Feed aggregator

Republicans Want to Pay for Tax Cuts by Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Truthout - 2 hours 19 min ago

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski advanced a resolution this week that would open the pristine Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling to help pay for the Republican tax plan. However, Murkowski has something else her fellow Republicans want, and it's not oil revenues.

Activists attend a news conference on Republican sponsored legislation that would open the Alaskan wilderness to oil drilling outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC. (Photo: Win McNamee / Getty Images)

The fact that Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski wants to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in her home state to oil and gas companies is news to no one in Congress.

Murkowski's father fought to open the refuge to drilling for years when he served in Congress during the 1980s and 1990s. Alaska's state budget depends on oil revenues and has suffered as fuel prices dropped in recent years. Geologists say billions of barrels could be found under the refuge if only oil companies were allowed to look.

The fact that environmentalists and most Democrats loathe the idea of setting up oil platforms and pipelines in a sanctuary for caribou and polar bears is also no surprise. The prospect of drilling in the "crown jewel" of the nation's wildlife refuge system has been a hot debate item in Congress for decades, and it flared up again at an Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on Wednesday, as Chairwoman Murkowski and ranking member Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) faced off over Murkowski's latest attempt to open the refuge to drilling.

"The fact that oil prices have fallen and a state is over-reliant on oil does not mean we should destroy a wildlife refuge today," said Cantwell, who added that the purpose of the refuge is to protect wildlife, not oil interests.

Unfortunately for Cantwell and environmentalists, Democrats are in the minority and a fossil fuel fiend lives in the White House. Murkowski was able to pass a resolution to open the refuge for drilling through her committee on Wednesday by a 13-10 vote, largely along party lines. The resolution is attached to the tax overhaul bill, which the GOP is attempting to pass under the budget reconciliation process to avoid a Democratic filibuster.

Whether Republicans are able to pass Murkowski's resolution along with their massive tax cut package -- and whether oil companies are willing to get on board -- may now determine the fate of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's northern coastal plain, an area known as Section 1002.

Republicans have a slim majority in the Senate, and Murkowski already foiled the party's last legislative push by voting against the attempted repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Senate Republicans now want to use the tax overhaul as a vehicle through which to repeal the ACA's individual health insurance mandate, a move that would leave 13 million people uninsured and raise premiums for millions more, including Alaskans.

With Republican Sen. Ron Johnson already coming out against the current tax plan and asking for deep revisions, the GOP cannot afford any additional defectors. Incorporating permission for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge into the tax bill could ensure that Murkowski remains a "yes" vote, regardless of what the bill looks like after the House and Senate agree on a final version.

The GOP's recent budget resolution tasked Murkowski's committee with finding $1 billion in revenue to help pay for the tax cuts. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the two oilfield lease sales Murkowski has proposed for Section 1002 could provide the federal government with $1 billion over 10 years after proceeds are split with the Alaska state government.

However, the CBO warns that it cannot predict the whims of oil speculators. Analysts say oil companies may not be interested in drilling at such a remote and controversial location, especially with oil prices so low. Fracking has unlocked large oil and gas reserves in Texas and other states, and much of the land already available for drilling in Alaska remains undeveloped. A recent analysis by Bloomberg Business called the $1 billion figure into question, finding instead that federal revenues would probably top out at about $145 million.

The deal could still be a boon for Alaska, where the state's $2.8 billion budget deficit is looming large over its relatively small population. Anything helps in a fiscal crisis, and geologists estimate that there is enough oil under the refuge's coastal plain to fuel an oil rush like Alaska enjoyed at Prudhoe Bay from the mid-1970s until recently.

"Alaska has a big budget crisis and is reliant on oil to fund state government, and it's looking for ways to continue that reliance," said Erik Grafe, an attorney in Anchorage with the environmental group Earthjustice, in an interview. "And ultimately, it's not sustainable, but I think there is certain desperation about what to do in a low oil-price future."

On the national level, however, a hopeful $1 billion would hardly make a dent in the $1.5 trillion the Republican tax cuts would add to the national deficit, and lawmakers in Washington are not trying to balance Alaska's budget anyway. Republicans will be able to count the $1 billion as hypothetical income in their quest to offset the tax deficit, but Murkowski has something they may want more than oil revenues: the "yea" vote needed to secure their first big legislative victory.

Categories: Latest News

Capitalism Is Not the Only Choice

Truthout - 2 hours 26 min ago

Since the breakup of the Soviet bloc and China's turn toward free markets, many economists have pronounced an "end of history," where capitalism reigns supreme as the ultimate form of economy. Indeed, free markets in which individuals compete to get what they can while they can are glorified in popular culture -- but many of us in the 99 percent are not feeling so happy or secure about this economy's results. Are we trapped in capitalism?

Ready to make a difference? Help Truthout provide a platform for exposing injustice and inspiring action. Click here to make a one-time or monthly donation.

Since the breakup of the Soviet bloc and China's turn toward free markets, many economists have pronounced an "end of history," where capitalism reigns supreme as the ultimate form of economy. Perhaps "there is no alternative" to a globalized neoliberal economy, as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher often said. Indeed, free markets in which individuals compete to get what they can while they can are glorified in popular culture through reality shows such as Shark Tank.

But many of us in the 99 percent are not feeling so happy or secure about this economy's results. Many are working harder and longer just to maintain housing and keep food on the table. Even the college-educated are mired in student debt, keeping the American Dream beyond their grasp. And then there are those who have never been served well by this economy. African Americans were liberated from enslavement only to be largely shut out of "free" market opportunities. Immigrants continue to work in the shadows. Women still earn only about three-quarters of what men make for the same work.

So, are we trapped in capitalism? While many of us may want a new economy where people and planet are prioritized over profit, we remain skeptical that another world is really possible. We make some progress locally but then feel powerless to affect national and global forces. Too often "the economy" is equated with markets where corporations compete to make profits for the wealthiest 1 percent and the rest work for a wage or salary (or don't make money at all). Work itself is seen as legitimate only if it legally generates income. Value is measured only in money terms, based on what people are willing to pay in the market. The capitalist mindset also separates economy from society and nature, as if it exists apart from people, communities, government, and our planet. Economy is its own machine, fueled by profit and competition.

When everything that we label "economic" is assumed to be capitalist -- transactional and market-driven -- then it is no wonder that we run short on imagination.

Redefining Economy Beyond Capitalism

To escape this "capitalocentrism," we need to broaden the definition of economy beyond capitalism. What if, instead, economy is all the ways that we meet our material needs and care for each other? And what if it's not a singular thing? Then we would see that beneath the official capitalist economy are all sorts of thriving non-capitalist economies, where there may not be a profit motive or market exchange. They include tasks that we do every day. We care for our children and elderly; we cook and clean for ourselves and each other; we grow food; we provide emotional support to friends. These are all ways of meeting our material needs and caring for each other.

For many, these economies, which foster solidarity and are rooted in values of democracy and justice rather than maximizing profit, are invisible or not recognized as "economic"; they are merely how we go about our lives. Capitalist thinking blinds us to these economic activities, some of which make survival possible and life meaningful. These non-capitalist ways also add up to a significant portion of all economic activity. Economist Nancy Folbre from University of Massachusetts Amherst estimates that unpaid domestic work (historically considered "women's work") was equal to 26 percent of the US gross domestic product in 2010.

Recognizing these diverse economies allows us to see that there are choices to be made.

Broadening the definition of economy also puts people back into the system and empowers us. Economy is not just something that happens to us, a sea in which we swim or sink. Rather we are all part of multiple economies, some in which we are the main actors -- such as our household economies -- and others in which we are the extras -- such as venture capital markets.

Recognizing these diverse economies and lifting the veil of capitalocentrism allows us to see that there are choices to be made, ethics and values to be considered. For example, I might pay more for lettuce from a local farmer who grows sustainably rather than from a distant supplier that exploits farm workers and uses pesticides. These choices are not only made as consumers, but also as workers, producers, and neighbors, and through policies that set the rules necessary for any economy to function. Do I work for a for-profit owned by shareholders or for a worker-owned cooperative, nonprofit, or B corporation? Should public land be used for luxury condos or for affordable housing? These questions open space for all of us to participate in shaping our world and the economic futures of the 99 percent.

Solidarity Is Rising

Across the US, from Jackson, Mississippi, to Oakland, California; in rural Kentucky and on Navajo-Hopi lands; and throughout Massachusetts' biggest cities, it is often poor communities and communities of color that are building solidarity economies around these questions. This is not new. In fact, this is where solidarity economics -- collective strategies for survival -- have been innovated out of necessity. Think mutual aid, community organizing, self-help, and cooperatives of all kinds. These practices have been embedded in Black liberation movements, the early labor movement, and many other progressive movements in the US.

The desire for deep, transformational change -- for the multitude of solidarity economies to add up to something -- comes not just from those who are dissatisfied, but even more so from communities that are simply struggling to survive. Dreams of a decent life and a fair shake come from those making Black Lives Matter, from immigrant workers making poverty wages, from ex-prisoners locked out of the mainstream economy, from tenants barely able to make rent, and from communities being displaced to make way for the 1 percent.

Springfield is Massachusetts' third-largest city, and here the Wellspring initiative is building a network of worker-owned cooperatives to create local jobs and build wealth for low-income and unemployed residents. Inspired by the Cleveland Evergreen Cooperatives, which has built a network of worker-owned businesses to provide goods and services to the region's anchor institutions, Wellspring was founded in 2011 to try to capture some of the $1.5 billion spent by its own anchor institutions, such as Baystate Health and University of Massachusetts Amherst. One study showed anchors procure less than 10 percent from local businesses.

Solidarity economics is more than just cooperatives. It is a social justice movement.

Its first cooperative, Wellspring Upholstery, was launched in 2013 and now has seven workers. Wellspring Upholstery was the first business to be developed, in part because a successful 25-year-old upholstery training program run by the county prison could provide trained workers. Wellspring's second cooperative is Old Windows Workshop, a women-owned window restoration business. A main goal of this business, according to production manager Nannette Bowie, is to allow "the flexibility of a working mom to take care of your family responsibilities and keep a full-time job."

Wellspring raised almost $1 million to start its third business, a commercial greenhouse, which will produce lettuce, greens, and herbs for the local schools and anchor institutions. Construction began during the summer. With several businesses underway, Wellspring is demonstrating viable models they hope will inspire others and grow the job base and wealth-building opportunities for low-income and unemployed residents. 

Wellspring is just one example of solidarity economies that are emerging in Massachusetts. In Worcester, the state's second-largest city, the Solidarity and Green Economy Alliance is cultivating their own ecology of more than a dozen cooperatives. Some are matching resident skills to meet community needs, such as landscaping, soil remediation, honey production, and urban agriculture. Others are providing services to movement organizations, such as translation, video production, and bookkeeping. In Boston's Roxbury and Dorchester neighborhoods, a food solidarity economy is emerging, which includes a community land trust, urban farms and a greenhouse, a kitchen incubator, a consumer food co-op, and a worker-owned organics recycling company. And Latinx residents of East Boston have formed the Center for Cooperative Development and Solidarity. Concerned about rapid gentrification, the group began exploring how economic alternatives could help them stay in East Boston. They are supporting startup cooperatives in child care, sewing, and cleaning. The Boston Ujima Project was just officially launched in September to build a community capital fund where a participatory budgeting process is used to make investments in local businesses.

