see this. And it wasn’t the only time that ACTUP activists approached President Bush, H.W. Bush, so dramatically. They did so at his home. And even on the night where he lost re-election, they took the body of one of their comrades, who had said he wanted to have a funeral of fury and anger — they took his body to Bush’s re-election headquarters. And that was because President H.W. Bush was not doing enough for HIV and AIDS. He was telling people that it was a matter of personal responsibility.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to a clip of that night. This is David Robinson on the night of the election.

DAVID ROBINSON: Last April, my lover, Warren — last April, my lover Warren died, and I was going to send his ashes to George Bush with a protest letter. And I talked with friends from New York who — I felt like that was going to be real private, you know, like no one would know about it. And they suggested bringing it to floor of ACT UP. They said they would personally support it. So they said, you know, “When you’re in New York, why don’t you bring it to the group?” So I presented it as a next step in the activism. I mean, lots of people have been talking about, if they die, having their bodies used in a political funeral. I think the quilt itself does good stuff and is moving. Still, it’s like making something beautiful out of the epidemic. And I felt like doing something like this is a way of showing there’s nothing beautiful about it. You know, this is what I’m left with. I’ve got a box full of ashes and bone chips. You know, there’s no beauty in that. And I felt like a statement like this, throwing these on the White House lawn…

ACT UP ACTIVISTS: Bringing the dead to your door, we won’t take it anymore! Bringing the dead to your door, we won’t take it anymore!

AMY GOODMAN: So, this was the moment in October of 1991, the ashes action, where the man you were just listening to, David Robinson, and many others threw the ashes of their loved ones who died onto the Bush lawn, the White House lawn. It was — I think it might have been 1992, actually, this action.

STEVEN THRASHER: So, yeah. So, this is a direct confrontation of how there just wasn’t enough action from the Bush administration. And he was telling gay people this is a matter of personal responsibility, sort of putting the responsibility back on them, on us. But in actuality, what caused the AIDS crisis and what made it continue to spiral out of control was inaction from the government. It was not enough funding and research in the beginning of the years. It was the stigma and the shame around gay sexuality that the Bush administration perpetuated. It was doing very harmful things that sort of tied together both militarism and a lack of access to healthcare.

For instance, President H.W. Bush, he was president when refugees from Haiti were trying to flee the coup in 1991, and the Bush administration didn’t want them to be able to claim asylum in the United States — something that we are familiar with again still now — and so they said, “Where can we put these people that’s sort of not in violation of international law and doesn’t let them into the country and that we have control over?” And they put them at Guantánamo Bay. And so they created an enormous refugee camp on Guantánamo Bay. They did a mass test of HIV of all the people there. They segregated 270 people, I believe, who were HIV-positive, and then they forcibly sterilized the women who were HIV-positive, without their knowledge. And that was not only a disaster for both the way that people with HIV and AIDSwere treated, it also created the legal architecture for the Guantánamo prison base after 9/11, a decade later.

AMY GOODMAN: In the end of your piece, you say, “Sadly, gay journalists have been among the worst to immediately whitewash this part of Bush’s legacy. Frank Bruni published a gushing New York Times column on World AIDS Day,” you write, “without mentioning the words ‘gay,’ ‘homosexual,’ AIDS, or HIV. Meanwhile, over at the gay magazine the Advocate, Neal Broverman headlined his insipid revisionism ‘George H.W. Bush, No Ally But No Enemy of LGBTQ People, Dead at 94.’”

STEVEN THRASHER: Yeah, it was something that when we started to see the hagiography, that really bothered me, the official Times obit also, written by Adam Nagourney, another out-gay journalist, and none of them are mentioning HIV or AIDS, or barely, if at all, mentioning anything about gay people. And it’s really quite disturbing, because when George H.W. Bush was president, AIDS was something that affected potentially all gay people. After drugs became available during the Clinton administration, a lot of white gay people got access to the drugs, and they stopped caring about AIDS. And it’s something that’s still very much a danger for us.

AMY GOODMAN: Steven Thrasher, we thank you for being with us. We’ll link to your piece in The Nation.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back in 30 seconds, a special interview with Bernie Sanders. We talk about George H.W. Bush. We talk about Yemen and more. Stay with us.

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Categories: News

In the Face of Extinction, We Have a Moral Obligation

Mon, 12/03/2018 - 17:11

Researching and writing about the impacts of runaway climate change, as I’ve been doing now for too many years, I’ve watched several patterns recur.

One of these is evident in a recent warning from the UN. Biodiversity chief of the UN Cristiana Pașca Palmer warned that if governments around the globe don’t work to bring a halt to the loss of biodiversity and succeed in implementing a plan to do so within two years, humans could face our own extinction.

Palmer said, according to The Guardian, “People in all countries need to put pressure on their governments to draw up ambitious global targets by 2020 to protect the insects, birds, plants and mammals that are vital for global food production, clean water and carbon sequestration.”

People in all countries are already working to pressure their governments to do just that. Yet, with few possible exceptions, we know all too well how wedded most governments are to the current power structure and the economics that drive it to believe radical policy change like this will actually occur (without overthrowing said governments).

Then the pattern will repeat: After some time passes, and things are even worse, another dire warning or results of a study that serves as one is released, and again, nothing will change.

As cynical as this is, anyone paying attention over time can see this pattern.

Thus, we shall continue to watch these milestones as they pass by, then brace ourselves for what is to come.

Personally, I have instead surrendered and accepted the inevitability of our situation: that we will live the rest of our time, however long each of us might have left, on an irrevocably changed planet, while the Sixth Mass Extinction event continues apace. We will daily walk further into that frontier.

However, for me, this means that caring for the small piece of land where I live has never been more meaningful. Never have I felt as much gratitude for birdsong when I hear it, or for the scent of the Douglas fir near my home, or for the fresh air wafting down from the Olympic Mountains within whose shadow I live.

At the same time, never have I felt as morally obliged as I do today to live my life as close to my beliefs as possible. I’m obliged to work to serve and care for the planet with as much assiduity, tenacity and devotion as I am capable of. In fact, each time I read about the dire results of yet another human-caused climate/bio/geosphere disruption study, it is an opportunity to recommit to my beliefs.

At least for today, this is how I do this work in a way that is personally sustainable. Tomorrow, assuming I am still here, I might need a completely different approach.

If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to consider what your approach could be, as you take in each one of these reports below — each one a body blow humans have inflicted upon Earth.

To begin, a recently published study has shown that ocean acidification has already ignited a dangerous feedback loop that is literally dissolving the seafloor. Motherboard’s explanation of the study is worth quoting in full, as this is a critical feedback loop we all must be aware of:

Calcium carbonate, or calcite, lines the ocean floor. When calcite combines with carbon dioxide and water, the reaction produces calcium ions and bicarbonate ions. Because of this, the surrounding water becomes less acidic over long periods of time — think tens to thousands of years. But when you throw more carbon dioxide into the equation, all of the seafloor calcite starts to get used up to power these reactions in extremely large amounts, meaning that the ocean floor is dissolving. Now, there’s not enough calcite but more carbon dioxide than ever, driving up acidity levels.

Foundational species in the marine food chain, such as coral, are fine-tuned to thrive within a very particular range of pH levels. When those levels change for a long period of time, these species — as well as the fish, bacteria, mollusks, and ocean life that depends on them — simply can’t survive. The last time the oceans were as acidic as they are now, 96 percent of ocean life was extinct.

Another study published in mid-November revealed how the climate policies of China, Russia and Canada alone will, if left unchanged, bring Earth above catastrophic 5 degrees Celsius (5°C) warming in less than 85 years.

The recently released US National Climate Assessment stated unequivocally that human-caused climate change will inflict “substantial damages” to the “economy, environment, and human health over the coming decades.” In many ways it restates the obvious: Climate change is already harming the lives of people in the US via disastrous wildfires in the west, soil loss in the Midwest, coastal erosion in Alaska, and east coast flooding. As did the aforementioned study, a previous climate assessment chapter stated: “without major reductions, annual average global temperatures could increase by 9°F (5°C) or more by the end of this century.”

Earth

Climate change-driven changes across this realm are becoming more dramatic with each passing month.

A recently published study showed that, due to increasingly warmer temperatures, climate change has become an “escalator to extinction” for mountain birds. Warmer temperatures are wiping out bird species that were already living atop mountains for the cooler climate.

Another recent study showed that climate change is essentially functioning to sterilize male insects. This grave damage to male insect reproductive systems under increasingly powerful heat waves could already be contributing to declines in biodiversity around much of the world.

Habitat loss for wildlife, according to a recent UN conference, is a threat to all of our futures. Biodiversity experts in attendance warned that the mass extinction of the planet’s wildlife is now as big of a danger as climate change itself. The World Wildlife Fund recently published its annual Living Planet report, which showed how, since just 1970, humans have annihilated 60 percent of Earth’s mammals, birds, fish and reptiles.

A very important recently published article by Yale Environment 360 showed how Earth’s climate zones are literally shifting due to climate change. This is bringing about food and water scarcity, and resulting in mostly negative consequences for local economies and public health. Some of the highlights of the article: The tropics are expanding by 30 miles each decade, the Sahara Desert has gotten 10 percent larger since 1920, and the 100th meridian in the US — the line where the arid Western plains of North America meet the wetter eastern region — has shifted 140 miles to the east.

On that note, a government scientist in Canada is sounding the alarm about what is happening to forests in his country. Speaking to the fact that vast areas of Canadian forests are dying out, Canadian Forest Service research scientist Barry Cooke told the CBC, “We see these compelling images of trees dying over large areas and it’s fairly frightening.” The trees, which are dying off, are also a critical source of Canada’s biodiversity.

Meanwhile, a shocking new study showed that the Congo Basin rainforest, the second largest rainforest on Earth, may be gone by the end of this century, given current rates of deforestation. The study does not take into account climate change impacts like drought, wildfires and insect infestations that, of course, speed this up dramatically.

We are all acutely aware of the growing number of people from Central America heading toward the southern US border. But what is usually not reported by the corporate media is that a vast percentage of these migrants, particularly those from Guatemala, are migrating due to climate change impacts like drought and shifting weather patterns, which are making life ever more difficult for small-scale farmers there.

This fall, a major hurricane in Hawai’i literally erased a small island from the map. Along with that disappearance came the loss of a critical breeding ground for monk seals, turtles and birds.

In what is truly a sign of the times, increasing numbers of “last chance” tourists are flocking to sites before they vanish. A recent article about this “last-chance tourism” — the phenomenon of people wanting to see places that are already irrevocably changed by climate change, or that will likely soon go away entirely — is rather disturbing. Some of the places attracting these “last chance” tourists are the Florida Reef Tract and Glacier National Park in Montana.

To close this section on a slightly heartening note, it is good to see more and more books and articles that are addressing the need to grieve all of this mounting loss.

Water

The now-infamous Pacific Blob, a vast patch of warm water that caused massive die-offs of marine life a few years ago, was just the precursor to what could become a pattern. Another mass of warm water has formed off the coast of Canada’s British Columbia, where warmer than normal ocean water is already covering about a 2,000 sq. km. area.

Despite Oregon being in the normally rainy Pacific Northwest, record heat and low rainfall have caused a declaration of emergency in almost one-third of the counties of the state. Amazingly, 86 percent of the state is also in severe drought.

In a dramatic indication of the rapidly diminishing cryosphere, a large glacier in China that draws millions of tourists annually is melting away before our eyes. The Baishui glacier, at 15,000 feet, is part of a massive blanket of ice in Central Asia referred to as the “third pole,” given that it is the third largest store of ice on the planet, behind Greenland and the Antarctic. The area of ice, roughly the size of New Mexico and Texas combined, is vital as a water source for billions of people in Asia, and the 10 largest rivers in Asia rely heavily on its seasonal melting. In fact, it is one of the largest sources of freshwater on Earth, and it is in trouble. Scientists working in China found that, by 2015, 82 percent of the glaciers they surveyed in China had retreated. A study published this year showed that the Baishui had lost 60 percent of its mass and shrunk 820 feet since just 1982.

“China has always had a freshwater supply problem with 20 percent of the world’s population but only 7 percent of its freshwater,” Jonna Nyman, an energy security lecturer at the University of Sheffield, told Phys.org. “That’s heightened by the impact of climate change.”

Scientists have also warned of a coming water crisis due to the melting glaciers in China; they expect it to begin around 2060.

Meanwhile, sea ice and glaciers in other parts of the world are not faring any better.

The Arctic sea ice is now thin enough that Russia is softening its regulations for the kind of vessels it allows to operate within its Northern Sea Route for shipping across the Arctic.

In Canada’s Yukon Territory, glaciers are now retreating much faster than previously believed, and bringing dramatic changes across the region. “In their recent State of the Mountains report published earlier in the summer, the Canadian Alpine Club found that the Saint Elias mountains – which span British Columbia, the Yukon and Alaska – are losing ice faster than the rest of the country,” read a story in The Guardian about the melting glaciers. “Previous research found that between 1957 and 2007, the range lost 22 percent of its ice cover, enough to raise global sea levels by 1.1 millimetres.”

“When I first went to the St. Elias range, it felt like time travel – into the past,” David Hik, who co-edited the report, told The Guardian. “What we’re seeing now feels like time travel into the future. Because as the massive glaciers are retreating, they’re causing a complete reorganization of the environment.”

Then there are the ever-rising seas. Recently, three-fourths of Venice was flooded by an exceptionally high tide, which was augmented by strong winds. It was the worst flooding to inundate the city in a decade, and untold numbers of homes, commercial buildings and businesses flooded. We will, of course, see more of this colossal flooding in the not-so-distant future for all coastal cities around the globe.

One factor that causes the oceans to rise is the expansion of ocean waters as they warm. With that warming come other problems. For example, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has received another dire warning: the entire system is at risk from bleaching and more coral death. The US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration forecast a 60 percent chance that the entire Great Barrier Reef will reach alert level one, meaning that extreme heat stress and bleaching are likely. 2016 and 2017 both saw heat waves that decimated large swaths of the reef.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report warned that even with just a 1.5°C warming (Earth is currently at 1.1°C), the planet would lose 80 percent of its coral reefs. At 2°C they would all be destroyed.

Fire

California isn’t the only place experiencing increasingly intense and devastating wildfires.

A wildfire in George, South Africa, killed seven people, including a firefighter, as fires in the region are worsening due to ongoing drought and increasingly warming temperatures.

Bushfires following an intense heat wave across parts of Queensland, Australia — described as “highly unusual” for this time of year — have destroyed homes and forced evacuations. Normally, in Queensland, this time of year is the wet season.

“In this part of the world we have not experienced these conditions before,” Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Katarina Carroll told the BBC. “It is unprecedented.”

Meanwhile, it’s not news that California, being warmer and drier than it used to be, is causing more and increasingly destructive wildfires as climate change progresses. Another report, this one from National Geographic, outlined how that state’s hottest and driest summers have all occurred in the last 20 years, along with the fact that 15 of the 20 largest wildfires in the state’s history have occurred since just 2000. Additionally, 10 of the top 20 most destructive California wildfires have occurred since just 2010.

Underscoring these trends, another report showed that California’s Camp Fire, which killed scores of people and displaced more than 100,000, caused greater devastation than the 10 other most destructive California wildfires combined.

Air

According to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, climate change is likely the cause of tropical cyclones now being pushed toward the poles. This means they are becoming increasingly destructive at the northern latitudes. This is due to the fact that climate change is actually causing the tropics to expand, is warming sea surface temperatures, and these conditions are causing cyclones to form further northward.

A November report by Yale Environment 360 showed that Arctic warming, which is happening twice as quickly as the warming of the rest of the globe, has allowed new species to spread northwards, which are bringing new diseases with them that are having an increasingly devastating impact on the region’s fragile ecosystems.

Denial and Reality

The rhetoric of climate denial is shifting, according to a recent report by Vox. The Republican Party, having become aware that — given the regularity of catastrophic climate events that is now undeniably upon us — engaging in ongoing denial of climate change makes them look bad, has shifted its wording again. Rather than denying outright the reality of climate change, some Republicans are now increasingly challenging the idea that it is human-caused … while, of course, continuing to do the bidding of its fossil fuel funders. The rhetoric may have shifted, but in a sense, it doesn’t matter: Republicans are still working against any policy changes that might threaten the profits of Big Oil.

