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This Hanukkah, Light a Candle for Gaza

10 hours 36 min ago

Palestinian children do their homework during a power cut in an impoverished area in Gaza City, on September 11, 2017. (Photo: Mahmud Hams / AFP / Getty Images)

The story of Hanukkah underscores a powerful truth: Oppressed people will always find the strength to resist, even in the bleakest of times. On the 10th anniversary of Israel's intensification of the Gaza blockade and the Gaza Massacre, which killed nearly 1,500 Palestinians, including over 300 children, we should light a candle to commemorate the spirit of the Palestinian struggle against all odds.

Palestinian children do their homework during a power cut in an impoverished area in Gaza City, on September 11, 2017. (Photo: Mahmud Hams / AFP / Getty Images)

The festival of Hanukkah commemorates the victory of the Maccabees, a Jewish priestly family from the Hasmonean dynasty, over the Seleucid Empire in 2nd century BCE. According to the Talmud, when the Maccabees entered the desecrated Temple in Jerusalem and attempted to relight the menorah, there was only enough oil for one day. But when they lit the fire, a miracle occurred and it lasted for eight full days.

What's the meaning of this simple parable? Some say that the image of increasing light is appropriate to the dark winter season -- a time in which many religious traditions celebrate festivals by kindling lights. Others say that this story underscores a powerful political/spiritual truth: Even in the bleakest of times, an oppressed people will somehow find the strength to continue the struggle.

When I light my Hanukkah candles this year, I plan to light an extra one each night for Gaza.

This year marks 10 years since Israel commenced its blockade of Gaza, turning this 140-square-mile strip of land into a virtual open-air prison. Next year will be the 10th anniversary of Israel's Operation Cast Lead -- a devastating military assault that killed 1,419 (including at least 308 children), wounded over 5,000 more and left more than 20,000 homeless. (The name of the operation, perversely enough, was a reference to a children's Hanukkah song based on a poem by Israeli poet Chaim Nachman Bialik: "My teacher gave a dreidel to me/A dreidel of cast lead.")

Two months ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Gaza as a staff person for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). My visit left me with a myriad of impressions and emotions, foremost of which was a sense of awe at the ability of Palestinian Gazans to live with resilience and dignity under the most oppressive of conditions.

This is, of course, not to minimize their trauma nor to tokenize them as victims. A recent, presumably well-meaning article in Ha'aretz did precisely that, interviewing a volunteer psychologist for Physicians for Human Rights, who portrayed Palestinians in Gaza as overwhelmingly obsessed with sex and addicted to behavior-altering drugs. The psychologist claimed that due to Gaza's devastating conditions, many Palestinians have "lost their humanity" and are unable to "see the other, his pain." In an important rejoinder to the article, Palestinian activist Nada Elia responded pointedly:

I do not want to minimise the severity of daily life in Gaza. I am someone who has insisted the siege be recognised as genocidal. Nevertheless, I am appalled at the callousness of the interviewer as she asks for an elaboration of how people in Gaza have lost their "internal morality," their very "humanity".

I saw a great deal of humanity during my short stay in Gaza. I traveled there to participate in strategic planning meetings with AFSC staff colleagues, to sharpen our vision for our Israel/Palestine programs in the US, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. We began with three days of meetings in Ramallah, with our Gaza staff members joining us via Skype. Following these meetings, six of us traveled to Gaza to meet with our two full-time staff members there: Ali Abdel Bari and Firas Ramlawi.

Up until relatively recently, AFSC's Palestine youth program focused largely on public achievement, seeking to strengthen the civic ties of youth to their communities. Our current program, Palestine Youth Together for Change (PYTC) is a more ambitious project, working to combat Palestinian geographical, social and cultural fragmentation in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. It's difficult to overestimate the devastating impact of this fragmentation -- particularly on Palestinian youth who are growing up with increasing separation from one another. This isolation is most keenly felt, of course, by the youth of Gaza, who are literally imprisoned by Israel inside a small 140-square-mile strip of land.

American Friends Service Committee staff with youth from their Gaza program. (Photo courtesy of Brant Rosen)

When we met the Gazan youth who participated in the PYTC program, they spoke powerfully about their experiences growing up with a strong sense of Palestinian identity while isolated from their peers in Israel and the West Bank. This particularly hit home for me when I heard one young woman speak of entering into Israel through the Erez Crossing for the first time to travel to the West Bank for meetings with her fellow participants. She was 18 years old and had never seen an Israeli Jew in person in her life. Up until that time, she said, she had only seen them as "helicopters, planes and bombs." Needless to say, this contrasted dramatically with the experiences of her West Bank peers, who encountered Israeli soldiers as a very real, everyday presence in the streets and at checkpoints.

It's also important to bear in mind that this isolation is not a "humanitarian" issue that can be fully addressed by greater NGO and civil society investment. Rather, it is the result of very real and very intentional policies promulgated by Israel to purposefully divide and weaken Palestinian society. By the same token, the PYTC program is not merely a youth service project; its ultimate goal is to strengthen Palestinian identity in order to counter the brutal and unjust occupation of their people. In this regard, this program is connected in important ways to AFSC programs in the US that promote "co-resistance": initiatives that support the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions; advocate for Palestinian children held by Israel in military detention; and educate the public about the devastating costs of the Gaza blockade. The latter program, "Gaza Unlocked," seeks to educate the public about the reality of the blockade by sharing the stories -- and the humanity -- of the people who live there.

Here's a sample of their testimonies:

College graduate Fidaa Zaanin, 27:

This is life. We should not give up. I will maintain my humanity and my dreams despite the siege. I believe in change, if not immediate then with time. I will be an example for my brothers and my sisters and whoever dreams of a future, for they are my hope for the future.

Freelance photographer Ezz Al Zanoon, 24:

We reject the images of us that are being shown to the world. We are humans. We are proud of our humanity. We are proud of our achievements despite the difficult circumstances. No one can achieve what we have done. Despite the blockade, the wars, the structured destructions, we continue to live and fight for a dignified life. We fight against the imposed restrictions, being triggered by our desire for life.

NGO project coordinator Shareef Hamad, 34:

I must challenge this situation. I don't have any choice. This affects our daily lives and our emotional well-being. We are under all this pressure.

What inspires me is the faith that this situation is not eternal. I can change it or its consequences. I can at least limit its impact on me and those I love. According to history, no oppression lasts forever. This nation deserves better.

During our final night in Gaza, my colleagues and I walked through the streets of Gaza City on our way back from dinner. Because Gaza only receives four hours of electricity a day, the street lights and home windows around us were dark. The only light came from beachfront hotels that had their own generators. We were well aware that we were staying in the affluent tourist part of town and that we were privileged enough to soon be leaving Gaza to travel without restriction. But to paraphrase Shareef Hamad, I am inspired by the faith that no darkness is eternal.

During Hanukkah, we celebrate the miracle of light that sustains us even when the world is at its darkest. This Hanukkah, I'll be lighting a candle for Gaza.

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Categories: Latest News

Transforming the Jewish Community Away From Supporting Israeli Occupation and Trump's Jerusalem Move

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 21:00

We have a different future in mind for the Jewish community, and it's not one that supports endless occupation, says Sarah Brammer-Shlay, a member of IfNotNow, a movement to end the American Jewish community's support for the occupation of Palestine. The organization is on a mission to keep US Jews from being pawns of white supremacists.

IfNotNow members marching to the White House on December 8 to protest Trump's decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. (Photo courtesy of IfNotNow)

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Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. We're now nearly a year into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators and educators, not only about how to resist, but how to build a better world. Today's interview is the 99th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

Today we bring you a conversation with Sarah Brammer-Shlay, a member of IfNotNow, a movement to end the American Jewish community's support for the occupation of Palestine. Brammer-Shlay discusses how Trump's decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem will inflame tensions in the region, and how IfNotNow is working to transform the Jewish community in order to move it away from supporting Israeli occupation.

Sarah Jaffe: This weekend, you had several actions protesting the Trump administration's decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. Tell us how the actions went.

Sarah Brammer-Shlay: The actions were great, they were very powerful. We had actions in Boston, Washington, DC, New York City, Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Minnesota, Chicago ... hope I'm not forgetting any. Our movement was really prepared to take action on this ... cities all across the country stood up to say, Hey, we do not support this move, this is a dangerous move for Palestinians and Israelis, and as American Jews, we need to be on the forefront of opposing this, and we're refusing to be political pawns for Trump's horrible foreign policy decisions.

You said you were prepared as an organization for this to happen. Give people who may not follow this that closely some background on why and how this administration decided to do this, and why it's such a bad idea.

This is a really wonky issue. So, in 1995, Congress passed a bill that was written by AIPAC -- the American Israel Public Affairs Committee -- that said that the US Embassy would move to Jerusalem. For the past 22 years, every six months, the president has signed a waiver to delay this. What Donald Trump did on Wednesday, he did sign the waiver and he said, "We have a plan to move the embassy to Jerusalem once we get all the logistics worked out. But I'm going to do something that has never happened before, I'm going to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel."

Trump is further cementing the occupation and land takeover in East Jerusalem.

Why is he doing this? This is a push from major donors, such as Christian evangelical organizations, Sheldon Adelson, other members of the Jewish establishment and from the Israeli government ... Jerusalem, in Israel's mind, is its capital, but no country has their embassy in Jerusalem.... Jerusalem is a really contentious issue for achieving any sort of peace agreement in the region, because this is a really important city and place to both Israelis and Palestinians.... Anyone who knows anything about this issue would say that this is obviously an act of incitement and there's going to be violence in the region because of this decision.

It's also a major slap in the face to Palestinians to say, We do not recognize your connection to this city, a city that is not only holy to Jews, but also to Muslims and Christians; and this is also further cementing the occupation and land takeover in East Jerusalem.... Even people who talk about the occupation often really focus on the West Bank, and Jerusalem is really forgotten about. In East Jerusalem, Palestinian families are being kicked out of their homes in increasing numbers, and it's just something we're not talking about. This further cements the land takeover by Israel of Palestinian land.

(Photo courtesy of IfNotNow)

IfNotNow members at the Jewish Federations of North America office in Washington, DC, on December 8. (Photo courtesy of IfNotNow)

Let's talk a little bit about the history of IfNotNow. Tell us about the founding and the work that you've done as an organization over the past couple of years.

IfNotNow was founded in 2014, during Operation Protective Edge, which was a major war on Gaza. What our community was seeing was ... establishment Jewish organizations overwhelmingly supporting Israel at all costs during this war -- a war that killed over 2,000 Palestinians, including over 500 children. And we saw that our ... community was not siding with the values that we grew up with. And so, a group of young Jews in New York City decided to hold actions reciting the Mourner's Kaddish, which is a prayer for the dead in Jewish tradition.

What we saw in that moment was actually major resonance across the country of young Jews saying, I'm also really upset with my community's response to this, and so it naturally spread across the country, and cities all over were doing these Mourner's Kaddish actions. And then the war ended and the siege on Gaza did not end and we saw that there was actually a major void we were filling by really targeting the American Jewish community and saying, We deeply care about the Jewish community, but we cannot support a community and be a part of a community that supports endless occupation.

And so, we paused for a year. About 15-20 people that I was a part of ... came up with a long-term strategy for the movement and relaunched in December 2015. We take a direct-action approach and also community-building and do a lot of training to get people on board with the strategy and to be able to enact it themselves. In December 2015 we started these trainings to relaunch our movement, and after Trump was elected, this was a time where people really wanted to act politically. And then Steve Bannon was announced as chief strategist of the Trump administration. What we saw was our community, the establishment of our community, not saying, Hey, this is really messed up, even though this is a known white supremacist.

And that's because our community has gone overboard with our pro-Israel-at-all-costs politics. So, we launched a series of actions using the "#FireBannon" hashtag to say our community needs to oppose this nomination of Bannon and actually side with Jews -- why would we, as a Jewish community, be supporting someone who is an anti-Semite? It makes no sense at all.

We are actually working to transform the Jewish community.

What we saw was ... our membership actually tripled because there was such a void for Jewish organizations taking actions on this. IfNotNow was not the only one, by any means, but what we saw was the establishment really not standing on the right side of history.

We've seen that continue this year, with Bannon, with [former deputy assistant to Trump Sebastian] Gorka, with other people who have histories of anti-Semitism who are part of this administration. And then, on the other hand, you have not just [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, but right-wing Jewish organizations that embrace people like this. For a long time, criticism of Israel has been accused of being anti-Semitic, so I wonder if you can talk about this really tangled moment we're in, in terms of anti-Semitism and the politics of Israel.

It's pretty wild. I think a pretty frequent question that's been asked is, "Wait, can someone be a supporter of Israel and still be an anti-Semite?" And the answer is, yes. We've seen that.

There's a lot of different layers. I think it's important for us to note that the US government -- and we see this with the embassy move -- the US government has its own reasons for supporting the occupation. We, as Jews need to say, We're not your pawns for doing this.

Christian evangelical organizations that our community ... would totally not align with in situation[s] where they're supporting Israel, give them our support. There ... was a synagogue in California recently that hosted an event with the head of Christians United for Israel, which is the biggest pro-Israel lobbying group, and this is an organization for which the idea behind supporting Israel is so that the Rapture will come, and that's not a good situation for Jews. This is not a love for Jews, but we're seeing a conflation of supporting Israel at all costs with saying they side with Jews, and that's not actually true.

This is also really connected to Islamophobia as well.

Can you say a little more about that?

Yes, I think what we're seeing here is that Israel is seen as a Western country in this region, and ... especially with these Christian evangelical organizations, it's an anti-Muslim effort to say, "We support Israel and we support Jews, we don't support the Arabs in the region."

IfNotNow members at Trump Tower on December 7, protesting Trump's decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. (Photo courtesy of IfNotNow)

Talk a little bit then about using a direct-action approach, as well as the organizing you've been doing in the community. What are some of the actions that you've taken, the successes that you've had?

Why direct action? We believe that this is a crisis and that we need to raise attention on it, and ... we are actually working to transform the Jewish community. What that means is that we deeply care about it. Our actions are almost always rooted in Jewish ritual and really are demonstrating ourselves as a Jewish movement with the goal of transforming our community and not having our community be one that supports occupation....

A poll found that 80 percent of Jews in the US do not support an embassy move.

