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Empire Files: Abby Martin Meets Ahed Tamimi -- Message From a Freedom Fighter

Truthout - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 21:00

Recently, the struggle for Palestinian human rights gained international attention surrounding a new icon of resistance -- 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi. While in the West Bank in late 2016, Abby Martin interviewed Ahed Tamimi about her hardships and aspirations living under occupation, and it becomes clear why her subjugators are trying to silence her voice. Her brother Waad and father Bassem also talk about their experiences with Israeli soldiers harassing their village and targeting their family.

In this exclusive episode, Abby outlines the Tamimi family's tragic tale and unending bravery in the fight for justice and equality in Palestine, and how the story of their village of Nabi Saleh is emblematic of the Palestinian struggle as a whole.

Categories: Latest News

As Shutdown Looms Over Immigration, Trump's Rejection of Refugees Could Have Global Domino Effect

Truthout - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 21:00

As Senate Democrats say they'll vote against a government spending bill that fails to protect DACA recipients, setting up a potential government shutdown, we look at the worldwide refugee crisis. The United Nations Refugee Agency reports the number of displaced people worldwide has hit a record high, with more than 65 million people forcibly displaced from their homes. As the humanitarian crisis grows, the United States and many other nations are limiting immigration and closing their borders. During his first year in office, President Trump sought to ban all refugees and citizens of many majority-Muslim nations. When federal judges struck down multiple versions of the so-called Muslim travel bans, Trump then slashed the number of refugees who could be resettled in the United States this year, capping the number at 45,000 -- the lowest level in three decades. We speak with David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, former British MP and author of the new book, Rescue: Refugees and the Political Crisis of Our Time.

TRANSCRIPT 

AMY GOODMAN: The House of Representatives passed a short-term spending bill late Thursday, setting up a high-stakes showdown in the Senate today, ahead of a midnight deadline to reach a deal or face government shutdown. Congress members voted 230 to 197, mostly along party lines, in favor of a Republican-led continuing resolution to fund the government through February 16th. In the Senate, many Democrats have said they'll vote against a bill that fails to protect young DREAMers -- DACA recipients, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. This is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

SEN. MITCH McCONNELL: They want a sensible compromise on immigration. But they cannot, Madam President, for the life of them, understand why -- why some senators would hold the entire country hostage until we arrive at a solution to a problem that doesn't fully materialize until March. Military families, veterans and children benefiting from the SCHIP program don't need to be shoved aside -- don't need to be shoved aside while we continue good-faith negotiations.

AMY GOODMAN: A hundred DACA recipients lose their status every day.

Well, as the debate over immigration could force a U.S. government shutdown, our next guest argues migrants and refugees are a key political crisis worldwide. The United Nations Refugee Agency's most recent annual report says the number of displaced people worldwide has hit a record high, with more than 65 million people forcibly displaced from their homes across the globe -- that's 20 people forced to flee their homes every single minute.

These refugees often face deadly journeys to reach safety. Last week, humanitarian groups said dozens of refugees drowned when their boat sank off the coast of Libya en route to Europe. This week, the Arizona humanitarian group No More Deaths accused U.S. Border Patrol agents of routinely sabotaging or confiscating humanitarian aid left by activists near the border with Mexico, condemning some Mexican and Central American refugees to die of exposure or dehydration in the Sonoran Desert.

As the humanitarian crisis grows, many nations, particularly the United States, are limiting immigration, closing their borders. During his first year in office, President Trump sought to ban all refugees and citizens of mainly majority-Muslim nations. When federal judges struck down multiple versions of the so-called Muslim travel bans, Trump then slashed the number of refugees who could be resettled in the United States this year, capping the number at 45,000 -- the lowest level in three decades. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has also cut $65 million in annual contributions to the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency, known as UNRWA. On Thursday, Pope Francis made an urgent appeal on behalf of refugees and migrants, while speaking on the last day of his visit to Chile.

POPE FRANCIS: [translated] We know well that there is no Christian joy when doors are closed. There is no Christian joy when others are made to feel unwanted, when there is no room for them in our midst. We must be alert that work is becoming more precarious, which destroys lives and homes. We must be alert to those that take advantage of the irregularity of many immigrants because they don't understand the language or they don't have their papers. We must be alert to the lack of housing, land and work of so many families.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we're joined by David Miliband, president and CEOof the International Rescue Committee, former British Labour MP, brother of Labour Leader Ed Miliband. His new book is titled Rescue: Refugees and the Political Crisis of Our Time.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

DAVID MILIBAND: Thank you very much. Good to be with you.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you have heard, David, all the headlines. Half of them involve immigrants, involve refugees, involve people taking sanctuary across the country, California declaring itself a sanctuary state, and Trump administration officials threatening to arrest not only refugees, but politicians who defy Trump administration policy. This is the anniversary of President Trump's inauguration. What is your assessment of his approach to immigrants in this country?

DAVID MILIBAND: Well, issues of refugees and immigration have always been matters of politics as well as policy. And there's a lot of confusion. One of the points in my book is that a refugee is someone who flees their home as a result of conflict or persecution. An economic migrant is someone who's seeking a better life. It's not that one is good and the other is bad, but they're different.

And I think the way I would summarize the approach of the Trump administration is really a reversal of the best of American history. It's not that throughout the ages America has always made itself open to refugees and immigrants from around the world, because there have been dark periods of American history. But the best of the American approach, both in respect of immigration and in respect of refugees -- and we should talk about the difference between them -- but the best of American history has established this country as a haven for those who are seeking not just a place of safety from persecution, but also a chance to start a new life and contribute to the society that they are arriving in.

And what the president has done -- you referred, just to give you one example, to the fact that the president has halved the number of refugees who should be allowed to come to the U.S., from the 90,000 a year that have been allowed since the 1980s, since Ronald Reagan's time, to just 45,000. But, actually, the truth is that the administration that is putting that into practice is not delivering 45,000 refugees this year. It's going to deliver about 20,000. So you're actually seeing, because of the actions of the Department of Homeland Security, a quartering of America's historic commitment to refugees, at the time when there are record numbers of refugees around the world.

And this is significant both for those individual cases and for the lesson it sets elsewhere in the world, because, the truth is, a country like America has 1 percent of the world's refugees. Countries like Ethiopia, Pakistan, Lebanon, Jordan, they have the most refugees in the world. And I think that there's an issue of substance, but also an issue of symbolism, at stake here.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to step back for a minute -- why you care so much about the issue of migrants, of refugees, of immigrants. Talk about your own family background.

DAVID MILIBAND: Yeah, I mean, and maybe people have an image of a refugee that doesn't summon up someone with a blue shirt and a red tie on, but the -- speaking with a British accent. But I was born in safety in the U.K. in 1965, but both my parents were refugees from -- my dad from Belgium, from Nazi-occupied Belgium, in 1940, and my mom survived the war in Poland, came to the U.K. as a refugee in 1946. So, I don't want to exaggerate the sense in which today's crisis is a parallel of previous crises, but there are very similar issues.

And the most fundamental issue is whether those who are not persecuted have a duty to those who are. It's, I call it, the duty to strangers. And it seems to me that the best lessons of human history are that when the duty to strangers is exhibited, it builds not just a more moral planet, but also a safer planet. And what we're seeing today, ironically, in a world that's more connected than ever before, is that it's a world that's -- the danger is it's defined by walls, not by connections. And I think that goes to the heart of the political crisis, as well as the policy crisis, that exists at the moment.

AMY GOODMAN: How would you characterize President Trump's policies? I mean, you were born in Britain, but you now work here in New York.

DAVID MILIBAND: Yeah, I live and work --

AMY GOODMAN: And you head the International Rescue Committee.

DAVID MILIBAND: I mean, people don't know this, but the International Rescue Committee was founded by Albert Einstein, one of the most famous refugees in this city, never mind this country, in some ways an emblem of what refugees can bring. So, I now lived and worked in the U.S. over the last four years.

And I think that global leadership has been abandoned or, in Richard Haass's words, abdicated. The sense that America established itself not with a high moral tone, but with a set of principles and values that would be enshrined, not just constitutionally and legally, but also in policies, that has been abandoned. And I think the question facing the country is whether or not that is going to be consolidated in the next three years or whether it can be reversed, because the truth is that if you carry on reducing the number of refugees who are allowed here at the current rate, if plans to reduce the international aid budget are followed through, then there will be a double whammy, really, on the world's most vulnerable people.

AMY GOODMAN: On Capitol Hill, a slew of lawmakers have joined members of the Congressional Black Caucus in backing a resolution to censure President Trump over his racist comments in which he reportedly called African nations, El Salvador, Haiti "s -- hole countries" -- but he said the curse. Several Democratic lawmakers have announced they'll also skip the State of the Union address on January 30th over Trump's racist remarks. Can you talk about what he said? It's not only calling people from these countries -- Botswana recently asked for a clarification, they want to know if they're in the "s -- hole" category -- but using that word, but also saying we want more immigrants from Norway.

DAVID MILIBAND: Well, I think that the way I would put it is that, really, the presidency has been dragged into the gutter by not just the language, but the thinking behind it, because, as you say, Botswana -- every African country is asking, "Well, does that include us?"

I mean, it's true that the countries that produce the most refugees are war-torn. They are conflict-ridden. But some of them are courting conflict as a result of a resource curse, not a poverty curse. If you think about a place like the Democratic Republic of Congo, in some parts of its history the undemocratic republic of Congo, that is -- the conflict there is on -- it's because of the resources that exist in that country, not because of the poverty that exists in that country, the conflict over mineral resources. And I think it's really important that the people were condemned, as well as the country. And that's the most pernicious aspect of what was said.