Consciousness, Power and Economy

Yet solidarity economics is more than just cooperatives. It is a social justice movement. It is shifting our consciousness not only to uncover root causes, but also to expand our vision of what is possible, and to inspire dreams of the world as it could be. It is building power, not just to resist and reform the injustices and unsustainabilities produced by current systems, but ultimately to control democratically and govern political and economic resources to sustain people and the planet. And it is creating economic alternatives and prototypes for producing, exchanging, consuming, and investing in ways that are more just, sustainable, and democratic.

If we want to transform and go beyond capitalism, then we must confront it in all three of these dimensions: consciousness, power, and economy.

We do not have the luxury of creating solidarity economies in a vacuum. That means that we have to put them into practice now at home and in our own communities, no matter how small the scale. At the same time, we can work with others to build larger solidarity alternatives and do the hard work of reforming the political, economic, and ideological systems that are making life so difficult for so many.

Everyone can put solidarity values into practice -- to live in solidarity -- starting in whatever ways we can. And that is the transformative power of solidarity economics, that it doesn't have to scale up only by building larger and larger organizations and systems. It can scale up by many people in many places pursuing economics of social justice. It will require taking back government to dismantle the systems that privilege capitalism and to redirect public resources toward solidarity economies. We can all begin by spreading the word, sharing our radical imagination of the world that we want to live in.

Categories: Latest News

Stacking the Bench

Truthout - 2 hours 28 min ago

 

 

Brett Talley poses for a portrait at Holy Rood Cemetery on Tuesday December 02, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Matt McClain / The Washington Post via Getty Images)   In these troubling and surreal times, honest journalism is more important than ever. Help us keep real news flowing: Make a donation to Truthout today.

One of Trump's latest judicial nominees, Brett Talley, has caught the public spotlight for good reason. But the glare of his inexperience is obscuring an even more troubling story about what is at stake in Alabama's Middle District, where there are currently two vacancies on the bench.

Talley is only 36 -- and extraordinarily unqualified. He was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week for a lifetime position on the Alabama federal bench and will be voted on by the full Senate as early as this week. As The New York Times reported, Talley has never tried a case, has practiced law for just three years and was unanimously deemed "not qualified" by the American Bar Association -- a distinction given to only four nominees since 1989. Talley also provides plenty of media-distracting fodder: He's a horror novel writer, once belonged to a ghost-hunting group and is a right-wing blogger who has disparaged "Hillary Rotten Clinton." Talley also pledged his "financial, political and intellectual" support to the NRA after the Newtown shooting. Even so, he refused during questioning by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), to say he would recuse himself from cases involving guns. 

To see more stories like this, visit Moyers & Company at Truthout.

The subplot to this story, however, began to unfold Monday when The New York Times reported that Talley failed to disclose in his Senate questionnaire, or during his hearing, or when specifically discussing his contact with White House lawyers, that he happens to be married to Ann Donaldson, the chief of staff to White House counsel Donald McGahn. Talley told the senators in his testimony that he regularly advised judicial candidates in his current role as deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Policy. He should know better than most that he is expected to be transparent. This is not a small oversight.

The Times explains the conflict of interest here: 

District judges often provide the first ruling when laws are called into question, decisions that can put them at odds with the White House and its lawyers. Last month, for example, judges in Hawaii and Maryland temporarily blocked Mr. Trump's travel ban.

But it's not just that President Trump is trying to recreate the bench in his own image: white, male and conservative. Christopher Kang, a former deputy counsel to President Obama, who was in charge of the selection, vetting and confirmation of President Obama's judicial nominees for four years, explains in a piece on HuffPost why the Trump administration would not only nominate such an unqualified candidate but would also, presumably, advise him to downplay his ties to the White House counsel's office. 

Back in May, President Trump had announced a different, more qualified, candidate to fill this seat in Alabama's Middle District. His name is Judge Terry Moorer, and he has served in Alabama's Middle District for nearly 30 years -- most recently, as US Magistrate Judge for 10 years. Before that, he was an assistant US attorney for 17 years. Prior to those appointments, he led a legal task force that fought organized crime and drug trafficking for six years. He is a retired colonel in the Alabama National Guard and the primary architect of the Alabama Code of Military Justice. He is also Trump's only African-American judicial nominee. 

So what happened? Kang writes that in September, President Trump announced this "little-noticed bait-and-switch," and moved Judge Moorer's nomination to the Southern District of Alabama in order to nominate the ill-equipped Talley for a seat that by all appearances should have gone to Moorer. "At first blush, it seemed like the more qualified, African-American nominee was simply shoved aside for a less qualified white man," writes Kang. But there are two open seats on the district bench, and a woman, Emily Coody Marks, was nominated for the other seat. Marks has escaped media scrutiny, but the 44-year-old lawyer has spent her entire legal career at one Montgomery law firm, opposing claims of civil rights violations, employment discrimination and labor violations according to a well-sourced legal blog, The Vetting Room.

Moorer's answers to questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee, writes Kang, reveal a more likely motivation. When Sen. Feinstein asked Moorer about the differences between the cases considered by the Middle and Southern Districts, he responded: 

Montgomery is the capital city of Alabama; therefore, a few different types of cases may more likely be heard in the Middle District of Alabama, such as redistricting cases or public corruption cases involving statewide elected officials.

Kang adds that the Middle District is also where constitutional challenges to Alabama state laws are heard: "Just last month, a judge in the Middle District ruled that two Alabama laws that would have severely restricted abortion access are unconstitutional." This is why the Trump administration may aim to put the least-experienced candidates in the positions that will hear "the most political and consequential cases," writes Kang. "President Trump once again has prioritized an ideological rubber stamp over everything else, including his own initial pick."

Vox totals 145 federal court vacancies, including 137 in the US Courts of Appeals and the District of Courts. With 47 nominees already named, the Trump administration is moving quickly. Talley is not the first questionable nominee, and he won't be the last as BillMoyers.com reported last summer. Democrats won't be able to filibuster unqualified nominees because Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) moved to limit the filibuster for lower-court judicial picks in retaliation for partisan gridlock during the Obama years.

The federal judiciary is also aging. According to an analysis by Ballotpedia, by the end of 2020 just over half of the district and appeals court seats will be filled by Trump, vacant or held by a judge who is ready to retire. Any balance in the make up of our judiciary is eroding quickly. Call it a political horror story, but Brett Talley is by no means its main character.

Categories: Latest News

Wisconsin Police Gun Down Young Teen on Reservation

Truthout - 2 hours 30 min ago
In times of great injustice, independent media is crucial to fighting back against misinformation. Support grassroots journalism: Make a donation to Truthout.

Another young teen of color is dead at the hands of police officers -- this time on a reservation in Wisconsin. Officials claim that 14-year-old Jason Pero was brandishing a butcher's knife and lunged at officers responding to a call about a dangerous male. Meanwhile, family and tribal witnesses say Jason was a gentle teen who wouldn't hurt anyone.

One cop is now on paid administrative leave as the investigation continues into why -- once again -- a police officer responded to a child with deadly force.

According to multiple news reports, Pero -- an 8th grader – was home from school with the flu when he left his house and encountered Deputy Brock Mrdjenovich. The Wisconsin Department of Justice stated that the Ashland County police department received a phone call just prior reporting that a male matching Pero's description was walking down the street with a knife -- a call that Department says that Pero made himself.

When Mrdjenovich confronted Pero, the boy allegedly refused to drop the knife and even lunged twice at Mrdjenovich, causing Mrdjenovich to eventually shoot Pero twice -- including at least once in the chest.

"DCI has determined Jason Pero was the same person that called 911 reporting a man with a knife, giving his own physical description," The Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) released in a statement. "Initial information indicates that Pero had been despondent over the few days leading up to the incident and evidence from a search warrant executed on Pero's bedroom supports that information."

Was Pero depressed, and was he trying in some way to kill himself when he reportedly lunged at an officer with a sharp weapon? Even if that is in fact the true story, the question remains as to why police remain unable to disarm a suspect without killing him in the process, especially when that person has no gun -- and even more so when we are talking about a child.

"Be clear," writes The Root's Kirsten West Savali, "Even if this child were holding a knife—which has not been proved—he did not deserve a bullet through his heart. But that is the state's instinct when they see children of color as neither children nor human beings worthy of protection."

It's a view we saw all too clearly when 18-year-old Michael Brown was gunned down in Missouri, despite having no weapons on him. We saw it again in Ohio when 12 year old Tamir Rice was killed by police within seconds of their arrival at a Cleveland park. The officers couldn't even take the time to realize that the "weapon" Rice was playing with was only a toy gun.

It's clear that when police are confronting a person of color, their first instinct is no longer to disarm or de-escalate, but to jump quickly to lethal force to protect themselves from what they view as a threat on their lives. Yes, even if that "threat" is a teenage boy too young to shave.

Pero's community is reeling from the violence he faced at the hands of those who are supposed to be trusted to keep the peace, and it is not surprising that they appear so far to doubt the details released by the Department of Justice on Pero's motive, his alleged attack on an officer and the other actions leading to his murder. They aren't wrong to be dubious, either: This isn't an isolated incident, but a steady pattern of violence against communities of color.

If there is any justice to be found for Pero's family and community, it will be found only when police are trained to disarm, to de-escalate and to see some other way to respond to a child than to instinctively shoot him in the chest.

Categories: Latest News

Economic Update: How People Change Economies

Truthout - Thu, 11/16/2017 - 21:00

This week's episode discusses Maine's progressive economic changes, how US Senate documents show the very rich abusing the estate tax, how Nestle profits as nearby Flint's water is still polluted, poverty and "social exclusion" in Greece and Europe, how Trump and the GOP cut health programs and US profits rising as wage share falls. Also included are discussions of the economics of migration and the economics of coalitions between labor unions and worker co-ops.

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

To listen in live on Saturdays at noon, visit WBAI's Live Stream

Economic Update is in partnership with Truthout.org

Your radio station needs Economic Update! If you are a radio station, check this out. If you want to hear Economic Update on your favorite local station, send them this.

Visit Professor Wolff's social movement project, democracyatwork.info.

Permission to reprint Professor Wolff's writing and videos is granted on an individual basis. Please contact profwolff@rdwolff.com to request permission. We reserve the right to refuse or rescind permission at any time.

This story could not have been published without the support of readers like you. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout and fund more stories like it!
Categories: Latest News

Second City Has Been a Comedy Mecca for Decades -- Now Its Workers Are Voting to Form a Union

Truthout - Thu, 11/16/2017 - 21:00

The past decade at Chicago's historic Second City comedy club has been a good one for the business. Along with its range of comedy shows, the company has opened a film school dedicated to comedy, produced a number of high-profile film and television projects, and set up a corporate arm that uses comedy techniques in job training across the country. In a Crain's Chicago Business article last year, CEO Andrew Alexander estimated that the company's revenue has grown from $30 million in 2012 to $55 million in 2016, an increase of 83 percent.

The experience for some of the company's staff, however, has been far less rosy. 

Kitchen, wait staff and bartenders say their wages have been frozen since February 26, and many currently make little more than the city's minimum wage of $11 an hour. When maintenance workers were hit with layoffs early this year, hosting and bar staff were handed the responsibility to clean up the club's theaters, without any increase in payment for their new duties.