Bannon is no longer the chief strategist and we were really able to push that narrative -- that Steve Bannon is a danger for all people in our country and Jews, too. That's been a major victory.

We had the largest-ever Jewish protest outside of the AIPAC conference last spring and this was a major thing. We had a thousand people there protesting AIPAC saying, Hey, we have a different future in mind for the Jewish community, and it's not one that supports endless occupation. We're going to demonstrate to our community that we deeply care about it, but our community is in need of a redirection right now, and we are going to help lead that redirection.

Moving forward from this moment, what are next steps around this -- what are the plans to put pressure on them and to further challenge the narrative that to be Jewish is to be pro-Israel at all costs?

I think we're also figuring out what is the best approach for this. Like I said, the waiver has been signed, so we do have work to do over the next six months. A lot of it is that this is actually an issue that people don't really understand. There actually needs to be a lot of education around this.

The violence in the region has already started ... we're seeing an increase in violence and repression already. We need to get the message out there that this is a condition that is going to lead to violence and unsafety -- for Palestinians, especially, and also Israelis, too -- and our community cannot support that.

We also have to call out politicians who are supporting this, too. Chuck Schumer was actually someone who really encouraged Donald Trump to push this forward. In a time where people are really focused on electoral politics and we're seeing Democrats so openly side with the president, we have to ask ourselves: What is the reason for this? It's really unacceptable.

How can people keep up with you and IfNotNow and join if they're interested?

You should go to IfNotNowMovement.org and you can sign up there to see what actions are coming up next, as well as signing up for trainings which give you an in-depth look at our long-term strategy. I'm praying that violence does not intensify, and I'm not hopeful for that, so we're going to be out in the street demonstrating that Jews do not universally support this decision. In fact, AJC [American Jewish Committee] released a poll [which found that] 80 percent of Jews do not support an embassy move. So, one thing that's really important for us to do is actually show that the numbers are not on the side of our community supporting the embassy move. It's really important that we make our voices heard so that that is not conflated. Joining us in the streets is our first ask, and getting to a training, supporting us, if you want to make a donation that's wonderful. And you can find us on Facebook or on our website.

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

Categories: Latest News

Cecile Richards: Pence Is Installing Authorities to Repeal Women's Rights With No Public Oversight

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 21:00

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards says the first year of President Trump's administration may be the worst year for women of any administration in United States history. But, she notes, it has also been a year of organizing and resistance by women and their allies.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Meet the Miss USA Contestant Accusing Trump of Sexual Misconduct as Senators Call for Him to Resign

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 21:00

Five senators are now calling on President Trump to resign over allegations that he sexually harassed or assaulted women, and 56 House lawmakers with the Democratic Women's Working Group are calling for a congressional investigation into the allegations. This comes as three of the 16 women who have publicly accused Trump of sexual harassment held a press conference Monday in New York, demanding that Congress take action. We speak with one of them: Samantha Holvey, a former Miss USA contestant for North Carolina when Trump owned the pageant. We are also joined by Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and we play an excerpt from the Brave New Films documentary 16 Women and Donald Trump.

TRANSCRIPT

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Five senators are now calling on President Trump to resign over allegations that he sexually harassed or assaulted women. This is New York's Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand speaking Monday on CNN.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: President Trump should resign. These allegations are credible; they are numerous. I've heard these women's testimony, and many of them are heartbreaking.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Senator Gillibrand joins Senators Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden in calling on President Trump to step down. Meanwhile, 56 House lawmakers with the Democratic Women's Working Group are also calling for a congressional investigation into the allegations against Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes as three of the 16 women who have publicly accused President Trump of sexual harassment held a news conference in New York on Monday, demanding Congress take action. The women shared accounts in which they said Trump groped, fondled and forcibly kissed them. Monday's news conference was held by Brave New Films, which released the documentary 16 Women and Donald Trump in November.

JILL HARTH: He groped me. He absolutely groped me. And he just slipped his hand there, touching my private parts.

TEMPLE TAGGART: He turned to me and embraced me and gave me a kiss on the lips. And I remember being shocked and -- because I would have just thought to shake somebody's hand. But that was his first response with me.

JESSICA LEEDS: It was a real shock when all of the sudden his hands were all over me. But it's when he started putting his hand up my skirt, and that was it. That was it.

KRISTIN ANDERSON: The person on my right, who, unbeknownst to me at that time, was Donald Trump, put their hand up my skirt. He did touch my vagina through my underwear.

LISA BOYNE: As the women walked across the table, Donald Trump would look up under their skirt and, you know, comment on whether they had underwear or didn't have underwear. I didn't want to have to walk across the table. I wanted to get out of there.

KARENA VIRGINIA: Then his hand touched the right inside of my breast. I felt intimidated, and I felt powerless.

MINDY McGILLIVRAY: Melania was standing right next to him when he touched my butt.

JESSICA DRAKE: When we entered the room, he grabbed each of us tightly in a hug and kissed each one of us without asking permission. After that, I received another call from either Donald or a male calling on his behalf, offering me $10,000. His actions are a huge testament to his character, that of uncontrollable misogyny, entitlement and being a sexual assault apologist.

SAMANTHA HOLVEY: I'm, you know, sitting there in my robe and having, you know, my makeup and hair done and everything, and he comes walking in. And I was just like, "Oh, my goodness!" Like what is he doing back here? I saw him walk into the dressing room.

TASHA DIXON: He just came strolling right in. There was no second to put a robe on or any sort of clothing or anything. Some girls were topless. Other girls were naked. Waltzing in, when we're naked or half-naked, in a very physically vulnerable position.

SUMMER ZERVOS: And he came to me and started kissing me open-mouthed as he was pulling me towards him. He then grabbed my shoulder, and he began kissing me again very aggressively and placed his hand on my breast. And I said, "Come on, man. Get real." He repeated my words back to me -- "Get reeeeeal" -- as he began thrusting his genitals.

AMY GOODMAN: That's an excerpt from the documentary 16 Women and Donald Trump. The women are now calling for a congressional investigation into sexual misconduct by President Trump. Last year, several Republican lawmakers distanced themselves from Donald Trump's presidential campaign following the release of the 2005 videotape showing Trump boasting about sexually assaulting women.

Trump responded this morning on Twitter to the allegations, writing, quote, "Despite thousands of hours wasted and many millions of dollars spent, the Democrats have been unable to show any collusion with Russia -- so now they are moving on to the false accusations and fabricated stories of women who I don't know and/or have never met. FAKE NEWS!" he tweeted.

Well, for more, we're joined by Samantha Holvey, former Miss North Carolina. She was a U.S. -- Miss USA contestant in the pageant that Trump owned. She's one of the 16 women who has accused President Trump of sexual misconduct, and she spoke out at the news conference on Monday.

Welcome, Samantha, to Democracy Now!

SAMANTHA HOLVEY: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you just -- we just played the video, of which you're a part. Can you talk about your experience of Donald Trump and then what he's saying -- "I don't know them, I never met them"?

SAMANTHA HOLVEY: So, the first time I met Donald Trump, we were in New York City doing a media tour, all 51 of the Miss USA contestants. And we were at Trump Tower. They lined us all up, and so he could meet all of us. And I'm thinking this is going to be a meet and greet, you know, lots of eye contact. That was not the case at all. He walks by, and by every one of us, or at the very least me. He just looked me up and down like I was a piece of meat. There was no "Hi. How are you doing? Are you excited to be here?" None of that. I was just a piece of meat that was his property. And I thought, "Oh, goodness. I hope I never have to deal with him again. I don't want to be around him."

And then finals night rolls around. And I'm, you know, in hair and makeup. I've got curlers in my hair, nothing but a robe on. I'm just 20 years old. And he comes waltzing in to hair and makeup and is just looking around, not talking to us, asking us how we're doing. And by the way, you know, Miss USA was not my first pageant. I've been -- I've competed in other pageants. And the directors, no men were ever backstage. So this is not something that happens.

So, I see him walk in to hair and makeup, and he's looking us all over. And then he waltzed right into the dressing room, where we have two big security guards making sure that nobody but female contestants and chaperones are allowed in there. But he walks right on in.

And to hear him talking about he's never met any of us -- you know, this is what happens every year. It wasn't just 2006. He bragged about this on Howard Stern. And silly me, I should have been watching Howard Stern, because he bragged about it the year before I competed at Miss USA. So this was a known thing that he did. And so, it's just amazing to call me a liar, when I'm just verifying his own words.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders responded to the allegations against Trump during Monday's press briefing. This is what she said.

PRESS SECRETARY SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: As the president said himself, he thinks it's a good thing that women are coming forward. But he also feels strongly that a mere allegation shouldn't determine the course. And in this case, the president has denied any of these allegations, as have eyewitnesses. And several reports have shown those eyewitnesses also back up the president's claim in this process. And again, the American people knew this and voted for the president, and we feel like we're ready to move forward in that process.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Samantha, your response to Sarah Huckabee Sanders' statement? Also, you initially raised these allegations, as did many of the women, last year during the campaign. What's the change now, the decision now to come to this press conference yesterday?

SAMANTHA HOLVEY: You know, it was a tough decision to come back out, because I did get a lot of backlash last year when I spoke out, and so I wasn't sure if I wanted to go through all of that again. But when the -- the idea was that all of us would come together, that all 16 women would come together, and seeing us as a group, seeing us there supporting each other, as well as telling our stories, there's power in numbers. And that's what I was just hoping, that maybe this year it would be different, since the climate is different.

AMY GOODMAN: Yesterday, I went to the news conference, Samantha. You were there, along with Jessica Leeds, a woman who says Donald Trump attacked her, sitting next to her in first class in a plane, groping her, until she got up and left. And this is Rachel Crooks, who also spoke at the news conference with you, who said Trump forcibly kissed her, against her will, in 2005.

RACHEL CROOKS: About 12 years ago, as a young receptionist in Trump Tower, I was forcibly kissed by Mr. Trump during our first introduction. Mr. Trump repeatedly kissed my cheeks, and ultimately my lips, in an encounter that has since impacted my life well beyond the initial occurrence, in feelings of self-doubt and insignificance I had.

Unfortunately, given Mr. Trump's notoriety and the fact that he was a partner of my employers, not to mention the owner of the building, I felt there was nothing I could do. Given this hostile work environment, my only solution at the time was to simply avoid additional encounters with him.

I do realize that, in the grand scheme of things, there are far worse cases of sexual harassment, misconduct and assault. But make no mistake: There is no acceptable level of such behavior.

That some men think they can use their power, position or notoriety to demean and attack women speaks to their character, not ours, which, believe me, is a tough lesson learned. In my case, I only felt the redemption of knowing it was not my own flaws to blame, when I read the account of Temple Taggart, whose story had so mirrored my own that I finally felt absolved of the guilt that I had somehow projected an image that made me an easy target. Instead, this was serial misconduct and perversion on the part of Mr. Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: Rachel Crooks. Now, Donald Trump has just fired back this morning on tweet. Five senators have called for him to resign. He fired back at New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, after she joined the four other senators and at least 56 lawmakers in the House who have called for a congressional investigation into the sexual misconduct accusations against him. This morning, Trump tweeted, "Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office 'begging' for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump. Very disloyal to Bill & Crooked-USED!"

I want to bring -- I want to bring Cecile Richards into this conversation, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, CEO of the organization, as well. As you listen to Samantha and Rachel, some of the 16 women who have accused Donald Trump, and then see what he is tweeting today, attacking the senators, particularly the female senator, of the five --

CECILE RICHARDS: Correct.

AMY GOODMAN:  -- who are calling for him to resign, with sexual innuendo in his tweet, your thoughts?

CECILE RICHARDS: Well, first, I just think Samantha is extraordinarily brave, and the other 15 women, because you can see now why women don't come forward. I think, obviously, it's time for an investigation of Donald Trump. And the fact that he is in fact going after women, I think, is going to embolden women. I mean, you know, as difficult as this is to experience, the outpouring of women now supporting each other and telling their stories is like nothing I've ever seen in my lifetime, including women that we see at Planned Parenthood.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the impacts across the spectrum in terms of Washington itself, in terms of lawmakers now, as more and more calls for investigations of individual lawmakers are occurring.

CECILE RICHARDS: Right. Well, I think this is -- I mean, the story that Amy refers to this morning of now women in Congress finally saying, who have been -- you know, have basically suffered this kind of treatment for their entire careers, are now saying it's time to investigate this, and holding people to a standard, is incredibly important. I don't think any of us saw this happening. And ironically, I believe the president is actually encouraging more women to now stand up and come forward, particularly -- and I'm sorry that he said this about Samantha -- the fact that he's actually saying that he doesn't even know who these women are, trying to essentially erase them in every way. And it's because women are saying "Enough" and standing with each other that I think we're going to see change.

Categories: Latest News

Five Ways Moore and the GOP Could Steal the Alabama Election

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 21:00

Just hours after a court in Montgomery, Alabama, ruled that copies of ballots from today's election should be saved, GOP state officials, in a private meeting with an Alabama Supreme Court judge, obtained a stay on the ballot protection. If Democrat Doug Jones loses, it will be a victory not only for Roy Moore, but also for Jim Crow.

Republican senatorial candidate Roy Moore speaks at a rally in Midland, Alabama, on December 11, 2017. (Photo: Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images)

I hope you savored the moment. Yesterday, Monday, December 11, voting rights attorney John Brakey won a court order -- in Montgomery, Alabama, no less -- requiring counties to keep copies of their ballots after the voting Tuesday. 

Then, by 6 pm Alabama time, the voting rights victory dance came to an end. GOP state officials, in an "ex-parte" (i.e. private) meeting with an Alabama Supreme Court judge, obtained a "stay" of the ballot protection, effectively killing it. Alabama counties may now destroy ballot images, destroy any record of the true vote.

But they'll likely tell you the winner: Republican Judge Roy Moore, the former chief of the court that just blocked any possible challenge to a suspect election.

Even without Judge Moore's cronies taking away this protection of voter ballots, the GOP had other methods already in motion to prevent a true and fair election. If the Democrat Doug Jones loses, it won't be to Judge Moore; rather, it will be to Jim Crow and the little cheats perfected by the GOP.