In one of the most blatant acts of denial possible, while commenting on the release of the aforementioned alarming US climate change report, President Donald Trump said, “I don’t believe it.”

Back in reality-land, Energy and Environment News published an important story outlining how every single US president from JFK on was warned about the dangers of climate change.

Meanwhile, New York State’s attorney general has sued ExxonMobil, accusing it of deceiving its shareholders by downplaying the risks of climate change.

We must brace ourselves for a truly dystopian climate future that is inevitable. A very important report by Aeon shows us that we’re not just facing a “new normal” of climate extremes and the catastrophes that accompany them. In effect, we are entering a New Cretaceous period.

“Last November, the COP23 UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn reported that warming by 3°C by 2100 is now the realistic expectation,” reads the report. “With no check on emissions, we are on course to see preindustrial levels of CO2 double (from 280 to 560 ppm, or parts per million) by 2050 – and then double again by 2100. In short, we’ll be generating climate conditions last experienced during the Cretaceous period (145-65.95 million years ago) when CO2 levels reached over 1,000 ppm.”

It is worth noting that during the Cretaceous period, global temperatures were 3-10°C hotter than preindustrial temperatures, and we are currently at 1.1°C above preindustrial temperatures.

A final reality check for us all: The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) recently reported that concentrations of key greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that are driving up global temperatures set a record in 2017. There is no sign of a reversal to this trend on the horizon.

According to the WMO report, the last time Earth experienced a similar concentration of CO2 was 3-5 million years ago, when global temperatures were 2-3°C warmer than today, and sea levels were 10-20 meters higher than they are right now.

CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are 46 percent higher today than they were before the industrial revolution began. Concurrently, methane, which is a far, far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, is now present in the atmosphere at 257 percent of its level before the industrial revolution, and its rate of increase has been constant over the last decade.

The catastrophic impacts of runaway climate change are already upon us. We must all consider how to use our time and energies most wisely and carefully, as we face down the most monumental test our species has experienced.

The post In the Face of Extinction, We Have a Moral Obligation appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Indigenous Women in Canada File Class-Action Lawsuit Over Forced Sterilization

Mon, 12/03/2018 - 17:07

In 2001, a 29-year-old Cree woman, nicknamed S.A.T. in legal documents, went to the Royal University Hospital in Saskatchewan, Canada, to give birth to her sixth child. After she gave birth, she says, she was wheeled into an operating room to be sterilized. She says she desperately protested, but no one listened. To this day, she remembers “the smell of burning flesh” as her fallopian tubes were cauterized against her will in an irreversible birth control procedure.

This claim is laid out in a new class action lawsuit alleging widespread abuse of power by Saskatchewan health professionals and the violation of many indigenous women when they were at their most vulnerable.

If successful, the women in the lawsuit will each be entitled to millions of dollars of reparations from the Saskatchewan and Canadian governments and their health systems. While these women may only represent a fraction of the people negatively affected by forced sterilization in Canada, their lawsuit is recognition of the ubiquity of the practice — and its consequences.

Attorney Alisa Lombard is directing the lawsuit. She’s an associate at Maurice Law, Canada’s only indigenous-owned national law firm. Since news broke of the legal action last month, over 60 more women have contacted Lombard’s office, saying they were sterilized without their consent. In the seven days after CBC’s November 13 article about the lawsuit, 29 women called or emailed her.

The women were mostly from Saskatchewan, but also from Ontario and Manitoba. They reported similar experiences of being coerced into signing consent forms and being misled about the irreversible nature of the procedure. The stories go back decades; one is as recent as 2017. Most of the sterilizations happened in the hectic time directly after the women gave birth. In some cases, women were denied access to their newborn babies unless they agreed to the procedure.

The class action currently has two representative plaintiffs, and when certified, dozens more may be added. “My clients’ lives were upended,” Lombard told Rewire.News. “They’ve lost relationships, and they’ve come down quite hard on themselves. I really don’t think you can overstate the trauma.”

The lawsuit is aimed at three specific doctors, the Saskatchewan and Athabasca Health Authorities and their health professionals, the province of Saskatchewan, and the Canadian federal government. The charges include battery of a sexual nature, negligence, breach of contract and fiduciary obligations, violation of the right to life, cruel and unusual treatment, and the violation of the right to freedom of conscience, belief, and religion.

The lawsuit was launched about six months after a 2017 report exposed the pervasive forced sterilization of indigenous women in Saskatchewan hospitals. The report, an independent review commissioned by the Saskatoon Health Region, shares stories of seven indigenous women who were pressured into a tubal ligation, a permanent form of birth control in which the fallopian tubes are cut, burned, or tied in an irreversible procedure. The women say they were sterilized against their will, usually in the hectic and fraught period directly after giving birth.

The women in the report, anonymous to the public, shared similar stories to those of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs — full of feelings of confusion, distress, and shame. They said they felt harassed by health-care workers to agree to the procedure, which they didn’t know much about, and they were told it was for their health.

“When [I was] in for C-section, the nurse came to [get] me to sign the paper for tubal ligation … Even though I didn’t want to, I signed it,” said one women in the report. “I just said, ‘I don’t want to do this.’ and he [the doctor] just didn’t hear me. I was being ignored,” said another.

One women recounted that a social worker told her the doctors didn’t want her to leave the hospital until the procedure was done, and she felt she didn’t have a choice.

“They were all severely traumatized,” said Yvonne Boyer, a Canadian senator, a legal scholar, and a co-author of the 2017 report. “They had either revoked their consent, not realizing that a tubal ligation was a permanent procedure, or they had not consented at all to the procedure that they were having done,” she told Rewire.News.

The 2017 report sparked a growing recognition that the practice of forced and coerced sterilization of indigenous women in Saskatchewan hospitals was rampant.

According to Boyer, the precedent for indigenous women being mistreated in Canadian public systems is rooted in a deep history of colonialism, sexism, and racism. “Unfortunately, far too many institutions today claim to be value free but continue to reflect a colonial male dominated comprehension of reality,” she and physician Judith Bartlett wrote in the 2017 report.

Boyer said medical practices that assume white doctors know what’s best for indigenous women, despite their express wishes to the contrary, mirror a historical legal system that seeks to undermine the autonomy and independence of indigenous people of Canada. She refers to this as the “guardian and ward model” of law, which assumes that indigenous people do not have the capabilities to make decisions about their own health and well-being. In Canada, it is mostly famously exemplified by residential schools, a widespread practice that removed an estimated 150,000 First Nation, Métis, and Inuit children from their communities before ending in 1996.

According to Boyer, the “guardian and ward model” of law contributes to a mainstream culture that does not respect the autonomy of indigenous women, and the forced sterilization cases currently coming forward show that this patronizing and racist mentality is present in Canadian health systems. “The health-care professionals are saying, ‘we know what’s best for you. You’ve got three kids at home, you don’t need anymore, so I’m just going to sterilize you, because that’s what I think,’” said Boyer. “That’s what happens. There’s a power imbalance.”

Boyer and Bartlett’s 2017 report highlights the “degradation” experienced by the women interviewed about forced sterilization. Most of the women were never again able to trust doctors, and they consequently don’t seek health care or address chronic pain or illness. “We found with the women we interviewed that there was a terror, an absolute terror of these women [with regard to] seeking health care,” said Boyer. “They’re not going [to the doctor], and they’re not allowing their families to go.”

Canada has a long history of eugenics and forced sterilization. The provinces of Alberta and British Columbia both had legislation condoning sterilizing people without consent, and records suggest the practice was widespread across other provinces as well. The practice of forced sterilization in Canada started with people with mental illness or disabilities but it soon became pretense for the sterilization of indigenous people, mostly women, based on racist ideas of culture and behavior.

Forced sterilization of Native women based on racist policies was also rampant in the United States, persisting into the 1970s and 1980s. Some estimate that as many as 25 to 50 percent of Native American women in the United States were sterilized between 1970 and 1976. In Puerto Rico, an estimated one-third of women were sterilized between 1936 and 1968 by the US government, which spread misinformation about the sterilization procedure.

The impact of forced sterilization can be severe. The plaintiffs in Lombard’s lawsuit say they have experienced debilitating physical and mental repercussions, including hormonal disorders, migraines, depression, anxiety, and social isolation. One of the women said her marriage ended as the result of her sterility.

Lombard told CBC News that one woman in Manitoba took her own life 10 months after the procedure.

“It’s hard to sum it up in a sentence and say, ‘these are the damages,’” said Lombard. “The greater trauma here … it can’t be overstated. I think that any well-thinking, well-meaning human being looking at the scenario will inherently understand that.”

She says health professionals and the Canadian public have known about forced sterilization in Canadian hospitals for decades. “What this teaches us … is that this continues to happen,” she said. She poses the rhetorical question: “At what time does inaction in the face of knowledge become intent?”

Once the lawsuit is certified by the Saskatchewan courts, Lombard can add more women to the class action. She says no matter how many women are included, there are countless cases of women who will never see a shred of justice. “Certainly there are many women that these things have happened to who are no longer with us, who are not here to speak on their own behalf,” she said. Lombard added that the bulk of the women who have approached her have experienced forced sterilization in the last three decades. “It’s not a very long time ago,” she said, “This basically happened yesterday.”

Lombard told Rewire.News she will be pleased if they win the lawsuit, as it would mean recognition for a problem that is too often swept under the rug. “[Winning the lawsuit] would be a reinforcement and a confirmation that indigenous women have bodily autonomy,” she said, “It’s about saying these women have a right to have families on their own terms. It’s about saying these women have the right, first and foremost, to make decisions about their own bodies.”

But real justice will only come with a systemic overhaul of Canadian health care to address the pernicious underpinnings of racism and unequal access to care that are deeply rooted in the system.

In their 2017 report, Boyer and Bartlett outlined “Calls to Action” based on what they heard from the affected women, which include legal, procedural, educational, and structural changes to the health system. They include enacting a constitutionally protected right to traditional indigenous medicine and reproductive health care, mandatory cultural training for health-care workers, greater representation of indigenous advocates in the shaping of health-care policy, and the creation of a reproductive center for vulnerable indigenous women who need particularly sensitive care.

“We know that indigenous patients can face systemic barriers in accessing medical services, including discrimination and racism,” said Jane Philpott, Canadian minister of indigenous services, in a statement. “We all have a role to play to ensure that Indigenous patients receive quality health care free of prejudice, including ensuring medical professionals receive cultural safety training.”

After the 2017 report came out, the Saskatchewan Health Authority did change its policy around tubal ligation and now requires women to have a documented discussion with their doctor about the procedure before coming in for birth. They also shared the report with their staff and implemented cultural competency training.

“We are working closely with our First Nations and Métis community partners (Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, Métis Nation-Saskatchewan), as well as Elders and Grandmothers, through the establishment of an advisory council to guide the SHA on the future of health care in Saskatchewan,” the Saskatchewan Health Authority said in a statement. “The council continues to meet regularly to create detailed plans specific to the 10 calls to action outlined in the review, with SHA leadership teams working to put these plans into action.”

Boyer is currently working on getting support from her senate colleagues for more action and investigation into the practice. “The more people we can have talking about this, the more solutions we are going to be able to come up with,” she said.

Boyer said that only the women can determine what justice means for them personally. Moving forward, the goal is to never let this happen again. “Quite frankly, I don’t think there is any justice, I think the only thing we can do is stop things like this from happening to their children,” said Boyer.

“We don’t want their daughters to go through the same things that they’ve been through. That’s what we’re working at.”

The post Indigenous Women in Canada File Class-Action Lawsuit Over Forced Sterilization appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Trump’s Trade Czar Peter Navarro Is an Architect of Imperial Disaster

Mon, 12/03/2018 - 16:10

As Washington’s leadership fades more quickly than anyone could have imagined and a new global order struggles to take shape, a generation of leaders has crowded onto the world stage with their own bold geopolitical visions for winning international influence. Xi Xinping has launched his trillion-dollar “Belt and Road Initiative” to dominate Eurasia and thereby the world beyond. To recover the Soviet Union’s lost influence, Vladimir Putin seeks to shatter the Western alliance with cyberwar, while threatening to dominate a nationalizing, fragmenting Eastern Europe through raw military power. The Trump White House, in turn, is wielding tariffs as weapons to try to beat recalcitrant allies back into line and undermine the planet’s rising power, China. However bizarrely different these approaches may seem, they all share one strikingly similar feature: a reliance on the concept of “geopolitics” to guide their bids for global power.

Over the past century, countless scholars, columnists, and commentators have employed the term “geopolitics” (or the study of global control) to lend gravitas to their arguments. Few, though, have grasped the true significance of this elusive concept. However else the term might be used, geopolitics is essentially a methodology for the management (or mismanagement) of empire. Unlike conventional nations whose peoples are, in normal times, readily and efficiently mobilized for self-defense, empires, thanks to their global reach, are a surprisingly fragile form of government. They seem to yearn for strategic visionaries who can merge land, peoples, and resources into a sustainable global system.

The practice of geopolitics, even if once conducted from horseback, is as old as empire itself, dating back some 4,000 years. Until the dawn of the twentieth century, it was the conquerors themselves — from Alexander the Great to Julius Caesar to Napoleon Bonaparte — whose geopolitical visions guided the relentless expansion of their imperial domains. The ancient Greek historian Plutarch tried to capture (or perhaps exaggerate) the enormity of Caesar’s conquest of Gaul — a territory that comprises all of modern France and Belgium — by enumerating the nine years of war that “took by storm more than eight hundred cities, subdued three hundred tribes, and fought pitched battles… with three million men, of whom he slew one million… and took as many more prisoners.”

In his own account, however, Caesar reduced all of this to its geopolitical essentials. “All Gaul is divided into three parts,” he wrote in that famous first sentence of his Gallic Wars. “Of all these, the Belgae are the bravest, because… they are the nearest to the Germans, who dwell beyond the Rhine, with whom they are continually waging war; for which reason the Helvetii also surpass the rest of the Gauls in valor, as they contend with the Germans in almost daily battles.” When those formidable Helvetii marched out of their Alpine cantons to occupy Gallic lowlands in 58 BC, Caesar deployed geopolitics to defeat them — seizing strategic terrain, controlling their grain supplies, and manipulating rival tribes. Instead of enslaving the vanquished Helvetii as other Roman generals might have, Caesar, mindful of the empire’s geopolitical balance, returned them to their homelands with generous provisions, lest the German “barbarians” cross the Rhine and destabilize Gaul’s natural frontier.

In more modern times, imperial expansion has been guided by professional scholars who have made the formal study of geopolitics a hybrid field of some significance. Its intellectual lineage is actually remarkably straightforward. At the end of the nineteenth century, an American naval historian argued that seapower was the key to national security and international influence. A decade later, a British geographer observed that railroads had shifted the locus of global power landward into the interior of the vast Eurasian continent. In the succeeding century, a succession of scholars would draw on these two basic ideas to inspire bold geopolitical gambits by Nazi Germany, Cold War Washington, post-Soviet Russia, and even Donald Trump’s White House.

There is, in fact, a common thread in those disparate scholarly lives: in each case, the study of geopolitics seemed to change the trajectory of their careers, lifting them from the margins of society to the right hand of power. There, at moments when the empire they lived in was experiencing a crisis, their unconventional, even eccentric, ideas won influence — often in what would prove in the long term a nightmarish fashion.

Over the last century or so, while the actual application of such thinking regularly proved problematic at best and genuinely horrific at worst, geopolitics would remain a seductive concept with a persistent power to entice would-be practitioners. It would also prove an enormously elusive style of thinking, making it difficult to distinguish between the banal and the brilliant, between the imperially helpful and the imperially devastating.

Charting the interplay of land, people, and resources inside any empire, much less in a clash between such behemoths, is impossibly difficult. Admittedly, geopolitics in the hands of a grandmaster has, in the past, led to the crushing of armies and the conquest of continents. But seemingly similar strategies have also produced searing defeat and disaster. Caesar’s deft geopolitical balancing of Gaul and Germany on the fulcrum of the Rhine survived for some four centuries; Napoleon’s similar attempt lasted all of seven years.

