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Updated: 58 min 24 sec ago

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz on Trump, Shock Doctrine and "Disaster Capitalism" in Puerto Rico

Fri, 11/24/2017 - 05:00

Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz joins us for an extended interview about how Hurricane Maria had changed Puerto Rico since it struck the island on September 20, Trump's attacks and her vision for the future. Democracy Now! interviewed Cruz when we visited Puerto Rico last month. She spoke to us in the city's Roberto Clemente Coliseum, where her entire mayoral staff was living after Hurricane Maria devastated the island on September 20.


AMY GOODMAN: That was San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. I interviewed her last month in the San Juan's Roberto Clemente Coliseum, where she and her entire mayoral staff were living, after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. It landed, made landfall on September 20th. I began by asking the mayor how Hurricane Maria has changed Puerto Rico.

MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: I think September 20th changed the Puerto Rican reality forever. We live in a different San Juan and a different Puerto Rico, not because of what we're lacking. The majority of the island is still without any power. Only about 40 to 60 percent of the population has water. That doesn't mean that it's good water. We still have to boil it or put chlorine in it to be able to drink it. Medical services are really, really bad because of the lack of electricity. The supplies in the supermarkets are not there yet, so people are having a lot of trouble getting the supplies that they need. But still, the fierce determination of people has not dwindled. And to me, that's been a very -- I would say, a big lesson to learn.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about this public power company, the largest in the United States? Do you think there's an effort in this time, in the aftermath of the hurricane of -- an effort to just privatize it?


AMY GOODMAN: For it totally to fail?


AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think has to be done about that?

MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: It cannot be privatized. I am -- and a lot of people -- totally against, because we are a hundred miles long by 35 miles wide. That's a monopoly. It doesn't matter how you want to disguise it. It's a monopoly. And what we're doing is we're putting in private hands the decision as to where our economic development is spread, where the sense of equality or inequality will happen. So, power isn't just about the power grid. It's also about the ability that the Puerto Rican people may have in the years to come to ensure that there is appropriate economic development and equally divided amongst all the 78 municipalities in Puerto Rico.

AMY GOODMAN: Disaster capitalism, what does that term mean to you? And do you think that's happening here, using a crisis to accomplish something that couldn't be accomplished otherwise?

MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: You know, I wish I had never been introduced to that term. Also the shock, shock treatment, right? Using the chaos to strip employees of their bargaining rights, rights that took 40, 50 years for the unions to be able to determine. That is something very important. And it just means taking advantage of people when they are in a life-or-death situation. It is the most -- an absolute mistreatment of human rights. It means that the strongest really feed off the weakest, until everything that's left is the carcass.

And what we cannot understand is why, because that is so against the American spirit that we see. We have had in San Juan more than 500 volunteers in a span of four weeks, coming here, leaving their homes, taking their vacation -- nurses, Teamsters, AFL-CIO, UFCW, LIUNA workers, just leaving their homes. I met a person from California that sold their Harley-Davidson -- I mean, sold their Harley-Davidson to come to San Juan and help for two weeks. You have -- you know, the United States has a big heart. You know what it is to help those in need. And then the central government, the federal government in the United States, seems to be just playing a totally different tune. This slowness, this turtle pace of just getting relief to people, life-and-death relief to people, it's unthinkable.

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned death. As we flew in here, we heard about bodies being incinerated at morgues that are not counted. Do you actually know the death toll right now?


AMY GOODMAN: And is that happening?

MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: No, we don't know. It has been reported that 911 deaths have been -- or bodies have been cremated since Maria. Why is that happening?

AMY GOODMAN: Nine hundred eleven?

MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: Nine hundred and eleven. Why is that happening? We have no idea. You know, usually when you cremate people at that rate, it's because you're trying to ensure that an outbreak of whatever disease doesn't come out. But whatever it is, we should know about it. And again, I don't understand why these things are not being openly talked about.

AMY GOODMAN: Let's go back to when President Trump attacked you. I think it shocked many people, because, by then, people had heard of you. You were a familiar image across our TV screens, as you were, what, waist, chest high in water with your bullhorn, helping to save people and evacuate people. So that's the mayor of San Juan that we became familiar with. And then you have the president of the United States attacking you. What was the quote? First, you had the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security talking about this being a "good news story."

MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: Saying that this was a "good news story." No, that really -- that really -- that really -- I don't know if I can say the word on TV. But it really upset me, because this was not -- this has never been a good news story. When devastation hits and people are dying because they don't have dialysis, appropriate medical care or food and water, whose mind and whose heart would call this a good news story? So, I hadn't actually heard her say that. And I've actually met her twice after that, and we've had good meetings. Good things have come from those meetings. But to me, at that moment, it was like a total lack of connection with reality. Maybe in Trumpville or in Mar-a-Lago.

AMY GOODMAN: So, President Trump says, "The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump." He tweeted this from his Bedminster golf resort in New Jersey and went on to say, "Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort."

MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: You know what, what I thought? Poor guy. Poor guy. You know, it must be very difficult to live in a world where reality is very different to what you want it to be. And it's very easy to try to change the dialogue when you're failing. It's like when he gave himself a 10. Well, if it's a 10 out of 100, I agree, because it's still a failing grade.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us what your meeting with him was like, when President Trump came here? What we saw is the president hurling rolls of paper towels at hurricane survivors.

MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: Yeah. What I heard was a president disconnected with reality and not representing the real values of the American people, a man that said, "This is not a real catastrophe. Now, Katrina, that was a real catastrophe." He has then rescinded what he says. You know, he says one thing one day, he says another thing another day. It's very hard to keep up with the man. And who wants to, anyway? But it was -- he tried to avoid me. You know, I'm small, so it's easy for him.

AMY GOODMAN: Where were you?

MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: I was sitting in a corner.

AMY GOODMAN: Where? Where in --

MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: This was at the Muñoz Marín Air Force base. And, you know, I went because you have to respect the presidency. And I went because I represent 350,000 people in San Juan. If it would have been him and me, I would have not wasted my time. But in a democracy, you have to respect the leadership, even though you don't see eye to eye with the person.

So, he finally -- you can see in the picture he had to very -- lean over, because he was so far away from me, so he had to reach out. And I said, "It's not about -- it's about saving lives, Mr. President. It's not about politics." And he looked over me and said, "Well, thank you, everybody." And I kind of chuckled, because if that didn't bother him, he would have said, "I agree with you," right? But because it bothered him, then he didn't say anything. So all he did was -- it was a feast of accolades to himself: "Oh, we've done such a good job with the Coast Guard. And we've done such a good" -- and, you know, in the meantime, I have a mayor sitting next to me saying, "Well, let him come to my town."

And really, the reality is not -- have things gotten better in San Juan? Yes, in the past week and a half, FEMA has responded more equitably. And a lot of it has to do with local politics. And I have to say, after my second meeting with Secretary Duke -- and he left John Barsa here to be our connection with FEMA; he's from Homeland Security -- things got better. Are they where they're supposed to be? No. Can I see the light at the end of the tunnel? A week ago I could imagine it, now I can see. But that is not the situation for most of the other 77 municipalities in Puerto Rico. And I'm not going to be such a bad Puerto Rican that I'm going to say, "Oh, things, as long as they're good for me, then they're good for the world," because then I would become Donald Trump. And heaven forbid I should ever be like that man.

AMY GOODMAN: You clearly came into office with the support of many unions.


AMY GOODMAN: In fact, when we flew in from the airport today and you were holding a news conference with Bernie Sanders, there were representatives of a number of unions. And among them were the electrical workers.


AMY GOODMAN: And they talked about the power company. There's been discussions about whether you could transform this largest public power company in the country, that has had the biggest shortage and blackout of electricity that we've ever seen in this country --


AMY GOODMAN:  -- as a, possibly, test case where you start to use solar power.


AMY GOODMAN: What about this? What do you see happening? Do you see this as an attempt to privatize, or do you see creative ways that Puerto Rico could move forward and be a pioneer in solar energy?

MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: Well, there are creative ways. Tesla has already come to Puerto Rico and done a humanitarian work at the children's hospital, where they have energized it with solar panels. I mean, this is a Caribbean island. You know, we get lots and lots of sun, so we should be able to reach goals, that are increasing every year, to move away from our addiction of fossil fuel to non-fossil fuel. And we should also be able to energize communities just using solar power, and perhaps some wind power, if it's appropriate. But for the first time, at least, I heard today the president of the power company saying that they are --

AMY GOODMAN: Of the union.

MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: Of the union -- saying that they are looking forward to transforming the system and moving towards a better mix of regular, our grid, and solar power energy. And that was very refreshing to hear. So, for those of them that say, "No, no, the unions just want to keep us one step behind," that's not true. That's just, again, you change the dialogue, you attack, so as to not to be able to defend. It's a lot easier to attack somebody than to defend what you believe in.

AMY GOODMAN: So talk about Senator Sanders coming here, who ran for president. Some say if he were the candidate against candidate Donald Trump, he might have won. But he was here in Puerto Rico.


AMY GOODMAN: What did he do here? And what do you think he can do as a senator?

MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: Well, he came here to listen, which is very important. And he came here to see firsthand. He didn't come here to throw paper towels at people. He came here, and he walked around one of the most devastated areas of San Juan. He talked to the community board there.

AMY GOODMAN: Where did he go?

MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: Playita. It's on the way to the airport or on your way from the airport. And it's a very, very disenfranchised community. The community board, we -- the municipalities work to organize them. And they are starting to come into power. And we say that because we really and truly believe that the communities should hold the power of their own destiny. That doesn't make it easier for us, but it makes it right. And that's what it's all about. So, when we talk about Puerto Ricans needing power, it's not only electrical power that we need, but it's true power that makes your voice be heard. And one of the things that I think Senator Sanders is going to do, which he has done before for Puerto Rico, is that he can be the echo of a thousand voices that are clamoring for the appropriate help to get.

Listen to this. We get $4.9 billion, and although we're very grateful, it's a loan. So, what is the way of treating a country that is $72 billion in debt? Increase their debt by $4.9 billion. That doesn't make any sense. There should be a comprehensive package that includes education, medical, the medical system, our energy grid and the transformation of that grid, economic development, small business development and reconstruction of homes. And that is -- those are the things that we talked to Senator Sanders, and also not allowing this chaos to be a way of devaluing our university, educational system by taking resources out, closing 50 municipalities, which will have to close if the $350 million that the fiscal control board took away. Look, you have $4,900 million. Well, heck, give back the $350 million that you took away from the fiscal control board. So those are the very, very precise things that he could talk about. One of the things that the president of a local teachers' union said is, "Look, they are telling us they're going to close schools, because the Army Corps of Engineers has not inspected them." Well, first of all, get more people to inspect them. And secondly, the Army Corps of Engineers didn't inspect them to begin with. So, if they have minor damages, let's get moving in the business of teaching our children how to become better human beings.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of education, whether it's Harvey, Hurricane Harvey, or Hurricane Irma, while the media covers it extensively, almost 24 hours a day -- Puerto Rico dealing with Maria, I would say, less, but still there is, has been significant coverage -- flashing the words "extreme weather," "severe weather," almost never -- and I'm not talking Fox, I'm talking MSNBC and CNN -- do they talk about global warming, climate change, climate chaos.

MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: That's because some people think it's a hoax.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we have a very proud climate change-denying president.

MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: But it's -- yeah, but it's not a hoax. And we --

AMY GOODMAN: But this is the media, and they're considered the more liberal media.

MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: And we are seeing the effects of this. Tomorrow, we are expected to have heavy rains in San Juan and in the rest of Puerto Rico. So you had Irma, you had Maria. But Maria didn't stop, until -- just like Harvey, the rain didn't stop until a few days later. Maria's rain didn't stop until a few days later. So, you have global warming. It is happening. It is real. And here it is. There's no denying it. And we have to deal with the consequences of our actions and take actions to revert that and make sure that we don't screw it up for the next generations more than we've already done.

AMY GOODMAN: That was San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. I interviewed her last month in San Juan's Roberto Clemente Coliseum, where she and almost her entire staff were living, after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. When we come back, from the aftermath of one hurricane to another. We'll go Texas to speak with Dr. Robert Bullard. He's known as the father of the environmental justice movement. What is environmental racism? Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: "Almost Like Praying" by acclaimed Puerto Rican playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of Hamilton. That song featuring Rubén Blades and Puerto Rican singers Gilberto Santa Rosa, pop star Jennifer Lopez, among others. Miranda recorded the song after Trump tweeted Puerto Ricans, quote, "want everything to be done for them." In response, Lin-Manuel Miranda tweeted, "You are going straight to hell, @realDonaldTrump. No long lines for you. Someone will say, 'Right this way, sir.' They'll clear a path," unquote.

Categories: News

What Trump and Suu Kyi Have in Common

Fri, 11/24/2017 - 05:00
Categories: News

Will Houston's Post-Harvey Recovery Exacerbate Inequities or Build a More Just City?

Fri, 11/24/2017 - 05:00

Hurricane Maria shattered all past US rainfall records, forced hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate their homes in the fourth-largest city in the United States, known as the "Petro Metro" because Houston is home to the country's largest refining and petrochemical complex. The storm also caused massive environmental and public health impacts. As the floodwater receded, we looked at who stands to profit from the relief effort, and who may not, with Dr. Robert Bullard, known as the founder of the environmental justice movement.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman. We are just back from COP23, the UN climate summit in Bonn, Germany, where the Trump administration tried to derail the conference by pushing coal, nuclear and gas as solutions to climate change. Well, on this Democracy Now! special, we're looking at the ways climate change is already affecting the United States.

We turn now to Houston, which was devastated by massive flooding from Hurricane Harvey. The storm shattered all past US rainfall records, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate their homes in the fourth-largest city in the United States. Some call it the "Petro Metro," Houston, because it's home to the country's largest refining and petrochemical complex. The storm also caused massive environmental and public health impacts. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, more than a million pounds of air pollution have been released into the air as petrochemical plants were forced to shut down by the storm.

Well, over Labor Day weekend, just as the floodwaters were receding, Democracy Now! traveled to Houston, where we spoke with Professor Robert Bullard, among others. Dr. Bullard is a professor at Texas Southern University, a historically black college and university. He's considered the father of environmental justice. We spoke with Professor Bullard at his home, which he had just returned to after evacuating. I began by asking him about his experiences of the flood.