Ballot-Box Stuffing: Blocked

The TRO (Temporary Restraining Order) that Brakey temporarily won may have stopped what I call the "Baldwin Ballot Bandit" trick or, as my co-investigator Bobby Kennedy calls it, "good old ballot-box stuffing."

Background: In 2002, Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman won a close re-election victory. So, it appeared. But, after the Associated Press announced the result, rural Republican Baldwin County officials locked the courthouse doors. Beginning at midnight, they counted thousands of ballots that they had mysteriously "found": enough to flip the election. No one was allowed to see those ballots -- or if they even existed.

This is what the Brakey TRO had intended to stop.

How else might the Republican Party steal the Senate election? Let me count the ways.

Vote heist method #2: The ID Con. Within hours of the June 25, 2013, Supreme Court decision slicing up the Voting Rights Act, Alabama passed a law requiring all voters to have a photo ID from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Then, just a day later, the state shut down almost every DMV in the 10 majority-Black counties. Last year, I tried to go to the DMV in Lowndes County (73 percent Black) during business hours -- and the door was locked shut.

Palast trying to get into an Alabama DMV in Lowndes County, which is 73 percent Black. The DMV is locked tight. (Photo from The Best Democracy Money Can Buy)
Vote heist method #3: "Caging." It's a felony crime, but that didn't stop Judge Moore's campaign chief, Brett Doster, from committing this vote theft crime for the George W. Bush campaign in 2004. I know, because I have Doster's own confidential emails, obtained while investigating him for BBC Television.

Here's a bit of one of the emails:

Vote heist method #4: "Crosscheck." In 2015, I got a call from Sen. Hank Sanders of Selma, Alabama. His name was missing from the voter rolls. Despite being a senator, he'd been removed without explanation. I flew down and solved the mystery. The perp: Donald Trump's operative, Kris Kobach of Kansas.

Kobach created a list of 239,801 Alabamians he tagged as "potential" duplicate voters. I got my hands on about a third of that list -- and it's a hit list of Black, Latino and Asian-American voters. Alabama has arrested not one of these alleged "double voters," but the state has purged tens of thousands.

Vote heist method #5: "Spoiling." The Alabama ballot this time around consists only of the Senate race and, in some counties, a local referendum. But it also has a box for "party-line" votes. Vote for "Democratic Party" and also vote for the Democratic candidate, and your vote can be tossed in the "spoilage" bin, not counted, because those counting it can decide, arbitrarily, that you "over-voted" -- voted twice. It's a technical "gotcha" that is used selectively, i.e. against Black voters.

I saw the "over-vote" spoilage trick used to eliminate 700 Al Gore votes in Gadsden County, Florida, in 2000. (That's more than the 537 votes that supposedly elected George W. Bush.)

I saw it again in November, 2016, in Detroit, Michigan, where 70,355 ballots were not counted (in part, because of the same over-vote trick). Throwing out those Detroit ballots gave Donald Trump a supposed 10,700-vote margin to win Michigan.

What Can Be Done?

There's one certain way to stop these vote suppression games. A candidate named Barack Obama once told our investigative team: "You can't steal all the votes all the time. Turn out so massively, they just can't steal it."

In 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. led 35,000 marchers over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma to the capital, Montgomery. Along the 50-mile route, four marchers were murdered by the Klan. But by the time King's band got to the capital, the Voting Rights Act was on its way into law.

A young Hank Sanders was there, 52 years ago. Last year, making my film with him, the elder senator demanded I walk over the Edmund Pettus Bridge with him. "You have to walk over the bridge every chance you get -- because the right to vote is always in jeopardy."

On Tuesday, we will see if enough Alabama citizens cross that bridge and overcome the trickery and flim-flam that Alabama calls an election.

Author Greg Palast, Marcia McMillan Edwards (the youngest marcher, 50 years ago) and Sen. Hank Sanders crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama ... again. (Photo from The Best Democracy Money Can Buy)

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Categories: Latest News

The Fempire Strikes Back: #MeToo

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 21:00
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First, for the record, let me tell you my story about another of those perversely creepy Hollywood predators, a sort of cut-rate Harvey Weinstein: the screenwriter and film director James Toback. As I read now of women he preyed upon year after year, I feel the rage that's bubbled in the back of my brain for decades reaching the boiling point. I should be elated that Toback has been exposed again as the loathsome predator he's been for half a century. But I'm stuck on the fact of elapsed time, all these decades that male predators roamed at large, efficiently sidelining and silencing women.

Toback could have been picked up by New York's Finest when he hit on me in or around 1972. But I didn't call the cops, knowing it would come to nothing. Nor did I tell our mutual employer, the City College of the City University of New York. I had no doubt about which one of us our male bosses would believe. I had already been labeled an agitator for campaigning to add a program in women's studies to the curriculum. Besides, to any normal person, the story of what happened would sound too inconsequential to seem anything but ridiculous: not a crime but a farce.

I didn't know Toback. I must have seen him at infrequent faculty meetings, but we taught in different writing programs. There was no reason for our paths to cross. Ever. So I have no memory of him until the day I flung open the door of my Chinatown loft in response to a knock, expecting to greet my downstairs neighbor, and in walked Toback. My antennae went up. How had he managed to get past the locked street door? I remember talking fast, trying to get him out of my place without provoking a confrontation. He agreed to leave with me -- to go out for tea or lunch or some little excursion I proposed -- but first he insisted on using my bathroom, from which he soon emerged naked. I remember the way he listed the many things he had in mind for me to do for him. Among them, one demand persists in memory, perhaps because it was at once so specific and so bizarre: that I suck and pinch his nipples.

I beat him to the door, furious at being driven from my own loft. I think I threatened to come back with the cops. Something scared him anyway. From a shop on the street, I watched as he left my building on the run, waddling away at top speed.

Reader, if you think that nothing really happened, then you are mistaken. This incident took place almost 50 years ago and though I hadn't thought of it in ages -- not until his name popped up in the media -- the memory remains remarkably raw. I still want to see him marched naked through the streets of Manhattan and Los Angeles to the jeers and uproarious laughter of women. 

At the time, Toback was no more than 25 years old, while I was nearly 10 years older, a thoroughgoing feminist, and luckily faster on my feet than him. But recent reports say that, in the 1980s and later, Toback routinely focused his attacks on very young women, some of them teenagers, using promises of film stardom (sound familiar?) to lure them into encounters that left them sodden with shame. He is now in his seventies and, although women have reported his predation several times in major magazines, he was still on the prowl last month and had never before been called to account for his actions.

What could be more despicable than this: that for more than four decades, while he and his kind were allowed to practice undeterred, he only got better at his game of assaulting women.

A Catalogue of Violations

Not long after my run-in with Toback, a university professor from whom I was taking a writing course came calling to discuss my "extraordinary work" and emerged from that same Chinatown bathroom in a similar state of nakedness. (Do they follow some instruction manual I've never seen?) By then I was writing and photographing as a freelancer for the travel section of the New York Times, an unpaid task that entitled me to receive midnight phone calls from the drunken travel editor detailing the things I might do for him to insure a "real job" with the Times. That's when I became a freelancer elsewhere, always ready to cut and run. I've been a loner ever since. 

I could tell you stories of other professors, editors, journalists, and TV hosts. But they would be much the same as those we read almost every day now as women go public with their own stories of sexual harassment and worse at the hands of powerful men in the film industry, major media outlets, Silicon Valley, and Congress, among other places. In response, almost every day come new denials, excuses, or half-baked apologies. 

Some commentators are now reconsidering Bill Clinton's record in the sharper light of the present moment. Others ask if the current "witch hunt" for sexual predators has gone too far. Expecting inevitable backlash, some recommend that women exercise restraint -- as all of us have been taught to do for so many eons -- lest some unsubstantiated accusation discredit the stories of thousands of women reporting #MeToo. I don't share such tender concern for the reputations of men, especially not that of the president, the self-congratulatory pussy-grabber-in-chief whose followers seem to mistake his behavior for the norm, if not an aspirational ideal.

Discussion of these matters quickly becomes political, eliciting erratic, gender-bending partisan judgments. Some prominent Republican men called for former judge Roy Moore of Alabama, accused of harassing and assaulting teenaged girls when he was a 30-something assistant district attorney, to end his campaign for the Senate, while many Republican women in that state, including many who are presumably the mothers of daughters, continue to stand behind him.

At the same time, Democrats parse which of Bill Clinton's accusers to believe and which not. And who hasn't thought again about Clarence Thomas? He was elevated to the Supreme Court by an all-white male Congressional committee despite the thoroughly credible testimony of harassed law professor Anita Hill and the accounts of many other women, similarly violated and ready to testify against Thomas, but never called. Given his long misogynistic history on the court, isn't it time to look at his testimony again? Did he commit perjury to gain his seat? And if so, what's to be done about his consistent judicial record inimical to the common interests of women?

It's Not Just Sex 

Little or none of male harassment and predation is truly about sex, except insofar as men weaponize their sad libidos to pin women to the floor. Monstrous men commit what's called sexual harassment and sexual assault not because women are irresistible but because they can't resist the rush of power that rises from using, dominating, degrading, humiliating, shaming, and in some cases even murdering another human being. (Sexist, not sexual, may be a more accurate adjective.)

Often -- especially when the woman is better looking and more talented or qualified than her assailant -- he gets an additional powerful kick from having "taught the bitch a lesson." A smug sense of power ("When you're a star... you can do anything") colors the phony apologies of accused predators. ("It was never my intention to leave the impression I was making an inappropriate advance on anyone.") Though a man may be truly sorry to be found out, it's next to impossible for him, after that blast of solid-gold supremacy, to pretend to even a particle of remorse.

The times call for accusations to be scrupulously accurate. Yet it's misleading to think of sexual harassment and sexual assault as separate and isolated indignities when in real life one so often segues into the other. Such terms arose in the course of intensive work by feminists of the so-called second wave, which is to say feminists like me who began work in the 1960s and 1970s. One of our tasks was to expose and document the extent of violence against women in the United States. At that time, misogyny emanated from the pores of patriarchal men, poisoning the very air we breathed. We found overwhelming the violence such men committed against women and girls of all colors who did not conform to their notions of decorative and deferential "femininity."  

The fact that male violence methodically constricts female lives is so appalling that most women simply couldn't acknowledge it. Psychiatrist Judith Lewis Herman, in her landmark study Trauma and Recovery (1992), described things as they were at the time: "Most women do not... recognize the degree of male hostility toward them, preferring to view the relations of the sexes as more benign than they are in fact. Similarly, women like to believe that they have greater freedom and higher status than they do in reality." Beneath the revelations of sexual harassment and assault today lie the same hard-rock foundations of male hostility that Herman described a quarter century ago.

To document male violence and depict how it works in daily life, second-wave feminists tried to break it down into its component parts: discrimination and domination -- psychological, sexual, and physical -- in the home, the schools, the workplace, the church, the courts, the prisons, and public life. We wrote the history of male violence against women, while exploring its effects at that time and its future prospects. Our generation produced groundbreaking books on patriarchy (Kate Millet, Sexual Politics, 1970), rape (Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will, 1975), sexual harassment (Catherine McKinnon, Sexual Harassment of Working Women, 1979), pornography (Andrea Dworkin, Pornography: Men Possessing Women, 1981), the battered women's movement (Susan Schechter, Women and Male Violence, 1982), men murdering women (Diana Russell, Femicide, 1992), and feminist consciousness (Gloria Steinem, Revolution from Within, 1993). I wrote a history of American women who did not conform: Women Who Kill (1980). For countless women of my generation, this documentation and the movement for change became our life's work. 

The next generation of women thought differently. Many younger women, even some who call themselves feminists today, were persuaded by the hostile counterattack against the women's movement (meticulously deconstructed by Susan Faludi in Backlash, 1991) that we uptight "man-haters" had wildly exaggerated the violence women face. They, on the other hand, proudly proclaimed their youth, intelligence, ambition, and control of their own lives. They would not be victims or feminists either. We knew how they felt, for we had felt that way, too, when we were young. Then they went out to work and met the monsters.

To understand what actually happens to women, you only have to listen to or read any of the accounts pouring forth right now to denounce "sexual harassment." The stories are laced with fear about immediate physical threats and, more pointedly, with anger and despair about the potential demolition of their jobs, future careers, and life as they had envisioned it for themselves.

From the stories of individual women, it's clear that predators violate the neat categories of feminist scholarship, shifting seamlessly from harassment to coercion to physical assault, rape, and worse. The "sexual" strategies exposed by these repetitive accounts are similar to those described in police reports on battered women, seasoned prostitutes, and women subjected to incest, trafficking, rape, and femicide. These are stories of the lives and deaths of millions of women and girls in America.

Behind all of them is the deafening sound of a silence that has persisted throughout my long life. But these past weeks have been startlingly different. By now, we -- both women and men -- should have heard enough to never again ask: "Why didn't she come forward?" Let this be our own "open secret." We all know now that a man who assaults a woman does so because he can, while a woman who comes forward, even with our support, is likely to be violated and shamed again -- as were the women who came forward to accuse presidential candidate Donald J. Trump.

Now What?

None of this is new, though we tend to act as if it were. Just last week, for instance, I heard three young women radio reporters explain that women back in the 1970s or 1980s accepted "unwanted male attention" in the office and in life "because that's just the way things were." (Harvey Weinstein offered the same excuse: "All the rules about workplaces and behavior were different. That was the culture then.")

Please, can we get this straight? Back in those ancient times -- the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s -- we did not accept violence against women in the workplace or any place else. It's true we hesitated to report it to employers or the police, because when we did, we had to watch them laugh it off or send us packing. But we did call it out. We named it. We described it. We wrote books about all forms of violence against women -- all those "man-hating" books that these days, if anyone cares to look, may not seem quite so obsolete.

We worked for change. And now only 40 or so years later, here it seems to be. Los Angeles Times reporter Glenn Whipp broke the story of James Toback's predation based on the complaints of 38 women. Within days that number had grown to 200. By the time I emailed him my story, the number reporting Toback assaults had hit 310. In a follow-up article, Whipp mentioned that the Manhattan District Attorney's Sex Crimes Unit wanted to hear from women Toback had attacked in their jurisdiction. I called and left a message, making good my threat to bring in the law after only about 45 years.

