Latest News

Are Oil and Gas CEOs Getting Paid to Pollute?

Commondreams - Wed, 09/20/2017 - 12:28
Food & Water Watch

Food & Water Watch recently examined the financial disclosure forms of the nine publically-traded American oil and gas companies, along with reports tallying the greenhouse gas emissions footprint at each of these companies. The analysis shows that almost without exception, the more carbon emissions the company produced in 2015, the more the CEO got paid in 2016.

Categories: Latest News

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Calls for Removal of a Class of Toxic Chemicals in Consumer Products

Commondreams - Wed, 09/20/2017 - 09:49
Earthjustice

In response to a petition filed by leading consumer, healthcare, firefighter and science groups, today the U.S.

Categories: Latest News

Bipartisan Group of Security, Ethics and Investigations Experts Urge Senators to Support Legislation Protecting the Independent Special Counsel

Commondreams - Wed, 09/20/2017 - 09:44
Public Citizen

A bipartisan group of experts issued a letter today calling on members of the U.S. Senate to support efforts to protect against the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Protecting the Special Counsel would ensure that the ongoing investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election continues.

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Senate Republicans Scramble to Secure Votes for Last-Ditch Effort to Repeal Affordable Care Act

Truthout - Tue, 09/19/2017 - 21:00

Vice President Mike Pence and other Trump administration officials spent Tuesday on Capitol Hill lobbying Republican senators to support the latest healthcare plan, known as the Graham-Cassidy bill, named after its main architects, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. The last-ditch effort by Senate Republicans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act has to be done by September 30, when a deadline allowing the Senate to pass the legislation by a simple majority expires. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says the bill would cause many millions of people to lose coverage, gut Medicaid, eliminate or weaken protections for people with pre-existing conditions and increase out-of-pocket healthcare costs to individuals, all while showering tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans. The New York Times editorial board wrote on Tuesday, "It is hard to overstate the cruelty of the Graham-Cassidy bill." We speak with Alice Ollstein, a politics reporter at Talking Points Memo focusing on healthcare. Her recent piece is titled "Where Things Stand with the Senate's Last-Ditch Obamacare Repeal Push."

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we turn now to Senate Republicans' last-ditch effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Vice President Mike Pence and other Trump administration officials spent Tuesday on Capitol Hill lobbying Republican senators to support the latest healthcare plan. It's known as the Graham-Cassidy bill, after its main architects, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says the Graham-Cassidy bill would cause many millions of people to lose coverage, gut Medicaid, eliminate or weaken protections for people with pre-existing conditions and increase out-of-pocket healthcare costs to individuals, all while showering tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans. As The New York Times editorial board wrote in a piece published Tuesday, quote, "It is hard to overstate the cruelty of the Graham-Cassidy bill." On Tuesday, late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel railed against the Republican healthcare bill.

JIMMY KIMMEL: Now, I don't know what happened to Bill Cassidy, but when he was on this publicity tour, he listed his demands for a healthcare bill very clearly. These were his words. He said he wants "coverage for all," "no discrimination based on pre-existing conditions," "lower premiums for middle-class families" and "no lifetime caps." And guess what. The new bill does none of those things. ... And this guy, Bill Cassidy, just lied right to my face.

Do you believe every that American, regardless of income, should be able to get regular checkups, maternity care, etc., all of those things that people who have healthcare get and need?

SEN. BILL CASSIDY: Yep.

JIMMY KIMMEL: So "yep" is Washington for "no." ... Stop using my name, OK? Because I don't want my name on it. There's a new Jimmy Kimmel test for you. It's called a lie detector test.

AMY GOODMAN: That's the late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel, who, to say the least, does not find healthcare funny, with his infant baby son born with heart disease, and he's made this one of his most important issues, just returning to late night to talk about this bill.

An administration official told CNN Tuesday President Trump is prepared to sign the Graham-Cassidy bill if it reaches his desk. But first, Republican senators have to muster enough votes to pass the bill by September 30th, when a deadline allowing the Senate to pass the legislation by a simple majority expires.

As our next guest writes, "They're close, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades." Alice Ollstein is the politics reporter at Talking Points Memofocusing on healthcare. Her recent piece is headlined "Where Things Stand with the Senate's Last-Ditch Obamacare Repeal Push."

OK, Alice, where do they stand?

ALICE OLLSTEIN: Well, like I said, they are close, but I think we should take with a grain of salt that the people saying, "Oh, we're extremely close," are the authors of the bill themselves. And I think they are assuming that everyone who voted for this last -- this previous effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the so-called skinny repeal bill, will vote for this bill. But there's a key difference. The skinny repeal bill was pitched as simply a way to advance the process, to get to conference with the House and to keep making tweaks and improving it. This is presented as a final bill. And like you said, the clock is ticking. They have to finish this by the end of the month, if they want to use the 50-vote threshold. So, this is it. And I think that some senators will be scared away by that.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Alice, The New York Times is also reporting that, as the bill is structured, many blue states will suffer much more reductions in federal assistance to their healthcare -- to the healthcare insurance, versus the red states, that will gain more. So it's almost as if it's politically written to hurt the blue states.

ALICE OLLSTEIN: That's right. And while pitting states against each other may succeed in the Senate, that is a much heavier lift in the House, where you have representatives of both parties representing a single state. And you already have some New York Republicans speaking out, saying, "Hey, this is really bad for our constituents. I'm pretty nervous about this." And so, even if this does pass the Senate, I think it could run into trouble in the House for those reasons. Now, I will say, this is less -- it is about red and blue states, but it's also about whether or not states expanded Medicaid. And we've seen states of various political leanings do that for their constituents. And the states that did that and have gotten that federal support for expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income people will see a sharper reduction under this bill.

AMY GOODMAN: So, it looks like they're being punished for that, for expanding Medicaid, which was both Republicans and Democratic governors. Speaking of which, Republicans and Democratic governors have written a joint letter protesting this bill. You've got like John Kasich in Ohio. You've got Governor Phil Scott, Governor Charles Baker, Governor Brian Sandoval. Can you talk about the significance of this letter?

ALICE OLLSTEIN: Sure. I think it's very important we saw governors speaking out -- some governors speaking out during the last effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but I think that it's more important now, because this bill is all about giving power over healthcare back to the states, back to those governors. So the fact that the governors themselves are speaking out and saying, "Hey, this is a bad idea, this is a bad formula," and even though this gives more power, more decision-making power, back to the states, it gives, in many cases, much less money, tens of billions of dollars less money, to cover the population and provide healthcare. So I think that the governors' protest here will carry a little more weight. That said, many senators have shown themselves perfectly willing to buck their governor's wishes. Bill Cassidy, the author of the bill, is one of them. There was a very strong letter from the governor of Louisiana against this bill, and he's not going to change his mind on that. It's his bill.

AMY GOODMAN: The question if John McCain will, since Ducey, the governor of Arizona, said he would support this.

ALICE OLLSTEIN: Right. And he's definitely one to watch. And now John McCain's gripes about this bill are a lot about process, as well as substance. Now, the process they're using to force this bill to the floor before the end of the month is a little bit crazy. It's sort of a crude imitation of regular order. They have all of the pieces there, but not complete. They're getting a CBO score next week, but it won't include information on how many people could lose their health insurance or whether premiums would go up or down under this bill, because the CBO just does not have time to make that analysis. They're going to have a single hearing, potentially mere days before a vote, and that will be in the Finance Committee. And the top Democrat on that committee, Ron Wyden, has said he was not consulted at all about setting up that hearing, and he called it a "sham process." Now, that is not what usually happens in the Senate with a bill of this magnitude. Usually there are many hearings and markups and getting input from experts, and that's not happening in this case. Now, if the bill does go to the floor, it will only get 90 seconds of debate before they immediately go to voting on amendments. That's because this is a -- the whole bill is positioned as an amendment to the previous healthcare bill that the Senate already passed.

AMY GOODMAN: And let's not forget that it hasn't been CBO scored. It hasn't been scored by the Congressional Budget Office. And the question is if they would vote on this, a fifth of the U.S. budget, without a scoring by the Congressional Budget Office. And let's also not forget that Bernie Sanders, with 15 co-sponsors, has introduced a Medicare-for-all bill. Alice Ollstein, we want to thank you so much for being with us, politics reporter at Talking Points Memo focusing on healthcare. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

Categories: Latest News

Damaged by Hurricanes and "Vulture" Capitalism, Caribbean Islands Plead for Debt Relief

Truthout - Tue, 09/19/2017 - 21:00

Devastated by hurricanes, the Caribbean nations whose economies are largely dependent on tourism are appealing to the IMF for temporary relief from debt repayment. But that alone might not bring complete relief, as some of the debt is owned by exploitative "vulture funds" which have a history of aggressively pursuing defaulters regardless of the circumstances.

A dog walks past damages on September 20, 2017, in Grand Case, on the French side of the Caribbean island of Saint Martin, after Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma hit the island. (Photo: Helene Valenzuela / AFP / Getty Images)

Last week, just days after Hurricane Irma thrashed through the Caribbean with record-high winds, the Catholic bishop of the island nation of Dominica sent a letter to the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Bishop Gabriel Malzaire pleaded with the IMF to temporarily delay debt payments from Antigua and Barbuda and other islands left in ruins by the storm.

"The few dozen small Island States across the world, for example, have neither the size nor developmental history to have been major contributors to current climate change," Malzaire wrote on behalf of the Antilles Episcopal Conference, the Caribbean conference of Catholic Bishops. "Yet these small Island States are the most easily devastated by rising seas and harsher storms."

On Monday evening, Hurricane Maria slammed into Malzaire's home island of Dominica, a Caribbean island nation where 50 percent of children live in poverty. Maria arrived as a Category 5 storm with winds whipping at 160 miles per hour. Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit described the resulting "widespread devastation" as "mind boggling."

As of Tuesday afternoon, Malzaire's allies in the United States were unable to reach the bishop and their other partners in Dominica, according to Eric LeCompte, director of Jubilee USA, an alliance of advocacy groups and religious communities that pushes for international refinancing and debt relief for the world's poorest economies.