And, while part-time employees had previously been provided a weekly stipend for health care through a third-party service, management rescinded that funding in May, blaming new rules governing health care through the Affordable Care Act.

These are among the reasons that Second City servers, kitchen and bar staff are holding a union election this Friday to determine whether to join the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE). The UE has a long tradition as a radical union, representing workers from a variety of precarious industries. In 2008, the UE supported factory workers in Chicago who had been laid off by the Republic Windows & Doors company as they fought to win damages and open their own cooperatively-operated business, New Era Windows.   

The union drive at Second City is a step towards collective action in an industry that is full of laughs but low on wage rates, regular hours and a real voice in the workplace.

Gina Harrison, a server at Second City, says workers are invested in the success of the company, but also want to see their own needs and issues in the workplace addressed. "We want to hear our employer and we want to be heard by them, simply and fairly," Harrison said at a press conference held last Friday on the steps of the Second City building in Chicago's Old Town neighborhood. "Our goal is a collective voice on the job."

This demand for a stronger voice in the workplace sits at the core of union organizer's demands, along with a $15 hourly wage that would significantly increase the pay of minimum wage workers and end a year-long wage freeze.

Second City carries cache as the club where many of America's most beloved comedians got their start, including Bill Murray, Stephen Colbert, Mike Myers, Steve Carell, Amy Sedaris and Tina Fey. Tickets for weekend shows, starting at $36 a pop, regularly sell out, and Second City remains one of the most prestigious comedy clubs in the country.

The actors who perform at Second City are represented by the Actors' Equity union and recently signed a letter of support for the staff unionization effort, say staff union organizers. Management's response to the staff union drive, however, has been less welcoming. Organizers say that since they announced the union campaign, employees have been forced to attend multiple captive audience meetings, which supporters claim are being used to spread misinformation about the role of the union.

In a statement to In These Times, Second City CEO Alexander writes: "We are deeply concerned about the frustration being expressed by some of our employees here at The Second City. We are confident in our ability to work through the issues together given the chance, and are committed to fostering a positive environment to work and create."

The labor movement's history in comedy clubs is patchy, but there have been a number of efforts to organize. The Comedy Store strike of 1979, saw several late-night television hosts, including David Letterman and Jay Leno, walk off the job to protest one of Los Angeles' most famous comedy clubs asking young writers to perform for free while headliners were paid handsomely. Striking performers ultimately won payment for many young writers, though some comics were blacklisted. And in 2004, performers formed the New York Comedians Coalition to demand that clubs across the city raise their per-set pay rates, and won.

UE, the union organizing the Second City workers, has recently helped run several successful unionization campaigns with service employees whose jobs are precarious and without benefits, including graduate student workers in Iowa and movie theater concession workers in New England.

Ahead of the Friday union vote, staff at Second City say they would like to see a culture change where management sees the club's employees as an asset rather than a cost. "When Second City says it is afraid that there is some third party entity coming in, they are afraid of us," says Ryan Andrews, a bartender and member of the organizing committee. "We are the union, we are the members, we are the workers." 

Categories: Latest News

US Military and CIA Leaders May Be Investigated for War Crimes

Truthout - Thu, 11/16/2017 - 07:04

A US Marine Corps V-22 Osprey aircraft prepares to land at forward operating base Nawa in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Dec. 17, 2010. (Image: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kevin S. O'Brien / US Navy)

On November 14, Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, requested authorization to open an investigation of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed by CIA and US military leaders, as well as Taliban and Afghan officials. If a full investigation proceeds as requested, it would send a clear signal to the Trump administration that no one is above the law.

A US Marine Corps V-22 Osprey aircraft prepares to land at forward operating base Nawa in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Dec. 17, 2010. (Image: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kevin S. O'Brien / US Navy)

Support from readers provides Truthout with vital funds to keep investigating what mainstream media won't cover. Fund more stories like this by donating now!

On November 3, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) informed the court's Pre-Trial Chamber, "[T]here is a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in connection with the armed conflict in Afghanistan."

In what Amnesty International's Solomon Sacco called a "seminal moment for the ICC," Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda asked the court for authorization to commence an investigation that would focus on US military and CIA leaders, as well as Taliban and Afghan officials.

Bensouda wrote in a November 14, 2016, report that her preliminary examination revealed "a reasonable basis to believe" the "war crimes of torture and ill-treatment" had been committed "by US military forces deployed to Afghanistan and in secret detention facilities operated by the Central Intelligence Agency, principally in the 2003-2004 period, although allegedly continuing in some cases until 2014."

The chief prosecutor noted the alleged crimes by the CIA and US armed forces "were not the abuses of a few isolated individuals," but rather were "part of approved interrogation techniques in an attempt to extract 'actionable intelligence' from detainees." She added there was "reason to believe" that crimes were "committed in the furtherance of a policy or policies ... which would support US objectives in the conflict of Afghanistan."

In accordance with its Rome Statute, the ICC only asserts jurisdiction over people whose home country is unwilling or unable to bring them to justice. In explaining why this war crimes investigation falls under the ICC's jurisdiction, Bensouda wrote that the US Department of Justice investigations regarding ill-treatment of 101 detainees were limited to whether interrogation techniques used by CIA interrogators were unauthorized and violated criminal statutes. The US Attorney General (AG) said the Justice Department would not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the guidance provided by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC).

The AG investigated only two incidents and found the evidence insufficient to obtain convictions. In one case, Gul Rahman froze to death after being stripped and shackled to a cold cement floor in the secret Afghan prison known as the Salt Pit. In the other, Manadel al-Jamadi died in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison after he was suspended from the ceiling by his wrists which were bound behind his back. Former military policeman Tony Diaz, who witnessed al-Jamadi's torture, said that blood gushed from his mouth like "a faucet had turned on" when he was lowered to the ground. A military autopsy concluded that al-Jamadi's death was a homicide. However, the AG ultimately refused to prosecute the Bush officials responsible for the torture and deaths of those two men.

In 2008, ABC News reported that Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet and John Ashcroft met in the White House and micromanaged the torture of terrorism suspects by approving specific torture techniques such as waterboarding. George W. Bush admitted in his 2010 memoir that he authorized waterboarding. Cheney, Rice and John Yoo - author of the OLC's most egregious torture memos - have made similar admissions.

Were the ICC to pursue its investigation, the United States, which is not a party to the Rome Statute, would very likely refuse to relinquish any US person to the ICC. During the Bush administration, Congress passed the American Service-Members Protection Act, which says if US persons are sent to the ICC in The Hague, the US military can forcibly extract them. The act also restricts US cooperation with the ICC and prohibits military assistance to states parties to the Rome Statute unless they sign bilateral immunity agreements with the US.

States which sign these "Article 98" agreements -- referring to the section of the Rome Statute that addresses treaties between countries -- pledge not to hand over US nationals to the ICC. The United States has reportedly extracted those agreements from over 100 countries -- primarily small nations, or fragile democracies with weak economies. Moreover, the US government has withdrawn military aid from several nations that refused to be coerced into signing them.

However, under the Rome Statute, the ICC can take jurisdiction over a national of even a non-party state if he or she commits a crime in a state party's territory. The US vehemently objects to this, but it's nothing new. Under well-established principles of international law, the crimes being prosecuted in the ICC -- genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity -- are crimes of universal jurisdiction.

The doctrine of universal jurisdiction permits any country to try foreign nationals for the most egregious crimes, even without any direct relationship to the prosecuting country. That means other nations can bring US leaders to justice for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Indeed, the United States has asserted jurisdiction over foreign nationals in anti-terrorism, anti-narcotics trafficking, torture and war crimes cases. The US government tried, convicted and sentenced Charles "Chuckie" Taylor Jr. to federal prison for torture committed in Liberia. Israel tried, convicted and executed Adolph Eichmann for his crimes during the Holocaust.

There will be strong political pressure to avoid liability for US leaders. But Bensouda has undoubtedly withstood heavy pressure by asking the court to approve an investigation into crimes committed in Afghanistan. She also invariably faced considerable pushback for opening a preliminary examination in January 2015 of possible war crimes committed by Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza. Bensouda is expected to announce the results of that examination in December.

The ICC has been criticized for focusing almost exclusively on African leaders. This is apparently changing with possible investigations into the conflicts in Afghanistan and Palestine.

If a full investigation of US officials proceeds as requested, it "would send a clear signal to the Trump administration and other countries around the world that torture is categorically prohibited, even in times of war, and there will be consequences for authorizing and committing acts of torture," according to Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU's Human Rights Program.

During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump declared he would "immediately" resume waterboarding and would "bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding" because the United States is facing a "barbaric" enemy. He labeled waterboarding a "minor form" of interrogation.

"The long overdue message that no one is above the law is particularly important now, as the Trump administration ramps up military machinations in Afghanistan and embraces the endless war with no plan in sight," Katherine Gallagher, a senior lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights, said in a statement.

Categories: Latest News

The Food Industry Has the Trump Administration Right Where It Wants It

Truthout - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 21:00
You can fuel thoughtful, authority-challenging journalism: Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout.

When Donald Trump was elected president, American consumer protection groups, food safety advocates and commentators were "on high alert." Two months prior, his campaign had posted -- and later deleted -- an online fact sheet that highlighted a number of "regulations to be eliminated" under his proposed economic plan.

The document read in part:

The FDA Food Police, which [sic] dictate how the federal government expects farmers to produce fruits and vegetables and even dictates the nutritional content of dog food. The rules govern the soil farmers use, farm and food production hygiene, food packaging, food temperatures and even what animals may roam which fields and when. It also greatly increased inspections of food 'facilities,' and levies new taxes to pay for this inspection overkill. 

Now, with Trump's first year in office characterized by tumult and scandal (including the FBI's ongoing Russia probe, his response to white supremacist violence in Charlottesville and his continuous goading of North Korea's Kim Jong Un, etc.) it is understandable that concerns about America's food supply have been sidelined. To paraphrase food writer Mark Bittman, how relevant are food issues when the need to defend basic democracy is far greater?

As it turns out, very -- the two have been inextricably linked since the emergence of the modern food industry at the turn of the 20th century. Then, as now, lax regulatory legislation combined with rampant consumer fear has allowed corporate interests to redirect conversations about food safety and position themselves as the best solution to the problem. 

In the months after November 2016, Bittman reconsidered his position, telling New York magazine in June that "good food can define a democracy." He's right -- food issues profoundly affect everyone across class, gender, racial, and political lines -- and it is time to give them the attention they deserve. In an era when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are increasingly compromised, and workers in the American food industry are often poorly paid and under-protected, advocates and commentators must consciously work to dismantle the elitism that so often surrounds cultural discussions about food in the United States.

In short, it is no longer enough to Instagram the latest trendy food items or extoll the supposed virtues of "clean eating." In Bittman's words, "to be a foodie now is to know that we must protect the rights of farm workers, retail workers, restaurant workers, immigrants, anyone who is harassed at work and/or at home (mostly women), and laborers who make minimum wage or less, often without benefits." Moreover, it is imperative "to address [diet, environmental, and farming issues] in the context of making sure all people can afford good food, as well as in the contexts of public health, general well-being, and the means to care for the earth."