For the first time, someone other than my best friends might listen. Somebody might even call me back. But today, as I write, New York Times reporters Megan Twohey, Jodi Kantor, Susan Dominus and their colleagues describe in hair-raising detail "Harvey Weinstein's Complicity Machine," a catalogue of "enablers, silencers, and spies, warning others who discovered [Weinstein's] secret to say nothing." With their collaboration, Weinstein, like Toback, has preyed upon women since the 1970s. 

The Times reports that among Weinstein's closest media pals is David J. Pecker, the chief executive of American Media Inc., which owns The National Enquirer, a gossip rag whose reporters Weinstein could use to dig up dirt on his accusers. Reportedly, Weinstein was "known in the tabloid industry as an untouchable 'F.O.P.,' or 'friend of Pecker.'" It's no surprise to learn that another predator who shares that untouchable F.O.P. status in the tabloids is Donald "grab 'em by the pussy" Trump.

The question is unavoidable: If serial sexual predation disqualifies a man from being a film producer, screen writer, movie star, network newsman, talk show host, journalist, venture capitalist, comedian, actor, network news director, magazine editor, publisher, photographer, CEO, congressman, or senator, why shouldn't it disqualify a man from being president of the United States? Shouldn't sexist serial sexual assault constitute an impeachable high crime or misdemeanor? 

We may find out. Time magazine passed over the president as its "person of the year" to name instead the "Silence Breakers" -- the brave, outspoken women who inspired the #MeToo campaign. Pictured on the cover along with actress Ashley Judd and pop star Taylor Swift is a Mexican strawberry picker, using a pseudonym for her safety. Her presence and the arm of an unidentified hospital worker seated just out of the frame signal that we might yet learn how this cultural awakening is playing out in ordinary America for women working in the far less glamorous worlds of fast-food chains, nursing homes, hospitals, factories, restaurants, bars, hotels, truck stops, and yes, strawberry fields.

So where do we go from here? This train has left the station and rolls on. In some photos of those smart young relentless women journalists at the Times, I've noticed that their footwear tends not to stilettos, but to boots, which as every woman knows, are good for marching and for kicking ass. That's promising.

But since I've traveled this route before, you'll have to excuse me for thinking that when this big train passes, it could leave behind a system -- predators, enablers, silencers, spies, and thoroughly entrenched sex discrimination -- not so very different from that of the 1970s. And if that happens, no doubt those lying dead on the tracks will prove, upon official examination, to be female.

Categories: Latest News

Mr. and Mrs. Perkins Go Gift Shopping 2017

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 21:00

and

Christma 

Categories: Latest News

Was the Heated 2016 Democratic Primary Rigged for Debbie Wasserman Schultz?

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 21:00

In August 2016, Wasserman Schultz faced off against progressive Tim Canova. Canova focused the national outrage against her, turning the election into a referendum on her ethics. But with a 13.5 percent victory, she overcame questions about her political viability. Now new evidence of original ballots being destroyed and cast ballots not matching voter lists calls into question the results.

Newly uncovered data on the race won by Debbie Wasserman Schultz in 2016 have shocked election experts. (Photo: Church World Service)

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In August 2016, Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz faced off against progressive maverick and Bernie Sanders supporter Tim Canova -- her first-ever primary challenger -- after six terms in Congress.

Just weeks earlier she had been forced to resign as head of the Democratic National Committee after stolen emails showed her talking smack about Senator Sanders and leaning on the scales in favor of her ally Hillary Clinton. Canova focused the national outrage against her, raising over $3 million, and turning the congressional election into a referendum on her policies and ethics. But with a 13.5% victory she overcame questions about her political viability and returned triumphantly to her job in Washington.

Now new evidence of original ballots being destroyed and cast ballots not matching voter lists calls into question the results of that election. 

With the nation fixated on the Alabama Senate special election and daily talk of interference in the 2016 presidential race, securing elections and verifying the accuracy of the vote has captivated the public.

On Thursday, an election transparency lawsuit was filed to preserve digital images of the ballots in the Alabama Senate race. And in a hearing in Broward County Florida, last month, a year-long battle to view the ballots in the race between Wasserman Schultz and Canova came to a head with a surprising admission by the Broward County Supervisor of Elections' office. In violation of both federal and state statutes that require federal election materials be preserved for 22 months, their office destroyed the ballots from the Wasserman Schultz/Canova race after only 12 months. Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes personally signed off on the ballots' destruction.

The county was in court because of a lawsuit that emerged from a public records request I filed in March 2017. It was the third public records request I filed with Broward County in a year. They did not provide the items requested in the first two public records request, so with the help of an attorney hired by Canova, who was also interested in seeing the ballots, I filed a third request. The county refused to comply with many items in the third request, and in June 2017 Canova, who is running for Congress against Wasserman Schultz again, took them to court. I am an expert witness in the case.

According to a transcript of the November hearing, the attorney for the Supervisor's office Burnadette Norris-Weeks claimed the ballots were destroyed, "Because they can't just store hundreds and hundreds of thousands of boxes.

It's possible that lack of storage space is not the only reason Broward County officials wanted to destroy the ballots. Months of investigating the Supervisor's office and analyzing election data reveal that in the vast majority of precincts in the race, the number of cast ballots does not match the number of voters who voted.

The discrepancies are large and all over the map. Some precincts show 10 to 20 more cast ballots than voters. In one precinct alone, M030, there are 24 more cast ballots than voters. Other precincts are missing ballots. Less than 10% of the precincts have the same number of cast ballots as voters; and in all the precincts combined, there are more than 1,000 discrepancies. Election experts and administrators who reviewed the data were shocked and concerned.

Duncan Buell, a professor of computer science at the University of South Carolina, said, "I see what I would call a high likelihood of massive incompetence. Either that or there is fraud. I don't think you should see numbers this big in this many precincts." Buell has examined election records extensively in South Carolina. 

Douglas Jones, a computer science professor at the University of Iowa sputtered in disbelief at the data. "This is really weird." He continued that they ought to be reconciling the number of voters with ballots and if they're not doing it, "they're grossly negligent." Jones served on the Election Assistance Commission's Technical Guidelines Development Committee for four years, but said "I've never seen a county that looks like this."

Canova is not the first one to take the Broward County Supervisor of Elections' office to court. He is in line behind the Republican Party that sued in November of 2016 over absentee ballots being opened in secret, and a not-for-profit that sued in October last year when Broward County left a medical marijuana amendment off some ballots. 

Problems with the county's elections go further back than that. In 2006, according to documents provided by the Florida Fair Elections Coalition, the Broward County Supervisor of Elections' office admitted to a "loss of data" that included over 100,000 ballot images. 

Ballots not matching the number of voters has surfaced in other states. In Wisconsin, the issue happens frequently enough that there is a statute (7.51 (2)(e)) on how to handle it, and the solution might surprise you. If there are more ballots than voters, officials are instructed to randomly pull out and throw away ballots until the numbers match.

Explanations

After almost a year of wrangling with the Supervisor of Elections' office, we were allowed a ballot inspection on November 1st and 2nd.  We arrived to find that there were no actual ballots to be inspected. The county instead insisted on showing us digital scans of ballots. In the subsequent court hearing they admitted they destroyed the originals.

We had already looked at the voter lists. The point of the ballot inspection was to see if there were also disparities in the vote count itself. We received printouts of scans for five precincts. In three of the five precincts, there were differences between the scans and the certified totals. In one case the difference was more than 1%. Based on the margins in this race, that type of shift is not large enough to change the outcome. However, since the original ballots, the totals tapes, and all associated paperwork have been destroyed, there is no way now to verify that these scans, or the votes on them, match the original ballots. The county hired an outside agency, Clear Ballot, to do the scanning -- raising chain of custody and security issues as well. Who had access to the ballots? Who had access to the scans?

The large discrepancies between the number of voters and the cast ballots, plus the inability or refusal of the Supervisor of Elections' office to produce the original ballots, all raise questions about what the true totals for the race may have been. Experts we consulted concurred that the certified results must be considered suspect. "They destroyed the evidence," said Karen McKim, a member of the Wisconsin Election Integrity Action Team and a veteran of handcounts in that state. "They can't defend their results."

The Broward County Supervisor of Elections' staff refused to answer questions during the ballot inspection, so it was not possible to ask them to explain the problems with their data. They are being deposed in regard to the destruction of ballots, and could be subject to criminal prosecution. The printouts of the scans were sealed and sent to Columbia County, New York, in case further examination is useful. 

Academics and election officials who regularly examine this type of data offered a myriad of potential reasons for the large discrepancies between the voters and the ballots, but were universally dismayed.

When asked if there was a reason for that type of gap Columbia County New York Election Commissioner Virginia Martin replied, "Not a good one." She suggested that a crush of new voters at the polls could result in a lot of spoiled ballots, but said "If this were happening in my county I'd want to investigate it."

Professor Buell described a packed election with seven-hour wait times in South Carolina where he had witnessed voters leaving after signing in. That resulted in more signatures than ballots in some precincts. But he could not recall seeing anything comparable to the numbers from Broward. He also noted the light turnout in this race and said the discrepancies were "unlikely to be attributable to long lines."

Susan Pynchon, executive director of the Florida Fair Elections Coalition, expressed frustration that when conducting citizen audits on elections, it was not unusual for them to see counties where the numbers did not add up. One explanation she had received in Volusia County was that they don't put police officers, firefighters, and judges on the disk of voters. Jones was uncomfortable with that practice saying, "Reconciling the number of ballots with the number of votes is such a fundamental protection of democracy that that is just giving the government the right to rig elections." 

A November article in the Christian Science Monitor brought to light some disturbing facts about the Broward County voter database: 

• It's estimated there are 61,000 more registered voters than eligible voters.

• It's estimated there are 560 centenarians currently living in Broward County, but there are 3,044 centenarians registered to vote there. 

The Monitor explored various security risks facing Broward County elections -- including the fact that its election systems and registration database are provided by VR Systems, a company that was compromised by hackers in 2016. Russia, North Korea, Iran and China were all put forward as foreign adversaries that could potentially disrupt or manipulate an election. But Pynchon offered a more mundane risk, closer to home. She pointed to a "ballot on demand" machine available at every early voting site that is capable of printing out ballots for any voter in any precinct.

The machines solved a major logistics problem for early voting, but she is concerned that there are not enough safeguards in place to protect against their abuse. She described how multiple ballots can be printed with the bubbles already filled in for candidates, and ended by saying, "An inside job would always be easier because you have access to all the tools you need."

The Rematch

Wasserman Schultz claims she is looking forward to the upcoming contest against Canova, saying in a June email, "I embrace it as a chance to continue to talk directly with voters." Canova has made no secret of his opinion of Wasserman Schultz. Following the election, he refused to make a concession call saying, "I'll concede that Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a corporate stooge." 

Snipes, the current Broward County Supervisor of Elections presided over the first race. She has a four-year term, so unless she is removed from office for misconduct (something the Florida constitution allows the governor to do) she will also preside over the rematch.

Categories: Latest News

Activists Demand Congress Halt Net Neutrality Repeal as Protests Erupt Nationwide

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 21:00

With just two days left before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) vote to repeal net neutrality, activists are making sure the wishes of over 23 million Open Internet supporters are heard. But with both Republicans and Democrats beholden to telecommunications providers, can Congress be persuaded to thwart FCC Chairman Pai's plans and deal a major blow to Trump's deregulatory agenda?

Demonstrators gather outside of the 31st Annual Chairman's Dinner to show their support for net neutrality at the Washington Hilton December 7, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

​With the Federal Communications Commission scheduled to vote on repealing its popular net neutrality rules on December 14, the campaign to save them is going into hyperdrive both online and in the streets. Protests are erupting across the country, including a major rally outside the FCC headquarters in Washington, DC, on Thursday.

Activists are focusing their efforts on Congress, which could still step in and demand that the vote be delayed.

A group of tech leaders and pioneering internet developers, including Tim Berners-Lee, an MIT professor credited with inventing the original World Wide Web back in 1989, sent a letter on Monday to members of Congress who oversee the FCC requesting that they intervene and halt the vote.

"Over 23 million comments have been submitted by a public that is clearly passionate about protecting the Internet," the experts wrote. "The FCC could not possibly have considered these adequately. Indeed, breaking with established practice, the FCC has not held a single open public meeting to hear from citizens and experts about the proposed Order."

One of those comments came from authors of the letter, who submitted a 43-page joint comment on behalf of 200 prominent internet developers and pioneers back in July. The comment, which can be read here, claims that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's repeal proposal is based on "a flawed and factually inaccurate understanding of Internet technology," according to the letter.

Pai, a Republican appointed FCC chairman by president Trump, has proposed a sweeping repeal of the 2015 Open Internet Order that gave the FCC power to prevent Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as AT&T and Comcast, from blocking, slowing and playing favorites with online content. The rules also allow the FCC to regulate the internet more like a public utility that everyone needs to use rather than a luxury for those who can afford it.

Pai says lifting the rules will allow ISPs to offer "innovative" service packages and put more money into infrastructure, but digital rights activists say they are needed to prevent big telecom companies from shaping the internet in a way that would maximize profits and construct barriers to internet access for low-income consumers and minorities.  

ISPs tend to be unpopular among consumers, and the same goes for Pai's repeal proposal, but that has not kept the free-market ideologue from going forward with plans to gut the rules, along with a long list of consumer protections established under the Obama administration.

Republicans in Congress have already used their majority to repeal popular online privacy protections for consumers at the behest of big telecom companies, so it appears unlikely that they would step in to save net neutrality at the last minute. However, lawmakers are more susceptible to public pressure than appointees like Pai. Could Congress be convinced to thwart Pai's plans, dealing a major blow to Trump's deregulatory agenda in the process?

The digital rights group Fight for the Future, which has successfully influenced Congress with massive online mobilizations in the past, says net neutrality can still be saved if enough people join online protests and call their representatives in Washington.

"We're already seeing key lawmakers crack under the pressure and come out in support of net neutrality," Fight for the Future co-director Holmes Wilson told supporters in a recent email. "We're organizing a mass online action for the 48 hours before the vote to drive hundreds of thousands more phone calls when we need them most."

Some members of Congress are speaking out against the repeal, including Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine. Several progressive house members, including Rep. Maxine Waters and Rep. Keith Ellison, are scheduled to speak at the rally outside the FCC on Thursday. Organizers expect hundreds to attend.

