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Unions Have Been Down Before, History Shows How They Can Come Back

Sat, 06/30/2018 - 15:28

The Janus decision by the US Supreme Court on Wednesday was another blow to the labor movement. It creates a financial incentive for public sector union members to leave the union while continuing their job.

Ever since the beginning of the 1980s clamp-down on the US left, signaled by President Ronald Reagan’s firing of the air traffic controllers to end their strike, the labor movement has been besieged by what billionaire Warren Buffett described in the New York Times as a class war started by his class. It’s not the first time this has happened in U.S. history.

Labor organized strongly and successfully in the period before World War I, so much so that the 1 percent led a fierce push-back in the 1920s that substantially lowered union membership. While touring for my book “Viking Economics” last year, some people told me we can’t get the Nordic model in the United States because the labor movement has been in decline, not realizing that labor has a history of ups and downs in this country. The 1930s became a period of tremendous union growth, so much so that progressive movements were able to achieve victories almost impossible to imagine in the 1920s.

Two ways we can honor unions at this time of trial are to ask others to join union picket lines and to learn from their innovations and successes for whatever campaigns we are committed to today. According to labor historian Sidney Fine, the union breakthrough in Detroit and Flint, Michigan, was “the most significant American labor conflict in the twentieth century.”

In some ways the struggle was more strategically sophisticated than many campaigns are today, which is why it offers important lessons on tactics, racism, using the spectrum of allies and sequencing the focus of organizing.

Labor Matches Innovative Tactics to Target in Giant Victory

Americans fell in love with the automobile in the 1920s. Factories in Michigan needed to grow rapidly to meet the demand. At the same time, black people from the South were making “the Great Migration” to northern cities, joining a flow into the workforce from Europe.

The auto industry was a giant in the U.S. economy and determined not to accept trade unions. Its influence on governments, both local and national, meant that law enforcement could be used to back up its network of private detectives and spies.

Early attempts to unionize failed, since the usual tactic — workers refusing to go to work and picketing the factory gates to keep out replacement workers — was broken by arrests and violence.

The United Mine Workers of America, or UMWA, moved into Michigan to give it a try. That union had already made great progress in another industry defended by violence: coal mining. The UMWA set up what became the United Auto Workers, or UAW.

However, automobile manufacturers had a back-up defense against attempts at unionization: racism. The largest of them, General Motors, hired only white workers for skilled jobs. That meant unemployed black workers would be easy to recruit as replacement workers in case of a strike, setting up race against race to divert attention from their common enemy, the economic elite. With both violence and racism on their side, how could the auto manufacturers lose?

Meeting in living rooms with the comparatively few black GM workers in Flint, UAW organizers told them the union would oppose Jim Crow, just as the Mineworkers had done in Birmingham, when they organized the steel industry there. To tackle GM as a whole, however, they would be publicly organizing the white workers.

While the slow, painstaking work of organizing continued, word arrived in spring 1936 about the French trying a different kind of strike. Instead of leaving their jobs and going home, almost 2 million workers were occupying their factories. This reduced the threat of replacement workers, who could simply be locked out by the occupation.

Flint workers decided to try it, calling it the sit-downs. Their families and friends mobilized to bring in food and supplies — no one knew how long the occupations would continue.

The GM executives refused to negotiate with the union, asking local political leaders (who they controlled) to use the police to expel the workers. GM also went to state court to get an injunction on the grounds that the workers were occupying private property.

After the workers repelled local police who tried to enter one of the factories, a state court passed an injunction against the sit-downs. That move added to GM’s pressure on the governor to intervene, using the National Guard.

The workers sent a message to the governor that the use of force would mean “a blood bath of unarmed workers” for which the governor would be responsible. They put him in a dilemma: follow the law as interpreted by the state court, with violent repression, or keep his reputation as a humane governor.

The governor stalled while making a decision. The occupiers understood the dynamics influencing his decision. According to Fine, “Though many workers saw GM as a mortal enemy and were inclined to inflict any available punishment on the company, an anti-sabotage committee prevented any significant injury to the machinery, the tools and the inventory stockpiles … they did not loot the captured management offices; they used seat padding as beds but did not keep the padding for permanent use.”

Since the governor was forced by the court’s decision to at least send the National Guard to Flint, he gave it the mission to prevent violence — including protecting the strikers from attacks by outside forces — and appointed, as commander, an officer he knew had a cool head and was less likely to use violence than the guard’s regular commander. The governor then pushed GM to negotiate with the UAW and get a settlement.

General Motors, the largest automaker, finally gave in.

With Racism, Strategy Means That Sequencing Matters

As in chess, or any game, being strategic includes estimating which move is best to take first, second and so on. Often we choose a smaller target then proceed to a larger, more powerful one. The reality of racism actually suggested the reverse order of sequencing in the auto union struggle, for a couple of reasons. This may be hard to grasp in today’s demand heard among activists for intersectionality as a moral, rather than strategic, stand. History helps us out here.

When the union took on the Ford Motor Company, taking advantage of the momentum from its victory with GM, it met a workforce with more black workers. That’s because Henry Ford saw an opportunity to hire black workers who would, given prevailing discrimination, be grateful for the job and, therefore, also loyal to his company and hostile to unionization.

Ford reinforced the loyalty by making many of the hires through referrals from black ministers, to whose churches Ford gave contributions. The result was that, by the onset of World War II, 12 percent of the Ford workforce was black.

Because UAW organizers chose the GM fight first, they gained credibility for tackling the mixed-race situation at Ford. Most Ford workers could see that being a union member would give more protection and a more promising economic future than not having a union. On the other hand, black autoworkers had experienced plenty of white racism and had little reason to expect a union to be any different.

When the UAW was formed the United Mine Workers was a consciously anti-racist union that, among other things, developed leadership skills in black workers and gave them leadership spots. Further, UAW knew that Ford would use divide-and-conquer tactics in order to keep the union out, in this case dividing blacks and whites.

Because of their principled anti-racism and understanding that success depended on unity, UAW organizers knew they had to somehow unite workers across racial lines. They developed a two-pronged recruitment strategy. Organizers recruited black members secretly to get some momentum before the issue became an open fight. And they invested in seemingly endless one-on-one encounters to convince white workers that, however strongly they might be prejudiced, they would need to contain it, instead of acting on it, for the sake of unity in the struggle.

It worked. Ford capitulated, the plants became union and the workers had their first experience of a degree of economic justice.

The bottom line was that the UAW was unwilling to let the racism of white workers prevent organizing at Ford. There were ongoing tensions between whites and blacks, some racially tinged physical fights, and initially a lower percentage of blacks than whites joined the union.

Nevertheless, the UAW became an interracial union. That doesn’t mean the UAW was free of prejudice and discrimination. But despite its flaws, it managed to be an instrument for economic justice for many black workers and also became a progressive force for equality on the national scene for decades after its founding.

A Lesson for Today: Dealing With Racism

UAW’s success in building an interracial union in the 1930s gives considerable grounds for hope for movement-builders today. The discouraged among us who think we should aim low and resign ourselves to incrementalist steps because racism will prevent large gains are wrong.

Instead, we need to learn from what worked for UAW and the mine workers back in the day. They did not focus on attitude, “unlearning prejudice,” or the psychology of individual change. They focused on struggling together for a win on justice issues that matter deeply to many people, regardless of race. We have many issues like this today: health care, low wages, poor public schooling, gun violence, wars without end, climate disasters, poor housing – I could go on and on.

For at least 50 years, academic race relations studies have found that when people of different races are placed together in equal-status situations (affordable housing, a good school, a work team, a military unit, a sports team, or performance group), white people experience prejudice reduction. Here again the strategic question of sequencing comes up: Will we make more progress by first waging the cultural fight about white supremacy or first changing the “facts on the ground” as people live their lives? Sometimes both can be done simultaneously, but sometimes we need to make choices, which is what strategy is about.

In other words, we could argue strategically that if the energy now going into white people probing their psychological depths to ferret out racism were instead focused through campaigns on changing the major policies that sustain institutional racism, it’s more likely that racism would take a major hit.

White people especially need to remember that the UAW gained credibility among black workers at Ford by the white workers’ success in taking on GM. In other words, white people who want people of color to see them as champions of racial equality can earn that trust by demonstrating their chops — by initiating direct action campaigns whose demands will improve the lives of actual people of color who are most hurt by injustice.

Another huge lesson from the Flint workers teach us the power that comes from self-discipline. Their choice to leave intact the plants they occupied limited the range of options the powerholders could use against the workers. General Motors wanted the governor to intervene violently and suppress the workers. But GM needed the auto workers to damage property in order to justify that level of force. The workers, by practicing discipline, prevented GM from getting its way.

Importing a tactic from another movement, in France, required thoughtfulness about how to adapt it to a new environment, analyzing how it would play out in the mind of the target/powerholders and those who could influence the outcome of the struggle. The more we learn about other movements’ successes, the more we learn about strategic choices for today.

The post Unions Have Been Down Before, History Shows How They Can Come Back appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Can Trump Turn Back the Clock on Inequality?

Sat, 06/30/2018 - 15:04

“As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.” These were the words of candidate Donald Trump’s at the 2016 Republican National Convention, referencing the horrifying shooting massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, the month before.

Leaving aside the blatant racism and Islamophobia of his statement, the past year has shown that Trump’s promise couldn’t be further from the truth.

Trump’s first year in office has been a political roller coaster, with a seemingly never-ending barrage of attacks against workers, the oppressed and the planet, punctuated by spontaneous explosions of protest and resistance.

And at a time when public opinion has largely shifted in solidarity with demands for LGBTQ equality, the Trump administration is carrying out policies that threaten to turn back the clock on the rights that have been won and whip up hatred and suspicion that has fueled his bigoted right-wing base of support.

Given the whirlwind of attack coming down from the Trump administration, it’s useful to take stock of the past year and evaluate the landscape of LGBTQ rights under Trump, the response from established LGBTQ political organizations and the possibilities for potential resistance.

* * *

From attacks against trans people to the defense of “religious liberties,” the Trump administration has made it a point to target the oppressed and vulnerable, and stand up for bigotry and discrimination.

Last summer, in a series of classic Trump tweets, the president announced that he would be reinstating the military’s ban on transgender people serving in the military, bogusly claiming the military couldn’t afford the high rate of health care costs.

Never mind, of course, the high costs of building the world’s largest nuclear arsenal and military juggernaut. The administration has continued to defend the ban as it has made its way through the courts.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinded Obama-era guidelines requiring schools provide basic civil rights protections to transgender students. In the context of a school system where trans students are regularly bullied and harassed and already experience disproportionally higher levels of depression and suicide, this decision will have extremely harmful consequences.

Trump has stacked the court system with judicial nominees who are openly and vehemently opposed to LGBTQ rights.

The Justice Department rescinded an Obama-era federal memo declaring trans people are protected under civil rights laws and has come out in support of anti-trans “bathroom bill” legislation. The bigoted right has taken this as a green light to go on the offensive, using the guise of “religious liberties” and “bathroom bills” to chip away at established civil rights protections across the country at the local, state and federal level.

In 2017, 16 states introduced legislation restrict trans people’s right to use the bathroom of their choice, six states attempted to repeal LGBT anti-discrimination laws, and 14 states attempted to remove protections for transgender students.

While the anti-LGBT right hasn’t always been successful, it’s clear that they feel a new wind of confidence in their sails with Trump in White House.

The administration has provided a set of “religious liberties” guidelines to federal agencies asking them to respect “religious-liberty protections” in all levels of the federal government. The Department of Health and Human Services also created a new agency, the “Division of Consciousness and Religious Freedom” to ensure that the “religious liberties” of providers aren’t violated.

We should be clear, these decisions have nothing to do with protecting religious liberties and everything to do with establishing the right of bigots to practice discrimination and hate.

In the recent Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the administration argued and the court ruled in favor of the cake shop’s right to discriminate against a same sex couple. Although the ruling was limited and not the wholesale victory the right wing was hoping for, it sets a dangerous precedent for future cases and gives further confidence to opponents of equality.

Without any explanation, the administration fired the entire Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS in December — and refused to recognize LGBTQ Pride Month in June.

* * *

The administration’s attacks keep coming, even though there’s been a major shift in the level of cultural acceptance and legal equality in the past decade for LGBTQ people.

At the same time, however, the situation for the most vulnerable queer and trans people, particularly those at the intersections of race, class, gender and sexual oppression, remains extremely precarious and in a state of social crisis.

Nothing demonstrates this more starkly than the level of violence endured by trans women of color. In 2017, 28 transgender people, overwhelming trans women of color, were murdered. Trans women of color make up 67 percent of homicides against the LGBTQ community and have a life expectancy rate of 35 years.

As a report detailing the simultaneous layers of structural oppression and their effects explains:

While the details of these cases differ, it is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color, and that the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia conspire to deprive them of employment, housing, health care and other necessities, barriers that make them vulnerable.

The picture for young queer people, especially trans youth, is equally disturbing. Although schools should be a safe place for students from the oppression and discrimination of society, too often they are not.

In a recent study, 82 percent of trans youth reported feeling unsafe at school, 44 percent experienced physical abuse, and 67 percent were bullied by their peers. The emotional and psychological toll social and family rejection can take on LGBTQ youth can be traumatizing and have dangerous consequences.

Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of their straight peers, and more than 40 percent of transgender adults report having attempted suicide.

Of the more than 1.7 million homeless youth in the U.S., 40 percent identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, and almost all report rejection from family, community and/or peers as the primary reason for being forced onto the streets.

On top of this, organizations that provide services to vulnerable and at risk LGBTQ youth, which are already underfunded and lack adequate resources to tackle the array of problems at hand, face a bipartisan austerity regime that will make life even harder for those that need the most support.

* * *

After losing the battle over marriage equality, the right wing is trying to regain ideological ground by whipping up moral panic and reframing the fight for LGBTQ equality as an issue of “religious liberties.”

While public opinion still stands firmly on the side of equality and many of the right’s efforts have gone down in defeat or been tied up in the courts, having an open bigot in the White House has given them increased confidence and limited victories.

In this context, it’s no exaggeration to say that the Trump administration and the Religious Right have blood on their hands.

These aren’t simply abstract policy debates but real attacks against LGBTQ people that jeopardize the victories our side has fought for and won, attempt to re-legitimize a climate of homophobia and transphobia and have damaging material impacts, especially on the lives of the most vulnerable queer and trans people.

The Trump regime is waging an offensive that calls for an all-out response. Instead, we’ve been left with a response from established LGBT organizations and the Democratic Party that has been underwhelming at best, or passive at worst.

Mainstream LGBT groups have continued to place all their faith, and millions of dollars, in the Democratic Party, pursuing a strategy of lobbying and campaigning for “pro-equality” candidates.

To the extent that these groups have called for protests in the past year, it’s been as window dressing for an electoral strategy that has garnered minimal results. Beside a few talking points, the Democrats have spent most their obsessing over the newest development in the Russiagate scandal or simply waiting for the mid-term elections.

But our rights can’t wait until 2018 or 2020, and if history has shown us one thing, it’s that ordinary people can’t depend on the Democratic Party to save us.

* * *

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Barack Obama and the Democratic Party didn’t bring us marriage equality or the seismic shift in public opinion over the past decade — struggle did.

Not even a decade ago, the entire political establishment opposed same-sex marriage. It was a divisive wedge issue with little possibility of becoming a reality in the near future.

But over the course of time, a mass movement of ordinary people who refused to accept the limits of mainstream politics and took matters into their own hands — by organizing protests and sit-ins, publishing op-eds, marching on Washington, filing lawsuits and much more — battled their way to victory.

In turn, politicians and judges were forced to change their tune, including the Democratic Party, in order catch up with the wave of change.

The history of the LGBTQ movement shows us that there’s nothing inevitable about progress and it most certainly isn’t handed down from benevolent politicians. It wasn’t the Democrats that threw the first brick at Stonewall and launched the Gay Liberation Movement that permanently changed the course of history.

It wasn’t a politician who in the face of the AIDS crisis built ACT UP and saved future generations from the horror of seeing half your friends die while the government sat by and did nothing. It wasn’t the president who brought us marriage equality; it was a mass movement of ordinary people who knew that freedom and equality were worth fighting for.

Even in the darkest times and against seemingly insurmountable odds, people have stood together, fought back and won. That is the history of the queer movement.

We stand on the collective shoulders of countless giants whose names we’ll never know. Pride was a riot, and it’s time that we continue the resistance — not by waiting on the Democrats to save us but by taking action, fighting for it ourselves and demanding the full equality, justice and, ultimately, liberation, that we deserve.

The post Can Trump Turn Back the Clock on Inequality? appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

FDA Repays Industry by Rushing Risky Drugs to Market

Sat, 06/30/2018 - 14:58

Nuplazid, a drug for hallucinations and delusions associated with Parkinson’s disease, failed two clinical trials. In a third trial, under a revised standard for measuring its effect, it showed minimal benefit. Overall, more patients died or had serious side effects on Nuplazid than after receiving no treatment.

Patients on Uloric, a gout drug, suffered more heart attacks, strokes and heart failure in two out of three trials than did their counterparts on standard or no medication.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved both of these drugs — with a deadly aftermath. Uloric’s manufacturer reported last November that patients on the drug were 34 percent more likely to die from heart disease than people taking an alternative gout medication. And since the FDA fast-tracked approval of Nuplazid and it went on the market in 2016 at a price of $24,000 a year, there have been 6,800 reports of adverse events for patients on the drug, including 887 deaths as of this past March 31.

The FDA is increasingly green-lighting expensive drugs despite dangerous or little-known side effects and inconclusive evidence that they curb or cure disease. Once widely assailed for moving slowly, today the FDA reviews and approves drugs faster than any other regulatory agency in the world. Between 2011 and 2015, the FDA reviewed new drug applications more than 60 days faster on average than did the European Medicines Agency.

Europe has also rejected drugs for which the FDA accelerated approval, such as Folotyn, which treats a rare form of blood cancer. European authorities cited “insufficient” evidence of health gains from Folotyn, which shrinks some tumors but hasn’t been shown to extend lives. It costs more than $92,000 for a seven-week course of treatment, according to research firm SSR Health.