Meanwhile, Maria has barreled into the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, two US territories currently dealing with debt crises of their own. Last year, Congress responded to Puerto Rico's financial troubles with a refinancing package that was signed into law by President Obama.

The US Virgin Islands are still recovering from Hurricane Irma, and local government told residents to leave damaged homes behind for shelters as Maria approached.

LeCompte told Truthout that Malzaire's letter requesting temporary debt relief for Antigua and Barbuda now applies to the bishop's own country of Dominica, which may have suffered some of the worst hurricane damage the Caribbean has seen this year.

"At this point, Antigua and Barbuda as one country and Dominica as another could both qualify for a temporary moratorium on international debt payments to the IMF," LeCompte said in an interview.

Like other islands in the Caribbean, Dominica is saddled by significant international debt. LeCompte said the country's debt level has been unsustainable since at least 2010, and Hurricane Maria could lead to a "full-blown debt crisis."

For Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda, debt relief is not just about reducing the financial burden of making payments to world bankers. Placing a temporary delay on debt payments is one of the quickest ways to aid a country's rebuilding efforts after a disaster, LeCompte said. If the IMF and other creditors were to grant a debt moratorium, it would free up millions of dollars for recovery.

"It's imperative that the IMF, World Bank and other creditors delay payments or grant a debt payment moratorium to provide financing and relief in the face of human tragedy," LeCompte told a United Nations working group on Tuesday morning.

The IMF did not respond to a media inquiry from Truthout by the time this story was published. Reports surfaced last week indicating that the IMF initially rejected the idea of placing holds of debt payments from Caribbean nations impacted by hurricanes, but LeCompte said those reports took statements from an IMF official out of context.

"We know that they are considering our proposals right now," LeCompte said of the IMF.

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are facing a slightly different quandary. While independent nations like Dominica have received loans from a mix of private creditors and public development institutions like the IMF and World Bank, the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have defaulted on bond payments and suffered from financial mismanagement in the past. 

Tourism is a main source of income for Puerto Rico and especially the US Virgin Islands, so new tax revenue will be slow to come by as both territories recover. Observers fear this could push the Virgin Islands into bankruptcy, and Puerto Rico declared bankruptcy earlier this year.

President Trump has said there will be no "bailout" for Puerto Rico's financial crisis, but LeCompte said the territory may be in a better position than the US Virgin Islands because President Obama signed a refinancing plan for Puerto Rico into law last year.

Citing $70 billion in debt to bondholders and $50 billion in pension obligations to public employees, Puerto Rico filed the largest municipal bankruptcy claim in US history in May under protections established by the federal refinancing law.

The refinancing legislation has been criticized as a top-down exercise in reasserting Washington's colonial power, but LeCompte says that at least it created a "super-bankruptcy" process that provides a path towards resolving Puerto Rico's debt. Those benefits were not extended to the Virgin Islands, which owes even more debt per capita than Puerto Rico, according to LeCompte.

"Especially after Hurricane Irma hit, [the US Virgin Islands] are in really bad shape right now," LeCompte said, adding that advocates are currently focused on making sure federal grant money for disaster relief gets to both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands as quickly as possible.

The debt crises in the Caribbean are further complicated by exploitative hedge funds known as "vulture funds" that are already known for predatory behavior in places such as Detroit, Greece and Argentina. These funds buy debt for pennies on the dollar and then aggressively pursue defaulting governments in court.

"As for predatory hedge funds or vulture funds, they don't discriminate between countries and territories," LeCompte said. "They can buy debt on the cheap from anyone, whether that is Puerto Rico's debt or debt in Dominica."

Stories like this are more important than ever! To make sure Truthout can keep publishing them, please give a tax-deductible donation today.
Categories: Latest News

Trump Uses UN Podium to Threaten Nuclear Annihilation

Truthout - Tue, 09/19/2017 - 21:00

Donald Trump gestures as he addresses the 72nd UN General Assembly. (Photo: Andy Katz / Pacific Press / LightRocket via Getty Images)

President Donald Trump raised the possibility of launching high-stakes US military operations in three corners of the world on Tuesday, at his first address to the United Nations General Assembly.

The president targeted North Korea, Iran and Venezuela–which he termed as "rogue regimes," from the UN podium, in a speech reminiscent of George W. Bush's pre-Iraq War "Axis of Evil" State of the Union.

Trump's harshest rhetoric was reserved for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

"The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea," he said.

Pyongyang has recently conducted intercontinental ballistic missile tests over Japan, including one last week. On September 3, the North Korean military also conducted a hydrogen bomb test. The United Nations Security Council responded by voting to impose harsh economic sanctions on North Korea.

South Korean officials have reacted to the tests by outlining an "aggressive response," if Pyongyang is preparing a "missile or nuclear" attack on Seoul.

While the plan would target "North Korean leadership," it makes no invocation of the sort of wholesale destruction promised by Trump on Tuesday. Last month, Trump responded to North Korean missile tests by promising "fire and fury like the world has never seen."

In ongoing wars, the current administration has already shown lesser consideration for human life abroad. Observers claim that civilian casualties have increased manifold in US counter-Islamic State (ISIL) operations since Trump became Commander-in-Chief.

Later in Tuesday's speech, Trump also raised the prospect of a second nuclear conflict -- between the US and Iran.

"The Iran Deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into," he said, referring to the 2015 agreement between Iran, the US, Germany and permanent UN Security Council members. The accord lifted multilateral sanctions in exchange for international oversight of Iranian civilian nuclear technology.

"Frankly that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don't think you've heard the last of it. Believe me," Trump added.

He also invoked humanitarian concerns about the Iranian government, mimicking Bush administration rhetoric about Saddam Hussein in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

"The longest suffering victims of Iran's leaders are, in fact, its own people," Trump said.

The president also attacked Iranian support of Hezbollah -- despite US allies' alleged backing of militant Sunni groups.

In May, at a counterterror summit in Saudi Arabia, Trump urged leaders of Muslim majority nations to "drive out the terrorists and drive out the extremists." Weeks later, the region spiraled into a diplomatic crisis, after the governments of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt led an effort to accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism.

"The amount of support for terrorism by Saudi Arabia dwarfs what Qatar is doing," said Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) in July, reacting to the crisis.

On Tuesday, President Trump also singled out the Venezuelan government for criticism, attacking the "socialist Maduro regime" amid a political and economic crisis in the South American country.

"This situation is completely unacceptable, and we cannot stand by and watch," Trump claimed. He also said the US should "help them regain their freedom, recover their country and restore their democracy."

Venezuela has been gripped by an economic crisis since 2014, after attempting to implement fixed exchange rate policies and after the fall of oil prices reversed gains made by social programs implemented by Hugo Chavez.

Protests against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro this year have been met with fatal police violence, in some instances, but demonstrators themselves have been militant and are accused of killing scores of people.

"The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented," Trump said, as many attendees laughed and murmured, to a smattering of faint applause.

The last time a Republican president was in power, the United States cheered on a coup d'etat against a Venezuelan socialist leader -- Chavez, in 2002.

Bush administration officials knew about the plot beforehand, and blamed Chavez just hours after. Two of the coup's leaders -- Army Commander in Chief Efrain Vasquez and General Ramirez Poveda -- had received training at the US military's infamous School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Ga.

With everything going on in the White House, the media must maintain relentless pressure on the Trump administration. Can you support Truthout in this endeavor? Click here to donate.
Categories: Latest News

Hundreds Dead in Mexico After Earthquake Strikes on Anniversary of Devastating 1985 Quake

Truthout - Tue, 09/19/2017 - 21:00

In Mexico, a massive 7.1-magnitude quake struck 100 miles southeast of Mexico City Tuesday, collapsing dozens of buildings around the capital city and trapping schoolchildren, workers and residents beneath the rubble. At least 217 people are dead, and hundreds more are missing. Among the dead are least 21 students at a primary school in Mexico City and 15 worshipers who died during a Catholic mass when the earthquake triggered an eruption at a volcano southeast of the city. The disaster struck just hours after residents participated in an earthquake preparedness drill marking the 32nd anniversary of a 1985 earthquake that killed 5,000 people. Tuesday's quake follows another earthquake less than two weeks ago, which killed at least 90 people and leveled thousands of homes after it struck near the coast of the southern state of Oaxaca. We speak with Laura Carlsen, director of the Mexico City-based Americas Program of the Center for International Policy.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Civil Disobedience

Truthout - Tue, 09/19/2017 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

"Meanwhile, Elsewhere": Talking to the Editors of a Trans Speculative Fiction Anthology

Truthout - Tue, 09/19/2017 - 21:00

In Meanwhile, Elsewhere: Science Fiction and Fantasy from Transgender Writers, some of the worlds depicted are very unfamiliar, while others are so close to our world that they clearly illustrate its cruelties, idiosyncrasies and beauty. The anthology's editors, Casey Plett and Cat Fitzpatrick, talk to Truthout about keeping the humanity in stories about amazing technology, keeping nuance in stories about vengeful zombies, and more.

Casey Plett and Cat Fitzpatrick. (Photos: Sybil Lamb, Julieta Salgado; Edited: LW / TO)

An innocent alien visits Providence, Rhode Island on Christmas Eve. A trio of friends visit a haunted, haunting mansion. Queer cybernetically enhanced bands clash in a dystopian landfill. An attempt to summon the Devil doesn't go as planned. These stories and more make up Meanwhile, Elsewhere, a collection of speculative fiction from trans authors. Order this remarkable anthology today with a donation to Truthout!

In Meanwhile, Elsewhere: Science Fiction and Fantasy from Transgender Writers, some of the worlds and futures depicted are very unfamiliar. Others are so close to our world that they very clearly illustrate its cruelties, idiosyncrasies and beauty, whether it's through the all-too-plausible public embrace of cybernetic conversion therapy in "Schwaberow, Ohio" by Brendan Williams-Childs, or a better world that seems heartbreakingly within reach yet elusive in Ryka Aoki's "The Gift."