Democrats are calling for a delay of the vote because the FCC has yet to resolve disputes over a large volume of fake comments supporting the repeal supporting the repeal proposal that were submitted to the agency's docket along with stolen personal information, and activists stay there is still a chance to push lawmakers into action.

Some net neutrality proponents say that Congress could settle the debate by passing a law establishing net neutrality rules, but critics point out that ISPs make donations to members of Congress from both parties. Data from the Center for Responsive Politics shows that $101 million in campaign donations have flowed from ISPs to the coffers of current lawmakers since 1989. ISPs tend to favor Republicans, but Democrats have received 44 percent of donations.

Fight for the Future is planning a massive online protest on December 12. More information, along with details about contacting lawmakers, can be found at www.battleforthenet.com.

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Categories: Latest News

A Movement for the Toughest Among Us

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 21:00
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My name is Mashyla Buckmaster. I'm 28 years old. I'm the proud single mom of a beautiful one-year-old named Ella. As of today, I'm celebrating almost two years clean and sober. I live in Westport -- in Grays Harbor County, Washington. I've spent five years of my life homeless. Once during my homelessness, a neighbor tried to assault me by throwing a log through the window of the empty building where I was squatting, because he was so enraged that homeless people were living on his block.

I got Section 8 housing after my daughter was born, just before my organization began providing cold weather shelter to our homeless members. For 110 days last winter, Chaplains on the Harbor hosted about 20 people in our church -- most of them millennials who caught a record trying to survive in a county with no good jobs, no decent affordable housing, horrible healthcare, and plenty of heroin.

Business and property owners were outraged by our cold weather shelter. Our homeless members were stalked by police. Our pastor was threatened with vigilante violence. The same man who'd tried to attack me during my own time squatting also assaulted a 19-year-old homeless member of our community, on church property, and later attempted to run him over with a truck.

I volunteered to stay overnight at our church and keep people safe while they slept. I stayed there through the nights while the threats continued to pour in. I stayed because my community stepped up to save my life, when the rest of society didn't care whether I lived or died, and now it was my turn to protect my community.

I volunteered to stay overnight at our church and keep people safe while they slept. I stayed there through the nights while the threats continued to pour in. I stayed because my community stepped up to save my life, when the rest of society didn't care whether I lived or died, and now it was my turn to protect my community. I'm joining the Poor People's Campaign because I need a movement that's as tough as I am. Poor and homeless people get stereotyped like we're too stupid and lazy to solve our own problems. I wasn't homeless because I was stupid and lazy. I was homeless because our country has no problem with pregnant mothers being homeless in the dead of winter while just two hours away, in Seattle, the founders of Microsoft and Amazon have made themselves the richest individuals on the planet. You tell me who's messed up in this situation.

Some of you might be suspicious about a Grays Harbor County person getting up in front of this crowd, thinking, "aren't they just a bunch of rednecks out there?" Hell yes, we're rednecks. We're radical rednecks. We're hillbillies for the liberation of all people. "We are the living reminder that when they threw out their white trash, they didn't burn it." We're here to stand shoulder to shoulder with anybody taking up this campaign, and trust me, we are the kind of scrappy you want on your side in a fight."

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Black Snake Chronicles: Wiindigoo Economics and the Return of Keystone XL

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 21:00
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As the plauged Keystone Pipeline spilled 200,000 gallons of oil near the Sisseton Dakota reservation, on November 20, the Nebraska Public Service Commission issued a convoluted permit approval, allowing TransCanada to route the line through part of the state. In the meantime, the Dakota, Lakota and their allies stand strong.

That same day hundreds gathered for the Gathering to Protect the Sacred -- a reaffirmation of the international agreement among sovereign indigenous nations to protect the environment from tar-sands projects. The Treaty to Protect the Sacred, first signed in 2013, was signed again. "Nothing has changed at all in our defense of land, air and water of the Oceti Sakowin," Faith Spotted Eagle told the crowd. "If anything, it has become more focused, stronger and more adamant after Standing Rock."

The assembly -- sponsored by the Braveheart Society of Women, Wiconi Un Tipi, Ihanktonwan Treaty Committee and Dakota Rural Action -- brought together 200 water protectors. Oyate Win Brushbreaker, a 97-year-old elder reminded those present, "Reaffirm the boundaries of that treaty. Keep out that black snake you have been talking about."

The Keystone and Its Spill(s)

This is a story about Wiindigoo Economics -- Cannibal or Wasichu economics, if you like -- an economic system that destroys the source of its wealth, Mother Earth.

We can say that it begins in the United States, where a fossil-fuel economy rules, or we can say that it begins in Canada, where 90 percent of the value of the Canadian dollar, the loonie, is based on tar sands. Regardless, an undiversified economy is a stupid idea. Even with all its oil company allies, Canada has a problem. Alberta is a land locked province and there's no sane way to get all that oil to market. Things are unlikely to work out for Canadian tar sands interests, because at every turn they are being stopped by citizen opposition.

The Keystone Pipeline, which is not even fully operational, just showed us that it cannot operate safely. The mid-November spill in South Dakota was not supposed to happen -- neither were the last five oil spills. After all, they tell us, it's brand new pipe and TransCanada's June 2006 pipeline risk assessment found no reason for alarm:

[T]he estimated occurrence intervals for a spill of 50 barrels or less occurring anywhere along the entire pipeline system is once every 65 years. …  Applying these statistics to a 1-mile section, the chances of a larger spill (greater than 10,000 barrels) would be less than once every 67,000 years. 

To be clear, Keystone has now had at least a dozen spills. They keep moving down the line. One journalist speculated the pipeline was passing a kidney stone. In a 2011 analysis, University of Nebraska engineering professor John Stansbury estimated there would be at least two major spills per year, some potentially releasing as much as 180,000 barrels. (Told you so.)  

One could argue that the normalizing of pipeline spills and an impossible regulatory framework (especially in Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota) are to blame. But this is, in fact, the new norm. In 2016, there were 220 significant incidents, or pipeline spills in the United States, with 3,032 since 2006 -- those provide a stark reminder of the environmental hazards of an aging pipeline infrastructure carrying fossil fuels. But new pipes have catastrophic leaks too. The total cost of these accidents since 2006 is $4.7 billion.

As for the watchdogs? Inspectors for leaks are few and far between and they have unclear regulatory jurisdiction. The United States currently has 553 pipeline inspectors (208 federal and 345 state) and each is responsible for nearly 5,000 miles of line. These inspectors work for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). As the number of pipelines increases, and their age increases, we are playing high-risk pipeline roulette.

Wiindigoo Economics and Mni Wiconi

While Donald Trump is busy approving these projects, another reality continues. Water Protectors challenge pipeline viability, as does oil economics.

A few months ago, four massive pipelines were being planned to bring Canada's tar sands out of Alberta. On October 5, the longest of these proposals -- the $15.7 billion Energy East -- was scrapped by TransCanada. Canadian oil economists pointed to the decline of oil prices and the corresponding drop in tar-sands extraction as the driving force for project cancellation, augmented by Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau's more stringent review of pipeline projects to include greenhouse gas emissions and downstream impacts.

One down, three to go.

While TransCanada received approval this past month for the Keystone pipeline, it still does not have a route. The Nebraska Public Service Commission voted 3-2 to give the project the go ahead, but rejected the company's preferred route. TransCanada must now submit an application for an alternative route or appeal the decision -- a process that could take up to two years. That is catastrophic in itself for a pipeline company. One thing is also for sure: any new route will face fresh opposition.

Wiindigoo Economics marches on, but tar-sands divestment is climbing, electric cars are coming online and even Fox News reported in June, "Keystone XL is facing a basic challenge. The oil producers and refiners the pipeline was originally meant to serve aren't interested in it anymore." In other words, the company has no customers for the pipeline, and a pipeline without shippers is unlikely to be built.

The companies are hedging bets, as is the Canadian government.

In mid-November, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission held evidentiary hearings on Enbridge Line 3 (the 915,000-barrel-a-day tar-sands pipeline). In the back of the room, a Canadian official sat quietly in the audience, worried and watching. At the end of the day, he approached one of the tribal attorneys and asked if the tribes were likely to sue and stop the pipeline. It turns out TransCanada had asked the Alberta government to buy some oil shipping space on the proposed KXL Line because there were no shippers. The Wiindigoo Economics wizards of Alberta seem to be hedging their bets.

It's an uncertain time.

"If I was South Dakota..."

If I was South Dakota, I would be making sure that this catastrophic spill was completely cleaned up before anything else moves ahead, and maybe before TransCanada goes bankrupt. Indeed, the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission issued the Keystone permit in 2007 with 57 conditions, ranging from construction standards to environmental requirements.

The Commission may revoke or suspend that permit if the company is found to have made misstatements in its application or does not comply with the conditions. "If it was knowingly operating in a fashion not allowed under the permit or if construction was done in a fashion that was not acceptable, that should cause the closure of the pipe for at least a period of time until those challenges are rectified," said Gary Hanson, one South Dakota PUC commissioner.

In the meantime, the Dakota and their allies remain committed to Mni Wiconi -- water is life.

"The coming battles are going to be new, not like the ones in the past, and will demand all our strength," Lakota organizer Judith LeBlanc writes on OurFuture.org. "The traditional indigenous practice is that you must respond to adversity with courage, humility, compassion and love of community as we always have. The NO KXL movement is being built from a spiritual starting point that's rooted in the traditional Lakota, Dakota culture and origin stories, in the grassroots and in sovereign treaty rights. … Native peoples have a legal, moral, spiritual and inherent right to be caretakers of the planet."

At the Gathering to Protect the Sacred, Arvol Looking Horse tells the crowd, "We have been here before. Time and time again we have faced this invasion in our camps and our communities. But we always prevail."

Julian Brave Noisecat was there as well: "After the Treaty to Protect the Sacred was signed, we came together to dance in victory. As the drummers hit the honor beats, we raise defiant hands. Women clutch red scarves symbolizing scalps and emblematic of the victory our people and planet so desperately need right now."

The path forward for Keystone XL remains full of peril. Landowners, tribes and opponents of the pipeline have time to organize an appeal, and more than 5,000 people have signed up to join indigenous people in acts of civil disobedience when and if construction begins.

This Black Snake faces some very strong, committed opponents.

Categories: Latest News

A Massive Blow to Social Movements if Our Voices Are Able to Be Blocked

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 21:00
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Janine Jackson: The Boston Globe technology writer says concerns about the FCC's plan to repeal net neutrality are "overhyped": Probably what will happen, if the agency eliminates the rules that keep the internet a level playing field, as it seems set to do, is…not much. In the same column, Hiawatha Bray describes net neutrality as "regulatory overkill on a massive scale." So, a "massive scale" thing whose elimination will nevertheless not mean much.

Should, for example, a company like Comcast block access to, say, Amazon Prime video, so subscribers have to use Comcast's service, Bray says, "millions of angry customers" would just "switch to a rival service." So your head's already well-scratched before Bray gets to the presumably ingenuous question: "What internet company would put itself in the crosshairs of public outrage just to gain a slight and temporary advantage over a rival?"

You may chuckle, but this is the level of argument in support of the FCC's effort to repeal net neutrality rules. The truth is, advocates have everything on our side -- public opinion, legal precedent, actual understanding of how the internet works. What opponents have, though, is corporate power, and its government supporters. So what now? Joining us to discuss where we are in this critical fight is Erin Shields, national field organizer for internet rights at the Center for Media Justice, one of the front-line groups on the issue. Welcome to CounterSpin, Erin Shields.

Erin Shields: Thank you for having me.

I suspect CounterSpin listeners have a healthy mistrust of media corporations claiming that they would never go against the public interest for a silly little thing like profit, but some might be persuaded that the effect of a repeal just might not be so bad, or might not mean so much. You bring people to Capitol Hill to talk with lawmakers. What sorts of concerns do they have, what kinds of stories do they tell?

So a lot of my work is bringing people from the field who are doing work with media, organizing in movements, working in their communities, to talk about what net neutrality repeal would mean for them personally. And what you hear, over and over again, is this underlying issue around being able to control your own narrative.

There are a lot of other things that net neutrality repeal would impact, such as people's access to online education or to health information online. A lot of people in low-income communities and communities of color access education through the internet, or are doing their homework through the internet.

But also, on a larger social scale, the internet has been critical to getting around larger media corporation's control of our narratives. And so a lot of times when we're talking with lawmakers and decision makers, what we're emphasizing is the internet's impact on our communities being able to tell our own stories. I'm thinking about Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock, and a lot of the work that was being done by ADAPT up on Capitol Hill to stop the repeal of the ACA. A lot of that was powered by the internet, and our ability to push back on these dominant narratives that are often pushed in mainstream media.

And in these mainstream media arenas, oftentimes we're not even invited to the table, and so it's critical for us to be able to use blogs and Twitter and Facebook to share information, to talk about what's really happening on the ground. And I think that will be a massive blow to social movements moving forward, if our voices are able to be blocked and censored in those ways.

The FCC has three Republicans and two Democrats, and they often vote along party lines, and so it seems as though this move to repeal may go through in this December vote. But that's not the end of it. What would happen, what happens then?

We're anticipating, as much as we hate to discuss it, that the repeal will happen. But what's next is, likely, many organizations, like Center for Media Justice and EFF, will take the FCC to court. And we feel like we have a great chance at winning, because we've won in the past. I think you were touching on it earlier. The 2015 open internet rules have been upheld twice in court. And we believe that, based on what we've seen, orders that we've seen come out of the FCC around this repeal, that they don't have a very good standing if we were to challenge this in court.

On the other side of that, there's a move to pressure lawmakers to introduce some sort of net neutrality legislation. And while that may seem good on the surface level, what we're concerned about is -- I mean, as everyone, as I'm sure your listeners know, the state of this Congress is not hospitable to a net neutrality order that would keep the 2015 open internet rules as the floor. Of course there are going to be ISP lobbyists in the room when that bill is being made. And so what we're asking congressional members to do now is to speak out publicly against this repeal and for the rules that we already have, and to demand that Chairman Pai do his job and enforce the rules that have been upheld by courts, that were come to in a democratic way, millions of comments submitted supporting these rules, and to not be beholden to his prior employers and to these four ISP companies who would benefit most from this repeal.