My point would be that this has a domino effect around the world. When the Jordanian government is hosting 650,000 refugees, when the Lebanese government is hosting a million refugees, when the Kenyan government has a million Somalis, the worst forces in those countries are going to be citing President Trump in their defense.

And I think that there is a profound question both about how the country governs itself internally, but also what sort of role it wants to play externally. The interesting thing -- one interesting thing about the Trump administration is, both its domestic and its international agenda come together on this issue.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the things that we recently played, just at the top of the show, your clips about -- of the defining of refugees as terrorists, and your point that, in fact, it's the opposite.

DAVID MILIBAND: No, these are people who are fleeing terror. I mean, you cited Syria in your introduction. People should know, the war in Syria isn't over, but it's being prosecuted not primarily by the American government, but by the Syrian government. Two hundred thousand Syrians in the northwest of the country have been driven from their homes by a bombing campaign in the last six weeks, six or seven weeks. And so, these are people who are the victims of terror. Some of them get good press coverage. Some of them, the coverage of the appalling stories of Yazidi women being chased from their homes by ISIS, they get a sympathetic ear. Others get a less sympathetic one. But my point is simple: People who have known the price and the cost of terror, they become the most patriotic and productive citizens when they find refuge here.

And I think there's one other point that's important, as well. America is making a small commitment to resettlement. The great bulk of refugees stay in countries close to those at war. And that doesn't include the U.S., notwithstanding what's happening south of the border in the Northern Triangle of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras. People are fleeing gang violence there. We shouldn't forget that. But one of the most pernicious parts of the Trump narrative, President Trump's narrative, is that somehow America is bearing an undue burden of the world's problems. That isn't the case when it comes to humanitarian and refugee issues.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about President Trump shutting off funding, something like $65 million, to UNRWA, to the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency, and the significance of this, what this means for Palestinians?

DAVID MILIBAND: Well, obviously, the Palestinian population is the longest-standing refugee population. It was only after the Second World War that the refugees were given any rights in international law, after the foundation of the state of Israel, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, in Jordan, elsewhere in the Middle East. UNRWA -- including in Gaza.

UNRWA, the United Nations agency, provides, above all, for children. It's, above all, providing support through education for kids. The $65 million, you're right, that's been granted, is the first part of a three-part delivery of American aid to support this organization. And it seems to me very important that we don't lose sight of the people on the receiving end of this. You have 1.8 million people in Gaza. Half of them are children. You've got Palestinian refugees elsewhere in the region. And the message that's being sent is a rejection to them and their condition. And it seems to me it goes to the heart of what the country should be standing for. And at a time when the U.N. is needed more than ever before, the last thing that the U.N. needs is one of its most effective programs to be -- have the rug pulled from under it.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a Gaza resident. They're saying that soon they could starve, unless international donors step up to fill the funding gap left by President Trump.

FATHIYA ABED AL-JAWAD: [translated] We will be lost. It will be a catastrophe. People will be stealing from each other. We will live in a catastrophe. We will suffer to provide food and wheat. People will kill each other.

NAIM HAMAD: [translated] What should I do? Should I go sell one of my kids or sell my kidney? What should I do? Should I go and steal or work as a spy? I need cooking oil, yogurt, eggs and bread.

AMY GOODMAN: In Cairo, the Arab League met Wednesday for a two-day conference, where leaders condemned the Trump administration for cutting funding to UNRWA and for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital. David Miliband?

DAVID MILIBAND: Yeah, look, the crisis in Gaza is a subset of the wider Middle Eastern crisis, the wider crisis of what's called the peace process, but there is no peace process in respect of the Palestinian issue. And I was in Gaza in 2012, before I started this job. I went to visit. And the fact that half the population is under the age of 18 is ignored in so much of the coverage. This is a very tightly confined area. I think that there are mechanisms in place to make sure the people don't starve, but that doesn't mean that there isn't grave need there, and also, frankly, grave danger of radicalization, because, for the first time, there are now reports of ISIS organizing in Gaza. And the equation between immiseration and extremism is well documented. And so, both for moral reasons and for strategic reasons, I think this is a misbegotten policy.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what you think is the solution to the refugee crisis.

DAVID MILIBAND: Good. I'm glad to get a chance at that, because it's easy to spend all the time thinking -- 65 million people displaced by conflict and persecution, they're displaced for an average of 10 years, half of them are in urban areas -- and one could almost think that there's just endless suffering and no solutions. In my book, I point out that in addition to the refugee resettlement issue, for the most vulnerable cases, three things are absolutely key for refugee populations.

First, since half of them are kids, have of refugees are kids, education needs to come center stage. Traditionally in the humanitarian sector, education has been seen as a luxury. It gets only 2 percent of global humanitarian funding. Actually, education is a lifeline, not a luxury, for refugee children.

Second, refugees need to be allowed to work. Sixty percent are in urban areas. For the adults, they need the chance to contribute to the societies that they are living in. The countries that are hosting them, though, like Lebanon, Jordan, Kenya, they need international economic support. And organizations like the World Bank need to step up.

Thirdly, the traditional image of a refugee is someone who's been given a tent or a fleece or food. The thing that refugees need more than anything else is cash. They need the ability to participate in the local market economy that they are living in. And some of our work at the International Rescue Committee shows that if you empower refugees, you also bring benefit to the local host community, because, of course, in the countries that are hosting refugees, the local population is under enormous stress, as well. There are towns and cities across the Middle East, across Africa, whose population doubles as a result of a refugee influx. Uganda, a country with only $1,000 per -- income per head, per person, has received a million refugees in the last year. You wouldn't know that. They're not building a wall, but they need support to help encourage those people to be able to contribute to the Ugandan economy.

And it seems to me that if you take seriously the education, the employment, the cash support, you can redesign the humanitarian aid system, so that instead of simply helping people survive from one year to the next, it's actually giving them the chance to lead a dignified life.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the issues that you raised -- you talked earlier about so many refugees come from war-torn countries.

DAVID MILIBAND: Almost, by definition, all of them do. I mean, there's a small number who are persecuted for political reasons, but the vast bulk of the refugee flow is because of wars, in Syria or Somalia or South Sudan.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what about those who vote for war? For example, you were a politician before you were head of the International Rescue Committee, a Labour parliamentarian, MP, in Britain. Didn't you vote to authorize the war in Iraq?

DAVID MILIBAND: I did. And the story of Iraq is a terrible tale. In a phrase, the war was won, but the peace was lost. There were no weapons of mass destruction. I document and I speak very openly about this in the book, without any reservation.

But I think that it's important to understand that the crisis of diplomacy that exists at the moment is real. You know that the Trump administration is proposing to cut 30 percent from the State Department. What did I spend my time doing as foreign minister? I spent my time preventing a war in the Balkans, in the former Yugoslavia. I spent my time trying to stop the slaughter in Sri Lanka, where Tamil residents were caught in the north of the Jaffna Peninsula. There's a crisis of peacemaking that stands at the root of the refugee crisis today. And it seems to me that it's that that we need to speak to, in a very thoroughgoing way.

AMY GOODMAN: If you could cast that vote again?

DAVID MILIBAND: Of course I wouldn't cast it for the -- in the same way. I've said that very publicly and very clearly.

AMY GOODMAN: Right. So talk about that. Talk about what led you to do it and what was the new information you have, what you realize now, and what advice you have to politicians today who are making decisions in these areas.

DAVID MILIBAND: Well, these are hard decisions. In 2003, the main issue for the U.K. Parliament was that there were significant levels of undocumented weapons of mass destruction that the Saddam regime had built up since 1991. Hans Blix, the U.N. inspector, produced a 175-page report documenting the way in which the -- Saddam Hussein's regime had failed to dispose of the weapons of mass destruction that had been developed after 1991. Everyone thought they were there. It turned out they weren't there. So the heart of the mistake was in respect of that -- of that criteria.

I think there's a wider point, too, though, which is that the war in Afghanistan was not over in 2003. And it's still not over today. And it seems to me that there has been a real political failure, both in Afghanistan and in Iraq, in developing institutions that are credible and legitimate institutions for the sharing of political power. And the biggest lesson I draw from the last 20 years is that countries that establish legitimate and credible systems for sharing political power, even in a fragile context -- so, Lebanon would be a good example. Every Lebanese community has a stake in the government. There's not been a census since 1931. It's a very fragile country, but every community has a stake in power. And the country hasn't been at civil war since 1990. The countries that don't establish credible institutions for sharing power -- Afghanistan, Iraq -- those are the ones that fall into failed states.

AMY GOODMAN: But would you say that the greatest driver of the refugee crisis, these wars, the longest war in U.S. history, Afghanistan, and Iraq, are really what broke the Middle East?

DAVID MILIBAND: Well, I think that you would say that there are two things. One, the war in Iraq is certainly part of that. But the drive of Middle Eastern populations, of Arab populations, for accountable government, for decent levels of freedom, those have been the impulses that have propelled Arab youth onto the streets, not just in the Arab Spring, but before, and not just Arab youth. Just to take the Syrian example, there's obviously been a civil war in Syria since 2001 -- in 2011. It started with a boy in Daraa being persecuted, then tortured by his own government. But in 2005, 250 Syrian intellectuals were demanding accountable government.

And I think that there's a danger in thinking all of this comes from Western policy. Don't ignore the people on the receiving end. And the truth about significant parts of the Arab world is the absence of accountable government, the absence of opportunities for women, the absence of opportunities for young people. Remember, 60 percent of the Arab world is under the age of 30. It's the lack of those opportunities that is driving the challenge to government authorities in the region. And you've seen that most recently, remarkably, in Iran.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you describe President Trump as racist and anti-Muslim?