ROBERT BULLARD: I had been monitoring the storm. I had been watching TV and getting very little sleep. And then we were informed that we had to -- we had a mandatory evacuation. And I heeded that call, and I tried to move as much of my belongings from downstairs upstairs. And, actually, I used muscles that I hadn't used before, in that process. And so, I evacuated on Tuesday and was able to call a friend and was able to take my, you know, little bag over and stay until this morning. I came back this morning.

AMY GOODMAN: So, in fact, your home didn't flood.

ROBERT BULLARD: No, no, we didn't flood. The water came up to on the streets around, surrounding streets, and some water came on the street, came up to the curb. But it did not flood. And it was, you know, kind of a challenge getting out of the subdivision to get over to my friend's house, but I was able to maneuver and avoid the water and drive my car, you know, in a way that I was not driving into water. But it was a challenge, but nothing like what other people have experienced.

AMY GOODMAN: You have written so much about and been so deeply involved in issues of environmental racism, environmental justice. Do you see the issue of environmental racism -- and I'm going to ask you to define it first -- playing out here in Houston around this storm?

ROBERT BULLARD: Well, I think when we look at the color of vulnerability and we look at which communities are actually at greatest risk from disasters and floods like this, historically, it's been low-income communities and communities of color, communities that live in low-lying areas that are areas that are very prone to flooding. And it's very difficult to get insurance, not just flood insurance, but regular insurance, because of redlining. So, what Harvey has done is to expose those inequalities that existed before the storm.

And, you know, disasters like this widen and exacerbate inequality. And so, the communities that are most at risk from not having, you know, the kinds of infrastructure in those areas, in terms of flood protection, in terms of trying to get out, in terms of transportation, etc., I mean, it played out, you know, up close and personal. And I think as we start to see some of the demographics in terms of communities that will take longer to return, will take longer to get their houses back in order, longer to get their communities and infrastructure back in order, this is not rocket science. And those communities that -- and individuals, households, that don't have that cushion to ward off that kind of disruption, it's always much more difficult for them to return. And I don't see this any different in Houston. And what we have to do is guard against building and rebuilding on that inequity.

AMY GOODMAN: We just did a toxic tour of Houston. We were over in Baytown, next to the ExxonMobil refinery. I think it's something like the second-largest refinery in the country. Right by it, people flooded out. And you've got two -- many different aspects of this crisis, but one is the contract workers who work at ExxonMobil. They just lose their jobs when the refinery shuts down. And they also get flooded. And the question is: Who will get help, and who won't? But that issue -- for example, while the Republican Texas congressional delegation largely voted against vast help for the Northeast during Superstorm Sandy, clearly, Texas will get billions of dollars for FEMA and to rebuild overall. How do -- how is it determined who gets support and who doesn't?

ROBERT BULLARD: Well, you know, the way it works is, those individuals in those communities, those families and households that have the resources and the wherewithal to maneuver through this maze of bureaucracies, of filing information online and getting access to the different organizations that can assist and support, getting, you know, the FEMA grants and the SBA loans and all those things -- it's not rocket science, but it's not easy to do that. And if you have individuals who are used to getting online and getting access to information and processing that, they have a head start. You know, there are lots of households right now that are actually hiring contractors, that have already gutted their houses and that have already signed individuals on to fix up and remodel and bring their houses back to life. And it's not any mystery as to which communities that will somehow be the last to do that. And these are the same communities that didn't have access to loans, in terms of neighborhood loans, because of redlining.

And what we have to guard against is this rebuilding redlining that somehow allows more affluent communities to access the system, get their communities back in order, and those who are left behind, somehow, those areas will be the last to come back. So it has to be an equitable recovery, equitable development, and to make sure that those families that somehow may -- you know, who's to say that one community should be built or rebuilt, not be rebuilt? And those are policy decisions. And if money is not invested in those areas, and if infrastructure is not invested in those areas -- and many of the areas in many of the communities in Houston do not have the infrastructure to protect them from man-made disasters in terms of the flooding, the lack of infrastructure in terms of the protection. You know, a lot of our neighborhoods just have open drainage ditches, gulleys and just very minimum kinds of protection, and so it floods, you know, routinely. And so, we're talking about this biblical flood. And so, you can see how not only will they get washed out in terms of their homes, they'll get washed out in terms of their income.

AMY GOODMAN: This is the 30th anniversary of the publication of your book Invisible Houston: The Black Experience in Boom and Bust. Talk about Invisible Houston.

ROBERT BULLARD: Invisible Houston, that I wrote 30 years ago, there's a huge population that is still invisible. Houston's demographics, you know, a lot of people like to say we are one of the most diverse, ethnically and racially, cities in the country. We're the fourth-largest city in the country. We are racially and ethnically diverse. But when it comes to economics and when it comes to power and decision-making, it stops.

And so, when we talk about this whole question of how invisible -- how can we make invisible communities visible, those communities that have been inundated -- before the storm -- by pollution, environmental degradation, living on the fenceline with very dangerous kinds of hostilities? And when a storm like this happens, it exposes those vulnerabilities. I mean, you have all this pollution, you know, all of this oil and chemical plants and that kind of pollution that's now exposed in the water. And when the floodwater recedes, it's going to leave residue. It's going to leave all kinds of stuff on the school grounds, on the playgrounds and on people's yards. And so, how are we -- how are we going to deal with that, those sediments that's left? And we need testing done. We have to make sure it is safe, all the mold. We learned from Katrina that people want to get back in their homes, and that, in some cases, they are rushing to get back without the proper protection. And with the mold in those homes and people getting sick, we have to make sure that we provide equal protection and equal access to resources to make sure that we do it right.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you do that?

ROBERT BULLARD: Well, it means that we have to have strong community-based organizations on the ground with the capacity to assist and support families and households that can get things right, that can pressure and apply the points of saying, "Well, we need to make sure that just because you don't have a car, just because you don't have a big bank account doesn't mean that you should not be safe, that your community should not come back and that you should not have the same level of protection and the same level of importance as if you were a middle-class white neighborhood." That is -- that's what we have to ensure.

Houston is very segregated along racial and economic lines. And this flood has really shown that. If you look at ZIP codes, you can map where that vulnerability is. You can also map how resources have been allocated and distributed over the last 50 years. And so, what we have to do is we have to map the resources that come to this region, come to this area. And we can show, and we can actually fight for, to make sure that the resources that flow do not somehow flow in a way that somehow leaves those invisible communities -- and, in this case, I wrote Invisible Houston in '87. Invisible Houston, when I wrote it then, was black Houston. But we're talking about a very diverse Houston today. And the Latino population is almost 50 percent. So, when you talk about the invisibility and you talk about where those -- where the population lives, you talk about not only a disaster in terms of the flooding, you talk about a disaster in terms of the environment, the pollution, the health threats, the potential for the kinds of impacts that we will see, you know, years to come. And the most vulnerable in our society is children, and we have to make sure that we protect our children, our vulnerable population.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Professor Robert Bullard, professor at Texas Southern University, author of, among other books, Invisible Houston. It's the 50th anniversary of that publication. He's considered the father of environmental justice movement. To see all of our coverage of the hurricanes that hit Texas, Puerto Rico, Florida, the Caribbean, the wildfires of Northern California, as well as our week special from Bonn, Germany, the UN climate summit, go to

Categories: News

ALEC Corporate Members Lay Off Over 12,000 Workers in 2017

Fri, 11/24/2017 - 05:00
 Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy / Getty Images)(Photo: Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy / Getty Images)   Thanks to reader support, Truthout can deliver the news seven days a week, 365 days a year. Keep independent journalism going strong: Make a tax-deductible donation right now.

More than one-third of the large corporate members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and half of all pharmaceutical company members had mass layoffs in 2017.

Through the corporate-funded ALEC, global corporations and state politicians vote behind closed doors to try to rewrite state laws that protect workers, consumers, and the environment.

ALEC companies may want to spend less time trying to dismantle regulations, and more time running their business. Mass layoffs are defined by the federal WARN ACT, and do not include all layoffs, such as layoffs but re-hiring within six months, or companies smaller than 100 employees.

Industry groups represented by ALEC members, such as telecommunications and railroads, had large layoffs in 2017, but pharmaceutical company employees were especially hard hit.

Pharmaceutical companies, as well as their trade association, are active in ALEC as they seek to limit product liability for their negligence in selling unsafe drugs. Even as they were laying off employees the four pharma companies below spent $20 million on federal lobbying.

ALEC corporate member Eli Lilly had among the ten total biggest retail layoffs of 2017, shedding 3,500 employees globally and 2,000 in the United States. In 2017, Lilly announced it was reducing its employment by 8.5 percent. Eli Lilly was a "Director" level sponsor of the ALEC Annual Conference in 2017.

Novartis announced it was laying off 250 workers. Novartis representative Don Stetcher was given ALEC's 2011 Private Sector Member of the Year Award.

Ariad Pharmaceuticals announced 180 layoffs after its acquisition by Takeda Pharmaceutical. John Schlatter, Government Affairs Manager at Takeda, represented Takeda as the state corporate co-chair of Alaska and Washington.

As often happens when there is news of an acquisition of a smaller company by an industry leader, Ariad's stock jumped 70 percent on merger news, but once the deal was completed the new combined company, ALEC member Takeda, announced that 180 people were "redundant."

TEVA Pharmaceuticals simultaneously announced bad earnings and layoffs in 2017, saying that 5,000 to 7,000 of its global workforce would be cut, and 280 jobs in California and New York were lost between 2016-2017, as TEVA prepared for bad first quarter earnings.

Non-pharma members of ALEC that also had big layoffs in 2017 are AT&T with 630 jobs lost and Verizon laying off 1,200 workers, then another 2,100 after its merger with AOL. Comcast laid off 720 workers.

Honeywell, Conoco, UPS, Altria, Anheuser-Busch, CSX, Micron and Norfolk Southern, all ALEC corporate members, combined to lay off over 3,000 workers.

Even the Kochs, the two brothers with a combined wealth of over $90 billion, laid off 136 workers at its St. Paul Minnesota Molex facility, Molex Copper being a subsidiary of Koch Industries. Then this week they announced layoff at a Georgia-Pacific facility in Camus, WA, where up to 300 workers have been told they will be let go at the beginning of the year.

If ALEC sponsors did not spend tens of millions of dollars on federal and state lobbying, and political campaigns, some of these jobs could have been saved.

Categories: News

Economic Update: Capitalism, Corporations, and Media

Fri, 11/24/2017 - 05:00

This week's episode discusses corrupt Congressional "tax reform," giant corporations' abuse of power, GE CEO wastes millions, corporate structure and sexual harassment/abuse, Detroit's fake "renaissance," dying US malls, unaffordable rents expose fake economic "recovery," and pharma giant Astra-Zeneca shows how capitalism endangers health. Interview with author and broadcaster Laura Flanders on mass media changes in today's capitalism.

To see more stories like this, visit Economic Update: Your Weekly Dose of Revolutionary Economics

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Categories: News

Tillerson Facing Internal Dissent at State Department Over Refusal to Enforce Child Soldiers Law

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 05:00

 Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images)US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, November 20, 2017. (Photo: Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images)

The Secretary of State is in violation of US law, according to a "dissent" memo published by department employees first reported by Reuters.

Officials at the State Department accused Rex Tillerson of breaking the Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA), which prohibits aid and military assistance to nations that conscript troops younger than 18 years old.

In June, Tillerson removed Afghanistan, Iraq, and Myanmar from the list of offending nations, overruling recommendations from career diplomats who cited evidence that each country still employs child soldiers.

A July 28 memo was published by department officials in response to Tillerson's decision. The document was submitted through the State Department's "Dissent Channel," which allows employees to lodge policy disagreements without fear of retribution.

The dissenting officials argued that the de-listing of offending countries "is inconsistent with US law," "compromises US credibility," and "undermines the department's work and harms children."

"It has risked sending a message to the authorities in all three countries—and to the international community—that minimal efforts are enough," the memo adds.

It goes on to state that the Secretary of State's actions convey "that we as a government are not interested in upholding international norms, nor in holding countries accountable for ongoing abuses against children; and that we are willing to neglect the legal foundation and principles guiding our advocacy and diplomacy."

Tillerson responded to the dissent, by attempting to distinguish Afghanistan, Iraq, and Myanmar from other offending nations that were "making little or no effort to correct their child soldier violations." He claimed the trio was instead "making sincere -- if as yet incomplete -- efforts."

Countries still remaining of the CSPA list include the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

President Obama also selectively enforced the law, which was codified in 2008. He routinely issued waivers to Iraq and Myanmar, exempting them from the law's restrictions.

Tillerson, however, de-listed the countries without offering a waiver.

The dissenting officials warned that a "broad range of State Department reports and analyses" could be weakened due to the selective enforcement of the CSPA.

A separate critical department product, however, the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, was already facing credibility questions.

A 2015 Reuters expose found that career officials at State were overruled by Obama administration political appointees over which countries should be included in the list of human trafficking worst offenders.

In that case, Malaysia was given a pass in the 2015 TIP report so that it could later be considered for entry into the Trans Pacific Partnership—the sweeping trade deal, which was a top priority for the Obama White House at the time.

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Categories: News

A Vision for the Navajo Nation in One Farm's Sustainability

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 05:00

This story is part of the State of Change project, produced in partnership with the Solutions Journalism Network. This story originally appeared on High Country News.

When the oil and gas industry takes a dive, or when extractive industries tank, so do economies in rural areas, where a lot of jobs come from drilling, mining and power plants. A business incubator is helping entrepreneurs on the Navajo Nation with the idea that local skills and talents -- and cash flowing in and out of local businesses -- are key to independence from environmentally damaging corporations. 

There are about a thousand or so residents in Leupp on the Navajo Nation in Northern Arizona. They drive about an hour to get to a supermarket with fresh fruits and vegetables. Farmer Stacey Jensen is trying to change that by growing and trading food. "Like for example, I'll get apricots and peaches from Monavie, Tuba City area, get some beans from Hopi, from the mesas, then down here, Apache, I know they have some really good corn," he said. "Then we just bring them up and try to create a food hub."

Jensen is envisioning a market on the North Leupp Family Farm. The co-op of local families here grows white, blue and yellow corn, a variety of melons and squash, chile, potatoes, onions, garlic -- all with environmentally sensitive practices. "We don't try and rely on chemical pesticides or herbicides or anything like that," he said. "Even with our fertilizer. We go to grandma, invade her sheep corral, then we bring all that manure back."

Grandma is Betty Kelly. She is in her 90s, and she works on the farm all season long. She drove up in a big white truck and then sat on a folding chair in the greenhouse for an interview.

She loves to see young people working with the food as it grows here on the farm. She compares raising kids to raising corn, and said they're both dear to her and give a lot of meaning to her life. You treat seeds like you treat kids, she said, with respect and care.