So there's still a battle to be had, and we don't want to lose organizing energy; we don't want people to take their ball and go home after the repeal. There's a lot that we can be doing to pressure Congress into standing publicly for the 2015 rules. And if there is any legislation put forward, to make sure that it codifies the 2015 open internet rules, and nothing less. We actually can't take anything less than that.

So not that we are giving up on other channels, like contacting legislators, like contacting the FCC. All of that is necessary, but I know that we're also talking about going back to the street again, aren't we?

Yeah, absolutely. We're planning on December 14, the day of the vote, to have a massive rally, in order to keep the energy up around this issue, right outside of the FCC. We really don't want Chairman Pai to be able to repeal this without there being some sort of visible pushback, and letting him know who exactly is going to be impacted by this repeal. I mean, I think a lot of times people think net neutrality is like this fight between internet companies, and it's really important for us, for CMJ in particular, to say, actually, hold on, the repeal of these [rules] is not just going to cost more for Netflix, but it will actually cost more for our communities, the ways that we're able to talk with each other, to organize, to access job opportunities, to access education. It's a real human impact, not just an impact on a corporation's bottom line.

And so I think that's why you'll see in the coming weeks a number of demonstrations, actions, and really disruptions to business as usual, because we really can't let this repeal happen without letting our communities, the media, general public writ large, know that we disagree, and that we disagree staunchly.

We've been speaking with Erin Shields, who's national field organizer for internet rights at the Center for Media Justice. They are online at MediaJustice.org. Erin Shields, thank you very much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

Thank you so much for having me

Categories: Latest News

"Cheated and Lied to": How Insurers and Manufacturers Mask the Truth About High Drug Prices

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 21:00

(Photo: AndrijTer / Getty Images)

Frustrated by the ever-increasing price of insulin, advocates for people living with diabetes decided to educate themselves about the pricing system for pharmaceuticals in order to hold the profiteers accountable. They discovered a complex and secretive system of kickbacks and backroom negotiations that have sent drug prices skyrocketing while manufacturers and insurers deflect the blame on each other.

(Photo: AndrijTer / Getty Images)

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Julia Boss's daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2015, just before her ninth birthday. Like many people who are self-employed, Boss purchased a health insurance plan through the federal marketplace with high out-of-pocket costs. Until she reached a $6,000 deductible, Boss paid $251 for a vial of insulin and $381 for a box of cartridges for an insulin injection pen that her daughter uses at school. Boss also paid $198 for emergency glucagon kits that could save her daughter's life should her blood sugar levels suddenly drop.

Boss had no choice but to pay huge costs to keep her daughter alive. Her story echoes many that have emerged in media coverage over the past year as public outcry grows over rising prescription drug prices. Notorious cases of price gouging by the likes of Valeant PharmaceuticalsMylan and Martin Shkreli have drawn plenty of media attention and left the public fuming, but greedy pharmaceutical executives are not the sole focus of Boss's frustration. Boss says insurance companies have been lying to her -- and the rest of us -- about drug prices, and she found herself paying more than her insurance plan does for insulin before hitting her deductible.

"[I feel] cheated and lied to, yes," Boss told Truthout. "Though devastated might be the best word."

When it comes to insulin and other pharmaceuticals, drug companies are not competing to offer consumers the lowest price, they are competing to offer benefit managers the highest rebate on list prices.

In 2016, Boss switched from a "bronze" to a "silver" insurance plan with a higher premium and lower deductibles, but drug companies had also raised the price of insulin and glucagon, so she still paid hundreds of dollars out of pocket each month until hitting a $4,100 maximum. After moving her family from Washington to Oregon, Boss briefly paid a $50 copay for insulin cartridges before her daughter developed an allergy to the product and was forced to switch to another brand that was not preferred by the insurance company.

"By then I had started to notice how uncomfortable the pharmacists looked when I picked up my daughter's prescriptions, and I had started following #insulin4all activists on Twitter -- people who have been working hard for years to bring public attention to insulin prices," Boss said. A storm was certainly brewing on social media, where diabetes patients were regularly posting pictures of their receipts from the pharmacy.

"I've seen [social media] posts from people who go to pick up insulin at the pharmacy, field the pharmacist's inevitable, 'you do know the price on this?' question, and then go out to cry in the car," Boss said. "Every one of those people feels cheated, especially when they know insulin prices have increased by over 1,000 percent in 20 years."

In November 2015, Boss founded the Type 1 Diabetes Defense Fund (T1DF), a group determined to get to the bottom of high insulin prices and hold the profiteers accountable.

Secret Drug-Pricing Deals Keep Consumers in the Dark

Like other specialty drugs, insulin prices have risen dramatically in recent years and continue to go up like clockwork. For example, Eli Lilly and Co. raised the price of Humalog, a fast-acting form of insulin that Boss's daughter used before developing an allergy to it, from $2,657 per year to $9,172 from 2009 to 2017: a 345 percent increase. Along with competing insulin manufacturer Novo Nordisk, Eli Lilly raised the price of its flagship insulin product again this year, despite government investigations into pricing schemes and class-action lawsuits accusing the companies of price-fixing.

Why are insulin prices so high? Boss says that in order to answer this question, we must examine the relationship between drug manufacturers and insurance companies. There are actually two prices set for insulin and other specialty drugs: the "list price" put on the open market by manufacturers like Eli Lilly, and the "net price" insurance plans pay after extracting fees and hefty rebates from manufacturers. T1DF estimates these backroom deals cut between 50 to 75 percent off the list price of various insulin products, based on market reports and public statements by pharmaceutical companies. That means Boss's insurance plan was paying much less for insulin than Boss paid out of pocket before meeting her deductible.

This isn't just the case for insulin. Data compiled by the IQVIA Institute of Human Data Science shows that the net prices insurance companies pay for most drugs are increasing at much slower rates than the list prices that consumers without insurance (or consumers who haven't yet met a deductible) would pay out-of-pocket at the pharmacy.

Rebates lowering the net price of a drug much lower than its original list price are negotiated by companies called "pharmacy benefit managers," which oversee prescription drug plans for employers and insurers. Benefit managers like CVS Caremark and Express Scripts control the formularies, or lists of specific brand name and generic drugs, offered to members under insurance plans, so they can demand fees and deep rebates from manufacturers in exchange for access to millions of customers.

Pharmacy benefit mangers typically profit from a percentage of the rebates they pass on to insurers, and a lack of transparency in their pricing systems has generated controversy in recent years as observers raise questions about whether savings are actually passed on to patients that need them. The federal government and several states have launched investigations into deals struck between manufacturers and pharmacy benefit managers.

So, when it comes to insulin and other pharmaceuticals, drug companies are not competing to offer consumers the lowest price, according to TIDF. Instead, they are competing to offer benefit managers the highest rebate on list prices. The higher drug companies set their list prices, the higher the rebate they can offer benefit managers. This feedback loop explains why the price of insulin keeps going up even though the drug has been around for decades.

trio of lawsuits filed by T1DF earlier this year goes even further, alleging that manufacturers and pharmacy benefits managers acting on behalf of insurers have illegally conspired to use this "kickback scheme" to inflate the price of insulin, blood sugar test strips and emergency glucagon kits under secret agreements in order to maximize profits on both sides. Patients with high deductibles and copays are gouged as a result. A separate lawsuit alleging the insulin manufacturer Novo Nordisk misled investors about secret rebate deals with pharmacy benefit managers makes similar claims.

How Insurance Companies Mislead Their Customers

Drug manufacturers paid about $179 billion in rebates in 2016, with 30 percent going to government programs like Medicare and 50 percent used to place drugs on insurance formularies, according to analysts at Credit Suisse. Analysts estimate about 90 percent of the rebates secured for insurers by pharmacy benefit managers are "recycled" back into the system in order to reduce insurance premiums. However, the amount that actually trickles down to consumers is currently up for debate. Insurers often to use high list prices to calculate pharmacy benefits rather than the lower net prices secured with rebates. Meanwhile, the rebating system is pushing list prices of specialty drugs like insulin higher and higher.

Insurance plans with low copays and deductibles shield many people from ever-increasing drug prices, but people with no insurance or plans with high out-of-pocket costs like Julia Boss face excruciating prices when they go to the pharmacy. In fact, T1DF claims this system leaves some people living with diabetes and other chronic conditions paying more for drugs than insurance companies do -- even if they have insurance. Alex Azar, a former Eli Lilly executive and President's Trump's latest nominee for health secretary, admitted as much in a speech at the conservative Manhattan Institute last year.

Boss says insurance companies get away with this because price negotiations between manufacturers, benefit managers and insurers are done in secret, and insurance plans do not disclose the post-rebate "net price" they actually pay for drugs to their customers. Instead, when patients check their insurance drug benefits, they see drug prices that are much closer to the original list price that manufacturers start with before the backroom negotiations and rebates bring the net price down.

"In the current system, insurers are misleading all their customers, even those who don't pay based on list price," Boss says.

Under this system, Boss explains, both consumers with great insurance (low deductibles and copays) and those with barebones coverage see a higher drug price than their insurer actually pays when they check their benefits. Here's how Boss put it in an email to Truthout. Remember, the "list price" is the original cost of a drug set by manufacturers, and "net price" is the price insurers actually pay after secret rebates:

Imagine what would happen if insurers instead reported net cost to plan in that column (that's possibly $70 or less for a 10 ml vial of analog insulin with list price $270, based on current rebating estimates). The marketing executive would know her insulin prices aren't breaking the employer's bank, and would keep that in mind when she's asking for a raise. The Affordable Care Act-insured freelancer who's paying $270 for every vial of insulin that keeps her child alive would ask, "what in the world is happening to the other $200?" And the landscaping worker with no health insurance would ask why he's paying a $300 cash price for a life-saving medicine that costs insurers only $70.

This is particularly harmful for people with diabetes, and not just because some patients cannot afford drugs they need to survive. Under this system, it's easy for people to blame their co-workers with chronic conditions for driving up insurance prices for everyone else on an employer's plan, when in fact drug prices have been inflated by a secret system of kickbacks negotiated behind closed doors by wealthy corporations. This has also allowed conservatives to blame rising premiums under the Affordable Care Act on the same people who have been devastated by discriminatory drug pricing, according to T1DF.

Meanwhile, when people living with diabetes and other chronic illnesses cannot afford the medicines that keep them healthy, they are more likely to end up in the hospital with severe complications, driving up health care prices and premiums for everyone else.

The sheer opacity of the drug-pricing system allows all the players to deflect blame onto each other while protecting their individual profit margins. Pharmaceutical companies have received the most heat from lawmakers and the media, but they say they need to set high prices to pay for rebates negotiated by pharmacy benefit managers on behalf of insurance companies. Pharmacy benefit managers claim they save consumers billions, but last week the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry's main lobbying group released a report suggesting that insurance companies are not passing these savings on to their customers. Rebates and discounts have grown over the past decade, but workers with employer-sponsored coverage have seen out-of-pocket spending on deductibles and coinsurance rise by 230 percent and 89 percent, respectively.

When Truthout asked insurance industry group America's Health Insurance Plans about the report, spokeswoman Cathryn Donaldson pointed a finger back at manufacturers.

"The bottom line is, the original list price of a drug -- which for many drugs is set not by the market, but solely determined by the drug company -- drives the entire pricing process," Donaldson said. "And if the original list price is high, the final cost that a consumer pays will be high. It is that simple: The problem is the price."

The focus on rebates, Donaldson said, is a "deliberate tactic" to obscure more serious issues around transparency and lack of competition among drug companies. However, she did not address questions about the insurance industry's practice of reporting those high list prices to their own customers, even when insurers are not paying them.

Of course, the pricing scheme that drives up the price of insulin and other drugs is not the only reason why people in the United States pay some of the highest drug prices in the world. Pharmaceutical companies are always looking for ways to extend the life of their patents, and laws barring the re-importation of drugs prevent US customers from finding cheaper options in neighboring countries. Expect all of these issues -- including secret rebate negotiations -- to come up this week when the House Energy and Commerce Committee calls insurers, manufacturers and benefit managers into a hearing examining the drug supply chain. An emerging debate over proposed reforms aimed at increasing transparency in Medicare's drug program is also expected to thrust the issue into the limelight.

If policymakers do their homework, it may only be a matter of time before consumers learn the truth about high drug prices. 

Categories: Latest News

Amid Worst Winter Wildfires in California History, Farmworkers Are Laboring in Hazardous Air

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 21:00

In California, drought-fueled wildfires raged toward Southern California's coastal cities over the weekend. The fires have scorched some 230,000 acres of land and forced nearly 200,000 people to evacuate. At least one woman has died so far. The wildfires are already the fifth largest on record in California history. Climate experts say the intensity of the winter blazes is linked to climate change. Authorities have warned residents to stay inside because of the dangerous air quality caused by smoke and carcinogenic ash from the fires. But a number of farms have stayed open, sparking concerns that farmworkers are laboring in hazardous conditions without proper equipment. Last week, volunteers handing out free protective masks to farmworkers say they were kicked off some farms, despite the fact that the pickers were asking for the safety equipment. For more, we speak with Lucas Zucker, who was evacuated last week due to the wildfires. Zucker is the policy and communications director for CAUSE -- Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy -- and he helped distribute respirator masks to farmworkers who had to continue working despite the hazardous air quality conditions. We also speak with Democratic California State Assemblymember Monique Limón, who represents Santa Barbara and Ventura County.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman, as we turn to California, where drought-fueled wildfires raged toward Southern California's coastal cities over the weekend, the fires scorching 230,000 acres of land, forcing nearly 200,000 people to evacuate. At least one woman has died so far. The wildfire is the fifth largest on record so far in California history, the largest ever recorded in December. Climate experts say the intensity of the winter blazes is linked to climate change.

Authorities have warned residents to stay inside because of the dangerous air quality caused by smoke and carcinogenic ash from the fires. But a number of farms have stayed open, sparking concerns farmworkers are laboring in hazardous conditions without proper equipment. Last week, volunteers handing out free protective masks to farmworkers say they were kicked off some farms, despite the fact the pickers were asking for the safety equipment.

