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Teen Voices in the Fight to Raise the Minimum Wage in Massachusetts

Truthout - 3 hours 2 min ago
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Norma Meza is an 18-year-old student at Charlestown High School in Charlestown, Massachusetts. Growing up, she watched her mother battle health issues such as kidney failure, lupus, and ulcers. Despite working full-time, her mother struggled financially to keep the family afloat. Norma knew as early as 14 years old that she would have to get a job to help her mother pay the bills and put food on the table.

Since then she's worked a number of jobs to help contribute to her family's income while gaining important work skills. "I've worked as an office assistant and learned in the process how to answer phone calls, assisting families who spoke Spanish," said Norma. "After that I worked as a camp counselor for 2 years where I learned leadership, communication skills, and how to be a role model."

Knowing how valuable youth employment is to herself and her family, Norma joined I Have A Future, a statewide community of youth organizers and allies building power to win youth jobs and end mass incarceration through transformational leadership development, direct public action, and policy change.

With over 104,000 teens working and actively contributing to the Massachusetts economy, I Have A Future has joined the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition to lift up the voice of teenagers in their efforts to raise the minimum wage in Massachusetts.

The US economy has experienced long-term real wage stagnation and a persistent lack of economic progress for many workers. A report released by The Hamilton Project found that after adjusting for inflation, wages in the US are only 10 percent higher in 2017 than they were in 1973, with annual real wage growth just below 0.2 percent.

Right now, a full-time worker in Massachusetts earning the current minimum wage of $11 an hour makes only $22,880 a year. A minimum wage earner in Massachusetts would have to work 94 hours every week in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment. Many workers earning the minimum wage work three or more jobs and still can't afford the cost of groceries, medication, housing, heating and other basic needs.

The Raise Up MA coalition has joined the nation wide Fight for 15 movement. They proposed a plan to increase the state's minimum wage by $1 each year over four years until it is $15 an hour in 2021. The minimum wage would then be adjusted each year to rise along with increases in the cost of living. Some state legislators and business groups have pushed back on the plan calling for a carve out for teens and for a sub-minimum "teen wage" or "training wage".

Emphasizing teen wages in this fight is crucial because like Norma, many working teens in Massachusetts play an important role in not only helping their families meet their financial needs but also for themselves, like paying for college.

study released by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center found that raising the minimum wage  to $15 an hour by 2022 would give 89 percent of working teens a raise. This increase would help tens of thousands of families achieve the financial stability that presently is out of reach.

Under federal law, employers are allowed to pay workers under 20 years old any rate above $4.25 an hour for the first 90 days of their employment. Members of the National Federation for Independent Businesses are arguing that paying teens a higher wage may be difficult for small businesses to absorb.

But the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center argues that a subminimum wage policy for teens could hurt the overall economy by replacing adults and seniors in the workforce. With large shares of working adults over 65 years old who work in many of the same occupations as teen workers –  such as cashiers and retail salespeople – a teen wage could harm the employment prospects of older adults.

Also, Mass. Budget president Noah Berger emphasized in WBUR late last year that, "it's important to recognize that in low-income families, the wages teens earn can be important," Berger said, "and if they're paid a little more it gives them greater capacity to help their family to make ends meet, to pay for food or rent or other basic necessities."

Norma Meza was one of the few teens who shared her testimony at Raise Up Congress, a rally at the MA statehouse where advocates lobbied state lawmakers for Paid Family and Medical Leave and a $15 Minimum Wage.

"As you can tell youth employment is important for me and for other teens in similar situations," Meza said. "Youth are the now and the future. If you believe in us, if you believe that all young people should have equal opportunities to thrive, then invest in our future!"

Categories: Latest News

"We Are Lurching Toward Plutocracy": Rep. Ellison on Rollback of Key Dodd-Frank Banking Regulations

Truthout - Tue, 05/22/2018 - 21:00

In a rare bipartisan effort Tuesday, House lawmakers voted 258 to 159 to exempt banks with less than $250 billion in assets from many of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act regulations, even though banks' profits are soaring. The Dodd-Frank Act was passed after the 2008 economic crisis, which was provoked by years of risky lending by Wall Street banks. Thirty-three Democrats joined their Republican counterparts in voting for the financial regulation rollback, which, if signed into law, would leave less than 10 banks in the US subject to stricter federal oversight. For more, we speak with Minnesota Democratic Congressmember Keith Ellison. He is the first Muslim member of Congress and the deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee, or DNC.

Please check back later for full transcript.

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DNC Deputy Chair Keith Ellison: The Democratic Party Should Stay Out of Primaries, Let Voters Decide

Truthout - Tue, 05/22/2018 - 21:00

Voters in Georgia, Texas, Arkansas and Kentucky headed to the polls Tuesday to determine a number of key primaries, and it was another big night for female Democratic candidates. In Georgia, Stacey Abrams made history by becoming the first African-American woman to win a major party's nomination for governor in the US. If Abrams wins in November, she will become the first African-American governor in the Deep South since Reconstruction. Meanwhile in Houston, Texas, Lupe Valdez made history by becoming the first openly gay and first Latina candidate to win a major-party nomination for Texas governor. For more, we speak with Minnesota Democratic Congressmember Keith Ellison, deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Exit Emergency

Truthout - Tue, 05/22/2018 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

"Once Again, Hurting Children": GAO Approves Trump's Plan to Take $7 Billion Back From Kids' Health Program

Truthout - Tue, 05/22/2018 - 21:00

(Photo: KidStock / Getty Images)

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) on Tuesday approved President Donald Trump's "despicable" proposal to slash more than $7 billion from the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which helps impoverished families provide healthcare to their kids.

The approval came by way of a GAO report delivered to Congress early Tuesday. The cuts to CHIP are part of a broader plan by the Trump administration to cancel $15.3 billion in previously approved funding. House Republicans reportedly have already drafted a bill that aligns with the president's proposal and plan to put the measure to a vote next month.

Republican Senate leaders haven't publicly revealed plans for passing a related bill. However, with the GAO's greenlight, as Politico explained, "the White House's plan for so-called rescissions will likely retain its filibuster-proof powers in the GOP-controlled Senate, easing the way for potential passage with a simple majority vote."

When Trump's plan was revealed earlier this month, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) had called it "despicable on every level," particularly considering that last year's #GOPTaxScam "gave a trillion dollars to billionaires & massive corporations."

Critics on Tuesday, responding to the GAO report, also referenced the tax overhaul forced through by Republican lawmakers and signed by Trump in December.

"Well, to be honest, this only makes sense," said one Twitter user caustically. "The GOP tax cuts for the rich aren't going to pay themselves. That cash has to come from somewhere."

Others weighed in on the basic cruelty of targeting a program that helps children.

Today, the Government Accountability approved a majority of the trump regime’s $15.3 Billion plan in spending cuts.

This plan specifically takes back more than $7 Billion from the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Once again, hurting children.

— Ricky Davila (@TheRickyDavila) May 22, 2018

What in the actual fuck?? Isn’t that “unused” cash the safety reserve for CHIP funding? @realDonaldTrump wants our neediest children to die! And no one is doing anything to stop him!! https://t.co/YaimfUEdmh

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Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Unfazed by Conflict of Interest Charges

Truthout - Tue, 05/22/2018 - 21:00
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A pilot program with the aim of delivering student loans through prepaid bank cards is vulnerable to a conflict of interest, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was warned during a hearing on Tuesday.

DeVos, however, dismissed those concerns, and later appeared to know very little at all about the card program.

The Education Department's Office of Student Aid is planning to launch the pilot program this year, dispersing loans to as many as 100,000 students via prepaid cards, similar to debit cards. The initiative would be administered by a vendor that has not yet been chosen by the department.

During Tuesday's proceedings before the House Education and Workforce Committee, Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) pressed Secretary DeVos about three department officials with close ties to the credit card industry, including A. Wayne Johnson, the head of Federal Student Aid.

"All have previous ties to financial firms like MasterCard, Citibank, and Bank of America, and they are working on implementation of the pilot card program," Takano said, raising the possibility of conflicts of interest.

"Can you testify today that the pilot program will not be implemented by the best-connected firm, but by the firm that will best serve our students," the congressman asked.

"All of those who work within the Department of Education take their ethics agreements very seriously and are bound to them," Secretary DeVos responded, without commenting on the specifics of the program.

The student load card initiative, announced by the department in January, has been received with skepticism from education groups and other lawmakers. Democratic Senators, including Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), wrote a letter to Secretary DeVos earlier this year with concerns about the program.

They wanted to know what sort of spending data would be collected about students, and if it would be used by financial firms to market other products in the future. Senators also inquired about the types of spending restrictions that would be applied to the card.

To Rep. Takano's point, the letter also asked what steps the Federal Student Aid office is taking to "safeguard against conflicts of interest in the pilot program."

On Tuesday, Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C) also asked why the program was even necessary, but Secretary DeVos didn't appear familiar with basic details.

"I'm curious about what the rational for these cards are," asked Rep. Adams.

"I'm sorry?" DeVos responded, appearing to not understand the question.

"He talked to you about the student loan disbursements and the cards," Rep. Adams said, referring to the prior questioning from Rep. Takano.

"Cards?" DeVos responded, again confused. Adams moved on to her next question.

The Department of Education's plan for prepaid student loan cards is far from novel. Schools have previously offered student loans on cards backed by banks. But those arrangements often carried high transaction costs, siphoning off federal aid to banks through fees.

The Obama Administration issued a regulation in 2015 preventing schools from leveling "excessive and confusing fees" on students using financial aid cards.

Categories: Latest News

Trump Wants to Inflict Misery on Iran With More Economic Sanctions

Truthout - Tue, 05/22/2018 - 21:00

Four decades of conflict between the US and Iran are entering a new stage after Donald Trump's announcement that the US will withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal. The US government is poised to reimpose devastating economic sanctions -- on everything from Iran buying or acquiring US dollars, to commerce in Iran’s ports and exports of Iranian oil. The price will be paid, as it was before, by ordinary Iranians.

Iranian women carry anti-US signs during a demonstration outside the former US embassy headquarters in the capital Tehran on May 9, 2018. (Photo: Atta Kenare / AFP / Getty Images)

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Four decades of conflict between the US and Iran are entering a new stage after Donald Trump's announcement that the US will withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal.

The US government is poised to reimpose devastating economic sanctions -- on everything from Iran buying or acquiring US dollars, to commerce in Iran's ports, to exports of Iranian oil, to transactions with the Central Bank of Iran, and the list goes on.

The price will be paid, as it was before, by ordinary Iranians, and especially children.

Because of the impact of sanctions in a few brief years before the nuclear deal was signed, families in Iran living in poverty nearly doubled to more than 40 percent in 2014 -- and the value of the country's currency, the Rial, plummeted, causing the prices of basic necessities like milk, tea, fruits and vegetables to skyrocket.

According to a Guardian report in 2013: "Hundreds of thousands of Iranians with serious illnesses have been put at imminent risk by the unintended consequences of international sanctions, which have led to dire shortages of lifesaving medicines such as chemotherapy drugs for cancer and blood-clotting agents for hemophiliacs."

This is the suffering that Trump wants to inflict on Iran once again -- in order to advance the interests of the US empire and its Middle East allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

And it isn't the first time. Following the US-led war on Iraq in 1991, the United Nations placed the strictest regime of sanctions yet known on Iraq. A 1999 United Nations report concluded that up to 576,000 Iraqi children died as a result of the sanctions regime -- upheld under Democrat Bill Clinton as enthusiastically as under Bush Sr.

For now, other signatories to the nuclear deal with Iran -- Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia -- have pledged to stick to the agreement. But this will set them on a collision course with the Trump administration.

European Union countries will have a choice to make. As the second-largest importer of Iranian oil after China, the EU benefits from new connections to the Iranian market.

But Trump administration officials like National Security Advisor John Bolton are publicly threatening to impose sanctions on any businesses that do business with Iran, along with governments that back them. Richard Grenell, the US ambassador to Germany, warned in a tweet: "German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately."

The chilling effect of US sanctions was effective in isolating Iran from the global market before the Obama administration agreed to a deal, under which Iran accepted stringent inspections of its nuclear facilities in return for the lifting of most of the sanctions.

Even after the agreement, some international corporations hesitated to establish ties with Iran. Now, businesses will have to decide whether to risk running afoul of the US, which could mean losing access to American markets or other penalties.


The US has imposed sanctions on Iran on and off since 1979, the year that a popular revolution toppled the US-backed Shah. Though working class forces central to the revolution were sidelined afterward, the rise of a conservative clerical regime, hostile to the West and Israel, threatened US hegemony in the Middle East.

The US has unilaterally froze assets and imposed trade embargoes on Iranian goods for decades.