When she was growing up, she said, gardening was how people ate. It's part of regional independence and self-reliance. To this day, in her fridge and freezer, she has stacks of produce that she grew here on the farm. That's how she eats all year long.

But the tradition, Kelly said, isn't always being passed on.

Jessica Stago is with the Native American Business Incubator Network, or NABIN. "If you go back, 30, 40 years ago, this wave of jobs came for our people and revenue into our tribes, which was good."

She said those jobs came from companies with no real stake in the community. "But now we're facing the same economic decline, and we're facing the same depressive economies that we faced 30, 40 years ago."

The official unemployment rate on the Navajo Nation is at least three times higher than New Mexico's. And New Mexico's rate is almost the highest among the 50 states.

NABIN says part of the solution here is supporting local entrepreneurs, people like farmer Stacey Jensen, so jobs can spring up, and money can stay on the reservation. The goal is to start 25 businesses every year. Right now, they're working with about 12.

Stago said economies that rely on certain industries are often based solely on cash and money, but they don't have to be that way. "Every economy both on and off the reservation can look at how do we go back to just the basics, having food -- healthy food -- available for the people that live here, and a way for them to sustain their family," she said.

There's a barter economy at work, too, so getting a solid count of businesses is a challenge. Elaine Young is the manager for the Small Business Development Department in Window Rock. "We don't capture a lot of the business here on the Navajo Nation, the activities that are going on," she said. "A lot of our Navajo people still do traditional basketweaving, rug weaving, silversmithing…"

Those skills are learned at an early age, Young said, and it's hard for folks to understand why they should establish an official business -- plus the U.S. government has put a ton of regulatory hurdles on the reservation, so a lot of Navajo entrepreneurs start their businesses in the border towns instead.

Young said encouraging small business here could be a big boost to the economy. "What would change that we're hoping to see is the unemployment, you will see a difference there, as well as the nation benefiting as a whole, bringing in the sales dollar -- just pretty much employing more of our own people."

Young wants to see the talents and education of tribal members put to use on the Navajo Nation, she said, to create local companies and corporations rather than relying on outside resources.

High Country News is a nonprofit news organization that covers the important issues that define the American West. Subscribe, get the enewsletter, and follow HCN on Facebook and Twitter.

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Categories: News

Racism and Avarice: Thanksgiving in Trump's Dystopia

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 05:00

 Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs the White House, November 21, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

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I've never been one for omens or portents. If New Hampshire gets clobbered with snow this winter, it won't be because of the three-ringed caterpillar I saw last week, and if the Patriots lose on Sunday, it won't be because I spilled the salt. Fate has more methodical ways of tipping its hand than bugs and condiments.

Still, there are some moments that whisper a true chill into you, moments that stop you short, steal your breath and send shards of fear up your spine. One such just happened in Germany, where construction workers were excavating an old stadium when they accidentally unearthed a massive swastika buried more than a foot beneath the ground. Given everything that is happening here and around the world, with the meteoric rise of the hard right on all fronts, it is difficult to see such newly discovered evil and not hear the voice of Yeats asking, "And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

It is difficult to see that, and not see this for what it is: The president of the United States of America has ordered 59,000 earthquake refugees from Haiti to get out of the country within 18 months. They came here in 2010 because they were running for their lives from the aftermath of an earthquake their country still has not recovered from. They were granted Temporary Protected Status to save them from deportation, and most are now part of flourishing Haitian communities in places like Boston, Florida and New York.

If the president has his way, they will be returned to a country ravaged by almost a million cases of cholera, a country not nearly ready to take them back, a country that sees more than a full quarter of its gross domestic product come from personal donations given by Haitians in the US.  Many will have nowhere to go once they arrive. Here, they have jobs, lives and children, and contribute to society.

Why do this? One theory holds that our droopy-drawers president, chafing at the constitutional restrictions on his malevolent behavior, needs to spend his wrath by destroying smaller items within his reach. He is a born wrecker, but like a little kid too scared to kick his big brother, he goes outside instead and stomps the flower bed.

That is more of a symptom than a reason. On the doorstep of Thanksgiving, those 59,000 people -- who fled calamity to make a better life here, as so many immigrants have for centuries -- will be leaving, and for no reason other than this: They are Black, and Donald Trump scores points with his base by showing 59,000 Black people the door just because he can. That's it, that's all. The United States will not be any safer, stronger or more prosperous upon their eventual departure. We will be lesser than we are, and spiteful smiles will hide behind the hoods of the president's friends.

Welcome to our looming national identity, friends and neighbors. This is the country as people like Donald Trump wish it to be, the country people like Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul are getting well paid to help create. Their desired dystopia is a fractured, dissonant, disorienting place that appears to be comprised solely of white Christians who have no money, no jobs, no health care, no retirement, no breathable air or drinkable water, and no women not in service to men. There's an oil derrick in every pot and fracking waste flaming in the tap, the guns grow on trees in ripe metal bunches (only 20 per day per customer, please), and everyone stands for the anthem, even if they're dead.

That's the best I can figure it, anyway. We're headed that way at flank speed, with every day bringing new evidence that this revolution -- of the wealthy, by the wealthy, for the wealthy -- is not well begun, but almost done, with the soldiers of white supremacy and nationalism swarming in support. They're rolling up voting rights, dismantling the internet, gobbling up even more control over the national media and deporting everyone they can who isn't a whiter shade of pale. The clampdown is happening right here in plain sight.

We are witnessing, in sedate tones on the network news, an attempted smash-and-grab robbery of a breadth and scope seldom seen in the long, sordid annals of human history.

Their revolution will take a giant leap forward if the Republican tax plan finds its way to Trump's desk. We are witnessing, in sedate tones on the network news, an attempted smash-and-grab robbery of a breadth and scope seldom seen in the long, sordid annals of human history. They seek to divert more than a trillion dollars to a group of people so small, they could fit inside a midsized college football stadium with seats to spare. It better be a nice stadium, because these people are already loaded. Why give them a trillion dollars? Trickle down rides again, you see; if we make rich people richer, we all benefit! P.T. Barnum, your table is ready.

This plan, if enacted, will ravage poor and disabled people, children and the elderly, and will even lay a heavy hit on middle-class property owners who are about to lose a whole slew of deductions. They say everyone will get a tax cut, but this is a lie; tax cuts for individuals will only be temporary before becoming tax hikes, while tax cuts for corporations remain permanent.

Making individual tax cuts temporary was done specifically so the Senate could pass this bill with 51 votes instead of 60: No Democratic votes required, a necessary sleight of hand given that the elimination of the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate -- which will deprive some 13 million people of health coverage -- is part of the overall package. They need that ACA money to cover the windfall being delivered to the rich, again, in what will be among the largest transfers of wealth in history.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, one of the erstwhile heroes of the ACA repeal fight, is already on board for the tax plan, because the administration said it will open the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for oil drilling and mining in return for her vote. They claim money from ANWR's annihilation will help pay for the tax cut, but in truth, they're buying Murkowski and using a national treasure as the coin, and that 51-vote threshold inches ever closer.

Understand this, and understand it well: The Republicans do not care about how incredibly awful this bill is or how much damage it will do. They are under the strictest of orders to get this done, so the Kochs and the Adelsons of the world can get their long-coveted payday. These GOP paymasters made it clear months ago that their political donations would cease until this tax plan is passed. For Republicans, passage of this bill is an existential matter; if the big-money donor well dries up, the party is finished. They may say it's about freedom or small businesses or getting a win for the president, but it's about survival for them. They have their orders, and intend to fulfill them to the last letter if they can.

Rank racism and towering avarice are on the menu this Thanksgiving. Fifty-nine thousand good people now suffer the terror of threatened displacement, with millions more standing on the cusp of ruin in service to a powerful few. There is nothing new here. All the Thanksgiving apocrypha in the world cannot obscure the genocide, slavery and greed that clang across 10 generations of brutality in pursuit of profit. This is the truth that lies beneath the veneer of holiday. Wealth must be extracted; this is all ye know and all ye need know.

If we push back with all our collective might, we can and will prevail, and that swastika can go back into the ground after it is jackhammered into so much rubble.

There are no stone tablets here, however. Those 59,000 Haitian refugees can be granted permanent residency if Congress chooses to act. The GOP tax plan can be defeated if a small clutch of Republicans decide to vote against the grain. If we push back with all our collective might, we can and will prevail, and that swastika can go back into the ground after it is jackhammered into so much rubble. Nothing is settled, caterpillars and condiments to the contrary.

Thanksgiving is, in many ways, a celebration of our national mythology, a pleasing fiction to obscure the boneyard beneath. However, for those of us who feast today, let us do so in tribute to our finest attributes. Let us pledge to be guided by them for more than the length of a meal, a football game and a midnight shopping trip. We are better than what they would have us become, and we can prove it all year long. Be thankful for that, too.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Categories: News

History's Emancipator: Did Abraham Lincoln Have "a Drop of Anti-Slavery Blood in His Veins"?

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 05:00

Abraham Lincoln is memorialized in the historical record as "the Great Emancipator," but he came reluctantly to the idea of emancipation. In the meantime, thousands and then hundreds of thousands of runaway slaves freed themselves -- though even in the early stages of the Civil War, Union soldiers enforced the Fugitive Slave Act and returned captured slaves to the Confederacy.

How reluctantly did Lincoln come to the idea of emancipation?How reluctantly did Lincoln come to the idea of emancipation? (Photo: Mathew Brady / LoC)

What are racist ideas? Where do they come from? In his new book, Ibram X. Kendi shows how racist thinking has historically arisen to defend unjust racist policies -- and how many well-intentioned or revered historical figures subscribed to racist ideas, from "founding fathers" to abolitionists fighting against slavery. Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America is an absolute must-read: Order your copy now by donating to support Truthout!

Abraham Lincoln originally viewed the Civil War as "a white man's war," but runaway slaves and abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison insisted otherwise. In the following lightly edited excerpt from Stamped From the Beginning, Ibram X. Kendi chronicles how reluctantly President Lincoln came to the idea of emancipation.

On December 24, 1860, South Carolina legislators alluded to the Declaration of Independence when stating their reasons for secession. Abolitionists were "inciting" contented captives to "servile insurrection," and "elevating to citizenships" Blacks who constitutionally were "incapable of becoming citizens." South Carolina's secession from the United States did not just mean the loss of a state, and soon a region, but the loss of the region's land and wealth. The South had millions of acres of land that were worth more in purely economic terms than the almost 4 million enslaved human beings who were toiling on its plantations in 1860. With their financial investments in the institution of slavery and their dependence on its productivity, northern lenders and manufacturers were crucial sponsors of slavery. And so, they pushed their congressmen onto their compromising knees to restore the Union.

William Lloyd Garrison called all the "Union-saving efforts" of December 1860 and January 1861 "simply idiotic." Whether smart or idiotic, they failed. The rest of the Deep South seceded in January and February 1861. Florida's secessionists issued a Declaration of Causes maintaining that Blacks must be enslaved because everywhere "their natural tendency" was toward "idleness, vagrancy and crime."

Thousands of runaways fled to Union forces in the summer of 1861. But Union soldiers enforced the Fugitive Slave Act.

In February 1861, Jefferson Davis took the presidential oath of the new Confederate States of America in Montgomery, Alabama. In his Inaugural Address in March, Lincoln did not object to the proposed Thirteenth Amendment, which would make slavery untouchable and potentially reunite the union. But Lincoln did swear that he would never allow the extension of slavery. On March 21, the Confederacy's vice president, Alexander Stephens, responded to Lincoln's pledge in an extemporaneous speech. The Confederate government, he declared, rested "upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth." This "great . . . truth," Stephens said, was the "corner-stone" of the Confederacy. The speech became known as his "Cornerstone Speech."


Three weeks after Alexander Stephens laid the cornerstone, the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter. On April 15, 1861, Lincoln raised the Union Army to put down the "insurrection," which, by the end of May, included Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas. No matter what Lincoln did not say about slavery, and no matter what blame the Democrats put on abolitionists, to Black people and to abolitionists the Civil War was over slavery and enslavers were to blame. On the Fourth of July at the annual abolitionist picnic in Framingham, Massachusetts, William Lloyd Garrison repudiated "colorphobia" for holding back northerners from supporting a war of emancipation. "Let us see, in every slave, Jesus himself," Garrison cried out.

The Weekly Anglo-African forecasted that the millions of enslaved Africans would not be "impassive observers." Lincoln might deem it "a white man's war," but enslaved Africans had "a clear and decided idea of what they want -- Liberty."

The Weekly Anglo-African was right. First dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of runaways fled to Union forces in the summer of 1861. But Union soldiers enforced the Fugitive Slave Act with such an iron fist that, according to one Maryland newspaper, more runaways were returned in three months of the war "than during the whole of Mr. Buchanan's presidential term." Northerners listened uneasily to these reports of returning runaways side by side with reports of southern Blacks being thrust into work for the Confederate military.

Lincoln reluctantly signed a bill which said that slaveholders forfeited their ownership of any property, including enslaved Africans, used by the Confederate military.

After the Confederates humiliated Union soldiers in the First Battle of Bull Run in northern Virginia on July 21, 1861, proposals about enslaved Africans' potential war utility besieged Congress and the Lincoln administration. Initially, Congress passed a resolution emphatically declaring that the war was not "for the purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights and or established institutions of these states." But war demands soon changed their calculations. In early August, the Republican-dominated Congress was forced to pass the Confiscation Act over the objections of Democrats and border-state Unionists. Lincoln reluctantly signed the bill, which said that slaveholders forfeited their ownership of any property, including enslaved Africans, used by the Confederate military. The Union could confiscate such people as "contraband." Legally, they were no longer enslaved; nor were they freed. They could, however, work for the Union Army for wages and live in the abysmal conditions of the contraband camps. One out of every four of the 1.1 million men, women, and children in the contraband camps died in one of the worst public health disasters in US history. Only 138 physicians were assigned to care for them. Some physicians called contrabands "animals" and blamed their mass deaths on inherent Black debilities, not the extreme inadequacies of sanitation, food, and medical care.

Despite the horrendous conditions, the number of Black contrabands increased every month. Slaves were running from the abysmal conditions of the plantations, particularly after Union soldiers moved into the more densely populated Deep South. The New York Times reported at the end of 1861 that enslaved Africans were "earnestly desirous of liberty." The growing number of runaways proved that Confederate reports of contented captives was mere propaganda. This form of Black resistance -- not persuasion -- finally started to eradicate the racist idea of the docile Black person in northern minds. President Lincoln did not encourage the runaways in his December 1861 Message to Congress. But he did request funding for colonizing* runaways and compensating Unionist emancipators to ensure that the war did not "degenerate" into a "remorseless revolutionary struggle." Furious, Garrison shrieked in a letter that Lincoln did not have "a drop of anti-slavery blood in his veins."