DAVID MILIBAND: Well, I think that the racist statements have been very clear. And I think that the most important thing now is that the voice of America is not simply the voice of President Trump, it's the voice of the millions of people who listen to your show, because around the world -- there's a poll that's out today -- America's reputation has never been lower. I'm not an American; I'm a British citizen, but I live and work here, as you said. And there are -- there's is a side of America that's being lost. And that side is the side that when a refugee comes into a community -- we resettle refugees across America, in 26 cities -- when refugees arrive, in Dallas or in Houston or in San Diego, the American reaction is actually not to spurn them. It's not to build a wall between them and their new neighbor. It's actually to knock on the door and say, "Where are you from? How can I help you? Do you know the way the local schools work? Do you know the way the local health system works? We want to help you." And I think that side of America needs to be heard, because, at the moment, the world is seeing only -- it's seeing another side.

AMY GOODMAN: David Miliband, I want to thank you so much for being with us.

DAVID MILIBAND: Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, former British Labour MP, former British foreign secretary. His new book is Rescue: Refugees and the Political Crisis of Our Time.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor will be talking to us about what she describes as the white power presidency. When she first called President Trump a racist, months ago, in a speech at Mount Holyoke, she got death threats. She continues her charges. Stay with us.

Categories: Latest News

Bernie Sanders: Nobody Will Take Trump's Attempts to Blame Democrats for Shutdown Seriously

Truthout - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 21:00

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks in Toronto, Canada, on October 30, 2017. (Photo: Broadbent Institute / Institut Broadbent)

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As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell adjourned the Senate late Thursday night to prevent a vote on a House spending bill and with President Donald Trump prepared for a mid-day departure for another weekend spent at his Mar-A-Lago estate in Florida, the Republican Party -- try as they might and because they control the White House and Congress -- is having a difficult time trying to pin the blame for a looming government shut down on the Democrats.

While many parsed the blame-game metrics and potential fallout, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) argued it this way:

When Republicans control the Senate, House and White House, and they blame Democrats for the shutdown, I don't think anybody is going to take that seriously.

— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) January 19, 2018

During a floor speech on Thursday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) made a similar argument as she blasted the GOP for making a "mockery" of the country's legislative process. "We're back again for the third short-term spending bill of this fiscal year," Jayapal lamented. "This is no way to govern."

The Republican majority is making a mockery of our legislative process. We're back again for the third short-term spending bill of this fiscal year.

This is no way to govern. Americans deserve #ABetterDeal. pic.twitter.com/gEhu3wXWjB

— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) January 18, 2018

Reporting by Politico painted the US Senate as a chamber in "disarray" where prospects looked "grim" for avoiding a shutdown:

After the GOP House passed a partisan month-long spending bill Thursday, senators in both parties appeared increasingly dug in. A spat on the Senate floor between [McConnell] and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer culminated in the chamber adjourning with no clear path to avoid a shutdown in barely 24 hours.

No vote is scheduled, and the two party leaders spent the night sniping over who's to blame for the impasse. Democrats are demanding protections for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants facing deportation, and Republicans are insisting that government funding not be tied to immigration.

Because Democratic Senators, along with Independents like Sanders and even some Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have said they'll vote against the House bill (a Continuing Resolution known as a CR) it's unclear exactly what will happen when, as remains likely, it gets voted down on Friday.

What remains certain is this, if Congress does not pass a funding bill by midnight Friday, the federal government will shut down.

The possible irony of that timeline, as things currently stand, is that Trump plans to leave Washington, D.C. at 4pm Friday afternoon and head to Mar-A-Lago where he intends to enjoy the weekend and attend a lavish fundraising party meant to celebrate the one-year anniversary of his inauguration.

SHUTDOWN? WHAT SHUTDOWN? On Saturday, the one-year anniversary of his presidency — with the government likely in a partial shutdown — Trump is set to attend a RNC fundraiser marking his first year in office... at Mar-Lago. https://t.co/2PmnuZwFUW

— Ed O'Keefe (@edatpost) January 19, 2018

"This may seem like an extremely inopportune moment," writes Marget Hartmann for the New York magazine, "for the president to be mingling with wealthy donors 1,000 miles away from the White House, especially since he'd need to sign any last-minute deals that Congress comes up with. But according to CNN, the Trump administration has already come up with a potential solution: if an agreement is reached, the president will just send a tweet announcing that everything's cool now."

According to Friday morning's editorial in the New York Times, "One could almost -- but not really -- feel sorry for Republicans. This is a mess President Trump created, and Republicans are tiptoeing around him trying to fashion a temporary fix that he won't demolish with a tantrum or a tweet."

Categories: Latest News

Were You Born in a S—hole Country?

Truthout - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 21:00
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Economic Update: Knowledge, Class and Economics

Truthout - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 21:00

This week's updates on problems and solutions for workplace discrimination, China's ascending economy, capitalism's drive to income and wealth inequalities, economics of immigration's winners and losers, US capitalism and African-Americans. It also features an interview with co-author Prof. Richard McIntyre on his new book, Knowledge, Class and Economics: Marxism Without Guarantees.

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

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Tech Workers of the World, Unite!

Truthout - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 21:00
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In just a handful of years, the tide of blue-collar organizing has risen in Silicon Valley. Security officers and shuttle drivers across tech firms, workers at Tesla's Fremont manufacturing plant and cafeteria workers at Facebook and Yahoo, have united in pursuit of more equitable working conditions.

Such momentum marks a resurgence of working-class solidarity -- a response to the untenable blights of excessive hours, scant-to-nonexistent benefits and pay rates inadequate for even bare necessities. Yet the trend constitutes a mere fraction of organizing efforts necessary for the tech industry. In recent years, Silicon Valley has become home to a movement calling for all rank-and-file members of the tech labor force, including handsomely compensated engineers and other white-collar employees, to view themselves as what they are -- workers -- and organize for the benefit of their communities. 

There are numerous barriers to uniting blue-collar and white-collar workers in Silicon Valley, not least of which is tech executives' tradition of rigorous anti-unionism. This ethos dates back decades, rooted in the counterculture-inflected view that technology would be a democratic, pioneering tool of individual liberation from "big government." Termed the "Californian Ideology" by media theorists Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron in 1995, this philosophy adopted, as Moira Weigel noted last year in The Guardian, tenets of "personal liberty" and "market deregulation" -- that is, the proliferation of free enterprise, unchallenged by workers or governments. These tropes have seeped into the environments of high-tech companies, encouraging individualism and "entrepreneurialism" among white-collar employees.

The ideology appears in ostensibly rosy working environs: pristine buildings, comparatively high salaries, on-site amenities, casual dress codes, internal motivation posters and reminders to do the right thing. Such settings are key to keeping employees content, as business rags observe. The fine print, of course, is that workers will have little desire to confront companies willing to lavish them with luxuries and nurture their enterprising spirits. Unlike their low-wage counterparts, many higher-paid office workers often aren't living under dire economic circumstances -- quite the contrary, in some cases. This gap, in part, explains why the prospect of white-collar organizing among tech workers is a relatively new one.

Yet some white-collar tech workers, particularly programmers and engineers, are recognizing the need for change. Conceived as recently as 2016, activist groups such as Tech Workers Coalition (TWC), Tech Solidarity, and Silicon Valley Rising (SVR) promote tech-worker rights and labor awareness across class lines. TWC organizer Ares Geovanos emphasizes that many white-collar employees don't necessarily view themselves the way their companies goad them to -- an important distinction for fostering worker consciousness. "Does a person working in the marketing department at Google see themselves as an entrepreneur? Probably not," he told In These Times.

Moreover, media portrayals of Silicon Valley professionals are often one-dimensional. The notion that white-collar workers might object to their employers' propaganda and seek a fairer living doesn't exactly pervade mainstream news outlets, which largely concentrate on the most advantaged engineers, Geovanos noted. "The belief among tech workers that they are privileged can prevent them from looking at their grievances, but this is really only true for white male engineers with a degree from a high-profile institution," he said.

Additional targets of such organizing are volatile working conditions and insufficient pay relative to cost of living. Service workers aren't the only members of the tech labor force who work as independent contractors; many IT professionals work at-will, even at flush Silicon Valley firms. White-collar tech employees, too, face the threat of automation with little to no recourse. Consider the mass 2016 firings of Facebook's "Trending" news editorial staff.

What's more, Bay Area software engineers, among the tech sector's most highly paid employees, are often rent-burdened. They must dedicate more than 30 percent of their salaries to live close to where they work -- thanks largely to the gentrification catalyzed by their own employers.

High-tech organizing wouldn't simply benefit engineers and other high-wage workers: It could be a service to users as well. A principle of the Californian Ideology is that technological platforms are apolitical blank slates. However, TWC urges programmers and other professionals to consider and react to the notion that their companies' products are deeply political. To grasp this point, one must only look to Facebook's race-targeted ad platforms or Twitter's censorship of Black activists, among myriad other examples. "You might be working...at Palantir, building a Muslim registry," Geovanos said, referencing the CIA-backed surveillance company. "There might be Muslim people who are working on these things who don't necessarily have the power to speak up at risk of losing their jobs."

For this reason, TWC encourages professionals to consult with their fellow workers about grievances, rather than the corporate custom of airing them to one's manager. "We want people to consider talking to their co-workers first to see what type of agreement there is among the rank-and-file people. And once you establish connections and some affinity with your co-workers … you'll be in a much stronger position to get those demands met," Geovanos said. Modeling this form of collective action, tech employees -- including some from TWC -- have already refused to cooperate and placed pressure on Palantir not to compile the aforementioned registry.

In addition, white-collar professionals who organize can potentially better the lives of those who transport, feed and clean up after them. White- and blue-collar workers in Silicon Valley, as in nearly every industry, are inextricably linked: Every high-tech office job in Silicon Valley generates many more service jobs. As highly specialized builders of platforms used by millions -- if not billions -- of people every day harbor an incredible amount of power. "I think many high-tech execs are much more concerned, much more threatened, by the prospect of white-collar organizing than the traditional service-sector blue-collar work that we're doing," Ben Field, co-founder of Silicon Valley Rising, told In These Times.