These are not unfounded concerns. The rise of neoliberalism in the United States has led to the continued deregulation of the food industry and allowed cozy relationships between policymakers and Big Ag and Big Food lobbyists to flourish. The Bush-era and early Obama years were, in the words of Vice reporter Tom Perkins, particularly "dark days for food safety," with alarmingly regular product recalls and outbreaks of often-deadly foodborne illnesses. Consider, the 2009 salmonella outbreak in a Georgia peanut butter factory that sickened 22,500 people and killed nine, and the 2006 outbreak of E. coli, linked to tainted spinach grown in fields near a large cattle ranch in California.

Although the Obama administration updated America's food safety laws for the first time since the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938, the bipartisan Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), when it passed in 2011, was just a modicum of progress. The FSMA allowed the FDA to increase inspections and oversee farming practices. It also allowed them to expand their power to recall tainted foods and demand accountability from food companies in matters such as accurate labeling. However, in spite of these seemingly tougher measures, President Obama and Congress failed to provide the FDA with the necessary funding to adequately enforce its regulations.

Given this context, it is no wonder that for the last decade or so, major American food manufacturers have consistently used advertising and marketing campaigns to try and subvert the scrutiny they've come under. Buzzwords like "authentic," "natural," "small batch," and "artisanal" abound in product advertisements (for everything from fast-food breakfast sandwiches to tortilla chips) to emphasize their apparent wholesomeness at a time when such qualities are in short supply.

Some historians and commentators have traced these issues to the 1980s with the rise of Reagan-era "E. coli conservatism," in which "government shrinks and shrinks until people get sick," however they have much deeper roots. Concerns that surround the food we eat -- a concern reflected in advertising campaigns -- are the latest episode in a battle that has been ongoing since the late 19th century.

The food industry's rise and tactics

With the advent of branded, mass-produced food items at the turn of the 20th century, American consumers became wary about purchasing food produced under conditions they could not see first-hand. At the same time, the advertising industry as we know it today was born, and it worked tirelessly to create a demand for these new products. It also helped minimize fears about them.

As Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel The Jungle portrays, consumers had valid reasons to worry about the content and quality of the food they ate and the conditions under which it was produced. In response, a grassroots consumer movement -- driven by organizations led by middle class women, religious organizations, public health officials, physicians, journalists and politicians -- lobbied for the passage of federal regulatory legislation, and their quest was ultimately successful when the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed in 1906.

A closer look at how the fight for pure food was co-opted by big business reveals a more complex story than the popular perception that assumes the Pure Food and Drug Act was a landmark victory for consumer protection in the United States and a triumph of the Progressive Era. In a similar manner to today, food manufacturers at the turn of the 20th century were keenly aware of what their critics were saying, and they used advertising and marketing to destabilize these critiques.

Echoing the dictates of credible activists and food gurus like National Consumers' League co-founder Alice Lakey and Boston Cooking School teacher and cookbook writer Maria Parloa, companies like Heinz promulgated the idea that American consumers had responsibilities at an individual level to become informed shoppers and learn about how their food was produced.

One Heinz advertisement pointedly asked consumers, "What Is In The Food You Eat?" With text focused on the perceived dangers of benzoate of soda (a preservative not prohibited under federal law but considered by some to be dangerous to human health), this advertisement notes that this substance was used in part "to make food acceptable to the eye, which, if you knew how and of what it was made, you would not eat under any circumstances." It also links their products to homemade goods "cooked exacting with care," and in bold letters, implores consumers to "Look at the Label" before making any purchases.

This ad, part of a campaign devised by Philadelphia-based advertising agency N.W. Ayer & Son in the early 20th century, is an example of what Canadian academic and journalist Andrew Potter describes as "conspicuous authenticity." If, as he writes in Maclean's, "authentic social relations are built around small, organic communities that are nonhierarchal, noncommercial, and nonexploitative," advertisements like these can be read as a calculated attempt to craft a discourse around food products based on notions of 'goodness' and 'honesty.' "

The American food industry also turned its eye inward as a way of reassuring consumers, especially amidst the confusion that followed the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act when it seemed unclear how and to what degree this new legislation would be enforced. Philadelphia newspaper the North American reported in 1910 that "health and food departments of many states have utterly cast aside the federal laws as virtually worthless" in favor of enforcing "their far better state laws."

In a way that uncannily mirrors our present moment, the paper also noted that more pressing political concerns like the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act and the conservation of water power, timber and coal had largely pushed food issues out of the American public's mind. As a result, food manufacturers began to position themselves as the only hope for winning the flagging fight for pure food, and they were met with surprisingly little criticism or opposition.

A 1910 issue of the National Food Magazine reprinted an editorial from the North American declaring that the "biggest and best known manufacturers are now among the leaders of the pure food war." In the same year at the convention of the National Canners' Association in New Jersey, one member put forth a proposition to levy a $1,000 fine for every canning company that transgressed the rules for ensuring purity -- rules, it is important to note, that seemed to come from the association itself rather than from federal law.

As the North American reported, amidst cheers of approval from attendees, C.C. Winningham of Chicago "advocated a special pure food label guaranteed by the association, which is to be collector of the heavy fine in case of violation of its rules." Similarly, a group of approximately 20 large food companies -- including Heinz, the Shredded Wheat Company and the Franco-American Food Company -- formed the American Association for the Promotion of Purity in Food Products in order to elevate "the standards of the food producing interests of this country."

This organization -- and its boosters in the press -- would have had consumers believe that its members were part of a "certain class of manufacturers whose natural sense of honor" forbade them from breaking federal or state pure food laws. As the National Food Magazine explained, the association fought "ardently with the public" for the passage of the 1906 Act, and "fought with all their strength" to save it in the years that followed. Because of this, the publication argued, every consumer in the United States owed "a lasting debt of gratitude" to these manufacturers, some of whom used advertising as a way to boast of their membership in the association.

Moving Backwards

By appointing itself as a key champion of federal pure food legislation when the cause was faltering -- with both tacit and explicit approval from the press -- big business was able to appropriate the cultural discussions surrounding food in the United States at the turn of the 20th century in a way that boosted their bottom lines rather than consumer protection. In doing so, it also laid the groundwork for our current moment. These tactics pioneered by corporate interests show no sign of abating, which makes this moment in US history particularly significant when considering the fears and uncertainties that continue to surround the production and consumption of food in the United States.

With the Trump administration seemingly "ready to drag the nation back" to the years before the FSMA, it is more important than ever to be critical of the emphasis food companies have long placed on individual consumer responsibility and questionable self-regulation strategies communicated via marketing and advertising.

Categories: Latest News

To Counter Gun Violence, Build a Real Alternative to the Right Wing

Truthout - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 21:00
Your support is crucial to keeping ethical journalism alive! Donate now to keep our writers on the streets, covering the most important issues and beats.

Each mass shooting in the US is a sign of societal sickness, and their increased pace and deadliness shows the disease is becoming more severe. There was another tragic example even as this article was being written: a shooting rampage in Northern California that that took the lives of five apparently random victims.

But just as disturbing is the political reaction in the aftermath of these tragedies.

Republican politicians, beholden to the gun lobby, bend over backwards to deny the obvious fact that the country is awash in guns and gun violence, while the National Rifle Association brags about its ability to stave off even the smallest regulations, like banning the "bump stocks" that enable semi-automatic weapons to fire bullets continuously.

Radicals have a long history of being skeptical about gun control as a solution to violence, both because we oppose most government attempts at prohibition and because we don't think that a government with a long history of violence against people of color, workers and the left should get more power over society, because it will use it in ways that increase repression and violence, not decrease it.

But it's also important to understand that the context of gun debates is very different today then it was 50 years ago.

Then, gun control was an overtly reactionary strategy of criminalization pushed by Republicans like Richard Nixon and then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan, as they confronted urban riots involving armed Black veterans of the Vietnam War and mass support for the Black Panther Party strategy of armed patrols to monitor and confront police brutality.

In part as a product of the success of that government-led backlash against the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s, the political provocateurs when it comes to guns today come not from the left but the right. And the vision they promote isn't collective resistance against oppression, but paranoid individualism, toxic masculinity and racism -- all of which happens to fit nicely with the worldview of their reactionary funders like the Koch Brothers.

As one of the most longstanding and influential forces on the hard right, the NRA is a menace that needs to be confronted by the radical left that is starting to grow in this country.

But that doesn't mean we should embrace the political framework of gun control, which removes questions of oppression, militarism and workplace alienation from discussions of this country's high rates of violence -- in favor of supposedly "practical solutions" (which aren't in fact solutions) that "we can all agree on" (even though we don't).

Not all gun control measures are the same. Our opposition to gun laws targeting poor urban neighborhoods is direct and vocal, because these are about giving the forces of the state more power to victimize people of color. Measures to ban bump stocks have a different aim and should be approached as such.

But we still can't shrink from this truth: Responding to a wave of white male lone gunmen -- many of whom commit their crimes in militarized fatigues -- with a call for background checks and bump stock bans is exactly the kind of technocratic proposal put forward by a Democratic Party that wants the only alternative to the ever-more reactionary right to come from an apolitical center.

***

The NRA famously distorts the meaning of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution -- "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed" -- by only talking about the second half.

The NRA's obsession with this amendment above all others is relatively new. It wasn't until 2008 that the US Supreme Court -- by then packed with conservative judges nominated by NRA-backed Republicans -- ruled that the Second Amendment guaranteed an individual's right to own a gun.

But that doesn't mean, as liberals sometimes assert, that the intentions of the Founding Fathers had nothing to do with the NRA's 21st century vigilantism.

In the context of the late 18th century, when the Constitution was being debated, "militias" didn't just refer to the state military forces that battled the British for independence, but the posses of white men whose duties included slave patrols in the South and stealing land from Indians in the West.

The US has always had more guns and more violence than other countries in the industrialized world, and this "frontier ethos" -- as it's euphemistically referred to -- which would later expand in the late 1800s to wars on striking workers -- really does go all the way back to the Second Amendment, which didn't create the violence so much as reflect it.

In other words, the origins of the Second Amendment wasn't as an individual right to a gun, but as a way for states to enable some of their white citizens to be armed independently of a national army, in defense of the unjust and racist order.

That's why today the NRA and other gun promoters are silent about African Americans like Philando Castile and Marissa Alexander, who were victimized for lawfully possessing and/or using their guns.

It's also why Attorney General Jeff Sessions can be wildly popular with the NRA even as he pushes to increase prison terms in a crackdown on guns and gangs in cities like Chicago.

The website of the prominent gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety indicates that it doesn't have a very different worldview:

Support for the Second Amendment goes hand-in-hand with keeping guns away from criminals and other dangerous people. But it's simply too easy for the wrong people to get guns, leading to all kinds of violence -- from deadly domestic abuse to suicide and school shootings.

Research shows -- and cops will tell you -- that common-sense public safety laws reduce gun violence and save lives. We can put a stop to the more than 33,000 gun deaths that happen every year. And we can do it in a way that still respects the Second Amendment.

There isn't really even a debate over the Second Amendment here. The main difference is that gun control groups want the push against the bad guys to come from police, while the NRA promotes the vigilante view that angry white men can't trust the coddling government and must be prepared to act in their own defense.

***

In US society today, we're confronted with two different wildly militaristic and gun-fetishizing cultures -- the armed wings of government on the one hand, and the right-wing gun nuts on the other.