Telling the difference, in the historical moment, is a daunting task and one that hasn’t turned out well in the last century. With that in mind, let’s now approach the careers of five modern “grandmasters” of geopolitics with an appropriate skepticism.

America’s Strategic Visionary

In 1890, as the industrial boom of the Gilded Age prepared the nation for a debut on the world stage, Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, arguably America’s only original strategic thinker, published his famedInfluence of Seapower Upon History. In it, he argued that naval power was the determining factor in the fate of nations. Born at West Point, where his father taught military tactics to Army cadets, Mahan came to the study of strategy almost by birthright. After graduating from the Naval Academy and having an indifferent career at sea, he became the head of the Naval War College in 1886. There, he developed novel geopolitical ideas that would revive a stalled career.

By analyzing sea power through a wide range of factors, including the defensibility of ports, national technological prowess, and the nature of good government, Mahan would produce the first serious study of geopolitics in the guise of a guide to naval strategy. In the process, he became an international celebrity, influencing admirals from London to Tokyo and inspiring leaders worldwide to join a naval arms race that would drain their treasuries to build costly battleships. The admiral who headed Germany’s navy, for instance, distributed 8,000 copies of Mahan’s history in translation and in the process won passage of the country’s first naval bill in 1898, funding his fateful challenge to British sea power.

As Europe’s empires continued to spread globally in the 1890s, Mahan’s prolific prose persuaded Washington that national defense required the creation of a genuine blue-water navy and bases in both the Caribbean and the Pacific. So important were such bases for the nation’s defense that, as Mahan gravely concluded, “No European state should henceforth acquire a coaling position within three thousand miles of San Francisco” — a distance that encompassed the Hawaiian Islands, soon to become US possessions.

Like many advocates of geopolitics to come, Mahan would use seemingly precise strategic concepts to project his country’s current position into a murky future. As his geopolitical principles took physical form after 1898, they would produce an indefensible string of bases stretching across the Pacific from Panama to the Philippines.

Following his doctrine, the Navy ordered Admiral George Dewey’s squadron to seize Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War of 1898, which he did by sinking the Spanish fleet. Within five years, however, Japan’s stunning victory over the Russian fleet in the Sea of Japan forced Washington to withdraw much of its navy from the Western Pacific. In 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt began building a new Pacific bastion at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, not in Manila Bay, saying that the Philippines, by then an American colony, is “our heel of Achilles.” Making matters worse, the Versailles peace settlement at the end of World War I conceded the Mariana Islands in the Western Pacific to Japan, allowing its navy to block the sea-lanes from Pearl Harbor to Manila Bay — a geopolitical reality that would doom General Douglas MacArthur’s Philippine command to a searing defeat at the start of World War II.

At that war’s end, however, Washington finally resolved this geopolitical conundrum by conquering Japan and building a chain of more than 100 bases from that country to the Philippines, making the Pacific littoral the strategic fulcrum for the defense of one continent (North America) and dominion over another (Eurasia).

Sir Halford Propagates Geopolitics

Little more than a decade after Mahan wrote his influential studies of seapower, Sir Halford Mackinder, head of the London School of Economics (LSE), published a seminal article that shifted the focus of geopolitics from sea to land. Writing in 1904, as the 5,700 miles of the Trans-Siberian Railway was still being built from Moscow to Vladivostok, Mackinder argued that future rail lines would knit Eurasia into a unitary landmass that he dubbed “the world island.” When that day came, Russia, perhaps in alliance with another land power like Germany, could control Eurasia’s sprawling “heartland,” allowing “the use of vast continental resources for fleet-building, and the empire of the world would be in sight.”

This path-breaking analysis came at a fortuitous time in Mackinder’s academic career. After teaching geography at Oxford for 10 years, he had failed to win a professorship and his marriage collapsed. At this low ebb in his life, he tried to establish himself as an exploratory geographer by making the first recorded ascent of Mount Kenya. Using the “moral suasion of my Mauser” rifle to force his 170 African bearers to “obey like the faithful dogs they are,” Mackinder moved through the famine-stricken foothills leading to that mountain by extracting food from hungry villages at gunpoint. Then, in September 1899, at the cost of 10 porters shot and many more whipped for “malingering,” he traversed glaciers to reach the summit at 17,000 feet. His triumph before a cheering crowd at the Royal Geographical Society in London was, however, marred not by his treatment of those bearers but by his failure to bring back significant findings or scientific specimens.

So, in yet another career change, Mackinder joined the LSE where he produced that influential article on geopolitics. At the end of World War I, he turned it into a book that contained his most memorable maxim: “Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island; Who rules the World-Island commands the World.”

Mackinder’s expertise in imperial geopolitics helped launch his political career, including gaining him a seat in Parliament. In 1919, amid the turmoil of the Russian revolution, Britain was shipping arms to anti-Bolshevik forces there under General Anton Denikin. At Winston Churchill’s behest, the cabinet then appointed Mackinder as a special high commissioner for southern Russia. In a unique test of his “heartland” theory, Mackinder made an abortive attempt to rally the Czarist forces by meeting General Denikin inside his railcar in the Caucasus to propose an alliance with Poland and promise a mass evacuation in the event of defeat. Upon return to London, ignoring the general’s role in slaughtering some 100,000 Jews, Mackinder recommended recognizing his government and providing aid — advice the cabinet quickly dismissed.

From that brief moment at the apex of power, Mackinder soon fell into obscurity — losing his seat in Parliament, retiring from the LSE, and settling into a sinecure as chairman of the Imperial Shipping Committee. Were it not for the surprising later appeal of his ideas in Nazi Germany and Vladimir Putin’s Russia, his name would have been largely forgotten.

The Sorcerer’s Nazi Apprentice

As the Versailles peace conference of 1919 stripped Germany of its colonial empire and placed its Rhineland frontier under foreign occupation, Karl Haushofer exchanged his general’s baton for a geography professorship at Munich University. There, he would apply Mackinder’s concepts in an attempt to assure that his fatherland would never again engage in the sort of strategic blunders that, in World War I, had led to such a humiliating defeat.

While Mackinder himself was courting the powerful in postwar London, Haushofer was teaching geopolitics to future top Nazis in Munich — first to his graduate assistant Rudolf Hess (later to become the deputy Führer), and then to Adolf Hitler himself while he was writing Mein Kampf during his incarceration at Munich’s Landsberg Prison in 1924. Both Haushofer and his son Albrecht, who would train Nazi diplomats in the geopolitics of European conquest, were later rewarded with influential positions in the Third Reich. By dressing the British don’s idea of the Eurasian heartland as the pivot of world power in the local garb of Lebensraum (or “the Greater German Reich’s dazzling ascent by war… for extension of its living space”), Haushofer helped propagate an enticing logic of expansion that would send Hitler’s army on the road to defeat.

In 1942, Hitler dispatched a million men, 10,000 artillery pieces, and 500 tanks to breach the Volga River at Stalingrad and capture Russia’s heartland for lebensraum. In the end, the Reich’s forces would suffer 850,000 casualties — killed, wounded, and captured — in a vain attempt to break through the East European rimland into the world island’s heartland.

Appalled by the attack on Russia, Haushofer’s son joined the underground’s attempt to assassinate Hitler and was imprisoned. Before he was finally shot by the SS (on the day the Allies captured Berlin), he would compose mournful sonnets about geopolitical power, which he saw metaphorically as buried deep under the sea until “my father broke the seal” and “set the demon free to roam throughout the world.” A few months later, Karl Haushofer and his Jewish wife committed suicide together when confronted with the possibility that the victorious allies might prosecute him as a senior Nazi war criminal.

The Liberator of Eastern Europe

As the United States recoiled from its searing defeat in Vietnam, Zbigniew Brzezinski, an émigré Polish aristocrat and autodidact when it came to geopolitics, went from teaching international relations in New York to being President Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor in Washington. There, his risky geopolitical gambits gained an attentive audience after the Soviet Red Army invaded Afghanistan in 1979.

As an intellectual acolyte of Mackinder, Brzezinski embraced his concept of the Eurasian heartland as the “pivot” of global power. But in marked contrast to Mackinder’s failure in southern Russia in 1920, Brzezinski would prove adept at applying that geopolitician’s famous dictum on the dynamic that tied Eastern Europe to Eurasia’s heartland. (In the end, however, his Afghan moves would help give rise to Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, the 9/11 attacks, and the never-ending war on terror of this century.)

Wielding a multi-billion-dollar CIA covert operation in Afghanistan like a sharpened wedge, Brzezinski drove radical Islam deep into the heart of Soviet Central Asia. In the process, he drew Moscow into a debilitating decade-long Afghan war, so weakening it that Eastern Europe would finally break free from the Soviet empire in 1989. Asked about the enormous human suffering his strategy inflicted on Afghanistan and his role in creating a militant Islam hostile to the United States, he would remain coolly unapologetic. “What is most important to the history of the world?” he responded in 1998. “The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?”

In retirement, Brzezinski resumed his study of Mackinder’s theory, doing a better job as an armchair analyst than he had as a presidential adviser. In a 1998 book, he warned that dominance over Eurasia remained “the central basis for global primacy.” To control that vast region, Washington, he insisted, would have to preserve its “perch on the Western periphery” of Europe and hold its string of “offshore bases” along the Pacific littoral. Should these conditions change, he predicted with some prescience, “a potential rival to America might at some point arise.”

Putin’s Geopolitical Visionary

In the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse, a Russian rightist ideologue, Alexander Dugin, would revive Mackinder’s ideas yet again to promote expansion into Eurasia. In the process, he would become “a major influence” on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the 1980s, as the Soviet Union was beginning to unravel, Dugin was still moving in Moscow’s bohemian circles as a dabbler in the occult and a fringe member of the “ultra-nationalist and anti-Semitic organization Pamiat.” After the Soviet collapse, he became chief ideologue for an eclectic alliance of patriotic and punk-rock groups called the New Bolshevik Party, serving as its candidate for a seat in the 1995 Duma legislative elections and winning just 1% of the vote.

At this political nadir for both him and his country, Dugin recycled Mackinder’s long-forgotten writings in a 1997 bestseller, The Foundation of Geopolitics: Russia’s Geopolitical Future. As his book moved into its fourth printing and he “became a pole star for a broad section of Russian hardliners,” he began teaching geopolitics to military officers at the General Staff Academy, later lecturing on it to elite students at Moscow State University, and anchoring Landmarks, a weekly television show on the subject. In those years, Moscow bookstores even opened special sections for geopolitics, the legislature formed a geopolitics committee, and the Russian leadership began to embrace Dugin’s vision of expansionist nationalism.

Drawing on Haushofer’s German writings, he argued that Russia should become a Eurasian bastion against “the conspiracy of ‘Atlanticism’ led by the United States and NATO… aimed at containing Russia within successive geographic rings” of the former Soviet republics. To achieve the destiny envisioned by Mackinder, Russia needed, in Dugin’s view, to dominate Eurasia — annexing Ukraine, conquering Georgia, incorporating Finland, and bringing the Balkan states (Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria) under its rule as an Orthodox “Third Rome.” To advance such ideas, Dugin founded the Eurasia Youth Union of Russia in 2005, first to serve as “human shields” to fight against the Orange revolution in Ukraine and later to counter the “degeneration” caused by American cultural influence.

For the past decade, he has been a forceful advocate for Russian expansionism. During that country’s war with Georgia in 2008, he was photographed with a rocket launcher in South Ossetia and quoted in the national press calling for its annexation. After serving as “the brains behind Vladimir Putin’s wildly popular annexation of Crimea” in March 2014, Dugin embraced the Russian minority in eastern Ukraine, prodding the Russian president to openly support their separatist militia.

While advocacy of aggressive geopolitics has given Dugin significant political influence and Putin unprecedented popularity in Russia, it is still unclear whether in the long run such expansionism, in defiance of international norms, will prove a geopolitical masterstroke or a diplomatic debacle.

The Geopolitics of Trump’s Trade War

Most recently, a dissident economist and failed California politician named Peter Navarro has parlayed his hostility toward China into the role of key architect of Donald Trump’s “trade war” against Beijing. Like his Russian counterpart Alexander Dugin, Navarro is another in a long line of intellectuals whose embrace of geopolitics changed the trajectory of his career.

Raised by a single mom who worked secretarial jobs to rent one-bedroomapartments where he slept on the couch, Navarro went to college at Tufts on a scholarship and earned a doctorate in economics from Harvard. Despite that Ivy League degree, he remained an angry outsider, denouncing the special interests “stealing America” in his first book and later, as a business professor at the University of California-Irvine, branding San Diego developers “punks in pinstripes.” A passionate environmentalist, in 1992 Navarro plunged into politics as a Democratic candidate for the mayor of San Diego, denouncing his opponent’s husband as a convicted drug-money launderer and losing when he smirked as she wept during their televised debate.

For the next 10 years, Navarro fought losing campaigns for everything from city council to Congress. He detailed his crushing defeat for a seat in the House of Representatives in a tell-all book, San Diego Confidential, that dished out disdain for that duplicitous “sell out” Bill Clinton, dumb “blue-collar detritus” voters, and just about everybody else as well.

Following his last losing campaign for city council, Navarro spent a decade churning out books attacking a new enemy: China. His first “shock and awe” jeremiad in 2006 told horror stories about that country’s foreign trade; five years later, Death By China was filled with torrid tales of “bone-crushing, cancer-causing, flammable, poisonous, and otherwise lethal products” from that land. In 2015, a third book turned to geopolitics, complete with carefully drawn maps and respectful references to Captain Mahan, to offer an analysis of how China’s military was pursuing a relentless strategy of “anti-access, area denial” to challenge the US Navy’s control over the Western Pacific.

To check China, the Pentagon then had two competing strategies — “Air-Sea Battle,” in which China’s satellites were to be blinded, knocking out its missiles, and “Offshore Control,” in which China’s entire coastline was to be blockaded by mining six maritime choke points from Japan to Singapore. Both, Navarro claimed, were fatally flawed. Given that, Navarro’s third book and a companion film (endorsed by one Donald Trump) asked: What should the United States do to check Beijing’s aggression and its rise as a global power? Since all US imports from China, Navarro suggested, were “helping to finance a Chinese military buildup,” the only realistic solution was “the imposition of countervailing tariffs to offset China’s unfair trade practices.”

Just a year after reaching that controversial conclusion, Navarro joined the Trump election campaign as a policy adviser and then, after the November victory, became a junior member of the White House economic team. As a protectionist in an administration initially dominated by globalists, he would be excluded from high-level meetings and, according to Time Magazine, “required to copy chief economic adviser Gary Cohn on all his emails.” By February 2018, however, Cohn was on his way out and Navarro had become assistant to the president, with his new trade office now the co-equal of the National Economic Council.

As the chief defender of Trump’s belief that “trade wars are good and easy to win,” Navarro has finally realized his own geopolitical dream of attempting to check China with tariffs. In March, the president slapped heavy ones on Chinese steel imports and, just a few weeks later, promised to impose more of them on $50 billion of imports. When those started in July, China’s leaders retaliated against what they called “typical trade bullying,” imposing similar duties on American goods. Despite a warning from the Federal Reserve chairman that “trade tensions… could pose serious risks to the US and global economy,” with Navarro at his elbow, Trump escalated in September, adding tariffs on an additional $200 billion in Chinese goods and threatening another $267 billion worth if China dared retaliate. Nonetheless, Beijing hit back, this time on just $60 billion in goods since 95% of all US imports had already been covered.

Then something truly surprising happened. In September, the US trade deficit with China ballooned to $305 billion for the year, driven by an 8% surge in Chinese imports — a clear sign that Navarro’s bold geopolitical vision of beating Beijing into submission with tariffs had collided big time with the complexities of world trade. Whether this tariff dispute will fizzle out inconsequentially or escalate into a full-blown trade war, wreaking havoc on global supply chains and the world economy, none of us can yet know, particularly that would-be geopolitical grandmaster Peter Navarro.