Collectively withdrawing labor for political reasons, while rare, isn't unheard of in Silicon Valley. Thanks to the work of grassroots groups, many engineers walked off the job in May in protest of the Trump administration. Yet low-wage contractors in Silicon Valley are often far more vulnerable when taking similar collective action. "We are stronger when we fight together," Geovanos said, "and an organized white-collar workforce would be able to mobilize for other struggles."

Communication between white- and blue-collar workers, then, is imperative to building solidarity. Yet this is no easy task. Though they may work on the same campus, occupational segregation separates classes of workers. Activist organizations are seeking to bridge that gap, emphasizing that all workers share a struggle, regardless of which part of the building they occupy. "People just aren't really used to breaking down those barriers. That's definitely something where we push and encourage," said Geovanos.

"I think there's room for improvement there, but there are certainly many white-collar workers who have engaged with efforts to organize cafeteria workers and Google bus drivers and security officers," Field added. "Also, although they are already organized, the janitors have had a number of big campaigns, one of which was last year. White-collar workers have -- some of them -- been engaged in all of those efforts."

Whatever form this organizing takes, it marks the start of the process of liberating workers from labor that constrains them economically, socially and morally. Tech workers, despite the propagandistic narratives of their employers and the media, can't ignore the politics of the present simply because they're told they're building the future. Now that the momentum of collective action is building, the time is nigh for tech workers across the spectrum to defy the individualism that has long confined them and unite.

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Mini-Nukes Would Promote, Not Deter, the Use of Nuclear Bombs in Conflict

Truthout - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 21:00

Trump and the Pentagon want to build new, smaller nuclear weapons -- purportedly to provide the US military with more palatable alternatives "tailored to deter 21st-century threats." However, history shows why "mini-nukes" will not make the planet safer.

Activists of the non-governmental organization International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons wear masks of Donald Trump and Democratic People's Republic of Korea leader Kim Jon-un while posing with a mock missile in front of the embassy of Democratic People's Republic of Korea in Berlin, on September 13, 2017. (Photo: Britta Pedersen / AFP / Getty Images)

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recently released "pre-decisional draft" of the Pentagon's 2018 Nuclear Posture Review calls for the development of a new generation of "low-yield" nuclear bombs -- weapons that are better known by the endearingly cute sobriquet: "mini-nukes."

According to the Posture Review -- a joint Pentagon/Department of Energy endeavor -- the goal is "to ensure that the United States' nuclear deterrent is modern, robust, flexible, resilient, ready, and appropriately tailored to deter 21st-century threats and reassure our allies."

The Pentagon claims a new line of fashionable, well-tailored mini-nukes would provide the military with "more options" and "greater flexibility." Instead of facing the terrifying specter of engaging in all-out nuclear war with 400-kiloton thermonuclear planet-killers, mini-nukes would free Washington's military planners to whack at its enemies with smaller, more "palatable" blasts of atomic threat that would obliterate practically anything within a mile of Ground Zero.

Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shared this atomic conundrum with a defense industry group in August 2017. "If the only options we have now are to go with high-yield weapons that create a level of indiscriminate killing that the president can't accept," Selva explained, "we haven't provided him with an option."

"Not needed!" anti-nuclear critics reply. Lowering the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons only increases the likelihood of a wider conflict. A mini-nuke here, a mini-nuke there, and sooner than you can say "Armageddon," the world's eight acknowledged nuclear powers (and outliers like Israel) could all be going ballistic.

Besides, as a critique in Roll Call notes, one-third of the Pentagon's current arsenal of atomic weapons is already "low-yield" or are "flexible systems" capable of being "dialed back." The B61, for example, is a nuclear changeling with a blast that can be adjusted from less than a kiloton to a whopping 340 kilotons, while the W80 warheads attached to air-launched cruise missiles can be ratcheted up from five to 150 kilotons

The Pentagon last tried to raise a new crop of mini-bombs back in the days when George W. Bush was in office -- but Congress wouldn't take the bait. There's only one role for nuclear weapons, according to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and that's deterrence. "We cannot, must not, will not ever countenance their actual use." That's the way deterrence is supposed to work: The nukes need to be big enough that everyone remains scared to death of using one. (Ironically, the actual possession of nuclear arsenals has failed to deter other countries from wanting to build their own atomic weapons. Instead of acting as a deterrence, the presence of even a single nuclear weapon invites proliferation.)

Meanwhile, the irrepressible souls at Trump's Defense Science Board (a Pentagon advisory team consisting of retired military/industrial types) are not deterred. In February 2017 they once again raised the prospect of "going small" and, six months on, the vice chair of the Joint Chiefs also climbed aboard the mini-nuke bombwagon.

Fox News joined the pro-mini campaign in November 2017 with an appeal that made the proposed use of mini-nukes appear almost civilized.

"Each mini-nuke could be tailored to the specific, necessary scale of destruction," Fox reporter Allison Barrie rhapsodized. They could "target and annihilate say a square mile -- without the areas outside that mile being hit."

Of course, Barrie conceded, "radiation and other related threats would still expand well beyond the blast radius." But, not to worry: the resulting atomic blast would be "far more restrained" and "variable-yield mini-nukes could potentially provide more flexibility and options."

True, Barrie notes, a 100-kiloton-baby-bomb blast could "potentially destroy a city," but not, mind you, in an irresponsible way. With an "adjustable mini-nuke," the US could "discriminate by specifically targeting perpetrators and reducing civilian casualties."

The suggestion that a single malevolent "perpetrator" could be taken out by a well-placed mini-nuke may have been a bit hard for even Fox to swallow. Barrie quickly proposed a substitute scenario: "Rather than unleashing a nuclear weapon that could kill a country's entire population" Barrie wrote, "Trump would have the option to use a tailored mini-nuke to target a dangerous military installation instead."

Politico notes that modern nuclear weapons, like the W88 warheads attached to sub-launched missiles, are capable of delivering a serious 475-kiloton atomic punch. (The warhead that North Korea detonated in September 2017 reportedly weighed in at 140 kilotons.) But back in the early Wild West days of nuclear bomb-slinging, the Pentagon already had a host of small-arms weaponry at its disposal.

These early mini-nukes included a nuclear artillery shell dubbed the "Honest John" and a bazooka-fired atomic bomblet called the "Davy Crockett," with an explosive equivalent of 10-20 kilotons.

And then there were the Pentagon's hush-hush "atomic demolition munitions." These atomic devices were so small that an Army soldier could walk one behind enemy lines stuffed inside his backpack. "It was a very heavy backpack," Pentagon Weaponeer Philip Coyle told Politico. "You wouldn't want to carry them very far."

So why is there a new budget-busting mega push for mini-nukes? The answer is the same as the reason behind the Obama/Trump call for "modernizing" the US nuclear arsenal -- at a cost of $1 trillion over the next 30 years.

"This is nuclear pork disguised as nuclear strategy," Joe Cirincione, president of the antiwar Ploughshares Fund, told Politico. "This is a jobs program for a few government labs and a few contractors.... It would lower the threshold for nuclear use. It would make nuclear war more likely. It comes from the illusion that you could use a nuclear weapon and end a conflict on favorable terms. Once you cross the nuclear threshold, you are inviting a nuclear response."

And now we come to the strongest argument of all for shunning the charlatans of mini-nukery. It involves the claim that detonating these smaller weapons -- with an explosive range of 10-20 kilotons -- would somehow represent a lessening of damage and a lowering of the risks of a wider nuclear war.

Yes, a "mini-nuke" with a blast profile of 10-20 kilotons would be a lot less destructive than the 15,000-kiloton Castle Bravo device the Pentagon detonated over the Marshall Islands in 1954. But there is another critical comparison that puts the whole "mini-nuke" argument into a new light:

Hiroshima, Japan, was destroyed by a single 15-kiloton bomb. Yes, a "mini-nuke."

Categories: Latest News

Recriminalizing Cannabis Is Worse Than 1930s "Reefer Madness"

Truthout - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 21:00
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In the 1930s, parents across the US were panicked. A new documentary, "Reefer Madness," suggested that evil marijuana dealers lurked in public schools, waiting to entice their children into a life of crime and degeneracy. 

The documentary captured the essence of the anti-marijuana campaign started by Harry Anslinger, a government employee eager to make a name for himself after Prohibition ended. Ansligner's campaign demonized marijuana as a dangerous drug, playing on the racist attitudes of white Americans in the early 20th century and stoking fears of marijuana as an "assassin of youth." 

Over the decades, there's been a general trend toward greater social acceptance of marijuana by a more educated society, seeing the harm caused by the prohibition of marijuana. But then, on Jan. 4, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era memorandum suggesting federal agents should let states regulate control of marijuana and focus their efforts on other drugs.

Re-criminalizing marijuana in light of current research findings, including my own research of more than 15 years, makes Sessions' proposed crackdown on legal marijuana look worse than reefer madness. 

Researchers like myself, who regularly talk with people who are actively using hard drugs, know that legal cannabis can actually reduce the harmful effects of other drugs.

Reefer Madness

Re-criminalizing marijuana is a decision that makes little sense unless we consider the motives. History can shed some light here.

Media mogul William Randolph Hearst supported the criminalization of marijuana, in part because Hearst's paper-producing companies were being replaced by hemp. Likewise, DuPont's investment in nylon was threatened by hemp products. 

Anslinger's tactics included racist accusations linking marijuana to Mexican immigrants. His campaign included stories of urban black men who enticed young white women to become sex-crazed and instantly addicted to marijuana.