For more, we go now to Southern California, where we're joined by two guests. Via Democracy Now! video stream, Lucas Zucker, joining us from Ventura in Southern California, evacuated last week due to the wildfires. He's policy and communications director for CAUSE -- Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy -- helped distribute respirator masks to farmworkers who had to continue working despite the hazardous air quality conditions. By phone, we're joined by Democratic California State Assemblymember Monique Limón, who represents Santa Barbara and Ventura County.

State Assemblymember Limón, can you tell us what you are calling for right now?

ASSEMBLY MEMBER MONIQUE LIMÓN: So, in terms -- I mean, we have two areas where we are really focusing on: the fire itself, but also, in terms of the farmworkers, you know, we've had the ability to talk to Cal/OSHA, which is our department of employment and safety. We've also had the ability to talk with the Growers Association, and that has been particularly useful in making sure that we ensure that all of the farmers have information about how to keep workers safe during these conditions.

This is an emergency situation. And what concerns us is that in both Santa Barbara and Ventura County, not only have we had bad air quality, but the system in place to measure air quality has actually deemed it hazardous in certain parts of these counties. And so, it's been a very -- it's been very much part of our messaging to our entire community that air quality is so bad that it's considered hazardous in some areas, bad in others, and that we've needed to -- we've asked that people take care of their health. And so, when you have anyone who is working outside with conditions as the ones we have now --

AMY GOODMAN: Let me bring Lucas Zucker into this in the last 20 seconds. What have you found among the farmworkers? Fifteen seconds before end of show.

LUCAS ZUCKER: Sure, well, we found thousands of farmworkers out in the fields of Ventura County without the protective masks that they need. We've been mobilizing folks in the community out to talk to them. But, you know, workers are really faced with this horrific choice of either giving up the income they desperately need in a time like this or be out in conditions that are endangering their health and safety.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to leave it there, but we're going to do Part 2, post it at democracynow.org. Thank you so much, State Assemblymember Monique Limón and Lucas Zucker of CAUSE.

Categories: Latest News

On Eve of Alabama Senate Election, a Look at Roy Moore's Racism, Homophobia and Religious Fanaticism

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 21:00

Democrat Doug Jones and Republican Roy Moore are locked in a tight and increasingly controversial race to fill the Alabama Senate seat left vacant by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The election is on Tuesday. A Democrat hasn't won a US Senate race in Alabama for 20 years. Polling shows the two candidates are neck and neck, despite Moore being accused by at least nine women of sexually harassing or assaulting them when they were teenagers. President Donald Trump has repeatedly endorsed Roy Moore, including on Friday, when he held a rally in Pensacola, Florida, which is 20 miles from the Alabama border and in the same media market as Mobile, Alabama. Roy Moore has had a long and highly controversial political career in Alabama that's been marked by racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and religious fanaticism. Over the weekend, the Doug Jones campaign orchestrated a massive get-out-the-vote effort, particularly targeting African-American voters. A number of prominent African-American politicians, including New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, Alabama Congressmember Terri Sewell and former Massachusetts Democratic Governor Deval Patrick, all campaigned for Jones over the weekend. For more, we speak with Peter Montgomery, senior fellow at People for the American Way. His most recent piece is headlined "There's More Than One Roy Moore Scandal."

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today's show in Alabama, where Democrat Doug Jones and Republican Roy Moore are locked in a tight and increasingly controversial race to fill the Alabama Senate seat left vacant by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The election is Tuesday. A Democrat hasn't won a US Senate race in Alabama for 20 years.

Polling shows the two candidates are neck and neck, despite Moore being accused by at least nine women of sexually harassing or assaulting them when they were teenagers. One of the women says Moore removed her shirt and pants, then touched her over her bra and underwear, when she was 14 years old. She says she recalls thinking, "I wanted it over with. I wanted out. Please just get this over with. Whatever this is, just get it over."

President Trump has repeatedly endorsed the accused child molester Roy Moore, including on Friday, when he held a rally in Pensacola, Florida, which is 20 miles from the Alabama border and in the same media market as Mobile, Alabama.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We want jobs, jobs, jobs. So get out and vote for Roy Moore. Do it. Do it.

AMY GOODMAN: That's President Trump speaking Friday. He has also recorded a robocall endorsing Roy Moore.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Hi. This is President Donald Trump, and I need Alabama to go vote for Roy Moore. It is so important. We're already making America great again. I'm going to make America safer and stronger and better than ever before. But we need that seat. We need Roy voting for us.

AMY GOODMAN: Roy Moore has had a long and highly controversial political career in Alabama that's been marked by racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, religious fanaticism. Judge Moore was twice ousted as Alabama's chief justice, first in 2003 for refusing to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building. After being re-elected, he was again ousted in 2016, for ordering his judges to defy the US Supreme Court's ruling legalizing marriage equality. He was a proponent of Trump's racist and discredited "birther" theory about President Obama. He's compared homosexuality to bestiality. He said Minnesota Congressmember Keith Ellison shouldn't have been allowed to be sworn into Congress using a Qur'an, which he compared to Mein Kampf.

In 2011, Roy Moore proposed eliminating all amendments after the 10th, which includes amendments prohibiting slavery and the amendments giving women and African Americans the right to vote. In September, when asked at a campaign rally when he thought America was last great, Moore said, quote, "I think it was great at the time when families were united -- even though we had slavery -- they cared for one another. … Our families were strong, our country had a direction."

Over the weekend, the Doug Jones campaign orchestrated a massive get-out-the-vote effort, particularly targeting African-American voters. A number of prominent African-American politicians, including New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, Alabama Congressmember Terri Sewell, former Massachusetts Democratic Governor Deval Patrick, all campaigned for Jones across the state of Alabama. Jones' campaign ads are also highlighting his history as a US attorney in the 1990s, when he prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan, the members who bombed 16th [Street] Baptist Church in Birmingham, killing four young girls.

On Sunday, Alabama Republican Senator Richard Shelby said he could not vote for his fellow Republican, Roy Moore.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: I couldn't vote for Roy Moore. I didn't vote for Roy Moore. … I understand where the president is coming from. I understand we would like to retain that seat in the US Senate. But I tell you what, I -- there's a time, it's -- we call it a tipping point. And I think so many accusations, so many cuts, so many drip, drip, drip, when it got to the 14-year-old's story, that was enough for me. I said, "I can't vote for Roy Moore."

AMY GOODMAN: That was Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, a Republican.

For more, we go to Washington, DC, where we're joined by Peter Montgomery, senior fellow at People for the American Way, his most recent piece headlined "There's More Than One Roy Moore Scandal."

Talk about Roy Moore, Peter Montgomery. You also wrote the piece, "Roy Moore: A History of Bigotry, Extremism and Contempt for the Rule of Law." But talk about the scandals around the former Alabama judge.

PETER MONTGOMERY: Well, your introduction did a great job outlining some of them. I think it's scandalous that we have the Republican Party and a president supporting someone for the Senate whose whole career has demonstrated such contempt for core constitutional principles and the rule of law. And that's before you consider the allegations that are made by a number of women about him preying on and molesting teenage girls. Roy Moore has a long record of violating court orders when he disagrees with them and when he thinks they violate his biblical worldview.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, you've done a comprehensive look at his history. Go back to the beginning and talk about what you know about Roy Moore.

PETER MONTGOMERY: Well, Roy Moore went to law school after he had gone to West Point and served in Vietnam. And after he got out of law school, he became an assistant district attorney, which is when he has allegedly involved in preying on teenage girls. And after that, he became a state judge in Etowah County, in the northeastern part of the state. And that's when he had his first big controversy over his misuse of the court to promote his religious beliefs. He hung a handmade plaque of the Ten Commandments in his courtroom, and he was beginning sessions with jurors with Christian prayers. And he was very explicit about the fact that others could join him in prayer, but only if they were Christians, because he wouldn't allow Muslims or Buddhists, because they don't worship the right god. And so there was a lot of controversy over that at the time. This is the late 1990s. And religious right leaders from around the country came and rallied around him. And he sort of used that at his -- as the launching point of his political career and his first run for chief justice, which he was elected in 2000.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about being removed from the bench, in both cases, and what that means for a chief justice to be removed from the Alabama bench.

PETER MONTGOMERY: Obviously, that's something very extraordinary. Here you have someone who is elected by the voters, who is the top judge in the state Supreme Court, and his fellow judges took steps to remove him for violating his professional responsibilities. The first time, he had, again, played on his support for the Ten Commandments and his desire to use the courts to promote his religious beliefs and his religious worldview. He had this huge Ten Commandments monument carved out of granite and brought into the state courthouse that he presided over. And when a federal -- when a court ordered him to remove that, he refused. And so, for defying the court order, he was removed by his fellow judges. And it's interesting that Moore loves to say that he is the victim of persecution by, you know, radical liberals and LGBT people, but he was removed by other state judges from Alabama, and I don't think that's a hotbed of left-wing radicalism.

Then, a decade after he was kicked out, he was elected again. And this time, he was challenged because he started to order lower judges in the state to ignore, first, in 2015, a federal judge, who ruled in favor of marriage equality in the state. And then, later, when the Supreme Court of the United States had the Obergefell decision, which endorsed marriage equality across the country, he again told judges that they should not follow that order. And that was crossing the line the second time. And he was suspended permanently from his job that time.

AMY GOODMAN: On the issue of homosexuality, Roy Moore has compared homosexuality to bestiality. Can you talk about President Trump's endorsement of Roy Moore? And did this surprise you, Peter Montgomery?

PETER MONTGOMERY: I'm not sure if there's anything President Trump can do anymore that surprises me. And it doesn't surprise me that he supported Roy Moore, because Roy Moore has praised President Trump, has positioned himself as someone who wants to help President Trump make America great again. And Trump wants his vote in the Senate. I do think that it's scandalous that the Republican Party has gone along with Trump and supported someone who is as extreme as Roy Moore is. And I think they really need to be held accountable for it.

On the issue of gay rights and LGBT people, Moore is utterly opposed to the core constitutional principle of equality under the law. And it's not just about opposition to gay marriage for him. He wants to make homosexuality criminal. He wants to go back to the days when being gay was, per se, a criminal act. And he has backed up that kind of thinking as a judge. He supported, in 2002, taking a child away from a woman because she was a lesbian. And he said that anybody who participates in such an inherently evil act as homosexuality is inherently an unfit parent. And that's pretty terrifying.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this year, Roy Moore called for the removal of the judge who struck down Trump's ban on transgender people in the military, saying her decision was completely "ridiculous" and "a clear example of judicial activism." Moore's statement said, "Judge Kollar-Kotelly should be impeached by the House of Representatives for unlawful usurpation of power … Not only has she placed herself above the Constitution … but she has also interfered with the powers of the President as Commander in Chief of the armed forces."

PETER MONTGOMERY: Well, and that really takes us to another core constitutional principle, which is judicial independence and the rule of law. And Moore has no respect for judges who disagree with him. Obviously, the example you just cited is one. He also spoke at a religious right political conference earlier this year that I went to to hear him speak. And he said there that the Supreme Court justices who supported and ruled in favor of marriage equality should be impeached. And he vowed specifically that when he gets to the Senate, he will use his power as a senator to stop what he called the submission to the federal judiciary by the legislative branch. So, he clearly is no supporter of judicial independence, which is something that Americans have relied on to defend and uphold our rights.

AMY GOODMAN: In 2011, Roy Moore proposed eliminating all amendments after the 10th Amendment, which includes the amendments prohibiting slavery, the amendments giving women and African Americans the right to vote. He was speaking on a radio show.

AROOSTOOK WATCHMEN HOST: Actually, I would like to see an amendment that says all amendments after 10, all of --

ROY MOORE: Yes, that would eliminate many problems. You know, people don't understand how some of these amendments have completely tried to wreck the form of government that our forefathers intended.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Montgomery, can you talk about this, eliminating everything after the 10th Amendment? And then, when asked by the only black member of an audience recently about when was America great -- you know, referring to "make America great again" -- he refers to slavery time.

PETER MONTGOMERY: Yeah, this really gets to a big-picture worldview on the fringes of the conservative movement that Roy Moore is deeply intertwined with, you know, this nostalgia for a constitutional order that is utterly grounded in states' rights, where the federal government has radically limited powers to interfere with what the states do and to protect individual civil rights. And Roy Moore is very tied up in that. It's connected to a radical Christian Reconstructionist theology that says the federal government has no role in education or care for the poor or feeding the hungry, that those are all jobs that God has reserved for the family and the church. So, it's really disturbing to hear Moore talk like that. But when you realize the worldview that he's coming from and that he has made his -- has been made very clear during his career that he embraces, it's not that surprising.

AMY GOODMAN: Roy Moore said, "I'm going to tell you about the only thing I know that the Islamic faith has done in this country is 9/11." He also said that the Qur'an -- Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress, should not be able to be sworn in on his holy book, on the Qur'an, comparing it to Mein Kampf.

PETER MONTGOMERY: Yeah, I think the whole episode with Keith Ellison should, in itself -- even if you ignore all the other things we've just talked about, all the other radicalism and extremism, the Keith Ellison episode itself should make him unfit and should, you know, shame every Republican who is now endorsing him. Here we had Keith Ellison, who was elected to serve in the Congress, and as a Muslim, he chose for his ceremonial swearing-in to use the Qur'an, the way most members of Congress, when they come in, they do a ceremonial swearing-in using the Bible. And, you know, Roy Moore just used that as an opportunity to display his raw religious bigotry and his belief that Christians in America are the real Americans. And he said that Congress should refuse to seat Moore -- I mean, should refuse to seat Keith Ellison, because he said that it's impossible for a Muslim to honestly swear an oath to uphold the Constitution. And that's -- it's so offensive, that I think, really, that, in itself, should be disqualifying.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Montgomery, right now the race is too close to call. At Democracy Now!, we don't really rely on polls very much before, you know, the day of the election. Can you talk about the strategy of Doug Jones this weekend bringing in top African-American leaders to push hard to get the African-American vote out? It might simply be vote count being up, the issue in Alabama of voting polls being cut down under voter laws that have been increasingly restrictive.

PETER MONTGOMERY: Well, we certainly see that that's been one of the big-picture strategies from the Republican Party in recent years, particularly once the conservatives on the US Supreme Court gutted key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. So, voter suppression and laws that make it harder to vote are a huge concern. So I think that kind of concerted get out the vote and mobilizing is really important. And it's great that the party and the Doug Jones campaign was doing that.

