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Advocates Praise Sen. Sanders and Call on Senate Dems to Follow His Lead in Opposing Dirty Energy Bill

Commondreams - 13 hours 4 min ago
Food & Water Watch

Environmental advocates today issued statements in support of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who last night publically declared his opposition to an 850+ page energy bill—S. 1460, the Energy and Natural Resources Act—which would expedite dangerous fracking and fossil fuel extraction throughout the country. Sanders stated in part: "As a nation, our job is to move away from fossil fuels toward sustainable energy and energy efficiency. This bill does the opposite.

Categories: Latest News

Building Resistance on Trump Island

Truthout - Fri, 07/21/2017 - 21:00

Staten Island, the whitest and most suburban of New York's five boroughs, has a reputation as the most right-wing part of the city. Its voters provided the margins that put Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg in office as mayor. Last November, Donald Trump won 57 percent of the borough's vote, while he was getting barely 15 percent in the rest of the city. It was Staten Island cops who killed Eric Garner in 2014, and a Staten Island grand jury that wouldn't indict the one who choked him, sparking weeks of Black Lives Matter protests across the city.

Since the 45-day Verizon strike in the spring of 2016, however, progressive labor unions and community organizations on the island have united in a coalition called Sustainable Staten Island. The coalition's participants include Communications Workers of America Local 1102, the New York State Nurses Association, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 726, the Professional Staff Congress, the American Postal Workers Union, and grassroots groups such as Staten Island Peace Action and Move Forward Staten Island.

The strike, in which 40,000 Verizon workers on the East Coast walked out to demand better pay and to stop the company's plans to outsource work to low-paying overseas contractors, succeeded with a combination of worker solidarity and community support. The office of Local 1102, which represents Verizon technicians on Staten Island, is now one of the hot spots of community organizing in the borough. Its meeting room is covered with hand-drawn posters from picket lines, marches and rallies. The centerpiece is the "Wall of Honor" banner. It features dates and notches -- each one marking a day of the strike -- and photos of customers who picketers convinced to turn away from entering a Verizon store. It also shows red-shirted strikers marching to a hotel that was letting strikebreakers convene in its parking lot, standing silently outside while a CWA delegation met with the hotel's management, and walking back to the local triumphant after the scabs were sent packing.

"We Don't Have to Take This"

Local 1102 President Steve Lawton says his experience with Occupy Wall Street expanded his vision of how things could be different. A native of New Jersey, Lawton moved to Staten Island 20 years ago for a job at Verizon. He has been a shop steward, business agent, organizer, and executive board member of the 412-member local. Now he is serving his first term as its president. His road to union activism began when he saw his co-workers being mistreated and his rebel instincts kicked in. The stoicism of working people who have to cope with abuse every day frustrates and motivates him.

"The real message is -- we don't have to take this," he says.

Local 1102, after a seven-year struggle, also represents workers at the E-Z Pass customer-service call center in Staten Island. E-Z Pass workers asked it for help in late 2008, and voted narrowly in 2009 to join Local 1102, but the Xerox subsidiary that had taken over the contract challenged the election results and refused to bargain. It brought in Jackson Lewis, one of the nation's most notorious union-busting law firms; fired 14 union supporters; and switched the workers' pay from hourly wages to per-call rates. Xerox eventually recognized the union in 2010 and signed a first contract in 2011, but continued its anti-union campaign. Before it signed a second contract in 2015, it held captive-audience meetings with workers and tried to get Local 1102 decertified.

"It's a hard fight and we are still up against it," Lawton says. "But this is their first experience of working with union folks and good leadership is now showing up."

Community Voices

The union realized it needed to connect with people outside its own members on broader issues. "Our educational system doesn't teach things like redlining of neighborhoods by banks and insurance companies, or about systematic racism and inequality," CWA shop steward Joe Tarulli said at a Sustainable Staten Island public forum on economic inequality on June 22. "The main goal … is to get people out of their silos and to develop empathy. Sustainable SI helps to open peoples' eyes to see the issues that need to be addressed and then get to work."

"I wanted to lift up my brothers," John McBeth of Occupy the Block said after speaking about growing up in the West Brighton projects and returning to Staten Island after a tour of duty in the Navy. Occupy the Block is a volunteer group whose members come from the North Shore neighborhoods and turn out two nights a week during the summer to provide a calming presence in the streets, offering support and guidance to troubled youth. "The idea behind Occupy the Block, is that you continue working with your organization, but also work with others -- with us," says McBeth, who is also a deacon at local St. Philip's Baptist Church. "We use our bodies -- we do it ourselves. This is our community. Do the work and the resources will come."

Gonzalo Mercado, executive director of La Colmena, a community organization that works with day laborers and other low-wage workers, described how immigrant workers fleeing economic devastation in their homelands find themselves toiling as many as 80 hours a week, enduring high rates of injury and death on the job while struggling to support themselves. "There are no legal ways for people to come to the United States and employers like it like this, since it makes it easier to exploit these workers," he told the forum.

Members of Staten Island Peace Action described a flurry of recent actions they had been involved in -- an April 29 climate-change march down the boardwalk from South Beach to Midland Beach that drew more than 500 people, handing out flyers at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal about how federal tax dollars are disproportionately used for military expenditures and a rally at the United Nations for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons.

"It's tricky to get people involved in these global issues," said Ashley Santangelo. The group also gives talks at local high schools about alternatives to entering the military.

"It's important for labor to be involved and to come together with our community partners. In this way, our impact is broader," Steve Lawton says. "Economic, workplace rights, human rights and environmental rights are all connected. The same principles of liberty and freedom apply and we can't limit our fight for these rights to the halls of our legislatures."

The newspaper Naomi Klein calls "utterly unique," full of insightful dispatches from around the world, The Indypendent offers a fresh take on today's events.

Categories: Latest News

Why Are the Danes So Happy? Because Their Economy Makes Sense

Truthout - Fri, 07/21/2017 - 21:00

The waterfront district in Copenhagen. (Photo: John Anes / Flickr)

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The World Happiness Report puts Danes consistently in the top tier. Twice in the past four years Denmark came in first. Danes also report more satisfaction with their health care than anyone else in Europe, which makes sense, since happiness is related to a sense of security and others being there for you. A fine health care system makes that real.

The Danish approach is especially interesting to Americans because of the US suspicion of centralization. Danes prefer to administer their health care locally. On the other hand, they've found that the fairest and most efficient way of paying for their system is through income tax, most of which is routed through Copenhagen.

The system delivers quality health care to all and costs Denmark only two-thirds what the United States spends. I'd like to hear Democratic US senators, who mostly reject single-payer health care (except for themselves), try to sell Obamacare to the Danes.