The former is far larger and more dangerous -- more people are killed by police every year than in mass shootings. But the latter is creepy and potentially terrifying the more it's drawn into the hardened ideological circles of the growing far right.

For now, it's safe to say that both promote a toxic blend of white male supremacy and gun empowerment that can have horrible consequences for people struggling with alienation and other issues.

One question for the left is how to confront and counter the poisonous politics of the NRA as part of our larger political battle with the far right.

We can be opposed to many of their gun-related initiatives like open-carry laws, Stand Your Ground and protecting the legal immunity of gun manufacturers and distributors. But we should also understand that the fights over these measures are less important than building a left-wing alternative to the broader right wing the NRA is a part of.

And for the most part, the endless debate over guns sheds more heat than light -- and does little more than fuel empty partisanship.

Gun violence is down by almost half since 1993, but most people don't realize it. Trump and right-wingers talk about Chicago's murder rate -- which has, tragically, defied the national trend very recently -- and "Black on Black crime" not because they care about the consequences, but to promote racist fear.

We should make sure that we're not doing the same with the very different phenomenon of mass shootings -- which are likely encouraged by round-the-clock media coverage -- to play into partisan anger at Republicans.

Yet these mass shootings are clearly a sign that something is very wrong in US society -- and the left ought to have something to say about it.

Let's start with pointing out the fact that we live in a country that can't afford jobs programs, mental health care and social services because it spends half its budget on a war machine that it laughably calls the Department of "Defense," even though no country is at war with us.

Then let's fight to hold killer cops like Wayne Isaacs, the NYPD officer who killed Delrawn Small in July 2016, accountable for their gun violence. That ought to lose us the support of those police chiefs who speak out for gun control.

Beyond that, though, we have to organize to revive the idea that the world isn't full of evil people who need to be punished -- but needy and hurting people who need to be helped, before they get hurt or before they hurt others.

In that sense, the effort to stop gun violence is directly tied to opposition to the fanatics of the right wing and their organizations like the NRA -- by the need for a left-wing alternative to guide the struggle for a different world.

Categories: Latest News

What Else Could a Tax Cut for the Richest 1 Percent Buy?

Truthout - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 21:00
In times of great injustice, independent media is crucial to fighting back against misinformation. Support grassroots journalism: Make a donation to Truthout.

Inequality in America has been growing for decades, stymying our national potential and contributing to the growing political rift in the country. According to estimates by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act introduced in the House of Representatives would disproportionately benefit the richest 1 percent of Americans.

The ITEP estimates reveal that nationwide, the richest 1 percent of earners would receive a 31 percent share of the tax cuts in 2018 -- and by 2027, the richest 1 percent would receive a 48 percent share, leaving the remaining 99 percent to share roughly half the tax benefits.

What the ITEP estimates cannot reveal is the lost potential in federal investment represented by this reallocation of resources to the 1 percent. The House bill is designed to increase the deficit by no more than $1.5 trillion over ten years -- the equivalent of about a year of federal discretionary spending.

The loss of revenue will trigger other choices, as decision makers in Congress either accede to a higher than customary level of national debt, or face political pressures to drastically reduce spending on federal programs and services. Pressure to cut spending could result in losses to popular federal programs ranging from education to health care and infrastructure, and more. 

There is little certainty about what programs might be most affected, or how deep the resulting cuts could go, although recent budget proposals provide some likely scenarios. Meanwhile, basic facts remain murky for a public trying to understand what this tax plan means: how much can $1 billion buy?

As Congress considers a tax plan that would bestow an estimated $72 billion in tax cuts on the richest 1 percent in 2018 alone, it's worth clarifying what tax cuts for the 1 percent means for residents of each state. We look at what alternative budget choices might be, comparing the aggregate estimated tax cut for the richest 1 percent in each state to alternative budget choices on health care, higher education and infrastructure.

For example: in the United States, the richest one percent -- with average incomes of $2 million -- will collectively get $72 billion in tax cuts in 2018 under the Trump plan. That money is enough to cover individual health insurance premiums for more than 12.6 million adults. Or, that $72 billion could cover Pell grants for 12.3 million low-income, and often first generation, college students. Or, that same $72 billion could create 689,900 jobs through infrastructure investment.

Methods and Data Sources

For the cumulative and average tax cuts to the richest 1 percent in each state, as well as the average income of the richest 1 percent in each state, we relied on estimates from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy Microsimulation Tax Model for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act introduced on November 2, 2017.

Health Premiums

For health insurance premium costs in the individual marketplace, we relied primarily on 2018 premium data registered by insurance providers with healthcare.gov. The premium cost for our calculations was the cost of the second-least expensive Silver plan in the most populous county in each state, for a single 40-year-old adult.

Because healthcare.gov data only covers states in the federal marketplace, we also used data from the Kaiser Family Foundation's 2018 premium calculator for the United States and for states with their own marketplaces (California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington). We used the unsubsidized premium for the second-lowest cost Silver plan for a single, 40-year-old nonsmoker in each state's most populous county.

Pell Grants

The maximum Pell grant award for the 2017-2018 school year is $5,920. Our calculations represent the number of maximum awards that could be covered.

Infrastructure Jobs

The number of infrastructure jobs created by a federal investment depends on many factors: the specific type of infrastructure, the location, the likelihood that the infrastructure would be built without a federal investment, and more.

For the purposes of these calculations, we reviewed various estimates of the cost per infrastructure job created, ranging from roughly $36,000 per job created (Feyrer & Sacerdote, 2011) for investment through the Department of Transportation, to $92,136 per job created by government investment under ARRA (Council of Economic Advisors, 2009), among others.

For these calculations, we use an estimate from Feyrer & Sacerdote (Dartmouth/ NBER, 2011) of $105,485 per job created by federal investments through the Department of Transportation, Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Since the cost per job is high compared to other estimates, our estimates of job creation may be low. Also, in reality job creation costs are likely to vary by state. The Feyrer & Sacerdote approach means the reported job effects represent direct, indirect and induced effects -- that is, employment in construction and related industries directly resulting from federal investment, but also the resulting boost to the local economy as the initial investment passes through to existing local businesses and their employees.

Categories: Latest News

Zimbabwe in Limbo as Military Seizes Control and Places President Mugabe Under House Arrest

Truthout - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 21:00

In Zimbabwe, longtime leader Robert Mugabe remains under house arrest and is reportedly refusing to resign as president after the country's military seized Parliament, courts, government offices and the main airport in the capital, Harare. Mugabe has held power since Zimbabwe declared independence from the United Kingdom 37 years ago. We go to Johannesburg, South Africa, to speak with Knox Chitiyo of the Africa Programme at Chatham House, who just returned from neighboring Zimbabwe. We are also joined by Nigerian environmental activist Nnimmo Bassey, director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, and Jocelyn Alexander, professor at Oxford University and author of The Unsettled Land: State-making & the Politics of Land in Zimbabwe, 1893-2003.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Activists at UN Climate Summit Decry Companies Pushing Fossil Fuel as Energy Solution

Truthout - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 21:00

While representatives from nearly 200 nations have gathered here in Bonn, Germany, they're not the only ones flocking to the city for this year's UN climate summit. A number of fossil fuel companies and corporate sponsors have also descended on Bonn, where they are pushing their own agenda behind the scenes. On Tuesday, activists disrupted a presentation at an annual corporate conference held alongside the climate summit here in Bonn. They were protesting the European Investment Bank for funding the construction of the Trans Adriatic gas pipeline, known as TAP. This comes as a new report by the Corporate Europe Observatory reveals how the gas industry spent more than 100 million euros and deployed over 1,000 lobbyists to push gas as an energy solution to lawmakers in Brussels and across the European Union in 2016. We speak with Pascoe Sabido, researcher and campaigner for the Corporate Europe Observatory, and Jesse Bragg, the media director for Corporate Accountability.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

The American Far Right Never Went Away

Truthout - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 21:00

The recent and apparently sudden re-emergence of the far right has shocked many Americans who believed these groups had gone extinct or been permanently banished to the fringes. But in fact, the far right flourished and grew during the administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, found common ground with the mainstream "pro-business" right in a racist backlash to Barack Obama, and coalesced around the candidacy of Donald Trump. 

Chanting "white lives matter," "you will not replace us" and "Jews will not replace us," several hundred white nationalists and white supremacists carrying torches marched in a parade through the University of Virginia campus on August 11, 2017. The "alt-right" is not a new occurrence, just a new name, argues David Neiwert. (Photo: Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Where did the far-right figures who suddenly seem everywhere in the American political landscape come from? Investigative reporter David Neiwert has been tracking fascist and extreme-right violence and ideology for decades, and in Alt-America he reveals how these groups have grown in power and influence. Order this deeply researched and crucial book today by making a donation to support Truthout!

In this excerpt from Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump, David Neiwert describe how the American far right flourished and grew during the administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, found common ground with the more mainstream, "pro-business" right in a racist backlash to Barack Obama, and coalesced around the candidacy of Donald Trump.

The day after Donald Trump announced his campaign for the presidency, Dylann Roof walked into a Charleston, South Carolina, church with a gun and killed nine black people because they were black. 

It was purely a coincidence that one act followed the other, hundreds of miles apart: Roof apparently knew little about Trump and was not known to be a Trump follower. Trump had never met nor had any interaction with Roof. 

Yet the two acts were inextricably connected -- by the events and acts that had preceded them, and by those that followed in the ensuing weeks and months. Most of all, both acts signaled, in different ways, a deep change in the American cultural and political landscape. 

The American radical right -- the violent, paranoid, racist, hateful radical right -- was back with a vengeance. Actually, it had never really gone away. And now it had a presidential candidate.

"Hopefully, he's going to sit there and say, 'When I become elected president, what we're going to do is we're going to make the border a vacation spot, it's going to cost you twenty-five dollars for a permit, and then you get fifty dollars for every confirmed kill.' That'd be one nice thing.—Supporter of Donald Trump, interviewed in the New York Times

"This robocall goes out to all millennials and others who are honest in all their dealings … The white race is being replaced by other peoples in America and in all white countries. Donald Trump stands strong as a nationalist."
—William White (a white nationalist), pro-Trump robocall to Massachusetts voters

"The march to victory will not be won by Donald Trump in 2016, but this could be the stepping stone we need to then radicalize millions of White working and middle class families to the call to truly begin a struggle for Faith, family and folk."
—Matthew Heimbach, cofounder of the neo-Nazi Traditionalist Youth Network, at organization's website

"Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported."
—White man in Boston who with another man beat a homeless Latino to within an inch of his life with a metal pole and then urinated on him

"People who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate."
—Donald Trump, when asked about the Boston hate crime

Most Americans surveying the wreckage of the American political landscape in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election are startled by the ugliness and violence that have crept into the nation's electoral politics. And they can recognize its source: the sudden appearance of the racist far right as players. 

Almost as blindingly as Donald Trump appeared on the scene, so did an array of white nationalists and supremacists, conspiracy theorists and xenophobes, even Klansmen and skinheads and other violent radicals, who for decades had been relegated to the fringe of right-wing politics. Hadn't they gone extinct?

Most Americans did not realize that, far from going extinct, these groups had been growing and flourishing in recent years, fed by the rivulets of hate mongering and disinformation-fueled propaganda flowing out of right-wing media for at least a decade and the hospitable dark environment provided by a virtual blackout in mainstream media concerning the growth of right-wing extremism.