Washington demanded compliance from its allies -- yet the US government itself broke its own arms embargo in the 1980s when the Reagan administration covertly sold arms to Iran and used the proceeds to fund the right-wing contras fighting the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

In the 1990s, the US expanded economic sanctions to firms doing business with Iran, further isolating the country. The European Union responded by arguing to the World Trade Organization that US sanctions violated international law. This led the US to agree not to enforce part of the sanctions.

Nevertheless, the general message conveyed to international corporations remained the same: If you do business with Iran, you won't be doing business with the US

For years, the sanctions have long been bound up with Iran's nuclear program. Iran has defended its right to pursue a program for the production of electricity, which is within its rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (which, by the way, Israel never signed).

Even the US National Intelligence Estimate conducted during the last year of the Bush administration concluded that Iran had ended its military program in 2003, and would be unlikely to develop a nuclear weapon for many years.

But the US and its allies continued to apply pressure. In 2006, the UN Security Council imposed sanctions following Iran's refusal to suspend uranium enrichment programs. The Obama administration and the European Union placed an embargo Iran oil imports in 2012.

The threat and enforcement of sanctions pushed Iran to the negotiating table. With the 2015 agreement, Iran capitulated to demands for a reduction in its uranium stockpile and a pause on developing alleged weapons infrastructure, in exchange for the loosening of sanctions and strict monitoring of Iranian facilities.

Trump claims that the nuclear agreement is "the worst deal ever." But in reality, it achieved a strict system of monitoring that has uncovered no signs of any attempt at military activity -- while reserving for the US the right to impose sanctions and even take military action at will, as Obama always insisted.

The deal had a positive effect on Iran's economy, resulting in a doubling of oil exports and job creation. But even so, Iran remained less than fully integrated into the world economy. Major European banks were hesitant to expand into Iran, worried about the US changing course.

And now it has.


Iran's ruling class is practiced at using the US-directed sanctions regime to deflect attention from austerity measures imposed in its own interests.

Prior to the 2015 nuclear deal, the government often pointed to US and EU sanctions as the reason for lack of money for social spending. Predictably, a sophisticated black market formed, with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard controlling many of the smuggling routes, increasing the power of the regime.

Iranian workers recognize that the conservative hierarchy pursues policies that benefit themselves, above all else. Insurrectionary protests at the turn of the year, and more recently a wave of strikes, have asked why the money to fund Iran's intervention in Syria and its proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah, shouldn't be used in Iran itself.

But since Trump's decision, the momentum has been with Iranian conservatives. For them, the US is a scapegoat for the economic woes plaguing Iran that the regime itself bears responsibility for.

None of this is to minimize US responsibility for the suffering in Iran -- which will only become greater in a new era of sanctions.

So far, the other countries that are signers of the nuclear deal are still standing behind the agreement. A week ago, the European Union announced a plan to make direct oil payments to Iran to dodge US sanctions.

But the US government has other plans. And with fanatics like Bolton and Trump himself calling the shots, the likelihood of greater misery inflicted on the Iranian people -- and even a regional war stoked by the US -- has grown, and shows no signs of receding.

Alan Maass contributed to this article.

Categories: Latest News

With Haspel Sworn In as CIA Director, Let's Stop Pretending That Her Atrocities Run Counter to American Values

Truthout - Tue, 05/22/2018 - 21:00

Those who argue that Gina Haspel is not fit to lead the CIA because she oversaw the Bush/Cheney torture program have chosen not to look too deeply into the agency's history and its actions abroad. Viewed through a systemic lens, Haspel's atrocious past is fully in line with the violence that is condoned, perpetrated and overseen by the CIA in the name of American hegemony.

Gina Haspel prepares to speak while flanked by U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and Vice President Mike Pence, after she was sworn in as CIA director during a swearing-in ceremony at agency headquarters, May 21, 2018, in Langley, Virginia. (Photo: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

Although Gina Haspel's nomination received the fewest supporting votes of any previous CIA director nominee, on Monday morning she was sworn in to head the agency. Introducing Haspel, Trump stated that "instead of apologizing for our nation, we are standing up for our nation." He spoke these words knowing that Haspel oversaw the CIA's first black site in the "war on terror," where two Muslim prisoners were waterboarded repeatedly. Why? Because torture is American.

Prior to her confirmation, there seemed to be three common mainstream responses to Haspel's nomination: 1) The torture she oversaw wasn't torture/was acceptable under the circumstances; 2) Those who were tortured provided valuable intelligence, therefore justifying this abuse; and 3) Torture is "un-American" because it is morally and legally impermissible.

Torture isn't "un-American"; accountability for torture is.

To those who fell into the third response, including senators and advocates alike, Haspel was seen as unqualified to lead the CIA precisely because of her role in facilitating torture. But to suggest that this disqualifies someone from a position in a particular agency is to say that her actions were deviations from the norm. On the contrary, history strongly suggests that Haspel's atrocious past is just what the CIA is looking for and what the US government will endorse. More specifically, and seen through a systemic lens, the torture she oversaw is completely in line with the violence that is condoned, perpetrated and overseen by the CIA in general.

Torture in the "War on Terror" -- From Bush to Obama

Though torture is a tactic familiar to the CIA, during the "war on terror," its legality became malleable. For instance, take the case of former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, who in 2002 wrote  memos authorizing torture. By the standards created by John Yoo's legal gymnastics, in order for abuse to rise to the level of torture, abusive treatment had to result in organ failure or death. Moreover, when asked by Doug Cassel, former director of Notre Dame Law School's Center for Civil and Human Rights, if the president had the authority to crush the testicles of a child and whether anything could prevent him from doing so, Yoo responded that there was no law to prevent him from doing so.

At the same time that Yoo was concocting legal strategies to make torture legal, the CIA began its Rendition, Detention and Interrogation (RDI) program in 2002, which allowed for the capture and detention of prisoners. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence torture report identified 119 prisoners who went through the CIA's RDI program from 2002-2008, all of whom were Muslim and who were subjected to a use of tactics ranging from stress positions to cramped confinement, to the use of diapers, to mock burials. Given the brutality of these tactics, the CIA sought preemptive immunity from the Justice Department's Criminal Division prior to torturing one of its first prisoners in custody, Abu Zubaydah, who was waterboarded 83 times -- torture that was overseen by Gina Haspel.

Gina Haspel's confirmation reveals a case of the "bad apple" syndrome, in which blame for abuse is assigned to one person because of a refusal to address its systemic nature.

The CIA's RDI program lasted until 2008, with its calls for impunity fulfilled. Despite the findings of egregious torture that were revealed in the Senate Select Intelligence Committee report released in 2014, not a single person has been prosecuted for torture.

When Obama became president, there was a push for "transparency" surrounding the torture programs, though at the same time, the administration sent a clear message that those who committed torture need not be afraid of consequences. That's why when President Obama released the "torture memos" in 2009, he stated, "It is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution."

Moreover, former US Attorney General Eric Holder ordered an investigation into the CIA's torture program later in 2009, to be conducted by John Durham, who at the time was appointed as special prosecutor to investigate the destruction of tapes with evidence of torture. However, Holder expressly stated that, "the Department of Justice will not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) regarding the interrogation of detainees." But what does "good faith" mean in light of a report that spells out prisoner abuses such as rectal feeding and sleep deprivation? This language suggests that torture isn't "un-American"; accountability for torture is.

A known torturer leading the CIA sends the world a frightening message, but Haspel's prior appointment to deputy director should have been worthy of equal concern.

Furthermore, the position taken by the Obama administration raises the question: Who is subject to prosecution? And how far does the notion of "good faith" extend? Was Gina Haspel acting in good faith when she oversaw prisoners being waterboarded? Where is the line between good-faith acts and illegal conduct?  Unfortunately, both the national security paradigm post-9/11 and a lack of any accountability of the CIA as a purveyor of mass violence has meant that these lines are often drawn in the sand with little to no weight of law as accountability.

What Gina Haspel's confirmation further reveals is wholesale impunity for torture, but also a renewed case of the "bad apple" syndrome, in which blame for abuse is assigned to one person because of a refusal to address its systemic nature. This approach is only taken when it's more politically viable because addressing a single act of violence is hardly as overwhelming -- or as politically costly -- as trying to address a systemic issue that runs through the veins of the CIA.

Lack of Accountability for Torturers

In the lead-up to Haspel's confirmation, accountability for torture extended only as far as questioning whether she should lead the CIA. Prosecution was never once on the table despite her role in torture. Even the members of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee that produced the torture report did not advocate prosecution. How can we claim that torture is "un-American"? What would it mean if torture were considered American, if torture as "un-American" results in total impunity?

Those who ordered the torture aren't held accountable either.

How do we determine what measures of accountability are appropriate for those who broke the law? This question is often challenged because of how the law was rewritten and reworked to legalize torture under the Bush administration. However, the question of torture's legality is not a new one, and there are multiple definitions of what constitutes torture not only in domestic law, but international law. Moreover, what the torture discourse post-9/11 brought squarely to the forefront is that changed laws don't make conduct any more moral or ethical -- and that changed laws can be reversed when it is clear that they were designed to evade accountability, not ensure more protections or enhance national security. For those advocating against torture, what Haspel oversaw fit the crime, and the subpar legal justifications offered by Bush administration officials didn't and don't change the essence of what is widely understood as torture.

Recognizing that the abuse sanctioned under the Bush administration was torture, few were willing to take a strong stand calling for accountability. Even Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who led the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on torture, took time to decide on her vote against Haspel despite knowing what she did about her role, and when she did vote no, she stated:

This nomination is bigger than one person. This nomination is about reckoning with our history. It's about grappling with our country's mistakes and making clear to the world that we accept responsibility for our mistakes and they will never be repeated.

But preventing a single CIA officer from being promoted does not count for reckoning with our history. Additionally, Feinstein said:

The bottom line is this: No one has ever been held accountable for the torture program and I do not believe those who were intimately involved in it deserve to lead the agency. What message does it send to the world if we reward people for presiding over what is considered to be one of the darkest chapters in our history?

Perhaps for some, a known torturer leading the CIA sends the world a frightening message, but if there was concern about the message the US was sending by appointing torturers, then Haspel's prior appointment to deputy director should have been worthy of equal concern. Moreover, this assumes that people view the CIA as an otherwise accountable institution that upholds the rule of law while obtaining valuable intelligence. But given the CIA's questionable conduct in the past and present, this view makes no sense, and the CIA's credibility (or lack thereof) cannot hinge only on Gina Haspel's confirmation.

The CIA has emerged from the debate on Haspel's role relatively unscathed.

Critically, Haspel's testimony made clear that she neither acknowledges nor expresses remorse for her role in torture. Instead, Haspel stated that she wouldn't "condemn those that made these hard calls," and that while she believed the intelligence information gained was important, "it ultimately did damage to our officers and our standing in the world." In other words, torture is not inherently wrong in Haspel's mind, and whatever harms came from the CIA's torture programs exist only because those tasked with conducting the torture were endangered. Never mind the immense harm done to those who were actually tortured. And when it comes to legality and morality, a country's image should hardly be the driving factor. That Haspel could state these words while knowing she still had a good chance of being confirmed demonstrates just how confident one can be of impunity in the name of "national security."

Haspel wasn't the only person who let herself off the hook; indeed, many made the argument that  she was just following orders. But this exposes another problematic aspect of the impunity structure -- namely, that those who ordered the torture aren't held accountable either. That's why the architects of torture post-9/11 haven't received any attention whatsoever. The blame is only shifted temporarily and when it's politically convenient -- not as a matter of uncovering the root causes, exposing the evasion of the law and exploring what could have prevented these abuses from happening in the first place.

The CIA and Torture

Missing from the debate around Haspel's confirmation is the role of the institution in which the torture took place. Indeed, the CIA has emerged from the debate on Haspel's role relatively unscathed. Moreover, rather than broadening the national discourse to reflect critically on an agency that has (and still does) conduct massive acts of state violence, the CIA's foundational structures have escaped public scrutiny.

In his book Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, William Blum documents an extensive history of the CIA's state violence abroad that includes torture. The CIA, far from being just an intelligence-gathering organization, has contributed to massive unrest in other countries and inflicted horrendous violence on them. While some may argue that the torture in a historical context was not done as openly and overtly, and that torture during the "war on terror" was more transparent, when it comes to accountability for the crimes committed, there has been no discernible difference. In other words, being privy to actions of the CIA has had no significant bearing on the extent to which the CIA actually faces consequences.

To actually reckon with torture, we must recognize that US history is riddled with it.