"What?" I imagine the Danes exclaiming. "You want us to spend one-third more of our national wealth on health care, and still leave many Danes without coverage? And end up with inferior health outcomes?"

The continuing attempt by most Democratic leaders to sell health care as a market-based commodity would strike Danes as both unethical (more people die from preventable causes) and a waste of money. What sense would that make?

How Did the Danes Force Their Own Economy to Make Sense?

Denmark wasn't always like this. A century ago its economic system was deeply irrational and poverty was endemic. Despite having a parliament and free elections, a growing number of Danes came to realize that they had a sham democracy. The major decisions were actually made by their economic elite. Many Danes were so discouraged that they left for North America, hoping for something better.

People left behind in Denmark decided to turn their country around, which meant organizing movements to override the will of their contented 1 percent. The people pulled off what might be called a nonviolent revolution.

In the 19th century, their struggle focused on the first two stages that I describe in "Toward a Living Revolution:" cultural preparation and organization-building. A lot of leadership came from N.F.S. Grundtvig, a writer and bishop. He invented the Danish folk schools, which taught adults whose agricultural rhythm gave them some free time during the winter. At folk schools they learned some of the basics of literacy and participatory democracy.

Grundtvig used his religious influence to restore people's confidence in themselves -- he saw spirituality as empowerment rather than "the opium of the people." He also supported the growth of coops, a form of socialism that rebelled against the merchant class' deification of the private market. The agricultural coops provided a way to retain the wealth that farmers and agricultural workers sweated for.

Other creative Danes found ways to show that, even in a small Northern European country with few natural resources and frequent gloom-inducing weather, the people could find abundant meaning by developing their collective life, their Danishness.

The intensity of this cultural preparation paid off later in the Danish resistance to Nazi German occupation, when by collective effort the Resistance saved nearly all the Danish Jews from the Holocaust. Rallying around Danishness, however, can have its down side, showing up recently as reluctance to integrate immigrants to Denmark, who now total over 8 percent of the population.

As Danes industrialized, they continued their cultural preparation and organization-building through worker study groups and unions. The industrial workers tested their strength through a wave of strikes in 1899 that forced the employers association to bargain with them on a national level.

The workers movement organized itself into three parts: unions to deal with wages and workplace issues, consumer coops to retain wealth that otherwise would go to the capitalists, and a political party to represent them in parliament -- the Social Democrats. Unlike the US unions' choice largely to support the Democratic Party, the Danish unions decided to create a party that would be would be strictly accountable to the movement. Their choice paid off.

The Class Struggle Intensifies

After World War I Danish workers grew more radical and escalated. Syndicalists sometimes led the strikes. The Danish economic elite's worries were compounded by looking across the border and seeing radicalized German workers mounting large-scale revolutionary insurgencies.

The combination of disruption inside Denmark and radicalism outside the country eroded the elite's opposition to change, much as the United States experienced in the 1960s and '70s. During the civil rights and other movements, the United States took to nonviolent direct action internally while the empire was experiencing uproar in Southeast Asia and Latin America. The American 1 percent felt compelled to make concessions as a result.

For Danish workers, farmworkers and middle-class allies, the post-World War I struggle won two major victories. Industrial workers gained a nationwide guarantee that wages would increase along with inflation. This is huge, as contemporary US workers who have lost so much ground in the past few decades can tell us.

The second victory favored the other large group of poor and near-poor people, the farmworkers in Denmark's large agricultural sector. Major landowners were forced to give up a substantial part of their land, which were then re-distributed to the farmworkers. The landowners were also forced to pay a substantial new tax on their remaining land. This win took away the last remaining privilege of Denmark's old landed aristocracy.

The movement's nonviolent struggle won over the Danish majority, enabling the Social Democrats to begin in 1924 a stretch of governing that ran almost continuously through the 20th century. Because direct action had reduced the elite's power, the Danes could take leadership in co-creating what economists would later call "the Nordic model."

Sweden and Norway Work to Catch Up

The Viking cousins in Sweden and Norway imported folk high schools. They developed their own coops and vision-developing study groups. Their goal was to push the 1 percent out of dominance. In my new book "Viking Economics," I tell the dramatic story of mounting nonviolent confrontations with their economic elites.

In 1931, in Sweden, the struggle came to a head. The elite called out the army to suppress the workers. Troops killed unarmed strikers. Retaliating, the movement staged a widespread general strike. The government fell.

In the years following that victory, the Norwegians escalated the number of their strikes and were joined in nonviolent militancy by the farmers and the movement's student allies. Norwegians succeeded in making their country ungovernable by the economic elite. The 1 percent was forced to the bargaining table in 1936, where they gave up their dominance of the country's direction.

While the revolutionary struggles in Sweden and Norway each came to a single breakthrough point in the 1930s, the Danish movement did a two-step. The first breakthrough moment came early, in the years following 1918. The second came in the 1930s.

Disaster Hits in the 1930s, and Vision Saves Denmark

The real measure of a movement is how much it is able to turn crisis into opportunity. Author Naomi Klein writes about this dynamic in a different way, showing how private contractors profit from the global climate change crisis. But when movements seize opportunities, we all flourish -- rather than just the power elites. Will movement people today focus on using the opportunity, as the Danes did in the 1930s?

As the Depression deepened existing inequality, Danes polarized. Fascism grew, inspired by Hitler in next door Germany. The attractiveness of communism also increased. The majority, however, was hungry for a solution that would heighten democracy and individual freedom and be in alignment with "Danishness."

The Danish economic elite was eager to regain their firm hegemonic rule that was shaken by the post-war class struggle. They were tired of being pushed around by the Social Democrats who had been governing since 1924. To stage a comeback, however, the 1 percent needed a solution to the Depression, a breakdown of capitalism. With Denmark's largely agricultural economy unable to sell its produce to foreign markets, half the population was left with no purchasing power at all.

The 1 percent decided to hold out for market-based solutions: reliance on the private insurance approach to ill-health, for example. They proposed governmental austerity, which under the circumstances was laughable.

Successful movements generate a positive vision of what they want, rather than simply relying on protests about what's wrong.

The Social Democrats came up with a vision adopting Keynesian stimulation for the macro-economy. The vision flatly rejected austerity. It also rejected insurance and philanthropy as the solutions to misfortune and poverty. The Social Democrats turned decisively toward universal services financed by the government through progressive taxation.

Using the crisis as an opportunity, the Social Democrats secured the foundation of the Nordic model, the most successful economic national model yet invented for the common good. The Danish majority loved it, and the unions and family farmers retained political control of the country for the rest of the century. The model became so hegemonic that all the parties were forced to embrace it to remain relevant at all, even the new "right-wing" party that hates immigration while still promoting a robust version of the Nordic model.