These tendencies dated back to the Bill Clinton administration, when the radical right first began to try to mainstream itself as a "patriot" and militia movement, but was derailed largely by the violent terrorism that the movement also brewed up. Simultaneously, right-wing media began appearing as a new propaganda type that openly eschewed the journalistic standards of mainstream news organizations: in a classic use of "Newspeak," they declared themselves "fair and balanced."

The organizational drive of the new "Patriot" movement largely went into a hiatus in the early part of the new century, during the conservative Republican administration of George W. Bush, but the extremism that originally fueled the movement in the 1990s remained very much alive. On the far right the conspiracist element found fresh life in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which produced an entire cottage industry devoted to proving that the attacks were part of a plot by the New World Order. Simultaneously, the mainstream rhetoric on the right became vociferous during the Iraq War, when any criticism of Bush and his administration's conduct of the war was denounced nastily as treason, and liberals were sneered at as "soft on terror." 

This suffused extremism came roaring back to life with the nomination of Barack Obama as the Democratic Party's candidate for the presidency in 2008, and then his election, which sparked a virulent counter reaction on the radical right. The idea of a black man, let alone a liberal one, as president made them recoil in visceral disgust. The mainstream, business-establishment right -- after years of right-wing-media conditioning during both the Clinton and Bush years -- apparently could no longer abide the idea of shared rule with a liberal president and set out to delegitimize him by any means possible. And it was in that shared hatred that the extremist and mainstream right finally cemented their growing alliance.

This alliance found form in the "Tea Party" which was widely celebrated as a grassroots conservative phenomenon that sprang to life in 2009, in the wake of Obama's election. It was generally portrayed (following members' self-descriptions) as attached to the conservative ideal of small government, expressed as limited spending and taxes. In reality, however, their founding organizations were explicitly focused on opposing Obama and every aspect of his presidency. In the ensuing years, politicians and pundits inside the Beltway assumed that this was the Tea Party's raison d'être.

But it was more. In the rural and red-voting suburban districts where the Tea Party organized itself on the ground, it became the living embodiment of right-wing populism.

Right-wing populism in America -- as distinct from its left-wing variety -- has always been predicated on a narrative known as "producerism,"  in which the hard-working "producers" of America are beset by a two-headed enemy: a nefarious elite suppressing them from above, and a parasitic underclass of "others," reliant on welfare and government benefits, tearing them down and sucking them under from below. Right-wing populism has most often been expressed via various nativist anti-immigrant movements. In the twenty-first century, this brand of populism became expressed as a hostility to "liberal" elites and "parasitic" minorities and immigrants.

Thus, the Tea Party focused on conspiracy theories and the supposed "tyranny" of the president, and ardently embraced ideals that kept bubbling up from the extremist right: constitutionalism, nullification of federal laws and edicts, and even secession from the Union. The Tea Party movement became a major conduit into the mainstream of American conservatism of the most extreme, often outright nutty ideas that originated with the Patriot movement and its related far-right cousins. 

The Patriots have always specialized in creating a kind of alternative universe, a set of alternate explanations for an entire world of known facts, made possible only by a willingness to believe in easily disprovable falsehoods. The Patriots describe themselves primarily as constitutionalists, but their understanding of the Constitution is based on a distorted misreading of the document and its place in the body of law. For example, Patriots believe that the Second Amendment prohibits all gun and arms regulation whatsoever; that the text of the Constitution prohibits the federal government from owning any kind of public lands and from creating any kind of federal law enforcement; that the sheriff of the county is the highest law-enforcement entity in the land; and that federal laws ensuring civil rights and prohibiting hate crimes are unconstitutional and thus moot. Thus, in the context of the Patriot movement, "constitutionalist" describes people who believe that most "constitutional" powers reside in local government, specifically county sheriffs -- not in the national Constitution.

These beliefs about the Constitution are amplified by a panoply of conspiracy theories: A nefarious New World Order is plotting to enslave all of mankind in a world government that permits no freedom, and its many tentacles can be glimpsed daily in news events. President Obama is secretly an illegitimate president who was born overseas and falsified his birth certificate; he's also secretly a Muslim plotting to hand the United States over to Islamist radicals who plan to institute sharia law in the United States and around the world. Global warming is a hoax, a scam dreamed up by leftists and totalitarian environmentalists who want to control every facet of our lives. In this alternative universe, facts and the laws of political gravity do not apply.

In the alternative universe of right-wing populism, down is often up. Ultimately, the right-wing populist solution to the world's problems is to submit to an authoritarian "enlightened" ruler. Some of the leading figures of right-wing populist movements in American history -- for example, Henry Ford -- have been famous "captains of industry." 

Early on, Donald Trump identified this belief system as being aligned with his own. "I think the people of the Tea Party like me, because I represent a lot of the ingredients of the Tea Party," he told a Fox News interviewer in 2011. 

Trump was cannily tapping into a large voting bloc that had already been created by conservative activists and made large by the very rhetoric and ideology that nearly all of the movement's media organs embraced to some degree before his arrival on the scene.

The political establishment, however, has studiously ignored the existence of this bloc, and so it has been utterly befuddled by the Trump phenomenon and his ability to operate in this universe where the normal laws of reason do not seem to apply and to bring it onto the national political stage. 

"He is defying the laws of political gravity right now," exclaimed the political consultant Michael Bronstein in January 2016, voicing what became the conventional wisdom. Regarding Trump's comments and tweets, Bronstein said, "Inside the presidential race, any one of these lines, if they were associated to another candidate, it would've ended the candidacy … I think the establishment, the punditry class, looks at him and a lot of them are just bewildered." 

Truthout Progressive Pick

How the extreme right gained so much power and influence in the United States.

Click here now to get the book!

Before the Trump campaign, the true believers of the Tea Party were assumed to be on the fringe of the Republican Party, a tiny subset that had no voice and even less power. The Trump campaign revealed that their numbers were not tiny, nor were they powerless. These dark forces had been building for years, waiting for the right kind of figure -- charismatic, rich, fearlessly bombastic -- to come along and put them into play.

They manifested themselves on that very first day of Trump's campaign, June 15, 2015, at the press conference he called at Trump Tower, in New York City. The atmospherics were negative: Trump was boastful and blaming as he sketched a narrative of an America whose leaders' incompetence had allowed the nation to be beaten down in trade by foreigners. But what really stood out was his open, unapologetic expression of bigotry toward Latinos and other minorities.

"The US has become a dumping ground for everybody else's problems," he claimed, to loud applause, and then continued:

Thank you. It's true, and these are the best and the finest. When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you … They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people. But I speak to border guards and they tell us what we're getting. And it only makes common sense. It only makes common sense. They're sending us not the right people. It's coming from more than Mexico. It's coming from all over South and Latin America, and it's coming probably -- probably --from the Middle East. But we don't know. Because we have no protection and we have no competence, we don't know what's happening. And it's got to stop and it's got to stop fast.

This was a signature trope of Trump's campaign: Trump didn't avail himself of the coded "dog whistle" signals that conservatives had learned to employ when they spoke about race, ethnicity, crime, and immigration. He called this kind of euphemistic prevarication "political correctness," and he intended to smash it to tiny pieces and say what he knew his listeners already thought. 

Right-wing politicians had for years relied on this coy rhetoric because naked racial attacks hurt them in opinion polls. This rhetorical dancing around also spared them from being attacked for their racism while allowing them to communicate to their own audiences that their biases aligned with those of their white suburban and rural base -- which, it emerged, continued to embrace racist tropes and stereotypes about people of color, regardless of the broader social stigma in doing so.

Copyright (2017) by David Neiwert. Not to be reproduced without permission of the publisher, Verso Books.

Categories: Latest News

House Democrats Introduce Articles of Impeachment Against Trump

Truthout - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 21:00

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee) and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Illinois) introduce Articles of Impeachment against President Donald Trump during a press conference at the US Capitol November 15, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Win McNamee / Getty Images)

In these troubling and surreal times, honest journalism is more important than ever. Help us keep real news flowing: Make a donation to Truthout today.

A group of House Democrats on Wednesday introduced five articles of impeachment accusing President Donald Trump of obstructing justice, violating the foreign emoluments clause, undermining the freedom of the press, and other constitutional breaches.

"The time has come to make clear to the American people and to this president that [Trump's] train of injuries to our Constitution must be brought to an end through impeachment," said Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), who introduced the articles alongside Al Green of Texas, Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, Brad Sherman of California, Marcia Fudge of Ohio, and John Yarmuth of Kentucky.

"Given the magnitude of the constitutional crisis, there's no reason for delay," Cohen added, calling for hearings to begin immediately.

Rep. Steve Cohen: "We believe that President Trump has violated the Constitution and we've introduced five articles of impeachment." pic.twitter.com/GmA1bQGE7r

— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) November 15, 2017

House Democrats' push to remove Trump from office comes as polls continue to show that a majority of Democrats and a growing number of American voters overall support impeachment. Additionally, as Common Dreams has reported, billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer's petition calling for Trump's impeachment has garnered over a million signatures.

"When I see a crime, I call 911, I don't stop to build consensus among my neighbors," Gutierrez concluded on Twitter after the articles were introduced. "If a crime is committed, you convene a grand jury, and in this case that is the House Judiciary Committee and we need to get started."

A resolution calling for impeachment hearings. pic.twitter.com/JNJAshC5bf

— Luis V. Gutierrez (@RepGutierrez) November 15, 2017
Categories: Latest News

How Democratic Socialists Worked With Sanders Supporters and Grassroots Groups to Sweep November's Elections

Truthout - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 21:00

How did 15 of the candidates endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) win at so many levels of government this November? Deputy Director David Duhalde explains how DSA's strategy of supporting candidates endorsed at the grassroots level by groups like Sanders's Our Revolution paid off, and DSA's plans for 2018.

Lee Carter, a socialist who won a seat during this year's elections in the Virginia House of Delegates for the 50th District, poses on November 9, 2017, in Manassas, Virginia. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images)

Grassroots, not-for-profit news is rare -- and Truthout's very existence depends on donations from readers. Will you help us publish more stories like this one? Make a one-time or monthly donation by clicking here.

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. We're now several months into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators, and educators, not only about how to resist, but how to build a better world. Today's interview is the 91st in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

Today we bring you a conversation with David Duhalde, deputy director at the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). In this interview, he discusses the importance of the organization's electoral strategy, and significant wins for DSA-endorsed candidates on Election Day this month.

Sarah Jaffe: You had a pretty successful election night. Tell us what you were thinking when you started hearing the results come in?

David Duhalde: It was very funny for me. I will be quite honest that a lot of us ... deeply affected by 2016 were maybe not as optimistic as we should have been. I was speaking at a conference for the European left. It was in Belgium and I was many hours ahead. I thought, "I am just going to go to bed and I will wake up and I will see how we did." I didn't want to stay up and lose sleep. Then, I awake to a flurry of text messages and Facebook messages like, "Oh my god! Lee did it!" referring to Lee Carter in Virginia. And, "Oh my God! J.T. Scott won in Massachusetts!" It was truly like.... I didn't burst into tears, but I was fighting back tears in a hotel room alone because I had almost no one to share it with. But, I did at least have Facebook and was messaging people. It was truly one of the best experiences of my life. It was just such a pleasant surprise. It really had exceeded my expectation, and a lot of other people's, who wanted it badly, but just weren't sure it was going to happen.