The Desire to Be Grandmaster of the Universe

Though such experts usually dazzle the public and the powerful alike with erudition and boldness of vision, their geopolitical moves often have troubling long-term consequences. Mahan’s plans for Pacific dominion through offshore bases created a strategic conundrum that plagued American defense policy for a half-century. Brzezinski’s geopolitical lunge at the Soviet Union’s soft Central Asian underbelly helped unleash radical Islam. Today, Alexander Dugin’s use of geopolitics to revive Russia’s dominion over Eurasia has placed Moscow on a volatile collision course with Europe and the United States. Simultaneously, Peter Navarro’s bold gambit to contain China’s military and economic push into the Pacific with a trade war could, if it persists, produce untold complications for our globalized economy.

No matter how deeply flawed such geopolitical visions may ultimately prove to be, their brief moments as official policy have regularly shaped the destiny of nations and of empires in unpredictable, unplanned, and often dangerous ways. And no matter how this current round of geopolitical gambits plays out, we can be reasonably certain that, in the not-too-distant future, another would-be grandmaster will embrace this seductive concept to guide his bold bid for global power.

The post Trump’s Trade Czar Peter Navarro Is an Architect of Imperial Disaster appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Ohio’s Republicans Are Gambling on the Supreme Court to Restrict Abortion Access

Mon, 12/03/2018 - 16:10

Ohio’s extremely conservative legislature is on a tear: Within days of the election, the House pushed though an anti-abortion bill so onerous that it would effectively ban abortion.

And the state didn’t stop there. Legislators scheduled hearings on another bill that would criminalize abortion, potentially threatening patients and providers with the death penalty.

Here’s where things get extra bizarre: Ohio’s new legislature sits in January, but these aren’t your average lame duck bills being rammed through in the hopes of pushing a policy agenda before new lawmakers take office. The 2019 legislature will be working under a governor more conservative than outgoing leader John Kasich, who’s already vetoed an abortion bill similar to the one the house just passed.

So what the heck is Ohio doing with this stunt?

The first bill is what’s known as a “heartbeat bill,” barring abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detectable. The anti-choice movement is fond of leaning on the idea that a heartbeat makes the developing fetus morally equivalent to a living person.

Whether you believe that or not, because the heartbeat can be detectable as early as six weeks, this bill would effectively make abortion completely inaccessible. After all, six weeks gestation is just two weeks late on your period — so early that most people don’t even know they’re pregnant at that time. Missing a menstrual period by a few days shouldn’t be cause for panic and a frenetic dash to the doctor’s office for a pregnancy test sensitive enough to detect an early pregnancy.

If this bill passes the Senate as well, Governor Kasich seems likely to veto it — and the legislature will be forced to vote on an override. Any legislation that dies under Kasich dies with him, with lawmakers needing to reintroduce the bill if they want the incoming governor to sign it.

Of course, they could wait just a few weeks until they have a governor more favorable to their extremist agenda, but Republicans say they don’t care.

They’re bolstered by the fact that there are enough Republicans in the legislature to override a veto if they vote in a block, making it critical for Ohio voters to communicate with their legislators about this bill and make their opinions heard; it represents a significant threat to bodily integrity, privacy and the ability to practice medicine — three things reasonable conservatives should be worried about.

The second bill, which is just receiving a hearing, not a vote, is even worse, classifying fetuses as “unborn humans” and classifying abortion as a crime that could incur penalties like jail time or capital punishment. The broad language of the bill also could set pregnant people up for tragic and dangerous collisions with the law, as in the case of people who miscarry and are referred for prosecution. Miscarriage is unfortunately very common, and it happens through no fault of the pregnant person — but getting treatment for it is critical.

Bills like this have a chilling effect on patients who need medical treatment in the aftermath of miscarriages. This bill likely won’t make it to a floor vote, but the hearing is clearly designed to send a message that state lawmakers view fetuses as morally equivalent to human beings. And legislators want to push through personhood bills to make that view law, rather than a matter of personal opinion.

These extremist bills are terrible enough on their face, and they would be dreadful for pregnant people in Ohio, as well as the people who care for them. What’s really disturbing, though, is that these bills are clearly being advanced right now in an effort to set up for a challenge to Roe v. Wade.

That’s not just speculation: Ohio lawmakers are openly admitting this in a state where accessing abortion is already extremely difficult and lawmakers clearly want to make it impossible.

If such a challenge went before the present Supreme Court, there’s a very real risk that the conservative justices could uphold laws like the one in Ohio, destroying decades of work to affirmatively protect abortion access.

Take Action!

Banning abortion increases the probability that pregnant people will risk everything to terminate an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy. Ohio residents deserve better, and so do people across the US who could be harmed by the fallout of this legislation. If you agree, please add your name to this Care2 petition.

The post Ohio’s Republicans Are Gambling on the Supreme Court to Restrict Abortion Access appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Sanders-Khanna Bill Would Stop Monopoly Drug Pricing in the US

Mon, 12/03/2018 - 15:27

Debates on economic policy are often far removed from reality. Nowhere is this truer than in the case of prescription drug prices.

In the United States, we pay high drug prices because the government gives pharmaceutical companies patent monopolies, where it threatens to arrest anyone that sells a drug in competition with the patent holder. As a result, drugs often sell for prices that are several thousand percent above their free market price.

Incredibly, in debates on drug prices, these monopoly prices are routinely described as being the result of the free market, turning reality completely on its head. The people who want to lower drug prices are then said to be trying to interfere with the free market, which we are all supposed to think is a bad thing to do.

This is one of the reasons why a new bill to lower drug prices by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Ro Khanna is so brilliant. The bill is actually lowering drug prices by using the power of the market, making it clear that the proponents of high drug prices are the ones who want the government to interfere with the market to keep drug company profits high.

The bill would effectively end the patent monopoly for any drug where the price in the United States is above the median of the prices charged in the next seven largest wealthy countries. This is likely to mean a reduction in the price of most brand drugs by around 50 percent.

The reason is that, while other countries also grant patent monopolies and related protections to drugs, they don’t allow the manufacturers to exploit these monopolies to the same extent as in the United States. They have some sort of price negotiation with drug companies, which is intended to place a limit on the price that can be charged when people’s health or life is at stake.

In effect, the Sanders-Khanna bill imports the price negotiation process put in place by these other countries. Drug companies will have a strong incentive to set their price below the median of the seven benchmark countries. If they charge a higher price, they effectively lose their patent monopoly. They could still make some money off of licensing fees charged to generic producers, but this would be a small fraction of what they would make from having a patent monopoly.

Another nice feature of the Sanders-Khanna bill is that it would lower drug prices for everyone, not just Medicare patients. There have been a number of bills introduced in recent years that have been designed to reduce the cost of drugs for people in Medicare. While lower drug prices for people enrolled in Medicare would be good, we should be looking to reduce our drug prices across the board. There is no reason people in the United States should be paying so much more than everyone else.

The industry’s response will be to whine that if they charged lower drug prices they won’t be able to finance the development of new drugs. There is a grain of truth to this, but only a grain. The industry will collect roughly $440 billion (2.2 percent of GDP) in revenue this year from sales in the United States alone. It spends around $70 billion on research. This is less than one-sixth of the money it pulls in.

Certainly, if we did bring spending down to the levels in other wealthy counties it would lead to somewhat less research, but the question is the size of the falloff in research. After all, by giving another $1.5 trillion to corporations over the next decade, the Trump tax cut will almost certainly lead to some additional investment, but the question is how much. The evidence to date with the tax cut is that we are seeing very little payoff in the form of higher investment. Similarly, the additional revenue from unchecked patent monopolies is likely to translate into little by way of additional research into developing new drugs.

Ultimately we should be looking to more modern and efficient mechanisms than patent monopolies for financing drug research. The government already spends almost $40 billion a year on biomedical research through the National Institutes of Health. If we paid for the research up front, then all new drugs could be sold at their free market price from day one, saving us close to $400 billion a year. In that world, prescriptions would be $20 or $30 a piece, not hundreds or thousands of dollars.

But for now, the Sanders-Khanna bill is a huge step forward in making drugs affordable. And, it does it by using the market forces, a prospect that is very scary to the pharmaceutical industry.

The post Sanders-Khanna Bill Would Stop Monopoly Drug Pricing in the US appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

No One Knows What’s Happening in This Tent City for Migrant Kids

Mon, 12/03/2018 - 15:25
This story was originally published by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Learn more at revealnews.org and subscribe to the Reveal podcast, produced with PRX, at revealnews.org/podcast.

Tornillo, Texas — About 40 miles southeast of El Paso, past the billboards for fast food joints and rugged desert hills, residents of this small community sometimes can see the lights of the nearby detention camp glowing in the night.

Some of them have brought gifts for the roughly 2,300 children inside, only to be turned away by guards.

Months after the government erected a tent city in the desert, most of what happens inside the encampment remains hidden, even from curious neighbors in the nearby town of 1,600 residents. The only images of the minors in the camp, standing outside in an orderly line or playing soccer, have been released by the Department of Health and Human Services.

When it opened in June, the detention camp in Tornillo, Texas, was meant to be a temporary home for children ages 13 to 17 caught crossing the border alone. But its population has grown, and a federal contract will keep it open at least through December.Ivan Pierre Aguirre / Reveal

“We have the same access that the whole world has,” said Tornillo schools Superintendent Rosy Vega-Barrio, “which is none.”

There is one local organization that gets inside the camp regularly: Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services. The El Paso legal nonprofit is among dozens of groups funded by the government to provide legal services to immigrant children in custody.

But lawyers at Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services, known locally as DMRS, can’t speak publicly about the children at Tornillo. Their contract prohibits them from talking to the media, Executive Director Melissa Lopez said in an interview. It’s another aspect of the conflict of interest built into the funding for legal aid, which also prevents lawyers from taking the government to court to get children released.

She referred questions to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement. “It’s better for the details to come from them,” she said. The agency has not responded to a request for comment.

When it opened over the summer, the camp was meant to be a temporary home for children ages 13 to 17 caught crossing the border alone. But with a growing population and a contract to keep it open at least through December, the camp is taking on a role similar to the government’s permanent shelters for unaccompanied migrant children. It can now accommodate up to 3,800 minors.

The secrecy surrounding the camp has frustrated longtime residents of Tornillo and alarmed lawyers and advocates who question its conditions. After a tour of the tent city Sept. 24, advocates left with concerns that children were given only workbooks, but no other education, and less access to mental health counseling than found in other shelters.

There is also evidence that children aren’t getting the legal representation they need.

The town’s representative in the Texas Legislature, Democratic Texas state Rep. Mary González, said she is particularly concerned that the children aren’t receiving adequate legal help. During a recent morning at immigration court in El Paso, she saw several minors from the camp appear before a judge without a lawyer, González said.

“DMRS is a nonprofit organization. They’re doing the best that they can,” González said. “But think about it this way: They were already overwhelmed with the services they had to provide in the local community. Now there’s a thousand kids in Tornillo.”

However strained the group has been, its contract prevents officials from complaining publicly if children aren’t getting representation.

“I don’t want the government telling anyone they can’t speak to the press,” González said. “Transparency, particularly in a situation as sensitive as this, is such a vital tool.”

***

There is someone who can talk about life inside the tent city.

Over the summer, a 17-year-old boy named Bruno left Guatemala and traversed 1,800 miles on buses, semitrailers and trains until he reached an El Paso port of entry in July.

After more than a month at another Texas shelter for immigrant children, Bruno was transferred. No one told him why, he said. Reveal is not using his full name due to concerns that his decision to speak publicly about Tornillo may affect his pending immigration case.

Bruno arrived at the Tornillo camp at night. He saw the tents and asked a worker where he would be sleeping. “Here,” the worker told him.

His friends called the camp “el infierno,” because of the sweltering summer temperatures. The teens were allowed to play soccer only early in the morning when it was cooler outside, Bruno said. He remembers one week when the air conditioning in his tent stopped working.

“My friends would tell me that maybe we would never get out,” Bruno said. “And I told them we would leave one day. But then I started to think, ‘I’m in the desert. I’m never leaving.’ ”

Children sent here were supposed to move through Tornillo quickly, on their way to placement with family in the United States while they awaited a court date. But the government’s placement process has stalled. Roughly 90 children have been held at the camp for more than three months, according to recent court filings.

BCFS Health and Human Services, the contractor running the camp, has said many of the teens stuck at the camp for months were awaiting fingerprint results for their prospective sponsors, according to a court declaration from Leah J. Chavla, a visiting attorney from the Women’s Refugee Commission.

In her declaration, Chavla said hundreds of children “were not far along in the reunification process,” including more than 150 who had no viable sponsors.

During his seven weeks at Tornillo, Bruno remembers seeing an attorney who asked him and other teens about conditions at the camp. But he never met with a lawyer about his case or his legal rights, he said.

He tried to stay hopeful and followed orders from the staff. Bruno slept with 19 other boys in a tent lined with bunk beds. Workers taught the teens how to make bracelets. He went to church services at the cafeteria.

Bruno was released from the shelter Sept. 22 and reunited with family. He searches Facebook for the friends he left behind at Tornillo, hoping some may have been released and have access to social media.

So far, he hasn’t found them.

***

Boys enter the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s tent city in Tornillo, Texas, on November 15.Ivan Pierre Aguirre for Reveal

As sweltering summer days at the tent city have given way to freezing fall desert nights, more and more of the children living there are going to court.

Iliana Holguin, an El Paso immigration attorney, said her understanding was that, since Tornillo was a temporary shelter, children weren’t supposed to face immigration court while being held at the camp.

“We always were under the impression that the Tornillo kids were not going to be appearing in court here in El Paso because it was considered a temporary shelter,” Holguin said.

Today, that’s all changed. Children are hauled from Tornillo to El Paso’s downtown immigration court as many as four days a week. Without their families and, in many cases, without the legal help to which they’re entitled, they’re forced to make major decisions like whether to return to their home countries or whether to seek asylum.

Detained migrant children are entitled to legal representation under federal law. Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services’ federally funded legal aid contract includes doing that work.

But on Oct. 11, according to a BuzzFeed report, 11 children from Tornillo faced a judge with no legal help, only a representative from BCFS Health and Human Services, the contractor that runs the shelter.

The following week, González, the state lawmaker, went to court to see for herself. This time, she said there were about 10 children, most in their mid-teens.

“The kids walk in, they’re asked their name and age, they’re told how important this hearing is,” she recalled. “They’re told, ‘We advise you to get a lawyer.’ ”

González said there was an attorney from Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services present — but only to give advice as a “friend of the court,” not to represent the children. Instead, she said, they were given a list of pro bono legal resources — in English only — which includes DMRS and five other groups, one of which won’t take clients who are in detention.

It was clear, González said, that children weren’t getting the help they needed. Most were making their first court appearance and asked the judge for later court dates to prepare their asylum claims.

One of the minors was a 12-year-old boy from Guatemala, González said. It was his fourth court hearing, but the first in which he had access to a translator who spoke his indigenous language. Rather than seek asylum, she said, the boy agreed to be sent back to Guatemala.

“He was so little, he was so adorable. He came all this way from Guatemala not even speaking Spanish,” she said. “I don’t know, maybe that kid wanted to go home. I know he had already been in our system, detained for a significant time. I don’t know his story. All I know is that in the little bit that I saw, he wasn’t given full access to the United States justice system.”

“I’ll be honest,” she said, “I walked out and I cried.”

Without answers from DMRS or the federal government, it’s unclear how many of the children at Tornillo are getting legal representation in court.

Another group on the list of pro bono legal providers that children are given is the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center. Its director, Linda Rivas, said in an email that she has not received calls from children at Tornillo seeking representation. But she’s not surprised, because she knows that DMRS has a contract to represent them.

“DMRS is passionate about their representation of unaccompanied children and always has been,” Rivas said. “If they were to need our help, I know they wouldn’t hesitate to ask, and we would help them as much as we can.”

But Holguin believes that DMRS only recently got approval from the government to begin representing kids from Tornillo directly, and not only appear with them as a “friend of the court.”

Holguin was the legal aid group’s executive director from 2006 to 2012. She said DMRS will have to hire more lawyers to do the job. “I’m sure they didn’t have staff members to absorb that demand,” she said.

If lawyers with the group already are frustrated by the sudden increase in clients, they can’t say so without risking their government funding.

“The attorneys at DMRS are very hesitant to disclose something that would cause ORR (the refugee office) to potentially risk their contract, leaving these children without representation,” Holguin said.