What shall we call that model? Describing Denmark as a "welfare state" is, I think, seriously misleading. The Nordic design isn't welfare for the needy -- that's the old approach that has not worked for any nation in the world, ever. Instead, the Nordic model provides universal services given to all, whatever their income, as a matter or right, supported by progressive taxation that re-distributes income and wealth.

If you like poverty, continue to think "welfare," because welfare is mainly about poverty. If you like equality, think "universal services," because the universal approach has been shown by the Nordics to promote the abolition of poverty.

For the Danes, fully implementing the promise of the Nordic model took a while. The country's economy improved in the 1930s, but the Nazi occupation set them back. By the late 1950s, the Social Democrats were moving rapidly toward the shared abundance that shows up in their happiness ratings.

Shall We Call the Change Process a Nonviolent Revolution?

The Danish people did not produce utopia, nor are they first in every measure. Norway has more social ownership of the means of production than Denmark does, and Sweden generates more innovation as measured by patents. The Danes did not end the push-back from the economic elite. Class struggle remains a reality in Denmark, as it does everywhere.

The Danes did, however, end centuries of domination by their 1 percent and empowered the democratic majority to make decisions about the future direction of the economy. They designed a different economy, one that centers labor instead of capital, correctly understanding this shift to be the pre-condition for the abolition of poverty. They also turn to nonviolent direct action to do the heavy lifting when they see it is needed, rather than putting all their eggs in the parliamentary basket.

However we debate definitions, the Danish story of struggle offers valuable lessons for the rest of us. Especially those of us who want to be happy.

Categories: Latest News

A Despot in Disguise: One Man's Mission to Rip Up Democracy

Truthout - Fri, 07/21/2017 - 21:00

Complete freedom for billionaires means poverty, insecurity, pollution and collapsing public services for everyone else. Because we will not vote for this, it can be delivered only through deception and authoritarian control. The choice we face is between unfettered capitalism and democracy. You cannot have both. (Photo: Joe Brusky / Flickr)

When and how were the seeds sown for the modern far-right's takeover of American politics? Nancy MacLean reveals the deep and troubling roots of this secretive political establishment -- and its decades-long plan to change the rules of democratic governance -- in her new book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America. Get your copy by making a donation to Truthout now!

It's the missing chapter: a key to understanding the politics of the past half century. To read Nancy MacLean's new book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America, is to see what was previously invisible.

The history professor's work on the subject began by accident. In 2013 she stumbled across a deserted clapboard house on the campus of George Mason University in Virginia. It was stuffed with the unsorted archives of a man who had died that year whose name is probably unfamiliar to you: James McGill Buchanan. She says the first thing she picked up was a stack of confidential letters concerning millions of dollars transferred to the university by the billionaire Charles Koch.

Her discoveries in that house of horrors reveal how Buchanan, in collaboration with business tycoons and the institutes they founded, developed a hidden program for suppressing democracy on behalf of the very rich. The program is now reshaping politics, and not just in the US.

Buchanan was strongly influenced by both the neoliberalism of Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, and the property supremacism of John C Calhoun, who argued in the first half of the 19th century that freedom consists of the absolute right to use your property (including your slaves) however you may wish; any institution that impinges on this right is an agent of oppression, exploiting men of property on behalf of the undeserving masses.

James Buchanan brought these influences together to create what he called public choice theory. He argued that a society could not be considered free unless every citizen has the right to veto its decisions. What he meant by this was that no one should be taxed against their will. But the rich were being exploited by people who use their votes to demand money that others have earned, through involuntary taxes to support public spending and welfare. Allowing workers to form trade unions and imposing graduated income taxes were forms of "differential or discriminatory legislation" against the owners of capital.

Any clash between "freedom" (allowing the rich to do as they wish) and democracy should be resolved in favor of freedom. In his book The Limits of Liberty, he noted that "despotism may be the only organizational alternative to the political structure that we observe." Despotism in defense of freedom.

His prescription was a "constitutional revolution": creating irrevocable restraints to limit democratic choice. Sponsored throughout his working life by wealthy foundations, billionaires and corporations, he developed a theoretical account of what this constitutional revolution would look like, and a strategy for implementing it.

He explained how attempts to desegregate schooling in the American south could be frustrated by setting up a network of state-sponsored private schools. It was he who first proposed privatizing universities, and imposing full tuition fees on students: his original purpose was to crush student activism. He urged privatization of social security and many other functions of the state. He sought to break the links between people and government, and demolish trust in public institutions. He aimed, in short, to save capitalism from democracy.

In 1980, he was able to put the program into action. He was invited to Chile, where he helped the Pinochet dictatorship write a new constitution, which, partly through the clever devices Buchanan proposed, has proved impossible to reverse entirely. Amid the torture and killings, he advised the government to extend programmes of privatisation, austerity, monetary restraint, deregulation and the destruction of trade unions: a package that helped trigger economic collapse in 1982.

None of this troubled the Swedish Academy, which through his devotee at Stockholm University Assar Lindbeck in 1986 awarded James Buchanan the Nobel memorial prize for economics. It is one of several decisions that have turned this prize toxic.

But his power really began to be felt when Koch, currently the seventh richest man in the US, decided that Buchanan held the key to the transformation he sought. Koch saw even such ideologues as Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan as "sellouts", as they sought to improve the efficiency of government rather than destroy it altogether. But Buchanan took it all the way.

MacLean says that Charles Koch poured millions into Buchanan's work at George Mason University, whose law and economics departments look as much like corporate-funded think tanks as they do academic faculties. He employed the economist to select the revolutionary "cadre" that would implement his program (Murray Rothbard, at the Cato Institute that Koch founded, had urged the billionaire to study Lenin's techniques and apply them to the libertarian cause). Between them, they began to develop a program for changing the rules.

The papers Nancy MacLean discovered show that Buchanan saw stealth as crucial. He told his collaborators that "conspiratorial secrecy is at all times essential". Instead of revealing their ultimate destination, they would proceed by incremental steps. For example, in seeking to destroy the social security system, they would claim to be saving it, arguing that it would fail without a series of radical "reforms". (The same argument is used by those attacking the NHS). Gradually they would build a "counter-intelligentsia", allied to a "vast network of political power" that would become the new establishment.

Through the network of think tanks that Koch and other billionaires have sponsored, through their transformation of the Republican party, and the hundreds of millions they have poured into state congressional and judicial races, through the mass colonisation of Trump's administration by members of this network and lethally effective campaigns against everything from public health to action on climate change, it would be fair to say that Buchanan's vision is maturing in the US.