Call them science fiction and fantasy, SF/F, speculative fiction or spec fic, these stories demand to be read by a wide audience. Like Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements -- the obvious closest comparison -- Meanwhile, Elsewhere reveals how much speculative fiction can achieve when it isn't dominated by the same (cis, white, male) voices.

Truthout spoke via email with Casey Plett and Cat Fitzpatrick, the editors of Meanwhile, Elsewhere, about the anthology's origins, goals and themes, about the editing process and about, well, destroying western civilization.

Joe Macaré:  Can you tell us a little about the genesis of this project? Where did the idea come from to collect stories by trans people writing speculative fiction in particular?

Casey Plett: In summer 2014, Topside Press decided to do a speculative fiction anthology. I was in New York City at the time, but I was teaching in the day and getting drunk till four at night and literally my one memory of this being in the works is when Cat told me of the plan at the bar. Months later, the press, who had just published my own book of short stories, asked me to come on board as co-editor. This is all a way of saying Cat will probably be of more help on this answer here.

Cat Fitzpatrick: So, this was my idea! It is my fault. I love to get people drunk and co-opt them into misguided schemes. Some of this was to do with knowing Rachel Pollack, to whom the book is dedicated, who wrote all these amazing SF/F books starting in the 70s, and being aware of this somewhat submerged history of trans SF/F writers and wanting to continue this.

"Science fiction and fantasy seemed a good way to do more explicitly polemical work without being boring." -- Cat Fitzpatrick

Related to that was that I wanted Topside to do some work that was maybe more explicitly polemical because the world is so terrible, and SF/F seemed like it had previously been a good way to do that without being boring. I was particularly thinking about second-wave feminism, which had all these very political SF/F writers coming out of it whose work was really important to me, like Ursula Le Guin above all, and wondering where that piece of the puzzle was in contemporary trans lit. (Much like my poetry projects come partly out of being, like, where is our Adrienne Rich or Audre Lorde?)

At the same time, I wanted not just to emulate but also to reclaim feminist SF/F traditions that often have been, as with Joanna Russ, quite hostile to trans people. To offer us something better. Also, trans people all seem to be huge nerds, so I was like, maybe this will be popular. Maybe we will even make some money for a change.

Casey, I read in a Quill & Quire interview that you don't come out of a science fiction or fantasy background as a reader or writer, whereas Cat, you're very familiar with these genres. Can you talk a little about how you collaborated as a result?

Plett: Cat, please correct me if you think this is different, but: I thought I was going to be out of my depth much more than I was! I feel like there were ... times where Cat would interject on a story I was editing and say: "Actually, this is probably why X thing is happening, it's a common move in spec fic and it does Y," and I'd go "Ahhhhh, roger," but I feel like there weren't that many of those moments. Most of the authors are huge sci-fi nerds themselves and I think they guided me along right where I came up short.

But also, I don't think meaningful prose writing is a terribly different animal across genres. Figuring out what a story is saying, how the characters are relating to each other, and how the jokes and drama are landing or not landing -- it's not like those rules are different across genres. Am I wrong? Tweet at me if I'm wrong @caseyplett please.

Fitzpatrick: I knew you would be great at it! The reason I wanted Casey on board is, I was confident I could deal with fixing people's world-building, but I wanted someone who could really help people with character dynamics. I wanted her to bring the Alice Munro. Most bad SF/F is bad because it has cool worlds, but doesn't have actual people in it you can care about or actual stories for them. I think this collection has big ideas, but I think that by anyone's standards, these are all also just really great character-driven stories full of emotion and people you care about and meaningful narratives. Which is totes down to Casey, who rules.

Were many of the contributors to Meanwhile, Elsewhere new to writing science fiction and/or fantasy? If so, what strengths and/or challenges did that bring?

Plett: Back of the envelope calculation: I'd say half the authors were already writing SF/F. Of the half who weren't, I'd say half of them were SF/F fans but hadn't given writing it a crack before. And the rest were enterprising spirits trying something new. As for strengths and challenges, I mostly refer you to my above answer, but now that I think about it, some folks came with the world-building firmly conceived and in place and some folks were figuring it out as we went, so that was a difference, though not one I'd really consider on a strength/challenge spectrum.

"If you have a three-dimensional, complicated, multi-faceted ... character, it doesn't matter if some of her nuances also fall into stereotypes." -- Casey Plett

Fitzpatrick: We have a couple of people for whom this is the first story they wrote of any kind. I think insofar as people were beginners at writing or at SF/F, it did mean we had to be very available as helpful editors, but also it brought a freeness, a freshness, a "you don't know that's impossible, so you just did it" kind of quality.

You say in the afterword that "trans people have been treated in science fiction and fantasy as part of the spectacle: either as an amazing future technology ... or as awful unlikely monsters." How do these stories resist that tendency while still allowing their protagonists to be free of the need to be perfect representative role models, to be monstrous if the story requires?

Plett: If you have a three-dimensional, complicated, multifaceted, interesting, weird, nuanced character, it doesn't matter if some of her nuances also fall into stereotypes. To take "Delicate Bodies" as an example; in that story, the protagonist is a racialized trans woman who becomes a zombie and sexually assaults and murders people. That woman, in the process of becoming the undead, then has insights about how class and race and gender affects our notion of monsters. And the woman has been hurt by boys and still has a boy she's in love with and misses her family and has a varied array of friends and is processing trauma and is feeling massively awful about the betrayal of new zombie body requiring her to kill and all of this is happening through her eyes.

In the terrible stories where trans people are awful monsters (in spec fic and elsewhere), none of that complexity happens.

Fitzpatrick: Likewise, with the amazing technology. Compare what happens in a story like Calvin Gimpelevich's "Rent, Don't Sell" to the ways Iain M. Banks or Kim Stanley Robinson write about "amazing gender technology," and I think there is so much more humanity to it. Calvin has amazing bodyswap technology, but what it gives the characters is a complex and unsatisfactory legal relationship with the person whose body they have swapped with as a sex reassignment technique. Or a shitty job at the gym doing other people's workouts for them. I think it's that kind of attention to mundanity instead of spectacle that allows these stories of awesome trans monsters and machines to also be human and complex and lived.

Also, in re "Delicate Bodies" and monstrousness, I think on the left now there's this prevalent axiom that being oppressed makes you virtuous -- that when you are hurt you somehow become a better person. Which I'm not sure is always true. Or else that being hurt makes you pass on the suffering to weaker people in a miserable continuation of the cycle of abuse. Which is not the only way you can be a bad person.

"If cis women can write country songs about shooting their abusive ex-boyfriends ... we can probably have a book where zombie transsexuals are out for blood." -- Casey Plett

But fighting back, even (especially?) in morally unjustifiable ways, can be a source of glee. And I think being able to address that possibility, of oppressed people responding with gleeful violence rather than victimhood or sainthood, in a way that doesn't then jump straight to condemnation or denial of the character's humanity, or panic, but takes it seriously, as a complex, ambiguous, difficult desire, is really powerful and helps us reckon with the feelings we might have like that.

Plett: If cis women can write country songs about shooting their abusive ex-boyfriends and have it played for kicks for millions on the radio, we can probably have a book where zombie transsexuals are out for blood.

Dystopia is a common theme in these stories, but in some cases the line between dystopia and utopia isn't at all clear (like in Sybil Lamb's "Cybervania"). Why do you think that is?

Plett: I think that's a really insightful look at "Cybervania" in particular. I suppose my melancholy answer might be that many trans people have had the experience of (re)constructing their adult lives from near-scratch, in a world that is not interested in accommodating them.

Fitzpatrick: Because we are here to destroy western civilization, duh. And build amplified junk city-states out of the left-over plastic. Or yeah, because we know building your perfect life from scratch is never that easy, and that your life falling apart utterly is never that final.

Speaking of utopia, while it's hard to single out any story, and I don't want to give away too much about it, "The Gift" by Ryka Aoki is one of the most remarkable pieces in this collection. What made you sure it belonged here?

Truthout Progressive Pick

Short stories from trans writers, pushing the boundaries of science fiction and fantasy.

Click here now to get the book!

Plett: Because its world-building is no different than the ones with the monsters and the zombies.

Fitzpatrick: It is the most dystopian utopia we have! That world is the impossible realisation of our dreams, which would be a nightmare, but even knowing that will not make us stop dreaming of it. It is so poised and smart and exact and deadly.

Some stories, like Tristan Alice Nieto's "Imago" and Kaj Worth's "It's Called Fashion," feature passages in which language itself breaks down from standard prose into something more like digital forms of language, or fractured traumatic memories or what resembles lewd texting. What was that like to edit? Did having worked in poetry as well as prose help?

Plett: I followed the slipstream, for lack of a better word for it. When I come across that kind of thing as a reader, I just follow the emotions of it as best I can and if the writer has done their job well, I can make my way across the room of the page even if it's not 100 percent lit. As an editor, I just ask the writer if I have the right idea, and go from there if I don't. Uh, I hope that worked for everyone, readers of the book.

Fitzpatrick: Hah! Not me! I have worked with too many poets to let anyone get away with being sloppy with experiment. I got Kaj on the videophone and made them explain every single thing they were doing and codify all the rules so that I was 100 percent sure that, even if it was unconventional, it was internally consistent and coherent and could be figured out by an attentive reader. And actually, the same a bit with Tristan, although that is more about disintegration than weird structure, but I pushed her to codify exactly what the form behind the disintegration was. I am a mean editor!

Do you know of plans by any of the contributors to turn or incorporate their stories or characters into longer works? Some of them seem to lend themselves to that, while others like Morgan M Page's "Visions" very deliberately leave us hanging in a way that means "finishing" the story would only detract from its impact.

Plett: Bang-on about "Visions," yup! As for plans, I know Dane Figueroa Edidi has a whole world of existing and continuing stories and books in which some characters show up in her story, "Matchmaker." Sybil Lamb has published another story with Sterile Amerika from "Cybervania" and I think wants to do a few more in a serial novel kind of way. I don't think it's the case for anyone else, though authors, please feel free to send me a bunch of angry e-mails if I have forgotten!