Back then, Holguin said, there was less of a concern about speaking out of turn. “I never felt like if I said something I was going to lose my ORR contract,” she said. “I get the sense that it’s a very different kind of threat now.”

***

Religious leaders and other protesters rally outside the gates of the tent city in Tornillo, Texas, on November 15. The secrecy surrounding the camp has frustrated town residents and alarmed lawyers and advocates who question its conditions.Ivan Pierre Aguirre / Reveal

González, the state legislator, is one of the few people who tried to bring attention to Tornillo before the summer. She tried to extend natural gas service to homes and clean up its arsenic-laced drinking water. (The $1,000-a-day cost of housing each child at the tent camp includes delivery of water from the outside.)

“This is a beautiful, humble, loving community, and this is really antithetical to what the community stands for,” González said. “It’s family separation, just by another name. All these kids have a place to go, have a family to be with.”

When Alfredo Escalante first heard about the encampment, he headed to the shelter with a few other residents and hauled goods, such as soccer balls and home-grown watermelon, for the children. But a guard at the gate told them to leave.

“They turned us away,” Escalante said. “We were just rejected from the door.”

Escalante and other Tornillo residents joined protests outside the shelter at the height of the Trump administration’s policy that separated roughly 2,600 immigrant children from their parents at the border.

Tornillo schools Superintendent Rosy Vega-Barrio, shown at a county park work site, says the school district has requested access to the detention camp through local lawmakers, but hasn’t received a response. “We have the same access that the whole world has,” she says, “which is none.”Ivan Pierre Aguirre / Reveal

In conversations with school staff, Superintendent Vega-Barrio said the camp comes up often. The district has requested access to the shelter through local lawmakers, but hasn’t received a response.

“We need answers — as the public, as the community, as a nation. I think that’s what’s really frustrating at this point in time,” Vega-Barrio said. “I don’t want Tornillo to be seen or to be remembered as a place where kids — underage kids — were detained. It’s just not who we are.”

The white tents of the detention camp for migrant children are visible from Tornillo High School’s stadium bleachers.Ivan Pierre Aguirre / Reveal

Vega-Barrio described the town as quiet and family-oriented. There are reminders of the town’s new neighbor. The lights illuminating the tents at night can be seen from the high school stadium. Large white buses heading to the camp sometimes cut through Tornillo.

Surrounded by desert and cotton fields, the town with no traffic lights has one mom-and-pop grocery store and a gas station. On a recent afternoon, Escalante’s mother waited for customers to arrive at her hair salon, which she runs out of a small brick house in her backyard.

Maria Escalante, who owns Maria’s Beauty Salon in Tornillo, Texas, says the government’s tent city “came out of nowhere” over the summer. “What’s happening is just sad,” she says.Ivan Pierre Aguirre / Reveal

People in town talk about the shelter, Maria Escalante said. Many are sympathetic to the children because they’re separated from their families and living in a strange place. Some residents, she’s heard, now are working at the camp.

“It came out of nowhere,” she said of the shelter. “If it was a good thing, we would feel good about it. But what’s happening is just sad.”

The post No One Knows What’s Happening in This Tent City for Migrant Kids appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Seattle Activists: Target ICE, Not Human Rights Defenders

Mon, 12/03/2018 - 14:58

On December 3, we, the members of the “Anti-ICE Nine,” are headed to a pre-trial hearing. We are each facing two misdemeanor charges — which could result in up to one year of jail time and a $5,000 fine apiece — for blocking traffic outside Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) downtown offices in Seattle, Washington, this past June. We were arrested for exposing the existence of ICE’s regional headquarters in downtown Seattle, and for opposing the Trump regime’s horrific treatment of immigrants.

When the Trump regime’s practice of separating migrant families and children was revealed in the weeks following our arrest, millions of people across the country joined the movement calling for the abolition of ICE. Now, following City Attorney Pete Holmes’s public threat to prosecute human rights defenders like us, we face criminal prosecution for our political stance.

Given ICE’s well-documented deportation terror, it is Holmes who is prosecuting recklessly by using his discretion to attempt to convict those who oppose ICE. In doing so, he is aligning himself with the Trump administration.

While Holmes may claim he is “neutrally” applying the law in prosecuting us, we believe that his purportedly “impartial” version of justice is a racist version of justice. As people who will not sit idly by while President Trump stokes the resentments of white supremacists and organizes an ever-expanding army of ICE agents, we demand that Holmes reverse course and direct his office’s energies toward protecting immigrant communities and ridding our city and state of ICE.

Family separation continues to be a heartbreaking reality in our region, with thousands of people detained in the Northwest Detention Center where they are exposed daily to toxic and traumatizing conditions. Direct confrontation, including civil disobedience, is necessary to push back on the Trump regime. We locked down on Second Avenue in a show of solidarity with everyone who is currently being terrorized by the Trump administration and to expose the fact that ICE runs its regional operations out of this so-called sanctuary city. In particular, the 2nd Ave. location is the site of US Homeland Security Investigations, which disproportionately targets youth of color in its “gang” task force. We call on all residents to ask themselves how Seattle can
call itself a sanctuary city while sharing residents’ personal information with Homeland Security.

Now, more than ever, we will continue taking to the streets to fight the Trump regime. The city attorney’s actions in prosecuting opponents of ICE demonstrates that our faux progressive politicians lack the will to oppose the continued rise of fascism and white supremacy in this country.

If Seattle is a sanctuary city, municipal officials should be asking themselves: Why are our undocumented friends afraid to drive a car, ride the light rail or take a Greyhound bus? Why is ICE allowed to operate its machinery out of billionaire real estate developer Martin Selig’s office building at 1000 Second Avenue? As a representative of the government, has Holmes done everything in his power to stop ICE from separating families and communities in Seattle?

Holmes labels our actions as “reckless,” but it is his repression of necessary activism during these times of deep danger for our immigrant communities that is truly reckless. It is his inaction against the real villains from his position of power that is truly harmful.

Holmes’s decision to spend precious city resources on bringing criminal charges against activists suggests to that he is more concerned about what the Seattle Police Department and downtown business associations think than about stopping communities from being terrorized by ICE. The city attorney has been on the right side of many issues, ranging from the move to vacate misdemeanor marijuana convictions to suing Big Pharma for its role in perpetuating an opioid crisis in our region. It is not too late to reverse course and drop charges against anti-ICE activists in order to not be complicit in the rising creep of fascism.

The post Seattle Activists: Target ICE, Not Human Rights Defenders appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Is the US “Flirting With Fascism”?

Sun, 12/02/2018 - 18:41

The United States is moving closer to fascism, says Henry A. Giroux, author of American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism.

“We’re not talking about whether fascism can only be defined in terms of whether it mimics precisely the elements of fascism we saw in the past,” Giroux told Mary O’Connell during an interview on CBC’s “Ideas” radio program. “I think that America is at war with itself and I think that the elections proved that.”

Giroux also described how the US is changing “from a culture of shared responsibilities and shared values” to one dominated by “fear and bigotry.”

“We don’t talk about democracy anymore in the United States,” said Giroux.

Listen to the full interview with Henry A. Giroux on CBC Radio.

The post Is the US “Flirting With Fascism”? appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The Fracking Industry Encroaches on Southwest Texas

Sun, 12/02/2018 - 18:07

Sue and James Franklin run a rock and mineral shop in Balmorhea, Texas, a small picturesque town known for hosting the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool. Their shop is about 15 miles from their home in Verhalen, a place they describe as too tiny to be called a town — only about 10 people live there. The couple never imagined the area, on the southwest edge of the Permian Basin, would become an industrial wasteland, but they say that transformation has begun the last two years.

Texas’ latest oil boom, driven by the fracking industry and crude oil exports, has brought skyrocketing air, noise, and light pollution to small southwest Texas towns and the surrounding lands which are known for majestic mountain views and brilliant starry night skies. With the oil industry come bright lights illuminating an otherwise almost perfectly dark sky. The Franklins’ home on a narrow rural road is now surrounded by fracking sites. On a clear day they can see 20 of these sites from their 10-acre plot of land.

The Franklins in front of their home in Verhalen, with a fracking industry site directly across the road from them.The Franklins in front of their home in Verhalen, with a fracking industry site directly across the road from them.Julie Dermansky for DeSmogThe Franklins’ home with a drilling rig at a frack site behind it.The Franklins’ home with a drilling rig at a frack site behind it.Julie Dermansky for DeSmog

The roads in the area used to be empty, but that’s no longer the case. Today, increased traffic — mostly trucks serving the oil and gas industry — makes even pulling out of the Franklins’ driveway dangerous. James, a Vietnam veteran and retired pilot, has been in a couple accidents caused by truck drivers that “don’t give a shit.”

Meanwhile, the famous pool located in Balmorhea State Park — known as “the oasis of West Texas — has been shut down for about a year due to cracks in its structure, which some locals blame on vibrations from drilling operations nearby. The parks department, however, blamed erosion.

The changes make Sue Franklin sad. “What we are doing to Mother Earth is going to catch up with us,” she told me when I visited in early November. “She is going to wipe the planet clean and start over without us at this rate.”

Earthworks Texas Organizer Sharon Wilson checking for pollution emissions at a fracking industry site a few hundred feet from the Franklins’ home.Earthworks Texas Organizer Sharon Wilson checking for pollution emissions at a fracking industry site a few hundred feet from the Franklins’ home.Julie Dermansky for DeSmog The Permian Fracking Expansion

The Permian, one of the most prolific oil and natural gas basins in the US, spans approximately 86,000 square miles in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico.

Until recently, there had been little development in the furthest southwestern portions of the Permian’s Delaware Basin. But that changed in mid 2016 after the Apache Corporation announced its discovery of an oil field there called Alpine High. Apache estimated that the oil field contains 75 trillion cubic feet of gas and three billion barrels of oil.

Shortly after Apache’s discovery, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) announced finding another 20 billion barrels of oil in the Wolfcamp shale, located in the northeast reaches of the Permian Basin, near Big Spring, Texas. The agency called the deposit “the largest estimated continuous oil accumulation … assessed in the United States to date.”

Despite scientists’ warnings that catastrophic climate change could be unstoppable if greenhouse gas emissions are not greatly reduced — including a dire federal climate report released today — numerous companies, such as ExxonMobil and Chevron, are producing record amounts of oil and gas in the Permian Basin. The EIA predicts that the Permian region will drive US crude oil production growth through 2019.

Apache and other oil and gas companies drilling in the Permian Basin use hydraulic fracturing (fracking), a process that injects a highly pressurized mix of chemicals, water, and sand to release oil and natural gas trapped in shale rock deep underground. In the basin fracking is done primarily for oil, but up with the oil comes methane, the main component in natural gas, and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including the carcinogens benzene and toluene.

When Fracking Comes to the Neighborhood

I met with the Franklins on November 1, and standing in their yard, I saw some kind of fracking industry site in every direction I looked.

Fracking industry truck in Texas’ Permian Basin with warning signs for other vehicles.Fracking industry truck in Texas’ Permian Basin with warning signs for other vehicles.Julie Dermansky for DeSmogWarning signs on a fracking industry site’s fence in the Permian Basin.Warning signs on a fracking industry site’s fence in the Permian Basin.Julie Dermansky for DeSmog

Though most people in the area welcome the money the fracking boom can bring, the Franklins have only seen unwelcome alterations to the once starkly beautiful landscape that first attracted them to Verhalen. These days truck traffic constantly passes their home and a persistent haze blurs their view of the Davis Mountains, which is also obscured by giant tanks on the frack sites around them.

The couple now also worries about the potential health impacts of the pollution from the frack sites on both them and their animals, which include a cat, horse, and donkey.

Though the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences states there is little data conclusively showing how the fracking industry affects nearby communities, a report published by the nonprofits Partnership for Policy Integrity and Earthworks shows that the Environmental Protection Agency has identified health hazards for dozens of chemicals used in fracking.

According to Environmental Working Group scientist Tasha Stoiber, “hazards from the chemicals used included irritation to eyes and skin; harm to the liver, kidney and nervous system; and damage to the developing fetus.”

In addition, the Concerned Health Professionals of New York and Physicians for Social Responsibility, a group involved in a Nobel Peace Prize-winning campaign to abolish nuclear weapons, released their latest in a series of reports examining evidence of the public health and safety risks of the fracking industry at large. Their findings show the Franklins’ worries are not unfounded.

This report, released in March 2018, states that: “Our examination … uncovered no evidence that fracking can be practiced in a manner that does not threaten human health.”

During a recent call, Sue told me she found two dead hawks that “seem to have just fallen out of the sky.” She can’t prove pollution from the fracking industry killed the birds, but she doesn’t think the connection requires much of a stretch. A nature lover and eight-year-resident of West Texas, she worries about all the creatures she shares the desert with, including the Texas horned lizard (also known as horny toads) and roadrunners, species she is seeing much less frequently.

Primexx, the operator fracking multiple sites nearest the Franklins’ property, is choosing to drill directly across the road from their home. James said putting their rigs there is a clear indication the company cares only for its own profits.

“There is no reason that the frack pad sites weren’t set up at least a few feet away, instead of directly across from the homes along this road,” he said.

View of the Davis Mountains in Alpine, Texas, along the road leading to the McDowell Observatory.View of the Davis Mountains in Alpine, Texas, along the road leading to the McDowell Observatory.Julie Dermansky for DeSmogCemetery in Fort Davis,* Texas.Cemetery in Fort Davis,* Texas.Julie Dermansky for DeSmog

Dark Skies, Wilderness, and an Encroaching Oil Industry

Fracking industry sprawl has encroached on other small towns popular with tourists in the southwest Permian Basin, an area known for rugged natural landscapes and big dark skies. Fort Davis, where stargazers flock to the McDonald Observatory, is reputed as having the best view of the Milky Way in the US, and Alpine, Texas, is considered the gateway to Big Bend National Park, where dramatic limestone cliffs, diverse desert wildlife, and ancient pictographs draw hundreds of thousands of visitors a year.

Downtown Alpine, Texas, a town known as the gateway to Big Bend National Park.Downtown Alpine, Texas, a town known as the gateway to Big Bend National Park.Julie Dermansky for DeSmog

Alpine resident Lori Glover, who works part time for Earthworks, an environmental advocacy group, has been monitoring fracking industry sites in the region and helping residents like the Franklins file environmental complaints with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

Mountains line Texas Route 118 connecting Alpine to Fort Davis.Mountains line Texas Route 118 connecting Alpine to Fort Davis.Julie Dermansky for DeSmogDeer on the side of the main road leading into Alpine, Texas.Deer on the side of the main road leading into Alpine, Texas.Julie Dermansky for DeSmog

Lori and her husband Mark are both environmental activists who helped lead the fight against Energy Transfer Partners’ (now Energy Transfer’s) Trans-Pecos pipeline, which was built to transport fracked gas from West Texas to Mexico. Though their efforts weren’t successful in preventing the pipeline’s construction, they believe the resistance against the pipeline helped raise awareness of the fossil fuel industry’s impacts on the region.

They ran a protest camp on land they own, and both were arrested while trying to stop construction of the pipeline.

“We risked everything — home, income, friends, marriage — to fight off the oil and gas industry and preserve the sanctity of the Big Bend,” Lori said. Big Bend National Park is about 80 miles south of Alpine and is a place Mark describes as the last pristine frontier in Texas.

An anti-pipeline sign near the Glovers’ residence in Alpine, Texas.An anti-pipeline sign near the Glovers’ residence in Alpine, Texas.Julie Dermansky for DeSmogLori Glover with a handout she made to instruct people on filing a complaint with the TCEQ.Lori Glover with a handout she made to instruct people on filing a complaint with the TCEQ.Julie Dermansky for DeSmog

The Glovers, like the Franklins, didn’t think Alpine, about 60 miles southeast of Balmorhea, would be affected by the oil and gas industry when the couple put down roots there together about 13 years ago. But they told me the air quality today is noticeably different. Smog now interferes with their view of the surrounding mountain range and has taken a toll on the family’s health. They say at least one of them has a cough at any given time.