But not just there. Reading this book felt like a demisting of the window through which I see British politics. The bonfire of regulations highlighted by the Grenfell Tower disaster, the destruction of state architecture through austerity, the budgeting rules, the dismantling of public services, tuition fees and the control of schools: all these measures follow Buchanan's program to the letter. I wonder how many people are aware that David Cameron's free schools project stands in a tradition designed to hamper racial desegregation in the American south.

In one respect, Buchanan was right: there is an inherent conflict between what he called "economic freedom" and political liberty. Complete freedom for billionaires means poverty, insecurity, pollution and collapsing public services for everyone else. Because we will not vote for this, it can be delivered only through deception and authoritarian control. The choice we face is between unfettered capitalism and democracy. You cannot have both.

Buchanan's program is a prescription for totalitarian capitalism. And his disciples have only begun to implement it. But at least, thanks to MacLean's discoveries, we can now apprehend the agenda. One of the first rules of politics is, know your enemy. We're getting there.

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Categories: Latest News

Food Safety and Environmental Organizations Call on EPA to Ban Bee-Killing Pesticides

Commondreams - Fri, 07/21/2017 - 11:08
Friends of the Earth

A coalition of food safety and environmental groups will deliver hundreds of thousands of public comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday, urging the agency to ban neonicotinoid pesticides--a leading cause of pollinator decline and massive bee die-offs. The agency will close its comment period Monday for its preliminary pollinator risk assessment for three neonicotinoid insecticides: clothianidin, thiamethoxam and dinotefuran and for the updated assessment of the neonicotinoid imidacloprid.

Categories: Latest News

Cape Town Heeds the Fossil Fuel Divestment Call

Commondreams - Fri, 07/21/2017 - 11:01

Cape Town Mayor Patricia De Lille has announced the city’s commitment to divest from fossil fuel assets in favour of more sustainable investments, joining cities around the world in withdrawing their funds from destructive coal, oil and gas industries. This announcement comes after months of campaigning from local NGO Fossil Free South Africa and, who targeted Cape Town during the Global Divestment Mobilisation in May.

Categories: Latest News

Illuminated “Light Brigade” Advocates for New England Aquarium’s Fossil Fuel Divestment In Support of Climate Justice

Commondreams - Fri, 07/21/2017 - 09:31


WHAT: Student activists encouraging the New England Aquarium to divest from fossil fuels will hold a giant LED-lit sign that reads #FossilFreeNEAQ in their “light brigade.” They will ask pedestrians to take photos with the sign to post online and to discuss divestment. This action is part of a larger campaign to lead the New England Aquarium to divest in solidarity with the climate justice movement, which aims to lessen the disproportionate burden of climate change on communities of color globally.

Categories: Latest News

Trump to Strip Alaska Park and Refuge Wildlife Protection

Commondreams - Fri, 07/21/2017 - 09:06
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)

The Trump administration is taking aim at restrictions on recreational hunting and trapping inside national parks and refuges in Alaska, according to directives posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  The regulations limit questionable hunting techniques, such as killing bear cubs and sows with cubs, luring grizzlies with rotting meat, trapping and snaring bears, and killing wolves while they are raising pups, among other controversial methods. 

Categories: Latest News

UK-USA Trade Talks Start on Monday - "No Mandate for Fox's Free-Market Mania"

Commondreams - Fri, 07/21/2017 - 06:22
Global Justice Now

In advance of the UK starting unofficial trade talks with the USA in Washington on Monday to start discussing the details of a potential UK-USA trade deal after Brexit, Nick Dearden the director of Global Justice Now said:

Categories: Latest News

Insurance Fixes

Truthout - Thu, 07/20/2017 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

Trump's Environmental Protection Pick Is BP's Former Lawyer -- and May Preside Over Cases Involving BP

Truthout - Thu, 07/20/2017 - 21:00

Jeffrey Bossert Clark, nominee to be an assistant attorney general, Environment and Natural Resources Division, looks on during a Senate Judiciary Committee nomination hearing concerning judicial nominations, on Capitol Hill, June 28, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

With all eyes on Donald Trump's fixation on the Justice Department Russia probe, the administration looks set to put a fossil fuel industry loyalist at the head of the agency's environmental protection division.

Jeffrey Clark, a longtime lawyer for energy companies and an environmental prosecutor under the George W. Bush administration, will be considered for the job next week by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The selection to lead the Environment and Natural Resources Division saw his nomination delayed on Thursday by Democrats on the panel. The lawmakers exercised their right to "holdover" considerations of executive nominees.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) hit out at Clark, noting that the Republican has not ruled out the possibility of presiding over cases that involve a controversial former client: BP.

"For years, Jeffrey Clark defended BP, and has refused to commit to recusing himself from cases involving this constant former client," Whitehouse said on Thursday.

According to a committee questionnaire, Clark said he would consult with the Justice Department's ethics office "and will recuse myself from any matter in which it is required."

The form also noted that Clark has represented BP in litigation arising from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, and that this work "has continued to the present time."

Clark has also worked for the Chamber of Commerce, which Whitehouse described as a "constant mouthpiece of the fossil fuel industry." On Tuesday, the House passed legislation, backed by the Chamber, which would weaken Clean Air Act rules on ozone emissions.

Whitehouse also hit out at Clark's views on pollution, saying the lawyer has questioned climate science, and that "he has repeatedly refused to give a straight answer as to whether he believes [carbon dioxide] emissions are a negative externality of burning fossil fuel."

"These were softballs," Whitehouse said. "He completely whiffed."

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee was mostly occupied with another nomination. Christopher Wray, Trump's choice to replace James Comey as head of the FBI, was approved unanimously by the committee.

Democrats decided to waive their right to holdover the Wray nomination, praising him for vowing to operate independently of the White House.

The Democratic senators advanced Wray, despite the fact that many also expressed horror about a Wednesday interview Trump gave to The New York Times.

In the interview, the President said he "would have picked somebody else," had he known beforehand that Attorney General Jeff Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

"We are on the footsteps -- or doorstep, I should say -- of a Constitutional crisis," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said.

"He will not be party to that," Durbin said, referring to Wray's confirmation hearing promises to refuse to obstruct justice. "He would rather resign."

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Categories: Latest News

Sen. McConnell Plans Vote on Repealing Obamacare Despite Lacking Enough Support From GOP Senators

Truthout - Thu, 07/20/2017 - 21:00

Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has announced the Senate will vote next week on whether to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement -- even though the bill currently lacks enough Republican support to pass. McConnell's announcement came after President Trump invited all 52 Republican senators to the White House for lunchtime talks aimed at reviving stalled efforts on healthcare.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Pardon Me? Trump Gives an Interview and Hell Breaks Loose

Truthout - Thu, 07/20/2017 - 21:00

Donald Trump delivers remarks during a "Made in America" product showcase in the East Room of the White House July 17, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

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Interviewing politicians is, much of the time, a waste of energy. You get more substance from the campaign flyer someone stuck under your windshield wiper. Even the "tough questions" are greeted with road-tested, committee-drafted answers devoid of content. Sometimes, though, you get a live one, a person with no filter, no internal monologue, no brakes and no grasp of the material being discussed. That kind of interview is rare but revealing. Sometimes, horribly so.