William Lloyd Garrison shrieked in a letter that Lincoln did not have "a drop of anti-slavery blood in his veins."

Every week in the spring of 1862, thousands of fugitives were cutting through forests, reaching the southern Union lines, and leaving behind paralyzed plantations and an increasingly divided Confederacy. Some soldiers deserted the Confederate Army. Some of the Confederate deserters joined enslaved Africans to wage revolts against their common enemies: wealthy planters. And some upcountry non-slaveholding Whites had already become disillusioned fighting this slaveholders' war. Alexander H. Jones of eastern North Carolina helped organize the 10,000-man Heroes of America, which laid an "underground railroad" for White Unionists in Confederate territories to escape. "The fact is," Jones wrote in a secret antiracist circular, referring to the rich planters, that "these bombastic, highfalutin aristocratic fools have been in the habit of driving negroes and poor helpless white people until they think . . . that they themselves are superior; [and] hate, deride and suspicion the poor."

Up north, Radical Republicans pushed through a horde of anti-slavery measures that southerners and their northern defenders had opposed for years. By the summer of 1862, slavery was prohibited in the territories, the ongoing transatlantic slave trade had been suppressed, the United States recognized Haiti and Liberia, abolition had arrived in Washington, DC, and the Union Army was forbidden from returning fugitives to the South. The Fugitive Slave Act had been effectively repealed. And then came the kicker: the Second Confiscation Act, passed and sent to Lincoln on July 17. The bill declared all Confederate-owned Africans who escaped to Union lines or who resided in territories occupied by the Union to be "forever free of their servitude." The Springfield Republican realized the bill's power, stating that enslaved Africans would become free "as fast as the armies penetrate the South section." But they were not penetrating the South fast enough, and Union casualties were piling up. Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson appeared to be headed for sparsely defended Washington, DC, scaring Lincoln to death.

Lincoln finally opened up to the idea of proclaiming emancipation because it would save the Union (not because it would save Black people).

The Second Confiscation Act was a turning point, setting Union policy on the road leading to emancipation. The war and the failure to convince border states about the benefits of a gradual, compensated emancipation had sapped Lincoln's patience and the patience of Congress. Lincoln had finally opened up to the idea of proclaiming emancipation because it would save the Union (not because it would save Black people). Cries of Unionist planters to salvage slavery amid the war increasingly rankled him. "Broken eggs cannot be mended," he snapped to a Louisiana planter.

On July 22, 1862, five days after signing the Second Confiscation Act, Lincoln submitted to his cabinet a new draft order, effective January 1, 1863. "All persons held as slaves within any state [under rebel control] shall then, thenceforward, and forever, be free." Lincoln's staff was stunned and became quickly divided over the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. The cabinet made no immediate decision, but word got out. Not many Americans took the proclamation seriously.

The nation's most powerful editor, Horace Greeley, inserted an open letter to the president in his leading New York Tribune on August 20, 1862. Greeley had been as responsible for Lincoln's election as anyone. He urged Lincoln to enforce the "emancipation provisions" of the Second Confiscation Act.

"My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery," Lincoln replied in Greeley's rival paper, Washington's National Intelligencer. "If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union." In the New York Tribune, rising abolitionist Wendell Phillips hammered Lincoln's remarks as "the most disgraceful document that ever came from the head of a free people."

With the war looking like a never-ending highway, the midterm elections approaching, and runaways crippling Confederates faster than Union bullets, Lincoln gathered his cabinet on September 22, 1862. After laying his poker face on Americans for months, he finally showed his cards -- cards William Lloyd Garrison never believed he had. Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. For slaveholding Union states and any rebel state wishing to return, Lincoln once again offered gradual, compensated emancipation and colonization. For those states remaining in rebellion on January 1, 1863, Lincoln proclaimed that "all persons held as slaves ... shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free."

"Thank God!" blared the Pittsburgh Gazette. "We shall cease to be hypocrites and pretenders," proclaimed Ralph Waldo Emerson. William Lloyd Garrison enjoyed the sound of "forever free," but little else. Lincoln, he fumed in private, could "do nothing for freedom in a direct manner, but only by circumlocution and delay."

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In his Message to Congress on December 1, 1862, Lincoln laid out a more detailed plan for gradual, compensated emancipation and colonization. Any slave state could remain or return to the Union if it pledged loyalty and a willingness to abolish slavery at any time before January 1, 1900. The US government would compensate such states for freeing their human property, but if they decided to reintroduce or tolerate enslavement, they would have to repay the emancipation compensation. "Timely adoption" of gradual, compensated emancipation and colonization "would bring restoration," Lincoln pleaded. The Confederate leaders largely rejected Lincoln's proposals, emboldened by their stunning war victories in mid-December.

Abraham Lincoln retired to his office on the afternoon of January 1, 1863. He read over the Emancipation Proclamation, "a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion," as he termed it, that emancipated "all persons held as slaves" and allowed Black men to join the Union Army. As Lincoln read the final statement, his abolitionist treasury secretary, Salmon B. Chase, suggested that he add some morality. Lincoln acquiesced, adding, "Upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God."

In the next two years, Lincoln made himself available to writers, artists, photographers, and sculptors who memorialized him for the historical record as the Great Emancipator. With his proclamation, Lincoln emancipated about 50,000 Black people in the Union-occupied Confederate areas that January. He kept enslaved the nearly half-million African people in border states, in order to maintain their owners' loyalty. He also kept enslaved the roughly 300,000 African people in the newly exempted formerly Confederate areas, in order to establish their owners' loyalty. More than 2 million African people on Confederate plantations remained enslaved because Lincoln had no power to free them. Democrats mocked Lincoln for "purposefully" making "the proclamation inoperative in all places where ... the slaves [were] accessible," and operative "only where he has notoriously no power to execute it," as the New York World put it.

But enslaved Africans now had the power to emancipate themselves. By the end of 1863, 400,000 Black people had escaped their plantations and found Union lines, running toward the freedom guaranteed by the proclamation.

*The terms "colonization" and "colonizing" in this excerpt refers to the proposal to send former slaves to Africa in order both to rid the United States of its Black population and, supposedly, to bring "civilization" to Africa -- one of many racist ideas that Stamped From the Beginning deals with in depth elsewhere.

Copyright (2017), Ibram X. Kendi. Not to be reposted without permission of Nation Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Categories: News

Bridging the Gap Between Movements and Elections: How the Working Families Party Organized in 2017

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 05:00

The Working Families Party (WFP) has a unique role in US electoral politics: providing the tactical electoral skills to help progressive candidates from new social movements get elected to local office, says the party's national campaigns and communications director Joe Dinkin. Many of the progressives who won in recent elections did so with the full organizing support of the WFP behind them.

 Jahi Chikwendiu / The Washington Post via Getty Images)Danica Roem, who ran for house of delegates against GOP incumbent Robert Marshall, is greeted by supporters as she prepares to give her victory speech with Prince William County Democratic Committee at Water's End Brewery on Tuesday, November 7, 2017, in Manassas, Virginia. (Photo: Jahi Chikwendiu / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. We're now several months into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators and educators, not only about how to resist, but how to build a better world. Today's interview is the 93rd in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

Today we bring you a conversation with Joe Dinkin, the national campaigns and communications director at the Working Families Party. Dinkin discusses how the Working Families Party bridges the gap between the energy of social movements and the machinations of politics.

Sarah Jaffe: We are now a couple of weeks out from the elections and it was a pretty good night.

Joe Dinkin: I think it is being widely seen in the media as a good night for Democrats, but I think there is a more interesting thing than that going on. Beyond that, I think it was a good night for progressives. That is true in Virginia and it is true in the municipal races that were unfolding around the country....

But I think down ballot what we saw was Democrats picked up something like 15 seats in the House of Delegates.... The candidates actually won in some of the toughest districts -- the more uphill, Republican-leaning districts were some of the most progressive candidates running -- people like Hala Ayala and Elizabeth Guzman, who were the first two Latina candidates to be elected to the state legislature in Virginia; Danica Roem, the first trans candidate; Lee Carter, Democratic Socialist and member of [Democratic Socialists of America]. All those candidates were running as sort of full-throated and bold progressives.

I think it blows up this prevalent myth in the Democratic Party that the way to win swing districts is with these boring, moderate, uninspiring white men, generally, who run these cautious campaigns where they try really hard not to offend anyone. These candidates in some of the swingiest races in Virginia who won were candidates running really as full-throated progressives and they were a diverse slate and really blew up that idea of the Democratic Party and proved that, at the very least, there is another way to win -- which is having a progressive vision and actually inspiring people with the change that you want to make in their lives and telling them how you are going to do that.

And this wasn't just Virginia. Around the country, there were municipal races. The Working Families Party, in total, endorsed a thousand candidates in 2017 -- over a thousand. Around the country, we were seeing a new crop of movement progressive candidates picking up the mantle to run for local office and winning. These are a lot of candidates who are not out of the traditional structures of the Democratic Party, but whose backgrounds are often in union organizing or in community organizing groups or in social movements, and that kind of candidate was running on these very bold and transformative visions in a lot of cases, and being rewarded by the voters for it....

Before we get into specifics, talk a little bit about the Working Families Party -- for people who are not familiar with its work -- before the last couple of years, really got started in just a couple of states. Talk about how you spread out into places like Virginia and Alabama.

The Working Families Party was founded in 1998 as a kind of reaction to the Bill Clinton era/[Democratic Leadership Council] wing of the Democratic Party, which was a Democratic Party that would pass welfare reform and NAFTA, that we saw as chasing money on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley, and seeing that as a way to win by raising Republican sources of money -- or what had been traditionally Republican sources of money -- to be able to compete with Republicans on a financially equal footing, and in doing so, abandoning ... the issues of the labor movement and of the civil rights movement and of the feminist movement and of the environmentalist movements.

The Working Families Party was founded as a way to have another political tool in the arsenal to force Democrats to actually listen to the progressive base. We grew pretty slowly at first; New York and then Connecticut, Oregon. In 2007 or 2008, we really were still in only three or four states.

I think [in] 2010, we saw the growth of the Tea Party, which, in a sense, did what we wanted to be doing in reverse. It totally changed our thinking about both the opportunities for us to grow and the need for us to grow at a much faster scale, and even to be able to do that in a space where the election law didn't permit us to operate as we traditionally had in a place like New York or Connecticut -- with the cross-endorsement or "fusion" balloting system, which really only exists in a handful of states. Instead, it allowed us to have a new conception of how to grow that mostly involved recruiting and training candidates and running them in Democratic primaries against more conservative opponents.

Then we had two other big growth spurts in the past two years. One, sort of through the Bernie [Sanders] movement. We were one of the first national organizations to be endorsing Bernie. I think out of Bernie's campaign came a lot of new interest and energy into growing local Working Families Party branches all around the country. Then ... after the election of Donald Trump, I think almost every organizing group and political organization left-of-center has seen new energy in 2017. We have seen a growing number of people interested in a more muscular vision of inclusive, multiracial populism and more people coming out of the woodwork to try to prosecute their politics in a different way.

Talk a little bit about the way that has worked. You are coming into places where you don't have the same kind of on-the-ground base that you have built over the years in somewhere like New York. What has it been like working in someplace like Alabama or Mississippi?

In 2017, those thousand candidates covered more than 24 states. At this point, we have membership everywhere. We have state chapters that are chartered and recognized by our national body in, I think, 15 states, but have membership everywhere.

What we did in a place like the mayor's race in Jackson, Mississippi, for Chokwe Lumumba or in Birmingham, Alabama, definitely looks pretty different than how we might have existed in a place like New York, where we built this base starting from a handful of progressive unions and community organizations. The labor movement in a place like Mississippi or Alabama is just so much weaker that there is much less of a base to start from.

We do have this national membership that engages with us primarily online, and what we were able to do was work with the campaigns -- with Lumumba's campaign in Jackson and with Randall Woodfin's campaign in Birmingham -- to figure out how we could be most helpful. That included mobilizing the local volunteers we had to kind of get activated in the campaign. That included creating some national systems of support, including national phone banking and national texting teams that volunteers from anywhere could participate in.

It sort of varied from campaign to campaign. In the case of the Lumumba race in Jackson, we were able to embed some experienced field operatives to help provide training and volunteer mobilization locally. In the case of Woodfin, the campaign was pretty different....

How has this been a change from the fusion strategy in New York, when you are working in places that don't have a Working Families Party ballot line?

The ballot line is definitely a valuable piece of real estate if you think about it one way, because it instantly makes you relevant in every election, and the places where we have ballot lines, we definitely have more of an ability and an obligation to get involved in many more races because you are on the ballot. If you are on the ballot statewide, you are more compelled to have to make a choice in every instance.

In a place like Alabama, there was actually only one race we endorsed in this year. We didn't have dozens of candidates all across Alabama; we had one. We had the mayor's race and we were very enthusiastic about that, and we pushed all the energy that we could into that race, but it wasn't at the same scale as a place like New York or Connecticut, where we have existed for longer.

One of the big questions that people are asking right now is often framed as a fight for the soul of the Democratic Party, whatever that means.... It's even a fight over "What is a progressive?" In the post-Bernie Sanders moment, it keeps getting framed as being about Bernie Sanders in a way that I think forecloses an understanding of what is going on ... in different places. What is the Working Families Party's role in this moment, in these kinds of struggles that are happening?

I think you are right that this sort of progressive phenomenon has manifested in a lot of different ways in different parts of the country. Not just Bernie, but Bernie is definitely a piece of it, and Bernie sort of brought it to the national stage, but there are local groups around the country that are pushing the bounds and changing the dialogue.

What is important is that we organize outside the Democratic Party and build strength outside the Democratic Party.

What Bernie accomplished is that he revealed that there was a deep well of both voter support and mobilized volunteer energy ... especially on an economic justice agenda -- a much bolder set of economic policies than had been considered in the mainstream of political dialogue.

Look, I think around the world, the neoliberal consensus over the last 30 years is atrophying as people see that it is not working. It is not lifting standards for most people, and especially in the years since the 2008 financial collapse that hit [the US] -- and frankly a lot of parts of the world harder than [the US] -- we are seeing an international phenomenon of both the rise of a very scary ethno-nationalist right and a new set of energy behind a bold and Social Democratic populist left.