"We know building your perfect life from scratch is never that easy, and that your life falling apart utterly is never that final." -- Cat Fitzpatrick

Fitzpatrick: Also, Nat Buchbinder has a whole universe "Kid Ghost" fits into [that] they are developing. It sounds epic. Kid Ghost turns up as an important secondary character in it, flying spaceships with their brain.

Finally, there are several stories which fuse speculative fiction with other genres and subvert those in the process: noir, crime, horror, erotica, satire. Are there other genres in which you can imagine putting together a similar anthology of trans writers?

Plett: Well, there are already a few trans erotica anthologies out there. (Nerve Endings edited by Tobi Hill-Meyer and Take Me There edited by Tristan Taormino come to mind, both of whom share some authors with us actually!) I feel like a trans noir anthology would definitely have the potential for some subversive, meaningful work that could be both tough and fun. Anyone want to edit a noir anthology? Not it.

Fitzpatrick: I LOVE DETECTIVE FICTION. I want trans mysteries. Again, Rachel Pollack wrote one. And I know at least one author who has written an Agatha Christie-style locked room mystery with a trans lady PI who breaks the rules and a trans dude cop who follows them, that she's gonna send us and I'm excited to read it. But maybe that is less anthology, than that we need a whole trans pulp crime label for that. Those things come in series.

Categories: Latest News

Rand Paul: Unconstitutional Saudi War in Yemen Is Not in Our Interest and Congress Should Vote

Truthout - Tue, 09/19/2017 - 21:00

Sen. Rand Paul speaks at the 2015 Reagan Dinner for the Dallas County Republican Party in Dallas, Texas, January 30, 2015. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

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Last week, on the Senate floor, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) called out US participation in the Saudi war in Yemen.

Senator Paul affirmed that US participation in Saudi Arabia's Yemen war has never been authorized by Congress -- in violation of the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution -- and demanded that Congress vote on it:

We're at war in Yemen. We are aiding and abetting the Saudi war in Yemen. And yet they're been no vote on it. 17 million people live on the edge of starvation, because of the Saudi blockade and bombing campaign. We are aiding and abetting that, and yet there's been no vote here in Congress.

Senator Paul charged that US participation in the Saudi war in Yemen is not in the interests of Americans, but is in fact harmful to the interests of Americans:

Does anybody in America think that the war in Yemen is in our vital interest? Most people don't know where Yemen is, much [less] think it's in our vital interests. Guess what? The war in Yemen may actually be opposed to our vital national interest. It may be making it worse.

Senator Paul also charged that US support for Saudi Arabia's war has fueled the world's worst outbreak of cholera and help push 17 million people to the edge of starvation:

Seventeen million people, as we speak, live on the edge of starvation. Seventeen million people! They're having the largest outbreak of cholera. Where's most of this happening? Where's most of starvation, most of the killing, most of the cholera? It's in areas that are being bombed by the Saudis. They have bombed the infrastructure into ruins, and there is no clean water. So you have cholera being spread. War is probably the most common and most important precipitating factor in humanitarian disasters. If you look at humanitarian disasters around the world, you'll find the number one cause is war. And Yemen was already a poor place to begin with. But you're fighting the war and nobody asked your permission. You're fighting a war in Yemen through the proxy of Saudi Arabia and no one has asked my permission … we have no business in Yemen. We've not voted to go to war in Yemen.

Senator Paul further argued that US support for Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen is helping Al Qaeda:

Is it possible that in us supporting the Saudi Arabian-backed government against the Houthis, they fight and kill each other to such a degree of chaos that al Qaeda ... fills the vacuum? Well, if you look at Libya, that's what happened. If you look at Syria, that's what happened. What if it happens in Yemen? And you have to say, what is our vital interest in Yemen? Why are we in Yemen? Why are we supplying bombs to the Saudis? Is it somehow making us safer from terrorism? Are we "killing them over there so they don't kill us over here"?

The Saudis bombed a funeral procession. A funeral procession! Of civilians! They killed 150 people and they wounded 500. Do you think they're ever going to forget about it? ... they will talk about the day the Saudis came and bombed civilians. And they will also say in the next breath, guess who gave them the bombs? The Americans. Guess who helped guide the planes? Guess who refueled the planes in the air? The Americans refueled the Saudis the day they came to bomb a funeral procession. So in the end we killed 150 people...Well, do you think we killed 150 and that's the end of it? Or do you think those who are wounded that survived went back to their villages tell every one of their neighbors and everyone in the village about the day the Saudis came with the American bombs? So we have to ask ourselves, are we making things better? Is Yemen in our vital national interest? Are we making things better or are we making things worse? Is there a possibility that we lead to such chaos, that al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula rises up and becomes a real threat to us?

Unlike the Senate, the House of Representatives has not had a roll call vote on the floor regarding any aspect of US participation in Saudi Arabia's war on Yemen in at least a year, when an amendment introduced by Rep. John Conyers was narrowly defeated, 204-216. That's why it's important that Senator Paul has spoken out in support of House action to call the question on US support for Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen. Paul said "he supports a bipartisan effort in the House by Reps. Justin Amash (R-Michigan) and Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin) and others to force the Trump administration to seek congressional approval on United States involvement in Saudi Arabia's war with Yemen, which started under President Obama."

"That's a big debate we ought to be having," Paul said regarding the Yemen controversy.

That's a whole new separate war, it's not connected to any of the other wars. And I think there is a strong argument to be made that if we further the chaos in Yemen and we take one side against another, we make it to such an extent that a vacuum develops and Al Qaeda steps into that vacuum. I think there's a chance. One: It's not our war. We should vote on it, and there's not a vital interest. But, two: Whatever we do may do the opposite of what we want and may allow Al Qaeda to grow stronger..."

Paul's support for the effort, now, adds a huge momentum boost behind stopping the very controversial US logistical backing of the Saudis in this conflict.

The Intercept reports that the Pentagon doesn't even know't even know the extent to which the US is helping Saudi Arabia bomb civilians and civilian infrastructure in Yemen. Therefore, anyone saying that the US is not "directly involved" in the Saudi war in Yemen -- as The New York Times recently did -- should not be believed. If the Pentagon doesn't know, how does The New York Times know? And anyone saying that US support for Saudi Arabia's war is legal and constitutional is also lying, because even the Pentagon doesn't know what the Pentagon is doing. While Senator Paul is a unique Republican voice on foreign policy, Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) has affirmed Paul's obvious point: The 2001 anti-al Qaeda Authorization for Use of Military Force doesn't authorize US military action against Yemen's Houthis.

Press your representative in the House to assert their war powers to end unconstitutional US participation in Saudi Arabia's famine-producing, Al Qaeda-helping war in Yemen here.

Categories: Latest News

Afghanistan Again? The US Military's Repetition-Compulsion Complex

Truthout - Tue, 09/19/2017 - 21:00

Here we go again! Years after most Americans forgot about the longest war this country ever fought, American soldiers are again being deployed to Afghanistan. For almost 16 years now, at the command of three presidents and a sadly forgettable succession of generals, they have gone round and round like so many motorists trapped on a rotary with no exit. This time their numbers are officially secret, although variously reported to be 3,500 or 4,000, with another 6,000-plus to follow, and unknown numbers after that. But who can trust such figures? After all, we just found out that the US troops left behind in Afghanistan after President Obama tried to end the war there in 2014, repeatedly reported to number 8,400, actually have been "closer to 12,000" all this time.

The conflict, we're told, is at present a "stalemate." We need more American troops to break it, in part by "training" the Afghan National Army so its soldiers can best their Taliban countrymen plus miscellaneous "terrorist" groups. In that way, the US military -- after only a few more years of "the foreseeable future" in the field -- can claim victory.

But is any of this necessary? Or smart? Or even true?

A prominent Afghan diplomat doesn't think so. Shukria Barakzai, a longtime member of the Afghan parliament now serving as Afghanistan's ambassador to Norway -- herself a victim in 2014 of a Taliban suicide bomber -- told me only weeks ago, "The Taliban are so over! They just want to go home, but you Americans won't let them."

She reminded me that the Taliban are not some invading army. (That would be us.) They are Afghan citizens, distinguished from their countrymen chiefly by their extreme religious conservatism, misogyny, and punitive approach to governance. Think of them as the Afghan equivalent of our own evangelical right-wing Republicans. You find some in almost every town. And the more you rile them up, the meaner they get and the more followers they gain. But in times of peace -- which Afghanistan has not known for 40 years -- many Taliban most likely would return to being farmers, shopkeepers, villagers, like their fathers before them, perhaps imposing local law and order but unlikely to seek control of Kabul and risk bringing the Americans down on them again.

Few Afghans were Taliban sympathizers when the US overthrew the Taliban regime in 2001. Now there are a great many more and they control significant parts of the country, threatening various provincial capitals. They claim to be willing to negotiate with the Afghan government -- but only after all American forces have left the country.

For the Trump administration, that's not an option. (Think what a negotiated peace would mean for our private arms manufacturers for whom America's endless wars across the Greater Middle East are a bonanza of guaranteed sales.) Instead, the president has put "his" generals in the Oval Office to do what generals do. Those in charge now -- James Mattis, H.R. McMaster, and John Kelly -- are all veterans of the Afghan or Iraq wars and consequently subject to what Freud labeled the "repetition compulsion": "the blind impulse to repeat earlier experiences and situations," often in the expectation that things will turn out differently. You'd think these particular generals, having been through it all before, would remember that very little or nothing ventured in Afghanistan (or Iraq) by "the greatest military the world has ever known" has worked out as advertised. As Freud pointed out, however, "The compulsion to repeat... replaces the impulsion to remember."

But I was in Afghanistan too and, strangely enough, I remember a lot.

"Where Is the Money You Promised Us?"