As patients (or their insurers) shell out tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for unproven drugs, manufacturers reap a windfall. For them, expedited approval can mean not only sped-up sales but also — if the drug is intended to treat a rare disease or serve a neglected population — FDA incentives worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Instead of a regulator and a regulated industry, we now have a partnership,” said Dr. Michael Carome, director of the health research group for the nonprofit advocacy organization Public Citizen, and a former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services official. “That relationship has tilted the agency away from a public health perspective to an industry friendly perspective.”

While the FDA over the past three decades has implemented at least four major routes to faster approvals — the current commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, is easing even more drugs’ path to market. The FDA okayed 46 “novel” drugs — whose chemical structure hadn’t been previously approved — in 2017, the most in at least 15 years. At the same time, it’s rejecting fewer medications. In 2017, the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research denied 19.7 percent of all applications for new drugs, biologics, and efficacy supplements, down from a 2010 peak of 59.2 percent, according to agency data.

President Trump has encouraged Gottlieb to give patients faster access to drugs. “You’re bringing that down, right?” Trump asked the commissioner at a May 30 event, referring to the time it takes to bring drugs to market. “You have a lot of good things in the wings that, frankly, if you moved them up, a lot of people would have a great shot.”

Faster reviews mean that the FDA often approves drugs despite limited information. It channels more and more experimental treatments, including Nuplazid, into expedited reviews that require only one clinical trial to show a benefit to patients, instead of the traditional two.

The FDA also increasingly allows drugmakers to claim success in trials based on proxy measurements — such as shrunken tumors — instead of clinical outcomes like survival rates or cures, which take more time to evaluate. In return for accelerated approval, drug companies commit to researching how well their drugs work after going on the market. But these post-marketing studies can take 10 years or longer to complete, leaving patients and doctors with lingering questions about safety and benefit.

“Clearly, accelerated approval has greater uncertainty,” Dr. Janet Woodcock, head of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in an interview. When only a single trial is used for approval, “in some cases, there may be more uncertainty about safety findings or with the magnitude of effectiveness.”

She attributed the increased use of expedited pathways to more drugmakers developing treatments for rare diseases, “where there’s unmet need, and where the patient population and providers are eager to accept more uncertainty.”

The FDA’s growing emphasis on speed has come at the urging of both patient advocacy groups and industry, which began in 1992 to contribute to the salaries of the agency’s drug reviewers in exchange for time limits on reviews. In 2017, pharma paid 75 percent — or $905 million — of the agency’s scientific review budgets for branded and generic drugs, compared to 27 percent in 1993.

“The virginity was lost in ’92,” said Dr. Jerry Avorn, a professor at Harvard Medical School. “Once you have that paying relationship, it creates a dynamic that’s not a healthy one.”

Industry also sways the FDA through a less direct financial route. Many of the physicians, caregivers, and other witnesses before FDA advisory panels that evaluate drugs receive consulting fees, expense payments, or other remuneration from pharma companies.

“You know who never shows up at the [advisory committee]? The people who died in the trial,” lamented one former FDA staffer, who asked not to be named because he still works in the field. “Nobody is talking for them.”

The drug industry’s lobbying group, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, continues to push for ever-faster approvals. In a policy memo on its website, PhRMA warns of “needless delays in drug review and approval that lead to longer development times, missed opportunities, higher drug development costs and delays in treatments reaching patients.”

The agency has internalized decades of criticism that painted it as an obstacle to innovation, said Daniel Carpenter, a professor of government at Harvard and author of a 2010 book on pharmaceutical regulation at the FDA. “They now have a built-in fear of over-regulation that’s set in over the last 20 years.”

To be sure, nobody wants the FDA to drag out drug reviews unnecessarily, and even critics acknowledge that there’s no easy way for the agency to strike the perfect balance between sufficient speed and ample information, particularly when patients have no other treatments available, or are terminally ill.

FDA Is Approving More New Drugs and Rejecting Fewer Overall


Sources: Center for Drug Evaluation and Research; Credit: Riley Wong

“I think it’s reasonable to move drugs faster particularly in the case where you’re dealing with an extremely promising new product which treats a serious or life-threatening disease,” said Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School. “The key, though, when you do that is that you’ve got to make sure you closely follow the drug in a thoughtful way and unfortunately, too often we don’t do that in the U.S.”

Gregg Gonsalves used to be a member of ACT UP, the HIV advocacy group that tried to take over the FDA’s headquarters in Rockville, Maryland, in 1988, accusing the agency of holding back cures. While he didn’t storm the FDA building, Gonsalves participated in other protests that led the FDA to accelerate approvals. Now an assistant professor of epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health, he said he fears HIV activists “opened a Pandora’s box” that the industry and anti-regulation think tanks pounced on.

“We were desperate. We naively had the idea that there were hundreds of drugs behind a velvet curtain at the FDA being held back from us,” he said. “Thirty years of our rash thinking has led us to a place where we know less and less about the drugs that we pay more and more for.”

After thalidomide, taken by pregnant women to prevent nausea, caused thousands of babies in the early 1960s to be born with stunted limbs, Congress entrusted the FDA with ensuring that drugs going on the market were both safe and effective, based on “substantial evidence” from multiple trials.

Assembling this evidence has traditionally required three stages of clinical trials; the first in a small cohort of healthy volunteers to determine a safe dosage; the second to assess the drug’s efficacy and side effects; and then, if results are positive, two larger trials to confirm the benefit and monitor for safety issues. An FDA team of in-house reviewers is then assigned to analyze the results and decide whether the agency should approve the drug. If reviewers want more input, the agency can convene an advisory committee of outside experts.

As the FDA’s responsibilities expanded in the 1970s, review times began to lag, reaching more than 35 months on average in 1979. The AIDS crisis followed soon thereafter, prompting complaints from Gonsalves and other activists. Their protests spurred the Prescription Drug User Fee Act in 1992, which established industry fees to fund FDA staff salaries. In return, the FDA promised to review drugs within 12 months for normal applications, and 6 months for priority cases.

The more that the FDA relied on industry fees to pay for drug reviews, the more it showed an inclination towards approval, former employees say.

“You don’t survive as a senior official at the FDA unless you’re pro-industry,” said Dr. Thomas Marciniak. A former FDA medical team leader, and a longtime outspoken critic of how drug companies handle clinical trials, Marciniak retired in 2014. “The FDA has to pay attention to what Congress tells them to do, and the industry will lobby to get somebody else in there if they don’t like you.”

Staffers know “you don’t get promoted unless you’re pro-industry,” he added.

This tilt is reflected in what senior officials choose to highlight. The agency’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research gives internal awards to review teams each year, according to Marciniak and the former FDA employee who requested anonymity. Both said they had never seen an award granted to a team that rejected a drug application. The FDA did not respond to ProPublica’s request for a list of award winners.

Higher-ups would also send congratulatory emails to medical review teams when a drug was approved. “Nobody gets congratulated for turning a drug down, but you get seriously questioned,” said the former staffer, adding that the agency’s attitude is, “Keep Congress off your back and make your life easier.”

Dr. Peter Lurie, a former associate commissioner who left the FDA in 2017, recalled that John Jenkins, director of the agency’s Office of New Drugs from 2002 to 2017, gave an annual speech to employees, summing up the year’s accomplishments. Jenkins would talk “about how many approvals were done and how fast they were, but there was nothing in there saying, we kept five bad drugs off the market,” said Lurie, now president of the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C. Jenkins declined to comment.

“I personally have no interest in pressuring people to approve things that shouldn’t be approved — the actual person who would be accountable would be me,” Woodcock said. She added that the FDA’s “accountability to the public far outweighs pressure we might feel otherwise.”

Congress has authorized one initiative after another to expedite drug approvals. In 1988, it created “fast track” regulations. In 1992, the user fee law formalized “accelerated approval” and “priority review.” When the law was reauthorized in 1997, the goal for review times was lowered from a year to 10 months. In 2012, Congress added the designation, “breakthrough therapy,” enabling the FDA to waive normal procedures for drugs that showed substantial improvement over available treatments.

“Those multiple pathways were initially designed to be the exception to the rule, and now the exceptions are swallowing the rule,” Kesselheim said.

Sixty-eight percent of novel drugs approved by the FDA between 2014 and 2016 qualified for one or more of these accelerated pathways, Kesselheim and his colleagues have found. Once described by Rachel Sherman, now FDA principal deputy commissioner, as a program for “knock your socks off, home run” treatments, the “breakthrough therapy” label was doled out to 28 percent of drugs approved from 2014 to 2016.

Nuplazid was one of them. It was created in 2001 by a chemist at Acadia Pharmaceuticals, a small biotech firm in San Diego. Eight years later, in the first of two Phase 3 trials, it failed to prove its benefit over a placebo.

The company, which had no approved drugs and hence no revenue stream, halted the second trial, but wasn’t ready to give up. Acadia executives told investors that the trials failed because the placebo patients had a larger-than-expected improvement. They asked the FDA for permission to revise the scale used to measure benefit, arguing that the original scale, which was traditionally used for schizophrenia assessments, wasn’t appropriate for patients with Parkinson’s-related psychosis. The agency agreed to this new scale, which had never been used in a study for drug approval.

Since there were no treatments approved for Parkinson’s-related psychosis, the FDA also granted Acadia’s request for the breakthrough therapy designation, and agreed that Nuplazid needed only one positive Phase 3 trial, instead of two, for approval.

In 2012, Acadia finally got the positive trial results it had hoped for. In a study of 199 patients, Nuplazid showed a small but statistically significant advantage over a placebo.

FDA medical reviewer Dr. Paul Andreason was skeptical. Analyzing all of Nuplazid’s trial results, he found that you would need to treat 91 patients for seven to receive the full benefit. Five of the 91 would suffer “serious adverse events,” including one death. He recommended against approval, citing “an unacceptably increased, drug-related, safety risk of mortality and serious morbidity.”

The FDA convened an advisory committee to help it decide. Fifteen members of the public testified at its hearing. Three were physicians who were paid consultants for Acadia. Four worked with Parkinson’s advocacy organizations funded by Acadia. The company paid for the travel of three other witnesses who were relatives of Parkinson’s patients, and made videos shown to the committee of two other caregivers. Two speakers, the daughter and grand-daughter of a woman who suffered from Parkinson’s, said they had no financial relationship with Acadia. However, the granddaughter is now a paid “brand ambassador” for Nuplazid. All begged the FDA to approve Nuplazid.

“Acadia or its consultants interacted with some of the potential speakers to facilitate logistics and reimburse for travel, as is common practice,” Acadia spokeswoman Elena Ridloff said in an email. “…All speakers presented their own experience in their own words.”

The only speaker who urged the FDA to reject the drug was a scientist at the National Center for Health Research who has never had any financial relationship with Acadia.

The witnesses’ pleas affected the panel members, who voted 12-2 to recommend accelerated approval. “If there were a safe and effective alternative on the market, I would not have voted yes,” said Almut Winterstein, a professor of pharmaceutical outcomes and policy at the University of Florida. “But I think that, in particular, the public hearing today was very compelling. There clearly is a need.”

Dr. Mitchell Mathis, director of the FDA’s division of psychiatry products, sided with the advisory panel, overruling Andreason. “Even this small mean improvement in a disabling condition without an approved treatment is meaningful,” Mathis wrote, adding that its safety profile was no worse than other antipsychotics on the market. Like other antipsychotics, Nuplazid carries a warning on the label of increased deaths in elderly patients with dementia-related psychosis. Since Nuplazid’s approval in 2016, Acadia has raised its price twice, and it now costs more than $33,000 a year.

As Nuplazid began to reach patients, reports of adverse events poured in. While it’s impossible to ascertain whether the treatment was responsible for them, the sheer numbers, including the 887 deaths, are “mind boggling,” said Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research.

In more than 400 instances, Nuplazid was associated with worsening hallucinations — one of the very symptoms it was supposed to treat.

That’s what happened to Terrence Miller, a former Hewlett Packard and Sun Microsystems employee who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in the early 1990s. About five years ago, Miller began to experience mild hallucinations, such as seeing cats and dogs in his home in Menlo Park, California. At the time, he realized that the animals weren’t real, and the visions didn’t bother him, so he didn’t take any medication for them. But two years later, after surgery for a hip injury, the hallucinations worsened.

“He was convinced that he hadn’t had the surgery yet and people were going to harvest his organs,” recalled his wife, Denise Sullivan. “He’d see spaceships outside the window and they had to call security to help restrain him.”

In 2016, Dr. Salima Brillman prescribed Nuplazid. Miller tried Nuplazid twice, for a few months each time. His hallucinations became darker. “I’d say, ‘Who are you talking to?’ and he said, ‘They’re telling me to do bad stuff,’” Sullivan said. Afraid “he might hurt me because of what his evil ‘friends’ were telling him,” Sullivan, who was paying more than $1,000 a month for the drug out of her own pocket, then stopped the treatment.

What Sullivan and Miller didn’t know is that Brillman earned $14,497 in consulting fees from Acadia in 2016, ranking as the company’s seventh highest paid doctor, government records show. The top five prescribers of Nuplazid in Medicare, the government’s health program for the elderly, all received payments from Acadia. Dr. David Kreitzman of Commack, New York, prescribed the most: $123,294 worth of Nuplazid for 18 patients in 2016, according to data company CareSet. He was paid $14,203 in consulting fees.

Brillman and Kreitzman didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.

Miller’s new doctor switched him onto Seroquel, an old drug long used off-label for Parkinson’s-related psychosis. With it, he’s sleeping better and the hallucinations, while remaining, have become more benign again, Sullivan said. Patients like Miller, whose hallucinations worsen, may not have been on Nuplazid for long enough, said Ridloff, the Acadia spokeswoman.

The 887 reported deaths of Nuplazid patients may be an undercount. A nurse in Kansas, who specializes in dementia care, said a resident in one of the facilities she worked at had no history of cardiac issues, yet died from congestive heart failure within a month of starting on Nuplazid. The nurse requested anonymity because she continues to work in nursing care facilities.

“We questioned the ordering physician whether this should be reported to the FDA in relation to Nuplazid and he said, ‘Oh no, the drug rep said this couldn’t have happened because of Nuplazid,’ and it was never reported,” she said.

Acadia’s Ridloff said such behavior by a sales representative would be “absolutely not consistent with our protocols, policies and procedures.”

She said that deaths are to be expected among patients who are elderly and in an advanced stage of Parkinson’s, and that Nuplazid does not increase the risk of mortality.

“Acadia’s top priority has been, and continues to be, patient safety,” she said. “We carefully monitor and analyze safety reports from clinical studies and post-marketing reporting to ensure the ongoing safety of Nuplazid. Based on the totality of available information, Acadia is confident in Nuplazid’s efficacy and safety profile.”

After a CNN report in April about adverse events related to Nuplazid prompted lawmakers to question the FDA, Gottlieb said he would “take another look at the drug.” Agency spokeswoman Sandy Walsh confirmed that that an evaluation is ongoing, and the FDA “may issue additional communications as appropriate.”

Nuplazid isn’t the only drug approved by an FDA senior official against the advice of lower-level staffers. In 2016, internal reviewers and an advisory committee called for rejecting a drug for a rare muscular disease called Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Only 12 patients participated in the single trial that compared the drug, Exondys 51, with a placebo. Trial results showed that Exondys 51 produced a small amount of dystrophin, a protein Duchenne patients lack. But the company didn’t show that the protein increase translated into clinical benefits, like helping patients walk.

Woodcock approved the drug. Internal FDA documents later revealed that she was concerned about the solvency of the drugmaker, Sarepta Therapeutics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A memo by the FDA’s acting chief scientist recounted Woodcock saying that Sarepta “needed to be capitalized” and might go under if Exondys 51 were rejected. Exondys 51 went on the market with a price tag of $300,000 a year.

“We don’t look at a company and say they’ll have a lower standard because they’re poor, but we’re trying to recognize that, small or large, companies will never work on developing a drug if they won’t make a profit,” said Woodcock. “Our job is to work with the field, and with the firms to try and find a path forward,” especially on rare diseases where a large trial is impractical, she said.

Last month, the European Medicines Agency’s advisory committee recommended rejection of Exondys 51’s application, saying “further data were needed to show … lasting benefits relevant to the patient.”

Sarepta is asking the committee to reconsider, the company said in a June press release.

The debate over Exondys 51 centered on the value of a so-called surrogate endpoint, a biological or chemical measure that serves as a proxy for whether the drug actually treats or cures the disease. Surrogate measures speed drug development because they’re easier and quicker to measure than patient outcomes.

Some surrogate measures are well-established. Lowering cholesterol has been proven repeatedly to help reduce heart attacks and strokes. But others aren’t, like how much dystrophin needs to be produced to help Duchenne patients, raising concerns that drugs may be approved despite uncertain benefits.

The jury is still out on two other drugs, Folotyn and Sirturo, which received expedited approval based on surrogate measurements. There’s no proof that Folotyn helps patients with a rare cancer — peripheral T-cell lymphoma — live longer, while Sirturo, an antibiotic for multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis, has potentially fatal side-effects. Yet since both drugs were aimed at small or under-served populations, the FDA rewarded their manufacturers with valuable perquisites.

In a clinical trial, Folotyn reduced tumors in 29 of 107 patients, but the shrinkage lasted longer than 14 weeks in only 13 people. Since everyone in the study got Folotyn, it wasn’t apparent whether the drug would help patients do better than a placebo or another drug. Meanwhile, 44 percent of participants in the trial suffered serious side effects, including sores in mucous membranes, including in the mouth, lips and digestive tract, and low levels of blood cells that help with clotting. One patient died after being hospitalized with sores and low white blood-cell counts.

While tumor shrinkage is a commonly used surrogate measurement in cancer trials, it often has a low correlation with longer life expectancy, according to a 2015 study. “I would say to a patient, this drug may be more likely to shrink a tumor either partially or even completely, but that may in fact be a pyrrhic victory if it doesn’t help you live better or longer,” said Mikkael Sekeres, director of the leukemia program at the Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center, who voted against approving Folotyn at the FDA’s advisory panel discussion in 2009. He was out-voted 10 to four. Three years later, the European Medicines Agency rejected the drug.

Because peripheral T-cell lymphoma only affects about 9,000 Americans each year, the FDA designated Folotyn as an “orphan” drug, giving its manufacturer, Allos Therapeutics, tax incentives and at least two extra years of patent exclusivity. Nevada-based Spectrum Pharmaceuticals acquired Allos in 2012. At more than $92,000 per course of treatment, Folotyn is Spectrum’s top-selling product, earning $43 million in 2017.