I told the Glovers I smelled gas when I stopped to photograph an anti-Trans-Pecos pipeline sign about a quarter mile from their house. That didn’t surprise them. Mark had already called in a complaint for what he figures is a natural gas leak from a nearby transmission pipeline. He said he would call it in again but doubted it would make a difference.

As for regulators, the “TCEQ is AWOL in the Permian,” Mark said during a chat at the Glovers’ house, which sits at the base of the Sunny Glen Mountains.

Mark Glover at the entrance to a Trans-Pecos pipeline transfer station a quarter mile from their home.Mark Glover at the entrance to a Trans-Pecos pipeline transfer station a quarter mile from their home.Julie Dermansky for DeSmogThe Glovers at a Primexx fracking site near the Franklins’ house. Lori and the Franklins have filed environmental complaints against this site.The Glovers at a Primexx fracking site near the Franklins’ house. Lori and the Franklins have filed environmental complaints against this site.Julie Dermansky for DeSmog

Not once since Lori started monitoring air pollution in the Permian Basin for Earthworks just under a year ago has she not found something out of kilter, from methane flares burning black smoke to the sickening and dangerous smell of hydrogen sulfide.

Whenever possible she files a pollution complaint but often she can’t specify the exact location of potential violations because they often are not accessible from a public road. This makes it impossible to identify the site operator, making it impossible to file a complaint.

The Glovers have considered moving away but think it is important to challenge the oil and gas industry: If not them, then who?

The Franklins have considered moving too. James told me he’d be willing to clear out if he can manage to sell his house for what he feels it is worth, but Sue wonders what good moving will do.

“Where can you go where humans aren’t in the process of destroying the planet?” she mused.

The post The Fracking Industry Encroaches on Southwest Texas appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Wisconsin GOP Plot to Rig Key Supreme Court Election in Lame Duck Session

Sun, 12/02/2018 - 16:44

If you pick up an election administration manual anywhere in America, what you won’t find are instructions on how to minimize voter turnout.

But that is what is what the Wisconsin GOP is contemplating as they struggle to maintain their grip on the legislative agenda and the state Supreme Court in the face of a “blue wave” that shows no signs of receding.

Scott Walker was swept out of office by an historic turnout November 6th, bested by State Superintendent Tony Evers, but the iron-clad gerrymander of the State Assembly meant that Democrats picked up only one seat. Now Walker and his cronies are publicly mulling a “lame duck” session to weaken Evers’ powers and move the date of a key election to make sure that their favored Supreme Court candidate, Justice Daniel Kelly, is not swept out of office in another blue wave.

The 2020 Supreme Court election will be a pivotal one. At stake is not only the makeup of the state’s highest court, but the agenda of the newly elected Democratic governor.

The brazen manipulation of nonpartisan election administration and of the state’s highest court has election officials, editorial boards and legal scholars up in arms.

“Our objective–as Americans–should be to have large turnouts for our elections. I understand why Justice Kelly would appreciate this change, but I do not understand how some legislators and the governor are contemplating a change so to have less people involved in electing a Supreme Court candidate for the next 10 years. We need more civic involvement not less,” former Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske told the Center for Media and Democracy.

Manipulating Election Dates to Ensure Lower Voter Turnout

Legislators were initially talking about having a lame duck session to pass a subsidy package to stop the Kimberly-Clark Corp. plant in the Fox Valley from closing. But since the Evers victory, a raft of ideas to undercut Evers’ powers and that of the newly elected state Attorney General have been floated.

Currently, two elections are planned for the spring of 2020; the primary for state Supreme Court and local offices in February and the general election for those offices plus the presidential primary in April. The Walker plan would move the high-turnout presidential primary to March and create a third statewide election in hopes that lower voter turnout in April would help his pick for the Supreme Court. Justice Kelly has never run for statewide office and was appointed to the post by Walker a few years ago when Justice Prosser quit the court.

It is almost as if Walker is channelling right-wing political strategist and American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) founder Paul Weyrich who famously observed “I don’t want everybody to vote. … in fact, our leverage in the elections goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

Using the state’s highest court for partisan gamesmanship is likely to be wildly unpopular in a state where fair play is treasured.

“When Republicans can’t win fair and square playing by the rules, their answer is to change the rules of the game,” said State Representative Lisa Subeck. “Proposing to move the Supreme Court election is just the latest in a long string of Republican attempts–including limits on early voting, stringent Voter ID requirements, and the most gerrymandered legislative districts in the country–to game the system in their own favor.”

It is not just the Evers agenda at stake, it is possible that the 2021 battle over redistricting could end up in the Wisconsin Supreme Court, even though most gerrymandering issues are usually heard in federal court.

“I am consistently shocked when I see the governor and/or the legislature wanting to change a law (and worse yet the Constitution), because of a desire to target one person (either favorably or unfavorably),” said Justice Geske referring to the GOP’s 2015 effort to change the Constitution specifically to strip the respected Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson of her leadership role. “There is no reason to have our taxpayers incur the millions of dollars in additional expense associated with a separate election.”

Election Officials United in Opposition to Electoral Manipulation

Election professionals from all over the state pushed back on the lame duck plan, detailing the logistical nightmares and expense of running three statewide elections in close proximity.

Adding a third election to the spring calendar would cost an additional $7 million or more, municipal clerks estimate. Ironically, Walker justified his reluctance to schedule two, much smaller, special elections earlier this year by suggesting they were too costly and too much of a bother. The reality was that Walker didn’t want to schedule the elections because he feared the Trump backlash that was already apparent in special elections nationwide. After a public outcry and three separate court rulings, Walker was forced to schedule the elections and the Republicans lost an important State Senate race.

Overlapping absentee ballots and military ballots are a special concern of election officials along with the challenges posed to early voting and the difficulty of recruiting additional poll workers.

“Our systems are mainly set up to handle one election at a time,” said Rock County Clerk Lisa Tollefson told Wisconsin Public Radio. “When they’re overlapping that’s when you’re going to have issues. Voters could get a separate ballot for each, thinking they’ve already voted, and not send the other ballot in. There’s a possibility they could put both ballots in the same envelope, and get counted at the wrong election.”

“As an administrator of the elections, I cannot begin to tell you the numerous ways that this is going to cause so much confusion, logistical nightmare with the voters and I can’t help but think that that’s going to start to question the integrity of the elections here in Wisconsin,” said La Crosse County Clerk Ginny Dankmeyer.

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told the Associated Press that concerns from the county clerks had raised alarms, but nothing has been ruled out.

Lame Duck Proposals Likely to Move Fast With Little Opportunity for Public Input

Wisconsin voters hate sore losers and are outraged by politicians trying to game the system, but special sessions of the legislature often happen fast, normal rules for public notice and participation are suspended, and there is little public scrutiny of the items being considered.

That is why Common Cause Wisconsin is telling its members to call legislative leaders now. The good government group warns that a package of measures “will be shielded from the public and media as long as possible and then unleashed and rammed through the legislature quickly.”

“Unlikely to be part of the session is the reason lawmakers claim to be calling it in the first place,” writes the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel referring to the a long-stalled subsidy package to save the closing Kimberly-Clark plant.

The post Wisconsin GOP Plot to Rig Key Supreme Court Election in Lame Duck Session appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The First-Ever National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Is a Game Changer

Sun, 12/02/2018 - 16:36

When Rosa Sanluis arrived in the United States, she earned $60 per week for a seemingly endless set of household tasks, working for a family in Texas. She worked from 5 a.m. until late at night, sometimes 3 a.m. on weekends, when her employers would go out and leave her to babysit. Like most domestic workers, Sanluis didn’t receive a written contract, uninterrupted breaks, sick leave, or overtime pay—because she wasn’t entitled to them under law.

On Thursday, the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) announced a National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights to raise wages and labor conditions for workers like Sanluis. The legislation is expected to be introduced when the new Congress convenes next year.

“It is time—and past time—to fully correct the historical injustice that left a workforce largely made up of women of color shut out of the protections of core labor standards,” Rebecca Smith, Work Structures Director of the National Employment Law Project, tells In These Times.

Co-sponsored by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), the legislation draws on the recommendations of domestic worker leaders as well as similar bills of rights for domestic workers that have been passed in eight states and in Seattle. “Domestic workers are shaping the future of our economy,” Jayapal tells In These Times in a statement. “Their strength, courage and power inspires us all as we fight together for workplace democracy.”

The legislation would include domestic workers in Civil Rights and Occupational Health and Safety Act protections, and require fair scheduling, meal and rest breaks, written contracts and protection from retaliation. It would also increase access to retirement benefits, paid sick leave, healthcare and training programs. Additionally, the bill seeks to facilitate collective bargaining by domestic workers and would establish a federal task force on domestic workers’ rights.

The bill offers special protections to live-in domestic workers, who were previously ineligible for overtime pay. These workers are especially likely to work long hours without breaks, and to report that their employers expect them to be constantly on call, even during scheduled time off.

“Absolutely [overtime pay] would have changed my life,” Sanluis says through an interpreter. “When you’re earning so little, your access to things is completely limited.” The bill would also guarantee live-in workers’ right to privacy and adequate notice in case of termination–a protection that’s especially important when losing a workplace also means losing a home.

Working in private homes, and largely excluded from Civil Rights Act sexual harassment protections, domestic workers are especially vulnerable to sexual abuse. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, these workers are demanding substantive workplace protections in the form of access to “panic buttons”—devices required by law in some cities that can be activated in case of sexual harassment or threats—along with research into federal policies to support domestic worker survivors.

Silvia Reyes, a nanny in New York who described being sexually harassed by her former employer, says, “It’s not fair to feel insecure in your work, and to feel scared and feel alert all the time. It’s a horrible thing to have happen to you every single day, the whole day.”

The bill comes at a pivotal time for domestic workers and those who rely upon them. Women, traditionally the caretakers of children and the elderly, have entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers. And the American population is aging rapidly: Every eight seconds, a baby boomer turns 65. Women, including women with children, have entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers. “As people live longer, we have the opportunity to embrace an intergenerational future in America, where all of us are cared for at each stage of our lives,” says NDWA Executive Director Ai-jen Poo in an emailed statement.

“Quality care and workers’ rights are inextricably linked,” says Nik Theodore, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor of urban planning and policy. When workers have economic security, he explains, they’re able to provide higher-quality care.

In response to the demand for their services, the number of domestic workers is growing. By 2030, caregiving is predicted to represent the largest segment of America’s workforce. And domestic workers are “some of the most vulnerable workers,” says Barnard College history professor Premilla Nadasen. Ninety-five percent are women and more than half are women of color. An estimated 45 percent are immigrants, according to the Pew Research Center, both documented and undocumented.

Like many workers who are employed in what’s considered “women’s work,” domestic laborers are chronically underpaid. According to a 2017 report from the NDWA, less than half of domestic workers are paid enough to adequately support a family, and 20 percent report that, in the last month, there have been times when they had been unable to afford food.

When the Fair Labor Standards Act and the National Labor Relations Act were enacted in the 1930s, both excluded domestic workers, leaving them without the minimum wage, overtime, and collective bargaining protections offered to other workers.

“Southern congressmen were fearful that granting Black workers labor rights would disrupt the racial order of the South,” Nadasen says. “And Northern labor leaders representing industrial unions also never saw domestic workers as part of their constituency and did not advocate for their rights.”

In 1974, domestic workers finally won the federal minimum wage and other protections, but those protections still weren’t extended to casual workers like babysitters, or companions to the elderly. As Lizzy Ratner wrote in The Nation in 2009:

Because most domestic workers labor in environments with fewer than fifteen employees, they are also excluded from such key civil rights legislation as the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Title VII, which bars most kinds of employment discrimination. Add to this the difficulty of enforcing even the few protections that do exist—particularly for undocumented workers—and for many domestic workers it’s still 1934.

“We see the gaps that still exist,” says the NDWA’s Marzena Zukowska. “There are [domestic] workers who live in states that aren’t friendly to workers’ rights or immigrants’ rights,” like Texas, which has the third highest number of domestic workers in the country, about half of whom are undocumented or lacking work authorization. “For the first time in history, we have a chance to raise the bar for every domestic worker in our country,” says Poo.

For Sanluis—now an organizer with the Fuerza del Valle Workers Center—the success of prior bills is proof that federal legislation is achievable too. “Take a look at the bill, analyze it, be conscious of the fact that we are also human beings, and we deserve the same basic rights and protections as workers in other industries.”

The post The First-Ever National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Is a Game Changer appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Labor Leaders Say Only “Full-Throated Economic Populism” Can Defeat Elites

Sun, 12/02/2018 - 16:29

With the American labor movement under relentless assault by the right-wing Supreme Court, the Republican Party at both the state and federal level, and President Donald Trump‘s plutocratic administration, prominent union leaders convened during the final day of The Sanders Institute Gathering on Saturday to confront the existential threat facing the working class and emphasize the urgency of organizing at the grassroots level to fight back and build political power.

“The working class is hurting, and they’re done with business as usual,” Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, declared during a panel discussion titled, “The Labor Movement: Essential to Democracy.”

Moderated by RoseAnn DeMoro—former executive director of National Nurses United (NNU)—the panel of progressive union leaders attributed Trump’s presidential victory to the Democratic Party’s decades-long corporate turn and abandonment of the working class, which left a gaping void that the billionaire real estate mogul exploited in his rise to power.

The result, Dimondstein argued, was “a lesser of two evils duopoly”—two dominant political parties that side with the interests of business over those of the working class.

“Political parties have failed, absolutely failed, the working class,” Dimondstein said.

To begin rebuilding the labor movement in the face of the ceaseless assault from right-wing politians and their billionaire benefactors, Good Jobs Nation Joseph Geevarghese argued that the tepid centrism and incremental solutions offered by the Democratic establishment will not cut it.

“We don’t need more centrism. We don’t need more half-baked economic ideas,” Geevarghese said during the panel discussion, which also included Peter Knowlton, general president of United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America.

“We need more full-throated economic populism,” Geevarghese continued. “We need to make sure that we grow the American labor movement.”

As the panelists readily acknowledged, the present state of organized labor is grim, particularly after the Supreme Court’s Janus ruling, which dealt a major blow to public-sector unions. According to the most recent government data, just over 10 percent of American workers are union members—an all-time low.

But there are plenty of bright spots, such as radicalized teachers unions striking to combat budget cuts and demanding fair pay nationwide, nurses leading the grassroots fight for Medicare for All, and workers throughout the country organizing for a $15 minimum wage.

“Working people are the most powerful force on Earth,” said DeMoro, who retired this year as executive director of NNU, the largest nurses union in the United States. “The labor movement isn’t just people who are in unions, it’s all of us.”

In order to defeat the corporate forces hellbent on completely eliminating workers’ right to organize and bargain collectively for better wages and conditions, Dimondstein of the Postal Workers Union argued the working class must become as organized and political as the business elites it is combating.

“Unions and the working class need to be political as hell,” Dimondstein concluded. “Last time I checked, the Koch brothers are political as hell, Wall Street is political is hell… We have to be political.”

Watch the full panel discussion, which closed with a rousing group performance of Solidarity Forever, the union anthem by Ralph Chaplin, the iconic labor activist:

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The Labor Movement: Essential to Democracy

LIVE at The Sanders Institute Gathering: The Labor Movement: Essential to DemocracyIn an era of systemic attacks to cut union resources and erode workers’ rights, there needs to be serious discussion about how to effectively fight back. This panel will cover the implications of Janus, the fight for $15 and discuss the innovative ways in which unions and workers’ rights groups continue to build a strong voice for the working class.Speakers: RoseAnn DeMoro, Activist & Former Executive Director, National Nurses United (NNU); Mark Dimondstein, President, American Postal Workers Union (APWU); Joseph Geevarghese, Executive Director, Good Jobs Nation; Peter Knowlton, General President, United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers (UE)

Posted by Sanders Institute on Saturday, December 1, 2018

The post Labor Leaders Say Only “Full-Throated Economic Populism” Can Defeat Elites appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The LGBTQ Movement Needs to Revisit Its Radical Past to Thrive

Sun, 12/02/2018 - 15:15

Author and professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Roderick A. Ferguson, takes a deep dive into the radical roots of the LGBTQ movement in his new book One-Dimensional Queer. In this interview, Ferguson discusses the capitalist motivations for commodifying queerness and how the movement today can combat those motivations to return to a more intersectional movement.