This one involved the president of the United States, and The New York Times:

Consider this quote alone: "I mean, one of my ideas was repeal. But I certainly rather would get repeal and replace, because the next last thing I want to do is start working tomorrow morning on replace. And it is time. It is tough. It's a very narrow path, winding this way. You think you have it, and then you lose four on the other side because you gave. It is a brutal process."

Let's crack it like crude. First of all, for every news correspondent and TV talking head wondering why Trump didn't take a more active role in promoting something he promised on a daily basis for more than a year, well … there's your answer. The man does not know, or care to know, the first thing about the nuts and bolts of the proposed legislation. "My ideas"? Nope.

He comprehends neither the processes of health care, nor the insurance industry, nor the politics that surround them like a bloated cocoon. He didn't promote the legislation because he couldn't, and like as not, Senate Republicans wanted him nowhere near it. They haven't been questioning his absence the way Democrats and the media have, because they probably wanted it that way. The man was not up to the drill, and it shows every time he even brushes up against the topic.

Here is a sample of the verbal jujitsu Trump hits us with: "The next last thing I want to do is start working tomorrow morning on replace." Those are words. He definitely said something. They wrote it down. What does it actually mean? No one knows.

Last but not least from that short yet astonishing paragraph: "You think you have it, and then you lose four on the other side because you gave." He never "had it," of course -- the BCRA was in peril before it ever saw the light of day, and everyone but Trump knew this. Those "four on the other side" were actually stalwart Republicans from liberal strongholds like Kentucky, Alaska, Maine and Kansas. He "gave" to the "other side," and that's why the legislation keeps failing? No, I totally get it, or something.

Way to advertise his party's ongoing civil war, by the way. What side is he on? Oh, right. His own.

That was one small paragraph, a mere accent in the symphony. There is more like this, so much more, but don't take my word for it. Read it. Better yet, read it out loud. Feel the formation of it in your own mouth. When he was young, Hunter S. Thompson would type out every word of timeless works like The Great Gatsby from beginning to end because, he later explained, he wanted to know what it felt like to write a masterpiece. This is just like that, only completely in reverse and a hell of a lot less edifying.

The mainstream media outlets are going sideways with delight because Trump used the interview to verbally menace, if not openly threaten, virtually everyone in Washington DC. He warmed up by threatening Nevada's GOP senator Dean Heller to his face on live TV before the interview took place, and Heller just chuckled like a child's toy that got kicked down the stairs by the dog. Trump questioned the integrity of the acting FBI Director and his wife. He slagged Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and then bizarrely took off on Sessions' deputy, Rod Rosenstein, "who is from Baltimore. There are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any. So, he's from Baltimore." And the Orioles take it in the teeth once again.

Weaved throughout the conversation was Trump's scattered drum-and-bass jam about Russia. "I would say," he said, "I don't -- I don't -- I mean, it's possible there's a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows? I don't make money from Russia." Nevertheless, he certainly got edgy about special counsel Robert Mueller looking into his finances. He called such possible actions a "red line" and a "violation."

Trump sounded nervous, and rightly so. His son took a meeting with a Russian accused of international money-laundering, a former Soviet counter-intelligence officer with ties to the international hacker community, and a Russian attorney devoted to lifting the sanctions against a bunch of Russian oligarchs who had their assets seized after the man who exposed their massive money-laundering operation died in prison -- all this, it seems, in service to the Russian government's professed desire to help the Trump campaign. 

An investigation by former Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara into Russian money-laundering with ties to "Manhattan real estate entities" ended when Bharara was fired by Trump. That investigation has been folded into Mueller's. The lawyer representing the Russian being investigated by Bharara was the lawyer at Trump Jr.'s meeting. Yeah, I'd be nervous, too.

At the end of the conversation, Trump refused to say whether he would fire Mueller if he took the investigation in that direction because, Trump said, "I don't think it's going to happen." It happened, almost immediately. The next morning, Bloomberg News revealed that Robert Mueller is, in fact, pursuing an investigation into the financial dealings not only of Trump, but of Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and perhaps others.

By Thursday evening, the Washington Post was reporting that Trump was in the mood to talk about his pardoning powers: "Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe … A second person said Trump's lawyers have been discussing the president's pardoning powers among themselves. " This is, simply, unprecedented. Of course, every single president at some point probably joked about pardoning themselves. Trump is the first president to really mean it. Even Nixon had more shame than that.

The "red line" has been crossed, and all the secrets are waiting for daylight. The world woke up on Friday morning wondering if Robert Mueller still had a job. Will Trump actually pardon himself? Will he fire Mueller and drop a political and constitutional bomb? Archibald Cox, your table is ready.

In any interview, especially one involving the president of the United States, you hope to come across something genuine to take away, a sliver of the real person behind the politics and the sloganeering. I found one such sliver in the onslaught that was this interview, and it is all too telling in its pure moral depravity. When speaking of the health care legislation and the issue of pre-existing conditions, Trump said: "As they get something, it gets tougher. Because politically, you can't give it away. So pre-existing conditions are a tough deal."

The "they" he refers to are people living with disabilities and chronic illness -- those with pre-existing conditions. There are more than 130 million of them, not counting elderly people. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, about half the country has at least one pre-existing condition. "It gets tougher" means, "It gets tougher to take care away once they have it." This is offered as a lamentation, a bad thing: It's a "tough deal" that it's politically difficult to strip people of needed care once they have gotten access to it. The inability to screw over sick folks, likely with lethal consequences, is a real bummer for the president.

In the end, we come away with what most of us already knew, though some of us steadfastly refuse to acknowledge it: We are afflicted with this dangerous, cruel, callow, staggeringly uninformed, petulant, blustering bully for precisely as long as cowardice and greed hold sway in the governing bodies of this republic.

I am just at ebb tide with this man. I hope you are, too. 

Categories: Latest News

North and South Korea Want a Peace Treaty: The US Must Join Them

Truthout - Thu, 07/20/2017 - 21:00

People watch a television broadcast reporting the North Korean missile launch at the Seoul Railway Station on July 4, 2017, in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo: Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images)

When the US signed the armistice agreement dividing the Korean Peninsula, it promised to negotiate a permanent peace settlement. Right now, with President Moon in South Korea and pro-diplomacy women in key foreign ministry posts in the region, the prospects for reaching an agreement are hopeful, and the US should fulfill its moral and legal responsibility.