Dr. Eric Jacobsen, clinical director of the adult lymphoma program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, has become disillusioned with Folotyn since he helped Allos run the original trial. “Enthusiasm for the drug has waned,” he said. “It’s been on the market for a long time, and there’s no additional data suggesting benefit.” He now prescribes other options first, particularly because of the mouth sores Folotyn can cause, which make it painful to eat or drink.

The FDA approved Sirturo in 2012 without requiring Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturer, to demonstrate that patients on the drug were cured of tuberculosis. Instead, Johnson & Johnson only had to show that the treatment, when added to a traditional drug regimen, killed bacteria in the sputum faster than did the regimen alone. Sirturo was successful by that measure, but 10 patients who took it died, five times as many as the two in the group on placebo.

Dean Follmann, a biostatistics expert at the National Institutes of Health, voted as an FDA advisory committee member to approve Sirturo but wrestled with how to read the sputum data in light of the higher death rate: “The drug could be so toxic that it kills bacteria faster, but it also kills people faster.”

The imbalance in deaths during the trial “was a safety signal” that led the FDA to require “its most serious warning in product labeling,” known as a boxed warning, said agency spokeswoman Walsh. The packaging, she added, specified that Sirturo “should only be used for patients for whom an effective TB regimen cannot otherwise be provided. Thus, current labeling provides for a safe and effective use.”

Under a 2007 provision in the user-fee law, aimed at spurring treatments for developing nations, Sirturo’s approval qualified Johnson & Johnson for a voucher given to manufacturers who successfully get a tropical disease drug to market. The voucher can be used in the future, for any drug, to claim priority review – within six months instead of the usual 10. Time is money in the drug industry, and beating your competitor to market can be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Vouchers may also be sold to other drugmakers, and have garnered up to $350 million. Sarepta received a voucher under a similar program for pediatric rare diseases when the FDA approved Exondys 51.

In South Africa, where Sirturo is mainly used, the drug is seen as a helpful option for highly drug-resistant patients. A study at one South African hospital by Dr. Keertan Dheda found that 45 out of 68 patients who took Sirturo were cured, as against 27 out of 204 before the drug was available. That doesn’t rule out the possibility that Sirturo may be killing a small subset of patients, said Dheda, but the risk is “very minor compared to the disease itself.”

Adrian Thomas, Johnson & Johnson’s vice president of global public health, said in an interview that observational results since the drug went on the market make him “much more confident that there is no more unexplained imbalance in mortality” and that the “benefit/risk in drug-resistant tuberculosis is incredibly reasonable when you don’t have other treatment choices.”

Still, the World Health Organization said in a 2016 report that the “quality of evidence remains very low” regarding Sirturo. “There is still some residual uncertainty for mortality,” the group said, and “specific harms” to the respiratory system “continue to be observed.”

While the FDA expedites drug approvals, it’s content to wait a decade or more for the post-marketing studies that manufacturers agree to do. Definitive answers about Sirturo are likely to be lacking until 2022, when Johnson & Johnson is expected to finish its study, a full decade after the drug was approved. Studies of Nuplazid and Folotyn aren’t expected until 2021. Spectrum has missed two FDA deadlines for post-marketing studies on Folotyn. Spectrum spokeswoman Ashley Winters declined comment.

Post-marketing studies often take far longer to complete than pre-approval trials, in part because it’s harder to recruit patients to risk being given a placebo when the drug is readily available on the market. Plus, since the drug is already on the market, the manufacturer no longer has a financial incentive to study its impact— and stands to lose money if the results are negative. Of post-marketing studies agreed to by manufacturers in 2009 and 2010, 20 percent had not started five years later, and another 25 percent were still ongoing.

And, despite taking so long, most post-marketing studies of drugs approved on the basis of surrogate measures rely on proxy criteria again rather than examining clinical effects on patients’ health or lifespans. In fact, Folotyn’s post-marketing trials will measure what’s known as “progression-free survival,” or the time it takes before tumors start growing again, but not whether patients live longer.

Proving that a drug extends survival is especially hard in cancer trials because patients don’t want to stay in a trial if their disease gets worse, or may want to add another experimental treatment. “In cancer, we’re probably not going to get a clean answer,” Woodcock said. Instead, the best evidence that cancer drugs are effective would be an increase in national survival rates over time, she said.

By law, the FDA has the authority to issue fines or even pull a drug off the market if a drugmaker doesn’t meet its post-marketing requirements. Yet the agency has never fined a company for missing a deadline, according to Woodcock.

“We would consider fines if we thought companies were simply dragging their feet, but we would have the burden to show they really weren’t trying, and it’d be an administrative thing that companies could contest,” said Woodcock.

Even when post-marketing studies belatedly confirm that drugs are dangerous, the agency doesn’t always pull them off the market. Consider Uloric, the gout treatment. Even though it consistently lowered uric acid blood levels, the FDA rejected it in 2005 and again in 2006, because trials linked it to cardiovascular problems. But a third study by the manufacturer, Takeda Pharmaceutical of Osaka, Japan, didn’t raise the same alarms. So the agency decided in 2009 to let the drug on the market, while asking Takeda for a post-marketing study of 6,000 patients to clarify the drug’s cardiovascular effects.

Takeda took more than eight years to complete the study. It found that patients on Uloric had a 22 percent higher risk of death from any cause and a 34 percent higher risk of heart-related deaths than patients taking allopurinol, a generic alternative. The FDA issued a public alert in November 2017, sharing the results of the trial, but left Uloric on the market.

Public Citizen has warned patients to stop taking Uloric. “There is no justification for using it,” said Carome. “If the results of the most recent study had been available prior to FDA approval, the FDA likely would have rejected the drug.”

FDA spokeswoman Walsh said it is “conducting a comprehensive evaluation of this safety issue and will update the public when we have new information.”

Takeda is working with the FDA to “conduct a comprehensive review,” spokeswoman Kara Hoeger said in an email. The company wants to ensure that “physicians have comprehensive and accurate information to make educated treatment decisions.” Thomas Moore, senior scientist of drug safety and policy at the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, warned that future post-marketing findings on Nuplazid could be similarly bleak. Uloric “is the story of [Nuplazid] but a few years down the pike,” he said.

Nevertheless, FDA Commissioner Gottlieb is forging ahead with more shortcuts. In May, he announced plans to approve gene therapies for hemophilia based on whether they increased the level of clotting proteins, without waiting for evidence of reduced bleeding.

Two years ago, a prescient Dr. Ellis Unger, FDA’s Director of the Office of Drug Evaluation, had warned against precisely this initiative. After Woodcock approved Exondys 51 in 2016, Unger wrote, “A gene therapy designed to produce a missing clotting factor could receive accelerated approval on the basis of a tiny yet inconsequential change in levels of the factor…The precedent set here could lead to the approval of drugs for rare diseases without substantial evidence of effectiveness.”

Gottlieb seems less worried than Unger.

“For some of these products, there’s going to be some uncertainty, even at the time of approval,” Gottlieb said when announcing the plan. “These products are initially being aimed at devastating diseases, many of which are fatal and lack available therapy. In these settings, we’ve traditionally been willing to accept more uncertainty to facilitate timely access to promising therapies.”

His decision pleased investors. That day, while biotechnology stocks overall fell, shares of hemophilia gene therapy manufacturers rose.

The post FDA Repays Industry by Rushing Risky Drugs to Market appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Ocasio-Cortez Explains What a “Moral” Economy Would Look Like

Sat, 06/30/2018 - 14:50

Since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning primary win over Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday, interest in democratic socialism—the label Ocasio-Cortez unabashedly uses to describe her platform and political outlook—has surged exponentially, prompting corporate TV networks to feature segments on the term and driving a record-breaking membership boost for the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

Since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning primary win over Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday, interest in democratic socialism—the label Ocasio-Cortez unabashedly uses to describe her platform and political outlook—has surged exponentially, prompting corporate TV networks to feature segments on the term and driving a record-breaking membership boost for the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).


While democratic socialism may not be an “easy term” for Republicans and corporate Democrats, a large percentage of Americans appear to have no problem with the label.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—who has self-identified as a democratic socialist for decades—is by far the most popular politician in the country, and polls have shown that Democratic voters prefer socialism over capitalism.

In an attempted takedown of Ocasio-Cortez’s ambitious progressive agenda, Fox Newshost Sean Hannity inadvertantly demonstrated why many Americans view democratic socialism favorably, particularly during a time of staggering inequality, soaring healthcare costs, environmental degradation, and falling wages.

“Many are hailing Cortez as a rising star on the political landscape, but in reality, her views, her policy positions are actually downright scary… Look very carefully,” Hannity ominously warned in a Wednesday night segment. “This is the future, this is the modern Democratic Party.”

The camera then proceeded to show a list of widely popular proposals like Medicare for All as well as basic, humane principles like “Women’s Rights” and “Support Seniors.”

As Vice summarized, “Sean Hannity accidentally made a great argument for socialism.”

Comrade @SeanHannity brings our message to the masses. ✊

— Jacobin (@jacobinmag) June 28, 2018

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Categories: News

EU’s Debt Deal Is “Kiss of Death” for Greece

Sat, 06/30/2018 - 13:58

After eight long and extremely painful years of austerity due to gigantic rescue packages that were accompanied by brutal neoliberal measures, in Athens, the “leftist” government of Alexis Tsipras has announced that the era of austerity is now over thanks to the conclusion of a debt agreement with European creditors.

In the early hours of June 22, a so-called “historic” deal on debt relief was reached at a meeting of Eurozone finance ministers after it was assessed that Greece had successfully completed its European Stability Mechanism program, and that there was no need for a follow-up program.

The idea that Greece’s bailout programs can be considered a success adds a new twist to the government’s Orwellian doublespeak, given the fact that the country has experienced the biggest economic crisis in postwar Europe, with its gross domestic product (GDP) having shrunk by about a quarter, and reporting the highest unemployment rate (currently standing at 20.1 percent) of all European Union (EU) states.

On top of that, the ratio of the country’s public debt to gross GDP has risen from 127 percent in 2009 to about 180 percent, a development which has essentially turned Greece into a debt colony, leading to pressing demands that all valuable public assets be sold — including airports, railways, ports, sewerage systems, and gas and energy resources. Indeed, since the start of the bailout programs, Greek governments have been trying hard to outdo one another on the privatization front in order to satisfy the demands of the official creditors, the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Still, the current pseudo-leftist Syriza government has proven to be the most servile of Greek governments to creditors.

Arguments for privatization aside, the deadly combination of higher debt and declining GDP had most economists convinced quite early on that austerity was killing Greece’s economy, and that a debt write-off would be at some point absolutely necessary for medium- and long-term recovery. However, Germany and its northern European allies had diametrically opposed this idea, insisting on even stronger doses of austerity, while balking at the prospect of a debt write-off.

At the same time, the idea of Greece exiting the euro was also an anathema to Germany and the eurocrats in Brussels. Keeping Greece in the Eurozone — even while its economy and society were going to bleed to death as a result of harsh austerity measures — was deemed absolutely imperative for the very survival of the euro, and for ensuring that all previous debts to European banks were going to be repaid. Indeed, it was these concerns that led to the bailouts in the first place — not the duty or obligation of helping out a member of the European family bounce back from a financial crisis that had been caused, to a large extent, by the highly flawed nature of the architectural design of the European Monetary Union itself.

The idea of restructuring Greece’s huge debt pile, which kept on getting bigger with every passing year of austerity and neoliberal reforms, never went away, especially since the IMF never got tired of telling the Europeans that the country’s debt level was unsustainable. Indeed, the IMF refused to join the third bailout until debt relief was put on the table.

Afraid of going alone with its neoliberal experiment and neocolonial attitudes toward Greece, European officials kept hinting on various occasions that a time may come when debt relief for Greece could become a topic of negotiations. However, it seems that the last elections in Germany may have been a turning point in that direction, particularly with Wolfgang Schäuble having been forced to relinquish his role as Germany’s finance minister for that of speaker of the Bundestag. 

In contrast to Tsipras’s outrageous claim that the debt deal represents a “historic” agreement, in that it allows Greece to become a “normal country” once again, the measures agreed on to make Greece’s debt sustainable will doom the country into becoming a permanent semi-peripheral debt colony of the EU. The deal simply pushes the debt into the very distant future, and locks society into a state of perpetual austerity by requiring that the government run exceedingly large primary budget surpluses. The deal is not a cause of celebration for Greece but, rather, a kiss of death.

First, it grants Greece a 10-year extension on some pressing loan maturities and provides extra funds to the government in the sum of 15 billion euros in order to boost its cash reserves. In other words, no debt write-off of any kind, with the total amount of debt remaining around 180 percent, but simply making the next generation responsible for the repayment of a sizeable chunk of debt. This decision is supposed to enhance Greece’s financial credibility and allow the country to return to private markets for its future borrowing needs.

The debt agreement also compels Greece to run primary budget surpluses of 3.5 percent until 2022, and then by about 2.2 percent until 2060. This means, then, that Greece will be in a state of severe austerity for the next 40 years. In fact, the demand that Greece runs a primary budget surplus of 3.5 percent until 2022 means that the doses of austerity will have to be increased substantially in the years ahead.  This is especially the case since there is interest involved on the repayment of the loans, which means that the actual fiscal surplus is even bigger.

Indeed, when we take into account interest payments on debt, even at the rate of 1 percent until 2022, the overall fiscal surplus demanded from Greece as part of the so-called “historic” debt deal jumps to around 5.3 percent of the GDP through 2022. But even after 2020, the annual fiscal surplus demanded from 2023-2060 (assuming that the interest rate remains at 1 percent, although it will probably be higher) will be a minimum of 4 percent of GDP. (I am obliged to the economist Robert Pollin at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for pointing out this important detail regarding the impact of interest rates on the actual primary budget surplus.)

At this point, with primary budget surpluses running in the range of 5.3 percent (until 2022) and even 4 percent (from 2023-2060), “severe” is not the right word to describe the level of austerity that will need to be enforced on the Greek population. A more apt term is “brutal” austerity, and such large primary surpluses inevitably bring to mind the condition of Germany at the end of World War I, when the country was forced to run similarly large surpluses in order to finance the reparations demanded by The Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Of course, what happened afterward is now common knowledge — except, apparently, among the German political class and the eurocrats in Brussels.

The debt deal for Greece is indeed a turning point: It marks the death of any prospect or hope for economic recovery and a return to normalcy. Only more difficult times lie ahead.

The post EU’s Debt Deal Is “Kiss of Death” for Greece appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

“Bring the War Home”: A Timely Investigation of the White Power Movement

Sat, 06/30/2018 - 13:45

Kathleen Belew’s Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America is an unquestionably powerful, well-researched and must-read addition to the post-2016 upsurge in analysis and investigation of the foundations of modern fascism. Anyone seeking to understand the origins of the modern far right in the US should include this work at the top of their reading list.

The backbone of Belew’s argument is that the roots of the modern white power movement, as it is understood today, can be found in a myth that emerged in the US right in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. This story claims the US lost the war because of betrayal at home by incompetent, unpatriotic politicians, as well as the “traitorous” antiwar movement which was widely claimed to be riddled with communist agents. This narrative eerily parallels the claims made by German fascists to explain defeat in the First World War, which adherents to this myth used to scapegoat Jews and leftist Germans, and recruit disaffected veterans to their cause. This argument is not new, having been previously suggested in Alexander Reid Ross’s Against the Fascist Creep and other anti-fascist works.

But what sets Belew’s work apart from previous discussions of this theory is how she marshals impressive evidence for how central this myth was for the far right during the 1970s and 1980s. She goes beyond drawing parallels between the embittered veterans and militia participants with post-World War I German Freikorps soldiers by showing how the experiences of white power Vietnam veterans defined the movement they built.

What puts the meat on Bring the War Home is Belew’s in-depth, original research. As she describes in the introductory chapter, her information was drawn from a wide variety of difficult-to-access and, at times, unreliable sources. She uses everything from the fragmented, scattered archives of white power groups to law enforcement records and press publications. Moreover, she freely admits that some of these sources, particularly those drawn from white power groups, are unreliable, and goes to great lengths to illustrate the flaws in their claims. It’s this combination of multiple perspectives that make Belew’s argument a thorough, persuasive analysis of an often poorly understood movement.

Belew organizes Bring the War Home into three main parts. These sections are arranged chronologically, while the chapters in each discuss specific themes, developments and changes in the white power movement.

“Part I: Formation” covers the Vietnam War origins of the modern white power movement’s leaders in the wake of the downfall of the civil rights era KKK [Ku Klux Klan]. Here, she clearly illustrates how the military experiences of reactionary veterans, both from Vietnam and mercenary work in Central America and Rhodesia, formed the core of their organizing and rhetoric. This is the period when The Turner Diaries, a work with enduring influence on the white power movement to the present day, was written and around which veteran-trained white power paramilitaries were organized on a platform of anti-communist action. The Turner Diaries is critical as it both is used as a tract for dispensing ideology and serving as a stealth how-to manual for waging race war. As Belew notes, it is one of the most popular texts for the American far right.

“Part II: The War Comes Home” is when Belew demonstrates a sharp break that has shaped the US far right to the present day. In this segment, which covers actions throughout the 1980s, she shows how the white power movement shifted from being agents of the conservative status quo to declaring war on the US government in the name of the white race. Belew shows how this period inspired influential KKK paramilitary organizer Louis Beam to develop his system of “leaderless resistance.” This approach was modelled on The Turner Diaries. Under leaderless resistance, above-ground groups engaged in open political work while below-ground cells of paramilitaries engaged in acts of terrorism. Organizers could freely incite hate crimes while retaining a degree of plausible deniability, allowing them to escape legal consequences and remain active. This model was meant to preserve the movement while carrying out their goals by other means. Belew also shows how white power advocates actively recruited soldiers, stole military equipment and worked to infiltrate the armed forces.

“Part III: Apocalypse” is the climax of the work, culminating in the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995. Here, Belew shows how the previous work of the white power movement led to this moment, along with how it began branching out into other elements of the US right through the militia movement and evangelical Christianity. She also shows how the shift to these subcultures was part of a strategy to remain relevant in a post-Cold War world, reinforcing the white power movement’s opportunism and their close ties to the broader US right. In Belew’s analysis, the shift from anti-communism to anti-government activity was made possible by the broader rhetoric of US conservatism.