The CIA's role in political unrest across the globe led the Senate Select Intelligence Committee to conduct an investigation into this intelligence agency and others in 1975. The investigation and subsequent report produced several recommendations such as increased congressional oversight. Though this was clearly a positive attempt to curb the power of intelligence agencies, the brutal torture that occurred decades later and without congressional approval demonstrates just how much power the CIA has amassed. Furthermore, the inability to hold accountable those who actually commit the abuses allows the agent to hide behind the agency and the agency to evade responsibility.

One Step Forward, 10 Steps Back

With Gina Haspel confirmed, a lack of accountability for anyone involved in the torture apparatus thus far, and a president overtly in favor of torture, the question that seems appropriate to ask is: To what extent will this abuse of human rights re-emerge as an explicit counterterrorism tactic? It seems assured that given the circumstances, the question is not if, but when. This doesn't mean that torture will never go accounted for, but that it may be left in the hands of survivors, such as Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud and the estate of the late Gul Rahman, who sued CIA contracted psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen for their development of the specific torture tactics used by the CIA, to gain some semblance of rights.

In order to actually reckon with torture, we must recognize that US history is riddled with it. Furthermore, if the rule of law is truly a principle that the US adheres to, then it should be noted that forgiveness for crimes against humanity is not what strengthens the rule of law. Rather, accountability is. If the United States is truly interested in reckoning with torture and pursuing justice, then we must continually ask what mechanisms should be implemented to hold torturers accountable, regardless of Haspel's confirmation. And we must ask these questions not only to make our country more ethical, but also because those who have suffered irreparable damage from our actions are owed answers. Perhaps one day, our vision of justice will include our victims, because only then can we truly say we've reckoned with our past.

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Categories: Latest News

Women of Color Demand Federal Investigation of Sexual Harassment at McDonald's

Truthout - Tue, 05/22/2018 - 21:00

Women of color working for low wages at McDonald's restaurants are saying they have been sexually harassed on the job and managers routinely fail to take reports of unwanted advances and sexual assault seriously. Others stay silent in fear of losing work. With help from women's and labor advocates, the women are now fighting back.

(Photo: Vivid Lime)

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Women of color working for low wages at McDonald's restaurants across the United States have bravely spoken out about sexual harassment on the job, and now they are asking federal investigators to conduct a sweeping investigation into the global restaurant chain in an effort to change the fast-food industry.

Cooks and cashiers from McDonald's franchises in nine major cities have filed 10 charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that they were sexually harassed by fellow employees and managers at work, according to Fight for $15, a movement of low-wage workers backed by unions. The EEOC is the federal agency that enforces laws prohibiting workplace discrimination.

The workers and their attorneys announced the charges outside the new McDonald's corporate headquarters in Chicago on Tuesday, just days ahead of the company's annual shareholders' meeting. All of three workers who spoke during the press conference said they make between $8 and $8.50 an hour, far below what is considered a living wage in most major US cities.

"I felt trapped at the time."

"I am here to tell you that this company has a sexual harassment problem," said Kimberley Lawson, a McDonald's worker in Kansas City, Missouri. "Working at McDonald's is hard enough already. I only make $8.25 an hour, and it's hard to find stable housing for me and my daughter."

In comparison, the living wage required for a working mother with one child to comfortably meet their basic needs in Kansas City is about $24 an hour, according to the MIT Living Wage Calculator.

Lawson said one of her managers repeatedly made unwanted sexual comments about her appearance, and she initially felt there was little she could do about it besides try to rearrange her schedule. Another coworker repeatedly touched her inappropriately and brought her unwanted gifts, but nothing was done after she complained to a manager.

"I felt trapped at the time," Lawson said.

Lawson is not alone. Several women filing charges with the EEOC said their attempts to alert management to sexual harassment went nowhere. One worker did not report that her coworker attempted to sexually assault her in the bathroom because her first complaint was not take seriously.

Adriana Alvarez, a McDonald's worker in Chicago who organizes with Fight for $15, said the #MeToo movement may have "changed things for actresses in Hollywood," but not for workers at McDonald's.

"When workers alerted management, they were all too often brushed off, mocked and in some cases, faced retaliation," Alvarez said.

Women in any workplace face stigma and the fear of retaliation when reporting sexual harassment, but advocates say the low pay scale at McDonald's makes workers particularly vulnerable. With so little income to support themselves and their families, workers may not report sexual harassment to management -- or confront the managers who harass them -- out of fear of losing hours of work or even their jobs.

"For a lot of women, silence seems like the only option," said Sharyn Tejani, executive director of the TIME'S Up Legal Defense Fund, which defrays legal costs for women challenging sexual harassment at work. "They are not able to walk away from the harassment because they need the job."

Sexual harassment is widespread in the fast-food industry. A 2016 study found that 2 in 5 women working in fast food reported unwanted sexual behaviors on the job, including 28 percent who experienced multiple incidents of harassment. An alarming 42 percent of those who reported unwanted sexual behavior felt they had to accept it because they could not afford to lose their job, including 47 percent of Latinas.

"Any undocumented workers may fear deportation if they speak out," said Sally Abrahamson, one of the attorneys working on the women's cases. "Other employees might be afraid that they will not be believed, or will be ridiculed."

"When workers alerted management, they were all too often brushed off, mocked and in some cases, faced retaliation."

Fight for $15 had already filed a series of sexual harassment charges against McDonald's in 2016, and while some of those have been resolved, attorneys now want the EEOC to consolidate the remaining charges with those filed this week into a broad investigation of harassment across the cheeseburger empire. They hope the charges will pressure the company to enforce its "zero-tolerance" sexual harassment policy and become an industry leader in sexual harassment prevention.

"We want this treated as a systemic investigation," Abrahamson said.

The charges come in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling that upheld employment contracts with provisions that prevent workers from filing class-action lawsuits against their bosses over wage theft, sexual harassment and other disputes. Instead, employees must resolve their grievances in individual arbitration proceedings, a process that labor advocates say obscures patterns of discrimination and isolates workers.

An estimated 25 million workers have agreed to such "mandatory" or "forced" arbitration, and the details are often hidden in the paperwork that comes along with signing up for a job. Attorneys for the women filing complaints against McDonald's said they are still working to determine whether their clients signed mandatory arbitration agreements, although the Supreme Court's ruling does not prevent them from filing charges with a federal agency like the EEOC.

To fix the sexual harassment problem at McDonald's, Fight for $15 is demanding the company train managers and employees to enforce the company's zero-tolerance policy and develop a safe and effective method for workers to report harassment.

Truthout asked the McDonald's media team for details of any efforts to bolster sexual harassment prevention, and whether the company would commit to raising wages for its restaurant workers because so many women say they don't report sexual harassment out of fear of losing income. McDonald's did not respond to any of these questions specifically, but did send along this statement from spokesperson Terri Hickey:

At McDonald's Corporation, we are and have been committed to a culture that fosters the respectful treatment of everyone. There is no place for harassment and discrimination of any kind in our workplace. McDonald's Corporation takes allegations of sexual harassment very seriously and are confident our independent franchisees who own and operate approximately 90 percent of our 14,000 U.S. restaurants will do the same.

Attorney Eve Cervantez said both the McDonald's corporation and individual franchise owners were named in the charges filed with federal investigators. She urged the company to "step forward" to be part of the solution. In the meantime, McDonald's workers who experience sexual harassment on the job can call a Fight for $15 hotline at (844) 384-4495 to have their reports reviewed by attorneys.

Categories: Latest News

Striking Teachers Beat Back Neoliberalism's War on Public Schools

Truthout - Tue, 05/22/2018 - 21:00

Teachers and supporters strike outside East High School on May 7, 2018, in Pueblo, Colorado. (Photo: RJ Sangosti / The Denver Post via Getty Images)

The public school system has long been at the center of the neoliberal war on all things related to the public good. But the unprecedented multi-state teachers' strike has ignited the possibility of building a mass movement against neoliberalism's wide-ranging assaults on the fabric of everyday life and created new hope for an alternative vision of American democracy.

Teachers and supporters strike outside East High School on May 7, 2018, in Pueblo, Colorado. (Photo: RJ Sangosti / The Denver Post via Getty Images)

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Thousands of teachers and students are walking out of schools, marching in the streets, and raising their hands and signs in protest against the war on education. Most recently, South Carolina has joined the wave of teachers' protests and strikes taking place across the nation. In the age of illiberal democracy and the growing fascism of the Trump administration, the unimaginable has once again become imaginable as teachers inspired and energized by a dynamic willingness to fight for their rights and the rights of their students are exercising bold expressions of political power. The power of collective resistance is being mounted in full force against a neoliberal logic that unabashedly insists that the rule of the market is more important than the needs of teachers, students, young people, the poor and those deemed disposable by those with power in our society. Teachers are tired of being relentless victims of a casino capitalism in which they and their students are treated with little respect, dignity and value. They have had enough with corrupt politicians, hedge fund managers and civically illiterate pundits seduced by the power of the corporate and political demagogues who are waging a war on critical teaching, critical pedagogy and the creativity and autonomy of classroom teachers.

Since the 1980s, an extreme form of capitalism -- or what in the current moment I want to call neoliberal fascism -- has waged a war against public education and all vestiges of the common good and social contract. In addition, this is a war rooted in class and gender discrimination -- one that deskills teachers, exploits their labor and bears down particularly hard on women, who make up a dominant segment of the teaching force. In doing so, it not only undermines schooling as a public good, but also weaponizes and weakens the formative cultures, values and social relations that enable schools to create the conditions for students to become critical and engaged citizens.

To read more articles by Henry A. Giroux and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

Schools have been underfunded, increasingly privatized and turned into testing factories that deliver poor students of color to the violence of the school-to-prison pipeline. Moreover, they have also been restructured in order to weaken unions, subject teachers to horrendous working conditions and expose students to overcrowded classrooms. In some cases, the dire working environment and dilapidated conditions of schools and classrooms appear incomprehensible in the richest nation in the world. For instance, as South Carolina teachers go on strike, Hiram Lee reports:

The average salary stands at $10,000 below the national average, while the minimum starting salary is only $30,113 a year.... Working conditions are extremely poor. [In one instance] raw sewage mixed with worms and insects flowed into the hallways of Ridgeland Elementary in Jasper County, where it was tracked into classrooms by students. In other schools, holes in the floors of some classrooms allowed students to see into the classrooms below them. Teachers used old rags and sandbags to prevent a flood of rainwater coming in through cracks in the walls. Libraries were filled with shockingly few books, and those on hand were so outdated that one teacher recalled finding a book that predicted, "One day man will land on the moon."

What the South Carolina mobilization and the other teacher walkouts across the nation suggest is that these expressions of collective resistance are about both the survival of democracy in Trump's America and a challenge to the commanding institutions and organizing ideals and principles that make it possible.

The Reclamation of Education as a Public Good

Fortunately, teachers, students, progressive social movements and others are rising up, refusing to be written out of the script of a potentially radical democracy.

Yet, what has often been lost on those who have courageously charted this growing assault on democracy is perhaps its most debilitating legacy: the long-standing and mutually reinforcing attacks on both public education and young people. Such attacks are not new; rather, they have simply intensified under the Trump administration. As a war culture has started organizing all aspects of society, schools have transformed into zones of economic and political abandonment. Increasingly modeled after prisons, schools have become subject to pedagogies of oppression and purged of the experiences, values and creativity necessary for students to expand and deepen their knowledge, values and imagination. Moreover, as state and corporate violence engulfs the entire society, schools have been subject to forms of extreme violence that in the past existed exclusively outside of their doors. Under such circumstances, youth are increasingly viewed as suspects and are targeted both by a gun culture that places profits above student lives and by a neoliberal machinery of cruelty, misery and violence dedicated to widespread educational failure. Instead of imbibing students with a sense of ethical and social responsibility while preparing them for a life of social and economic mobility, public schools have been converted into high-tech security spheres whose defining principles are fear, uncertainty and anxiety. In this view, a corporate vision of the US has reduced the culture of schooling to the culture of business and an armed camp, and in doing so, imposed a real and symbolic threat of violence on schools, teachers and students. As such, thinking has become the enemy of freedom, and profits have become more important than human lives.

Today's teachers and students are facing not only a crisis of schooling but also a crisis of education.

Public schools are at the center of the manufactured breakdown of the fabric of everyday life. They are under attack not because they are failing, but because they are public -- a reminder of the centrality of the role they play in making good on the claim that critically literate citizens are indispensable to a vibrant democracy. Moreover, they symbolize the centrality of education as a right and public good whose mission is to enable young people to exercise those modes of leadership and governance in which "they can become fully free to claim their moral and political agency."