We see ourselves as part of that movement, and I think what we bring, in particular, is the tactical electoral skills. That we can train candidates, recruit candidates, train campaign managers, provide resources to campaigns, and help the new social movements figure out how to actually win local office. I think that is a unique role for us: to bridge the gap between the energy of social movements and the machinations of politics.

The Working Families Party operating with the fusion strategy in New York was very clearly trying to pull the Democratic Party left. Is that still where we are at? Is there room to talk about another party? You have some elected officials who were elected not on a Democratic Party ballot line, but on a Working Families Party ballot line. What is the role of that right now?

I think we engage with the world as it is, and the world ... is a constantly changing thing. We have definitely taken advantage of the ability to elect Working Families Party members in partisan elections where we can, in their own right. Two [were] elected just recently in this cycle in Connecticut -- both in the City of Hartford -- to the school board. A candidate running against the charterization of school privatization movement that continues to sweep the country and ravage school systems, especially in communities of color. And in Windham, Connecticut, for Rose Reyes, a Latina woman who was a major part of the push to stop cooperation between the city and federal immigration officials, basically, and protect immigrants. She was a Working Families Party member; she actually defeated one of the votes on the town council who had been against it. They won it and then she ran against him.

So, where we have the ability to elect people who are real movement leaders and part of our movement on our own ballot line, we are more than happy to do it.... In most instances, it is easier to elect somebody inside the context of the Democratic Party primary. Sort of the same strategy that Bernie pursued, running inside the Democratic Party primary.

We are flexible enough to pursue different opportunities, but for us, what is important is that we organize outside the Democratic Party and build strength outside the Democratic Party. We see the party itself as sort of a battlefield between a variety of constituencies and ideologies that we think we are sort of shifting the balance.

Looking forward to 2018, what are you looking at? Are you looking at particular battleground spaces? Do you have your eye on any candidates?

I'll name one who I think really exemplifies what we want to be doing this cycle: Randy Bryce, "the Ironstache." He is a Working Parties Family member and union ironworker running against Paul Ryan in Wisconsin's 1st District. He provides the perfect contrast to Paul Ryan: Where Paul Ryan wants to cut health care to give a giant tax break to billionaires, Randy Bryce wants to provide health care for all, create millions of jobs rebuilding infrastructure, and wants to pay for it by taxing the billionaires.

The contrast is just perfect, and in a race that was not really seen as one of the competitive races on the radar of the national political class, Randy has raised very serious money and incredible volunteer energy and enthusiasm, and has now made the race competitive. He was just endorsed by Bernie Sanders and now even the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] is calling it a race to watch.

I think there is an opportunity for us to be identifying and supporting and recruiting candidates that really exemplify the kind of progressive, inclusive, populist policies that we want to see, and showing that people running on that kind of vision are a lot more competitive than people might already think.

The never-ending question, back to New York and the fusion ballot line: If Andrew Cuomo runs again, what happens?

There will be a Working Families Party state convention in New York sometime in June of next year. There will be a lot of debate and discussion among people about what to do and how to handle it and what candidates are running. I think it is obviously going to be an intense and deliberative debate. I think people are going to want to figure out what is the best path to [actually] advance our worldview.

I think what people who read about the 2014 New York situation might not know is that it actually was a really contentious deliberative and democratic process ... 200 members of the Working Families Party state committee, who are not political insiders of any stripe ... were taking a look at what they felt like was a really tough choice between a candidate they saw who was exciting and embodied their values and a candidate who they disagreed with a lot, but was the incumbent and likely winner and willing to make serious policy concessions. He promised things like a $15 minimum wage and an end to [hydraulic] fracking and though Andrew Cuomo renounced every promise he made to the Working Families Party, we also got those policies.

So, I think people are going to try to figure out what [is] the best way to actually advance policies and it will depend on what candidates are running.

How has the structure of the party changed from in the beginning, where it was very much built on the backs of unions and community organizations? How is that changing with a more national outlook?

I would say we have always wanted to have a healthy tension between the weight and muscle of institutions and the energy and idealism and drive of individual activists. I think as we have grown nationally -- especially in places where the labor movement isn't as strong -- the balance can look a little bit different place to place. We are in a moment where the energy of individual activists is kind of at an all-time high. I think you are seeing a lot more of that kind come into the party, too.

How can people who are all over the place become members of the Working Families Party ... get involved in local races there ... and find out more?

People can sign up for our email list at If you want to be part of one of the national volunteer campaigns that is supporting candidates all across the country in 2017 ... you can sign up to join one of our national volunteer teams at and people who want to think about getting involved or starting a local branch can reach out to us via email and ask about how to get started.

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

Categories: News

Justice for Alonzo Smith: Beverly Smith Reflects on Her Son's Life Before He Was Killed by Special Police

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 05:00

 Kate Deciccio)Beverly Smith, mother of Alonzo Smith. (Art: Kate Deciccio; Edited: LW / TO)

It's been two years since Alonzo Smith died of "sudden cardiac arrest" while handcuffed and restrained by "special police" at a DC apartment complex. His mother Beverly Smith reflects on Alonzo's life, his impact on the students at the school for children with emotional and learning disabilities where Alonzo worked, and her continuing fight for justice and accountability for his death.

 Kate Deciccio)Beverly Smith, mother of Alonzo Smith. (Art: Kate Deciccio; Edited: LW / TO)

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Born in Washington, DC, on January 2, 1988, Alonzo Smith was a father of three children, and a father figure to the many children for whom he was a teacher's aide at Accotink Academy -- a therapeutic school located in Springfield, Virginia. He is deeply missed by his students, because on November 1, 2015, 27-year-old Smith was killed by private security guards known as "Special Police."

"At his school, they called him a master of his trade. He was very loved by his children and staff as well," Beverly Smith, Alonzo's mother, says. "He had the gift for gab, very likeable and also very handsome, and he knew it."

Alonzo was raised by Beverly in a single-parent household. "He was a very bright and active child," Beverly remembers. He was always eager to take charge and work. "I would remember when Alonzo was four or five years old.... One day he asked the maintenance guy if he could give him a job," Beverly says. The maintenance man consulted with her, and agreed that Alonzo could help him fix a neighbor's doorknob.

"Alonzo [woke] up early, asked me how he looked for his first day of work," Beverly laughs, recalling Alonzo that day. As he grew up, Alonzo always held down a minimum of at least two jobs. In addition to working at the school, Alonzo also modeled part time, at the time of his death.

Alonzo grew up with an older sister, who currently works as a model and actress in New York, and a stepsister who resides in DC. Beverly raised Alonzo and his sister in Maryland and Southeast DC in the Eastern Market area.

"He had some very challenging years as a teenager, and he overcame quite a few challenges and became a very productive citizen in society," Beverly says. "I was very proud of him and his accomplishments."

Alonzo attended Morgan University, where he had completed his associate's degree and was about to go back for his bachelor's in social work. In his spare time, he also made money modeling.

In his social work pursuits, Alonzo focused on youth.

"He had always taken an interest in teenagers," Beverly says. "I guess having some challenges as a teenager himself, he wanted to reach out to other youth, and he was very successful in doing that." Alonzo worked with some of the neediest.

Although he continued working in Virginia, Alonzo moved back home with his mother to help her out in what would be the last year of his life. "I'm a retired worker. I looked forward to every morning, sitting up with him, talking about his day and the children. I'm very grateful that the last year of his life was spent with me," Beverly says.

Beverly misses being around him every morning. "I just really miss his presence and talking to him about his future and the things he wanted to do in life. He was just so full of life. He was very intelligent. I remember him getting interviewed for jobs; by the time he'd get off the phone, I'd be like, 'Boy, I wanna hire you!'" Beverly laughs.

A Murder Disguised as a Heart Attack

In the early morning hours of November 1, 2015, Alonzo was at the Marbury Plaza Apartment Complex. Around 4 am, some neighbors saw him running and heard him screaming, "Help! Help! they [the special officers are] trying to kill [me]."

"The neighbors called the police and said an assault was [taking place]. When police arrived on the scene, they found [Alonzo] face down [in] a stairwell, unresponsive," Beverly says.

One of the special officers -- privatized officers hired by the apartment complex -- had Alonzo handcuffed, and one of the special officers had his knees on his back, stopping him from breathing. "That can be seen on YouTube as well -- unfortunately, my son was [one of] the first victim[s] on body cam," Beverly says. Alonzo's was the first body cam footage that was shown to the public as part of a DC Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) pilot program.

Beverly isn't sure what Alonzo was doing at the apartment complex; she suspects visiting a friend, and she doesn't know why Alonzo felt as if he were in danger. Alonzo was knocking on doors asking for help; he had not committed a crime and had no weapons. The Special Police officers claim that Alonzo was walking around "bizarrely."

"They said, 'Oh, he's bizarre, I think he's on PCP.' There were no PCP found in his system," Beverly says. She says that restraints were also put on her son's ankles, while he was not breathing, and he was not resuscitated correctly.

"I wasn't contacted until 36 hours later [after the incident occurred]. They said they couldn't find [me].... That's impossible. I live five minutes away from that apartment complex," Beverly says. She did not know the whereabouts of her son during that entire time.

"I was very upset and still am. They actually denied me the opportunity of feeling my son's warm body one last time," Beverly explains.

According to reports, Alonzo died at a hospital 10 minutes away from Beverly's home. Beverly claims that Alonzo actually died on the scene rather than at the hospital. "When there is a police-involved killing, law enforcement takes a different approach ... it's an automatic attempt to cover up," Beverly says.

Beverly knew something was up almost immediately when she hadn't heard from her son. The last conversation she had had with him was via text message on Friday. She attempted to reach him again on Sunday, but he didn't respond. Monday, he still hadn't responded. "Everyone knows my son loves to take selfies, and when there were no Facebook selfies posted, I began to get worried," Beverly says.

"[Around] 7:20 pm that evening -- Monday evening ... two Seventh District investigators knocked on my door, in plain clothing. I let them in. Before they even said anything, I asked them, 'What happened to my son?'" Beverly says.

Both investigators then looked at each other and showed Beverly a picture of Alonzo, asking if he was her son. They then said they were sorry to inform her, but her son had been in an altercation with two Special Police Officers, and he had passed.

"I said, 'What do you mean? Was he shot?'" Beverly explains. The Metropolitan police then continued to tell her that he was in an altercation with Special Police and had passed.

"It led me to believe that the police department and someone from the medical examiner's office were working together," Beverly says.

The coroner ultimately said that a heart attack was the cause of death, yet Beverly claims that Alonzo's death was a homicide -- as she believes it was at the hands of someone else, and it was also ruled a homicide by the DC office of the medical examiner. "The report revealed that my son had been hemorrhaging on the C2 area of his neck and also in two areas in his back. My son was [in a] chokehold," Beverly says.

She didn't get to see the body until a week later. "My son had massive swelling. One of his eyes was swollen, [and] his neck had massive swelling, particularly on the right said," Beverly describes. It appeared to her that something could have broken his neck on the right side.

"My son was definitely [in a] chokehold. [The officer] put [his] whole body weight on my son's back -- I know, he got to be over 200 pounds. My son was only about 150 pounds," Beverly says.

The coroner's report lied and stated that Alonzo weighed 193 pounds. This was done, in Beverly's opinion, to set up a scenario in which her son's weight was close to his killer's weight. That he was a large, aggressive Black man, a brute.

Before Alonzo was killed, Beverly knew of police killings, and she believed that police departments across the country were corrupt. "I knew, of course, [of] Freddie Grey, Michael Brown -- I knew about how these officers murder unarmed Black and Brown children at a disproportionate rate with impunity. I already knew about that history of law enforcement, but I had never dealt with it until it hit my family," Beverly says.

Blackout Investigations and Security Services, which managed the security guards complicit in Alonzo's death, had a history of misconduct prior to his death. "They had already had numerous complaints of being overzealous. This was not the first time that they had acted aggressively with residents there," Beverly says. There had been many complaints -- particularly in the Marbury Plaza apartment complex in which Alonzo was killed -- over the past few years, leading up to Alonzo's death.

"I'm Still Seeking Justice for My Son"

Alonzo was not only adored by his mother, but also by his three children -- a 4-year-old and two 8-year-olds. He was a loving sibling, and his sisters are really struggling with his passing.

"His older sister is still in denial," Beverly says. "It's been hard for them. It has compelled me to become a community activist against police brutality."

Beverly now speaks at numerous rallies and facilitates a grief and healing support group that she founded, called Circle of Love and Support (COLS).

"I facilitate these meetings every month for survivors, parents, siblings, families and friends of people who have been murdered by police and intercommunity violence, but also anyone who has suffered a loss of a loved one," Beverly explains.

Beverly, calm and eloquent, is able to do this emotional work because of her faith and large support network. "I have a phenomenal community of support, and I rely on my faith in God," she says. "I have several organizations that [have] been absolutely a pillar in my life -- Pan-African Community Action (PACA) [is one]. The organization was founded as a result of my son's murder," Beverly continues. The organization also holds political education sessions that address specific topics, such as the relationship between white supremacy and policing.

"The other organization is the Coalition of Concerned Mothers, which is a group of mothers who have lost their children through police brutality and/or community violence. We support each other in numerous ways," Beverly says. Black Lives Matter has also been instrumental in uplifting the "Justice for Zo" campaign, which means justice for Alonzo.

Beverly fights daily for justice for her son with these organizations.

"Justice for me, is if the special police officers be held accountable," she says. "My son's case was given to the grand jury in December 2015. In June, 2017, the US attorney general returned a non-indictment verdict. Therefore, the only other avenue to obtain justice was to file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Alonzo's children."

Blackout Investigations employs special police officers, so is essentially a privatized police force. They are not exactly full police officers, and are closer to security guards. However, they are armed and able to make arrests on the perimeter of where they are employed.

"So, actually they can't really make an arrest. They can detain and pass them over," Beverly explains. That did not happen with Alonzo.

Beverly is constantly speaking, writing to city officials and discussing how the local police officers incorrectly performed CPR on her son. She talks about how there was no defibrillator present. "I also talk about the tactic as far as having the knee on the back, chokehold, excessive use of force and lack of training. All of those issues, were in the mayor's proposals [to reform policing]. It's been almost a year, and I haven't heard anything," Beverly says.

She has written to the mayor's office, published open letters and is committed to continuing to write these letters until she receives a response.

"Until my last breath, I will relentlessly fight for justice for my son and all victims of police brutality," Beverly assures.