Bring the War Home provides clear examples of how the far right has adapted and developed, and the relevance of the events of the ’70s and ’80s to understanding the present day “alt-right.” Belew shows the strategies of the white right of the ’70s and ’80s are at work in the present day. The combination of above-ground agitators and recruiters, referred to as “legals” in The Turner Diaries, and underground militants engaging in violent action remains true today. Current examples of above-ground agitators include Joey Gibson and Patriot Prayer, Counter Currents Publishing, Gavin McInnes, Richard Spencer and Augustus Invictus. Underground elements, ranging from lone actors like Dylann Roof to violent groups like the Atomwaffen Division, the Proud Boys and the Rise Above Movement, are increasingly active, focusing on implementing white power through bloody violence.

The white right also laid the groundwork for using “code-switching,” appropriating elements of conservative and left-wing discourse and developing dog-whistle tactics during this period. Belew points to examples during the ’80s and ’90s in which the white right actively infiltrated the militia movement and grassroots conservatism through co-opting the language of smaller government, anti-immigration, gun rights and defending “traditional values.” Similar inroads were also made to co-opt elements of the left, including the antiwar movement, environmentalism through overpopulation, globalization and weaving veiled anti-Semitic language into critiques of international capitalism. All of these acts of discursive infiltration were achieved using coded language which, on its surface, did not appear bigoted while opening space for white power politics.

All of these methods are widely used in the present day by the modern far right. Belew’s analysis further illustrates the need to confront deeper root causes, build radical alternatives to the status quo and confront elements of the US right that continue to enable the white power movement to thrive. Though Bring the War Home doesn’t engage in full-throated systemic critique, it provides more than enough concrete examples and evidence for those seeking to make such a case.

The post “Bring the War Home”: A Timely Investigation of the White Power Movement appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Students Push for Restorative Approaches to Campus Sexual Assault

Sat, 06/30/2018 - 13:26

In the early 2000s, Suzy Exposito was a busy, ambitious art student at The New School in New York City. She was always hustling. She had a full schedule of classes, worked multiple jobs and was also involved in extracurricular activities, including organizing as an anti-rape activist with her school’s feminist collective. It was this work in particular that made her experience with campus sexual assault feel that much worse.

Dishonor RollThe first time it happened she was 19. The perpetrator was her boyfriend at the time. Exposito was a resident assistant (RA) in the dorm, which was where the assault occurred, so she confided in two of her fellow RAs about what happened. “They instantly told me that I didn’t really have any kind of case,” Exposito says, because the accused was her boyfriend, and she had invited him over. She characterized their dismissiveness as “typical victim-blaming shit.”

From a prior experience helping another student navigate having a stalker, Exposito knew that if she reported what happened to the school, it would refer her to the local police precinct. The New School’s sexual misconduct policy at the time was basically nonexistent — which was unfortunately not that uncommon. A 2005 Department of Justice report on college sexual assault found that “many schools either do not have a sexual assault response policy or could not provide it for the study.”

So Exposito decided not to report the assault. She broke up with her boyfriend and dealt with the situation largely by ignoring him. But, a year later, when she was assaulted again, this time by the captain of her debate team, she knew she wanted to hold the man who assaulted her accountable.

It happened after a late-night party with her teammates from the debate team. The students decided to crash in one room. As they were accustomed to being on the road together while competing in tournaments, Exposito thought nothing of it. But when she was sleeping, her team captain groped her. The incident was witnessed by a few of her teammates who were still awake, one of whom told the captain to stop.

Afterward, Exposito decided to hold an accountability process, albeit one without the school’s input. She had been learning about restorative justice and thought some sort of face-to-face process might be her best option. She had a meeting with her teammates to discuss what happened then met one-on-one with the accused. While there was no facilitator involved, Exposito says she was forthright about how his actions harmed her. “I was like, ‘You can’t violate me and go on with your life like this,'” she says. “He knew that I wasn’t going to go away silent about it.”

As part of the accountability process, Exposito suggested that he seek rehab for substance abuse and use affirmative consent going forward. While she says he apologized and agreed with her summation, his behavior did not change. She quit the team along with some of her other teammates, but he stayed on. Exposito wasn’t entirely happy with this outcome, and says if she could do it again she would seek a facilitator for the accountability process. Still, she says, “I felt like it was the best thing I could have done given the circumstances.”

A Survivor-Centered Approach

Exposito’s meetings with her teammates and with the team captain who harmed her came out of her desire to adopt an approach loosely based around restorative justice principles. As summed up by Tikkun Magazine, “​Our criminal justice system asks these three questions: What law was broken? Who broke it? What punishment is warranted?” In contrast, “Restorative justice asks an entirely different set of questions: Who was harmed? What are the needs and responsibilities of all affected? How do all affected parties together address needs and repair them?”

As a process that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by a wrongdoing, restorative justice can involve restorative circles or conferences, wherein community members who have been affected by the harm have an open dialogue with each other and with the person who perpetrated the harm.

With more support, the process that Exposito initiated could have taken a more structured form, such as longer-term, facilitated restorative process.

David Karp, a Skidmore University sociology professor and co-founder of Promoting Restorative Initiatives for Sexual Misconduct (PRISM), has been studying restorative justice for almost 20 years. He describes it as a process that creates a space for the accused to hear the complainant’s experience and respond in a meaningful way. “A restorative justice process is really trying to get at this fundamental question: What are the conditions in which it’s possible for someone to take responsibility for the harm that they’ve caused?” Karp says.

Karp and his colleague Kaaren Williamson started PRISM with the intention of supporting campuses that are trying to incorporate restorative approaches into their schools’ sexual misconduct policies. Karp says that traditional disciplinary approaches are by nature adversarial. Colleges, in an attempt to follow federal guidelines, are primarily concerned with determining whether the accused student has violated campus policy. They are tasked with looking for evidence and determining the appropriate punishment. Traditional approaches generally do not center the survivor’s needs, nor do they offer the alleged perpetrator a process by which they might change themselves and repair the harm they have caused.

“Most survivors want more than anything else some real acknowledgement of the harm that was caused them,” Karp says. “And some assurance that this person understands this well enough that they won’t do it again to anybody else. And what they get, through a formal hearing process, is denial or even a retrenchment into a belief that they’re not responsible, that they’ve done nothing wrong.”

Though restorative justice has become a more mainstream idea in recent years, it has a long history of use within Indigenous communities, where there is a focus on healing in the aftermath of harm, and a desire to reintegrate the offender into the community. This focus is the throughline that extends to activists advocating for restorative or transformative justice in prison abolition work. Some states that have offered restorative justice for offenders as an alternative to the traditional legal justice system have proven their effectiveness through low recidivism rates. The quickly spreading interest in the option of restorative justice in the aftermath of a sexual assault can be traced to the longtime application of it in the context of prison abolition.

Since PRISM began about three years ago, Karp says he has seen interest in restorative justice grow exponentially. In a 2016 report, the group noted that three US schools — Skidmore College, the University of San Diego and the University of Michigan — “clearly articulate the role of [restorative justice] in their student conduct policies,” while Michigan State University, Swarthmore College and the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill introduced language “that supports restorative responses.”

The restorative options actually offered at each school vary widely. At UC San Diego, employees in the Student Life and Residence Life departments are trained as restorative justice facilitators, and offer dialoguing circles and restorative conferencing to students, staff and faculty. The University of Michigan offers a range of what it calls “adaptable conflict resolutions.” Trained university staff can facilitate restorative justice circles or students can choose a facilitated dialogue. Similarly, Michigan State employs restorative justice principles in all of its conflict resolution services and explicitly offers restorative conferencing and peace circles. Its website does not stipulate what resolutions are available for certain types of misconduct.

Language at some of the other schools is decidedly more vague. Skidmore writes that “restorative justice guides much of the conduct philosophy” and that faculty and staff “are trained in restorative practices,” but it is unclear what student misconduct violations can actually be remedied through such practices, or what those practices are. Swarthmore is similarly vague, noting that “appropriate forms of restorative justice” can potentially be used as a remedy in sexual misconduct cases. The UNC website has no mention of restorative justice options, and the school’s Title IX office did not respond to requests for information.

Moreover, while these schools may include alternative approaches in their policies, that doesn’t always translate to students’ actual experiences with reporting sexual misconduct.

Swarthmore Students Fight for Title IX Reform

In December of 2017, a senior at Swarthmore College published an anonymous letter in a student-run publication detailing her experience with what she referred to as the school’s “broken” Title IX system. The student, who later identified herself as Makayla Portley, wrote at length about the administration’s lack of communication, the frustration of having her case handled by a changing roster of staff members, the school’s violation of its own 60-day investigation timeline and, ultimately, how the entire process retraumatized her.

“I am angry that we were promised a system that would support us and that ultimately, this promise was a lie,” Portley wrote.

The article caused a stir on campus, bringing to light the fact that the school was leaving many students dissatisfied with its handling of sexual assault cases. This wasn’t a new problem for Swarthmore. In 2013, a group of students filed a federal complaint with the US Department of Education, alleging the school created a “hostile environment” on campus that dissuaded students from reporting sexual assault. That complaint led the administration to overhaul its approach to Title IX complaints, including hiring a full-time Title IX coordinator, Kaaren Williamson. She joined the Swarthmore staff in 2014, a year before PRISM was officially launched.

Over the course of Portley’s adjudication process, however, Williamson and another colleague in her office left their positions. The vacancies made the resolution process that much more difficult for survivors, resulting in prolonged delays, interruptions in the investigations and other missteps.

Portley’s experience resonated deeply with Lydia Koku, a senior in the middle of her own Title IX adjudication process. “I caught wind of that article on the day that it came out, and I felt a variety of ways,” Koku says. “I didn’t feel as alone as I’d felt because there was somebody who had outlined the exact same harm that I had endured throughout my process.”

Koku had been assaulted by her then-partner at the beginning of the school year. She chose the school’s traditional, disciplinary-based adjudication process after feeling dissatisfied using the school’s alternative resolution process, called Intimate Partners for Peace, after a previous incident. Swarthmore’s website does claim restorative justice is an option under its “remedies-based resolution,” but Koku says nothing resembling restorative justice was offered to her.

She filed her complaint in September 2017, but the investigation lasted well over the school’s stated commitment to resolve cases within 60 days. “When I came back from winter break in the spring, my case had been finalized,” she says. “I received my outcome towards the end of January, beginning of February. I was not satisfied with it, and I wanted to mobilize.”

“When I think about and dream about what our campus culture could look like, I see transformative justice as the ultimate response to the inequities we face when attempting to address harm.”

Koku wrote her own op-ed in the student paper, outlining her adjudication experience, and including a call for anyone interested in working to fix the Title IX process to be in touch. She was overwhelmed by the response she got. From that call to action grew Organizing for Survivors (O4S), a core group of students who held community forums and meetings throughout the semester to hash out concerns about Title IX. They ultimately drafted a list of demands for the administration.

Included in their demands is a call for the school in general, as well as specific school administrators, to admit to the harm they have caused “in the name of restorative justice and accountability.” They ask that all staff involved in the Title IX process issue a public letter “acknowledging this harm and committing to immediate transformation of the structures that have created it.” In an interview published in Voices, a Swarthmore student publication, an O4S core member says that the group envisions a “new system of Title IX … where transformative justice is the core.” In the same interview, Koku expands on this idea, saying, “When I think about and dream about what our campus culture could look like, I see transformative justice as the ultimate response to the inequities we face when attempting to address harm. I read that transformative justice differs from restorative justice in that it calls into question whether healing and justice can truly occur in contexts where structural inequality is upheld. The main goal of transformative justice is to address harm on the micro level while simultaneously addressing and shifting the power structures that create and sustain the perpetuation of violence.”

The group wanted to center their demands around a vision of transformative justice because it felt like the best way to “capture and center the most marginalized,” Koku says. Though campus administrators have sat down with O4S to address their concerns, the group says most of their demands are as yet unmet. (One administrator, Dean of Students Liz Braun, did resign following a nine-day sit-in at her office, although she did not cite O4S as a reason for her leaving.) Koku and several of the other O4S core members graduated in the spring, but Koku hopes that members still on campus this fall are able to play a role in training the new violence prevention educator and advocate and the new Title IX coordinator. Swarthmore administrators did not respond to requests for comment.

“I hope that the desire to push for change does not stop,” Koku says. “Although we have made a lot of progress this year, I think that what’s going to be important for next year is really pushing the institution to begin to think about what we find acceptable. Because we can’t be an institution that promotes social justice values, we can’t be an institution that constantly claims to be fighting against inequality, and also to support nonviolent peaceful protest — when we can’t even identify what we find acceptable and what we don’t find acceptable for ourselves.”

Restorative Justice and Student-Driven Changes

While O4S has not yet seen the transformative changes at Swarthmore that they are asking for, historically, student-led movements for Title IX reform have had success. It is perhaps not surprising that transformative change tends to be driven by students, whose interests by default differ from those of university administrators. Of the schools Truthout spoke with that offer alternative resolutions to the formal complaint procedure, most report that student survivors drove the change to more flexible options. Jordan Draper, a Title IX coordinator and the interim dean of students at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), began drafting an alternative resolution process in 2017, after several students reported incidents of sexual misconduct but declined to move forward with the traditional investigation process. “They just thought it was an overwhelming process, having to share their story multiple times, and weren’t sure that they wanted to go that route,” she says.

She invited these students, along with peer educators from the schools’ Anti-Violence Initiatives Office, to participate in putting together a slate of alternative options for student survivors. TCNJ’s Title IX policy, which went into effect in October 2017, now offers students three options: an administrative hearing, an investigatory model and an alternative resolution model.

“Alternative resolution is a voluntary process that allows the Respondent to accept responsibility for their behavior,” the policy reads. Both students must voluntarily choose the alternative resolution process in order to move forward. Once that happens, they can elect to have a face-to-face formal restorative conference with a trained facilitator (which involves both parties and possibly other community members), an informal restorative conference (where a campus official meets separately with both parties), and an informal restorative statement, which is similar to a victim impact statement.

The resolution agreement that comes out of an alternative resolution process can also incorporate workshops on consent or alcohol consumption, counseling, community service, regular check-ins with the Title IX coordinator, and no-contact directives between the students. According to Draper, so far this school year, seven students have inquired into the alternative resolution process, and three have fully completed it.

“We want to be creative about the different types of educational activities or responses in the agreement if we want to craft something that’s going to be meaningful in repairing the harm,” Draper says. Each agreement is individualized to the student who experienced the harm, and is based on conversations about the incident and what the student’s desired outcome is. “Having more options and more choices makes students more comfortable to utilize the process,” Draper adds. “Really what we’re trying to do is create a situation where more people feel comfortable coming forward, and feel comfortable getting the type of validity they need, so that there’s a healing that feels appropriate for them.”

“Transformative change tends to be driven by students, whose interests by default differ from those of university administrators.”

This survivor-focused approach is one reason why it was so crucial for Draper to involve previously harmed students in the process of crafting the new Title IX policy. “I talked to them about what I was creating with the alternative resolution, asked them what they thought, and asked them if they would have participated had this been an option last year,” Draper says. “All of them said ‘yes.'”

The University of Michigan has one of the longest-running restorative justice-inspired programs in the country. It began offering a process based on restorative principles for instances of student misconduct in 2007. In 2013, a restorative process was sanctioned for use in cases of gender-based misconduct, but just this year the practice expanded to sexual assault cases. Carrie Landrum, the assistant director of the Office of Student Conflict Resolution at the school, says that prior to this year, she can recall many student survivors requesting restorative processes.

Landrum affirms Karp’s observation that most survivors primarily want acknowledgement from the offender of the harm caused and an assurance that they won’t repeat the wrongdoing. “They want assurance that the person will never hurt another person in the same way again,” Landrum says. She notes that a face-to-face restorative justice approach is often an effective learning experience for the accused student. “I have actually seen from my process a face-to-face encounter is more likely to get somebody to understand the impact of their action than a third party disciplinary process because they don’t actually get to see the impact,” she says.

Though data on informal resolutions for the current school year are not yet available, since July 2013, the process was used to resolve only two incidents of sexual misconduct. These numbers are perhaps not that surprising — after all cultural notions of justice have long been framed around the concept of punishment. Still attitudes are changing. In 2017, an American Bar Association task force endorsed restorative justice for campus sexual misconduct cases. “I think that there’s been a significant shift in terms of the resistance to the idea,” Karp says.

Exposito also helped drive changes to her school’s Title IX policy. After her assault, she interned with Students Active for Ending Rape, where she compiled a database of campus sexual assault policies across the country. Taking from the best policies at other schools, Exposito and her fellow New School Feminist Collective members drafted a comprehensive campus sexual assault policy for their school, which was implemented the year after she graduated. The policy includes an explicit definition of consent and protection against retaliation, and also precludes past sexual history from being considered in the investigation. While the policy is largely focused on disciplinary sanctions, it also allows survivors the option not to pursue that route, offering alternative accommodations such as a change of classes or housing assignment, or a no-contact order against the accused.

“It was a big victory for us, and for me personally,” she says. “I just don’t think that the worst should have to happen before we have a sensible policy.”

The post Students Push for Restorative Approaches to Campus Sexual Assault appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

DNC Chair Tom Perez on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Win and Obama’s Immigration Policies

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 15:46

Attendees at Thursday’s protest in Brownsville included Tom Perez, the chair of the Democratic National Committee. Amy Goodman had a chance to interview Perez about Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, as well as President Obama’s record on immigration. They also talked about Tuesday’s New York primary, where 28-year-old Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated 10-term Congressmember Joe Crowley.

Please check back later for full transcript.

The post DNC Chair Tom Perez on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Win and Obama’s Immigration Policies appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Susan Sarandon and Linda Sarsour Speak Out as 630 Women Arrested Protesting US Immigration Policy

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 15:46

In Washington, DC, 630 women were arrested Thursday during a massive nonviolent civil disobedience action on Capitol Hill protesting the Trump administration’s immigration policies. Protesters, chanting “We care” and “Abolish ICE,” and wearing mylar emergency blankets like those given to immigrants imprisoned in US detention centers, flooded the Hart Senate Office Building for a sit-in protest demanding that immigrant children be released from US custody and reunited with their families. Protesters included the actress Susan Sarandon and Linda Sarsour, co-organizer of the Women’s March on Washington.