Anslinger's campaign succeeded beyond his aims. His fearmongering was based more on fiction than on facts, but it made him head of the Bureau of Narcotics for 30 years. The social construction of cannabis as one of the most dangerous drugs was completed in 1970, when marijuana was classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning it had high potential for abuse and no acceptable medical use. 

Almost 50 years later, the classification remains and Anslinger's views endure among many policymakers and Americans. 

Spurious Relationships

Today, marijuana critics often cite studies that show a connection between marijuana use and a host of negative outcomes, like use of harder drugs, criminality and lower IQ. Anslinger used the same tactics to incite fear. 

But a correlation does not mean a causation. Some of these studies used flawed scientific methods or relied on false assumptions.

One popular myth, which started in Ansligner's campaign and continues today, is that marijuana is a gateway to heroin and other opioids. Despite research dispelling this as a causal connection, opponents of marijuana legalization continue to call marijuana a "gateway drug."

Studies on the brains of long-term marijuana users suggested a link between marijuana use and lower IQ. But later investigation showed that low IQ might actually be caused by smaller orbitofrontal cortices in the brains of children. Children with smaller prefrontal cortices are significantly more likely to start using marijuana early in life than those with larger prefrontal cortices.

One well-designed study that looked at marijuana use and brain development on adolescent twins over 10 years found no measurable link between marijuana use and lower IQ.

In a review of 60 studies on medical marijuana, over 63 percent found positive effects for debilitating diseases -- such as multiple sclerosis, bipolar disorder, Parkinson's disease and pain -- while less than 8 percent found negative health effects. 

The most harmful effect of criminalizing marijuana may not be its restriction on medical uses, but its devastating cost to American society, which experienced a 500 percent increase in incarceration due to the war on drugs.

The Portugal Experiment

The tragedy in this policy is that decriminalizing drugs has shown to lower drug use -- not increase it.

In 2000, Portugal had one of the worst drug problems in Europe. Then, in 2001, a new drug policy decriminalized all drugs. Drug control was taken out of the criminal justice system and put under the Ministry of Health. 

Five years after Portugal's decriminalization, drug use by young people was down. Teenagers between the ages of 16 and 18, for example, were 27.6 percent less likely to use drugs. What's more, the number of people going to treatment went up, while drug-related deaths decreased. 

Fifteen years later, Portugal still had lower rates of heroin and cocaine seizures, and lower rates of drug-related deaths, compared to the rest of Europe. Cannabis use in Portugal is now the lowest among all European countries. Moreover, Portugal's policy change contributed to a reduced number of drug addicts with HIV. 

The "Portugal Experiment" shows what happens when we take an honest look at a serious societal drug issue. Taking a tactic used by Anslinger, opponents of marijuana legalization claim it will lead to more use by young people. However, in states that legalized medical marijuana, use by young people did not increase or even went down. Recent data show that use of marijuana by teens decreased even in states that legalized marijuana for recreational use.

As the US battles an opioid epidemic, states where marijuana is legal have seen fewer deaths from opioid overdose.

More studies are finding medical marijuana patients were using marijuana as a substitute for pain pills. After a medical marijuana law was passed, use of prescription medication for which marijuana could serve as a clinical alternative fell significantly.

Faced with a deadly opioid epidemic, more of the medical establishment is beginning to acknowledge the potential of marijuana as a safer therapy for pain than opioids.

Listening to Those Who Are Suffering

In my own field research, I've conducted hundreds of interviews with people who used heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and other really dangerous drugs. Most of them used drugs to address social isolation, and emotional or physical pain, which led to addiction. They often told me that they used marijuana to help them stop using more problematic drugs or to reduce the side effects of withdrawing. 

"In a lot of ways, that was my sanity," said a young man who had stopped all drugs but cannabis. 

Marijuana became a gateway out of heroin, cocaine, crack and other more deadly drugs. 

While the Institute of Medicine released a report in 1999 suggesting the development of medically useful cannabinoid-based drugs, the American Medical Association has largely ignored or dismissed subsequent studies on the benefits of cannabis.

Today, in many states, people can use marijuana to treat illnesses and pain, reduce withdrawal symptoms, and combat cravings for more addictive drugs. They can also choose to use cannabis oil or a variety of healthier ways than smoking for consuming cannabis. This freedom may be jeopardized by a return to criminal marijuana.

Worse Than "Reefer Madness"

Almost a century after Anslinger's campaign, "Reefer Madness" is mocked in the media for its flagrant propaganda, and Anslinger's influence on drug policy is shown as an example of government corruption. The ignorance and naiveté of "Reefer Madness" is seen as a bygone era.

So we have to ask, what kind of people want to re-criminalize cannabis today? What are their motives? Who profits from continuing to incarcerate people for using marijuana? Whose power will be diminished when a drug that has so many health benefits is provided without a prescription?

Miriam Boeri receives funding from the National Institutes of Health.

Categories: Latest News

Consenting to Normal

Truthout - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 21:00

In the #MeToo moment, the policing of those who speak up about varying forms of sexual violence and harm persists: the good victim/bad victim and real victim/fake victim paradigms have not gone away, they have merely shifted.

Women attend a #metoo rally infant of the Trump International Hotel on December 9, 2017, in Columbus Circle, New York City. (Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein / Corbis via Getty Images)

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In the #MeToo moment, the policing of those who speak up about varying forms of sexual violence and harm remains: The good victim/bad victim, real victim/fake victim paradigm has not gone away; it has merely shifted. And even then, not by much.

The significance of #MeToo was that it highlighted how so many of us have been affected by different forms of sexual violence, rupturing the notion that sexual violence only happens between a small and silent minority. It showed how deeply sexual violence is embedded into so many different interactions, workplaces, industries and our culture as a whole, operating in plain sight all along. While many already knew this through personal experience, it has still been a noteworthy time because of how publicly many survivors have been sharing their stories and demanding to be heard. However, while many claim to support the sentiments expressed by #MeToo, some remain steadfast in the belief that in order for sexual violence to count, it must be exceptionally and violently clear-cut. It must be real sexual violence, real rape, real rapists, real victims: otherwise, it's a distraction, a watering-down, an appropriation, opportunism, a lack of personal responsibility, attention-seeking, or inauthentic.

Over the last week I've seen people writing that "Grace" and her account of her experiences with Aziz Ansari "cheapen" the #MeToo movement and what actual rape victims go through. It was just a bad date that she regretted. Why didn't she just leave then? I've heard people say that she didn't know what she wanted, but after the fact, was unhappy with what she got. I've also been seeing people say that because they believe Grace is white, her narrative is one of privilege and is therefore, suspect (a position I find harmful, not because I care what race she is, but because I find it disingenuous towards women of color -- the underlying assumptions being that women of color are loyal to men of color and only victimized by white men, and don't, or shouldn't, feel hurt or overreact to "normal" bad experiences because they aren't "privileged" enough to experience a range of sexual violations). Lastly, I've been reading that though Ansari's actions were obnoxious and perhaps oblivious, they are otherwise unremarkable and do not constitute any sort of crime.

These lines of thought are not new, nor is the desire to frame sexual violence as something of absolute binaries (rape or not rape, real or not real, criminal or not criminal) which must then be followed by absolute punishments. In the mainstream, "real" sexual violence often needs to be proven through a deeply unjust legal system or multiple forms of incontrovertible evidence. Then, it must be brought to "justice" by criminalization and/or complete exile (usually incarceration). This framework is reflected in the largely pro-criminalization approach that the anti-domestic and sexual violence movements have adopted over the past four decades, in which some feminists have chosen partnerships with police and district attorneys (often at the cost of criminalized survivors of violence) to pour efforts and resources into a primarily legal and systems-based strategy around combating gender violence. The legal/binary frame of sexual violence assumes that all real forms of sexual violence or harm must be immediately legible as crimes, and therefore be treated as such. (And if it is not legible as a crime, then it must not be real sexual violence, or even very harmful at all.)

This framework, which is one of the primary ways that people understand sexual violence today, produces incredibly high stakes for sexual assault survivors, who are burdened with not only the violence they've experienced, but also all the consequences of what happens (or doesn't happen) to their perpetrator if they choose to tell anyone. Is it their fault if the person who harmed them is legally, socially or financially impacted, criminalized, locked up, deported, or otherwise harmed? If the perpetrator is well-loved, then yes, because that person deserves another chance, they didn't mean it, it wasn't that bad anyway, they're a breadwinner for their family, they're a good person at heart and just made one mistake -- whereas the accuser is painted as a slut, a homewrecker, vindictive, jealous, weak, not a real victim, and only out for revenge or money. On the other hand, is it the survivor's fault if the person who harmed them goes on to violate others? Still, yes, because they are seen as bearing the responsibility for future victims, because they "knew" and are therefore seen as complicit if they don't act, even if they are a victim. While many survivors often want some kind of acknowledgement, apology or reparations for what their perpetrators did, most survivors are assaulted by people they know -- which often means that many are reluctant to speak out, not only out of fear of being disbelieved but also because they may be afraid of causing their perpetrator's ruin (and the backlash that could follow). This dynamic can be compounded in marginalized communities that already face stigma and policing. (However, of course, the fact remains that most sexual assault cases go unprosecuted and only a very small minority of people will ever be convicted, which raises questions about how this system is working even by its own standards.)

There is an immense amount of pressure for survivors to be the right kind of victim with the right kind of assault story and all the right kind of evidence, because the punishments that follow must also be harsh and absolute. In this paradigm, there is little room for cases where survivors want safety and accountability without criminalization or social isolation, and little room for people who may want accountability for sexual harm that they themselves may not identify as sexual assault or rape. In spite of how varied the experiences of sexual violence and harm can be, the collective responses that we currently have remain painfully limited. As Native organizer and writer Kelly Hayes says, "We exceptionalize both 'good' and 'bad' people to spare ourselves the labor of interrogating normalcy -- the very space in which most harm occurs." Our sense of "normalcy" that Kelly refers to is predicated on that which should not be normalized -- the acceptance of everyday forms of sexual violence, coercion and harm. This larger context creates strong incentive for everyone to not label their experiences, even when they are violent or harmful. And it is from this place that minimization, denial and normalization are exceedingly common for many who've experienced these things.