Once, Beverly was canvassing for PACA. She was going door to door to get answers regarding her son's death, as well as to get the community involved in PACA's work. She talked to a woman whose child Alonzo's work had impacted, and she told Beverly, "I know your son. Your son was my son's teacher. Your son changed my son's life. When my son started [at] the school, he didn't have good communication skills. He didn't know how to take the bus, but since your son was my son's teacher, he does all of those things now very well." The woman then called her son over.

"This young guy must have been 14 years old, stood probably five-ten, and my son stood five-four, but the kids really loved and respected him," Beverly says.

Many of Alonzo's students spoke at his funeral. They shared that, to them, Alonzo was more than just a teacher; that he was one of them. He understood what they were going through.

"My son had touched all of these children's lives," Beverly says. "Even on a mural, [and] on some of the letters, the kids would say, 'Mr. Smith, we wanna be good for you. We miss you. We love you, Mr. Smith.'"

Categories: News

Does Your Diestel Turkey Come With a Side of Antibiotics?

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 05:00

Producers like Diestel, and retailers like Whole Foods, know consumers are willing to pay a premium for hormone-free, antibiotic-free turkeys from farms that have high animal-welfare standards. However, what happens when companies make claims that don't live up to consumer expectations? 

 LW / TO)(Photo: Steve Johnson; Edited: LW / TO)

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Diestel Turkey, sold by Whole Foods and other retailers at premium prices, says on its website that its "animals are never given hormones, antibiotics or growth stimulants."

But Diestel Turkey samples tested by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggest otherwise, leading consumers to wonder: Can these companies be trusted?

According to testing conducted under the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) National Residue Program, samples of Diestel Turkey products tested positive for numerous drug and antibiotic residues.

One of those drugs, Chloramphenicol, is strictly prohibited by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in food production because it's known to have "severe toxic effects in humans including bone marrow suppression or aplastic anemia in susceptible individuals."

According to an amended complaint filed November 13, against Diestel Turkey Ranch, the FSIS inspected Diestel turkeys on four dates in 2015 and 2016, and reported, in addition to Chloramphenicol, residues of antibiotics important for human use, veterinary antibiotics, a hormone and other pharmaceuticals.

Animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) brought the action against the privately held Sonora, Calif., turkey producer in the Superior Court of California. DxE is suing Diestel for falsely advertising its turkey products as hormone- and antibiotic-free, and for deceiving consumers about how the company's birds are raised and treated.

According to the lawsuit, Diestel turkey products tested by the USDA were positive for residues of:

ketamine, a narcotic. The Drug Enforcement Agency describes ketamine as "a dissociative anesthetic that has some hallucinogenic effects." Ketamine's street names include Special K, Cat Tranquilizer, and Cat Valium, the latter two referencing its veterinary uses, and it is commonly referred to as a club drug because it is used illegally at dance clubs and raves. The FDA has not approved the use of ketamine in poultry.

Amikacin, an antibiotic for human use that the FDA considers important for humans.

Spectinomycin, also an antibiotic for human use

Hygromycin, an antibiotic for veterinary use

Ipronidazole, also a veterinary pharmaceutical

Melengestrol acetate, a synthetic hormone also known as MGA

Sulfanitran, an antibacterial drug feed additive

Kim Richman of Richman Law Group, which represents DxE, said that to the best of his knowledge, the USDA did not test any certified organic Diestel Turkey samples. "Since organic meat goes through a certification process, the end product is not tested. It appears that the National Residue Program samples only non-organic meat and poultry," Richman said.

This isn't the first time some of these drugs, including chloramphenicol and Ketamine, have been found in poultry. As reported by Bloomberg on June 22, the Organic Consumers Association, Friends of the Earth and Center for Food Safety sued Sanderson Farms, the third largest poultry producer in the US, for advertising its chicken as "100% natural" even though USDA testing reported finding drug residues in Sanderson chicken samples.

Consumers aren't pleased to learn that factory farm poultry brands mislead them. But they aren't necessarily surprised either.

But it's a whole different story when the brands they thought they could trust, turn out to be making false claims, too.

Are Diestel and Whole Foods Misleading Consumers? 

Producers like Diestel, and retailers like Whole Foods, know consumers are willing to pay a premium for hormone-free, antibiotic-free turkeys from farms that have high animal-welfare standards.

But what happens when companies make claims that don't live up to consumer expectations

Diestel Turkey claims its birds live idyllic lives. On its website, the company says:

"All of our whole-body Diestel turkeys are raised under our strict standards. We support our turkeys with a healthy environment, fresh mountain water, and the clean air from the Sierra Nevada Foothills. Our feed never contains fillers, our birds are never given growth stimulants or antibiotics, and we never make compromises when it comes to the quality of the feed."

Whole Foods gives Diestel Turkey its 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating standard, a rating intended to differentiate factory farm meat from pasture-raised. The rating not only sets high standards for "the comfort, physical safety and health of the animals," but also prohibits the use of hormones and antibiotics.

The USDA testing suggests that Diestel is deceiving consumers about the use of antibiotics and other drugs on its farms. A nine-month investigation of Diestel Turkey Ranch by DxE suggests Diestel also deceives consumers not only about the use of antibiotics and hormones, but also about how the turkeys it sells are treated before being slaughtered for meat.

On its website, Diestel says: "We pay close attention to the health of our birds by spending time with them in the fields, observing their behaviors, and making sure they have the best environment possible."

But according to the complaint DxE filed against Diestel, the turkey producer bases those claims on one "picture-perfect" farm as its "poster child" farm -- but raises most of its turkeys elsewhere, under industrial factory farm conditions.

And that picture-perfect farm is rated Step 5, even though most turkeys do not enjoy those Step 5 conditions.

In reality, DxE's investigation found that the vast majority of the turkeys sold by Diestel are raised under very different conditions than those portrayed by the Diestel website. According to the complaint, the DxE investigation found:

• turkeys raised in over-crowded barns

• turkeys found languishing or dead

• turkeys suffering from excessive confinement

• turkeys trapped in feces that covered much of the barn floor, up to one-half foot deep

• turkeys suffering from swollen-shut eyes, swollen nostrils, open wounds, and/or bruises

• turkeys missing large patches of feathers as a result of pecking one another and/or de-feathering from extreme stress

• turkeys routinely subject to debeaking and/or beak-trimming

• turkeys laboring to breathe in an enclosed barn environment dense with ammonia and particles of dried feces and feathers

• as many as 7 percent of birds in a barn dying in a single week.

What's a consumer to do? We've put together this Holiday Turkey Buying Guide that steers consumers in the direction of reliable sources of honestly marketed turkeys.

And as always, we recommend consumers take advertising and marketing claims with a grain of salt, until those claims can be verified by a third party.

In the meantime, we're asking consumers to ask Whole Foods to stop selling Diestel Turkey products.

Categories: News

An Affordable Housing Movement Is Rising From the Wreckage of the Foreclosure Crisis

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 05:00
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In late September, activists staged actions in 45 cities to draw attention to predatory rent practices and vast cuts to Housing and Urban Development funding. "Renters Week of Action" was partially inspired by a report put out by the Right to the City Alliance (RTC) highlighting solutions to the problems tenants now face after the foreclosure crisis.

"The majority of all renters pay an unaffordable rent," Darnell Johnson of RTC told In These Times. "Eviction, rising rents and gentrification are racial, gender and economic violence harming our people."

The coordinated actions stem from a long history. The rent control movement gained momentum during the late 1970s and early 1980s, spreading beyond New York City and taking hold in California. In 1978, California voters approved Proposition 13, which lowered property taxes throughout the state.

Many believed that the savings would mean lower home prices and rents. But almost 40 years later, California is a symbol of the era's failed optimism. The median California house costs 2.5 times more than the median national house, and rents are some of the highest in the nation. Cities throughout the country have now experienced decades of gentrification from a real estate industry consistently looking for ways to subvert the few remaining housing protections that exist for tenants.    

Over the last few years, housing activism has boomed -- a trend that transcends the issue of rent control through its focus on halting gentrification and protecting low-income people of color from displacement. This work is even more important in the era of Trump, as the GOP is actively pushing a tax plan to benefit the richest members of US society. House Republicans just passed a tax plan that will cut corporate rates down to 20 percent while increasing taxes for households that make between $10,000 and $30,000 a year.

The movement has taken hold throughout the country, and it's recently chalked up a number of important victories. After activists staged a hunger strike in San Jose, lawmakers approved some of the strongest renter protections in the nation. Seattle's city council was pushed to end housing discrimination against formerly incarcerated individuals. Earlier this year, New York became the first city to guarantee attorneys for low-income renters facing eviction.

One group with a track record of effective strategy is the Minneapolis-based Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia. Organizer Roberto de la Riva told In These Times that the group has a direct-action approach to combating his city's housing crisis. The racial breakdown of housing in Minneapolis is stark: Most people of color rent, while most people white people own homes. He spoke of Latino residents being fined hundreds of dollars by landlords for opening their windows during the winter -- and being forced to pay their rent via money order.

"As an organization that works with directly-affected tenants in the most affordable housing in Minneapolis, we see first-hand the amount of power that landlords hold over tenants," said de la Riva. "They can intimidate freely without anyone holding them accountable and use the system for their business model. Because of the lack of effective organizing and renter protections like rent control, and just cause protection against eviction, landlords get free reign in the city."  

"When we organize with tenants against their landlords," he added, "we are able to break down fear and isolation, equalize power relations and move tenants to defend their rights to negotiate with the landlord on renters' terms."

One of the most effective ways Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia has fought for tenants is through the acquisition of pro-bono attorneys to fight for renters in court. This method has led to a major rent return lawsuit, charging two Minneapolis landlords with hiding their ownership of properties from the city and purposely suppressing the costs of repairs for financial gain. If successful, the lawsuit could financially benefit thousands of Minnesota residents. "It could be the largest case in terms of damages and rent refunds in US history," housing attorney Larry McDonough told The Star Tribune. "I could not find a single class action around the country that had this kind of price tag on it."

De la Riva said tenants and activists are up against powerful, moneyed interests in Minneapolis.

According to advocates, this trend extends nationwide, "Entire communities and cultures are being erased by aggressive development," Johnson underscored. "We're occupying their offices, taking back our communities and escalating. Because this isn't a game. We're fighting for our lives, our communities and our futures."

In Boston, 2016 saw an uptick in resistance to predatory rent practices, with activists fighting for "Just Cause Eviction" rules that would prevent landlords from evicting tenants for improper reasons. Through organizing, communities advanced the Jim Brooks Community Stabilization Act, a piece of legislation that has already cleared Boston's city council and will now make its way to the state legislature. If passed, the act would require landlords with more than six units to provide a reason for evicting a tenant -- and mandate that they report the eviction to the city. The city would then be required to notify the tenant of their rights as a renter.     

Ten miles outside of downtown Boston is the city of Lynn, where an organization of local residents is fighting back against unjust evictions and foreclosures. Lynn United for Change's Isaac Simon Hodes told In These Times that unaffordable rent is a massive problem in the city, and the group is committed to working with homeowners.

"We bring together homeowners facing foreclosure and tenants facing eviction because all of these battles are part of the broader struggle to defend the human right to housing," said Hodes, "Whether it's big banks that are foreclosing or corporate landlords that are causing displacement, we'll only be able to challenge the damage they're doing to our communities by building a strong and broad movement for housing justice."

Last year, Lynn Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy declared that the city already had enough affordable housing but needed more rich residents for economic expansion. "Lynn has more than its share of affordable housing right now," said Kennedy. "We have exceeded the goal, and one of the things that Lynn needs to succeed in is its long-term economic development is to have people with disposable income in the mix of the housing that we offer."

During "Renters Week of Action," Lynn United for Change members occupied a development site demanding that affordable housing be included in a new set of waterfront apartments. "We do not oppose development," reads the petition that activists passed out during the event on September 26. "We want to see our city grow and improve. But new development will only be good for the people of our city if it takes our needs and concerns into account and does not push out current residents."

Categories: News

"My Son Is Not a Personal Problem": How Women Veterans Are Treated as Second-Class Citizens

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 05:00

This article was published by

Major Jas Boothe is strong. The first time I met her she scooped me up and carried me, like an old-timey groom walking their bride over the threshold. That's a bold move with a new acquaintance, but she has plenty of reasons to be self-assured: She's a veteran, a cancer survivor, and she raised her oldest son by herself, while she was homeless.

After she spent the mid-2000s struggling to navigate the Veterans Affairs (VA) system, and finding the resources for homeless women -- and particularly mothers -- lacking, Boothe founded Final Salute to support other veterans struggling to convince the military that their roles as mothers and as soldiers were inseparable.

I spoke with Major Boothe about her life and the maze of challenges that women veterans face as members of the military as well as caregivers in their own families.

Kate Bahn: Can you tell us a brief overview of what you and your family went through when you were in the army and immediately after?

Jas Boothe: Life was definitely harder as a single mother in the army because it was used as ammunition against me. Everyone knows their body, and when I got cancer, I knew something was wrong. But I was told, "This is why women can't hack it in the military," "This is why women shouldn't be in leadership positions," "If you are not here training with your troops you look weak, they're not going to respect you." So I just said, "You know what, fine, I won't go check on myself." The military tells you suck it up and drive on.

It turns out I was dying. I had head, neck, and throat cancer. Good thing I was able to get to the doctor before I deployed, because there's no telling how much worse it would have gotten a year or so later. But it's things like that that let you know that we still have a very long way to go.

There were other instances. When my 6-month-old got sick -- he was born with asthma -- and the day care called me and said, "Hey, can you come get him?" I said, "Of course!" But my supervisor at the time was a man, and it took me so long to explain to him why I had to go. He said, "You know what? You need to keep your personal problems in order." And I said, "My son is not a personal problem. He's a baby and he's sick." I had to explain it in a different way for him. I said, "So you know when your children get sick, your wife goes and picks them up and alleviates that concern from you? I am the wife. So I have to go."

By the time I got to my son, since it took me so long, he was already in the ambulance headed to the hospital, and I just felt so bad. Then when I got to the hospital my supervisor called me. I thought "Oh, he's calling to check to see how my son is doing." But he was calling me to ask if I was going to be at work the next day.

People look on the surface of things in the military, like post-traumatic stress disorder and things like that. But we still have underlying issues of how you're treated strictly because of your gender.

After your cancer diagnosis, how did you balance your own care needs with your caregiving needs for your son? How did you navigate the mix of supports for veterans, the social safety net, help from your family?