Please check back later for full transcript.

The post Susan Sarandon and Linda Sarsour Speak Out as 630 Women Arrested Protesting US Immigration Policy appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The Maryland Newsroom Massacre: Another Mass Shooting Fueled by Toxic Masculinity

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 15:44

As the nation mourned yet another senseless mass shooting — this time at a local newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland on Thursday in which five people were murdered — details of the alleged gunman expose yet another perpetrator with a history of mysognistic and threatening behavior towards women.

On Friday it was reported that the man arrested by police at the scene of the massacre inside The Capital Gazette’s offices, Jarrod Warren Ramos — who had a “bitter history” with the newspaper going back years — had been charged by local prosecutors with five counts of first degree murder.

According to the Associated Press:

Ramos filed a failed lawsuit against the paper in 2012, alleging the newspaper, a columnist and an editor defamed him in an article about his conviction in a criminal harassment case in 2011.

According to court documents, five days after Ramos pleaded guilty to criminal harassment, the newspaper published a story describing allegations by a woman who claimed Ramos harassed her online for months.

The article said Ramos had contacted the woman on Facebook and thanked her “for being the only person ever to say, ‘Hello,’ or be nice to him in school.”

The woman told the newspaper that Ramos appeared to be having some problems, so she wrote back and tried to help, suggesting a counseling center. She said that set off months of emails in which Ramos sometimes asked for help, but other times called her vulgar names and told her to kill herself. She told The Capital that she told him to stop, but the emails continued. She said she called police and the emails stopped for months, but then started up again “nastier than ever,” the article said.

After a court rejected his lawsuit claiming defamation buy the paper, Ramos’ ire reportedly intensified and he increasingly targeted the newspaper and its staff with threats. As Christian Christensen, professor of journalism at Stockholm University in Sweden, pointed out Ramos’ profile fits a familiar profile:

So, once again, a mass murderer with clear links to threatening women and misogyny. But, let’s keep searching for other factors in a desperate effort to avoid and ignore the toxic masculinity that screams in our national faces on a daily basis. #Annapolis #CapitalGazette

— Christian Christensen (@ChrChristensen) June 29, 2018

Separately, Christensen simply pointed out that the scourge of gun violence in the United States — from the daily violence of injuries, homicide and suicide nationwide to the steady stream of mass casualty events like Thursday in Annapolis — continues unabated, with much of it fueled by what he characterized as the nation’s “destructive, macho obsession with guns.”

No matter how many people in the US say otherwise, 12,000 murders a year using firearms, multiple mass school shootings, 600 people shot in 15 minutes from a hotel window are NOT the “price of freedom.” It is the sign of a deep, destructive, macho obsession with guns. #annapolis

— Christian Christensen (@ChrChristensen) June 28, 2018

Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) echoed the sentiments of many as she connected Thursday’s shooting to the larger and frightening trend that means nobody is allowed to feel safe in a culture where gun violence has reached epidemic proportions:

My heart goes out to the Capital Gazette. No journalist should have to duck bullets in the newsroom. No student should have to hide from an active shooter. No one should have to live in fear of being in the middle of the next mass shooting. This violence MUST end.

— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) June 28, 2018

The post The Maryland Newsroom Massacre: Another Mass Shooting Fueled by Toxic Masculinity appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

For Many Immigrant Families, the Fight for Reunification Is Just the Beginning

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 14:44

President Donald Trump signed an executive order June 20 purporting to end immigrant family separations at US border with Mexico. Four days later, the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services announced a plan to reunite approximately 2,000 children who were taken from their parents at the border between April and the time the executive order was signed.

Immigration advocates have noted many shortcomings with the executive order. They also emphasize the logistical difficulties parents are experiencing as they try to locate and contact their children.

Sadly, I believe these hurdles are only the tip of the iceberg. One thing few people currently realize – despite reassuring words from the administration – is many of these families will most likely never be reunited.

I’ve been writing about the impact of the US government’s immigration policies on undocumented families for years. The policies the Trump administration is enforcing, especially after the new executive order, are for the most part similar to those first enacted under President Obama. In 2014, during a surge in illegal border crossings, the Obama administration attempted to detain hundreds of families indefinitely – until the practice was legally challenged and stopped. This is essentially the same policy the Trump administration has adopted under the executive order.

Even before the 2014 surge, the Obama administration increased efforts to detain and deport undocumented immigrants within the US, resulting in numerous family separations. It is reasonable to expect that the eventual outcomes of today’s separations will mirror these earlier ones.

The Role of State Family Law

The biggest issue is how family law views detained undocumented parents. When immigrant children are separated from their parents, they enter two different legal tracks. The parents will likely remain in detention centers until their cases are heard by immigration judges. Most will face immediate deportation.

The HHS plan states parents will be reunited with their children before deportations, but this seems highly unlikely. Hundreds of these children have already been sent to state foster care facilities across the country where they have become wards of the state. Their care and custody decisions will be handled first by state welfare agencies and then by a state court. Reunification becomes less likely as the length of separation increases.

Immigrant parents have the same legal right to the care and custody of their children as American citizens. Without a finding of unfitness, immigrant parents should be granted reunification with their children. However, history shows courts frequently use a parent’s immigration status as a proxy for fitness. State court reunification decisions are also highly influenced by the parents’ residency in a violent country and the child’s opportunity for adoption in the United States.

State courts and welfare agencies have frequently concluded that a parent’s undocumented status and their willingness to cross the border illegally was proof enough of parental unfitness that could justify the termination of parental rights.

For example, in In re Angelica L., a case from 2009, a Nebraska juvenile court determined an undocumented mother was unfit based on the fact that she “either A) embarked on an unauthorized trip to the United States with a newborn premature infant or B) gave birth to a premature infant in the United States” after entering the country illegally. Without deciding between the two, the court held that either scenario demonstrated “that [the mother] did not provide the basic level of prenatal and postnatal care.”

In addition, courts have often demonstrated little sympathy for the fact that detention and deportation can make a parent’s efforts for reunification extremely difficult. For example, in Perez-Velasquez v. Culpeper County Department of Social Services, another case from 2009, the trial court declared the undocumented father unfit because he had, “without good cause, failed to maintain continuing contact with and to provide or substantially plan for the future of the [children] for a period of six months after the child’s placement in foster care….”

The father challenged this decision. He argued his failure to maintain contact with his children was due to his incarceration and deportation, and was therefore not willful. However, the court found this explanation irrelevant. According to the court, it was the “father’s own actions” – meaning his decision to cross the border illegally – that “led to this situation.” In addition, the court was further horrified by the father’s reunification plan, which was to return to the United States illegally and then take the children back with him.

For deported parents seeking reunification with their children, the prohibition on re-entry can be a major hurdle. It means parents cannot enter the US to contest the termination of their parental rights. If parents do attempt re-entry after deportation they risk arrest, which further hampers their efforts to be reunited with their kids. Moreover, courts have repeatedly confirmed that an undocumented immigrant’s motivations for illegal reentry are irrelevant.

Deported parents are rarely able to return to the US to seek reunification, and this has allowed courts to treat deportation as abandonment.

A final issue that may affect undocumented immigrant parents’ ability to reunite concerns the efforts of third parties to gain custody of the removed children. The longer the children remain in foster care, the more likely it is that attachments will grow. Many of these families will seek to adopt these children. In the past, courts, faced with the prospect of returning children to foreign countries filled with dangers versus allowing them to stay in America with an adoptive family, have often chosen the latter. They decide that to go home under such conditions is not in the children’s best interest and this in turn justifies terminating their biological parents parental rights.

It’s not clear whether today’s separated families will have the same difficulties regaining custody previous immigrant families faced, but it appears likely. In fact, given the current anti-immigrant sentiment, I believe the hurdles these immigrants parents may encounter will be significantly greater.

The post For Many Immigrant Families, the Fight for Reunification Is Just the Beginning appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Supreme Court Sides With Anti-Abortion Pregnancy Centers in Free Speech Case

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 14:27

In a 5-4 decision, the United States Supreme Court has ruled against the state of California in NIFLA v. Becerra, a case pitting crisis pregnancy centers run by anti-abortion activists against a California law requiring medical license disclosures and information on where to obtain free abortions in the state.

The slim majority sided with anti-abortion CPCs, and the court ruled that mandating these centers provide information about abortion violated their free speech. The Supreme Court also concluded that the law infringed on CPC employees’ truly held religious beliefs that abortion is a moral wrong in which they cannot directly or indirectly participate.

The case escalated the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, or NIFLA, challenge to California’s 2015 FACT Act, which required clinics that operate as medical pregnancy centers to disclose upfront that they are not licensed if there’s no licensed medical staff on site. The FACT Act also required CPCs to divulge if they are licensed to provide information about accessing free abortions in the state, should the patient choose not to continue the pregnancy.

NIFLA and other CPCs called the requirement government-compelled speech, while the state maintained that it was “professional speech” which can be legally mandated.

The case offered a rare majority ruling written by Justice Clarence Thomas, a Reagan-era appointee — and one best known for being the most silent member of the current Supreme Court and spouse of right-wing activist Ginni Thomas.

Emma Green writes at the Atlantic:

In his decision for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas agreed that the FACT Act likely violates the First Amendment. The law ‘imposes a government-scripted, speaker-based disclosure requirement that is wholly disconnected from the State’s informational interest,’ he wrote. Because the law selectively regulated only certain kinds of facilities, Thomas said, it ran the risk of only limiting the speech of those who disagree with the state’s views on abortion.

The crux of the majority’s argument appears to rest on the idea that because there is no actual medical “procedure” performed at a CPC, the government can’t regulate professional speech. It’s a thread-the-needle-type justification that brilliantly allows the court to sidestep the logical follow-up question of why forcing abortion providers to recite state-mandated scripts — ones that claim abortion could cause breast cancer or suicide and tell patients a litany of other coercive and factually false statements — isn’t also a free speech violation.

In SCOTUS-world, abortion is a medical procedure, and speech can be compelled. Being pregnant and not getting an abortion — or being talked out of an abortion — isn’t a medical procedure, so in that case all rules are moot.

Anti-abortion activists are rightfully claiming this as a major victory — more of a win for free speech than one that furthers their goal to end access to safe, legal abortion.

According to NPR, Penny Nance, CEO of Concerned Women for America, stated:

To be clear, this case was not about abortion. Malicious abortion politics definitely were the motivation behind it, but the case centered on the inappropriate mandate of the state compelling pro-life clinics to promote abortion in violation of their consciences. The case was about forced speech.

It may not have been about abortion originally, but as we are clearly seeing from moves in the Trump Department of Health and Human Services, it’s always about abortion in the end.

Being able to opt out of state requirements for health centers due to religious objections will come into play on an even more vast scale as the new rules for Title X  funding come down the pipeline. After all, these rules have already been drafted to allow CPCs the opportunity to obtain federal Title X dollars for services for the poor and uninsured — despite the fact that they will not offer or refer for hormonal contraception, as well as provide misleading information while pushing for abstinence-based sexual health habits.

The Supreme Court just said that the government can’t force CPCs to offer full-spectrum, accurate reproductive health information when it comes to potentially ending a pregnancy. What are the odds that they will rule differently when the case is about birth control options, instead?

My guess is that we’ll find out in just a few years.

The post Supreme Court Sides With Anti-Abortion Pregnancy Centers in Free Speech Case appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Despite Reforms, Children in Jails Are Still Held in Solitary Confinement

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 14:25

Despite a growing movement to end the practice of isolating humans in tiny cells for hours and days on end, prisoners are still held in solitary confinement in prisons and jails across the United States — including children. Consider Palm Beach, Florida, where a class-action lawsuit filed in a federal district court last week on behalf of three teenage boys held in the county jail is challenging the practice of placing children in solitary confinement with disturbing allegations against the local sheriff’s department and school board.

According to a complaint filed by human rights lawyers this month, boys aged 16 and 17 are held in solitary confinement at the Palm Beach County Jail for 23 or 24 hours a day, sometimes for weeks and even months on end. They are kept in quiet, tiny cells that contain only “a combined toilet and sink, a stainless steel desk and bolted-down stool, a steel bed with a thin mattress, and an overhead fluorescent light.” The bolted metal doors have two Plexiglas windows that are so scratched that they are impossible to see through. Food trays are passed through a panel slot that can only be unlocked from the outside. The complaint does not disclose the plaintiffs’ full names because they are minors.

Guards leave bright emergency lights on to keep the teenagers awake and force them to drink foul-smelling water from the sink as a form of punishment when children protest their confinement by banging on doors or yelling for help. Children held in solitary report calling out for clean water or to telephone their families, only to be threatened with removal to a “psych ward” where conditions are known to be worse. Like the plaintiffs, most teens held in solitary confinement at the Palm Beach jail are awaiting trial and have yet to be convicted of a crime, according to the complaint. In an email, a spokesperson said the Palm Beach Sherriff’s Office does not comment on pending litigation.

Melissa Duncan, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County’s Education Advocacy Project who filed the lawsuit along with the Florida-based Human Rights Defense Center, said the “circumstances” of solitary confinement at the Palm Beach County Jail are “among the worst in the nation.”

“The children in confinement are denied nearly all human contact, education and mental health treatment, and left in a locked, cement cell from which they are deprived of sight and sound,” Duncan said in a statement.

The boys held in solitary confinement reported feelings of despair and strange hallucinations, according to the complaint. One claimed to have “watched” television on the blank cement wall. Another saw the pages of a book “wiggle.” Unsurprisingly, research shows that locking young people in cells alone can cause severe mental health issues in the developing mind. Children who experience solitary confinement commit suicide, develop psychosis and experience post-traumatic stress.

The three plaintiffs live with learning disabilities, and their attorneys allege that the boys were denied mental health care and educational services through the local school board, as required by federal law. The teens “may receive, at most, packets of [schoolwork] shoved under a cell door or have brief moments to speak with a teacher standing outside of their locked door,” according to the complaint. Duncan told Truthout there’s good reason to suspect the boys are caught in the school-to-prison pipeline.

“Certainly, there are other circumstances beyond just education, but we can look at the education system and perhaps identify that these children have not been properly identified and given services to address their individual needs,” Duncan said.

The plaintiffs are asking a federal judge to issue an injunction halting the practice of placing children charged as adults in solitary confinement at the Palm Beach County Jail. Indeed, high-profile suicide deaths and brutal accounts like those reported in Palm Beach, along with research documenting the psychological damage solitary confinement can cause to the young mind, have lead courts and state legislatures to restrict or prohibit the use of solitary confinement as a punishment for incarcerated children. In 2016, the Obama administration ended the solitary confinement of minors held in federal prisons and instituted reforms aimed at reducing the use of so-called “restrictive housing” in general. However, the practice continues in one form or another in many states.

Human rights advocates say that it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact number of children who experience solitary confinement in the US, but anecdotal evidence suggests the practice is still widespread across the country. The American Psychological Association, which opposes the solitary confinement of youth, estimates that “thousands” of children are held in solitary confinement every year. Other surveys have found that two-thirds of public defenders for minors say they have had clients who report being held in solitary confinement for periods of a few hours to seven months, according to the Juvenile Law Center.

A 2016 survey found that Florida is one of 29 states that prohibit the use of solitary confinement as a punishment in juvenile jails, but like the overwhelming majority of states, minors can still be placed in solitary for other purposes, such as “safety” concerns. In practice, advocates say, the lines between punitive and non-punitive confinement are often blurred. Fifteen states that do allow punitive confinement place limits on how long a child can be punished, ranging from six hours to 90 days. Seven states — Michigan, Texas, Iowa, Kansas, Wyoming, Georgia and Alabama — have virtually no restrictions on the solitary confinement of children at all.

Florida’s ban on punitive solitary confinement does not protect the boys held in the Palm Beach County Jail because the district attorney has decided to charge and hold them as adults. Duncan said that one boy was held for 20 days as “disciplinary enforcement.” The other two plaintiffs were isolated from co-defendants in the boys’ section of the jail under “administrative confinement.” The Palm Beach County Jail does not set any limits on administrative confinement, and the complaint alleges that boys in the adult jail are being held “indefinitely” as they await their day in court. The boys were given no opportunity to contest their confinement and jail officials routinely failed to review the decision and monitor their health and safety.

The lawsuit against the sheriff and school board in Palm Beach is the first of its kind in Florida, and Duncan said it’s likely that children charged as adults are experiencing solitary confinement in other jails across the state. Florida law provides no judicial oversight over decisions by district attorneys to charge minors as adults. Duncan suggested reformers look to Colorado, which passed legislation in recent years giving youth the right to seek judicial review when prosecutors charge them as adults. Along with other reforms, the Colorado law caused youth incarceration rates to plummet, according to the Colorado Juvenile Defender Center.

Of course, the solitary confinement of any person, regardless of their age, can be extremely painful and does nothing to “rehabilitate” prisoners. In fact, United Nations has declared confinement beyond 15 days a form of torture. Duncan said solitary confinement is proven to cause much more harm than good, especially in young people, and it’s time to bring the practice to an end in Palm Beach and everywhere else.

“I hope that this is part of a tide of moving away from an archaic and toxic practice,” Duncan said.

The post Despite Reforms, Children in Jails Are Still Held in Solitary Confinement appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

When Everyone Is a Suspect: How Vehicle Inspections Terrorize Immigrant Communities

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 14:20

At the start of this year, two videos circulated that showed US Border Patrol agents in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, arresting passengers aboard a Greyhound bus. In the first video, agents walk down the aisles checking documents, as bewildered passengers ask, “This is new?” One woman whispers to another that she takes this same bus all the time and has never had this happen. As a US citizen, she adds, “They have no right to stop me.” Meanwhile, agents single out a woman — a Jamaican grandmother named Beverly who had overstayed her tourist visa after visiting her newborn granddaughter in Orlando — and escort her off the bus along with her red suitcase. In the second video, four agents take 33-year-old Andrew Anderson into custody. The 12-year Miami resident and business owner from Trinidad was taken to ICE’s Broward Transitional Center after being unable to prove citizenship.

The videos, obtained by the Florida Immigrant Coalition, have been viewed over 3 million times on Facebook and Twitter, where people have expressed outrage at what was widely viewed as a violation of civil liberties. But in fact, the practice of checking documents of vehicle passengers — including US citizens — to inquire about immigration status is common and has been going on for decades. A taken-for-granted inspection practice in places like the Southwestern borderlands, rarely have these scenes been captured on video in the interior of the US in places like Florida. Circulated via social media, these images prompted complaints about the apparent violation of the right against unlawful searches.