I won't parse through the details of Grace's story, nor will I spend time refuting all the bad takes recently published by The Atlantic or The New York Times (though some have done so here and here. South Asian feminist and organizer Darakshan Raja also shares her thoughts here as well). However, I do want to question what it might mean to actually contend with sexual violence and harm at its most "normal," as opposed to a spectacular mission to measure and contain monstrosity: specifically in our discourse around consent.

Affirmative consent, which is often discussed as the main remedy for normalized sexual violence and harm, is increasingly also used as the metric for determining what is and isn't legitimate sexual practice, or what is and isn't legitimate sexual violence and harm. (There is even an app being developed to create consent contracts for hookups.) However, I don't believe that consent is the most helpful point of entry into thinking about the pervasive, insidious and "normal" ways that sexual violence, coercion and pressure operate. I may not have all the words for this yet, but I believe that there is much more to safety, dignity and respect in sex than to agreements and permission. In addition, sexual assault and coercion, as well as many instances of sexual harm, are not simply a result of people failing to recognize the signs of when someone is uncomfortable or afraid. It's pushing forward in spite of them.

"Consent" is easier to establish than a relationship of mutual respect, honesty, vulnerability and safety, and the first doesn't entail the second. It can be a missing piece, but is not the entire picture when many of us "consent" to receiving sexual violence, harm, coercion or pressure out of sheer exhaustion or trauma response (which includes freezing and dissociating) -- or "consent" in order to survive, lessen the risk of increased violence, minimize social fallout and preserve important relationships. Many of us, especially when we are younger, say "yes" thinking that it will be the only way to make it stop eventually. Sometimes one gives consent, even when they are being treated poorly, from a place of fear, shame, confusion, obligation, or disbelief about what is really happening in the moment for them. Like many of the women and queers I know, I too have stories of what I've struggled to name but secretly labeled "low-grade sexual violence" for myself because "consent" was there so it technically wasn't, couldn't have been, a violation. Understating harm (during and after) is our normal, and sometimes consent discourse obscures how insidiously sexual violence can operate. What is the value of consent -- and who benefits from this value -- when "consensual" sex can still be extremely dehumanizing and traumatic? Sometimes, people don't know how to support others around these situations because they were "consensual" -- but is the framework of consent the only way to understand harm? Verbal contracts and lessons in sexual etiquette aside, it seems that many people (particularly men, and people of all genders who do not treat their sexual partners well) often view negotiations of consent as ways to navigate liability or blame. What if instead, the conversations started with our humanity as women, queers, and people, first, and what we thought it meant to honor that? Not all sex will ever be guaranteed to be good, fulfilling or fun, but it shouldn't have to feel like we are being pressured, or like it is exhausting, humiliating, traumatic, or scary because we aren't being respected or truly seen.

Acknowledging that we can and often are harmed even in consensual sexual experiences, in "normal" sexual experiences, is not a cowardly attempt to shift blame, manipulate everyone, avoid responsibility and perpetually live as a victim, as some may imply. Rather, it is a practice in describing the oft-overlooked conditions of our sexual lives, giving voice to that feeling that something is not right, and moving towards reckoning with the far-reaching impacts of living in a world where sexual violence is the norm. In a different time or place, perhaps it would have been much easier for Grace to get up and leave. But perhaps we can re-write the story this way, as well: Aziz and Grace go on a date. They go back to his place intending to chill and possibly hook up. Aziz wants to move faster than she does, and realizes quickly that Grace seems hesitant. Maybe she says no, let's slow down. Maybe she says let's relax, let's chill. He accepts, respects what she says and stops. Asks her if she wants some water or tea. Says it's cool not to do anything else, and means it. Maybe they briefly check in about expectations. Maybe he still wants sex but they part ways for the night. Or maybe he still wants sex and when she's more comfortable, she initiates again. Things may stop and start then stop again, they may get awkward, but they don't feel terrible and violating. And it isn't the worst night of Grace's life. This is one version of what could have been, and I wonder, why is it that in so many purportedly "feminist" opinions and re-writings, Ansari's actions remain unchanged, while Grace is the one who must be stronger, better, smarter, faster? Even these "feminist" imaginings of a better night for Grace hinge on this type of normal, where it is said to be her fault that she chose -- or "consented" (in spite of her different "no's") -- to feel violated and traumatized. #MeToo, they seem to say, but not like that. Not like her.

If everyone, especially women, girls and queers, always felt empowered to speak how they truly felt, had the language and experiential knowledge and skill for interrupting dynamics that felt bad, that would be wonderful. I hope that for myself, and learning how to be my own best advocate has been a necessary, difficult, and healing process for me. It has involved learning and unlearning many things about how I relate to myself and the world around me. However, the question of "agency" in our world is one that is often marred and complicated by power dynamics, societal misogyny and prescriptive gender roles, our individual experiences with our communities and families, past relationships, old and new trauma, the histories of our bodies, and sexual partners that push, cajole, repeatedly insist, try and try again in eighty different ways, and finally take consent and sometimes have sex with a body that stops responding.

What would it look like to open up our imaginations beyond all this? Perhaps it begins with seeing and truly engaging with the reality of endemic sexual violence in our society, which can take many different forms. It can grow more concrete as we meet people who have been harmed with compassion and generosity. It can become sharper as we challenge misogyny, as well as the gender norms that say men are all this way, therefore women are all this way, and queer and trans people don't belong here. It can become more strategic as we realize that individualizing a structural problem into monsters we can banish will change little but the face of the problem. It can mature as we develop more responses to sexual violence that do not minimize impact, and also do not need to rely on punishment, isolation or the failed strategies of criminalization that disproportionately harm Black, immigrant and Native communities. People all over the country are already doing this work. It is small and imperfect, but it is growing.

Categories: Latest News

I Stood Up to ICE, and now They're Trying to Deport Me

Truthout - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 21:00

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has become a political repression agency seekng to chill free expression and silence immigrant advocates by using its powers to intimidate and deport those who speak out.  

"After years of defending others, I am now the one in need of defense. ICE seeks to chill free expression and silence immigrant advocates by using its deportation powers to intimidate and deport me and those I support." (Photo courtesy of Maru Mora Villalpando)

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When I imagined US immigration authorities coming for me, I never thought it would be by certified mail. And yet this is how it happened -- a few days before Christmas, a knock on my door led to the delivery of a letter, informing me that I was being placed in deportation proceedings.

My daughter, who opened the letter, started to cry. I immediately saw this for what it was: their way of trying to intimidate me. I felt a mix of emotions, but mostly I felt angry.

I've no doubt that my political activity in support of immigrants held in detention centers has made me a target. And I'm not the only activist who has been targeted in this way.

I have dedicated my life to the fight for immigrant justice, demanding an end to detention and deportation. None of the usual triggers for deportation -- contact with the police, raids, prior deportations -- apply in my case. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement only knows about me because of my political work.

With the letter delivered to my house, ICE has officially made the leap from a law enforcement agency to a political repression agency -- crossing a line that should concern us all. After years of defending others, I am now the one in need of defense. ICE seeks to chill free expression and silence immigrant advocates by using its deportation powers to intimidate and deport me and those I support.

The decision to come out as undocumented in 2014 was not an easy choice for me to make. But the record deportations under the Obama administration led my US-born daughter and me to the conclusion that being silent and closeted about my lack of lawful status was no longer an option for us.

On a rainy morning in February of 2014, I locked myself to other activists outside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington -- the largest immigrant detention center on the West Coast. We were part of the #not1more movement pushing President Obama to stop his record deportations through a series of actions shutting down ICE facilities. That day I came out as an undocumented activist; we risked arrest and succeeded in stopping deportations -- if only for a day. And, our actions helped inspire those imprisoned inside the detention center to start a hunger strike, joining our protest with their own.

Two weeks after our shut-down action, over 1,200 people detained at the NWDC began refusing meals, launching the first in a series of hunger strikes that have since roiled the facility. In response, I helped found NWDC Resistance, a grassroots group that seeks to support and amplify the organizing efforts against ICE led by those detained in ICE facilities. The hunger strikes have not stopped -- there were nine hunger strikes at the NWDC between April and November of last year alone.

I receive an average of 20 phone calls a day from people detained, and have helped coordinate the protests inside with the resistance work we are doing on the outside. This is my life's calling -- to work alongside those detained to expose the cruelty of detention and deportation and support liberation and real justice for all.

Our efforts have borne fruit: From the local to the national level, government officials have been forced to take notice. Two members of Washington State's congressional delegation have introduced federal legislation to reform detention, echoing the demands of the hunger strikers in their proposals.

And last year, Washington State's attorney general sued the GEO Group, the private prison corporation that owns and runs the NWDC alongside ICE. The press conference announcing the lawsuit specifically cited the hunger strikes as the inspiration for the Attorney General's efforts to end the abusive practice of paying detained immigrants only $1 per day for their work inside the facility. The NWDC has gone from an ignored facility in an out-of-the-way location to a key site of local resistance, with weekly rallies and vigils outside its gates.

Perhaps because of our effectiveness, ICE's retaliation has been fierce; those immigrants who dare to challenge ICE while detained have faced solitary confinement, threats of forced feeding, forced transfers to other facilities far from their families and attorneys, and even deportation. And now the retaliation has struck home, with ICE targeting my family, menacing me with deportation, and expecting me to slow down my activism and my defense of those detained by threatening me with the same fate.