Rejecting the idea that education is a commodity to be bought and sold, teachers and students across the country are reclaiming education as a public good and a human right, a protective space that should be free of violence, and open to critical teaching and learning. Not only is it a place to think, engage in critical dialogue, encourage human potential and contribute to the vibrancy of a democratic polity, it is also a place in which the social flourishes, in that students and teachers learn to think and act together.

Under the current era of neoliberal fascism, education is especially dangerous when it does the bridging work between schools and the wider society, between the self and others, and allows students to translate private troubles into broader systemic considerations. Schools are dangerous because they exemplify Richard J. Bernstein's idea in The Abuse of Evil that "democracy is 'a way of life,' an ethical ideal that demands active and constant attention. And if we fail to work at creating and re-creating democracy, there is no guarantee that it will survive."

How the Current Crisis in Education Emerged

Insisting on the right to teach, the right to learn and the right to view schools as a valued public good historically have been radical acts. How did we get to this present moment? Under the regime of neoliberalism, deindustrialization, the tax revolt of the 1970s, and the increasing attack on the social contract and welfare state imposed new burdens on public education at the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries.

Schools were increasingly underfunded as inner cities descended into poverty, class sizes increased, poor students dropped out, and schools became more segregated by class and race. Teachers were increasingly deskilled and lost control over the conditions of their labor as lifeless accountability schemes and mind-numbing testing regimes were passed off as reform initiatives under the Bush, Clinton and Obama administrations.

Once the teachers realized that the terrible conditions under which they worked were commonplace they were ready to act regardless of whether they had the support of their unions.

These reforms, while allegedly appealing to educational ideals, especially the assumption that they would help economically underprivileged students, did just the opposite and turned schools largely into imagination-crushing citadels of boredom and conformity. President Bush's educational policy, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which did a great deal to leave many children behind, was followed by Obama's policy titled Race to the Top. Unfortunately, Obama simply provided more of the same dead-end approaches to education that had damaged public education for decades.

What is different under the Trump administration is that today's teachers and students are facing not only a crisis of schooling but also a crisis of education. Trump is upfront in stating without apology that he loves both the uneducated and being uneducated. Not only does he disparage any display of critical intelligence -- whether in the critical media, courts or online culture -- he has made it clear with his education secretary choice, Betsy DeVos, the billionaire and utterly clueless charter school advocate, that he holds the very notion of public education as a crucial democratic public sphere in low regard.

In a meeting with 2018 teachers of the year, DeVos stuck to her anti-public school, anti-teacher script by stating that she hoped that teachers "would take their disagreements and solve them not at the expense of kids and their opportunity to go to school and learn." In part, this is code for a broader narrative in which conservatives and liberals for years have been blaming teachers exclusively for students who drop out of school, end up in the criminal legal system, perform poorly academically and distrust authority, among other issues. As if such failures are entirely the fault of teachers, regardless of the defunding of schools, the rise of overcrowded classrooms, the increase in widespread poverty, the starving of the public sector, accelerated attacks on public servants, the transformation of cities into ghost towns, the smashing of teacher unions and the creation of labor conditions for teachers that are nothing short of deplorable. No surprises here. DeVos appears to have a penchant for reaching for the low-hanging rhetorical fruit when it comes to commenting on public schools, teachers and students.

The ideological assault against public schools, teachers and students is now in full force thanks to an alliance among big corporations, billionaires such as the Koch brothers, conservative foundations, business lobbying groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Trump administration. This alliance seeks to privatize public schools, increase tax breaks for the rich (depriving schools of essential revenue), substitute privately run charter schools for public schools, support voucher programs, cut public services, endorse online instruction and redefine public schools around issues of safety and security, further situating them as armed camps and extensions of the criminal legal system. The question here is why corporations, politicians, hedge fund managers and a horde of billionaires want to destroy public education and inflict irreparable harm on millions of children.

Gordon Lafer, a professor at the University of Oregon, has argued in his book, The One Percent Solution: How Corporations Are Remaking America One State at a Time that the US is a country in decline, characterized by a rise in economic inequality, families unable to support themselves, increased hardships for workers, the decline of social provisions, the evisceration of public goods, restricted voter rights, lowered employment standards, an ongoing attack on social safety nets and a dwindling middle-class. Lafer believes that the war on schools is rooted in a terrifying set of neoliberal policies and that big business is determined to dismantle public education. He argues that

big corporations are ... worried ... about how to protect themselves from the masses as they engineer rising economic inequality [and] they try to avoid a populist backlash ... by lowering everybody's expectations of what we have a right to demand as citizens.... When you think about what Americans think we have a right to, just by living here, it's really pretty little. Most people don't think you have a right to healthcare or a house. You don't necessarily have a right to food and water. But people think you have a right to have your kids get a decent education.

Teachers Fight Back

Against the current frontal assault on public education and the rights of teachers and students, a new wave of opposition has developed around the nation's schools that has provoked the public imagination and mobilized mass numbers of students, educators and the public at large. Teachers have been walking out, striking and demonstrating in states across the country. From the initial strike in West Virginia to demonstrations in Colorado, Kentucky, Arizona and North Carolina, and potentially other states including Louisiana, Nevada and South Carolina, teachers are protesting not only low salaries, but also related issues such as, school defunding (prompted by regressive tax measures designed to benefit the rich and corporations), overcrowded classrooms and rising health premiums.

The successful West Virginia strike was especially notable, Kate Aronoff argues, because it was one of the biggest "work actions in recent U.S. history, rebuffing austerity and, at points, even the wishes of their union leaders." Teachers in West Virginia were under increasing attack by a GOP-controlled legislature and their Republican governor, billionaire coal baron Jim Justice, who colluded to force teachers to pay increasingly higher premiums for their health care, put up with large classes, and endure what Lynn Parramore has described as "increasingly unlivable conditions -- including attempts to force them to record private details of their health daily on a wellness app ... [while allowing] them no more than an annual 1% raise -- effectively a pay cut considering inflation -- in a state where teacher salaries ranked 48th lowest out of 50 states."  At the end of a nine-day strike, they negotiated a 5 percent pay increase from the state. 

Similar strikes followed in Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona and beyond. While all of these strikes addressed issues specific to their states, they shared a number of issues that revealed a broader attempt to undermine public education. In all of these states, teachers made paltry wages "nearly $13,077 below the nationwide average of $58,353 and well below the nationwide high of New York at $79,152." Many teachers had to work two or three extra jobs simply to be able to survive. In a number of cases, their pension plans were being weakened. Growing pay inequities stretch across two decades for most teachers as they "are contributing more and more toward health care and retirement costs as their pay falls further behind. Teacher pay (accounting for inflation) actually fell by $30 per week from 1996 to 2015, while pay for other college graduates increased by $124."

There is a direct line between spending cuts for schools and a decrease in taxes for the rich and big corporations. In Oklahoma, taxes had not been raised since 1990, and in 2010 the Republican governor passed "huge breaks for the oil and gas companies" and in 2015 reduced the tax rate to 2 percent with the "cost to the state ... estimated at $300 to $400 million per year." Schools were shockingly underfunded and the consequences for both teachers and students have been devastating. Eric Blanc observes that:

Since 2008, per-pupil instructional funding has been cut by 28 percent -- by far the worst reduction in the whole country. As a result, a fifth of Oklahoma's school districts have been forced to reduce the school week to four days. Textbooks are scarce and scandalously out of date. Innumerable arts, languages, and sports courses or programs have been eliminated. Class sizes are enormous.... Many of Oklahoma's 695,000 students are obliged to sit on the floor in class.

Meanwhile, Mike Elk reports that the Oklahoma Education Association released a statement saying: "Over a decade of neglect by the legislature has given our students broken chairs in classrooms, outdated textbooks that are duct-taped together, four-day school weeks, classes that have exploded in size and teachers who have been forced to donate plasma, work multiple jobs and go to food pantries to provide for their families."

All of the states engaged in wildcat strikes, demonstrations and protests have been subject to similar toxic austerity measures that have come to characterize a neoliberal economy. Once the teachers realized that the terrible conditions under which they worked were commonplace in other schools and states and that many other teachers had reached a boiling point, they were ready to act regardless of whether they had the support of their unions. This was another important thread running through demonstrations. The strikes were not initiated by the leadership in the unions, and when they did act, they were too slow to be consequential. As working conditions for teachers deteriorated and the assault on public schools reached fever pitch, teachers bypassed their unions while using social media to speak to other teachers, communicate across national boundaries and educate a wider public.

The striking teachers hopefully will make clear that there is no contradiction between the struggle for quality public schools and fighting other injustices.

In spite of a number of attacks by conservative politicians such as Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, who stated that teachers were displaying "a thug mentality," the striking teachers gained broad popular support. It is hard to miss the irony here of the neoliberal apostles of austerity labeling teachers as losers, given that many teachers have extra jobs to support themselves and use their own money to provide books, basic resources and in some cases, even toilet paper for their students. Recent findings by the National Center of Educational Statistics show that 94 percent of teachers pay out of their own pockets for school supplies -- such as notebooks, pens and paper -- which amounts on average to $480 annually. The real losers are the politicians who defund public schools, deskill teachers, force students to put up with repressive test-taking pedagogies "while whittling away at [teacher] salaries, supplies, tenure arrangements, and other union protections ... lengthening teaching hours, [and] reducing vital prep periods." This is a neoliberal script for the social abandonment of public goods, the termination of the democratic ethos and the precondition for the rise of an American version of fascism. What is particularly promising about these widespread protest movements is that they have the potential to move public consciousness toward a wide-ranging recognition in which the assaults on public schooling will be understood as part of a larger war on schools, on youth, and on the very possibility of teaching and learning, and that these struggles cannot be separated.

The use of the social media by the teachers was particularly effective in getting their message out. Individual teachers talked publicly about having to donate blood, visit food pantries and teach with textbooks that were 10 years old. Images of broken chairs and desks, along with rodents infesting classrooms, and students complaining about books that were held together with tape offered a compelling visual archive of not only dilapidated schools, impoverished classrooms and overburdened students, but also a political system in which Republican governors and legislators were willing to implement economic policies that slashed the taxes of the rich and big corporations at the expense of public schools, teachers and students.

Arizona is another case in point: Not only does it have abysmal teacher pay, it is also a state that lacks collective bargaining rights. Debbie Weingarten offers a succinct summary of the effects of budget cuts on Arizona schools, teachers and students:

During the Recession, the Arizona state legislature cut $1.5 million from public schools, more than any other state, leaving Arizona schools more than $1 billion short of 2008 funding.... Arizona currently ranks 49th in the country for high school teacher pay and 50th for elementary school teacher pay. When adjusted for inflation, teacher wages have declined more than 10 percent since 2001. Per-student spending in Arizona amounts to $7,205, compared with the national average of $11,392. There are currently 3,400 classrooms in Arizona without trained or certified teachers, and the state has over 2,000 teacher vacancies.

Arizona teachers ended their strike after a six-day walkout, and while they did not get everything they demanded, the state gave them a "20 percent raise by 2020 and investing an additional $138 million in schools." Most importantly, the Arizona teacher strike -- along with other strikes and teacher walkouts -- proved not only the power of organized labor prompted by the radical initiatives of teachers willing to fight for their rights even if the unions do not support them, but also the growing support of a public unwilling to allow neoliberal fascism destroy all vestiges of the public good, especially schools. As Jane McAlevey observes:

Remarkably, these strikes have garnered overwhelming support from the public, despite years of well-funded attacks on teachers' unions. In a recent NPR/Ipsos poll, just one in four respondents said they think teachers are paid enough, and three-quarters said teachers have the right to strike. Remarkably, this support cut across party lines. "Two thirds of Republicans, three-quarters of independents and nearly 9 in 10 Democrats" support the teachers' right to strike, the poll showed.

Protests against the gutting of teacher salaries, pensions and health care benefits are not simply about school budgets. They are also about a larger politics in which big corporations and the financial elite have waged a war on democracy and instituted polices that produce a massive redistribution of wealth upward into the hands of the ruling elite. Energized young people and teachers are creating a new optics for both change and the future.

A Mass Movement to Resist Neoliberalism

The teacher strikes and walkouts point to a grassroots movement that will no longer allow the apostles of neoliberalism, the Republican and Democratic parties, and the financial elite to ruthlessly take apart public education. Implicit in the current walkouts and strikes is the necessity of such groups to learn from each other, share power and work to create a mass-based social movement. This type of social formation is all the more crucial given that no one movement or group organized around singular issues can defeat the prevailing concentrated economic and political forces of casino capitalism. Given the public support the striking teachers have received, it is crucial that such a struggle connect the struggle over schools to a broader struggle that appeals to parents who still view public schooling as one of the few avenues their children have for economic and social mobility. At the same time, it is crucial for the striking teachers to make the case to a larger public that without a quality and accessible public education system, the protective and crucial public spaces provided by a real democracy are endangered and could be lost. 