I first went to Kabul in 2002 to work with women and girls just emerging from five long years of confinement in their homes. I found a shambles, a city in ruins. Whole districts had been reduced to rubble by civil war among factions of the mujahidin, the Afghan fundamentalists who, with US, Saudi, and Pakistani support, had driven the Red Army out of their country in 1989, only to be overwhelmed by the onslaught of the Taliban in the 1990s. By 2001, when Americans made plans to bomb Kabul to unseat that Taliban regime, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld complained that there were "no good targets left to bomb." When we finished bombing anyway, thousands of Kabulis had been killed, thousands had fled, and thousands more remained, living in makeshift shelters among toppled houses or in the blue U.N. tents that came to encircle much of the fallen city.

I lodged with an aging American woman who had lived in Afghanistan since the 1960s when her husband, a businessman, took part in America's Cold War competition with the Soviet Union for the allegiance of Afghans. The first morning, when I awoke chilled to the bone, she thrust some filthy paper bills into my hand, wrapped a woolen scarf around my head, and sent me out into the snow in search of bread. I turned a corner into a field of tumbled walls and there, on what had once been another corner, heat poured from an ancient brick bake-oven. I joined a line of men and waited my turn until long, flat loaves, hot from that oven, were thrust into my arms. Those Afghan men watched as I handed over my shabby bills and wrapped the loaves in the tail of my scarf. Who was I? What was I doing here? By week's end, they would nod a greeting and make a space in the queue for me.

The Afghans I met were like that then: wary and guarded but curiously open and expectant. The Taliban was finished. Done. Gone. Some of its members, in plain sight, had joined the new American-installed government, but at least they had changed, for the time being, their tune. Poor and suffering as most Afghans were, they were prepared to jump at a new beginning, and they were open to anyone who seemed to have come to help.

As the American presence increased, Afghan optimism only expanded. Local leaders attended "informational" meetings called by American officials and didn't complain about the aggressive military dogs -- unclean by Islamic standards -- that searched the premises and sometimes sniffed the Afghan men themselves. They listened to American plans to establish in their country the very best political system imaginable: democracy. There was talk of respect for human rights; there were promises of investment, prosperity, peace, and above all "development."

Near the end of the second year of such meetings, an Afghan rose -- I was there -- to ask two embarrassing questions: "Where is the money you promised us? Where is the development?" The American ambassador had a ready answer. The promised funds were being used at first to establish American offices (with heating, air conditioning, the Internet, the works) and to pay American experts who would eventually provide the promised development and, in the process, inculcate respect for human rights, and oh, yes, women.

Let us not forget women. In 2005, First Lady Laura Bush flew into the capital (briefly) to dedicate a refurbished American dormitory for women at Kabul University. After all, the Bush administration had "liberated" Afghan women. Military security again sent in the dogs, leaving tearful students to burn their defiled clothing afterward.

By 2011, however, the State Department had dropped women's rights from its set of designated objectives for the country and somehow human rights disappeared without notice, too. Still, a succession of American ambassadors advised Afghan leaders to be patient. And so they were for what seems, in retrospect, like a very long time. Until, eventually, they were not.

The Experts Speak

Between then and 2015, I returned to Afghanistan almost every year to lend a hand to organizations of Afghan women and girls. I haven't been back in two years, though -- not since I recognized that, as an American, I am now a hazard to my Afghan colleagues and their families.

The accretion of witless insults, like those dogs, or the pork ribs in the MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) that the US military hands out to Afghan soldiers, or endless fatal US airstrikes "mistakes!" on villages, hospitals, wedding parties, and Afghan National Security Forces have all added up over the years, making Americans unwelcome and their Afghan friends targets.

You undoubtedly noticed some of the headlines at the time, but the Afghanistan story has proven so long, complicated, and repetitive that, at this point, it's hard to recall the details or, for that matter, the cast of characters, or even why in the world we're still there doing the same things again and again and again.

The short version of that long history might read like this: the US bombed Afghanistan in 2001 without giving the Taliban government either time to surrender or to negotiate the surrender of their country's most problematic foreign guest, the Saudi Osama bin Laden. The Bush administration then restored to power the ultra-conservative Islamic mujahidin warlords first engaged by the CIA under William "Bill" Casey, its devout Catholic director, to fight the "godless communists" of the Soviet Union in the long proxy war of the 1980s. Afghans polled in 2001 wanted those warlords -- war criminals all -- banned forever from public life. Washington, however, established in Kabul a government of sorts, threw vast sums of cash at its selected leaders heading an administrative state that did not yet exist and then, for years to come, alternately ignored or denounced the resulting corruption it had unthinkingly built into its new Afghan "democracy." Such was the "liberation" of the country.

The story of the last 15 years there is largely a sum of just such contradictory and self-defeating acts. During that time, American officials regularly humiliated Hamid Karzai, their handpicked president. They set up a centralized government in Kabul and then, through Provincial Reconstruction Teams, controlled by the US military, they also supported a passel of provincial warlords hostile to that government. They sent their military to invade Iraq, while the Taliban who were never allowed to surrender (as Anand Gopal recounts in his riveting book No Good Men Among the Living) regrouped and went back to war. In 2007, they undermined Afghan efforts to negotiate peace with the Taliban, opting instead to "surge" more American troops into the country, doubling their numbers in 2008, and then to continue to spend a fortune in taxpayer dollars (at least $65 billion of them) training hundreds of thousands of Afghan soldiers and police to do the fighting their elected government had wanted to stop.

In 2006 -- ancient history now -- I published a book, Kabul in Winter, partly about the scams I'd seen perpetrated by or on the US military, the select crew of private American contractors flooding the country, and the cloistered experts of the US Agency for International Development. Not long after, a prominent filmmaker invited an Afghan woman who was a physician and a member of that country's parliament, plus Anand Gopal and me, to travel to Washington. We were to explain our experiences in Afghanistan to influential members of various Washington think tanks who might have an effect on foreign policymaking.

We came prepared to talk, but those Washington experts asked us no questions. Instead, they spent our time together telling us what to think about the country we had just left. I remember, in particular, four young Americans, all newly minted Ivy League "experts" we met at a leading "progressive" think tank. They described in great detail their 20-year plan for the economic and political development of Afghanistan, a country, they said, they all hoped to visit one day. The Afghan doctor finally laughed out loud, but she was not amused. "You know nothing about my country," she said, "but you plan its future into the next generation. This is your job?" It proved to be the job as well of two administrations (and now, it seems, a third).

Time to Kill Terrorists

The election of 2014, though riddled with "irregularities," brought the first peaceful transfer of presidential power in Afghanistan, from Hamid Karzai to Ashraf Ghani. With it came renewed hope that the wild dream of an Afghan-style peaceful democracy might work after all. It was a longing barely diminished by Ghani's choice for vice president: Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek warlord notorious for war crimes of surpassing brutality.

2014 was also the year President Obama chose to end the war in Afghanistan once and for all. Only he didn't. Instead he left behind those under-counted thousands of American soldiers now being joined by thousands more. For what purpose?

American victory certainly hasn't materialized, but the greatest military the world has ever known (as it's regularly referred to here) cannot admit defeat. Nor can the failed state of Afghanistan acknowledge that it has failed to become anything other than a failure. Afghan-American Ashraf Ghani, who once co-wrote a scholarly book tellingly entitled Fixing Failed States, surrendered his US citizenship to become Afghan president, but he seems unable to fix the country of his birth.

In May 2017, Ghani welcomed back to Kabul and into public life, after an absence of 20 years, the notorious Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, founder of the party Hezb-i-Islami and most favored among the mujahidin during the 1980s by Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, and the CIA, and most hated by Kabuli civilians for having randomly shelled the city throughout the civil war of the 1990s. In Kabul in 2002, I found it rare to meet a person who had not lost a house or a relative or a whole family to the rockets of "the Butcher of Kabul." Now, here he is again, his war crimes forgiven by a new "Americanized" president, and an Afghan culture of impunity reconfirmed.

Meanwhile, halfway around the world, Donald J. Trump forgot his denunciation of "Obama's war," adopted the "expertise" of his generals, and reignited a fading fire. This time around, he swore, "We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists." 

The American effort is now to be exclusively military. There will be no limits on troop numbers or time spent there, nor any disclosure of plans to the enemy or the American public. There is to be no more talk of democracy or women's rights or human rights or peace negotiations.

Announcing his new militarized "strategy" in a long, vague, typically self-congratulatory speech, Trump lacked even the courtesy to mention the elected leader of Afghanistan by name. Instead, he referred only to assurances given to him by Afghanistan's "prime minister" -- an official who, as it happens, does not exist in the government Washington set up in Kabul so long ago. Trump often makes such gaffes, but he read this particular speech from a teleprompter and so it was surely written or at least vetted by the very military which now is to dictate the future of Afghanistan and US involvement there -- and yet, a decade and a half later, seems to know no more about the country and its actual inhabitants than it ever did.

"I studied Afghanistan in great detail and from every conceivable angle," Trump claimed, and yet he staked his case for escalating the war once again on a shopworn, cowardly ploy: we must send more troops to honor the sacrifice of the troops we sent before; we must send more troops because so many of those we sent before got killed or damaged beyond repair.

Lessons Learned (and Unlearned)

We can't allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorists, Trump insisted, echoing (however unintentionally) Barack Obama and George W. Bush before him. He seems unaware that the terrorists who acted on 9/11 had found safe haven in San Diego and Oakland, California, Phoenix and Mesa, Arizona, Fort Lee and Wayne, New Jersey, Hollywood and Daytona Beach, Florida, and Newton, Massachusetts, among other American towns and cities. On 9/11, those 19 terrorists possessed 63 valid US driver's licenses issued by many different states. It was in the United States that all 19 of those terrorists found safety. It was here, not in Afghanistan, that the prospective pilots for those hijacked planes learned to fly.