But for many immigrant communities, the possibility of raids, roadblocks and arbitrary searches are part of the routinized fear they face every day. These practices are effective because they rely on highly visible inspections, detentions and deportations of a few — like grandmother Beverly and businessman Anderson at the Fort Lauderdale bus station — to foster the everyday vulnerability of countless others. Fear is the result not of the certainty that a person or their loved ones will be deported, but uncertainty that they might be.

The Psychological Effects of Random Vehicle Checks

From the outset, the Trump administration has utilized a combination of these practices to keep the threat of deportation hanging over immigrants’ heads. As a result, there has been an explosion of fear in immigrant communities — a reaction not to increased deportation itself, but to its apparent randomness. Similar to targeted raids, stopping vehicles to check the identity papers of drivers and passengers can be damaging to communities, producing fear and trauma-like symptoms. Several studies have pointed to the negative health impact of immigration raids on Latino communities and the very real physical health problems that result from this stress.

My own research in communities along the US/Mexico border highlights the impact of an intense, layered combination of surveillance in the form of checkpoints, roadblocks, traffic stops and raids. The border region is distinct from other parts of the country, by virtue of the constraints of the international border and a 100-mile “buffer zone” that forms a secondary boundary to the interior of the US. This impacts the daily lives of immigrants and mixed-status families, but is largely unfamiliar to people outside the region. Court rulings have confirmed that the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which provides protection from unreasonable searches and seizures, does not apply at spaces up to 100 miles away from the US border. Section 8 U.S.C. § 1357(a)(3) further addresses US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials’ authority to stop and conduct searches on vessels, trains, aircrafts or other vehicles anywhere within “a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States.” Without further statutory guidance, regulations alone expansively define this “reasonable distance” as 100 air miles from any external boundary.

Notably, roughly two-thirds of the US population lives within 100 miles of a land or coastal border, including the nation’s largest cities, such as New York City, Los Angeles, Houston and Miami, along with entire states including Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont. The exceptional circumstances within this 100-mile buffer zone explains why agents indeed had the authority to search the Greyhound buses, demanding proof of identification from all passengers.

The practice of checking documents of vehicle passengers — including US citizens — to inquire about immigration status is common and has been going on for decades.

Along the border, the US Border Patrol employs a layered approach known as the “defense in depth” strategy, utilizing about 140 immigration checkpoints along all highways between 25 and 100 miles from the border. The permanent checkpoints are visible from miles away along all lanes of major highways that lead away from Mexico and into the interior of the United States. It is a “layered” strategy because these permanent checkpoints are supplemented by roadblocks along major roads where people live and work, where police stop to query passing drivers; this is further combined with random traffic stops and driver’s license restrictions. While the permanent checkpoints trap people within a distinct space, the temporary roadblocks and other restrictions on mobility fuel fear and uncertainty within that space.But why, if it is legal, did this incident appear so out of the ordinary? Why did it provoke widespread outrage here, unlike the daily inspection practices faced by border communities? The answer lies in the fact that it has been infrequently utilized in most parts of the interior of the country. The suspension of the Fourth Amendment is almost solely invoked to defend practices in states like Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico, and especially impacts Latino immigrant communities concentrated within a strip that forms a secondary boundary to the United States. As a result, the ACLU has concluded that the “100-mile” rule utilized by CBP is arbitrary, and its potentially discriminatory effects have never been subjected to serious scrutiny by federal lawmakers.

The checkpoints also impact people’s ability to seek out medical services. Hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants and their family members are trapped in these border regions without access to specialized health care facilities. Fear of apprehension has exacerbated serious health problems for many, including seriously ill or disabled US citizen children unable to travel with their parents. The cases I have heard while working in border communities seem almost unbelievable, like that of an 8-year-old with leukemia who had to travel 400 miles by bus to Houston, accompanied only by her 14-year old brother because her undocumented parents could not cross the checkpoint. The issue was also thrust into the national spotlight in October 2017, when doctors in Laredo sent 10-year-old Rosa Maria Hernandez to a hospital in Corpus Christi for emergency gallbladder surgery. Border Patrol agents at one of the checkpoints followed Hernandez, an undocumented immigrant born with cerebral palsy, and waited at the hospital to apprehend her after she received treatment.

In addition to confining immigrants to particular spaces, these inspection practices simultaneously treat all residents, including US citizens, as potentially suspect. They too must demonstrate proof of identity and legal status. This is precisely what sparked public outrage in the recent Florida incident, leading people to question whether the agents had a right to ask for people’s documents. These practices also encourage racial profiling, as law enforcement officers and Border Patrol agents must attempt to parse out some undefined marker of “undocumentedness.” This becomes more complex when the majority population is Latino, as it often is in border communities.

The checkpoints also impact people’s ability to seek out medical services.

The arbitrariness of recent arrests and the fear they produce is no accident. During the Obama administration, under the slogan “Deporting Felons, Not Families,” there was an emphasis on removing people with criminal records, and a deliberate commitment to placing in much lower priority those who had established roots in US communities. Under the Trump administration, however, there has been a reversal of the previous prioritizing of cases, as well as an increased willingness on the part of agents to pursue individuals without criminal records.

A Cruel New Phase in Immigration Enforcement

We’ve reached, in the words of one commentator, a “cruel new phase” in pursuing undocumented immigrants in this country. In particular, family separation has become more common. This became clear as people around the country reacted to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that separated children from their parents at the US-Mexico border. Begun in April and since reversed and challenged in court, this practice resulted from a new focus on prosecuting parents and signaled a clear shift away from the principle of family unity that underlies US immigration law.

Beyond this debacle at the border, the fear of family separation remains real for the estimated 16.7 million people nationwide who are part of mixed-status families, living with at least one undocumented family member in the same household. The majority of those in mixed-status families — up to 6.6 million — are US citizens. Their livelihoods, health and dignity are affected by the detention and deportation of their family members.

As everyday, “layered” enforcement practices like those seen in border communities intensify across the country, families and entire communities experience routinized fear. These enhanced inspection practices have a profound impact on others, regardless of their own citizenship or migration status.

The post When Everyone Is a Suspect: How Vehicle Inspections Terrorize Immigrant Communities appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Migrant Smuggling: Preying on the Most Vulnerable

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 14:16

The publication of the first-ever Global Study on Smuggling of Migrants on June 13 by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) could not have been timelier.

Almost 200 deaths of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea have been recorded so far this month. Moreover, 630 migrants and refugees were rescued from four separate migrant ships sinking off the coast of Libya, and were forced to wait another eight days before finally being accepted by Spain. On top of that, Trump’s executive order in response to outrage at the detention of children separated from their parents after crossing into the US from Mexico effectively excludes the thousands of families already affected and essentially allows for these families to be locked up together indefinitely. Taking all this together, the plight of migrants — many of whom have been smuggled across land, sea and air borders, and are fleeing war and persecution — is once again a hot topic.

The UNODC global study focuses on statistics for 2016, the last year for which full data was available, but also refers to 2017 data and events where relevant. According to the report, migrant smuggling was worth up to $7 billion in 2016, with at least 2.5 million migrants smuggled. While the report concedes that, “This is a minimum figure as it represents only the known portion of this crime,” these figures are certainly far lower than the reality, as a 2010 UNODC report on organized crime gave similar figures for the trade generated and the number of people crossing the US-Mexico border alone.

With the latest UN Refugee Agency figures for worldwide displacements at 44,400 people fleeing their homes each day “as a result of persecution, conflict or generalized violence,” refugees are identified as being particularly vulnerable. A lack of documents such as passports, birth certificates and ID cards or the means to obtain them from hostile authorities can make legal migration almost impossible for many asylum seekers.

The report also raises concern about the increasing number of unaccompanied and separated children found along smuggling routes, and the impact this has on their rights and well-being.

The Latin America to North America route via the US-Mexico border and the Africa to Europe route via the Mediterranean and Aegean seas are well-known. However, the study identifies 30 major smuggling routes worldwide and the profiles of both the smugglers and smuggled.

Importantly, the study explodes myths surrounding migrant smuggling. For example, in general, “smuggling networks seem not to be involved in other forms of major transnational organized crime.” The report notes that migrant smuggling over the Mexico-US border “is [not] under the control of drug trafficking organizations in Mexico.” Likewise, in Italy, there are no “structured connections” between Mafia-like gangs and transnational smuggling networks.

In this respect, the situation in Libya is considered “unique,” where militias and armed groups allegedly involved in migrant smuggling are also involved in slavery, physical and sexual abuse of migrants and forced labor. Nonetheless, “Many smuggling networks engage in systematic corruption at most levels; from petty corruption at individual border control points to grand corruption at higher levels of government. Corrupt practices linked to migrant smuggling have been reported along nearly all the identified routes.”

Migrant smuggling is often conflated with human trafficking. Defined in the Protocol Against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime as the crime of “the procurement, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit, of the illegal entry of a person into a State Party of which the person is not a national or a permanent resident,” it is an offense against the sovereignty of states over their borders and not the individual person. Typically, individuals consent to being smuggled across borders or through territories. This can lead to victims of trafficking not being identified as such, and thus not being provided with appropriate assistance and protection measures. The Protocol clearly states that the criminalization of the smuggling of migrants is not aimed at criminalizing migrants themselves.

The vulnerable, irregular status of smuggled migrants, however, makes them susceptible to different forms of abuse and exploitation, including human trafficking: “Some of the frequently reported types [of abuse] faced by smuggled migrants include violence, rape, theft, kidnapping, extortion and trafficking in persons.” Arrival in the destination country does not necessarily diminish this risk, as many end up in detention and/or exploitative forms of labor.

Smuggling is far more costly and time-consuming than regular means of making the same journey; individuals, to whom the legal means are often barred, typically pay thousands of dollars along the most popular land and sea routes. In addition, thousands of migrants die during smuggling activities each year; extreme weather and terrain as well as deliberate and systematic killings of migrants have been reported, “making this a very violent illicit trade. The reported deaths — most of them along sea smuggling routes — represent only the tip of the iceberg.” Indeed, many deaths go unreported. In some cases, mass graves are later found.

Although the report offers no recommendations, comments are provided on its policy implications. With most states already party to international laws protecting the rights of refugees, migrants and children (among others), the onus falls on states to act proactively to tackle the issue. Some solutions are logical, such as tackling institutional corruption and “broadening the possibilities for regular migration and increasing the accessibility of regular travel documents and procedures. Making regular migration opportunities more accessible in origin countries and refugee camps, including the expansion of migration and asylum bureaux in origin areas, would reduce opportunities for smugglers.”

The mainstream media broadly ignored the report as it fails to fit the official narrative of the “threat” posed by certain types of migrants. While it deems merely increasing border enforcement efforts to be ineffective, the day before the report was released, the European Commission announced plans to triple funding on border and migration management to €5 billion per year and to create a force of 10,000 border guards. In the US, Donald Trump has his “zero tolerance” immigration policy. Border control itself is being increasingly securitized and militarized, with the involvement of NATO in Europe, among others.

Such policies are no deterrent and are not even intended to provide one. The traumatic separation of families and the thousands of lives lost in sea and land crossings have not and will not stop thousands from following in their footsteps until the causes that drive people from their homes and countries of origin are addressed.

The smuggling of migrants is not new. Deemed a form of transnational organized crime by the UNODC, appearing politically tough against immigration in general has emerged as a safe response to state impotence elsewhere and on other forms of crime, especially by transnational corporations.

The clandestine nature of this migration means that much of the abuse and exploitation take place out of sight and out of mind. Although conceding that “many information gaps remain,” these statistics need to be analyzed to ensure the rights of vulnerable people are put above those of states and borders.

Further analysis and monitoring of the causes of and the policies that contribute to irregular migration and smuggling should be included. Ultimately, it is the human cost and misery of smuggling that need to be addressed.

The post Migrant Smuggling: Preying on the Most Vulnerable appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

$1.8 Billion in Unregulated Digital Ads Could Sway Midterms

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 14:10

As the Mueller investigation proceeds, stories about Russian meddling in the 2016 election have often been at the top of the news cycle. It is indeed a scary story. It shows how undisclosed powerful actors, guided entirely by self-interest, can use duplicitous online ads to try and sway an election.

Those making these ads can customize their audiences by using frighteningly specific tools to target certain demographics. This enables them to microtarget users, thanks in large part to Facebook’s mountain of data. Between microtargeting and Facebook’s algorithms (which are proprietary and not well understood), no two people see the same digital ads.

These sophisticated tools give foreign governments an opening to push an agenda, as we have seen. But there is much more to this story. These disclosure gaps can also be exploited by domestic actors, such as industry lobbies, billionaires and political campaigns, to spread misinformation with no disclosure. With a few exceptions, digital ads are exempt from campaign finance laws. This is an urgent problem when you consider that, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, digital political ad spending has gone up 2,539 percent in just four years.

Too few pundits and politicians, however, are connecting these dots. An opportunity to have a crucial public debate over fairness in elections in the digital age is being wasted. The risk of foreign meddling is real, but what it teaches us about our elections is a much larger story.

“This singular focus on foreign interference is preventing us from having a national conversation about campaign finance laws and digital ads in particular,” said Ann Ravel, former chair of the Federal Election Committee (FEC), in an interview with Truthout. “And we should have that conversation … our democracy is on fire right now.”
Ravel, who was first appointed to the FEC by President Obama in 2013, co-authored a recent paper (with Hamsini Sridharan) that underscores the scale of the digital ad market: “Russian ad buys on Facebook were just a drop in the bucket relative to total online political spending,” she writes.

According to one estimate, the paper notes, “over $1.4 billion was spent on digital ads in the 2016 elections, a significant increase over previous cycles.” For perspective, when Facebook disclosed that Russian-linked accounts used the site — which have led to congressional hearings and self-regulation from Facebook — they were discussing $100,000 in ad buys.

“It’s definitely not just foreign actors,” said Hamsini Sridharan, program director at MapLight, in an interview with Truthout. Sridharan warned that we should be more concerned about the massive spending on digital ads from domestic campaigns and super PACs. “It’s important to channel the bipartisan attention to this issue … into broader conversations about transparency and making sure that voters know who is trying to influence them online,” Sridharan said.

This unregulated digital ad market, experts warn, benefits the rich and powerful by giving them another mechanism to shape public opinion.

“Though the internet does increase the ability of individuals to freely exchange ideas, it is well-financed campaigns and organizations that benefit the most,” Ravel said.

The Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity and many of its state chapters have been purchasing contact lists from users:

Facebook recently made some data available to users. Accessing this data revealed that the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity and nine state chapters purchased lists containing information about reporter Michael Corcoran.


Given the efficacy of Facebook’s ads, it is hard to imagine the things they can accomplish with endless resources at their disposal.

Walter Lippman never experienced social media, but he was prescient in his 1922 book “Public Opinion.” He notes that “the opportunities for manipulation” of public opinion, “[are] open to anyone who understands the process.”

The Growing Digital Ad Industry and Its Impact With a few exceptions, digital ads are exempt from campaign finance laws.

There is rapid growth of digital political ads. As noted above, $1.8 billion in digital advertising is expected for the 2018 election cycle. This has been increasing every election cycle with no sign of slowing. As recently as 2014, digital ads accounted for just 1 percent of political ads, whereas in 2018 it is expected to be 22 percent of (disclosed) ad spending. “Political campaigns will run more digital ads this year than ever,” reads a headline from the Los Angeles Times in March.

Data from the Center for Responsive Politics shows the rapid rate of growth in digital ad spending by political campaigns. Spending has gone from $71 million in 2014 to a projected $1.8 billion in 2018.


What sparked the growth, writes Megan Janetsky at the Center for Responsive Politics, was the increase in microtargeting capabilities. “Platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google can now offer ad buyers something more than traditional platforms: less oversight, decreased transparency and lower prices matched with the heightened ability to pinpoint specific demographics.”

In other words, social media gives its clients nearly limitless variables to take into account when selecting a target audience for an ad. If a company or a campaign wants to tell women over 40 one thing, and women under 40 another, they can. If they want to limit the targeting to those who like to read, or shop or are politically active, they can do that. If the information can be provided to Facebook, it is used to improve the impact of advertisements — whether they are for products, ideas, candidates or even totally fabricated news stories.

This includes location, which has led to some especially galling examples. The Los Angeles Times reported, “anti-abortion groups sent ads to women who visited Planned Parenthood clinics across the country.”

$1.8 billion in digital advertising is expected for the 2018 election cycle.

“The highly customized nature of the ads not only make it difficult to monitor which ads are in violation of the law,” Brendan Fischer of the Campaign Legal Center told Truthout. “It also makes it extremely difficult for people to analyze political advertising, to fact-check or to counter falsehoods,” he said.

By the time a falsehood can be countered, it has already been blasted through an echo chamber enough times to serve its function. This is likely one reason why some of the most absurd conspiracy theories gain traction online.

Moreover, ads don’t need to go viral to be effective. Brett Pascale, digital director of the Trump campaign, claims Facebook ads were the primary reason Trump won in 2016. He claimed some ads were marketed to as few as 15 people.

“I started making ads that showed the bridge crumbling,” he said. “I can find the 1,500 people in one town that care about infrastructure. Now, that might be a voter that normally votes Democrat.”

Facebook ads and digital media in general is really the only medium where Trump’s campaign outspent Hillary Clinton. “They spent a higher percentage of their spending on digital than we did,” conceded Andrew Bleeker, who advised the Clinton campaign on digital strategy.

Inaction and Deregulation

Ravel warned of the dangers of dark digital ads as an FEC commissioner in 2014.

One of the biggest obstacles to reform is rooted in ideological opposition to regulations.

“Some of my colleagues seem to believe that the same political message that would require disclosure if run on television should be categorically exempt from the same requirements when placed on the Internet alone. As a matter of policy, this simply does not make sense,” she wrote. “The Commission [has] failed to take into account clear indicators that the Internet would become a major source of political advertising — dominated by the same political organizations that dominate traditional media.”

Her argument was met with harsh condemnation from the right, who portrayed her letter as deeply partisan and aimed at right-leaning sites. She would end “the last vestige of truly free political expression in American politics,” as the Daily Caller said.