Well, I had to suffer. The cancer and Hurricane Katrina left me homeless and jobless. At that point, I did need extensive rehabilitation and medical care, but I also had a child that I needed to take care of who needed food, clothes, a roof over his head. And I knew that if I focused on my health like I needed to, I wouldn't be employable because I would have so much follow-up care and so many appointments. So I just said, "You know what, I have to take care of my kid -- that's my 50-meter target."

There is no balance, especially when you're a mom, especially when you're a wife, and definitely when you're a soldier. And so I put my health to the side, which probably hurt me in the long run, but I felt that it was needed.

As women we sacrifice for our children, we sacrifice for our job, and sometimes we even sacrifice for our love life. Even when looking for supportive services, I was turned away from the VA because of my gender -- I was told they didn't have any supportive housing services for women and their children, and they told me to go get welfare and food stamps because I had an illegitimate child. If there was a male veteran who had a child when he wasn't married, I can guarantee you they wouldn't call his child an illegitimate child. They probably would just refer to him as "your son."

It's that subliminal way of thinking of how we see women in this country. When a male veteran has a need or issue it's America's fault, America has to help him. When a woman veteran has a need or issue, she failed herself: "What did you do to get yourself in that position?" It's the same kind of rape [culture] mentality. "What were you doing over there at 3 o'clock in the morning?" or "Why were you wearing that short skirt?" We are always dressed down whenever something traumatic has happened to us. But I've noticed that a lot of male veterans are not re-stigmatized just based on their gender.

What type of supports do you think would be helpful to other soldiers and veterans who are balancing their own care and needs as well as the care and needs of their families?

I think people just need to realize that putting you in uniform does not make you a robot, it does not make you beyond need, it does not make you beyond care. And although we say we want to serve veterans equally and we need to serve veterans equally, we can't. Men and women do not have the same make-up. [Most] men don't need mammograms, men don't need pap smears, men don't need OB-GYNs. I say that because not every [VA] has an OB-GYN or a place where you can get mammograms or pap smears and things like that.

I would love for you to tell us about the organization you started, Final Salute. What is the goal, how did you start it, and how did you get it off the ground?

I started Final Salute out of necessity. I didn't just wake up one day and say, "Hey, I just would love to create a nonprofit." I never saw myself creating a nonprofit. I saw myself as a soldier. But I also saw that women veterans were still being treated like second-class veterans, and no one was doing anything about it. Nobody was really even talking about it. I thought I was just that one soldier who slipped through the cracks. But there are tens of thousands of women veterans who are homeless. Women veterans are the fastest growing homeless population in America, and women veterans are also 250 percent more likely to commit suicide than any other women in American society.

Our mission is to provide homeless women veterans and children with vacant, suitable housing. And we have been able to raise $3 million to assist more than 36,000 women veterans. But there are still 55,000 homeless women veterans in America on any given day.

How do you balance both helping women have financial security and independence while making sure they can also still be mothers and wives and family members?

The key is keeping them with their children. The best thing you can do for a mother who's struggling is keep her children with her. That way she can ensure that they're safe, she can ensure that they're taken care of. A lot of the VA shelters won't do that: On my last count, I think out of 500 only 15 took in women with children. Some women are forced to give their children to friends and family members or even to the state because they can't support them. Some women are forced to stay in domestic violence situations, because if they leave they won't have anywhere to go with their child. Or some women sleep in their cars with their children. Homelessness isn't just that guy on the park bench or in a tent city. Our primary means of survival are couch surfing, navigating from home to home until our welcome runs out so we can keep our children with us. We found that women thrive when their children are with them, and then once they know they are taking care of their responsibility as a mother, that allows them to focus on things like employment support or going back to school or getting that financial education and counseling they need.

We also noticed that [women need to] regain their tribes. When you are going through any situation, especially a hardship, tribe is important. In the military, we thrive in tribe because we are a unit; each member in the military becomes our family. When we watch people come into our transition home and regain that tribe and regain that sisterhood, we just see that drastic change in momentum in commitment from them.

I really appreciate hearing about all your work again. It's so inspiring, and I think it's going to really hit a lot of people.

Thank you for the opportunity.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Categories: News

On George W. Bush: The Enemy of Our Enemy Is Still a War Criminal

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 15:27

That George W. Bush finds Trump's rhetoric distasteful is no reason to turn a presidential war criminal into a liberal hero.That George W. Bush finds Trump's rhetoric distasteful is no reason to turn a presidential war criminal into a liberal hero. (Image: Nathan Congleton / Flickr)

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He received a prestigious award from the West Point Association of Graduates. He published a "runaway" bestselling autobiography. Last February, a lavishly produced book celebrating his paintings of Americans who served in the military was, as Time put it, "burning up the Amazon charts."

Still, the liberal media wasn't ready to embrace George W. Bush -- not at least until he made some oblique criticisms of the current tenant of his old position, suggesting that, in the present political climate, "bigotry seems emboldened." Seems? Have you been to Charlottesville lately, Mr. Bush?

The former president was less tentative on the main subject of his address to a conference on "democracy" he'd organized in New York City: the importance of free trade and the need for a large American footprint in the world. "We see a fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade," he said, "forgetting that conflict, instability, and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism." More on that speech later.

Not the First Rehab Job

George W. Bush is hardly the first disgraced Republican president and war criminal to worm his way back into American esteem. Richard Nixon remains the leader in that department. He spent his later years being celebrated as an elder statesman and a master of realpolitik in international relations. In the process, he managed to shake off the dust of Watergate.

In those years, few even remembered that his was the first administration in which both the president and vice president resigned. In 1973, that disgraced vice president, Spiro Agnew, pled guilty to a felony count of tax evasion, but not before he'd bequeathed the English language a few of its most mellifluous sobriquets, among them the "nattering nabobs of negativism" and the "effete corps of impudent snobs" (aimed at those who opposed the Vietnam War).

Nixon's rehabilitation not only reduced the Watergate scandal in American memory, but also essentially obliterated his greater crimes, among which were these:

* while still a presidential candidate in 1968, he opened a secret back channel to the South Vietnamese government to keep it out of peace talks with the North that might have benefited his Democratic opponent;

* in the war itself, he oversaw the expansion of the CIA's Phoenix Program of torture and assassination in which, as historian Alfred McCoy has described it, "the formalities of prosecution" of suspected Viet Cong were replaced "with pump and dump -- pumping suspects of information by torture and then dumping the bodies, more than 20,000 of them between 1968 and 1971";

* he also oversaw an expansive, illegal, and undeclared war in Cambodia (which, when it was about to come to light, he described as a brief "incursion" into that country);

* he oversaw the saturation or "carpet" bombing of the North Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, and that country's major port, Haiphong;

* and he presided over the "first 9/11," the 1973 military coup that murdered Chile's elected president, Salvador Allende, ushering in years of terror and torture under General Augusto Pinochet.

And don't think that Richard Nixon is the only other example of such a post-presidential rehabilitation. Ronald Reagan is now remembered by friend and foe alike as a kind, folksy president and a wily strategist who ended the Cold War by forcing a cash-strapped Soviet Union to keep up with US defense spending and then negotiated directly with Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev. When he died in June 2004, The New York Times was typical in the largely fawning obituary it ran, describing him as "the man who restored popular faith in the presidency and the American government."

That obituary did at least mention the Iran-Contra conspiracy in which President Reagan approved the (illegal) sale of arms to Iran to fund his (illegal) support of the Nicaraguan Contras, the murderous rebel force that sought to overthrow that country's leftist Sandinista government. "The deception and disdain for the law," commented the obituary, "invited comparisons to Watergate, undermined Mr. Reagan's credibility, and severely weakened his powers of persuasion with Congress." An odd set of observations about a man being hailed for restoring faith in the presidency, but consistent with the contradictions inherent in any lionization of Reagan.

Lest we forget, he was also the president who began his first term by attacking unions, starting with the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, a move which so many years later still results in regular flight delays, thanks to a 27-year low in the number of air controllers. Reagan also inaugurated the mania for deregulation that led to the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and ultimately to the subprime mortgage crisis and financial meltdown of 2007-2008. His presidency reinforced what would become a never-ending slide in the value of real wages and his tax policies were the starting point for what has, in our own time, become not an inequality gap but an inequality chasm that has now left three men with the same amount of wealth as 160 million Americans. (Not surprisingly, depending on who's calculating it, the United States either has the world's highest or perhaps fourth-highest Gini score, a measurement of economic inequality.)

Nixon had to wait many years for his rehabilitation and Reagan's was largely posthumous. At a vigorous 71, however, Bush seems to be slipping effortlessly back onto the national stage only nine years after leaving office essentially in disgrace. He will evidently have plenty of time to bask in history's glow before the first of those nostalgic obituaries are written. And for that, he can thank Donald Trump.

W. Redux?

During that October 17th speech in which he criticized Trump without mentioning his name, George W. Bush touted the "Spirit of Liberty: At Home, in the World." There, he bemoaned the degradation of political discourse by "casual cruelty," noting that "bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children." Like the rest of his family, Bush does not share Trump's aversion to immigrants, so he added that this country seems to be forgetting "the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America."

Articles in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and even the Guardian eagerly reported Bush's implicit criticisms of the president as a hopeful sign of resistance to Trumpism from the "responsible" Republican right. Politico simply labeled the event a "George W. Bush speech on Trumpism," although much of it was about the decline of democracy in Europe and the value of free trade.

It's certainly true that his speech included oblique critiques of the man who repeatedly insulted his brother Jeb as "a very low-energy kind of guy" and knocked him out of the race to be the third Bush to sit in the Oval Office, but it's worth reading the whole address. It's vintage W. -- that is, vintage W. as a war criminal. He began, for instance, by reprising the lie that "since World War II, America has encouraged and benefited from the global advance of free markets, from the strength of democratic alliances, and from the advance of free societies."

As Alfred McCoy demonstrates in his recent book, In the Shadows of the American Century, that is a particularly disingenuous description of a 70-year history in which Washington supported and, in a remarkable number of cases was directly involved in, the destruction of free societies. A list of examples would perhaps begin with the 1953 British and US-backed coup against the democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh that would install the despotic Shah in power in that country. It would certainly continue with the 1954 US and United Fruit Company coup against Jacobo Arbenz, the democratically elected president of Guatemala (an early instance of Washington's post-World War II "encouragement" of anything-but-free-trade); the 1960 CIA-backed coup against, and the murder of, Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba; and the 1973 military coup in Chile. An honest history would also include the active "encouragement" of societies that were anything but free, including those run by juntas, dictators, or military governments in Greece, Brazil, Argentina, the Philippines, Indonesia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Uruguay, Iraq, and South Korea, to name just a few.

Of course, George W. Bush is hardly the first president to lie about the post-World War II record of the United States. Nor is he the first to suggest that "American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places," which he attributed in his speech to the lack of the democracy Washington put so much effort into destroying in more than 70 countries across the planet.

And don't forget that it was precisely the pretext of a direct threat to American security that led to the most criminal lie of his career: the insistence that Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and that the US invasion of his country was justified by a (legally questionable) case of preemptive self-defense. By initiating a war of aggression, by loosing "shock and awe" on the capital of a nation that had not attacked ours, President Bush committed a war crime. Indeed, it was the first in the list of crimes for which the leaders of Nazi Germany were indicted at Nuremberg after World War II: the ultimate crime against peace.

Few Americans have ever heard of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, but in 1928 the United States signed it and the Senate ratified it by a vote of 85-1. The 50 signatories of that treaty renounced war as a means of settling international disputes and, as the authors of The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World have argued, by implication made aggressive war a violation of international law. The US Constitution states in Article 6 that "all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land." By invading Iraq, Bush broke both international and US law.

In addition to his crimes against peace, Bush and his administration were also the authors of such traditionally recognized war crimes as torture and the use of chemical weapons. One of the uglier aspects of the US military's battle for the Iraqi city of Fallujah was its use of white phosphorus, an incendiary munition. Phosphorus ignites spontaneously when exposed to air. If bits of the chemical attach to human beings, skin and flesh burn away. The burning continues as long as there is oxygen available, sometimes right into the bone.

In short, isn't it a little early to begin rehabilitating the man responsible for indefinite detention at Guantánamo, "enhanced interrogation techniques," and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and at least 150,000 Afghans -- not to mention the trillions of US dollars shoved down the memory hole in pursuit of the futile wars that followed?

Leda and the Swan 

The same year that the Kellogg-Briand Pact was signed, William Butler Yeats published a collection of poems called The Tower. It contains what many consider his masterpiece, the harrowing sonnet "Leda and the Swan." In it, Yeats recreates the moment in Greek myth when Zeus, the ruling god of Olympus, having taken the form of a swan, rapes the helpless human woman Leda, leaving her pregnant with a daughter. That daughter became Helen of Troy, whose abduction was the casus belli for the Trojan War.

The poet begins with the victim's shock and awe:

"A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

In the final stanza, Yeats writes:

"A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead."

In those brief words can be read an entire history of war and death, recounted more fully in the 15,693 lines of the Iliad, all somehow encapsulated in that first act of violence.

In his poem, Yeats implies that Zeus knows full well the final outcome of his act. Similarly perhaps, the "swans" of Washington in 2003, which was at that time the planet's own imperial Olympus, had more than an inkling of the broken walls, the burning roofs and towers their invasion of Iraq might engender. As early as 1996, future Vice President Dick Cheney's fellow hawks Richard Perle and Douglas Feith -- who would later join the Bush administration as adviser on the Defense Policy Board and under secretary of defense for policy -- helped write a report for Benjamin Netanyahu, who was then running the Israeli government for the first time. Titled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," it urged the leaders of Israel's right-wing Likud party to leave behind the nation's previous geopolitical strategy by abandoning peace negotiations with the Palestinians and using military means to actively restructure the Middle East in their favor.

"Israel," the authors argued, "can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria." Such a campaign would begin by "removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq -- an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right -- as a means of foiling Syria's regional ambitions." The ultimate goal was a realignment of power in the region, with Syria destabilized, a monarchy in Iraq, and a new regional alliance among Turkey, Jordan, and Israel.

It would prove to be the geopolitical equivalent of a movie preview. In the wake of 9/11, the same cast of characters would take a similar path in Washington and, in the end, that "rolling back" operation would shake or destroy country after country from Afghanistan and Iraq to Libya and Yemen. Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Syria has certainly been destabilized in ways almost impossible to imagine, through the rise of ISIS (born in an American military prison) and a vicious, multi-sided civil war that, by early 2016, had left more than a tenth of its population killed or injured. In the process, more than 10 million people, including untold numbers of children, were turned into internal or external refugees.