Teachers, young people and others are creating both a new and potentially radical language for politics and educational reform. Given the authoritarian times in which we live, this language is desperately needed by a society facing an impending crisis of memory, agency and democracy. If American society is to offset the deeply anti-democratic populist revolt that has put a fascist government in power in the United States, progressives and others need a new language that connects the crisis of schooling to the crisis of democracy while at the same time rejecting the equation of capitalism and democracy. The attack on public schooling is symptomatic of a more profound crisis that involves the extension of market principles to every facet of power, culture and everyday life. Public schooling is under siege along with the values and social relations that give viable meaning to the common good, economic justice and democracy itself. 

Striking teachers have recognized that any radical call for educational reform demands more than a call for salary increases, adequate pensions and school resources. Demands for radical educational reforms also necessitate what Martin Luther King Jr. once called a "revolution of values."

This would suggest a radical reworking of the language of freedom, autonomy, equality and justice that refused to be articulated with the neoliberal spheres of privatization, consumer culture, deregulation, and a politics of terminal exclusion, disposability and the acceleration of the unwanted. Schools can no longer be viewed as zones of political, economic and social abandonment. The striking teachers across the nation are making clear that everyone has the right to live in both an educated society and a democracy, and that you cannot have one without the other. Hopefully, they can learn from past historical battles while leading the struggle to merge a number of different movements for a radical democracy. One option in doing so is to build support for what Michael Lerner has called developing a global Marshall Plan in order to redistribute wealth, build infrastructures, expand public goods, create the conditions for environmental responsibility, and eliminate the capitalist structural and economic conditions that prevent such movements, policies and investments from taking place. 

The striking teachers hopefully will turn a moment into a movement, and in doing so, make clear that there is no contradiction between the struggle for quality public schools and fighting other injustices such as poverty, mass incarceration, unchecked inequality, massive student debt, systemic violence, escalating militarization of society and the war on the planet. Across the nation, teachers, students and other educators have demonstrated that democratic ideals, even under conditions of neoliberal tyranny and a dystopian mode of education, can be recognized, embraced and struggled over. Education is a symptom of a deeper, dangerous and more fundamental crisis that demands analyses and actions aimed at root causes. The brutal neoliberal fascism of the moment can only be defeated if teachers, young people and grassroots activists develop alliances and develop new topographies for addressing the root causes of the current brutal despotism and loss of faith in democratic institutions -- that means a strong anti-capitalist movement.

The struggle over public education has ignited new modes of criticism that contain the potential to build a mass movement from the bottom up and translate single-issue demands into wider expectations for social change and alternative visions for a democratically socialist United States. Hopefully, this movement will continue to be guided by the kind of energy and insight that Ursula K. Le Guin once articulated: "We will not know our own injustice if we cannot imagine justice. We will not be free if we do not imagine freedom. We cannot demand that anyone try to attain justice and freedom who has not had a chance to imagine them as attainable."

Categories: Latest News

President Trump Is Not "Above the Law": John Bonifaz Warns Against Normalizing Impeachable Offenses

Truthout - Mon, 05/21/2018 - 21:00

President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House May 17, 2018, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Andrew Harrer-Pool / Getty Images)

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Top FBI and Justice Department officials have confirmed they will meet with congressional leaders to review classified information on the handling of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. This comes after President Trump demanded an investigation into whether the FBI infiltrated his presidential campaign. Trump has claimed for months, without evidence, that the Obama administration spied on his campaign. Legal experts say his tweet Sunday crossed a line by applying overt presidential pressure on the Justice Department, which could possibly set up a clash similar to the one between President Nixon and the Justice Department during the Watergate scandal. The finding of wrongdoing by Trump could ultimately be referred to Congress and make impeachment a topic of debate among candidates in the midterm elections, though few Democratic leaders have openly supported it. This comes as Texas Democratic Congressmember Al Green doubled down on his effort to impeach Trump, a year after he first announced he was drafting articles of impeachment. We get an update from John Bonifaz, an attorney and president of Free Speech For People, one of the organizations that launched the "Impeach Donald Trump Now" campaign.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman with Juan Gonzalez.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Top FBI and Justice Department officials have confirmed they will meet with congressional leaders to review classified information on the handling of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. This comes after President Trump demanded an investigation into whether the FBI infiltrated his presidential campaign.

AMY GOODMAN: The finding of wrongdoing by Trump could ultimately be referred to Congress and make impeachment a topic of debate among candidates in the midterm elections, though few Democratic leaders have openly supported it. This comes as Texas Democratic Congressmember Al Green of Houston doubled down on his effort to impeach Trump a year after he first announced he was drafting articles of impeachment. Green spoke Wednesday on the House floor.

REP. AL GREEN: You know that there's bigotry emanating from the presidency, yet you would not want me to stand here and address it. I will address it. This president has exhibited a kind of bigotry that this country ought not tolerate. And when he said that there were some s-hole countries as he was addressing his immigration policy, he was putting his bigotry into policy, and that is something that we all should concern ourselves with -- the fact that the president's policies are based upon his bigotry. Impeachment is the remedy.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we are joined by constitutional attorney John Bonifaz, co-founder and director of Free Speech for People, speaking to us from Massachusetts. Welcome back to Democracy Now!, John. With all of the latest investigations going on in Washington and the investigating of the investigators that President Trump is calling for, what Congressmember Green is calling for here, what is the state of the impeachment movement and why are you calling for it today?

JOHN BONIFAZ: Thank you, Amy, for having me. We have been calling for it since the day this president assumed the oath of office, because he created a constitutional crisis at that moment, refusing to divest fully from his business interests and treating the Oval Office as a profit-making enterprise at the public expense.

We now see the list of impeachable offenses growing by the day, really. Obstruction of justice, conspiring with a foreign government to violate federal campaign finance laws, giving aid and comfort to what supremacists and neo-Nazis, abuse of the pardon power, misusing the law enforcement agencies to attack political opponents, undermining freedom of the press.

This is a president -- to pick up on your prior conversation and guest's statement that we don't have a monarchy in the United States, we don't, but this president acts like he is above the law, that he is not needing to comply with basic constitutional principles and basic democratic principles that no one is above the law, not even the president of the United States.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Could you talk about Lido City in Indonesia, as an example of the many, many issues that could be raised in impeachment?

JOHN BONIFAZ: Yes. This is an example where this president continues to receive illegal foreign benefits from foreign governments in violations of the foreign emoluments clause and the domestic emoluments clause when it comes to the use of property, federal and state property in the United States.

But with respect to Indonesia, what we see here now is the Chinese government providing a $500 million loan, a financial benefit to the Trump organization, ultimately going to Donald Trump himself, for this Indonesian business project of The Trump Organization. At the same time, within 72 hours, the president tweets out that he's thinking of going -- essentially interfering in a corporate law enforcement action by the Justice Department against a Chinese telecommunications firm. There may not be quid pro quo -- that has to be further investigated -- but we already know this is a foreign emolument in violation of foreign emoluments clause.

AMY GOODMAN: I am wondering if you could respond to Harvard University professor, law school professor Laurence Tribe who, like you, originally called for Trump to be impeached but now has written a new book and is changing his views on this.

JOHN BONIFAZ: Well, we work closely with Professor Tribe in other matters, and I think he's obviously an esteemed constitutional professor in this country, but we have a friendly disagreement on this. He did come out in May of 2017 calling for impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump when he fired James Comey and tried to effectively stop the investigation into whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 elections. He has now shifted his position.

And I think his position, that somehow we are normalizing impeachment, ought to really be the concern that we're normalizing impeachable offenses. That if we do not act with respect to this president and the magnitude of impeachable offenses that grows by the day, then we are setting ourselves up for a very dangerous precedent where we treat a president of the United States as being above the law. And that is a road down toward authoritarianism that we cannot take.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, John Bonifaz, for being with us. Attorney and president of Free Speech for All. And that does it or today's show.

Democracy Now! is accepting applications for our paid video production fellowships. Find out more at "democracynow.org": www.democracynow.org. You can sign up for our daily digest. Send the word "democracynow" to 66866. You can just text that word to 66866. Today we bid a fond farewell to Kaija Siirala. All the very best to you, Kaija.

Categories: Latest News

British Royals Rebrand With Royal Wedding, but Critics Say White, Neoliberal Monarchy Needs to Go

Truthout - Mon, 05/21/2018 - 21:00

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were married Saturday at Windsor Castle in a ceremony that many heralded for celebrating black culture and history. Markle is biracial, divorced and a self-proclaimed feminist. The wedding featured a sermon about slavery, poverty and the enduring power of love by Bishop Michael Curry, the first African American to preside over the Episcopal Church. The British royal family is a "celebration of wealth, of elitism, of privilege in the hands of the few, of all the resources concentrated in the hands of a very small percentage of the country. In that sense it very much represents the current economic order in which we all live," says Priya Gopal, a university lecturer in the faculty of English at the University of Cambridge.


AMY GOODMAN: That's "Ave Maria," performed by 19-year-old cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason at Saturday's royal wedding. He was the first black British musician to win the BBC's Young Musician of the Year award in its almost 40-year history. This is Democracy Now!. I'm Amy Goodman with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We now turn to Britain, where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were married Saturday at Windsor Castle in a ceremony that many heralded for celebrating black culture and history.

KINGDOM CHOIR: [singing] 
The night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we see
No I won't be afraid 
No I won't be afraid
Just as long as you stand 
Stand by me

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That's the Kingdom Choir, a British Christian gospel group, singing civil rights anthem "Stand By Me" by Ben E. King. The rousing sound was one of a series of performances by Black artists at the wedding, which welcomed Meghan Markle to the royal family. Markle is biracial, divorced and a self-proclaimed feminist. She walked herself down the aisle on Saturday during the tradition-busting ceremony that led many to claim the wedding ushered in a new era for the royal family.

AMY GOODMAN: Bishop Michael Curry, the first African American to preside over the Episcopal Church, also delivered a sermon about slavery, poverty and the enduring power of love.

BISHOP MICHAEL CURRY: The late Dr. Martin Luther King once said -- and I quote -- "We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world, for love, love is the only way." There's power in love. Don't underestimate it. Don't even over-sentimentalize it. There's power, power in love. If you don't believe me, think about a time when you first fell in love. The whole world seemed to center around you and your beloved."

AMY GOODMAN: That's Bishop Michael Curry, the first African American bishop to preside over the Episcopal Church in the United States. For more, we're joined in Cambridge, England, by Priya Gopal, a university lecturer and faculty of English at the University of Cambridge. Here in New York City, we welcome Gabrielle Bruney, an editor for Esquire, her recent article headlined The Royal Wedding Celebrated the Contributions of Black Britons, but it comes amid a scandal rooted in the British government's mistreatment of Caribbean people. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!

We're going to begin in England where the royal wedding was, Priya Gopal. It was described as a tradition-busting ceremony, but many say the traditions weren't busted enough, that the monarchy should be abolished. You live tweeted the whole thing. Can you talk about your feelings about what happened this Saturday? What, a quarter of Britain watched?

PRIYA GOPAL: Tradition-busting is probably a bit of a stretch. I think that there were important symbolic iconographic changes. The royal family is a deeply white institution, rooted in Britain's history of imperialism and empire. It's a deeply patriarchal institution. And given that history, to have a strong black presence in the church, to hear a gospel choir, to hear a black bishop give an address -- these were all changes that are, I think, symbolic, and they make some difference.

I think it is a stretch to call them tradition-busting. It is still an extremely white institution. The ceremony remains patriarchal. Ms. Markle walked down the aisle by herself because her father was unable to make it, and then she was taken to the alter by Prince Charles. So I think we need to acknowledge that there were certain important changes, but to call them tradition-busting I think is a stretch. The monarchy remains a deeply reactionary, patriarchal and frankly white institution.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Priya, why do you think that so many Britons still cling to this total anachronism of a monarchy nowadays? Why do they feel so invested in the royal family?

PRIYA GOPAL: I think there are two things to say there. One is that the royal family is deeply entrenched in Britain's mythology about itself. There is a huge investment in pomp and circumstance. Throughout the wedding, the commentary on the media spoke about how no other country does tradition, does pomp, does circumstance as well as Britain does, and of course the monarchy is the epitome of pomp and circumstance. And I think that that's very deeply rooted in the mainstream Britain sense of itself as more traditional and more elegant than everybody else.