People watch a television broadcast reporting the North Korean missile launch at the Seoul Railway Station on July 4, 2017, in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo: Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images)

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Two years ago, I crossed the world's most fortified border from North to South Korea with 30 women peacemakers from 15 countries, calling for a peace treaty to end the six-decade Korean War. On July 13, I was denied entry into South Korea from the United States as retribution for my peace activism, including the 2015 women's peace march.

As I checked in for my Asiana Airlines flight to Shanghai at San Francisco International Airport, the ticket agent at the counter informed me that I would not be boarding the plane headed first to Seoul Incheon International. The supervisor handed me back my passport and informed me that she had just gotten off the phone with a South Korean government official who had told her I was "denied entry" into the country.

"This must be a mistake," I said. "Is South Korea really going to ban me because I organized a women's peace walk across the demilitarized zone?" I asked, appealing to her conscience. If there was indeed a travel ban, I thought, it must have been put in place by the disgraced President Park. But she wouldn't make eye contact with me. She walked away and said there was nothing to be done. I would need to apply for a visa and book a new flight to Shanghai. I did, but before I boarded my flight, I spoke with veteran journalists Tim Shorrock of The Nation and Choe Sang-hun of the New York Times.

When I landed in Shanghai, along with my travel companion Ann Wright, retired US Army Colonel and former US diplomat, we reached out to our networks, from congressional offices to high-level contacts at the United Nations to the powerful and connected women who marched with us across the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in 2015.

Within hours, Mairead Maguire, the Nobel Peace laureate from Northern Ireland, and Gloria Steinem sent emails urging the South Korean ambassador to the US, Ahn Ho-young, to reconsider their travel ban. "I could not forgive myself if I did not do everything I can to keep Christine from being punished for an act of patriotism and love that should be rewarded," Gloria wrote. They both highlighted how the travel ban would preclude me from attending a meeting convened by South Korean women's peace organizations on July 27, the anniversary of the ceasefire that halted, but did not formally end, the Korean War.

According to the New York Times, which broke the story, I was denied entry on the grounds that I could "hurt the national interests and public safety." The travel ban was instituted in 2015 during the administration of Park Geun-hye, the impeached president now in prison on charges of massive corruption, including creating a blacklist of 10,000 writers and artists critical of the administration's policies and labeled "pro-North Korean."

In 24 hours, after massive public outcry -- including even from my critics -- the newly elected Moon administration lifted the travel ban. Not only would I be able to return to Seoul, where I was born and where my parents' ashes lie near a Buddhist temple in the surrounding Bukhansan mountains, I would be able to continue working with South Korean women peacemakers to achieve our common goal: to end the Korean War with a peace treaty.

The swift lifting of the ban signaled a new day on the Korean Peninsula with a more democratic and transparent South Korea, but also the real prospects of achieving a peace agreement with President Moon [Jae-in] in power.

Unanimous Calls for Korean Peace Treaty

On July 7, in Berlin, Germany, ahead of the G20 Summit, President Moon called for "a peace treaty joined by all relevant parties at the end of the Korean War to settle a lasting peace on the peninsula." South Korea has now joined North Korea and China in calling for a peace treaty to address the longstanding conflict.

Moon's Berlin speech followed on the heels of his summit in Washington, where Moon apparently received the blessings of President Trump to resume inter-Korean dialogue. "I am ready to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at any time and any place," Moon declared, if the conditions were right. In a significant departure from his hardline predecessors, Moon clarified, "We do not want North Korea to collapse, nor will we seek any form of unification by absorption."

In a Blue House report (equivalent to a White House paper) released on July 19, Moon outlined 100 tasks he plans to accomplish during his single five-year term. Foremost on his list included signing a peace treaty by 2020 and the "complete denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula. In a pivot towards regaining full South Korean sovereignty, Moon also included negotiating the early return of wartime military operational control from the United States. It also included ambitious economic and development plans that could be moved forward if inter-Korean dialogues proceed, such as building an energy belt along both coasts of the Korean Peninsula that would link the divided country, and reinstating inter-Korean markets.

While these goals may seem incredible in the hardened terrain between the two Koreas, they are possible, particularly given Moon's pragmatic emphasis on diplomacy, dialogue and people-to-people engagement, from family reunions to civil society exchanges, to humanitarian aid to military-to-military talks. On Tuesday, he proposed talks with North Korea at the DMZ to discuss these issues, though Pyongyang has yet to respond.

President Moon's mother was born in the north before Korea was divided. She now lives in South Korea and remains separated from her sister, who lives in North Korea. Not only does Moon understand deeply the pain and suffering of the estimated 60,000 remaining divided families in South Korea, he knows from his experience as the chief of staff to President Roh Moo-hyun (2002-2007), the last liberal South Korean president, that inter-Korean progress can only go so far without the formal resolution of the Korean War between the United States and North Korea. Recognizing this, Moon now faces the daunting challenge of mending inter-Korean ties that have unraveled over the past decade and building a bridge between Washington and Pyongyang that has collapsed over two previous US administrations.

Women: Key to Reaching a Peace Accord

With South Korea, North Korea and China all calling for a peace treaty, it is worth noting that women are now in key foreign ministry posts in those countries. In a groundbreaking move, Moon appointed the first female foreign minister in South Korean history: Kang Kyung-hwa, a seasoned politician with a decorated career at the United Nations. Appointed by former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Kang served as deputy high commissioner for human rights and assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs before becoming a senior policy adviser to the new UN chief António Guterres.

In Pyongyang, the lead North Korean negotiator with American officials in dialogues with former US officials is Choe Son-hui, director general for North American affairs in the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Choe was supposed to meet a bi-partisan delegation of US officials from the Obama and Bush administrations in New York this March before the meeting was scuttled. Choe served as an aide and interpreter for the Six-Party Talks and other high-level meetings with US officials, including the August 2009 trip to Pyongyang by President Bill Clinton. She was the adviser and interpreter for the late Kim Kye-gwan, the chief North Korean nuclear negotiator.

Meanwhile, in China, Fu Ying is chairperson [of the Foreign Affairs Committee] of the National People's Congress. She led the Chinese delegation to the Six-Party Talks in the mid-2000s that yielded a temporary diplomatic breakthrough to dismantle North Korea's nuclear program. In a recent piece for the Brookings Institution, Fu posited, "To open the rusty lock of the Korean nuclear issue, we should look for the right key." Fu believes the key is the "suspension for suspension" proposal by China, which calls for freezing North Korea's nuclear and long-range missile program in exchange for halting the US-South Korean military exercises. This proposal, first introduced by the North Koreans in 2015, is now also backed by Russia and is being seriously considered by South Korea.