Now, as more troops depart for Afghanistan, I can't help but think of what I learned when, after so many years of living and working among Afghan civilians, I finally embedded with American troops in 2010. My first lesson was this: there is no such thing in the American military as a negative after-action report. Military plans are always brilliant; strikes always occur as expected; our soldiers are (it goes without saying) heroic; and goals are naturally accomplished without fail. No wonder the policymakers back in Washington remain convinced that we have the greatest military the world has ever seen and that someday we will indeed succeed in Afghanistan, although we haven't actually won a war of any significance since 1945.

My second lesson: even officers who routinely file such positive reports may be blindsided by the bogus reports of others. Take, for example, a colonel I met in eastern Afghanistan in 2010. He was newly returned to a forward base he had commanded only a few years earlier. Overwhelmed with surprise and grief, he told me he had been "unprepared" -- which is to say uninformed by his superiors -- to meet "conditions" so much worse than they had been before. He was dismayed to lose so many men in so short a time, especially when American media attention was focused on the other side of the country where a full-scale battle in Helmand Province was projected to be decisive, but somehow seemed to be repeatedly postponed.

Judging by my own experience on forward bases, I believe we can hazard a guess or two about the future of the American war in Afghanistan as the latest troops arrive. First, it will be little different from the awful past. Second, it will produce a surfeit of Afghan civilian casualties and official American self-congratulation. And finally, a number of our soldiers will return in bad shape, or not at all.

And then, of course, there are the dogs again: this time, a black one -- unclean, as always, by Islamic standards -- in silhouette with a Taliban flag bearing an Islamic text from the Quran on its side. That was what the Americans printed on a leaflet dropped from planes over Parwan province, home of America's enormous Bagram Air Base. That was supposed to win Afghan hearts and minds, to use an indelible phrase from our war in Vietnam.

Afghans, insulted again, are in an uproar. And the US military, all these years after invading Afghanistan, still doesn't get this thing about dogs. The obscurity of such a simple fact to the military brass again brings the Vietnam era to mind and, from a great Pete Seeger antiwar song, another indelible line: "Oh, when will they ever learn?"

Categories: Latest News

Analyzing the 5.5 Million Pounds of Air Pollutants Released in Texas After Harvey

Truthout - Tue, 09/19/2017 - 21:00

As Texas continues to reel under the effects of Harvey, it's been noted that besides massive flooding, some communities were also faced with dangerous chemicals released into the air by refineries and petrochemical plants. How did that happen, and what can prevent it from happening again? Shaye Wolf, climate science director for the Center for Biological Diversity, discusses her own investigations into the issue.

Floodwater left in the wake of Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey begins to recede in an industrial area on August 31, 2017, near Houston, Texas. "The South Texas coast where Harvey hit ... is just littered with hundreds of fossil fuel and industrial facilities that store large amounts of dangerous chemicals," says climate scientist Shaye Wolf. (Photo: Scott Olson / Getty Images)

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Janine Jackson: The story of devastating weather events like hurricanes is many stories, really. There's no need to compete; they're all critical. But there is something about the oil industry spurring climate disruption, lobbying against preventative or preparatory measures, and then adding to its harmful impact with their methods of operation. As Texas continues to reel under the effects of Harvey, it's been noted that besides massive flooding, some communities were also faced with dangerous chemicals released into the air by refineries and petrochemical plants.

How did that happen, and what can prevent it from happening again? Our next guest has been investigating that. Shaye Wolf is climate science director for the Center for Biological Diversity. She joins us now by phone from Oakland. Welcome to CounterSpin, Shaye Wolf.

Shaye Wolf: Thank you for having me.

Most of us are not scientists, of course, but we do understand that not every multisyllable word is dangerous. So it isn't just that "chemicals" were released in South Texas; it really matters what those chemicals were. Fill us in on what your analysis found. What were the emissions, and what caused them to be released?

The South Texas coast where Harvey hit, just to kind of set the context, is just littered with hundreds of fossil fuel and industrial facilities that store large amounts of dangerous chemicals. We looked at the amounts of air pollutants that refineries and petrochemical plants in South Texas reported releasing, either during Harvey or after Harvey, into surrounding communities, and it was a staggering amount. Our analysis, which was as of August 31, and the number has only grown -- we totaled more than 5-and-a-half million pounds of air pollutants.

And of that, we looked at seven particularly dangerous chemicals that were released to the air, all of which are documented to have serious health impacts, and some that cause cancer. And we totaled almost a million pounds of those seven particularly dangerous chemicals. So those are things like benzene and butadiene, which are carcinogens, cancer-causing chemicals. And we also included sulphur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide. Those are chemicals that really cause a lot of respiratory irritation. So you've heard reports of people complaining about difficulty breathing, or burning eyes, burning lungs, in the Houston area. And that's very concerning, because these are communities living in some of the worst air conditions in the country, because of all of these facilities, and then during storms, they get hit with an extra load of toxins. And that's just not fair; these communities shouldn't be having to live with this toxic burden.

What happened at the refineries and plants that caused these chemicals to be released?

Yeah, that's a really good question. There are several sources. Some of the chemicals were released because of leaks due to storm damage. So there were six facilities that reported that the roofs on their tanks that are holding chemicals failed during the storm, and released toxins onto the roof, and a lot of those escaped into the air. So things like benzene, that carcinogen.

Many of the chemicals came from routine industry practice during storms. When they do quick shutdowns, either before or in some cases during the actual storm -- which is dangerous for workers, having to go out and do the shutdown during Harvey -- the industry uses flaring and these pressure release valves that release a lot of the toxins to the air. And the problem is that's allowed. There are pollution-control technologies that should and could be implemented on these facilities to reduce the toxic burden during the shutdown, and then the startup of the plants during storms.

Let me just ask you: The media coverage that we've seen on this issue seems to be overwhelmingly focused on one company, on Arkema, where emergency workers had to move things around, and were made ill. But even when those stories were good, and some were, they kind of suggested that this company was an outlier, or maybe even unique. But you seem to be saying that these sorts of problems are really not confined to Arkema.

Oh, absolutely not. I mean, Arkema was very dramatic because of the explosions that were very dangerous. But in our analysis, those 5.5 million pounds of air pollutants -- and growing; there are many more now as companies continue to report -- that came from 40 facilities, so 40 refineries or petrochemical plants. And there are many more now that are reporting, so it's a widespread problem.

I have read industry officials describe the situation during Harvey as "unprecedented," and Arkema officials said, "We've never experienced anything that would have given us any indication that we could have that much water." You note, though, that they certainly had ample warning of hurricane risk, so what's the disconnect there? Are they asking us to accept "unprecedented" as meaning the same thing as "unpredictable"? What's going on?

I think that statement is a real problem, because we know that the Gulf Coast is very vulnerable to hurricanes and major storms that can cause damage to these petrochemical plants and refineries. And we also know that climate change, climate disruption, is intensifying the power of these storms. So the fossil fuel industry is inherently unsafe to public health and to our climate, and then climate change is just making these facilities even more dangerous, because the damage from storms can be more intense. This is a problem that's not going to go away; it's just getting worse as climate disruption increases.

There seems to be a problem with, also, the status of just access, public access, to information. Matt Dempsey from the Houston Chronicle has spoken about the difficulty he had getting a chemical inventory out of Arkema. And apparently these companies can use the threat of terrorism, of terrorists learning what these chemicals are, as a way to defeat or get around the public's right to know. How are you able to get what information you can get?

I think you've identified a really critical problem, and that is, in its short time in office, the Trump administration has really increased community vulnerability to the pollution from fossil fuel industries during storms like Harvey, and it's done that in a number of ways. And one way is that there have been several rollbacks of really important public safety protections, right-to-know protections.

And one big mistake that the Trump administration made was to delay the implementation of a chemical safety rule that required companies to make information about the dangerous chemicals at their plants more easily accessible to the public, and also that increased the enforcement of company safety plans in worst-case scenarios like we saw at Arkema. And even though that rule wouldn't have in itself prevented that explosion in Crosby from happening, it would have given the public and first responders better information about what was going into the air, and what the risks were.

So it is very disturbing and troubling that the Trump administration has delayed the implementation of this right-to-know, really important public safety rule. Our information, from some reporting that chemical companies are doing -- the rules have been suspended and relaxed on reporting during and after Harvey, which is a problem, but some companies are reporting. So once again, our numbers are probably a vast underestimate of what's actually going into the air.

And another thing that was very worrisome is what's going into the water. We have seen initial reports of companies reporting wastewater outflows and overflows, sometimes onto the ground. One company reported wastewater flowing into San Jacinto River. So these are wastewater from refineries and petrochemical companies. They're most of the time not reporting how much and what's in the water, but some companies have reported 100,000 gallons, 350,000 gallons of wastewater flowing out of their facilities. And that's tremendously disturbing, because as we know, a lot of communities are dealing with homes that have been soaked in flood water, and there could be a problem with dangerous chemicals getting into the flood waters that have soaked their homes and their communities.

I just saw a story in which an official was saying, yeah, don't let your children play in the flood water. You know, don't let them touch it. And if they touch it, then wash them off. It just seems not tenable, really.

It's very frightening to know that your neighborhood has been soaked in water, and in many places the flood water still surrounding your home, that could be dangerous, not only from the petrochemical facilities and refineries, but also from all of the Superfund sites that have toxic chemicals, that have been flooded. And there's been a lot of reporting on 13 flooded Superfund sites in the Houston area, Corpus Christi area, that may have damage, where chemicals can be leaking out. And that's really scary for the communities around those sites. I saw some reporting this morning of globs of mercury washing up in Houston, and they're not sure where those globs of mercury are coming from, so --

Wow, wow. You get the sense from media that there is a problem, but that the problem is that these companies didn't submit to the regulatory system as it currently exists, where the implication is that would have prevented this. A New York Times story talked about how this is going to "bring fresh scrutiny on whether these plants are adequately regulated." Is it your sense that we have all the necessary rules in place, and they just need to be followed, or they just need to be enforced?

No, I think there's a multifold problem. And one is that the fossil fuel industry is exempt from the provisions of many of our foundational environmental laws. So just to give you an example, there's an Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act that required industrial facilities to report big releases of toxins, so that the community can know, and the oil and gas industry is largely exempt from that requirement. So that has to change. The oil and gas industry should not have exemptions from protections provided by environmental laws.