But I also think it's slightly a mistake to call the monarchy an anachronism. I think that it seems like an anachronism, but in fact, its name for itself is "the firm," which really tells us how much the monarchy is actually very rooted in corporate capitalist culture, how will it has kept up with that. The monarchy in Britain is a celebration of wealth, of elitism, of privilege in the hands of the few, of all the resources concentrated in the hands of a very small percentage of the country. And in that sense, it very much represents the current economic order in which we all live. And there's nothing anachronistic about the fact that the one percent have much more than the rest of us do.

AMY GOODMAN: The wedding itself cost something like $45 million dollars. Can you talk about the finances of the royal family, how they are supported?

PRIYA GOPAL: Right. So in British terms, the wedding cost an overall £32 million. That's about the sum that you just mentioned in dollars. Only £2 million of that £32 million was actually spent by the royal family's so-called private finances. This is money that they have accrued over decades, over centuries, and that has gone into private hands. But actually £30 million of that £32 million was borne by the taxpayer, and that is a shocking figure at a time when there have been swingeing cuts to public services, when the number of homeless on Britain streets has been increasing. These were homeless people who were cleared off the streets of Windsor for the royal wedding.

And I think again, this is a shocking example of how much money, how much public money, how much rare public money goes into funding this family. And it is done on the basis that this family brings in a lot of money to the country because of tourist dollars and so on and so forth. But I think that really what it is an example of is how much the public purse subsidizes private privilege. Thirty million pounds went into policing and into security -- at least that is what we're told -- and it seems to me an unconscionable figure at a time when so many people are suffering from cuts to public services.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Could you comment also about this merger of celebrity with the class A elite? Obviously, the promotional value that having an Oprah or a George Clooney or a David Beckham at this private wedding has in terms of marketing this whole affair?

PRIYA GOPAL: Yes. It's very much part of a constant rebranding that the royal family does. And it goes back to what I was saying about not merely looking at the institution as an anachronism. It is a firm. It is a corporate firm. It relies on corporate strategies. PR is very central to its survival and to its flourishing.

In fact, someone connected to the court said at some point that Meghan Markle is a PR department stream, and she absolutely is. Like any company, it has to be seen to be keeping up with society. It has to be seen to be being more multicultural than it has been, to be bringing women in, to be giving women more of a role. So in that sense, we need to look at the kind of merger between the royal family and Hollywood, between the feudal institution of monarchy and the corporate institutions of public relations, as precisely what you would expect any functioning corporate firm to do: to be keeping an eye on PR, to be making sure that it satisfies its customer base and that it is seen to be quote unquote "modern."

And in that sense, Meghan Markle and the kind of racial dimension that she brings, the multicultural dimension she brings to the royal family, is very much part of a PR exercise. And I would say that in a sense, Meghan Markle brings more to the royal family than the royal family brings to British people of color.

AMY GOODMAN: Is it true, Priya Gopal, that the Queen and Prince Charles have had the power of veto, vetoing legislation? The Queen delivering a pro-austerity speech with her £1,000,000 hat? I think one comic headline from UK HuffPost said Woman In £1,000,000 Hat Tells Britain To 'Live Within Its Means', referring to her crown.

PRIYA GOPAL: I think that constitutionally the Queen does have that power, but it is not ever really exercised. And so what we have here is a constitutional figurehead who does what the government of the day tells her to. Now, the mythology around the royal family also holds that they're not allowed to be political, by which is meant they are not actually allowed to intervene in political decisions made by the government of the day.

I also understand that the Queen does have the power to veto legislation. I have never known of it being used. Perhaps it has been; I'm not enough of a constitutional scholar to know. But again, here is a bit of a mythology. We have a monarchy, which actually shores up the political and economic order of the day. It is a deeply political institution, but the nation and the world is invited to buy into the mythology that there is nothing political about people who wear, as you just said, £1,000,000 hats and represent the bidding of the government of the day. They are a very political institution, but everything here relies on the mythology that they are not political.

Categories: Latest News

How Corporate Media Are Undermining a US-North Korea Nuclear Weapons Deal

Truthout - Mon, 05/21/2018 - 21:00

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in shake hands over the military demarcation line upon meeting for the Inter-Korean Summit on April 27, 2018, in Panmunjom, South Korea. (Photo: Inter Korean Press Corp / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

With a flagrant disregard for facts and National Security Adviser John Bolton's sabotage attempts, the corporate media are once again promoting the idea that North Korean officials are manipulative and untrustworthy negotiating partners. Just as news outlets helped Dick Cheney to destroy two previous US deals with North Korea by creating a hostile climate toward diplomacy, the corporate media are again stoking animosity.

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in shake hands over the military demarcation line upon meeting for the Inter-Korean Summit on April 27, 2018, in Panmunjom, South Korea. (Photo: Inter Korean Press Corp / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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In an interview with Fox News on April 29, Donald Trump's new National Security Adviser John Bolton tossed a grenade into the process of planning for the Trump-Kim summit. "We have very much in mind the Libyan model from 2003-2004," he said in regard to the problem of North Korean denuclearization. It was a very obvious deliberate effort to provoke a breakdown in talks between then CIA Director Mike Pompeo and the North Koreans by invoking an historical episode that would infuriate Pyongyang.

Kim Jong Un took more than two weeks before his government issued a stern warning to Trump about Bolton's suggestion. In a major statement addressed to the Trump administration, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan attacked Bolton's remark as an "awfully sinister move" to impose "the destiny of Libya or Iraq" on North Korea. And he warned against the "so-called Libyan model of nuclear abandonment," adding, "We have already stated our intention of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and made clear on several occasions that precondition for denuclearization is to put an end to anti-DPRK hostile policy and nuclear threats and blackmail of the United States." Kim was thus making it clear that North Korea was open to giving up its nuclear weapons but not to giving them away before the United States had taken steps to assure the regime's security from US attack.

Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo both sought to reassure Kim that the administration had no intention of imposing a Libyan solution on North Korea. "The Libyan model isn't a model that we have at all, when we're thinking of North Korea," Trump told reporters, clearly separating himself from what Bolton had suggested.

Under the circumstances, one might have expected the corporate media to have reported that the North Koreans had pushed back against a malicious Bolton effort to sabotage the summit, and that Bolton had been effectively rebuked as a result. Instead, however, major news outlets portrayed the North Korean response as evidence that the Kim regime was backing away from a commitment to denuclearization and was up to the same old North Korean political-diplomatic trick of manipulating Trump to gain unfair political advantage.

In fact, it has now become clear that one major media outlet is allying with Bolton's position on the summit. On May 20, The New York Times national security correspondent David Sanger, who has consistently dismissed the idea of a denuclearization with North Korea, wrote that Trump's aides "have grown concerned" that Trump "has signaled that he wants the summit meeting too much." Those same unnamed "aides," Sanger wrote, "also worry that Kim, seeing the President's eagerness, is preparing to offer assurances that will fade over time."

The only two officials involved in the maneuvering for influence on Trump's policy toward the summit are Bolton and Pompeo, and the fear that Trump is eager for the summit and too prone to accepting "assurances" from Kim are clearly coming from Bolton, not Pompeo. So, Sanger can be expected to reflect the views of John Bolton (without attribution) in his coverage of the North Korea summit over the next few weeks.

Media coverage of the episode has converged on the idea that the North Korean statement was evidence that Pyongyang is an untrustworthy negotiating partner for the Trump administration. CNN's Barbara Starr reported the North Korean response as, "Pyongyang now quickly returning to the classic North Korean style of provocations and demands, threatening to walk away" from the summit and seeking "leverage over Trump." Former Obama administration Pentagon and State Department spokesman John Kirby was then shown calling it a typical North Korean tactic, "all of a sudden to throw roadblocks or obstacles or even just to try to renegotiate a better lot for itself at the table." That remark suggested falsely that the North Koreans had already accepted a framework that obligated North Korea to disarm unilaterally before the United States was obligated to do anything by way of compensation or reassurance.

Brian Todd of CNN referred to the Trump administration's reassurances as a "sudden and dramatic" change of tone toward the Kim regime and suggested that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's reference to "Chairman Kim" in his statement was "bestowing titles on the dictator" and was "raising eyebrows." Todd also cited "concern about the sincerity" of North Korea's promise to close its long-range missile test site, because Chinese geologists had found that the site had partly collapsed. But the segment then went on to show hawkish nuclear specialist David Albright explaining that another mountain at the site could still be used in any case. That point effectively contradicted the network's effort to deny the fact that Kim had made concessions to Trump in advance of the summit.

CNBC's coverage of the episode sounded remarkably similar to that of CNN. After referring to the same North Korean Foreign Ministry statement, the CNBC anchor presented that statement as saying that North Korea "will never give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for economic trade with the United States." But Kim Kye Gwan's point was that North Korea would demand security guarantees as part of a denuclearization deal -- not that it would reject a deal for denuclearization.

Nevertheless, NBC News national security commentator Jeremy Bash, the former Department of Defense chief of staff from 2011 to 2013, declared on the "Today Show" that the North Koreans had just pulled a "classic bait-and-switch" and were now "going to ask for more concessions." Completely misrepresenting what the North Korean statement had actually said, Bash asserted that the North Korean government had just told the Trump administration, "Basically we'll talk to you, but we ain't giving up our nuclear weapons."

Bash warned Trump against negotiating with Pyongyang, claiming that North Korea had cheated on its commitment to the Clinton administration and on an agreement reached with the Bush administration in 2005 by carrying out its first nuclear test the following year. But that claim distorted the actual history of those two past agreements, both of which then-Vice President Dick Cheney had sabotaged. In fact, the 2005 agreement merely established the objective of denuclearization of North Korea, and contained no North Korean commitment to refrain from missile or nuclear testing in advance of the intended implementing agreement.

CNN and CNBC were both anti-Trump partisan Democratic networks, but their line on the negotiations reflected a more general antipathy in corporate news media to negotiating an agreement with Kim Jong Un. That antipathy is so deeply rooted that when Kim Jong Un proposed direct talks with South Korea in his New Year's speech, The New York Times chief national security correspondent David Sanger co-authored a "news analysis" with the Times's Korea correspondent questioning the whole idea of a North-South dialogue, arguing that Kim viewed it merely as "an opportunity to develop and accentuate" what it called a "split" between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Trump, and thus a threat to the US-South Korean alliance. We now know, however, that Trump was not upset with Moon's efforts to work on a dialogue, but was supportive of it.

The Sanger article also introduced what would become the standard corporate media argument in 2018 against any US negotiations with the North: Kim would seek "major concessions" from Washington but wouldn't give up his nuclear weapons.

After Trump accepted an invitation in March from Kim for a summit meeting, the corporate media immediately went into attack mode. On CBS's "Face the Nation," David Sanger again warned about "the erosion of the alliance that everybody's so worried about." And Sanger declared flatly, "[W]e also know that the North Koreans have made it very clear they never plan to denuclearize."

Sanger's ex cathedra judgment soon became a widely shared conclusion -- that Kim's concept of "denuclearization" could not possibly be acceptable to the United States. On April 9, The Washington Post published a story headlined "North Korea's definition of 'denuclearization' is very different from Washington's." But the story didn't cite a single North Korean statement for that claim. In fact, the only evidence it evinced for that claim was the assertion of MIT nuclear strategy expert Vipin Narang that Kim would "likely" insist on the United States taking down the "nuclear umbrella" over South Korea and Japan -- the threat to use nuclear weapons in case of nuclear attack by North Korea.

Narang's argument doesn't hold water: If North Korea were to give up its nuclear weapons, the United States would certainly have to end its nuclear threat against North Korea. In fact, the Clinton administration had already agreed to give up the targeting of North Korea with nuclear weapons as part of its "Agreed Framework" of 1994.

CNN picked up another variant of the same theme on April 20, claiming that North Korea was not actually talking about "complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement of the North Korean program" as demanded by the United States. The article suggested that Kim's reference in China to "denuclearization on the peninsula" was evidence of a different concept, citing the argument by US government consultant Joshua Pollack that North Korea "considered the US's mere presence on the peninsula a nuclear threat" and would likely demand US withdrawal from South Korea.

But unfortunately for Pollack and CNN, South Korean President Moon had just reported that same day that Kim Jong Un dropped the demand that the United States withdraw its forces from South Korea in exchange for denuclearization. Opponents of the summit like Pollack and CNN were arguing, in effect, that they knew better than either Moon or Kim Jong Un himself what Kim's position on the issue of US troop withdrawal really was.

These examples of flagrant misrepresentation of facts and irrelevant and nonsensical arguments reflect a fundamental problem with the corporate media as well as the political elites of the United States: They are so wedded to the interests of the national security state and to the mythology of US hegemonic power that they refuse to support any diplomatic move that could result in a change in the military status quo in Northeast Asia.