One of the biggest obstacles to reform is rooted in ideological opposition to regulations. The growth of an unregulated political ad market is great for the cause of deregulation. Simply by doing nothing, an increasingly large chunk of the entire advertising market is virtually unregulated.

“This is really about deregulation” Ravel said. “They don’t have to pass a law or file a lawsuit. They can just do nothing.”

Republican FEC Commissioner Lee Goodman has led this battle for the right. He argues regulations of digital ads would have a chilling effect on free speech and infringe on a “virtual free market of ideas and political causes.”

Undermining Democracy in the Digital Age

There has long been hope and optimism that the internet (and social media in particular) can serve as a democratizing tool. It surely can empower the grassroots, as was witnessed with Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring. It also provides many new ways, however, for elite interests to further maximize their influence and profits.

If lobbying and donations enable centers of power to keep politicians on their side, digital ads are a way for them to try and control the voting public.

A March 2018 Hewlett Foundation study on political polarization and social media makes this important point: “Social media itself is neither inherently democratic nor undemocratic, but simply an arena in which political actors — some which may be democratic and some which may be antidemocratic — can contest for power and influence.”

A contest for power and influence, however, is typically going to be won by those with the resources to do so. As we have seen in Washington, DC, spending money is the most surefire way to win influence.

Wall Street, Big Media, Big Oil and a host of other industries devote massive resources in the influence industry. Pharma has spent almost $3.9 billion in the last 20 years. If lobbying and donations enable centers of power to keep politicians on their side, digital ads are a way for them to try and control the voting public.

Lobbying and donations go to both parties. The Democratic Party, a powerful, neoliberal entity, is complicit in the woeful state of campaign finance. Alternative media and grassroots organizations with modest resources will be fighting a battle against moneyed interests with one hand tied behind their backs. The repeal of net neutrality could worsen this problem, but it is too soon to know how that will shake out.

The Need for Major Campaign Finance Reform

This will be the case until the US has significant campaign finance reform that makes the government accountable and responsive to the people. There are a few fleeting efforts to address the issue of digital ads — namely, the Honest Ads Act, which would add more transparency to ads. But prospects are murky at best. Of 26 co-sponsors in the Senate, only one Republican, John McCain, is listed. Due to his illness, they cannot count on his vote.

The FEC has started talks about reform but has not reached any agreements. Even if the commission does make changes, it would not likely impact the coming elections. Republican-appointed Chairwoman Caroline Hunter told VICE News, “the commission has been reluctant to change the rules of the game midway through an election season.”

Even if modest accommodations are made, it will be extremely difficult to enforce and there will be many ways to avoid disclosure, Fischer said.

Our own information is being used to sell us products, politicians and sometimes even lies.

House and Senate Democrats have released a campaign finance plan called “A Better Deal for our Democracy,” which gives lofty goals, including ending partisan gerrymandering, safeguarding democracy from “hostile actors” and ending the scourge of dark money. “It’s an ambitious and promising set of reforms, and it will be interesting to see what the follow-through is like,” Sridharan said.

But for now, it is a political document, something for Democrats to run on as they emphasize Trump’s undemocratic tendencies. “Achieving federal reform is definitely going to be tough. It will take bipartisan support to get anywhere,” Sridharan told Truthout. “That said, we know that most Americans across party lines want to see reform — so if lawmakers actually listen to their constituents, we could see some change.”

There are many problems with US democracy right now. The dominant media outlets, Congress and the internet are all increasingly dominated by titans of private capital — what Bernie Sanders has called the “Billionaire Class.” Our own information is being used to sell us products, politicians and sometimes even lies.

Some experts say the best way to counter all of this is to invest in education and media literacy. One recent literature review showed the public was largely uninformed about money in politics, but still supportive of campaign finance reform.

How telling that the public’s default status is to assume the worst of our politicians.

The post $1.8 Billion in Unregulated Digital Ads Could Sway Midterms appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The Racism of the Supreme Court’s “Janus” Decision

Thu, 06/28/2018 - 17:28

What comes next now that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority has upended over 40 years of labor law?

Erica Smiley, an organizing director at Jobs With Justice, told Truthout that in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME ruling on Wednesday, which means that public sector unions can no longer require workers to pay dues, activists must work toward shifting labor law at the state level and challenging the current models of collective bargaining. It’s also imperative for labor organizers to increase union access for employees, she said.

The court’s 5-4 decision on Wednesday overturned 1977’s Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the case that allowed unions to collect “fair-share” fees from members and use that money to collectively bargain on behalf of workers, whether they were represented by the union or not. Janus v. AFSCME was a 2015 lawsuit brought against the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees by Mark Janus, a child support specialist at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services who argued that he should be able to refrain from paying his fair-share fee. By ruling in Janus’s favor, the Supreme Court decided that unions violate their workers’ First Amendment rights by requiring them to pay the fees.

Like many of the Supreme Court’s recent decisions, the Janus v. AFSCME ruling has a racist edge.

“This Supreme Court case threatens all union workers, but Black people stand to lose the most,” Smiley told Truthout. “The dog whistle attacks on public sector employees has long had a sharp racist edge, not only undermining the institutions of government but equating public servants as “lazy free-loaders” — terms often used against communities of color to justify ill treatment.”

A Blow to Organized Labor

Many in the labor movement viewed this decision as inevitable ever since Trump took office and were further convinced of this point after he picked conservative Neil Gorsuch to fill the empty seat created by Antonin Scalia’s death. Expecting it certainly did not make the ruling any less devastating for labor activists and leaders.

“The Supreme Court has dealt a blow not just to public sector unions, but to democracy itself,” said Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation and co-author of the book, Why Labor Organizing Should be a Civil Right. “Unions serve democracy by providing a check on arbitrary government power, sustaining a middle-class society and acculturating workers to democratic norms. At a time when many pillars of our democracy are under assault, we need to strengthen, not weaken, America’s trade union movement. One step Congress could take: amending the Civil Rights Act so that it prohibits discrimination against workers trying to organize a union.”

The Racist Roots of Janus

The Supreme Court’s Janus decision comes just two days after the court upheld Trump’s travel ban, which targets Muslim-majority nations. While some might struggle to find a connection between a xenophobic executive order being confirmed and a ruling regarding union dues, racist parallels exist.

The Janus v. AFSCME decision effectively expands “right-to-work” laws throughout the entire country. These laws have specifically already been passed in 28 states, banning the requirement of union fees. Mark Janus’s case was funded and backed by right-wing groups like the National Right-to-Work Foundation.

“Right-to work” is a political idea conjured up in a 1941 newspaper editorial by a man named William Ruggles. The first notable fan of Ruggles’s concept was Vance Muse, who was described by his grandson as “a white supremacist, an anti-Semite, and a Communist-baiter, a man who beat on labor unions not on behalf of working people, as he said, but because he was paid to do so.” Muse was a vocal opponent of President Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal policies. “That crazy man in the White House will Sovietize America with the federal handouts of the Bum Deal — sorry, New Deal. Or is it the Jew Deal?” he declared. In 1944, the Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation launched a campaign to establish a right-to-work amendment and Muse’s political organization passed out literature arguing that, without such a rule, “white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes.”

Janus’s racist context certainly doesn’t end with its historical roots. African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders make up a third of unionized state and local government workers. According to an Economic Policy Institute (EPI) report released in February, the group most affected by the court’s decision will be Black women.

Janus is slated to potentially impact about 17 million public sector workers throughout the country and Black women make up almost 18 percent of that group, about 1.5 million workers. Additional EPI research shows that Black women only make 65 cents for every dollar that their white male co-workers earn. The pay gaps for Black women are less severe if they belong to a union. Black women in unions make almost 95 percent of what their Black male co-workers earn, while those not in a union make just 91 percent.

“We know that women, and disproportionately women of color, have a ton to lose in this fight, because we know that it’s unions, and public sector unions in particular, that are the engines of our economic security, our equality, and our dignity,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, at a rally held shortly after the Janus oral arguments began in February.

Erica Smiley explained to Truthout how unions have impacted her own family and reflected on how important they are for Black families throughout the country:

Both of my parents went to public schools, segregated for the overwhelming majority of it. And when they graduated, they both initially went to land grant public Historically Black Colleges for undergraduate degrees before going on to get graduate degrees elsewhere. And afterwards, my mom went on to work in public transportation in North Carolina, and my dad became a professor. I had an extremely comfortable life, attending high performing, integrated public schools … I went to the flagship university in the state and then began to make my living — actually make a living — in the social justice movement … I wanted to share some of this personal context to illustrate the role of the public sector in providing a pathway to economic security for Black people in the United States, my family included…. Public sector jobs have long been the pathway for Black families in particular to achieve economic sustainability, especially when overt and covert discrimination kept them out of employment in construction, manufacturing and other parts of the private sector considered to be good jobs.

What Comes Next?

Many voices in the labor movement are calling on workers to become more radical in response to Janus. “Workers will have to reconstruct this countervailing power and find new ways to build solidarity. We’re going to have to get bold again,” wrote Bryce Covert in The New York Times. Covert cited the Red State teacher strikes that happened earlier this year in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona. A sizable part of that organizing came from rank-and-file employees, outside of the traditional channels of Big Labor. She also identified the Fight for $15 movement as a potential model, as the group has helped secure minimum wage increases in a number of states.

In addition to arguing for increased access to unionization and organizing aimed at local labor laws, Erica Smiley said she and other activists will be seeking opportunities to refuse participation in unjust laws and looking for elected leaders who might join us in that effort.

“As a Black person, I have the heritage of having to overcome centuries of backwards court cases and laws explicitly mean to limit our freedoms, so I am often reminded by my own family that we have been through worse, and ultimately come out on top,” she told Truthout. “Our people, including the individuals and their unions impacted by this ruling are resilient. And this time will be no different.”

The post The Racism of the Supreme Court’s “Janus” Decision appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Today’s Refugee Crisis Is Blowback From US Dirty Wars in Central America

Thu, 06/28/2018 - 16:12

In our special broadcast from the US-Mexico border, we speak to human rights lawyer Jennifer Harbury, who has lived here in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas for over 40 years and has been active in the response to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. Her husband, Efraín Bámaca Velásquez, was a Mayan comandante and guerrilla who was disappeared after he was captured by the Guatemalan army in the 1980s. After a long campaign, she found there was US involvement in the cover-up of her husband’s murder and torture. Now she continues to work with people fleeing violence in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.


AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Brownsville, Texas, ahead of a mass protest later today at the federal courthouse that’s right behind us, that’s calling on the Trump administration to end the “zero tolerance” policy, which has separated more than 2,000 children from their parents, who have been charged with a crime for crossing the border. In a minute, we’ll be joined by the person who helped draw attention to this crisis when she shared audio with ProPublica of some of the disappeared children in a CBP, a Customs and Border Protection, facility. The children are estimated to be between the ages of 4 and 10, and can be heard crying “Mami!” “Papi!” This is an excerpt. A warning: The audio is disturbing.

CHILD: [crying] Papá! Papá! Papá! Papá! Papá! Papá!

AMY GOODMAN: The person who made that recording asked not to be identified, for fear of retaliation. And they were able to share it with the help of our next guest, Jennifer Harbury, who is a human rights lawyer, well-known activist. She has lived here in the Rio Grande Valley for over 40 years, has been active in the response to the “zero tolerance” policy. Her husband, Efraín Bámaca Velásquez, was a Mayan comandante guerrilla in the highlands of Guatemala. He was disappeared after he was captured by the army in the 1980s. After a long campaign, that she found here was U.S. involvement in the cover-up of her husband’s murder and torture. We will talk about this in the show, in a post-show, which we’ll post online. And she works with people who are fleeing violence from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, and come here to the United States for political asylum.

For more, Jennifer, it’s great to have you with us. Political asylum, this issue, how important it is right now? What is—what are people missing, when they understand what’s happening here?

JENNIFER HARBURY: Well, there are, of course, two categories of people trying to come into the United States, and Trump is blending them together. One category would be cartel people. They have enough money to buy an airport and a jumbo jet and as many passports and visas as they want. We’re not going to be watching them swimming the river. The most important category are the refugees. And they’re fleeing this ungodly world of violence and exploitation that’s being set up by the cartels all through Central America and for most of Mexico. We also have many people coming in from Africa who are fleeing genocide against their ethnic minority, or, for example, a young man from Ghana who is gay and was nearly killed by a vigilante mob and who was nearly deported last week.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about what is happening in these cases and in cases you know so well from Latin America, from Central America, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala. What is the U.S. role? People say, “Why should we take in these people, even if their countries are wracked by violence? Why is that our responsibility?”

JENNIFER HARBURY: Well, number one, it’s who all of our parents and grandparents are, of course, right? We came here. My father was a refugee at age 11. He came to Ellis Island fleeing World War II. So, number one, it’s our heritage.

But, number two, the United States has everything to do with the creation of the monsters that are driving the refugees up to our border. They’re fleeing the cartels. Who are the heads of the cartels? Well, after the dirty wars ended, that included genocide and daily acts of torture and terror, according to the United Nations, those people changed their uniforms and became the head of the cartel groups. They’re extremely wealthy. They have full military experience, which is why a gang of young people are able to pull aside a bus so accurately. And they have unlimited access to all of the weaponry and everything else that they need.

Now, who were the people at the head of military intelligence, for example, in Guatemala? Well, those were people who were trained in the United States, worked very closely with the United States intelligence throughout the genocide. And we were, of course, severely criticized for that by the United Nations Truth Commission, and President Clinton apologized. Two hundred thousand people were killed by those death squads. Those of us that survived that era, we remember the sorts of torture and mutilations that the bodies would bear, when we found them out in the street. And they’re the same as now.

So, what’s happened is, the cartel leaders are the same people that worked hand in glove with the United States. We were armed by the—they were armed by the United States. They were trained by the United States. They were sold equipment by the United States. And to a large extent, they’re still being protected by our intelligence division. They will not release key files on the genocide if it involved someone that used to work with our people. For example, one of my husband’s torturers, Colonel Alpirez, was brought to the United States after the disclosures, lived near the CIAwith his entire family for nearly 10 years, and when I found out about it, was tipped off, and he fled back to Guatemala. He was trained at the School of the Americas. He directly participated in the genocide. And he was a paid asset of the CIA. That means, in return for giving information, he received money from the CIA. He was a paid informant.

AMY GOODMAN: And now you have women and children trying to cross over these bridges to apply for political asylum, and they’re told there’s no room? Is this legal?

JENNIFER HARBURY: No, it’s completely illegal. I’ll describe very briefly what’s happening. You cannot apply for political asylum outside the United States. You have to get here somehow, even if it’s just an inch of turf. You can go across the river. Hopefully, your child won’t drown. You will be caught if you’re running with small children. And then you’re going to have your kids taken away.

How can you go the legal method? You walk across the bridge, as provided by statute. You knock on the door of the port of entry and say, “Hello. I’m here to ask for political asylum. I’m in danger.” They must then send you for a credible fear interview. It’s not optional. And if you pass your credible fear interview, which most people do, you go into the proceedings before an immigration judge.

There’s been a huge attack on that since President Trump came into office. In other words, we’re shutting down both doors. What happened when Trump came in is they started just turning people away at the bridge, saying, “Trump’s president now. We don’t do that anymore.”

One of my clients was a woman who had fled traffickers in Guatemala, was in a terrible wreck just before she reached Reynosa, and her daughter was killed, and she was horribly injured. She walked across the bridge on a walker, having just recovered from a broken pelvis, two months in the hospital. They turned her away. And at the base of the bridge back in Mexico, she was kidnapped. That stopped for a little while. It’s now going on full blast.

The second piece of the shutdown for them is if they do get across, which takes quite a battle these days, they’re sent to detention centers, which operate like terrible prisons. You know, no partitions between the toilet bowls. You can’t touch one another, even if your cellmate just found out her child was murdered. You cannot receive better food, etc.

AMY GOODMAN: Ten seconds.

JENNIFER HARBURY: So, we’ve made it so unbearable. And people are in jail—in these jails now for two years, three years. That’s why it’s, quote-unquote, “full,” because we are no longer doing what we legally have to do, which is to release them on parole.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to continue this discussion in Part 2, and we’ll post it online under web exclusives at Jennifer Harbury, human rights lawyer and activist here in Brownsville, as we broadcast from the border.

The post Today’s Refugee Crisis Is Blowback From US Dirty Wars in Central America appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Meet an Immigration Lawyer Trying to Unite Migrant Families

Thu, 06/28/2018 - 16:11

On Tuesday, Federal Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego ruled all children under the age of 5 must be reunited with their parents within 14 days, and all children 5 and older must be reunited with their parents within 30 days. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has claimed he could easily locate any of the children separated from their parents. But immigrant parents and their lawyers tell a different story. We speak to Rochelle Garza, an immigration lawyer based here in Brownsville, Texas, who is now representing immigrant families who have been separated by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.


AMY GOODMAN: Yes, this is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. We’re broadcasting live from Brownsville, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley, the epicenter of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” crackdown against immigrants. Hours from now, more than a thousand people from across Texas are expected to converge right here, in front of the federal courthouse just behind us—in fact, right behind me, “Families Belong Together” rally is—the stage is being constructed—to demand the Trump administration comply with a federal judge’s ruling that all migrant children separated from their parents must be reunited within 30 days. Kids under 10 [sic], 14 days, must be reunited. On Tuesday, Federal Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego ruled all children under the age of 5, rather, must be reunited within 14 days, and all children 5 and older must be reunited with their parents within 30 days.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar testified in a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Tuesday that 2,047 migrant children remain separated from their parents. He also claimed he could easily locate any one of the kids.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY ALEX AZAR: There is no reason why any parent would not know where their child is located. I could, at the stroke of—at keystrokes—I’ve sat on the ORR portal—with just basic keystrokes, within seconds, could find any child in our care for any parent.

AMY GOODMAN: But immigrant parents and their lawyers are telling a very different story. In an interview Wednesday night, attorney Efrén Olivares the Texas Civil Rights Project here, when we went to McAllen to speak to him, described how officials have been keeping track of the families that they separated.