Samantha Borek: This book struck me as very poignant, especially in the current political moment as well as the state of LGBTQ movements today. Was there any one moment that made you feel this book needed to be written?

Roderick A. Ferguson: I, and many others, have been struck by the accumulation of various moments that require a critique of how gay or queer liberation has been narrowed in the name of gay rights, gay belonging, gay consumption. People forget that, for instance, the freedom to marry, the right to participation in the military, and the expansion of hate crime legislation — which has contributed to the expansion of the prison-industrial complex — were part of the primary agenda for gay rights organizations in the 1990s, as Dean Spade and Craig Wilse analyzed almost 20 years ago. That cluster of agendas that made gay entrance into the mainstream part of the expansion of the US’s military and penal powers was the first time that I thought that there needed to be a critique of how gay and queer politics had strayed. I also remember the first time I saw the rainbow flag advertised as a barcode. That was back in the 2000s. It suggested immediately that LGBTQ identity was being tied to the expansion of capitalism. I bring all of this up to say that the mainstreaming of LGBTQ politics is really about the accumulation of various “moments,” an accumulation that bolsters the powers of the state and of the market.

In the book, you note the University of Toronto’s homophile group quoting Milton Friedman, an economist that would later advise Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan: “There is an economic incentive in a free market to separate economic efficiency from other characteristics of the individual.” Could you elaborate on that? Why is that purposeful disconnect important to recognize in queer movements today?

Roderick A. FergusonRoderick A. Ferguson.Via Roderick A. Ferguson

Well, the group was interpreting Friedman in order to align gay rights with neoconservative ideologies concerning market capitalism. It’s the idea that the market is rational and unprejudiced, that the market only values whether or not you’re an efficient and productive worker, that everyone has equality of opportunity in a market that doesn’t discriminate on the basis of your racial, class, gender or sexual identity. Now, the history of labor discrimination and labor segmentation — because of the gender and race of the applicant, as well as the history of redlining — are just two realities that shatter this notion that the market is blindfolded like the image of Justice. Invoking Friedman was a way for groups like the U of T homophile group to claim that the market would be the great rescuer of LGBT folks and usher them into the social mainstream.

There’s an interesting quote (which the book aims to refute) from Leo Louis Martello, “GAY POWER … means earning and paying one’s way,” suggesting that monetary gain means liberation. This reminds me a lot of Caitlyn Jenner, a wealthy, white trans woman who put her stock in Donald Trump, which other white LGBTQ folks did in turn. This seems to be a notion rooted in capitalist white supremacy. How does this contrast with the intersectional, radical picture of queer movements from the ’60s and ’70s?

One-Dimensional QueerAuthor Roderick A. Ferguson discusses the commodification of queerness in One-Dimensional Queer.Polity

If you think about groups like Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), started by Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson; the group Third World Revolution; or the Philadelphia group DYKETACTICS, there was no belief that the wealthy would come in and make lives of poor people, people of color, or the great majority of gay or trans people better. How could people believe that in a moment in which they were actively paying attention to all the ways in which wealth was decreasing the life-chances of the poor, who were differentiated not only by race and class, but by gender and sexuality as well? The moment in which these groups were active was one in which they were all in a sense saying that their various differences were not there to be the handmaids of state, capital and white supremacy. We can differentiate them from Caitlyn Jenner and her bourgeois counterparts in that way for starters.

In my own historical understanding, I (and other youths) would assume that the depoliticizing of queer movements only occurred in the last few years. The second chapter of your book suggests that “gay respectability” came into play almost immediately after Stonewall with most of the “blame” for the violence being laid on groups like the Black Panthers and Yippies (Youth National Party). How is this continuing to play out today, particularly in how we celebrate Pride Month?

Yes, I was interested in the earlier emergence of gay respectability as well. It was one of the surprises, how soon after Stonewall it emerged and how it arose as a challenge to the lively anti-racist, anti-imperialist and socialist politics being developed by queer groups. To the extent that Pride becomes a way of externalizing anti-racist and anti-capitalist politics to “those other groups” is the extent to which Pride walks in this bourgeois legacy.

In Austin, Texas, we have QueerBomb in addition to typical Pride. How do celebrations like that, which aim to combat corporate control and commodification of Pride, fit into the radical narrative of queer history?

Events like QueerBomb are hugely important because of the ways in which they try to take inspiration from the radical queer past and for the ways in which they try to shed light on the organizations that are trying to extend the legacies of that past. These events are also important because they demonstrate the creative ways in which people are trying to express the diversities of queerness for critical and alternative purposes. Part of what was so interesting to me doing the research and the writing for the book was how political, economic and social forces were trying to convince queers to press their interests and energies into the confines of what the government and the market would allow. This was a way of trying to quash queer experiments with socialist and anti-racist politics and alternative family formations. The more events (like QueerBomb) that try to reactivate those experiments, the better off we’ll all be.

What, in your view, is imperative for the growing community to do or recognize, in order to continue in the radical tradition of Stonewall, Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, etc.?

We have to encourage and develop practices whereby queerness isn’t a surrender to the status quos of race, class, gender and sexuality. It means building forms of queerness that reject the given realities of the government and the market. After having written the book, I now take the real meaning of Stonewall as not about the singular assertion of gay and sexual liberation at all. It was, in fact, a refusal to accept a whole series of domination. Through the book, I learned that Stonewall was connected to so many issues — institutionalized homophobia and transphobia on a campus like NYU, demonstrations against the violent uses of police power, critiques of US imperialism in places like Puerto Rico, efforts to produce housing security for the most vulnerable. Continuing the radical tradition of the founders of STAR has to be grounded in a multi-dimensional politics and activism. That is my new understanding of Stonewall after the book.

The post The LGBTQ Movement Needs to Revisit Its Radical Past to Thrive appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

How Climate Change Helped Create the Migrant Caravan

Sun, 12/02/2018 - 14:28

The “caravan” of hopeful immigrants from Central America that was tear gassed by the US government on November 25 continues to be shamelessly exploited as political fodder. Trump depicts the immigrants as a security threat to the US, while Democrats like Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez compare the Central American immigrants to Jews fleeing Germany because of the threat of physical violence and death in their own country. But both these narratives overlook one of the main contributors of the migrant caravan.

The Southern border has seen a sharp increase in the number of Guatemalans trying to enter the US, starting in 2014. That was coincidentally the first year of a severe drought tied to an extreme El Niño that struck Central America’s “Dry Corridor,” which includes Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, collectively known as the Northern Triangle. El Salvador’s rivers are drying up and Guatemala’s semiarid region is expanding. Temporary relief from the drought has only come from occasional, devastating flooding, which has only added to the destruction of crops. One-third of all employment in Central America comes from agriculture, and that is now failing across the entire region.

Guatemala is ranked as one of the top 10 of the world’s nations most vulnerable to the climate crisis — meaning an agricultural crisis that is now evolving into a human crisis. The current weather patterns wreaking havoc on Central American agriculture are consistent with what climate scientists have predicted, and climate models indicate it will only get worse. Those areas of the world prone to drought will see even less precipitation (like the American West), and those that see too much will get even more, with overall temperatures on the rise.

An inter-agency study from the United Nations interviewed families trying to leave Central America. The report revealed that the driving force for this exodus was not violence per se, but the drought and its downstream consequences — lack of food, no income and no work — all related to crop failures.

Eduardo Méndez López is a subsistence farmer in Guatemala and was interviewed by National Geographic. The multi-year drought completely wiped out his corn fields. His source of food is rapidly dwindling; he has no income; and he soon will have no way of feeding his six children. “This is the worst drought we’ve ever had. We’ve lost absolutely everything. If things don’t improve, we’ll be forced to migrate somewhere else. We can’t go on like this,” he told National Geographic. The reporter described the physical appearance of López and his neighbors as gaunt and “skin stretched thin over bone” after being forced to survive for months on corn tortillas and salt.

It’s not just subsistence farming that is being threatened by climate change in the Northern Triangle. Cash crops like coffee have been decimated by the drought and another climate-related plague called “leaf rust,” a fungus that used to die with cool evenings, but no longer does because of warmer night time temperatures.

Robert Albro, researcher at American University, says, “The main reason people are moving is because they don’t have anything to eat. This has a strong link to climate change – we are seeing tremendous climate instability that is radically changing food security in the region.” Almost half of Guatemalan children under 5 years old suffer malnutrition. In rural areas of the country, it’s 90 percent. A World Food Program analysis found that nearly half of migrants from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala cited food insecurity as a reason for their leaving their home countries.

Children and teenagers are dropping out of school because their families have no money for supplies. Entire villages are unraveling because there is no money to plant another crop and not enough government help. Even more people would abandon their homes but have no money for transportation. Rural Guatemalans are foraging the landscape in search of wild malanga roots in a desperate attempt to feed themselves.

Global temperatures have been above average for 406 straight months. At the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions, by 2100, the world can expect 2 billion of its inhabitants to become climate refugees like the Central American caravan. As required by law, the federal government just released the latest National Climate Assessment, a 1,600-page report from more than 300 scientists from 13 federal agencies, including the Department of Defense, the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA. The overriding theme is that the United States is already being adversely impacted by climate change and it will continue to get much worse; the economic impacts will be enormous and time is running out to do something about it.

President Trump says he doesn’t believe the report, and continues with public statements as ridiculous as, “I want great climate, we’re going to have that.” He has decried “globalism,” extolled “nationalism” and forced the United States to become the only nation to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. But there is no wall tall enough, or Border Patrol massive enough, to stop either the “global” or the “national” consequences of the climate crisis.

Trump is training guns and tear gas on the trickle of human suffering inching toward our border. But that trickle will become a raging torrent if the United States continues to deny the climate crisis, its role in causing it and its responsibility to help alleviate it.

The post How Climate Change Helped Create the Migrant Caravan appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

On Hanukkah, Let’s Challenge Militarized Security Responses to Anti-Semitism

Sun, 12/02/2018 - 14:19

Amid the swirl of responses to the deadly Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in October was the New York Post report of a Colorado gun shop owner named Mel “Dragonman,” who publicly offered free guns, ammo and firearms training to congregational rabbis. According to the report, responses to his offer were “mixed.” One congregant appreciated the dealer’s intentions but added “arming people is … not part of the solution.” Another answered that while she was fine with the idea, she drew the line at the prospect of her rabbi carrying an AR-15 during services.

While this story is obviously a cheap tabloid throwaway on the surface, it does reflect a serious and increasing intra-communal conversation over the security of synagogues and Jewish institutions post-Pittsburgh. Indeed, it would not be an overstatement to suggest that the Tree of Life massacre is causing an American Jewish reckoning over the threat of anti-Semitic violence with a gravity we have not seen in generations.

According to press reports, increasing numbers of synagogues have already hired armed guards or are seriously considering doing so. The New York Post reports, “Rabbi Gary Moskowitz, a former cop who founded a group called the International Security Coalition of Clergy, said he has been inundated with more than 150 calls from ‘scared’ rabbis, congregants and non-Jews who want guns or self-defense training, which includes learning how to hurl weights and tomahawk axes.” The rabbi of a prominent Kansas City congregation explained his decision to hire an armed guard thus: “You have to be vigilant all the time, unfortunately. That’s just part of what it means to be a congregation at this moment in history.”

Other synagogues and organizations, however, are resisting the urge to resort to armed security, citing an unwillingness to let “fear-mongering” and “trauma-triggering” (embodied by Trump’s comment that an armed guard could have prevented the tragedy) dictate their approach to their own communal security. As New York-based organization Jews For Economic and Racial Justice (JFREJ) responded in its statement:

We know that antisemitism is a pillar of white supremacy, and that as white supremacy rears its head more brazenly, so does antisemitism. In recognizing the very real need for safety in synagogues and Jewish communal spaces, we must be skeptical of calls made by Trump and others to increase police presence in our community spaces.

This issue is also fraught because the American Jewish community is more diverse than many often assume — and vulnerable minority groups within the Jewish community members are openly expressing their fears that an increased police presence or hired security would cause to feel unsafe and unwelcome in their own houses of worship. This fall — even before the Tree of Life tragedy — one synagogue president wrote about this very issue after his synagogue board discussed congregational security during the High Holidays:

Not only do we believe that public or private police won’t keep us safe, we decided that these kinds of security measures could very possibly hurt our community in grave ways. Our congregants include people of color, trans and gender non-conforming folk, queers and their families, peace activists and others who have all been targets of police and state violence…. The risk to individuals and the fabric of our congregation outweighs any potential benefit.

In a widely read article following the attack, Bentley Addison expressed his personal feelings about the impact an armed police presence would have on him as a Black American Jew, pointing out that “with police officers in synagogues, Black Jews and Jews of Color won’t feel safer at all.” Addison concluded forcefully that, following Pittsburgh, congregations should “prioritize the safety of all Jews.”

As a result, some congregations and Jewish organizations are promoting decidedly different models of communal security. For instance, JFREJ, in partnership with Jewish congregations and organizations and allies in the New York City police accountability movement, recently released a “Commit to the Community Safety Pledge” in which Jewish institutions can commit to “develop a community safety plan that aims to honor all who come through our doors.” The text of the pledge further notes:

People targeted by state-enforced violence in our country have had to do this work for centuries, and we are grateful to learn from the wisdom they’ve developed. The strategies include interfaith collaboration and crisis de-escalation, as well as long-term interventions such as creating alternative safety teams, rapid response networks, and broader cultural education around antisemitism and white supremacy.

In a similar vein, Jewish Voice for Peace’s Deputy Director Stefanie Fox has stated that the organization is exploring the possibility of establishing an “interfaith security coalition” in which different faith communities would band together to protect each other’s worship spaces. “If we’re doing the work to deepen our practice and skills around safety outside of policing, that capacity can and should serve not only our Jewish communities but also our interfaith partners in the crosshairs of white nationalist and state violence,” Fox said.

On a strictly practical level, Jewish institutions are actively considering institutional safety strategies such as evacuation plans that have the potential to save lives more effectively than police or armed guards. They also stress the need for these plans to be collectively developed and shared and not simply left to “trained professionals.” As one Jewish organizational consultant recently put it, Jewish synagogue security functions should be “de-siloed,” advising that “safety and security needs to be shared by clergy, operations staff, those responsible for community engagement as well as lay leaders.”

For contemporary Jews of course, this conversation is nothing new. In the post-Holocaust world, the issue of Jewish safety and security is complex and fraught — particularly with the establishment of a Jewish nation-state whose very raison d’etre is to safeguard Jewish lives. In many ways, it might be claimed that Israel itself embodies Trump’s response to the Pittsburgh shooting: that the only true form of protection comes from the barrel of a gun.

However, the 70-year history of the state of Israel has demonstrated the fatal fallacy of this response. In the 21st century, the state founded with the ostensible mission of ensuring Jewish security has ironically become the one place in the world where Jews feel the most unsafe: an over-militarized garrison state that is literally building higher and higher walls between itself and its “enemies.” And of course, the establishment and maintenance of an ethnically Jewish nation state has created an even more unsafe environment for the millions of non-Jews who happen to live there.

On a final note, it’s worth noting that this current conversation is taking place as the Jewish festival of Hanukkah approaches. For many, this holiday is a celebration of Jewish armed might against the anti-Semitic persecution of the Assyrian Seleucid Empire in 168 BCE. This is largely due to the influence of its observance in Israel, where this relatively minor Jewish festival has been transformed into a celebration of military might by Zionist founders who identified with the Hanukkah story’s central characters, the Maccabees — the priestly Jewish clan whose military victory over the Assyrians resulted in the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem and a brief period of Jewish independence.

However, while many might reflexively accept Israel’s framing of the Maccabee narrative, the history of Hanukkah is not nearly as simple as this version might indicate. As it would turn out, the Jewish commonwealth established by the Maccabees (known as the Hasmonean Kingdom) quickly became corrupt, oppressing its own Jewish citizens and waging ill-advised wars of conquest against surrounding nations. In the end, it didn’t take long for the Romans to move in and mop up. All in all, the last period of Jewish political sovereignty in the land lasted less than 100 years.