So in some cases, many cases, the rules and regulations aren't sufficient, need to be stronger, and in other cases, there is not proper enforcement. So we already know that under the Trump administration, there have been tremendous cuts of staffing and funding for environmental protection agencies like the EPA or OSHA. And so we have agencies with the mission of helping protect Americans from toxic pollutants, and their staff and budgets are being cut, and the enforcement then isn't there.

So we know, for example, during Harvey that a lot of the air quality-monitoring devices were turned off. So during the most intensive part of when pollutants are being put into the air, we don't have a lot of independent verification of what went into the air, beyond what the chemical companies are self-reporting. And then we need a lot of comprehensive monitoring on the ground of what went into the air, the water, the soil, so we can comprehensively clean up communities. And then we need more prevention in the future, so these things don't happen again. And it's worrisome, that is not happening on the level, at the scale that it should be.

Finally, we still have those talking about the "climate change agenda." But in large part, media have moved; they acknowledge that human-driven climate disruption is real, and they're reporting the impacts -- in the United States, anyway. But this never-ending call for "fresh scrutiny" makes me nuts. At some point, I guess we have to ask whether a journalist's job is satisfied by simply narrating destruction, or are they charged with really naming the causes and naming the ways toward solutions?

Yes, and I think that's really important: setting a different vision, laying out what this really looks like in practice on the ground. And then it has to be, we need to make change on a more rapid scale. We know from all of the hundreds of thousands of scientific studies, and what we're seeing just with our own eyes, that in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need to phase out fossil fuels very quickly. And we need to phase in clean energy, from rooftop solar and wind, that creates clean, good jobs, and it protects our climate and protects people and the environment.

And having more recognition of what that looks like in practice, and the absolute need for that -- it could not be a more critical point to be talking about, over and over again, because this is our future. This is our present, our present and our future. What's happening now with the storms, and other climate change-related damage, is unacceptable, it's just getting worse, and there couldn't be a more critical issue to be talking about with our friends, with our neighbors, in the media, with our colleagues, all the time.

We've been speaking with Shaye Wolf, climate science director for the Center for Biological Diversity. They're on line at BiologicalDiversity.org. Shaye Wolf, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Categories: Latest News

White Nationalist Groups Are Splitting Over Gay Inclusion

Truthout - Tue, 09/19/2017 - 21:00

(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Lauren Walker / Truthout)

Although white nationalists typically believe that homosexuality and gender nonconformity are social diseases that undermine "true" Western culture, some leaders of the white nationalist "alt-right" movement have been extending a provisional welcome to gay white supremacists in an attempt to swell their movement with younger members. Disagreements over this issue are creating unexpected fractures within some fascist groups.

(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Lauren Walker / Truthout)

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With the recent blowback from Charlottesville, the churning wheel of fascist infighting has once again kicked off, exposing a number of fault lines within white nationalist groups in the US.

One major fault line has emerged over homosexuality: While fascist and white nationalist movements have historically condemned queerness, many in the self-described "alt-right" wanted to dash this image, acknowledging that the social mood had shifted on gay issues and that they had a number of homosexual members in their ranks.

Over the summer months, as white nationalists and fascists who rallied under the banner of the "alt-right" were repudiated by their more mainstream counterparts at places like Rebel Media, a final rupture began to take place between those who decided to include gay fascists in their ranks and leaders who determined this to be the hill they wanted to die on.

Disputes Over Gay Membership

Back before the "alt-right" was a household name, Richard Spencer had a sense that the 2015 National Policy Institute conference would be different from past iterations of the annual gathering. Then-candidate Donald Trump had given voice to reactionary beliefs, the #Cuckservative meme had taken off on social media and other "crossover" moments were increasing the appeal of the rebranded white nationalist movement that called itself the "alt-right." Spencer was sure that attendance would be up and millennials would overwhelm the conventional aging white nationalists. In an effort to create a bridge between the younger members of the alt-right and larger existing movements, such as Southern Nationalism, Spencer brought on his friend Michael Hill, an aggressive racist and anti-Semite who runs the League of the South.

Hill has lived a life of contradictions, teaching at a historically Black college while romanticizing the Antebellum South, segregation and formalized white supremacy. It wasn't until Hill saw the rest of the National Policy Institute conference lineup that his characteristic rage kicked in, incensed by the inclusion of another speaker: Jack Donovan, a "masculinist" and an open homosexual. In the end, Hill refused to share a stage with Donovan.

Movement infighting on both the right and left can result either from strong personalities clashing or from two contemporaneous ideologies reaching a point where they lose their ability to coexist. Both are true in the case of attitudes toward homosexuality within the coalition between the openly white nationalist "alt-right" and the "alt-lite," which tends to publicly downplay its support for white supremacy per se while spreading anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-feminist sentiments.

An inability to be clear on issues like gay membership has created schisms and rock-throwing within this coalition. While self-described members of the "alt-right" have certainly never put same-sex relationships on the same ground as heterosexual ones -- primarily because of their belief in the sanctity of the "traditional" family unit -- they haven't treated gay people entirely as outsiders either. Spencer has often argued for a place for homosexual men in their movement, presenting a radical version of the "born this way" thesis that follows antiquated Soviet research suggesting that homosexuality is the result of a deficient prenatal "testosterone bath."

The two homosexually oriented "alt-right" figures that usually stand out are Jack Donovan and James O'Meara. Donovan was first known for writing the book Androphilia (under the name Jack Malebranche), where he argued that as a man attracted to other men, he was not actually "gay," as that was a modern chosen identity that also aligned itself with "male effeminacy," feminism and leftist politics. Instead, Donovan thought of himself as a "Mars/Mars" attracted person, a man who rejects the orthodox family life with women in favor of a warrior culture where strong men find partnership in each other. Donovan has argued publicly against gay institutions like same-sex marriage, instead suggesting that male-attracted men should "go their own way," and families should be limited to the traditional heterosexual context.

Donovan's writing shifted around 2013 to being almost exclusively about "male tribalism" in opposition to the liberal, multicultural state. In his book, The Way of Men, he prescribes what many would term "toxic masculinity" as natural for men, and writes that men should form tribalistic "gangs" with relativistic morality that is exclusive to group survival. He has since come to dominate this part of what is commonly known as the "Manosphere," joining the neo-pagan group the Wolves of Vinland and closely associating with white nationalists.

O'Meara, a white supremacist who is out as a gay man, has taken a different approach, arguing that the gay male is an aristocrat of white society. His books have been published by the white nationalist house Counter-Currents. He equates Black identity with violence, hypersexuality and stupidity, and warns white men to eschew a forced culture of masculinity lest they take on these traits. Meanwhile he lifts up white homosexual masculinity -- which he portrays as associated with theatre and high arts -- as the idealized opposite of the anti-Black stereotypes that he presents.

Milo Yiannopoulos and Gays for Trump added another dimension to this, seeking to justify anti-Muslim immigration restriction by pointing to the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub and arguing that Muslim groups persecute gay people. However, Milo's appearances in drag and comments about child sexual assault have both caused trouble for him, leading the "alt-right" to largely abandon him and now point to him as an example of "queer degeneracy."

Richard Spencer's Defense of Gay White Nationalists

Spencer has gone to notable lengths to stand up for gay white nationalists. In 2014, he banned Matthew Heimbach, founder of the Traditionalist Worker Party and Traditionalist Youth Network, from attending that year's National Policy Institute conference after alleged comments that Heimbach and Scott Terry made about the "biblical" responsibility of executing homosexuals for their sins. Heimbach had been known to be friendly with Donovan, including asking him a question at Donovan's 2014 speech at American Renaissance, but Spencer was not going to allow for this kind of violent homophobia or the negative media spectacle Heimbach has made for himself.

"It's not because I was trying to suppress anti-homosexual views," said Spencer on the Rebel Yell Southern Nationalist podcast, defending himself about the banning of Heimbach. "He literally laced up jackboots on camera."

Identity Evropa, which is quickly becoming the largest youth-centered white nationalist organization in the country, has a "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gay members. As Nathan Damigo, the founder of Identity Evropa, told me last year while planning a series of campus actions, gay men would be allowed if they kept their sexual orientation off the radar, but transgender people would be turned away and directed toward mental health services. The Proud Boys, another white nationalist group that has branded itself as a slightly more moderate "Western chauvinist" group, has been more open in allowing gay and transgender members, as long as they believe in Western superiority.

Spencer isn't the only defender of gay white nationalists. Greg Johnson, editor at the white nationalist Counter-Currents, which publishes O'Meara's books, writes about the need to deemphasize homophobia as "besides the point."

For both Spencer and Johnson this halfway support has come at a cost, with many in the more orthodox sectors of the white nationalist right accusing them of being homosexual themselves. Some detractors have also alleged that Spencer coerced young men for sex.

Fractures Within the Coalition

After the accusations were made against both Spencer and Johnson, Spencer tried to put the spotlight more exclusively on Johnson by posting the same article and speech that had been available for years in which Johnson argues that homophobia was a social oppression created by Jews. Matt Forney -- a Manosphere blogger associated with the Manosphere website Return of Kings who had moved on to white nationalist media outlets like American Renaissance and Red Ice Creations, which focus on race rather than gender -- then put out a large list of accusations about white nationalist figures who had allegedly engaged in homosexual behaviors. This included going after The Right Stuff, one of the most popular white nationalist blogs known for its podcast, "The Daily Shoah," accusing them of having a "side group" called "Fashy Faggots," identifying Greg Johnson as a collaborator, and the alleged homosexuality of other commentators.

At the same time, "alt-right" figures began accusing "alt-lite" leaders of acting on queer desires. Occidental Dissent, a white nationalist blog run by Hunter Wallace that has its content republished at altright.com, published an article on March 16 discussing Mike Cernovich's alleged sexual relationship with a transgender woman. In addition, Occidental Dissent dug up a 2012 blog on Cernovich's dating website, Danger & Play, about an alleged relationship with a transgender sex worker. Citing that blog, Occidental Dissent accused Cernovich of paying for sex with "lady boys" in other countries and then suggested that this is related to the fact that Cernovich has made tepid defenses for some gay white nationalists over the years.