The power of the media to create a climate of hostility toward diplomacy enabled Dick Cheney to destroy two previous US deals with North Korea before they could reach their crucial implementation phases. A central question in the coming weeks will be whether the corporate media will succeed once again in creating a political climate that forces the Trump administration to abandon the only kind of deal that can create an off-ramp from nuclear confrontation.

Categories: Latest News

Democrats' Anti-Corruption Proposals Applauded as Actual Plan to Drain the Swamp

Truthout - Mon, 05/21/2018 - 21:00

In what dozens of progressive groups hailed as a good first step toward eradicating the rampant corruption that has infected both major political parties and flourished under President Donald Trump, congressional Democrats on Monday rolled out a series of pro-democracy proposals aimed at enhancing voting rights, curbing the influence of corporate lobbyists, and "ending the scourge of unaccountable 'dark money' unleashed by Citizens United."

"President Donald Trump is battering at the foundation of our democracy, but that foundation was eroded badly long before Trump's election," Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen said in a statement endorsing the proposals on Monday. "We need a full-fledged democracy rescue program, which is exactly what the 'Better Deal for Our Democracy' provides. We need this package -- all of it -- to unrig a political system that is working for corporations and the super-rich."

Officially unveiled during a press conference on Monday by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and other Democratic lawmakers, the "Better Deal for Our Democracy" -- just one plank of the Democratic Party's broader 2018 platform -- aims to:

  • "Empower the American voter" by restoring protections gutted by the GOP in recent years and putting an end to partisan gerrymandering;

  • "Strengthen our nation's ethics laws" by barring deep-pocketed lobbyists from "attempting to trade campaign cash for access and influence"; and

  • "Fix our broken campaign finance system" by overturning Citizens United and increasing the power of small donors.

We CAN end corruption. Joining @NancyPelosi and colleagues to say loudly and clearly: Our communities deserve a better deal than to be overrun by lobbyists and big corporate money and groups like the @NRA in Washington D.C.

Here's how we get there: https://t.co/Al7Pm0zcRm pic.twitter.com/T7OTnPIAWZ

— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) May 21, 2018

Applauding the Democratic Party's proposed solutions as a "good start" toward confronting the widespread "abuse of a lax campaign finance system" and actually draining the "swamp" of corruption that Trump has only made worse, Patriotic Millionaires chair Morris Pearl argued that the fact "these proposals are even necessary shows just how low the standards for moral authority in Washington have sunk in the last two years."

"The American people did not vote to allow government officials to get rich by selling access to government to the highest bidders," Pearl said.

The Democrats' slate of proposals come as polling data continues to show that Americans strongly support robust campaign finance reform efforts to curb the influence of the "few big interests" that dictate government policy.

They also come as the Trump administration's open corruption -- with budget chief Mick Mulvaney serving as just one of many egregious examples -- has called attention to "pay-for-play" norms that have dominated Washington for decades.

"The system is broken in numerous ways, and only through bold leadership and strong practical systemic reforms can we begin to repair our democracy, and make it again something that Americans believe in and depend on," Lisa Gilbert, Public Citizen's vice president of legislative affairs, said in a statement. "If this package passes, cronyism, corruption, and far too much special interest money in our system will no longer be the norm."

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Categories: Latest News

How to Protect a Renter Nation

Truthout - Mon, 05/21/2018 - 21:00

Across the US there has been a resurgence to establish rent control policies as part of a movement for tenants' rights. The fight for housing rights is steeped in history that has affected people differently based on their class and race. It's important to understand that tenants' rights is not a small, niche issue.

(Photo: SvetaZi / Shutterstock)

Sherri Eddings and her daughter live in South Los Angeles. They're tenants in a home owned by Invitation Homes, a company that owns and manages more than 12,000 single-family homes in California.

Eddings has lived in her home since 2013, originally paying $1,800 a month. She says that every two years, her landlord has tried to raise her rent by $500, but she was able to negotiate a $200 increase over two years.

However, this year she received a letter saying that her rent would go up in the summer. She pushed back as she'd previously done, but come July, she'll have to pay $2,235 (her landlord also tacked on an extra $35 for her dog). 

"It's just many reasons why people are homeless. Coming up with rent on time when your rent is increasing and no one is giving you that opportunity to work with you, then you end up out on the street," she says. "What if Invitation Homes would've told me, 'No, your rent is increasing by $500'? I wouldn't have been able to do that. I would've been another one out there looking for something else, and who's to say I would've found it?" 

Some don't feel like they have the agency to push back like Eddings did. Those people either become more rent-burdened -- meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing -- or pushed out of their homes.

While negotiating her rent increase, Eddings received a postcard from Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment Action, a nonprofit working to repeal the Costa Hawkins Housing Act, a 1995 law that prevents California cities from establishing new rent control ordinances. Cities that already had some form of rent control policy, such as Los Angeles' Rent Stabilization Ordinance, can't expand it, and cities without a policy -- all but 15 cities statewide -- have their hands tied, and their renters don't have many protections.

"The repeal would simply give cities more tools to address the housing crisis," says Tony Roshan Samara, program director of land use and housing at Urban Habitat, a San Francisco Bay Area-based organization that seeks to advance equitable policies and democratize power.

About 20 miles south of where Eddings lives, the Long Beach Gray Panthers, along with the nonprofit Housing Long Beach, are co-sponsoring a ballot initiative to bring rent control to the city. The proposed ordinance also would set maximum rents on rent-controlled units and establish a rent board that would review increases, and also implement a just-cause eviction policy, so that landlords could only evict tenants if they don't pay rent, breach the lease, or prevent the landlord from accessing the property.

"It's almost as if the city wants to build new housing for higher-income earners, bring those people in, and push the existing community out. If that's not what they want to do, then they could've fooled me, because that's what's happening," says Josh Butler, the executive director of Housing Long Beach.

Between 2000 and 2015, the median rent in Long Beach increased 22 percent, according to PolicyLink, a research and advocacy institute. Renters make up about 58 percent of households in Long Beach and more than half of those are rent-burdened. Nationwide, renters make up 51 percent of the population of the 100 largest US cities. 

This resurgence to establish rent control policies is part of a statewide -- and national -- movement for tenants' rights. This specific policy is just one part of a larger effort by people and organizations who believe that housing is a human right and that it shouldn't only be a sure thing for those with a lot of money.

"When I think about what we really need, it's not surprising that renters are pressing for change and it's not surprising that high rents and sometimes shocking levels of rent increases lead to a call specifically for rent control," says Maya Brennan, senior policy associate in the Research to Action Lab at the Urban Institute. "If a city were to enact rent control or rent regulations, I would strongly encourage them to be done with some sort of pilot. If possible, adoption of a policy should be based on research from other jurisdictions with similar conditions," she says. 

In 2017, Homes for All, a national campaign launched by Right to the City Alliance, a network of racial, economic, and environmental justice organizations, held a "Renter Week of Action." Among other items, it advocated for tenants' rights to organize and bargain collectively, to establish community control over land and housing through land trusts, cooperatives, and non-market solutions for affordable homes, and to support increased funding for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development so that everyone who qualifies for assistance can get it.

The fight for housing rights is steeped in history that has affected people differently based on their class and race. It's important to understand that tenants' rights is not a small, niche issue, Urban Habitat's Samara says.

"It's a major fight for people of color," he says. "This is part of a long history of working-class people of color asserting their right to place."

Santa Monica and Berkeley were two of the first California cities to implement rent control ordinances, in 1979 and 1980, respectively. Throughout the 1970s and '80s, cities across the state implemented their own rent cap policies, and 15 cities in California now have rent control.

In New York City, there are a small number of rent-controlled units. There's also a rent stabilization policy, affecting many buildings built before 1974, which limits rent increases. That affects many more buildings than are covered by the city's older rent control policy. As of 2014, the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development estimated that there were 27,000 rent-controlled apartments in the city, or about 1.2 percent of the housing stock, which is down from 2 million units in the 1950s. The department estimated there also were about 1 million rent-stabilized units in 2014. When the state began overseeing rent control in the 1950s, it passed several decontrol laws.

Boston and two nearby Massachusetts cities had rent control for almost 30 years, and it was often met with hostility from landlords. In 1994, Massachusetts voters decided to eliminate rent control by referendum. Most established protections eventually ran out in 1997, The Economist reported, and a year later eviction complaints and the number of people on waiting lists for public housing increased.

As one way of incorporating landlords' interests into a new housing policy, Urban Habitat advocates legislation that would exempt new construction from rent control, as previous ordinances have done, with the "new" designation removed after some time, allowing rent control to take effect.

Tenants' rights advocates suggest this approach could help ensure a good supply of affordable housing and that market-rate units become more affordable as they age. 

Over the years, economists and those who oppose rent control have suggested the policy creates more problems than it solves, and that while it might be effective in a crisis, it should only be used as a last resort to combat rising rents.

"The other thing about rent control, besides it never building one unit, [is that] you do create this new bureaucracy, and the concern that I have is if people pass rent control, they think they solve the housing problem," says Tom Bannon, CEO of the California Apartment Association, which sponsored Costa Hawkins when it was first introduced. "And one, it's counterproductive, but two, they kind of take their eye off really the need to build housing as fast as we can build it because that way everybody gets housed."

Urban Habitat's study of the effects of rent control on housing development suggests that it doesn't function as a significant barrier to development. In the cities of Berkeley and Los Angeles, there are significant numbers of new homes in development, and a slowdown in Santa Monica appears to be driven more by zoning and approval processes than rent control.

That information has been slow to percolate out to counter misinformation that undermines the drive toward rent control. That leaves many renters at the mercy of their landlords until the law gets changed.

Advocates also say they understand that rent control is not a fix-all for the housing crisis.

"It's going to take a multitude of solutions, and it's going to take a lot of work from our leadership, our government officials, our residents, and our community leaders. So I don't think there is a single solution to it, and I don't think rent control is going to solve the problem," Butler says. "I think it could help though. I think it could help."

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Categories: Latest News

Ballcap Semiotics

Truthout - Mon, 05/21/2018 - 21:00
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The Supreme Court Just Dealt a Blow to 25 Million Workers

Truthout - Mon, 05/21/2018 - 21:00

In a victory for big business, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday that employment contracts barring an estimated 25 million workers from filing class-action lawsuits against their bosses do not violate federal labor law, despite widespread concern over wage theft and sexual harassment. Such contracts require workers to resolve disputes individually through private arbitration; a process labor advocates say favors employers.

People wait in line to attend the fall session of the US Supreme Court, on October 2, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

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The Supreme Court's conservative majority just made it a lot harder for millions of nonunion workers to collectively challenge their bosses in court over lost wages, workplace discrimination, sexual harassment and other disputes.

In a 5-4 decision on Monday, the court ruled that mandatory arbitration clauses in employment contracts do not violate federal labor law. Mandatory or "forced" arbitration agreements require workers to waive their right to file class-action lawsuits against employers if they want to get and keep their jobs, and instead enter into arbitration proceedings as individuals to seek justice and settle disputes.

The ruling was a major victory for employers in a case that pit labor and civil rights groups against big business and the Trump administration's Justice Department, which flipped its position on the case after Trump replaced Barack Obama in the White House.

The ruling comes amid a national conversation about discrimination in the workplace as employees continue to speak out about sexual harassment despite non-disclosure clauses in forced arbitration agreements, which have been loudly criticized for silencing women and LGBTQ people.

For example, Uber recently announced that it would no longer require mandatory arbitration in private for sexual harassment claims after coming under pressure from the #MeToo movement, and Lyft quickly announced it would follow suit.

Mandatory arbitration agreements often prevent workers from coming together to file lawsuits against employers under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Civil Rights Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act and other laws meant to protect workers, according to Celine McNicholas, director of labor law and policy at the Economic Policy Institute.

Instead, workers are forced to air their grievances individually in arbitration processes set up as alternatives to courtroom disputes. Pro-labor groups say arbitration often favors employers, particularly when unions are not involved. Lawyers also tend to be less interested in representing workers taking up small claims on their own than a class-action case that could secure significant damages.

"This means that a worker who is not paid fairly, discriminated against, or sexually harassed, is forced into a process that overwhelmingly favors the employer -- and forced to manage this process alone, even though these issues are rarely confined to one single worker," McNicholas said in a statement.

The Economic Policy Institute estimates that more than half of all nonunion workers in the United States have signed mandatory arbitration agreements, and Monday's ruling could affect nearly 25 million workers nationwide.

The court considered three cases where employees filed class-action lawsuits for lost overtime pay despite mandatory arbitration agreements, including one in which the National Labor Relations Board ruled that an arbitration agreement violated the National Labor Relations Act. The board defended its decision, arguing that the labor law passed in 1935 protects workers' right to work together for better wages and working conditions, including through class-action lawsuits.