Kang, Choe and Fu all share a similar trajectory in their rise to power -- they started their careers as English interpreters for high-level foreign ministry meetings. They all have children, and balance their families with their demanding careers. While we should have no illusions that a peace deal is guaranteed just because these women are in power, the fact that women are even in these top foreign ministry positions creates a rare historic alignment and opportunity.

What we do know from three decades of experience is that a peace agreement is more likely with the active involvement of women's peace groups in the peacebuilding process. According to a major study covering 30 years of 40 peace processes in 35 countries, an agreement was reached in all but one case when women's groups directly influenced the peace process. Their participation also led to higher rates of implementation and durability of the agreements. From 1989-2011, of 182 signed peace agreements, an agreement was 35 percent more likely to last 15 years if women participated in its creation.

If there ever was a time when women's peace groups must work across boundaries, it is now, when multiple barriers -- language, culture and ideology -- make it that much easier for misunderstanding to prevail, and dangerous miscalculations to take place, paving the way for governments to declare war. At our July 27 meeting in Seoul, we hope to start outlining a regional peace mechanism or process whereby women's peace groups from South Korea, North Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States could actively contribute to the official governmental peace-building process.

Broad Support for Peace

Clearly, the missing piece in this puzzle is the United States, where Trump has only surrounded himself with white men, mostly military generals, with the exception of Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, whose statements on North Korea -- as well as virtually every other country -- have set back international diplomatic efforts.

While the Trump administration may not yet be calling for a peace treaty, a growing circle of elites are calling for engaging in direct talks with Pyongyang to halt North Korea's long-range missile program before it could strike the US mainland. A bipartisan letter to Trump signed by six former US government officials spanning over 30 years urged, "Talking is not a reward or a concession to Pyongyang and should not be construed as signaling acceptance of a nuclear-armed North Korea. It is a necessary step to establishing communication to avoid a nuclear catastrophe." Without stating support for China's call for "suspension for suspension," the letter warned that despite sanctions and isolation, North Korea is advancing in its missile and nuclear technology. "Without a diplomatic effort to stop its progress, there is little doubt that it will develop a long-range missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to the United States."

This builds on a letter to Trump signed in June by 64 Congressional Democrats urging direct talks with North Korea to avert an "unimaginable conflict." The letter was co-led by John Conyers, one of two remaining congressmen who served in the Korean War. "As someone who has watched this conflict evolve since I was sent to Korea as a young Army Lieutenant," Conyers said, "it is a reckless, inexperienced move to threaten military action that could end in devastation instead of pursuing vigorous diplomacy."

These major shifts in Washington reflect a growing consensus among the public: Americans want peace with North Korea. According to a May Economist/YouGov poll, 60 percent of Americans, regardless of political affiliation, support direct negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang. On the day of the Moon-Trump summit, nearly a dozen national civic organizations, including Win Without War and CREDO [Action], delivered a petition to Moon signed by more than 150,000 Americans offering strong support for his commitment to diplomacy with North Korea.

The US government divided the Korean Peninsula (with the former Soviet Union) and signed the armistice agreement promising to return to talks in 90 days to negotiate a permanent peace settlement. The US government has a moral and legal responsibility to end the Korean War with a peace treaty.

With Moon in power in South Korea and pro-diplomacy women in key foreign ministry posts in the region, the prospects for reaching a peace agreement are hopeful. Now, US peace movements must push for an end to the Obama administration's failed policy of Strategic Patience -- and push back against the Trump administration's threats of military escalation.

Ahead of his Senate briefing in the White House, more than 200 women leaders from over 40 countries -- including North and South Korea -- urged Trump to sign a peace treaty that would lead to greater security for the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia region and halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

As our letter states, "Peace is the most powerful deterrent of all."

Categories: Latest News

$200 Billion More Won't Fix Unfixable Senate Health Bill

Truthout - Thu, 07/20/2017 - 21:00

In a last-ditch effort to save their bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Senate leaders are reportedly offering $200 billion to win the votes of senators from states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA.  While $200 billion seems like a lot of money, it's only 17 percent of the bill's $1.2 trillion in cuts.

A group of activists rally against the GOP health care plan outside of the Metropolitan Republican Club, July 5, 2017, in New York City. (Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

In a last-ditch effort to save their bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Senate leaders are reportedly offering $200 billion to win the votes of senators from states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA.  This new fund would presumably supplement private coverage for those who gained Medicaid coverage under the expansion but would lose it under the Senate bill.  No senator should fall for it. While $200 billion seems like a lot of money, it's only 17 percent of the bill's $1.2 trillion in cuts: $756 billion from Medicaid and $427 billion from subsidies to help low- and moderate-income people buy coverage in the individual market, according to the latest Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates (see first chart). It wouldn't even fill the federal funding gap left by repealing the Medicaid expansion -- let alone prevent the harm from the bill's per capita cap on federal funding for all of Medicaid and the loss of subsidies and erosion of market reforms for people with individual market coverage.

Effectively ending the expansion accounts for about three-quarters of the $756 billion cut in Medicaid, according to CBO. Providing affordable private coverage to poor and near-poor individuals would likely cost more than covering them through Medicaid -- that is, far more than the $200 billion that Senate leaders are proposing.  That's because Medicaid coverage costs 22 percent less for comparable beneficiaries, even though Medicaid provides more comprehensive benefits and far greater financial protection.  Today's CBO score shows how big a hole supplemental coverage would have to fill under the Senate bill. The private plans available to people would have deductibles of $13,000 by 2026 (see second chart).

Moreover, news accounts suggest that the additional funding -- like the bill's other state grants -- would completely expire in 2026, even as its Medicaid cuts would grow in the second decade.

This new fund would do nothing to fix the major problems that the bill would create:

  • It would do nothing to offset the Medicaid cuts resulting from the per capita cap, which would affect children, seniors, and people with disabilities in all states.  These cuts would shift ever-increasing costs to states, forcing the states to respond by making ever-deepening cuts in eligibility, benefits, and provider payments.
  • It would do nothing to address the bill's harm to people with private coverage, including the loss of coverage for millions of people (due largely to sharp cuts in marketplace subsidies), increased costs for those who stay covered, and the loss of access to health care for millions with pre-existing conditions.
  • It would do nothing to address the fact that millions of lower-income marketplace consumers in non-expansion states would see their deductibles jump many thousands of dollars under the Senate bill.  Because of these increases, "few low-income people would purchase any plan" and most would become uninsured, according to CBO. The bill would also effectively prevent non-expansion states from ever expanding Medicaid to provide affordable coverage for people in poverty, as a number of non-expansion states (including Maine, Kansas, North Carolina, and Virginia) have recently considered doing.