The Talmudic rabbis who developed classical Jewish tradition as we know it were not, to put it mildly, huge fans of Judah Maccabee and his followers, and they were loath to glorify the Books of the Maccabees (which was never canonized as part of the Hebrew Bible). In fact, the festival of Hanukkah is scarcely mentioned in the Talmud beyond a brief debate about how to light a menorah and a legend about a miraculous vial of oil that burned for eight days. Notably, the words of the prophet Zechariah, “Not by might and not by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of Hosts,” was chosen to be recited as the prophetic portion for the festival.

In the end, it’s altogether appropriate that this current Jewish communal conversation about the true nature of Jewish safety and security is taking place as the holiday of Hanukkah approaches. In the aftermath of Pittsburgh, American Jews find themselves considering these age-old questions anew: How will we respond to those who seek to do us harm? Can we depend upon the physical force of state security to save us? Or will we answer with a deeper vision of communal security — that none of us will be safe until all of us are safe?

The post On Hanukkah, Let’s Challenge Militarized Security Responses to Anti-Semitism appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Attention, Marketplace Shoppers: Don’t Delay On 2019 Enrollment

Sat, 12/01/2018 - 17:26

Don’t procrastinate. Most consumers who buy their own insurance on the federal health insurance marketplace face a Dec. 15 deadline. Advocates are reminding these customers that if they miss the deadline, they may not have a plan that starts in January 2019.

Despite repeated efforts by Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, it remains the law of the land, and subsidies that help bring down premiums and reduce cost sharing are still available to help people afford plans sold on the marketplaces, also called exchanges. Those plans still must provide comprehensive benefits and limit out-of-pocket costs for consumers. If you buy an exchange plan, insurers can’t turn you down or charge you more if you have a preexisting medical condition.

But Republicans did push through a major change in the law that takes effect in 2019: Consumers will no longer owe a fine if they don’t have health insurance. It’s not yet clear if that has tamped down interest, but data released by federal officials showed that the number of people who had signed up during the first two weeks of open enrollment was down by about 20 percent from a year ago.

If you’re shopping for coverage off the exchange, you’ll probably encounter ads for short-term policies, which the Trump administration is promoting and for which it has loosened the requirements. Those plans generally have lower premiums, but they are riskier buys if you get sick, advocates say. More on those plans later.

If you want to enroll in a marketplace plan, now’s the time to get cracking. Enrollment, which began Nov. 1, will close on Dec. 15 in about two-thirds of states, which use the federal exchange.

Some people who live in states that run their own marketplaces may have extra time to sign up. California’s open-enrollment period doesn’t end until Jan. 15, for example, and in New York open enrollment runs through Jan. 31. In addition, people who’ve been affected by the wildfires in California may qualify for a special enrollment period that gives them even more time, according to a spokesperson for Covered California, the state’s marketplace.

Although you may have more plans to choose from for 2019, there will likely be fewer enrollment pros on hand to help you pick the one that’s right for you. Here are some tips that may help.

Review All Your Plan Options

If you’re already enrolled in a marketplace plan and don’t take steps to sign up during open enrollment, chances are the marketplace will automatically re-enroll you in your current plan or another one that is similar for 2019. Don’t let that happen.

Even if you like the coverage you have, it’s critical to study the details. Your plan may have essentially the same name, but there’s no guarantee that the premium, deductible and other specifics — like the list of approved hospitals and doctors — will be the same. Check to make sure it still meets your needs.

Many people will have more insurers to choose from for next year. Fifty-eight percent of enrollees will have a choice of at least three insurers in 2019, compared with 48 percent who did so this year, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.) Meanwhile, the share of enrollees with just one marketplace insurer in their area will drop to 17 percent in 2019 from 26 percent this year.

Premiums will edge down slightly for many people next year. The changes vary widely by region, but the monthly unsubsidized premium for the second-lowest-priced silver plan, called the benchmark plan because its cost is used to set the level of federal premium support, will drop by an average 1.5 percent in states that use healthcare.gov, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. For a 27-year-old nonsmoker, that will mean a $6 difference ($412 dropping to $406).

(Silver plans are the most popular type of marketplace plan, picking up 70 percent of the cost of covered benefits, on average. Bronze plans are less generous, paying for 60 percent, while gold plans, at 80 percent, pay a greater share of the costs.)

Keep the Benchmark Plan in Sight

Premium tax credits are available for people with incomes between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($12,140 to $48,560 for one person, or $25,100 to $100,400 for a family of four). With more insurers competing for your business and premiums heading down in some areas, the benchmark plan may change in 2019.

If you have the benchmark plan or another one with an even cheaper premium this year, be sure to check out the benchmark plan for next year.

“If you don’t stay with [the] benchmark plan, you could get sticker shock on your premium next year,” said Sabrina Corlette, research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms.

That’s because your subsidy will be reduced in line with the lower benchmark plan premium, and you’ll have to cover the difference if you don’t switch plans.

Estimate Your Income Carefully

If you’re ineligible for premium tax credits because your 2018 income is too high but you think it may dip below the 400 percent poverty threshold next year, it’s a good idea to sign up for a marketplace plan rather than buy a plan outside the exchange, said Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“People in marketplace plans whose income drops into subsidy territory are eligible for a special enrollment period to sign up for a subsidized plan,” Pollitz said. “If you’re enrolled in a plan off the exchange, you won’t have that option.”

About 80 percent of people who enroll in marketplace plans qualify for premium tax credits.

To avoid giving people more in advance premium tax credits than they’re eligible for, the marketplace typically asks for additional documentation to verify income when people project that their earnings will be lower than government data sources show.

This sign-up season, the marketplaces are asking for more information from people on the other end of the income spectrum. People with incomes below 100 percent of the federal poverty level aren’t eligible for subsidies. (Lawmakers who wrote the ACA expected these low-income people to qualify for Medicaid, but some states have not expanded their programs under the health law.)

For 2019 coverage, customers who estimate their income will reach or exceed that 100 percent mark, which would qualify them for premium tax credits, will generally be asked to provide additional income information if the marketplace’s data show that their income is below that standard.

The change is supposed to help avoid fraud, but inaccurate estimates may not be intentional, said Tara Straw, senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“People in that income range who are often cobbling together income from part-time jobs may not have a great estimation of what their income may be for the coming year,” she said.

Update the Marketplace With Your Personal and Plan Information

Make sure to update your income and family information in your marketplace account. Otherwise, the marketplace may make an error in calculating the amount of your premium contribution, and you could be on the hook to repay excess subsidies at the end of the year.

If, while shopping for a plan, you get a notice that you’ve been automatically re-enrolled, don’t assume the marketplace will cancel that plan when you sign up for something else. Tell the marketplace that you want to terminate that plan, or you may end up owing a month’s premium for both plans while you get it sorted out, said Straw.

Complicated Coverage Questions? Get Help Now

This year, the federal government cut funding for navigators — those groups and individuals helping people sign up for coverage on the marketplaces — to $10 million, continuing a steady whittling away of support for that program from more than $60 million two years ago.

“My advice is ‘Don’t procrastinate,’ because there is less one-on-one help available in most states,” said Corlette.

If you live in a state that runs its own marketplace, you may have an easier time finding in-person help with coverage questions. Those exchanges are generally spending significantly more on outreach and assistance than the federally facilitated exchange, according to an analysis by researchers at Georgetown University and published by the Commonwealth Fund.

You may be able to find published answers to questions on your own with Georgetown’s Navigator Resource Guide or the marketplace FAQs published by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Approach Short-Term Plans With Extreme Caution

To make more affordable health insurance options available, the Trump administration issued a rule in August that eases restrictions on short-term plans that are less comprehensive than ACA-compliant plans. These plans generally don’t cover preexisting conditions nor benefits like maternity care or prescription drugs. They can be renewed for up to three years, but that will be at the insurer’s discretion.

Because they offer much skimpier coverage than comprehensive plans that comply with the health law, short-term plans are generally cheaper.

Any plan offered through a state exchange must comply with the ACA. But people shopping online may see noncompliant coverage featured on other sites and find it hard to distinguish ACA-compliant plans from short-term and other types of limited coverage, such as health care-sharing ministries and fixed-indemnity plans, said Corlette, who has examined these offerings.

“It’s a mishmash of stuff that falls outside of the ACA,” Corlette said.

The post Attention, Marketplace Shoppers: Don’t Delay On 2019 Enrollment appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Why Don’t Detroit Public Schools Have Safe Drinking Water?

Sat, 12/01/2018 - 16:55

First it was Flint, and now it’s Detroit. The public schools in Flint, Michigan, may now have safe drinking water, but the faucets have been turned off in Detroit since the beginning of the school year.

The New York Times reports:

The water fountains in all 106 schools run by the Detroit Public Schools Community District have been dry since classes began in August. The superintendent ordered them shut off as a pre-emptive measure, after testing revealed elevated levels of copper and lead in drinking water at some schools. After completing checks at 86 of the schools last month, officials announced that 57 of them had lead or copper levels above the federal thresholds that require action to be taken.

It’s a pretty frightening scenario for many residents of Detroit — a city just 60 miles southeast of Flint, where residents kept getting sick in 2016, even though officials insisted that the drinking water was just fine. In fact, the Flint crisis was what prompted Detroit officials to begin testing their school water supplies in the first place.

“In the poorer neighborhoods, in the black neighborhoods, we always have a problem with issues of environment,” said Detroit resident Ricky Rice, who has a grandson in sixth grade and another grandchild beginning kindergarten. “Look at the water up in Flint. Now, look at the water here. They should have known it was going to be a problem with this old infrastructure.”

And yet Detroit is far from the only school district to have problems with water quality. At the beginning of this school year, several Maryland school districts also found lead in their drinking water and turned off their water fountains.

Even more horrifying: Water fountains at most of the schools in the Baltimore City district have been turned off for more than a decade, due to worries about lead and copper contamination. Why hasn’t anyone done anything about this problem?

The Detroit Press gives this rundown on school districts around the country dealing with water issues:

  • The nation’s 14th largest school district, Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools, is being forced to replace hundreds of fixtures after finding elevated levels of lead earlier this year.
  • In Indiana 915 schools were tested recently in a statewide sampling program. Elevated levels of lead were found in 61 percent of the schools.
  • High levels of lead are an ongoing problem in New York City schools, and in communities around the country including Hillsborough County in Florida.
  • On a positive note, since the beginning of the school year in Portland Public Schools, students have been able to safely drink from water fountains for the first time in two years. Back in 2016, 99 percent of the schools were discovered to have elevated levels of lead in at least one water fixture.

As a public school teacher, I’m ashamed that I didn’t know this before — but here’s what really wrong:

“No federal law requires testing of drinking water for lead in schools that receive water from public water systems, although these systems are regulated by the EPA,” the Government Accountability Office reported in a 2017 survey. “Lead can leach into water from plumbing materials inside a school.”

Why on earth is there no nationwide requirement for water testing in schools?

The post Why Don’t Detroit Public Schools Have Safe Drinking Water? appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Mitch McConnell Determined to Confirm Trump’s Radical Anti-Choice Judges

Sat, 12/01/2018 - 16:49

Senate Republican leaders are poised to advance dozens of President Trump’s judicial nominations before the new US Congress convenes in January, despite an attempt from Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) to impede the process.

The Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to advance six Circuit Court nominees on Thursday, but the committee canceled its meeting after Flake vowed to vote against judicial nominations unless Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) schedules a vote on bipartisan legislation to protect special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump.

While Flake’s tactic could slow down the nomination process, McConnell could still bring nominees directly to the floor. He has repeatedly stated the judiciary remains his top priority during the lame duck session.

Trump has already appointed a record-breaking number of federal judges, pushing more federal judges through the Senate than any recent president. Trump and congressional Republicans have packed federal courts with ultra-conservative judges, many of whom are opposed to abortion rights and are members of the far-right Federalist Society, a nationwide organization of conservative lawyers.

The Senate has confirmed 53 Trump nominees for federal district courts, most of whom replaced Democratic appointees. Trump has also filled 29 vacancies on federal appeals courts—the last stop before the US Supreme Court, thus reshaping the judicial landscape. As Republicans in more and more states pass anti-choice legislation, the makeup of federal courts could have a lasting effect on reproductive rights.

Here are some of the most vocal opponents of reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, and voting rights set for confirmation of lifetime appointments to federal courts.

Wendy Vitter, US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana Nominee

Vitter is the general counsel for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans and wife of former GOP Louisiana Sen. David Vitter. She has withheld information from the Senate Judiciary committee about her anti-choice record, publicly misrepresenting her background in a confirmation hearing, and failing to state whether the landmark cases Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade were correctly decided.

Vitter, in May 2013, gave a speech in protest of a new Planned Parenthood clinic in New Orleans, saying at the time, “Planned Parenthood says they promote women’s health. It is the saddest of ironies that they kill over 150,000 females a year.”

In November 2013 Vitter led a panel called “Abortion Hurts Women,” where she appeared to endorse a pamphlet featuring debunked claims linking birth control to breast and cervical cancer. That panel included Dr. Angela E. Lanfranchi, a breast cancer surgeon featured as one of Rewire.News’ “False Witnesses” for her dubious talking points on abortion care and breast cancer.

Jonathan Kobes, Eighth Circuit Nominee

Kobes serves as general counsel for US Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD). Kobes represented an anti-choice women’s health center in South Dakota, defending a state law requiring physicians to make deceptive statements to people seeking abortion care, including disproven claims about the risk of suicide. Kobes claimed that abortion terminates the life of a whole, separate human being, also known as fetal “personhood.” The American Bar Association rated Kobes as “not qualified” to serve as a federal appellate judge, the second of Trump’s nominees to the Eighth Circuit to receive such a rating.

Matthew Kacsmaryk, District Court of the Northern District of Texas Nominee

Kacsmaryk serves as deputy general counsel to the First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit legal organization dedicated to religious liberty. Kacsmaryk has represented religiously affiliated institutions which oppose the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit, advancing arguments that falsely equate certain methods of contraception to abortion. Kacsmaryk has disputed the legal foundation of Roe v. Wade, and has arguedthat the legal right to abortion has weakened the institution of marriage.

Michael Truncale, US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas Nominee

Truncale is a Texas lawyer and a partisan conservative. In 2012, Truncale called for “defunding” Planned Parenthood and boasted about marching in an anti-choice rally. He has criticized former Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis, who undertook a 13-hour filibuster in 2013 to delay a vote on a GOP-backed anti-abortion bill.

In a 2016 article in the Golden Triangle Republican Woman Gazette, titled “The Reason to Vote for Trump,” Truncale wrote, “The liberal Supreme Court will also consider President Obama’s actions in rewriting laws like Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex—by redefining the word ‘sex’ to mean ‘gender identity’ or even a person’s ‘internal sense of gender,’” and that liberals want to “force Christian photographers to use their artistic skills to celebrate same-sex weddings.”

Brian Buescher, US District Judge for the District of Nebraska Nominee

Buescher is an attorney based in Omaha, Nebraska, with a track record of conservative activism and hostility toward reproductive freedom and LGBTQ rights. In response to a 2014 questionnaire from the anti-choice organization Nebraska Right to Life, Buescher stated he believes abortion should be illegal in all instances except to prevent the death of the pregnant person.

In a 2014 voter guide video from the Nebraska Family Alliance, Buescher said, “When regulating abortion, my view is this, we should regulate abortion as much as we possibly can. I’m in favor of banning abortion.”

Thomas Farr, US District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina Nominee

Farr is a lawyer based in Raleigh, North Carolina, with a history of opposing voting rights, representing North Carolina against voting rights groups accusing the state of discrimination. North Carolina’s GOP-controlled legislature hired Farr in 2013 to defend a set of voting restrictions a federal appeals court ultimately struck down for targeting Black voters. The North Carolina legislature hired Farr to defend redistricting maps that have since been invalidated in court due to racial gerrymandering.

Flake voted against Farr’s confirmation Wednesday afternoon, forcing Vice President Mike Pence to break the 50-50 tie in the Senate. The next vote to advance Farr’s nomination was scheduled for Thursday, but has been moved to next week. GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Tom Scott (SC) were hesitant on Farr’s confirmation as of Thursday afternoon.

The post Mitch McConnell Determined to Confirm Trump’s Radical Anti-Choice Judges appeared first on Truthout.

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