Was there a particular one that you were really surprised and excited by?

I am going to be uncreative and say the Lee Carter race in Virginia, partly because as I work out of the Washington, DC, office of DSA. So, I was able to meet Lee for the first time at a major meeting we had after the election where about 140 people came. He came and spoke and he impressed me deeply. He had come to a couple of things, including my Labor Day barbeque, to pitch his campaign.

Then, I went down to volunteer. But, when you volunteer, it is hard to get a read sometimes on the crowd. So, I was very hopeful, of course, but he had hired some great DSA members who were all under 23 and he was taking on this huge incumbent with a war chest who then dropped this anti-communist mailer on us. I was just very worried.

Then ... even though I knew we were doing everything right, you can do everything right and it doesn't matter. That was just a huge surprise. But, the J.T. Scott race, too. I had actually lived in Somerville where J.T. is now an alderman. It was impressive to me because I knew the machine. I remember how difficult it was to beat them and how recalcitrant some of the residents could be toward new people and change. So, even though it is a Democratic stronghold, there were definitely the new vs. old residents and to see him take on this incumbent who I know definitely had a base, had been there for 15 years, but he just did it through blood, sweat and tears, was just truly overwhelming.

It was just truly great to see all those grassroots campaigns led by DSA, but also working with Our Revolution to really sweep these elections. But, lots of other allies, especially in the Carter race, such as Planned Parenthood.

That is interesting you mention those two in particular because one of these was against, of course, a Republican incumbent. The other one was against the Democratic Party machine. I would love to hear you talk about that aspect of this; that in some places you were going up against these right-wing people and in other cases you are taking on centrist Democrats.

It was an interesting, fascinating scope of races that we took in. We, ultimately, endorsed six candidates nationally. Some of whom were running against Democrats, like Ginger Jentzen who was in Socialist Alternative. She ran against two Democrats, actually, in a ranked-choice voting race. Others, like Jabari Brisport who is a Green, ran against the machine Democrats. Most of them were Democrats themselves and were running either in primaries, like Khader El-Yateem in Brooklyn and Tristan Rader who won, as well, in Lakewood, Ohio.

It really shows a couple of things. It shows to me that what I appreciate about the new DSA, the one post-Trump election, is how still committed it is to being flexible and being willing to work around local conditions. I think that is what is going to make a modern DSA thrive. It is not necessarily having a one-size-fits-all model, but really allowing ... grassroots chapters who are autonomous, to work with national, to do what fits them.

Sometimes, that meant, "We are going to take on the Democratic machine, like in Somerville and in Lakewood?" Both of those actually succeeded, but sometimes it is just winning the Democratic ballot line that no one wants, like the Lee Carter race or Karen Lowe who won the school board. What is really exciting for me ... khalid kamau who won, was one of our first nationally endorsed candidates after Bernie, is that we are really focusing on lots of these local races, learning ... good lessons of bad people, seeing how the right wing has built such a great pipeline of local candidates who eventually [became] part of the ruling class and part of the congressional Republicans.

We feel that it is very critical for groups like DSA to be flexible, but also see our folks train them on races where they can learn, because it is very hard to win a race. What I think is beautiful about Bernie Sanders is how he energized people. But, what is also kind of worrisome for an old man like me is that he made it seem too easy, I think, for people. Some people didn't appreciate how much work he had put in throughout his career to win those races and to get to that place where he could do that. We're working with our folks and getting them to be flexible and know that "What works in Peoria, doesn't necessarily work in Syracuse" or vice versa. It has been a really great experience to see how DSAers and other Socialists that we have worked with have learned that.

Take us back a little bit to the thinking and the planning around electoral strategy this year. You had the conference, but talk about how the strategy came together and how people within DSA now are thinking about electoral politics.

It is a very fascinating process for us and really one that evolved over the course of the year after Bernie Sanders first declared his intention for the presidential primary. DSA has come out of a movement that had really wanted to make the Democratic Party a Social Democratic party and a really genuine progressive party. With the rise and success of neoliberalism in the 1990s and Clinton, both Bill and Hillary, and so many times, Barack Obama, it was very clear that the idea of changing the Democratic Party was not really in the cards.

So, DSA shifted away from electoral politics and its bread-and-butter mission and ... focused on social movement work and other forms of sophistication. But, Bernie Sanders really energized people and especially us. So, DSA put a tremendous amount of energy and support into his candidacy, doing independent expenditures. Then, people started coming to us for endorsements. He really re-energized the idea of people wanting to run as Democratic Socialists. We had to step to the plate.

We started pretty small. We just did a handful of endorsements without much work behind them, such as Mike Sylvester who is now a state representative in Maine and Ian Schlakman who ran as a Green for the Baltimore City Council, who ended up staying involved in our national electoral committee. That was pretty good. Then, khalid kamau came out of nowhere.... That is when we started realizing we could build a national program, using khalid's campaign as a model where we called dozens of chapters and got them to phone bank for him. People were just so excited to work for this amazing member and fellow Socialist. That made us realize we could really start building Socialist electoral power.

Then, we had a handful more people come to us for endorsements. Then, by the spring of 2017, we kind of had to say, "Stop." What was happening was people were coming to us ad hoc, especially with our convention coming up, we just didn't have the bandwidth to take on people as needed. So, what we did was -- and I think it shows to how strong DSA has gotten -- we created a national electoral committee, which included Ian Schlakman who had run, and nine other great DSA members who applied and were accepted, who ranged from people who were with Democratic politics to people who had done voter rights legal work to people running campaigns on their own, and allowed candidates to apply to be endorsed.

What we did to re-jigger and make it easier for us to institute our electoral mission is, we created a three-point criterion to receive a DSA endorsement. You had to be running as a Socialist. You didn't have to be a DSA member, Ginger Jentzen is not. But you had to be a Socialist and be okay with talking about it, even if it wasn't in the forefront of your campaign. It was very important to us that you had to have the support of a local DSA chapter. Why that is really important for us is we don't want to be that kind of DC or national group that kind of parachutes in and tells people who they are going to be supporting. We really want endorsements to come from the grassroots. For example, unfortunately, Chokwe Lumumba, we couldn't support him because we didn't at that time have a Mississippi DSA. Hopefully, that will be different now, but we were very strict about that even if we really love Lumumba, but it wasn't possible.

The third thing was we really wanted people to show us that they had a pathway to victory. We didn't need somebody to say, "I am 100 percent a shoo-in to win" but we wanted people to really show us they have been thinking about what were the steps to win their races. We wanted people who really were going to be out there hitting the pavement and talking to voters. From this, we were able to select six candidates. Then, really buil[d] a national infrastructure to support them through our base. Social media is a huge asset, especially for local races trying to draw national and potentially international attention and donations. But also, using our network of hundreds of volunteers and thousands of members to do phone banking and to do door knocking. For example, in Seattle -- Jon Grant who ran as a great housing advocate who unfortunately ran against a very good liberal Democrat -- made it a hard race. The DSA knocked on 22,000 doors and we made sure to send out emails for them to reach other members in the State of Washington they might not have reached.

The same thing with Carter. We worked hard to talk to the media and raise awareness, especially in the DC Beltway about his race, which helped generate attention he might not have gotten. So, strategically, we shifted and we are trying to look to 2018 about how we are going to expand this program, because 2017 was kind of the test run. We will see what happens, but we definitely want to be more sophisticated, we want to increase the standards to get endorsed, and also, look at how we helped people win, so we want to make sure we hold them accountable. We don't want people coming to us to get volunteers and leaving. There are a lot of questions that are going to come up that the national political committee, which is DSA's leadership, the national electoral committee are working on to really make sure we are still a very relevant and democratic organization that is electing Socialists who will be held accountable by their constituents.

How does the broader post-Bernie spectrum of groups and organizations fit together in this moment? There were a bunch of Our Revolution endorsed candidates, there were some DSA endorsed candidates, there were other local people who come out of that movement all over the country. I am wondering how you think this movement, such as it is, fits together. Or, where are some of the tensions?

That is a really great question. Actually, similar to how my expectations were exceeded about how well DSA did on election night in November 2017, I have been rather pleasantly surprised about how well the different post-Bernie formations have been doing and working together to keep this political revolution going. I want to give one great example, which is Our Revolution, [which] either locally or nationally endorsed all of our candidates that we endorsed nationally, as well. Not to mention tons of local races. We have a very good working relationship with Our Revolution. We often share information and talk about candidates. We, also, have this affiliation program where DSA chapters can be the local Our Revolution chapter, as well. That is to avoid unnecessary conflicts, duplication of efforts. So, our Knoxville chapter which helped elect two DSA members is, also, the Our Revolution chapter. That is a really great example of keeping this collaboration going.

But also, Socialist Alternative, which is one of the other major socialist groups, endorsed Bernie Sanders, worked with us not only on Ginger Jentzen's campaign, but they were big supporters of Jabari Brisport running on the Green Party ticket. So, there was lots of good energy coming out of teaming up and keeping this work going. That was something you just didn't know going in after 2016 if that is going to keep alive.

We are definitely going to see what happens in 2018. I do have Brand New Congress looking at some of the people we are looking at for congressional races, and Justice Democrats, of course, too. There is definitely a lot of potential out there and it has been really exciting to see that different groups who bring different things are able to still keep this going and also, "You help me and I will help you." I especially saw that with Our Revolution and Socialist Alternative. That makes me incredibly optimistic for 2018, to keep this post-Bernie energy going. I think Sanders has definitely [set] all the right tunes to encourage that. He posted about Lee Carter's victory. He is clearly still promoting Democratic Socialist candidates and it gets him very excited. That is only going to keep our base energized, too.

I want to wrap up by talking about 2018 and what is coming down the pike. This is going to be the congressional elections. What are you guys working on so far?

Well, we have not made any endorsements yet. Definitely, people have approached us on the congressional level for endorsements. We, also, have lots of locals who are already getting excited. I was at our general membership meeting in DC and three county councillors from Montgomery County, which is ... north of the District of Columbia, came to speak. Two of whom are DSA members, including one who is running for county executive and if he won, he would be the Socialist with the largest constituency in [the US]. There are twice as many people in Montgomery County as there are in Vermont.

So, we are definitely seeing people already coming right now. I think what we are looking for 2018 is to expand our network of national volunteers who can then really work with local volunteers because the key still will be the influence we are going to have [which] will be much more locally, raising profiles nationally and working to create new systems to make sure that candidates will come to us with a clearer understanding of what they want from us and what we want from them and looking at maybe different tiers of endorsements.

Very importantly, we are also looking at how we can support and hold candidates accountable after the election. We understand that, of course, you first have to help get people elected. Where you help them get elected that increases the interest they will have in you ... we want to make sure that we are going to be educating DSA chapters ... to hold people accountable [meaning] we are going to have to contribute a lot to their campaigns, but then also have clear expectations. For example, it was very exciting, coming out of our convention ... a strict policy [to] only endorse pro-choice candidates.... Helping DSA chapters think about how they set their own standards for endorsements, I think, will be really key.

Just getting people to think strategically, be sophisticated, but also keep politicians honest, ultimately, is a huge role DSA will play. And, of course, prioritizing electing Socialists will be our niche compared to great post-Bernie groups and definitely our focus will still be advancing the Democratic Socialist agenda more explicitly.