Netanyahu, in fact, would reject the "clean break" proposal (perhaps because it also suggested that Israel make a clean break with its dependence on US aid), but the neocons were undeterred. In 1998, they resurrected the plan as part of a new pressure group they formed, the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), and presented it to Bill Clinton in a letter encouraging him to direct "a full complement of diplomatic, political, and military efforts" to "remove Saddam Hussein from power."

Nor were they overly concerned about the legality of such a move, writing that "American policy cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council." In other words, the country should not be "crippled" by adherence to the UN Charter, whose Article 51 prohibits unilateral war making without Security Council approval, except in cases of immediate "individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations."

Like Netanyahu, Clinton ignored their suggestion. However, the signatories of the letter included many figures who would become key players in the Bush administration, among them Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Undersecretaries of State John Bolton and Richard Armitage, Reagan hold-over Elliott Abrams, and Zalmay Khalilzad, who among other roles served as Bush's special envoy and ambassador at large for free Iraqis. And it included, of course, Cheney adviser and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, who had prepared a draft of a 1992 Defense Planning Guidance document for President George H.W. Bush in which he argued for the importance of US readiness to take unilateral military action, whether approved by the United Nations or not.

In other words, the top officials of the Bush administration took office already planning to attack Iraq. It only awaited 19 mostly Saudi terrorists hijacking four American commercial airliners on September 11, 2001. That would be the pretext to launch what has become a "generational struggle" that would eventually destroy Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen (and almost as a side dish, Afghanistan), and which now threatens to engulf the entire Greater Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Asia, from Afghanistan to the Philippines, in a set of never-ending wars and spreading terror movements.

All that suffering sprang from the actions of one feckless president and his crew. So what if -- after 16 years of fruitless war, 16 years of disintegrating American infrastructure, 16 years of almost unprecedented inequality -- George W. Bush does find Trump's rhetorical style distasteful? Is that really any reason to turn a presidential war criminal into a liberal hero?

Categories: News

US Military No Longer Cool With Narcotics Labs in Afghanistan, Bombs Them

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 15:02

 Majid Saeedi / Getty Images)An Afghan policeman decorates himself with opium plants as they destroy the crop, on a farm on March 14, 2013, in Babaji village-Helmand Province, south east Afghanistan. (Photo: Majid Saeedi / Getty Images)

The US Commander in Afghanistan announced several airstrikes on Sunday against opium production facilities, marking a shift in the Pentagon's approach toward the booming illicit drug industry in the country.

Army Gen. John Nicholson reported that roughly ten opium laboratories in the Northern Helmand province were destroyed in the barrage.

The purported aim of the strikes was to cut off Taliban insurgents' revenue streams.

The Washington Post noted the assault was the "first significant use" of new authorities President Trump bestowed upon the Pentagon, giving military commanders more latitude in targeting decisions.

Nicholson added that more strikes against Afghanistan's opium network "will continue." The Drug Enforcement Administration reports there are as many as 400 to 500 such facilities across the country.

Since the US occupation of Afghanistan began at the end of 2001, the Pentagon has been unable to get a handle on illegal opium production -- despite spending vast sums on counternarcotics. In some cases, officials turned a blind eye to illegal drug activity when it was conducted by warlords who had forged alliances with the US during the war.

According to Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko, the US has spent $8 billion trying to stem the flow of Afghan narcotics.

Last year, Sopko told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that he feared Afghanistan was descending into a "narco-terrorist state."

One of the largest recipients of federal dollars to dismantle opium production in Afghanistan was the defense contracting firm Academi -- formely known as Blackwater. According to data from SIGAR, Academi was paid $309 million between 2002 and 2013 to clamp down on drug manufacturing.

During that time, opium production steadily increased, and the total value of the crop grew by roughly $1 billion between 2012-2013.

Sunday's strikes were carried out in conjunction with the Afghan armed forces.

"We're determined to tackle criminal economy and narcotics trafficking with full force. It's the main source of financing violence and terror," Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Twitter Monday.

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Categories: News

After Mainstream Crowdfunding Platforms Shut Them Down, Racists Are Still Generating Profits Online

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 14:54

 Joe Raedle / Getty Images)White nationalist Richard Spencer, who popularized the term "alt-right" speaks during a press conference at the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on October 19, 2017, in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo: Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

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White supremacists, alt-right members, Republicans and other garden-variety bigots used to rely on mainstream crowdfunding sources when they wanted to raise money. Vocal white nationalist Emily Youcis received donations using Patreon; violent alt-rightie Kyle Chapman had a PayPal; and racists rallied to pay the legal defense costs of murderers George Zimmerman and Darren Wilson via GoFundMe. But in recent months, those platforms have been shutting down the campaigns of hardline right-wingers and various other heroes of the alt-right. In response, there's Hatreon, which caters to the neo-Nazis and outspoken racists those other platforms have left behind.

Hatreon launched in August, with early adopters including Richard Spencer and Andrew Anglin, who runs the neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer. While the two initially took in modest totals each month, they're now making a decent living off donations from their racist supporters. Spencer, who lists his creative project as "Richard Spencer-ing" (really), gets $942 each month in contributions. Anglin, who has been in hiding for months trying to avoid an SPLC lawsuit against him for stochastic terrorism, pulls in nearly $7,725 each month. That's nearly $93,000 a year, not a bad haul for cranking out racial slurs, Holocaust memes and generally making the world a more terrible place.

Hatreon was created by Cody R. Wilson, who was included on Wired Magazine's list of the 15 Most Dangerous People in the World. That's partly because Wilson's life mission is to distribute blueprints for a 3D printable gun, effectively rendering gun control laws useless. Cool goal, right? The name of the site, Wilson told Newsweek, is a "delightful pun. It's meant to make fun of Patreon's investigations of people for hate speech."

While racism has always been wildly profitable in this country (I'm looking at you, slavery), technology has created new ways of generating revenue. Hatreon is just one example. Counter.Fund, launched by the former head tech guy for Business Insider (he was fired for super unfunny racist tweets), is another. The site bills itself as "a crowdfunding platform built by and for the wider alt-right counter-culture." There's also WeSearchr, where paid protesters can raise huge sums for poorly defined projects. (Spoiler alert: they're all right-wingers.) Rootbocks, a "crowdfunding and e-commerce platform dedicated to the principles of liberty and freedom of speech," launched in June but seems to have faltered since then. Gab, a sort of Twitter for neo-Nazis, allows right-wing extremists and Tucker Carlson (I know, same difference) to chillax and use the n-word in what amounts to an online, virtual Trump rally.

The development of a far-right sub-internet feels like the inevitable next step as site administrators try to reclaim their digital cultures from racist hordes. After years of standing by while white nationalists and misogynists grew in number and heaped abuse on people of color and women, sites like Twitter, Reddit and Patreon have finally attempted to establish rules of law -- and decency -- by eliminating racists and their cohorts. But the whole effort feels like it's coming a bit late, like a cautionary tale about what to do for the next generation of the internet.

"Reddit is twelve years old, and they're only now realizing, oh shit, we didn't focus on culture early on, and now we have the world's biggest group of white supremacists and misogynists and just the worst of the worst of everybody," Dan McComas, a former higher-up at Reddit, told me when I interviewed him last year. "We've given them this massive platform to grow their bases, and it goes way deeper than just that too...I think those four sites have contributed to a large cultural shift on the internet that has made it just kind of a rotten place. You kind of have to purposely go out seeking something that isn't terrible to find something that isn't terrible."

A few months ago Gab -- which has a logo that looks a lot like Pepe the frog put up a post on Medium meant to serve as a clarion call to like-minded potential users and a warning to Silicon Valley. It offers an ominous look at where the internet, and the right-wing element within it, might be headed:

"We aren't going to play by your rules anymore...We refuse to be shunned and shamed for our core values and beliefs. We reject your [social justice warrior] cultural marxist lunacy and will fight to defend the freedoms that you are putting in jeopardy for sake of faux diversity, control, and political correctness...The rise of nationalism, populism, and patriotism around the world is in response to the failed policies of the globalist agenda....The People have been left to squander in the false promises of multi-cultural clashes of values, core beliefs, and rule of law...The free speech tech revolution has begun."

Categories: News

Why I Helped Organize the Singing Revolt Against the White House at the UN Climate Talks

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 14:31

As Trump's climate-denier delegates tried to present their pro-fossil-fuel agenda at the UN Climate Summit last week, a US youth delegation began singing to register their protest and declare solidarity with climate justice advocates around the world. The message to the Trump administration was clear: The young people of the US are ready to step in and fill the leadership vacuum.

 Lukas Schulze / Getty Images)People disturb an event titled: "The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation" with friendly singing at the COP23 United Nations Climate Change Conference on November 13, 2017, in Bonn, Germany. (Photo: Lukas Schulze / Getty Images)

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Last week, nations of the world gathered in Bonn, Germany, for the annual United Nations Climate Negotiations. This year's conference was pivotal -- the first meeting since Trump announced his intentions to pull the US out of the historic Paris Agreement.

The Trump administration's plans for the conference drew attention well before the meetings began, when it became known that the administration was preparing an official event touting fossil fuels as a solution to the climate crisis.

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, UN special envoy for cities and climate change, put it well: "Promoting coal at a climate summit is like promoting tobacco at a cancer summit."

As a youth delegate with the US People's Delegation, my purpose at the UN was to stand up for the 70 percent of American people -- and the majority of Americans in every state -- who agree the US should remain in the Paris agreement. It was our duty to make sure the White House would not get away with selling coal at a climate conference, and to remind President Trump how isolated he is on this issue.

More than 1,000 Americans, along with tens of thousands across the world, have died from climate disasters in the past few months. I spent part of my October quarantined at home in the Bay Area due to hazardous smoke from wildfires raging just 60 miles north of me. The fires burned thousands of acres and destroyed over 8,000 structures in one of the deadliest wildfires California has ever seen. Climate change is making wildfires more frequent and more intense across the American West.

On the second day of the conference, Syria made news in a surprise announcement that it would sign the Paris Agreement. The United States now stands alone as the only country in opposition.

To represent the US at the UN negotiations, the White House sent George David Banks, special assistant to Trump on energy and environment. Banks has an odd set of qualifications to speak at a climate conference, given his ties to the Koch brothers and history working for anti-wind activist John Droz Jr. to derail renewable energy policies nationwide.

During the Trump administration's pro-fossil fuel program, Banks sat on the panel beside Francis Brooke, a policy adviser to Vice President Mike Pence. Alongside him were representatives of coal producer Peabody Energy Corporation, nuclear engineering company NuScale Power and liquefied natural gas company Tellurian Inc.

The energy in the room was intense and uncomfortable. After 20 minutes of listening to their lies, I could not take it anymore. So, I opened my mouth and started to sing.

It felt like jumping out of a plane as I interrupted Barry Worthington, from the United States Energy Association, with a rendition of "God Bless the USA" that I had the honor of adapting for this occasion.

The panel fell silent. Soon, the 14 other youth delegates from my SustainUS delegation joined me in singing:

So you claim to be an American,
but we see right through your greed.
It's killing all across the world
For that coal money
And we proudly stand up
Until you keep it in the ground.
Let the people of the world unite,
And we are here to stay.

And as we sang "stand up," two thirds of the room stood up with us and joined the choral protest, a vocal blockade in loud defiance of the fossil fuel industry's takeover of the US government.

Then we turned our backs on the panelists and, with our hands over our hearts, sang directly to the media from across the world, to broadcast our message that the American people stand in solidarity with communities across the world impacted first and worst by climate change.

Feelings of joy, dignity and unity filled the room. I could not have felt more proud in that moment, leading this chorus on the right side of history. As the founder and co-director of the Thrive Choir, an interfaith social justice gospel choir based in Oakland, California, I've been training for this moment for some time.

After holding the room in song for 10 minutes, we walked out en masse, leaving the majority of the seats empty. Emerging from the doors, we were met with victorious cheers and applause from over 200 people from around the world who had come to sing with us but were not allowed into the room.

Right there, outside the doors of the panel, we led a "people's panel" featuring speeches from young organizers, Indigenous leaders and other Americans experiencing the effects of climate injustice on the ground. Leaders from SustainUS, Idle No More, Indigenous Environmental Network, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, the Climate Justice Alliance and more joined together to say no more to corrupt fossil fuel executives, who have been misinforming the public on the reality of climate change for 40 years.

While the Trump administration wants to open new coal plants, drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and promote tar sands pipelines that cut through our great American rivers, the young people of the US are ready to step in and fill the leadership vacuum. As young people, we have more to lose than any other generation to the climate crisis.

The era of fossil fuels is over. A coal plant is retired or set to be retired every nine days in the US. Meanwhile, solar and wind technologies are becoming cheaper every day, and are already competitive with fossil fuels.

We can stop climate change and create millions of jobs. It is up to us to demand our elected officials stand up as true climate leaders. Otherwise, we will replace them with people who care for the health of people and planet over profit.

Last Monday, we the people took back the mic from the White House. We sang not in anger, but in love of justice. Going forward, we will be louder together. This is a chorus of billions across the world who have woken up to the truth, a chorus demanding climate justice.

Categories: News

Damning New Report Shows US Airstrikes in Iraq Killing Civilians Are 31 Times the Pentagon's Count

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 05:00

We spend the hour looking at a damning new report that reveals how US-led airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq have killed far more civilians than officials have acknowledged. The coalition's own data shows 89 of its more than 14,000 airstrikes in Iraq have resulted in civilian deaths, or about one of every 157 strikes. But their an on-the-ground investigation by The New York Times magazine found civilian deaths in "one out of every five" strikes. We are joined by the two reporters who co-authored this investigation titled "The Uncounted." Azmat Khan is an investigative journalist and a Future of War fellow at New America and Arizona State University; and Anand Gopal is a reporter and an assistant research professor at Arizona State University. A civilian survivor who lost his family and home to a 2015 US airstrike in Mosul, Basim Razzo, also joins us from Erbil, Iraq.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

Iraqi Civilian Describes US Airstrike on His Home That Killed His Wife, Daughter, Brother and Nephew

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 05:00

Today we spend the hour looking at a damning new report that reveals how US-led airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq have killed far more civilians than officials have acknowledged. An on-the-ground investigation by the New York Times Magazine titled "The Uncounted" found the actual civilian death toll may be 31 times higher than US officials admit. We interview one of the survivors featured in the report. Joining us from Erbil, Iraq, Basim Razzo describes the 2015 US airstrike on his home in Mosul, in which his wife, daughter, brother and nephew were killed. Video of the strike on his home shows a target hit with military precision.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News