And yet if this last year has taught me anything, it is this: Continued resistance, in the face of growing repression, is our only choice. We are coming up on the one-year anniversary of the Trump regime taking power. It is one year since the Obama administration handed the keys to the enormous machinery of detention and deportation over to a group of people with openly xenophobic, white supremacist ambitions.

In that year, ICE has fully transitioned to becoming Trump's police force. But "resistance" was part of our group's name even before Trump took office. Last month, because of my active resistance, the US government came for me. I will continue my struggle so that tomorrow they don't come for you.

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Progressive Leaders Call on DNC for Bold Leadership on Abortion

Commondreams - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 10:51
Progress Michigan

A coalition of progressive leaders from across the country called on the Democratic National Committee to boldly support abortion rights in a letter issued today to DNC members. The letter was signed by executive directors from 18 affiliates of ProgressNow, a network of independent state-based advocacy organizations, and urged party leaders to not compromise on abortion policy.

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Trump Administration Undermines Independent Science Advice

Commondreams - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 10:13
Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)

The advisory committees that federal agencies rely on for independent, expert scientific advice, are, by several measures, in the worst shape since the government began tracking them more than 20 years ago, according to the report “Abandoning Science Advice: One Year In, the Trump Administration Is Sidelining Science Advisory Committees” released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

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Lawsuit Filed to Save North Atlantic Right Whales From Death in Fishing Gear

Commondreams - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 09:59
Center for Biological Diversity

Conservation and animal-protection groups today sued the National Marine Fisheries Service for failing to prevent critically endangered North Atlantic right whales from becoming ensnared by lobster trap lines and other commercial fishing gear.

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TLC Condemns Illegal HHS Rule Granting ‘License to Discriminate’

Commondreams - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 09:55
Transgender Law Center (TLC)

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under the Trump-Pence administration announced a new rule to allow medical providers to illegally discriminate against patients based on who they are, as long as the providers cite religion. Transgender Law Center, the largest national trans-led organization advocating self-determination for all people, issued the following statement from executive director Kris Hayashi:

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In Advance of Trump’s March for Life Speech, NARAL Releases Unprecedented New Report to Expose Key Anti-Choice Actors, Their Ties to Trump, and Their Dangerous Actions

Commondreams - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 09:46
NARAL Pro-Choice America

Today, the day before Donald Trump’s March for Life appearance, NARAL Pro-Choice America is releasing a new, comprehensive, opposition research report

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Energy Storage Revolution Poised To Expedite America's Transition To Clean Energy

Commondreams - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 08:36
Environment America

People have known for decades that solar and wind energy are cleaner and healthier than energy produced by fossil fuels. But utilities and consumers have sometimes expressed concerns about the variability and dependability of these renewable energy sources. Those concerns are starting to fade with the emergence of game-changing energy storage technologies.

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2017: Warmest Year Without El Nino Effect On Record

Commondreams - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 08:08
Friends of the Earth

Reacting to Met Office figures showing that globally 2017 was the hottest year ever recorded without the extra warming El Nino effect and overall the third hottest year on record, after 2016 and 2015, Friends of the Earth Scotland Climate Campaigner Caroline Rance, said:

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US: Trump’s First Year Sets Back Rights

Commondreams - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 07:34
Human Rights Watch (HRW)

The first year of US President Donald Trump’s administration was marked by a sharp regression in government efforts to protect and promote a range of human rights, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2018. The Trump administration made policy changes that have harmed refugees and immigrants, undermined police accountability for abuse, and rolled back women’s rights, including access to important health services.

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The Trump Administration's Attacks on Public Lands and Waters Will Cause Irreparable Harm

Truthout - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 06:53

The designation of a national monument protects the land from drilling, fracking, mining, logging -- protection not afforded to the majority of public land, says Randi Spivak of the Center for Biological Diversity. Spivak discusses why the largest delisting of protected federal lands in US history will harm species, waters and exacerbate climate change.

Grand Staircase-Escalante, New Mexico. (Photo: Bureau of Land Management)

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In December, Trump announced that he would shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah by 85 percent and 46 percent respectively. The announcement came after Trump had ordered Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in April to review 27 national monuments created since 1996 that were 100,000 acres or larger, and Zinke subsequently recommended that these and other monuments be reduced.

Trump's move represents the largest delisting of protected federal lands in US history, removing 2 million acres from national monument status. It's a clear break with practice of previous presidents, especially over the past several decades, who have largely expanded or created new monuments that set aside land for protection under authority of the 1906 Antiquities Act. The Act provides for presidents to establish national monuments to protect "historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated on land owned or controlled by the Federal Government."

Trump's move represents the largest delisting of protected federal lands in US history.

As a result of this decision by the Trump regime, tens of thousands of acres in both Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante that contain magnificent Native cultural artifacts, archaeological sites precious to the cultural life of six tribes and rich deposits of dinosaur fossils have been removed from national monument protection. The move by Trump, despite claims from both Trump and Zinke, opens the possibility for fossil fuel and uranium extraction on these lands, and the building of new roads, off-road vehicle use, and expansion of grazing and other practices that threaten real harm to these natural wonders. The decision also completely rejected the public comments of more than 2 million people who overwhelmingly supported maintaining the monuments as they were. Zinke arrogantly rejected these expressed viewpoints, saying, "I don't bow to public pressure," while simultaneously justifying the review and ultimately the decision to shrink the monuments, claiming the original proclamations to establish them had been "made without public consultation."

In his final report to Trump, Zinke also recommended slicing the size of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument on the border of Oregon and California, as well as the Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada. Cascade-Siskiyou was established in 2000 and expanded in 2017 by Obama. In supporting a call for its expansion in 2015, ecologists and biologists who had studied the region described it as an "ecological wonder" that is "home to a spectacular variety of rare and beautiful species of plants and animals, whose survival in this region depends upon its continued ecological integrity" Scientists specifically cited the need to preserve the biodiversity in the face of increased threat from climate change.

Zinke also pushed for changing the management rules for six other national monuments, including three marine monuments that would remove protected status and very likely open them to exploitation by commercial fisheries at a critical time of decline of ocean life.

Five different lawsuits have been filed against Trump, et al over slashing Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. One of the lawsuits to defend Bears Ears was filed by the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and Zuni Tribe, all of whom have a deep connection to the land and history in the region. Shaun Chapoose of the Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee said in a statement announcing the lawsuit, "The Bears Ears region is a cultural landscape -- a place to nurture our families in our traditions. It's a sad state of affairs when the president of this great nation shows manifest disregard for our history and culture as a people, but we are prepared to fight for our rights and to protect Bears Ears." Earthjustice has filed lawsuits on behalf of eight environmental, wildlife and public lands protection groups to protect Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Even the outdoor clothing company Patagonia has joined lawsuits.

Normal management of public lands [is] heavily skewed toward extractive industries and many other destructive uses.

Randi Spivak is public lands program director for the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), and spoke with Truthout about Trump's decision, as well as the larger environmental stakes of the battle over public lands. CBD is one of the groups actively leading a movement to protect public lands, and a complainant in the lawsuits.

Curtis Johnson: Trump and Zinke have claimed the gutting of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments was done to allow local people to control their own land and to redress years of "overreach" by federal bureaucracy. They've claimed that the archaeological and artistic treasures of Bears Ears and fossils in Grand Staircase-Escalante would still be protected because the lands won't be literally handed over to the states or private interests. How do you see that and how would you respond to that line of argument?

Randi Spivak: Let's be clear: these are [the US's] public lands; they belong to everyone from the citizens of Utah, to New Jersey to North Carolina. This has nothing to do with state's rights. These lands have always been federal public lands. Read the law Congress enacted making Utah a state and Utah's own Constitution -- or that of any Western state. Each includes language forever disclaiming any interests in federal lands within state boundaries.

As far as claims that the lands are still protected, slashing protections from 2 million acres of land leaves a lot unprotected. In Bears Ears, 56,000 archaeological sites will no longer have protection. And the same goes for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Each monument proclamation was carefully mapped and vetted, so cutting any amount -- whether it's an archaeological treasure or Native American sacred site -- will now be at risk by stripping those protections.

So, following up on that, Zinke has said all these areas will still be federal lands, and so there are still laws against taking out Native art and so forth. Can you tell us a little about if these things are protected as national monuments versus just federal lands?

While these lands will still be publicly owned, the current laws don't provide the kinds of protections that come with national monument status. Normal management of public lands [is] heavily skewed toward extractive industries and many other destructive uses. About 90 percent of Bureau of Land Management lands are open to oil and gas drilling; over 90 percent of all public lands are open to livestock grazing. And on most public lands, you can drive off-road vehicles.

Proclaiming a national monument usually means that the area is no longer open to new drilling, fracking and mining. We know that oil and gas companies have expressed interest in portions of Bears Ears that the president has stripped of protections, and that a uranium company, Energy Fuels Resources, urged the Trump administration to reduce Bears Ears and hired a team of lobbyists to press their interest.

Another aspect of the kinds of protections that national monuments provide for archeological sites, ancestral ruins or sensitive habitat is motorized vehicles that are limited to designated roads. Each monument has a management plan developed with public input that identifies the designated roads. Stripping protections will mean more people driving machines across sensitive streams and washes, through treasured architectural sites and despoiling sacred areas.

It was interesting that in the announcement, Zinke and Trump tried to stay away from talking about extraction but focused on hunting and fishing, which was clear were already allowed in the monuments. You know they kept talking about wanting to make sure hunting and fishing are going to continue to be allowed....

That's an outright lie. None of the monuments Zinke wants to gut restrict hunting or sport fishing. All of them leave hunting and fishing regulations up to state wildlife agencies. National monuments are open for everyone in the world to explore, and the only way to "lock up" public land is to auction it off for drilling, fracking, mining and logging.