As white nationalists within the self-described "alt-right" continue to use homophobia to gain clout during their movement's internal power struggles, it becomes clear that the majority of people in the movement believe both homosexual attraction and gender nonconformity to be social diseases corroding the proper "Western" order of society. Even if they have back-seated these views out of an opportunistic and pragmatic desire to attract younger, more gay-friendly members, the current line of fracturing shows the instability of this coalition and further illustrates the cruel and multidirectional bigotry that defines the movement's identity.

Categories: Latest News

Lawyers’ Committee For Civil Rights Under Law Files Amicus Brief In SCOTUS Case

Commondreams - Tue, 09/19/2017 - 12:23
Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law this week filed an amicus curiae or “friend of the court” brief in the United States Supreme Court in the cases challenging President Trump’s executive orders, which bar most nationals of Iran and five other predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.  The brief was filed in coordination with pro bono counsel Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP (APKS), Iranian-American civil rights lawyer Cyrus Mehri, and his Washington, D.C.-based firm Mehri & Skalet, PLLC, on behalf of four prominent Iranian American organizations:

Categories: Latest News

Civil and Human Rights Coalition to Testify on Voting Rights Before the Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Committee Hearing

Commondreams - Tue, 09/19/2017 - 12:17
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, is scheduled to testify today before the Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Committee hearing titled, “Voting Rights Under Fire: Democratic Ideas to Protect and Strengthen Americans’ Constitutional Right to Vote.”

Categories: Latest News

Nurses Condemn Latest Bill to Decimate Care ‘Graham-Cassidy Targets the Most Vulnerable in Our Society’

Commondreams - Tue, 09/19/2017 - 11:12
National Nurses United

National Nurses United today condemned the renewed effort by Republicans in the United States Senate to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and deny healthcare to millions of low and middle-income Americans.

“This last ditch attempt to repeal the ACA poses a mortal threat to the health and wellbeing of patients across the United States,” said NNU Co-President Deborah Burger, RN.

Categories: Latest News

Statement from CREDO, MoveOn, and Win Without War on Donald Trump’s Latest Comments about North Korea

Commondreams - Tue, 09/19/2017 - 09:10
Credo Action

Donald Trump’s first speech to the United Nations General Assembly today – and in particular, his remarks about North Korea – was nothing short of a complete failure of American leadership. Instead of focusing on efforts to peacefully resolve the crisis surrounding its nuclear program, Trump threatened to “totally destroy North Korea.”

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Department of the Interio Draft Report Leaves Giant Sequoia and Other National Monuments at Risk

Commondreams - Tue, 09/19/2017 - 09:07
Defenders of Wildlife

Late Sunday, a leaked copy of the Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Zinke’s recommendations on national monuments was obtained by The Washington Post and revealed his plan to vastly reduce the boundaries o

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Senate Passes Defense Bill That Would Bolster Nuclear Weapons Programs

Truthout - Tue, 09/19/2017 - 08:48

The US Senate just passed a $700 billion defense policy bill that experts fear could provoke another destructive arms race. The bill exceeds Trump's military funding request by several billions and authorizes new spending for nuclear weapons programs, including $65 million for a cruise missile that could derail the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia.

Activists wearing masks to look like President Trump and North Korean Kim Jong-Un pose next to a Styrofoam effigy of a nuclear bomb while protesting in front of the Brandenburg Gate near the American Embassy on September 13, 2017, in Berlin, Germany. The Senate has approved a massive defense bill authorizing increased spending on the US nuclear arsenal. (Photo: Omer Messinger / Getty Images)

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The Senate approved a massive defense policy bill by a vote of 89 to 9 on Monday that is raising concerns about nuclear weapons proliferation amid rising tensions between the United States and countries such as North Korea and Russia.

The Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), an annual piece of "must-pass" legislation that shapes dozens of policies at the Pentagon, would authorize $640 billion in discretionary defense spending and an additional $60 billion for overseas military operations, such as the ongoing war efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.

The numbers put forth in the defense authorization bill set the bar for future defense spending legislation and policy determinations. As an authorization bill, this legislation does not actually permit the expenditure of those funds; an appropriations bill is needed for that.

What's the value of $700 billion? It's more than twice the size of Denmark's entire economy, and the same amount of money that the government spent bailing out banks during the financial collapse in 2008. Both the Senate and House versions of the bill name amounts that exceed President Trump's request for military funding by tens of billions of dollars.

The bill authorizes billions of dollars for nuclear weapons and nonproliferation programs, including $65 million for developing a cruise missile that nonproliferation groups fear could derail the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a landmark nuclear treaty between the US and Russia.

Critics say increasing spending on the US nuclear arsenal could trigger other countries to invest in their own capabilities and add to the number of highly destructive weapons on the planet.

"We [are] already investing in nuclear weapons to a tune of about $20 million a year, so we really have to ask ourselves what the point of an increased investment would be, considering these are weapons that should never be used," said Lindsay Koshgarian, director of the National Priorities Project, a group that tracks military spending, in an interview with Truthout.

The US has accused Russia of violating the INF Treaty by developing and fielding a land-based cruise missile with nuclear capabilities, a charge Russia has denied. The Senate's version of NDAA authorizes research and development of a mid-range, road-mobile cruise missile system that could carry a nuclear warhead, similar to the missile Russia allegedly developed.

The Senate Armed Services Committee claims that the money could only be used for research and development of the missile, not testing and deployment, so it would not violate the treaty in the way that Russia allegedly has. Rather, the committee says, it would close a "capability" gap opened by Russia.

However, developing such a weapon would suck money away from nonproliferation programs while sowing divisions within NATO and giving Russia an excuse to reject the treaty and deploy large numbers of noncompliant missiles without constraint, according to the Arms Control Association.

Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) added an amendment to the bill that requires the defense secretary to submit a report to Congress on the rationale and strategic implications for developing such a weapon before the $65 million can be spent. Warren also included an amendment asking the Department of Defense to consider existing treaty obligations in an upcoming Nuclear Posture Review. The House rejected similar measures offered by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon).

The House version of the bill provides $25 million to develop conventional (non-nuclear) land-based cruise missiles and requires the president to submit a report on Russian compliance with the INF treaty within 15 months. If Russia is determined to be out of compliance, the treaty would no longer bind the US, effectively dissolving a decades-old nonproliferation agreement between the two countries that control about 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons.

The House bill would also block funding for extending the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, a nuclear nonproliferation agreement considered a bright spot in US-Russia relations, unless Russia returns to compliance with the INF Treaty.

In addition to turmoil with Russia, observers are also concerned about the rising nuclear tensions with North Korea, which has recently drawn fiery statements from President Trump after bucking the international community and running tests of nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems. On Monday, Defense Secretary James Mattis confirmed that he had discussed the possibility of reintroducing tactical US nuclear weapons to the Korean Peninsula with his South Korean counterpart, but he did not say whether the two reached a decision, according to reports.

"NDAA buys into renewed investment from the US on nuclear weapons, and that is something that is particularly concerning right now given that there is also this uncertainty around what our North Korea policy looks like," Koshgarian said.

The bill also includes $8.5 billion to expand missile defense capabilities at home and even in outer space, despite concerns that the military's existing technology is no sure shot for knocking North Korean missiles carrying nuclear warheads out of the air.

Koshgarian noted that North Korea's nuclear provocations may make the nuclear spending more appealing to voters, but she said it's important that security investments are strategic and support programs that actually make us safer.

"I think there's always a temptation to believe that throwing more money at the Pentagon is going to make us safer," Koshgarian said. "It would be nice if things were that easy, but it doesn't actually work that way."

Koshgarian pointed out that the government has already spent $2 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but violence and political chaos still consume that region of the world.

The NDAA builds on an effort launched by President Obama to update and refurbish nuclear weapons systems, including warheads delivered by submarines, international ballistic missiles and bomber planes.

Supporters say this investment is needed to maintain existing stockpiles and ensure the US has a strong nuclear deterrent, but Koshgarian and other critics fear it could inspire a new nuclear arms race internationally and undermine the embattled Iran nuclear deal. Koshgarian said policy makers and the public must consider how the decisions they make today will impact nuclear policy for the rest of the 21st Century.

"Once the US buys in, we are not going to easily buy back out of a nuclear program," Koshgarian said, adding that powerful military contractors have a strong interest in maintaining nuclear programs once they have been initiated.

The Congressional Budget Office reported earlier this year that the US will spend $400 billion on nuclear weapons over the next decade, and the Arms Control Association estimates that it could climb to $1.5 trillion by 2050 when adjusted to inflation.

The Senate version of the NDAA does include an amendment requiring the Pentagon to improve efficiency and management of its nuclear programs in order to lower costs.

The US defense budget easily dwarfs that of any other country on the planet, and the NDAA would authorize an annual budget for the Pentagon that is even larger than the ones it received during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pentagon already receives more than half of federal discretionary spending, but if Congress were to honor the White House's requests for domestic cuts, the portion of the discretionary budget that is earmarked for defense could top 68 percent.

However, since the bill does not actually appropriate any money, Congress faces difficult budget negotiations going forward. Democrats typically use defense spending as leverage to maintain or increase funding for domestic programs. If the funding levels specified in the NDAA were to be approved, a 2011 law that placed limits on military spending would need to be lifted or otherwise circumvented, because the bill outlines spending that would easily exceeds those limits.

Categories: Latest News

Report: One-Third of California’s High-Risk Kids Not Tested for Lead Poisoning

Commondreams - Tue, 09/19/2017 - 08:34
Environmental Working Group (EWG)

Lead is a major threat to children’s health, and an EWG analysis of California’s most recent lead testing data shows the state has fallen far short of its responsibility to test children at the highest risk of exposure.

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