How can people keep up with you and also with DSA's electoral efforts?

You can follow DSA at @DemSocialists on Twitter. But, if people have any questions or comments or just want to get endorsements, learn how the process works, I can always be reached at info@dsausa.org and that will go straight to me. We are also going to be putting out a website pretty shortly about our electoral work. People should be on the lookout for that website at www.DSAUSA.org.

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

Categories: Latest News

Worse Than Jeff Sessions? Let's Not Find Out

Truthout - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 21:00

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions leaves for a short break during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee November 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

Support from readers provides Truthout with vital funds to keep investigating what mainstream media won't cover. Fund more stories like this by donating now!

I am coming to believe that Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Lee Sumpter Shiloh Segregation Sessions III is not actually human, but is in fact a subspace anomaly of the Star Trek variety. These anomalies are known to cause irregularities in gravity, ripples in space and alterations in the laws of physics. In short, their very presence makes things weird. Sound about exactly like what's been going on at the Justice Department for the last year, and it just got a whole lot weirder.

Consider: Sessions, an as-advertised racist misogynist son of the Confederacy, was happily ensconced in what was by any metric a lifetime gig as a senator from Alabama. Along came candidate Trump, so Sessions jumped on board and was named attorney general after the strangest presidential election in the history of matter.

There was great rejoicing in white supremacist circles everywhere upon Sessions' appointment, until he abruptly chose to recuse himself from any and all investigations into Trump's dealings with Russia. Trump went berserk with rage upon this seeming betrayal, and has, from time to time since, made it his mission in life to do Sessions harm, in what is nothing more or less that yet another expression of the permanent vengeance motive that gets him out of bed every day.

It is worthwhile to note that here, right here, stands one of the tender few moments in Sessions' tenure as AG when he actually, marginally fulfilled the moral requirements of his station. Given his involvement with the campaign, he had no recourse but to recuse himself from all things Russia … unless he chose to go rogue, fling propriety over the dunes and charge ahead. Like as not, he would have gotten away with it given the current congressional realities, but for whatever reason, he played it straight. In doing so, he deprived Donald Trump of a hole card he'd been counting on, and the presidential wrath in the aftermath has hedged the biblical in scope.

Still left to address was the Alabama Senate seat left open by Sessions' appointment. The GOP rustled up a candidate from central casting named Luther Strange, but the Steve Bannon wing of the party had other ideas, and one of them was a former Alabama state judge named Roy Moore. Moore's wild-eyed right-wing pedigree has been well-documented since he fell on his sword to protect a giant Ten Commandments monument in his courthouse, and since he refused to uphold laws granting equal rights for LGBTQ people because Jesus, or something.

In another short span of time, Moore won the primary to become the GOP's nominee to replace Sessions in the Senate. Then a number of women -- five at this point -- came forward to accuse Moore of sexual misconduct when they were teenagers. Reports began to surface that Moore's taste for young girls was commonly known, and that he'd even been banned from a mall for aggressively pursuing teenagers. Then Moore painted himself as a martyr and victim while his defenders compared his behavior to Joseph, stepdad of Jesus Christ.

When the assault accusations became public, the GOP practically snapped its collective fibulas trying to kick Moore off the ticket, or barring that, find a write-in candidate to challenge him for Republican votes in the December special election … and just when you thought the quota of weird for this story had been amply filled, along came Sen. Mitch McConnell on Tuesday with a timely suggestion.

As leader of an already-fractious and unmanageable majority, McConnell has a personal vested interest in keeping Roy Moore as far away from the chamber as possible. Sessions, according to McConnell on Tuesday, "fits the mold of somebody who might be able to pull off a write-in. Obviously, it would be a big move for him and for the president."

Presidents don't give power back. What is an astonishing power grab for one president becomes the new normal for the next president.

To recap: Sessions was an Alabama senator, then supported Trump, then became Trump's attorney general, then pissed Trump off with his recusal, then periodically absorbed massive public derision from Trump to the point that he had to insist he wasn't quitting, and now the Senate majority leader is floating him as the savior of the GOP by advocating that he return home to defend his old seat from a theocratic fascist facing numerous allegations of sexual violence.

This isn't just some goofy trial balloon, either. According to McConnell, "It's an issue they [Sessions and Trump] are discussing in great detail."

Ladies and gentlemen, the Republican Party.

The truly weird part, the part that leads me to believe Jefferson Beauregard Wallace Pickett Secession Sessions III is actually a spatial anomaly disrupting physics itself, is this: I want him to stay right the hell where he is. Sessions is by far the worst attorney general of my lifetime, perhaps of all time, and folks, that is saying something. He can't leave to save Alabama from itself, but must remain at Justice. Why? Because hard as it may be to accept or believe, all of this can get a whole lot worse.

Before his vapid Asia trip, Trump was making a lot of angry noises about his inability to use the Justice Department to grind down and destroy political enemies and anyone else who annoys him. This was disquieting enough by itself -- the president's manifest disdain for and rank ignorance of the rule of law has reached the level of performance art by now -- but his pre-trip grousing this time made people decidedly more nervous than usual.

To make matters worse, Sessions "ordered senior prosecutors to evaluate various accusations against Hillary Clinton and report back on whether a special counsel should be appointed," according to the New York Times. The items on Trump's investigatory wish list have either been investigated to pieces already, or are little more than fever-dream conspiracies that have oozed from the brain trust at Breitbart.

All of this, of course, is a lot of hyperactive hooey ginned up by the Sean Hannitys of the world to distract and possibly disrupt Robert Mueller's increasingly intense Trump/Russia investigation. By signaling he was interested, Sessions was indicating that he might be on the verge of providing that smokescreen while actively satisfying Trump's worst fascist desires.

If the Justice Department becomes the wrath of Trump, that's pretty much the end of the line for this little constitutional experiment we've been fiddling with since the shootout on the Lexington Green. If Jeff Sessions were to let this dog slip the leash, we're done as a nation of laws.

Presidents don't give power back. What is an astonishing power grab for one president becomes the new normal for the next president, and that president's power grab becomes the new normal for the president after them. If Trump is allowed to use the vast powers of the federal justice system to chase his enemies up a tree, the practice will become commonplace under his successor. None of us wants to live in that world. It is the world of boots hammering the floorboards in the dead of night, of star chambers and the disappeared.

These grave concerns took a large step backward on Tuesday afternoon when Sessions testified before the House Intelligence Committee. The hearing was ostensibly about the glaring irregularities within Sessions' own Russia-related testimony, but the conversation veered immediately into the realm of Clinton's emails and Canadian uranium. Several of the committee members had been demanding a new special counsel investigation since July, and they wanted to know if the attorney general was going to pull the trigger.

When GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio said it "looks like" the FBI and the Democratic Party had worked together on the now-infamous Trump/Russia dossier, Sessions replied, "Looks like' is not enough basis to appoint a special counsel." Later, Sessions told Rep. Jordan, "You can have your idea, but sometimes we have to study what the facts are and to evaluate whether it meets the standard that requires a special counsel."

Jefferson Beauregard Longstreet Dred Scott Dixie Sub-Space Sessions III is terrible by any standard, but never forget: It can always get worse.

To these ears, it sounded on Tuesday afternoon as if the attorney general was telling everyone yammering about a new special counsel to go back to bed. He did not definitively slam the door on the idea, but he appeared to be about as enthusiastic about it as a cat at bath time. This is welcome news if it holds.

This is why Sessions can't go running back to Alabama. If he leaves his current post, Trump will likely appoint someone to replace him who is more blatantly in line with his authoritarian visions -- someone who could very well authorize hostile politically motivated investigations, and who could also tear up every current investigation into Russia's electoral meddling, including the all-important one being run by Robert Mueller. Jefferson Beauregard Longstreet Dred Scott Dixie Sub-Space Sessions III is terrible by any standard, but never forget: It can always get worse.

Defining worse: Brett Talley of Alabama, who has never in his life tried a single case as an attorney, and who is married to a senior staff attorney for the Trump administration, has been nominated to a lifetime position on the federal bench. His nomination has already passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote, and appears ready to sail through the main body in similar fashion. No one knows anything about this wildly unqualified man, and he's about to have sway over literal life-and-death issues until his own dying day.

This is a feature, not a bug. "Trump judges are getting rushed through the confirmation process at a record pace," reports Eleanor Clift of The Daily Beast, "and they're super conservative on cultural issues, and mostly young. A lifetime appointment for someone in his or her thirties or forties is a gift that keeps on giving for three or four decades."

Why? Because these days it isn't about right or wrong, good or bad, patriotic or otherwise. It's about counting white men's noses, period. On this, the GOP has a tall advantage. Let Sessions leave for Alabama, and some yessir Republican embryo will be planted in Justice to do the lord's bidding, such as it is.

When preventing a man like Sessions from fleeing is your "better" option for keeping a fledgling totalitarian at bay, matters have gotten far out of joint. In a perfect world, Jeff Sessions' immediate resignation would herald the beginning of an administration-wide exodus that left Donald Trump and Mike Pence counting the minutes before their own well-earned ejection from office. The low fact that Sessions must stay for now is yet another sign that, put simply, we're all in some powerfully deep shit. Bring your hip waders and pack a lunch. We're going to be at this for a bit.

Categories: Latest News

350.org On NYC Pension Climate Risk Study: “No More Excuses Not To Divest”

Commondreams - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 10:48
350.org

Today, as world governments gather in Bonn for the COP23 climate talks, New York City’s Pensions Investment Committee received their second commissioned climate study from Mercer consulting. Following last month’s carbon footprinting report by S&P’s Trucost, this report, originally scheduled for release in September, analyzed climate risk of the City’s $186 billion pension funds. A second component of the study is expected in February.

Categories: Latest News

Congresswoman Lee Condemns FY2018 NDAA, Congressional Failure to Debate Wars

Commondreams - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 06:16
Barbara Lee

Congresswoman Barbara Lee released the following statement on the passage of the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act:

Categories: Latest News

Following Community Outcry, Federal Government Rejects Milwaukee County's 287g Application

Commondreams - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 06:11
Voces de la Frontera

On Tuesday the Department of Homeland Security rejected an application to give Milwaukee County Sheriff's deputies authority to separate immigrant families under the 287g program. DHS approved 287g applications from Waukesha County and 22 other jurisdictions nationwide. The Trump Administration is attempting to expand the 287g program nationwide to deputize local law enforcement as agents in their campaign of mass deportation and terror against immigrant families.

Categories: Latest News

IRC Projects Only 15,000 Refugee Arrivals In The United States This Year Based On Current Trends, One Third Of Record-Low FY18 Cap

Commondreams - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 05:08
The International Rescue Committee

Six weeks ago, the Trump administration set an historically low refugee admissions level of 45,000 in 2018—the lowest in history, and at a time of unprecedented global need. 

Today, The International Rescue Committee (IRC) registers alarm at the dramatic reduction in arrivals. In the first month of the FY2018, 1,247 refugees arrived, compared to 9,945 refugees this time last year. At this pace, the United States would only admit around 15,000 refugees this year. This projection would represent a 72% drop from arrivals in FY17, and 82% in FY16.

Categories: Latest News

Pages

Subscribe to Peace Action of San Mateo County aggregator