Trump is looking to boost fossil fuel extraction and reward his billionaire industry cronies.

But Zinke's recommendations to Trump do call for stripping protections for three marine national monuments -- Rose Atoll, Pacific Remote Islands and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts. Marine monuments prohibit or phase out commercial fishing to protect a wide range of marine life -- including fish, turtles, whales, dolphins and coral reefs -- from overfishing [and] harmful practices such as bottom trawling. Studies have shown that protected areas are a boon to the fishing industry because the no-commercial-fishing monument protections enable healthy fish populations to swell and then swim outside of protected areas into commercial zones where they can be fished.

What do you think this monument decision indicates about what Trump and the rest are planning for public lands and waters in general? Zinke has already recommended in addition to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, two other national monuments should be shrunk and rules governing management of six others be changed. How do you see the stakes of this? Where are they going with this whole effort?

Unfortunately, Trump will probably follow Zinke's recommendations that would shrink the boundaries for two other monuments in Oregon and Nevada, and reduce protections through management changes for national monuments in New Mexico, Maine and for three marine monuments. I think it's about two things. First Trump continues play to his narrow political base. Bears Ears was all about Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) whispering in Trump's ear to "do something," and he did. And it's the same thing with Greg Walden (R-Oregon) and the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Walden wants to reward the logging industry by opening up these lands to heavy logging.

Under the guise of "energy dominance," Trump is looking to open up our public lands and oceans to the fossil fuel industry to get every drop of oil, gas and coal that they can and remove protective regulations for our air, climate, wildlife, waters and lands that stand in the way. Their road map is clear.

So, these decisions from Trump on the environment are coming in a roll. The same week they made this decision on the monuments, Trump announced he's opening the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans for drilling. Then this new tax bill is passed, opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling. So how does the monument decision connect to the whole picture of what the Trump regime is doing to the environment?

Trump is looking to boost fossil fuel extraction and reward his billionaire industry cronies. The battle over national monuments is no different, but is one of many battles to conserve [the US's] public lands for this and future generations.

Trump is a climate denier. He's withdrawing the US from the global climate change accord; overturning the Clean Power Plan's attempt to make power plants more efficient; expanding offshore drilling into every ocean off [the US's] coasts, even overturning offshore drilling safety regulations adopted after the Deepwater Horizon disaster; [he] has done away with Obama's landmark ban on mining federal coal propping up the dying coal industry. The Trump administration even asked the fossil fuel industry what federal regulations they consider to be a burden to them, and increasingly we've seen the Trump administration attempt to hide fracking damage on public lands. The Bureau of Land Management, responsible for oil and gas drilling on public lands, is basically sidestepping the law and is increasingly not requiring any analysis or public disclosure of harm from fracking to communities, wildlife, climate, land and water. It's a de facto reversal of Obama-era reforms, which increased transparency and environmental review before approving lease auctions.

The thing that really hits me, and I haven't seen it talked about so much, is the impact and the stakes of everything you're talking about at a time when we're already in an escalating crisis of climate change and general environmental decline. For instance, a recent study showing  global populations of vertebrates on pace to decline by 67 percent from 1970 levels by 2020, and scientific study after study about the melting polar regions and so forth. I want to really convey, what would you say about the stakes? Some environmental groups say, "Well, he's not going to get away with it," or for instance, the necessities of the market will argue against developing a lot of these resources because sustainable energy is more profitable and oil prices are low. But I see a great danger, especially given this environmental crisis we're facing as a whole.

Let me answer in two parts. People are somewhat right in saying a lot will depend, for example, on the price of oil. The recent oil and gas auction on the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska -- even though the government auctioned off millions of acres, very little was actually leased because of the vagaries of drilling in those areas and also the price of oil. But if oil prices rise again, there will be more interest from industry. And there's still an export market for [US] coal, a significant amount [of which] is mined on public lands. In no way does the market completely protect us here, in no way.

If a company buys a lease at auction, and for virtually no money, they can sit on these leases for decades. Technically, it's 10 years for a federal oil and gas lease, but they can renew them. Companies can speculate and sit on these leases 'til such time that the price may make it profitable. So, it may be that we don't see wholesale drilling tomorrow in many places, but the danger is still there.

Trump is getting us in such a deep hole on the climate crisis. He's locking us into a fossil fuel future. And the damage we'll see to ecosystems, to the oceans, wildlife -- it's scary.

Certain things, like withdrawing the Grand Canyon uranium, that will take a while to do, they have to go through a process in which the public will get to weigh in. Maybe they won't succeed. They can't do everything with the snap of a finger. But make no mistake: They're going to cause some irreparable harm here. Everything Trump and Zinke are doing will harm species, public lands, waters, and exacerbate climate change. They are dragging us into a deep hole, a bad future.

Thanks so much, that's very helpful and I appreciate your time and your work which is so important.

Thank you. Even though these are dark times for our public lands, oceans, wildlife and our climate, it's important that we all keep fighting. The Center for Biological Diversity is resisting Trump in every possible way -- especially in the courts. So far, the Center has filed 46 lawsuits against Trump. This regime will not last forever. To get involved I would encourage readers to get connected with Ignite Change, a nationwide movement that's standing up to save life on Earth. 

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Gerrymandering's Collateral Damage at Center of Fight Over Virginia House Control

Truthout - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 06:47
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Republican Bob Thomas was sworn in as the representative for the Virginia House of Delegates' 28th District last week following a recount that confirmed him as the winner in the race for the open seat by 73 votes over Democrat Joshua Cole.

Coupled with the decision by Democratic challenger Shelly Simonds to concede the tied race for Virginia's 94th House District to GOP Del. David Yancey following her loss in a lottery-style drawing, the outcome gives Republicans control over the chamber by a 51-49 margin.

But a legal challenge to the 28th District election continues to move forward in the federal courts. And it's shining a spotlight on a somewhat obscure but serious problem related to gerrymandering: split precincts.

A precinct is usually the smallest administrative unit in an election district, with a specific place where all eligible residents go to vote. But a split precinct is divided by one or more election district lines, meaning some precinct residents vote in one race and some in another. Split precincts require multiple versions of the ballot, creating potential for confusion among poll workers.

That's exactly what happened in Virginia this past Election Day. Poll workers in the Fredericksburg area gave the wrong ballot to at least 147 people, sparking an ongoing federal lawsuit filed by voters seeking a new election for the House seat.

The problem of split precincts has grown along with gerrymandering, as politicians in charge of drawing election district maps have prioritized concerns such as partisan advantage and racial division over ease of election administration.

The 2011 redistricting process in Virginia led to what the Williams & Mary Law School blog characterized as an "explosion of split precincts" driven by a sharply divided legislature, the desire to protect incumbents, and improved technology allowing house-by-house precision in drawing election district maps:

According to research done by the Virginia State Board of Elections (SBE) staff, the 1991 Virginia redistricting plan created 102 split precincts from a total of 2133 precincts and the 2001 plan created 75 split precincts from a total of 2239 precincts, healing some of the 1991 splits. In 2011, there are 2376 total precincts in Virginia. Of those, the most recent round of redistricting carved up 224 precincts into more than one piece; three times the number of split precincts created in the last round of redistricting.

The initial proposal considered during Virginia's most recent redistricting process would have split 500 precincts. Lawmakers worked to lower that number; after then-Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) vetoed the first version of the legislature's maps, they whittled it down further.

Besides increasing the chances for poll worker error, split precincts cost taxpayers more. They require not only multiple ballots but also pre-election materials to educate voters about district line shifts as well as polling place signage to ensure voters get the right ballot. The additional costs of a single split precinct have been estimated at up to $25,000.

Dividing North Carolina

Split precincts are also a problem in other gerrymandered Southern states like Alabama and South Carolina. But perhaps no state has gone so far to divide local communities for partisan political ends as North Carolina.

The election maps that the state's Republican-controlled legislature drew in 2011 created 563 split precincts that are home to more than 2 million voting-age adults -- a quarter of North Carolina's voting-age population. That's more than twice as many splits as under any of that state's previous redistricting plans. In one of the more extreme examples, one six-block area of Durham County had so many district lines running through it that it could potentially require 18 ballot versions.

The split precincts have caused problems in North Carolina's elections. During the 2012 election, for example, hundreds of voters across the state received the wrong ballots because of confusion over what district they lived in, with communities of color disproportionately affected. Research by Democracy North Carolina found that black voters are 50 percent more likely than white voters to live in a split precinct.

The legal challenges to the North Carolina maps pointed out that split precincts make it harder for voters to cast ballots and essentially create two classes of voters. The challengers also argued that split precincts violate the state constitution, which calls for redistricting to keep counties -- not just precincts -- whole to the greatest extent possible.

In addition, voting rights advocates point out that split precincts jeopardize the secrecy of the ballot. As Kellie Hopkins, elections director in North Carolina's Beaufort County, noted in a 2012 affidavit, "By having such a small number of voters with a ballot style, I am afraid that reporting by [precinct], which is required by law, could possibly allow others to know how someone marked their ballot."  

The federal courts have ruled that the North Carolina legislative districts drawn in 2011 included unconstitutional racial gerrymanders and ordered lawmakers to draw new ones. Among the criteria lawmakers adopted to guide their redrawn maps was the requirement to "make reasonable efforts" to split fewer precincts.

But, dissatisfied with lawmakers' efforts to undo racial gerrymanders, the courts assigned a special master to redraw the maps -- Stanford University professor and redistricting expert Nathan Persily. His plan does not add any more split precincts and in, fact, unifies some precincts that were split in the original 2011 plan or 2017 legislative revision.

A panel of federal judges is currently considering which version of the maps to use. A decision is expected soon as filing for legislative races is set to begin on Feb. 12.

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