The fact that Republican leaders are adding another fund -- on top of their $45 billion to address the opioid epidemic, unrealistic promises of federal waivers to use Medicaid funds to help cover people losing Medicaid coverage under the bill, and inadequate, poorly designed stabilization funds  -- is more evidence that the Senate bill can't be fixed. Throwing more money into a patchwork of poorly targeted funds that perpetuate the inequities in coverage between expansion and non-expansion states is no substitute for the Medicaid expansion, which has been highly successful in increasing coverage and access to care, including treatment for opioid addiction.

There's no justification for building such a Rube Goldberg device. As hospitals, doctors, nurses, patients, and governors of both parties have said, Medicaid expansion is working well now and should remain in place.  Policymakers should also reject a per capita cap that shifts costs to states and beneficiaries.  No one should be fooled:  The reported $200 billion can't fix the basic problems with this bill.

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Categories: Latest News

Economic Update: Economics Taught Badly

Truthout - Thu, 07/20/2017 - 21:00

This week's episode discusses how United Airlines profits from customer abuse; a bankster blaming the government; China's rapid economic growth and worker co-op news from Greece, New York and Massachusetts. The episode also includes an interview with economics professor John Summa on the big problems in teaching economics.

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

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Categories: Latest News

Hey Senator, Sick People Aren't Damaged Cars

Truthout - Thu, 07/20/2017 - 21:00

Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin speaks at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, on March 3, 2016. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson has compared people with pre-existing health conditions to cars that have been in accidents.

"We've done something with our health care system that you never even think about doing, for example, with auto insurance, where you'd require auto insurance companies to sell a policy to somebody after they crashed their car," said Johnson.

Remember that horrible list of pre-existing conditions that circulated in early May when Republicans in Congress were considering their proposals for rolling back protections for people who have them?

The list hasn't changed. It still includes babies born with multiple heart defects. Kids who need lifesaving EpiPens. Illnesses that are unpredictable, sometimes hereditarily unavoidable, and some that are straight up caused by living in a society that praises people who work 70 or more hours per week.

Cancer, diabetes, chronic illness, depression and even pregnancy. The list goes on for miles.

Well, Senator Johnson, if people with pre-existing conditions are bad drivers who should pay higher premiums, then it's your fault for cursing us with a crumbling infrastructure. How can we be good drivers if you won't fix the roads?

We may never know the answer to that question, because in keeping with his practice of refusing to hold town hall meetings, Johnson also refuses to hold a congressional hearing on the subject. He says that he "already knows the answer, and no one wants to talk about it."

Senator Johnson, that's just not true. As we know from the anti-Trumpcare protests all over the country. It's gotten so bad that police in Washington, D.C., are dragging protesters from their wheelchairs and mobility devices.

On June 28, a group of 30 people, most members of the disability rights organization ADAPT, attempted to bring their demands to Sen. Johnson's office, but were denied entrance. They had trouble getting into the building altogether, since the accessible entrance and lobby were barely able to accommodate more than two wheelchair users at a time.

Johnson's aides supplied protesters with comment sheets to fill out, but ultimately, the group was given the runaround. The vaulted ceilings and marble floors rang with chants of "I'd rather go to jail than die without Medicaid," and as the group started their die-in, Homeland Security officers began dragging out those not in wheelchairs.

Unlike in Washington, the police elected to not drag people away from their chairs, but the sentiment was still the same -- the state does not care about the disabled, the working poor, or people if profits might be at risk.


"Guaranteed coverage for everyone drives up premiums," claims the Republican leadership. "We'll be saved by the free market!"

But the only things that drive up insurance costs are the insurance and pharmaceutical companies themselves.

The CEO of UnitedHealth Group, the largest insurance company in the country, "earned" $17.8 million in 2016, a 22.4 percent increase compared to 2015. Or consider the now-infamous former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals -- Martin "Pharma Bro" Shkreli -- who in 2015 raised the price of a lifesaving medication from $13.50 to $750 a pill just because he could.

Or Mylan CEO Heather Bresch who came under fire for raising the price of EpiPens from $56.64 to $317.82 during the same span of time in which her total compensation rose from $2,453,456 to $18,931,068. There is no reason for such price hikes -- or pay hikes.

No shortage of resources, no shortage of chemists. Just a surplus of greed and a system that not only refuses to stop it, but now wants to reward it.

Disability rates have also skyrocketed in the past 30 years. That's not just conservatives frothing at the mouth about spending and supposed laziness: It's real. Despite the earth-shattering medical breakthroughs that have been made in that same time frame, people continue to get sick and hurt.

There's the obvious answer: that it doesn't matter what miracle cures exist if people don't have access to them. Working people are still sick because we can't afford to pay what it costs to get better.

There is also a less-obvious answer: disability rates have risen in the past 30 years because over those same 30 years, the rate of union busting and the creation of nonunion service jobs has skyrocketed.

According to reporting from 2013, the most common maladies afflicting disability recipients by diagnosis were "back pain and other musculoskeletal problems," and secondly "mental illness and developmental disabilities." In 1961, the most common ailment was "heart disease and stroke." Simply put, we are being worked to the point where our bodies and minds no longer function.

Wisconsin is a right-to-work state with a governor who has a fetish for union busting. Sen. Johnson is a former CEO turned politician, who literally sees people as machines whose worth is based on how much profit they can generate.

It's no wonder that people work themselves to death.

But sick people are more than cars that experienced an accident.

Health care is a right that must be asserted over and above the greedy CEOs who make a killing of our for-profit health care system.

Categories: Latest News

ACLU Comment on the Introduction of the Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act, a Federal Bail Reform Bill

Commondreams - Thu, 07/20/2017 - 13:20

U.S. Senators Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) today introduced the Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act of 2017. The legislation would take steps toward reforming the injustices of the money bail system that incarcerates people who have not been convicted of a crime because of their inability to pay.

Kanya Bennett, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, had the following reaction:

Categories: Latest News

New Report from Senators Warren and Whitehouse: Six Month-Review Gives President Trump A Failing Grade on Pledge to "Drain the Swamp"

Commondreams - Thu, 07/20/2017 - 12:29
Senator Elizabeth Warren

As President Trump marks his first six months in office, United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) today released their "Drain the Swamp Report Card" tracking 193 former lobbyists and corporate insiders who have worked for President Trump since his election, giving the president a failing grade on his pledge to "drain the swamp."

Categories: Latest News

STATEMENT: Tillerson’s Exxon Violated Russian Sanctions, Should Step Down

Commondreams - Thu, 07/20/2017 - 11:54
Corporate Accountability International

Please see Corporate Accountability International spokesperson Gigi Kellett’s statement below:

Categories: Latest News


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