However, the court's conservative justices argued the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925 trumps the nation's foundational labor and collective bargaining law, which they view as more narrowly tailored toward union workers. Congress passed the Federal Arbitration Act a decade earlier to give employers the power to settle disputes through private arbitration and prevent collective legal action from employees.

"As a matter of policy these questions are surely debatable. But as a matter of law the answer is clear," wrote Justice Neil Gorsuch, a Trump appointee, in the opinion for the majority. "In the Federal Arbitration Act, Congress has instructed federal courts to enforce arbitration agreements according to their terms -- including terms providing for individualized proceedings."

Writing in dissent for the court's four more liberal justices, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg said the ruling was "egregiously wrong." She argued that individual claims of lost wages, for example, are "scarcely of a size warranting the expense of seeking redress alone," but by banding together, workers can effectively seek redress for wage underpayment that is common across various industries.

The Federal Arbitration Act, the dissenting justices argued, does not give employers cover to violate workers' right to protect their interests in concert by forcing them to sign "take-it-or-leave-it" contracts requiring mandatory arbitration as a condition of employment.

"The inevitable result of today's decision will be the underenforcement of federal and state statutes designed to advance the well-being of vulnerable workers," Ginsberg wrote. "The probable impact on wage and hours claims of the kind asserted in the cases now before the Court is all too evident. Violations of minimum-wage and overtime laws are widespread."

Proponents say mandatory arbitration prevents costly litigation and, without it, employers would get rid of arbitration altogether, robbing nonunion works of their only option for a quick and uncostly resolution to workplace disputes outside the courtroom. However, the NAACP argued in a brief filed with the court that forcing workers to challenging discrimination alone and outside the courtroom poses a serious threat to civil rights enforcement.

Proving workplace discrimination, particularly on grounds of race and gender, usually requires identifying a "disparate impact" on a certain group or a common pattern of practice that disproportionately affects certain workers. Providing evidence of discrimination on the job is much more difficult when workers must present their cases one-by-one and in private, rather than by sharing their stories and working together.

For decades, concerted efforts by workers to assert their rights have effectively challenged racial and gender discrimination at job sites across the country, forcing large employers to change their ways, according the to the NAACP.

"If employers can preclude workers from acting together in every forum, they can -- and will -- effectively extinguish the civil rights claims of the most vulnerable members of the workforce," the NAACP wrote.

Echoing the dissenting justices, McNicholas said Congress should restore the right to engage in "collective action" for millions of workers by banning mandatory arbitration agreements, but such legislation is unlikely as long as Republicans control Congress.

Categories: Latest News

Bayou Bridge Pipeline Construction Proceeds in Louisiana Community Despite Invalid Permit Ruling

Truthout - Mon, 05/21/2018 - 21:00

Workers proceed with construction of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in St. James, Louisiana. (Photo: Julie Dermansky ©2018)

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Construction of the Bayou Bridge pipeline has continued in and around the Louisiana town of St. James despite a judge's ruling that a state agency wrongly issued a permit allowing this oil pipeline to be built without an emergency and evacuation plan for the vulnerable town. A follow-up judgment formalizing the initial ruling came on May 15.

Judge Alvin Turner, Jr.'s decision, first made on April 30, pertains only to the final 18 miles of pipeline, which in full stretches across southern Louisiana, from Lake Charles, near the Texas border, to a railway terminal in St. James, a largely low-income African-American community. Those last 18 miles fall in a region classified as the coastal zone, an area regulated by the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which issued a costal permit for the pipeline.

St. James Pastor Harry Joseph is dismayed Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC, a subsidiary of Dakota Access owner Energy Transfer Partners, appears undeterred by the judge's order and has continued construction in the coastal zone.

"We stood up to an unjust permit and won," Pastor Joseph said. "The judge ruled that letting the company build the pipeline without creating an evacuation route for the community is unjust. But the regulators and local officials are doing nothing to stop the construction."

Ongoing work on the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in St. James, which falls in the coastal zone of Louisiana. (Photo: Julie Dermansky ©2018)

Lisa Jordan, a lead attorney with the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, told me that in her view the company is in contempt of court and the Department of Natural Resources should have stopped the work until the court order to create an emergency plan is followed. The law clinic is representing Pastor Joseph, the Gulf Restoration Network, Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, and H.E.L.P. (Humanitarian Enterprise of Loving People) in the successful lawsuit challenging the pipeline.

These plaintiffs originally sued the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources because St. James, located along the Mississippi River and surrounded by many recently built oil storage tanks and chemical plants, now has only a single road into and out of the community. Residents say should an emergency result from a pipeline failure, they would be left without a way to escape. Judge Turner agreed with this evaluation in his ruling.

In a letter Jordan sent to a lawyer for Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC, she pointed out that the court ordered that the company provide an effective emergency response and evacuation plan to DNR "prior to the continued issuance of said permit." She demanded that the company cease construction until the company "complies with the court's order and DNR has issued a legal permit."

Light rain coats equipment in St. James, Louisiana at a Bayou Bridge Pipeline construction site. (Photo: Julie Dermansky ©2018)

I asked Energy Transfer Partners if it thought continued work on the pipeline was going against the court order, but the company did not respond. 

On Friday, May 18, I drove to St. James, pulling off the road to shoot ongoing construction near the end of Burton Lane. As I shot photos in a light rain that evening, pipeline workers photographed me with cell phones. After about 10 minutes, a sheriff came to see what I was doing. I explained that I was documenting the continued construction because the plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the pipeline's permit considered the work illegal.

After checking my driver's license and press credentials, the sheriff asked if I had gotten what I needed. I replied that I had and continued on my way.

Pipeline workers taking photojournalist Julie Dermansky's picture in St. James as she photographed them working while a light rain fell on May 18. (Photo: Julie Dermansky ©2018)

Local sheriff pulls up while photojournalist Julie Dermansky is working to see what she's doing. (Photo: Julie Dermansky ©2018)

Jordan also sent a letter to DNR asking the agency to stop the company from working on the pipeline in the coastal zone. "We are concerned that the DNR is in contempt of court in failing to order Bayou Bridge to cease and desist construction activities until it, and DNR have complied with the Court order and unless and until DNR issues a legal permit," the letter states, before asking that the agency take immediate action. 

However, according to DNR, the ongoing work in the coastal zone is still permissible. Patrick Courreges, communications director for the agency, explained to me: "Basically, the judge's ruling is not executory -- meaning it can't be fully executed, until either we have decided not to appeal or 30 days from the day the judgment came out have run out, to give us the opportunity to appeal."

Furthermore, if DNR were to tell the company to stop work before the agency decides whether or not to appeal, or if the 30 days haven't run out before a decision is made, Courreges said, "DNR technically doesn't have a legal leg to stand on." The agency can't demand Bayou Bridge stop work before deciding its next move, he said, not without a restraining order or injunction filed against the company. "They are not breaking the law," he said. 

At first, Pastor Joseph was surprised that construction of the pipeline didn't stop after they won their case, but he sees it as a sign of the times. "If the president of the United States can behave as if the laws don't apply to him," he mused, "why should we expect the pipeline company to obey the law?" 

Categories: Latest News

Deforestation in the US South Is Four Times Greater Than Logging in South American Rainforests

Truthout - Mon, 05/21/2018 - 21:00

Mahatma Gandhi said, "What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another." He also said, "The Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's greed."

In no place do these statements resonate more than in one of the world's largest wood-producing regions, the Southern US -- where in recent years forest cover loss from large-scale industrial logging has been four times that of South American rainforests.

Healthy, intact forests provide critical life-supporting services. They ensure a steady and clean supply of drinking water, purify the air, provide natural flood control and create a space of beauty for spiritual renewal -- services estimated to be 15 times greater than forests valued for wood products alone. Recent scientific studies have also underscored that letting forests grow to soak up carbon out of the atmosphere can help avoid catastrophic climate change.

Yet in the southern US, forests are being threatened today as never before, thanks to misdirected efforts by European nations that are importing our forests to burn for electricity on a growing scale. This is harming not only the health of the forests, but the well-being of the people who live in the communities around them.

Exploitation and Injustice

Over the past few years, the South has become the world's largest exporter of wood pellets to fuel power stations in Europe under the guise of "renewable" energy. Industry and government tout the wood pellet industry as providing "green, renewable energy jobs" despite scientific evidence that burning trees for electricity will exacerbate, not mitigate, climate change.

As a result, forest disturbance rates across the rural communities of the US Southern Coastal Plain are among the highest on the planet. This expansive economic exploitation has degraded our forests and our rural communities, disproportionately affecting low-income people and people of color in some of the poorest rural counties in the nation.

This rural landscape has a long history of forest destruction. Over the decades, tens of millions of acres of natural forests have been displaced by single-species tree plantations that are routinely sprayed with toxic herbicides and fertilizers. Remaining natural forests are degraded by logging. What were once large expanses of old, intact forests have been largely reduced to a patchwork of clearcuts, pine plantations and commercialized forests. The industrialization of forests in the southern US has degraded biodiversity, carbon sinks, natural flood control and other critical services forests provide.

Equally important is how this exploitation affects people. Black Americans own less than 1 percent of the rural land in the South yet make up a majority of the population in many of the rural counties that make up the nation's "Black Belt." While corporations and some landowners have accumulated wealth from logging forests, rural communities living on the front lines of the destruction have some of the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the country.

It is an injustice that those who benefit the least from destructive industries bear the brunt of the impacts.Along with a degraded landscape, these rural communities are overburdened by pollution from nearby paper mills, toxic waste dumps, coal pollution and some of the dirtiest industries of the modern industrial world. And tax breaks for logging and other destructive industries hurt public funds that could otherwise go to schools, health care and other critical social services that support community well-being.

At the same time, the Southern region is bearing the brunt of the impacts of climate change in the US due to flooding from extreme weather. Residents of low-income rural communities and communities of color are among the worst hurt, often lacking resources to evacuate or make ends meet until they can get back to work. It is an injustice that those who benefit the least from destructive industries bear the brunt of the impacts.

Stop the Exports

Recently, front-line communities, climate scientists, and faith, environmental and justice organizations have united in opposition to this rapidly expanding wood pellet export industry. Local communities are pushing back, concerned about more air pollution, dangerous truck traffic and other detrimental community impacts.

While forest landowners may benefit, rural communities broadly haven't seen widespread economic prosperity follow in the wake of forest industry expansion. There is little evidence that the industrial-scale logging of forests has contributed to creating vibrant, thriving rural, Southern communities. On the contrary, it is destroying the ability of standing forests to provide benefits such as clean drinking water and natural flood control.

In the same way we need a just transition away from resource extraction in the coal fields of Appalachia, we need a just transition in the forest economy of the Southern Coastal Plain to one that values the community benefits of standing forests.

An emerging diverse movement across the South working at the intersection of forests, climate and justice is focused on a new vision for the region -- a just transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy and a new forest economy that supports landowners to keep more forests standing, creates healthy jobs for low-income communities and communities of color, and ensures that everyone has a beautiful and healthy place to live, work and play.

At the heart of this movement is a recognition that we must put justice first. It is simply not acceptable to continue to put low-income people and people of color on the front lines of a destructive economic system that concentrates power and wealth in the hands of a few while destroying our life support system.

We must right the wrongs that have not only destroyed our forests, climate, air and water but also placed the burden on vulnerable communities that have suffered the most. By restoring the forest -- as well as the air, water and climate -- we can restore our communities, our relationship to each other and our morality.

We can provide for everyone's needs, but not if we do not eliminate greed. It's time to unite behind a vision for a new economy that values life above profits and that creates equitable opportunities for all.

Editor's note: The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Ensia. 

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Categories: Latest News

Malala, and Now Sabika: Pakistani Girl's Death in Texas Should Prompt Reflection on Gun Violence

Truthout - Sun, 05/20/2018 - 21:00

One of the 10 victims in the Santa Fe High School shooting was Sabika Sheikh, an exchange student from Pakistan. She was due to return to her home country in June after participating in an exchange program sponsored by the State Department. CNN reporter Saeed Ahmed compared the shooting of Sheikh to that of Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman who boarded her school bus in 2012. Ahmed wrote, "Both are Pakistani girls: One, Malala, was shot on her way to school by a militant in Swat, near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. She survived. The other, Sabika, was shot by a fellow student inside a school in Santa Fe, Texas. She died. But, as many ruefully pointed out, that's where the comparison ends." He went on to quote blogger Asfandyar Bhittani, who tweeted that, unlike Malala, "Sabika Sheikh will be forgotten before next weekend." We're joined by Murtaza Hussain, a reporter at The Intercept focusing on national security, foreign policy and human rights.

Please check back later for full transcript.

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