EFRÉN OLIVARES: The Border Patrol agents take a family picture, a picture of the family unit, they call it—so, a picture of the child and the parent—to then keep track of who belongs with who. If that is the system, it’s full of problems. It’s highly fallible. Forget the problems with cross-racial identification. Just forget about that. Just taking a picture of a 5-year-old and then trying to match him or her with his mom, it’s going to be a disaster.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s go right now to Rochelle Garza. She’s an immigration lawyer based here in Brownsville, Texas, who is representing immigrant families who have been separated by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. Last year she also represented the 17-year-old immigrant known as “Jane Doe,” who had to sue the ORR—that’s the Office of Refugee Resettlement—for the right to have an abortion while she was jailed in an immigrant detention center here in Brownsville. In a ruling this month, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider disciplinary action against Jane Doe’s attorneys, including Rochelle Garza, in a case brought by the Department of Justice.

We welcome Rochelle to Democracy Now! So, talk about what is happening. More than 2,000 children are separated. You represent parents. Are they able to speak to their kids?

ROCHELLE GARZA: Well, thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: And get their kids?

ROCHELLE GARZA: No. Right now, the family that I represent has been unable to have any contact with each other. The system for navigating, locating a child is incredibly difficult. There is a hotline number that has been given out by the Office of Refugee Resettlement; however, any time you call that hotline number, all they can tell you is, “Yes, we know that the child is in detention. We can confirm that. But we cannot give you the information as to the exact location of that child.”

AMY GOODMAN: So, what happens then?


AMY GOODMAN: You’re saying Alex Azar is simply not telling the truth.

ROCHELLE GARZA: Well, he’s at least not sharing the information with advocates, attorneys that are representing families in trying to reunite them. You know—

AMY GOODMAN: So what happens? Explain—when you have a parent, what do they do?


AMY GOODMAN: In a detention center perhaps right here in Brownsville?

ROCHELLE GARZA: I mean, I can speak to my client. I mean, he’s currently detained, and I’ve been looking for his daughter or trying to locate his daughter in the ORRsystem since early June. There’s a hotline number. You call the hotline number, you give the information for the parent and for the child, and all they can do is say, “We can put in a request to the facility holding the child to contact you.” And this has been going on for weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: And how old is the child that your client is trying to reach, his child?

ROCHELLE GARZA: She’s 12 years old.

AMY GOODMAN: And where is she?

ROCHELLE GARZA: Well, the government has not helped me with that information. I have—

AMY GOODMAN: She could be anywhere in the United States?

ROCHELLE GARZA: I did get lucky—full disclosure: I did get lucky, and the first person that I did speak with did confirm she was in the state of Texas. So, at least I have that information and have been able to work off of that.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we’re talking about 2,000 cases like this?

ROCHELLE GARZA: Yes. And the issue is that when “zero tolerance” was implemented, there wasn’t a lot of transparency. You know, on the ground level, lawyers, organizations were scrambling to track the families that were being affected. So, all of the sudden, we just heard that there was a massive influx of children into the facilities located in South Texas, and then started seeing mass prosecutions in the federal court system, so 40 to 70 people in the morning and in the afternoon being prosecuted for improper entry in federal court. And so, from there, you know, advocates have been trying to create a system for, one, identifying the parents that have been prosecuted under 1325 for improper entry, and then trying to talk to them and see if we can locate their children.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about Casa Padre, right here in Brownsville. What is it?

ROCHELLE GARZA: Casa Padre is an ORR-funded facility. It is run by Southwest Key. And it currently has the capacity for 1,500 children. As I understand it, the recent number of children that are in there are around 1,400, and they’re mostly boys, teenage boys, that are housed in that facility.

AMY GOODMAN: And what—have you gotten any sense of things being different since President Trump said they are going—since he issued the executive order rescinding the policy of separating the children?

ROCHELLE GARZA: Well, I mean, no. So, he ordered that the separations would cease, but he didn’t speak to the actual prosecutions of individuals. So, what it looks like, or what we’re trying to figure out what’s happening is: Are families being put into detention as a whole and the parents being prosecuted? So, it’s been, you know, one thing after another. A lot of changes have been happening. And on the ground, it’s difficult to see what’s happening, until it’s already happened.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what does this San Diego federal judge ruling mean, when she said in the next 14 days every kid under the age of 5, of these 2,000, more than 2,000 kids, must be reunited with their parent, and in 30 days all the kids must be?

ROCHELLE GARZA: I mean, it’s a good step. It’s a good step forward to reuniting the families.

AMY GOODMAN: But how is it going to happen?

ROCHELLE GARZA: I don’t know. Logistically, it doesn’t really make sense. Like for my client, he’s still currently detained. He’s in immigration detention. We’re hearing that they want to set up some sort of family reunification at Port Isabel Detention Center, which is not far from Brownsville. It’s about a 40-minute drive. I don’t know what that looks like. And my concern is, if you put families in that area, if you put them together in that detention facility, one, Port Isabel Detention Center is not equipped to handle children. And as I understand it, it is already at capacity. And, two, if you’re going to put all these families together there, you’re suspending the due process rights of the children themselves. And you’re also violating Flores, the Flores agreement. You can’t have them detained for more than 20 days. This is assuming that the children don’t have an asylum claim or a special immigrant juvenile visa or any other sort of legal relief of their own, separate of their parents.

AMY GOODMAN: And we’re going to talk about political asylum in a moment with Jennifer Harbury. I wanted to go back to Jane Doe, Jane Doe who in the immigration facility, one of the—one of your clients, ended up being able to have an abortion, even though the head of ORR, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Scott Lloyd, was personally determined to prevent her.


AMY GOODMAN: He came down to Texas. He is the head of this entire Office of Refugee Resettlement. But his main issue in his life has nothing to do with refugees, or experience in dealing with refugees. It’s just anti-abortion activism.

ROCHELLE GARZA: Yeah. And we received an incredible amount of pushback from him. And the Jane Doe case was, you know, a really hard-fought one, and she was incredibly determined to get the procedure that she wanted. And we were able to make that—we were able to accomplish that for her, but there were a lot of other Jane Does that came forward after our Jane Doe, Jane Doe 1.

AMY GOODMAN: Is there anything else you’d like to say, not only to the people of this country—we’re broadcasting on 1,400 public television and radio stations around the world—


AMY GOODMAN: —about what’s happening here right now, about what’s happening behind us as they’re constructing the stage for the protest outside the federal courthouse, that you know so well. In fact, during the broadcast, I saw a bus go by, one of the buses that carry prisoners.

ROCHELLE GARZA: Mm-hmm. Well, there’s a lot going on down here. And there are a lot of activists and community leaders that are working against some of these issues or working to stop the administration’s policies. There are—as I understand, there’s about 3,000 children currently in detention in the ORR-funded facilities. One of my concerns are the tender-age children. And I know that there’s been reporting on that.

AMY GOODMAN: Tender age being under the age of?

ROCHELLE GARZA: Of 12. And Jane Doe—and a lot of people don’t know this, but Jane Doe was detained in a facility that was—that lost their contract later on from ORR. And that facility specialized in tender age, in taking care of tender-age children and setting them up with foster families, so the least restrictive means of detaining these children. And now my question is: Where are those children?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we will leave it there. Where are those children? Rochelle Garza, thank you so much for being with us. Of course we’ll continue to follow this issue, as we broadcast from the Texas-Mexico border. We’re in Brownsville, Texas. We’re going to speak to Jennifer Harbury, the well-known human rights activist and attorney, next. Stay with us.


The post Meet an Immigration Lawyer Trying to Unite Migrant Families appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The Anatomy of Trumpocracy: An Interview With Noam Chomsky

Thu, 06/28/2018 - 15:38

With its spate of right-wing rulings this week, the Supreme Court has paved the way for Donald Trump and the Republican-dominated Congress to intensify their attacks on human rights, workers and the country’s democratic institutions, dragging the US deeper into the abyss.

US political culture has long been dominated by oligarchical corporate and financial interests, militarism and jingoism, but the current Trumpocracy represents a new level of neoliberal cruelty. Indeed, the United States is turning into a pariah nation, a unique position among Western states in the second decade of the 21st century.

What factors and the forces produced this radical and dangerous shift? How did Trump manage to bring the Republican Party under his total control? Is Trumpocracy a temporary phenomenon, or the future of American politics? Is the Bernie Sanders phenomenon over? In the exclusive Truthout interview below, world-renowned scholar and public intellectual Noam Chomsky, Emeritus Professor of Linguistics at MIT and currently Laureate Professor of Linguistics at the University of Arizona, tackles these questions and offers his unique insights.

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, while many in the country and the world at large watch aghast as Donald Trump’s nightmare of white supremacy continues to unravel the United States, it still remains something of a puzzle as to what propelled Trumpism to political prominence. For starters, why did voters turn to Trump? Who are the people that make up his hard-core base, and how do we explain the fact that he has essentially taken over the Republican Party without any serious opposition?

Noam Chomsky: Part of the solution to the puzzle is Obama’s performance in office. Many were seduced by the rhetoric of “hope” and “change,” and deeply disillusioned by the very early discovery that the words had little substance. I don’t usually agree with Sarah Palin, but she had a point when she ridiculed this hopey-changey stuff. A fair number of Obama voters, mostly working people, switched to Trump. These developments were already clear by the time of the 2010 special election in Massachusetts to fill the seat of Senator Kennedy – the liberal lion. Virtually unknown Scott Brown won the election, the first Republican elected to the Senate in [more than] 40 years in this liberal state. Analysis of the vote showed that even union members hardly supported his liberal opponent because of anger at Obama: the way he handled the housing-financial crisis (bailing out the rich, including the perpetrators, while letting their victims hang out to dry) and much else, including provisions of his health care proposal that working people saw, with justice, as an attack on health programs that they had won in contract negotiations.

Quite apart from Obama’s disappointing policies, he and the [Democratic] Party were victims of the intense racism that is deeply rooted in large parts of American society. The visceral hatred of Obama cannot be explained in other terms.

But there is far more than that. For some time, candidates for Republican primaries who emerged from the base have been far off the traditional spectrum. The establishment was able to suppress them and gain their own candidate, but that didn’t change the basis for their support. For years, both parties have drifted to the right — the Republicans off the spectrum of normal parliamentary politics. Their dedication to wealth and corporate power is so extreme that they cannot get votes on their actual policies — which are now being revealed to us daily — and so have had to mobilize a voting base on issues unrelated to their service to their actual constituency. These include religious fundamentalism — a major phenomenon in the US unlike other developed societies — white supremacy, xenophobia and other latent anti-social attitudes that tend to break through to the surface during periods of disillusionment and distress. This is partly a matter of “search for scapegoats,” the actual sources concealed in the usual manner of propaganda; thus, the public vastly exaggerates the number of immigrants, even more than in Europe. In the current period, these malignant tendencies are natural consequences of the harsh neoliberal policies that we have discussed before. We see much the same in Europe, for similar reasons.

Trump has had overwhelming support among whites and less educated sectors, but for the most part, his mass voting base is relatively affluent and privileged. A recent Pew poll of Trump approvers found two-thirds are either college graduates, women or nonwhite, the last group apparently not many.

Trump’s roughly 90 percent support among Republicans is actually not unusual for an incumbent party at this stage in office — about the same as Obama among Democrats, though the fervor and passion are different, presumably reflecting the general atmosphere of anger, hatred and fear. And frightening. Recognizing the great differences, I still can’t repress childhood memories of hearing Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies on the radio, not understanding the words, though the mood was unmistakable.

Recognizing the great differences, I still can’t repress childhood memories of hearing Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies on the radio.

For the actual Republican constituency of wealth and corporate power, these are glory days, so why object, even if his antics sometimes cause some grimaces? The core constituency of Evangelicals is solidly in Trump’s pocket, thanks to the crumbs thrown their way. Many working people maintain the illusion that Trump cares about them and will bring back lost days of steady jobs in mining and manufacturing. Even those realistic enough to dismiss this act at least see someone who is standing up to the “foreign devils” who have been “robbing us,” and in particular, the cultural elites that regard them and their values with contempt, just “deplorables.” Mostly farce, but [also] much successful propaganda, with enough elements of truth to be persuasive — for a while at least.

It’s revealing to take a closer look at attitudes of the huge Evangelical community. According to a study by the Public Religion Research Institute, “In 2011, only 30 percent believed that personal immorality was consistent with an ethical performance of official duties. Today, 72 percent of white evangelicals — up an astounding 42 points — believe that the two can go together.”

No comment needed, but instructive.

Trump himself seems to be having the time of his life. He’s constantly in the limelight, his loyal base worships his every move, he’s free to defy convention, to insult anyone he chooses, to disrupt the international economic and political order at will — whatever comes to mind next, knowing that he’s the biggest thug on the block and can probably get away with it — again, for a while, at least.

I don’t think it’s quite fair, however, to call him a liar. Lying presupposes having a concept of truth, and being in a situation where telling the truth matters. We don’t say that three-year-olds are lying if they say they saw a dragon outside, or an actor in a play. It’s also not clear that it’s tactically useful to tot up the random falsehoods that pepper his tweets and orations. That just fires up his worshipful base, providing more evidence that the hated liberal elites are trying to destroy the one guy in the political arena who is dedicated to defending the common folk — who he is shafting, with delight, at every opportunity.

It’s an intriguing spectacle, and not a little worrisome.

Trump loves to present himself as an “art-of-the-deal” president. Exactly what kind of deals has he made so far that can justify his claim to being a master negotiator?

There are no deals with others of any note, but there are real accomplishments. The most heralded one is the tax bill, a very welcome gift to the actual [corporate] constituency, with the side benefit of expanding the deficit and thus offering the opportunity to dismantle the limited social programs, which are [deemed] a nuisance, dispensable, since they raise the taxes of the actual constituency and do not benefit them. Steps are already underway to weaken these programs further. That includes the steady dismantling of protections provided by the hated “Obamacare.” I’ve often wondered whether the term itself might have caught on because of implicit racism; we didn’t call Medicare “Johnsoncare.”

A scathing report of the [UN] “Special Rapporteur [Philip Alston] on extreme poverty and human rights” on his mission to the United States of America, recently released, was well-timed — and may have been the immediate reason for the US withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council, which discredited itself by revealing improper truths about ourselves, just as the World Court discredited itself — and was roundly condemned by elite opinion — for daring to condemn the US for international terrorism (“unlawful use of force”) in the murderous Reaganite attack on Nicaragua.

There are serious tasks ahead for those who aspire to a livable world.

Other gifts to the actual constituency are being offered regularly. Elizabeth Warren’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is being rendered toothless. Betsy DeVos is making it easier for the for-profit colleges she cherishes to cheat students, part of the concerted corporate-led campaign to dismantle public education, one of the real contributions of the US to contemporary civilization. The Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule, designed to ensure that financial advisers act in the best interest of clients, has been sent to the ashcan, along with Dodd-Frank restrictions on the actions of banks, which are already enjoying record profits with more to come as the effects of the tax scam are felt. Bulging profits were heralded as a spur to investment, of which there is scarcely a trace as they are used to enrich the rich still further.

In general, things are proceeding quite well for “those who matter,” though they have some concerns that Trump’s erratic trade policies might infringe on the interests of the investor class.

I’ve skipped foreign policy, and have omitted so far, the most important accomplishments — astonishingly, commonly ignored by the opposition party and media commentary. Pride of place goes to the quite successful efforts to escalate the very severe and not remote threat of global warming. Expansion and modernization of the huge military system and provocative actions at the Russian border are not far behind.

In brief, there are no meaningful deals, though there surely are impressive accomplishments.

How do we explain the fact that Trump continues to cause chaos on all fronts, both domestically and internationally, and yet his popularity remains at quite high levels?

As I mentioned, Trump’s popularity among Republicans is unusually fervent and high, though not uniquely so. The affluent are doing fine. The economy is continuing the slow growth under Obama, though wages are barely rising and job security is low. Apart from the business world, concerned that the wrench thrown into the global trading system might harm profits, the elements of his constituency that I ran through above for the most part apparently don’t care much about the chaos, or even seem to enjoy seeing their leader offending elites and the damned foreigners.

Midterm elections are rapidly approaching. Do you see a “blue wave” coming? And if it happens, will it be sufficient to move Trumpism to the dustbin of history?

If the Democrats could get their act together, overcoming the schism between the donor-oriented New Democrat Party management and the increasingly activist and social democratic base, they would have a decent chance to take over Congress. That seems questionable, at the moment, though they should make some gains. But whatever gains there might be would not rid us of Trumpism, or its European counterparts. These have grown out of a mixture of authentic grievances and social pathologies — the latter surfacing in part because of the grievances. These are rooted in socioeconomic policies and bitter and so far, quite successful one-sided class struggle. None of this can easily be cast to the dustbin of history.

In some ways, as you have previously pointed out yourself, the most impressive aspect about recent developments on the US political landscape was the Bernie Sanders phenomenon, which represented a clear indication that the base of the Democratic Party had moved unmistakably to the left. Is the Sanders phenomenon — or at least the elements that gave rise to it — over? And how difficult is it for a new political party to emerge that advocates a progressive economic, social and foreign policy agenda?

The Sanders phenomenon was striking in two ways. One, as you mention, is the sign that the popular base of the party has moved to the left and gave impressive support to a candidate with social democratic, New Deal-style commitments — a breath of fresh air in the current state of affairs. The second was the sharp break from a long political history of pretty much bought elections. The phenomenon is by no means over. Sanders emerged as the most popular political figure in the country. In a functioning democracy, his voice — which continues to be loud and clear — would reach a wide public through mainstream media. Not here, where it is scarcely heard. Nevertheless, the offshoots of his campaign, Our Revolution, are doing important work, joining others in creating what might become stable and effective popular movements.

The barriers are not insuperable, but to overcome them will require large-scale and effective organization based on popular mass movements. A lot has to be done to overcome the demolition of unions and atomization of society during the neoliberal years under the Thatcherite slogan “you know, there’s no such thing as society” — unwittingly echoing Marx’s bitter condemnation of authoritarian rulers who want to turn society into “a sack of potatoes,” isolated individuals incapable of confronting concentrated economic and political power.The US political system has serious flaws, among them very high structural barriers for forming a new party. The last political party to have reached the mainstream is the Republican Party, but those were very different days. Where there is proportional representation, new parties can find a place in the political system, and have a chance to become major players — the British Labour Party, for example. In the US, even formal balloting procedures, run by state legislatures, virtually restrict participation to the two parties. Furthermore, the political parties are not membership organizations; rather, they are candidate-producing machines.

There are serious tasks ahead for those who aspire to a livable world.

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