I know Doug Jones has also been trying to build on the sentiments that were expressed by Richard Shelby in your introduction, among the Republicans who do not feel comfortable being represented by Roy Moore. And Doug Jones has run some ads featuring those Republicans to try to, I think, encourage Republicans who might cross over. So I think it's important that he's doing both those things, that he's appealing to Republicans who just can't go there with Roy Moore, but he's also really working hard to get out the Democratic vote, because that's really the only way Doug Jones has a chance to win.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, there was a Vice focus group. Frank Luntz interviewed some of Moore's supporters. One said, "Forty years ago in Alabama, there was a lot of mamas and daddies that would be thrilled that their 14-year-old was getting hit on by a district attorney." Another voter said the women's reputations were questionable at the time. Peter Montgomery, the allegations of sexual abuse and that Roy Moore is an accused pedophile?

PETER MONTGOMERY: Yeah, the focus group was really disturbing, for a number of reasons. And, you know, the one you mentioned, about someone saying, "Well, back then, it would have been OK," it's really stunning. You know, there's some really good work that's been done by religion scholars, including Julie Ingersoll, who's reported on the fact that within certain parts of the conservative Christian movement that focus on biblical patriarchy and female submission to men, this idea of older men marrying teenage girls is part of that subculture. You know, Phil Robertson from "Duck Dynasty," who's really become this big religious right and Republican Party activist, you know, he's basically said that girls should get married at 15 or 16, and that, you know, if they're young enough, then guys can be sure that they're pure for them and ready for them to sort of be handed over from their father to their new husband. So, that is a disturbing strain of conservative Christian subculture that Roy Moore is connected to.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you, Peter Montgomery, for joining us, senior fellow at People for the American Way. We will link to your pieces, the one, "There's More Than One Roy Moore Scandal," and your report on "Roy Moore: A History of Bigotry, Extremism and Contempt for the Rule of Law." The accused pedophile will run in a special election on Tuesday against Doug Jones for the US Senate seat that was vacated by Jeff Sessions, who became President Trump's attorney general. Of course, we'll be reporting on that tomorrow. And Richard Shelby -- the latest news -- the Alabama Republican senator, coming out against Roy Moore, saying he could not support him. President Trump, on the other hand, has made a robocall supporting Roy Moore, held a rally supporting Roy Moore in the Mobile, Alabama, media market this weekend, in Pensacola, Florida, supporting the accused pedophile.

This is Democracy Now! We'll be back in a minute in Jackson, Mississippi, where President Trump went to dedicate the opening of two new civil rights museums. Our guests didn't go to all the ceremonies, protesting President Trump's presence. But the museums themselves are quite remarkable, and we'll talk about civil rights history. Stay with us.

Categories: Latest News

Mick Mulvaney and the Bad Actors Club

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 21:00

Congressman Mick Mulvaney speaks to supporters of Sen. Rand Paul at a meet and greet in Rock Hill, South Carolina, on September 23, 2015. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

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Most people have probably heard about Mick Mulvaney's seizure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) as Donald Trump's appointed "acting director." They probably don't realize quite how outrageous this move is.

First, it is worth noting that Mulvaney openly holds the CFPB in contempt. When he was still in the House of Representatives, he referred to it as a "joke." Mulvaney has made it clear that he would be happier if the CFPB did not exist. Appointing him as acting director is a bit like selecting a hardcore atheist as the next pope.

It is also worth placing the CFPB in a larger economic context. The CFPB's general purpose is to protect people who are less financially sophisticated from predation by the financial industry. While it does perform this purpose, it also is working to make the financial industry more efficient, insofar as it succeeds in this effort.

Remember, the economic purpose of the financial industry is allocate credit to those who need it. In principle, we want to use as few resources as possible in this process. If we only need 1 million people rather than 2 million people to issue and service loans and perform other financial operations, then we have freed up a million people to work in health care, education or other productive sectors of the economy.

If financial corporations think they can make lots of money by writing deceptive contracts and abusive practices towards their customers, we know they will devote lots of resources to writing deceptive contracts and engaging in abusive practices. If the CFPB can shut down this avenue for making profits, then the people working in the financial sector will actually be focused on providing customers a service, rather than ripping them off. This is a gain to the economy as a whole.

Trump's decision to appoint Mulvaney was obviously intended to neuter the CFPB and reopen the door to all sorts of predatory practices. In carrying through this appointment, Trump was not only circumventing the order of succession laid out in the law creating the CFPB, he was also undermining the explicit intention of Congress for the CFPB to be an independent bureau.

No one disputes that President Trump has the right to appoint the replacement for outgoing director Richard Cordray. However the law is written so that he would have to nominate someone who would go through the Senate approval process. This means that Trump's candidate would have to make various disclosures and undergo questioning by members of the Senate.

Furthermore, once the nominee was approved by the Senate, he or she could only be removed for cause. Trump would not have the authority to remove his pick to the head the Bureau simply because he disapproved of their decisions in this capacity.

By contrast, Mulvaney has made no disclosures and was not subject to any questions from the Senate. He also has no independence from President Trump. He can be removed any day of the week for any reason. In fact, since Mulvaney's day job is running the Office of Management and Budget, where he also serves at the will of the president, he risks being fired from two jobs if he does anything that gets Donald Trump angry.

The use of an acting director, in this case, is not an accident. Cordray's plans to leave the CFPB before his term ends next summer were widely reported in the media. There is no reason that Trump could not have had a successor already selected whose name could be given to the Senate as soon as Cordray formally announced his resignation. Trump chose to go the Mulvaney acting director route precisely to circumvent this process.

Unfortunately, this is not the only case where Trump has appointed "acting" officials to head nominally independent agencies, thereby avoiding the constitutional requirement for the Senate to give its "advice and consent." Keith Norieka, a person who had a career in the financial industry, with no regulatory experience, served as acting comptroller of the currency for six months, just recently being replaced by Trump's nominee for this position.

Perhaps even more disconcerting is Trump's selection of David Kautter as acting director of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) when the term of the previous director ended November 13. Here also, there is no excuse for not having a nominee to submit to the Senate. The expiration of the IRS director's term is set in law, so Trump's team knew about this opening the day he was elected.

As is the case with Norieka, Kautter has no experience in enforcement. His background was in running tax avoidance scams at one of the country's largest accounting firms. And, this acting director of an ostensibly independent agency, like the other acting agency heads, can be fired by Trump any day of the week for any reason.

Congress could put a stop to this abuse of the authority to appoint "acting" heads of agencies and departments. There is not much ambiguity about the words "advice and consent," and there is neither with these and other acting appointees. But the Republicans in Congress don't really care much about the Constitution because right now, rich people need tax cuts.

Categories: Latest News

As Mueller Closes in on Trump, the Right Pushes Back: Will He Be Fired?

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 21:00

Special Counsel Robert Mueller arrives at the US Capitol for closed meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, June 21, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., appeared on CNN on Sunday and laid out the state of the investigation into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign in stark, simple terms:

Here is what we know:

The Russians offered help.
The Campaign accepted help.
The Russians gave help.
The President made full use of that help.

That's pretty damning. pic.twitter.com/kRo9NrdQq4

— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) December 10, 2017

It is. I would also add, as I wrote last week, that numerous members of the Trump transition team apparently knew that Michael Flynn told the Russian ambassador to tell his government not to react to the sanctions the Obama administration had just imposed upon them. That's damning too. The Russians were essentially told, "Don't worry, we'll make sure you aren't punished for helping us win the presidency."

Whether laws were broken, beyond the charges filed so far against four top Trump advisers, we don't yet know. But it's clear that special counsel Robert Mueller is pursuing leads in a number of directions, from possible financial crimes to obstruction of justice to conspiracy. With former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleading guilty to lying and agreeing to cooperate, this investigation has moved beyond the campaign to the transition and the White House. It's very serious.

And as anyone could have predicted, it was inevitable that the president's supporters in the media and the Republican Party would start to push back and try to delegitimize the investigation by attacking Mueller. This is the usual pattern in these presidential scandals.

Everyone in politics knows about the "Saturday Night Massacre" of 1973, when Richard Nixon demanded that Attorney General Elliot Richardson fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox, after the US Court of Appeals overruled the president's claim of executive privilege. Richardson refused and resigned, as did his deputy, William Ruckelshaus. It was left to Solicitor General Robert Bork, third in line at the Department of Justice, to do the deed. Ten months later Nixon was forced to resign in the face of certain impeachment. His successor, Gerald Ford, pardoned him shortly thereafter.

In the Iran-Contra scandal, the Republicans went after independent counsel Lawrence Walsh with everything they had, even granting immunity to the Reagan administration's henchman, Lt. Col. Oliver North, so he could arrogantly testify before the whole  country that he was proud to have broken the law on behalf of the United States of America. That investigation was finally ended when President George H.W. Bush preemptively pardoned former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and five other government officials on Christmas Eve 1992, as Bush was on his way out the door.

Democrats mercilessly battered conservative Republican judge Ken Starr, who was appointed independent counsel in the Whitewater investigation when his predecessor failed to turn up any crimes. This was a key to the Democrats' success in maintaining public opinion during the Lewinsky sex scandal, because it seemed that Starr had gone far afield from his original mandate to investigate an Arkansas real estate transaction from the 1980s.

So now we have Mueller, a former US attorney and the longest-serving FBI director after J. Edgar Hoover, investigating President Trump and the 2016 election. If it is true that Trump coordinated with the Russian government during the election and then obstructed justice to cover it up, it is the most serious presidential scandal in American history. Nixon horrifically abused his power, the Reagan administration defied the will of Congress and Bill Clinton lied about an extramarital affair.  This is of a different magnitude altogether.

The Republicans are obviously aware of the danger and are frantically circling the wagons. They spent months throwing various ideas at the wall, including the obscure (and largely fictitious) Uranium One scandal and other Clinton Foundation matters, in an attempt to force Mueller to resign on the grounds that he was FBI director at the time. Now they've finally settled on a grand unifying theory: the Justice Department, the FBI and the special counsel's office are all hopelessly corrupt and compromised due to their fealty to Hillary Clinton and hostility to Trump.

The theory goes like this: James Comey and his men covered up Hillary Clinton's crimes and Mueller and his team are now trying to railroad Trump. This thesis is based on the fact that an FBI agent who was involved in both cases sent some texts to his girlfriend which were allegedly anti-Trump. Muller fired him last summer and he

Trump's most ardent media advocate, Sean Hannity, came out with guns blazing last week. He condemned Mueller's "partisan, extremely biased, hyper-partisan attack team" as "an utter disgrace." He said "they now pose a direct threat to you, the American people, and our American republic."

Fox legal analyst Gregg Jarrett said "I think we now know that the Mueller investigation is illegitimate and corrupt. And Mueller has been using the FBI as a political weapon. And the FBI has become America's secret police. Secret surveillance, wiretapping, intimidation, harassment and threats. It's like the old KGB that comes for you in the dark of the night banging through your door."

Here is Fox News' Jeanine Pirro over the weekend:

.@JudgeJeanine: "There have been times in our history where corruption and lawlessness were so pervasive, that examples had to be made. This is one of those times." pic.twitter.com/rvCKHYhKQ9

— Fox News (@FoxNews) December 10, 2017

Meanwhile, Trump's allies in Congress are also ratcheting up the crazy:

Was there collusion between DOJ and Fusion GPS to use Democratic funded dossier for political and legal purposes?

We need to know the answer to those questions. https://t.co/z8wKjcvxiT

— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) December 8, 2017

I will be challenging Rs and Ds on Senate Judiciary Committee to support a Special Counsel to investigate ALL THINGS 2016 -- not just Trump and Russia.

— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) December 8, 2017

People wonder why Graham has suddenly become such an obsequious Trump lapdog. My suspicion is that Graham thinks he can distract Trump from doing something that will totally destroy his presidency with Clinton bait and unctuous flattery. It won't work, of course.

Trump's allies in the House have escalated their attacks as well, notably Rep. Matt Gaetz and Rep. Ron DeSantis, a pair of Florida Republicans Trump huddled with aboard Air Force One on his way to the Roy Moore rally in Pensacola last Friday night. DeSantis has been pushing legislation to cut off Mueller's funding and Gaetz has said that America is "at risk of a coup" from Mueller, and has introduced a resolution calling for him to be fired.

All of this, from the right-wing media to the GOP Congress, is designed to push Trump to fire Mueller -- and if that fails to discredit Mueller's findings among their followers, as Paul Waldman argues here. But considering the history of partisan attacks on special prosecutors and independent counsels, this can hardly come as a surprise to Mueller and his team. Mueller has been in high levels of government for many years; he's not a political naif. He undoubtedly knew this was coming.

We don't know whether or not Mueller has laid enough landmines to protect his investigation, although there are some indications that he's made the effort. But if Trump's rhetoric on Friday night is any indication, when he called the system "rigged" and "sick," we may be about to find out.

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Trump Takes a Stand for Corruption -- by Withdrawing the US From Anti-Corruption Pact

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 21:00
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The degree of corruption displayed by the Trump administration is on a scale that is hard to keep track of, and hits so close to home that we often forget about the wider global implications of having an incompetent, at best, and more likely a traitorous "president." As many of us have realized since Day 1, the antics of the Distractor-in-Chief have served as excellent cover for his real agenda: covertly implementing pro-corporate policies.

In this vein, another international issue that flew under the radar recently was the withdrawal of the US last month from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) as an implementing country. Through President Barack Obama, the US joined the "Anti-Corruption Pact," as it has been called, in 2011.

Now, Trump's hasty decision to pull out sends an unmistakable signal: corruption is tolerated if it helps line corporate pockets. According to Trump and lots of Republicans, anything regulating business is bad, even transparency. But the reality is that removing the US from EITI benefits no one.

Launched in 2002 by then UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, EITI helps address the systemic corruption in countries whose GDP relies primarily on resource extraction. More than 52 countries across the world have joined the pact, which imposes international standards on business transparency so as to hinder illicit payments such as bribes or other forms of corruption. The basic idea of the Anti-Corruption Pact is simple: if extractive firms and corporations are forced to publicly disclose their contributions to government, then citizens can hold them accountable. The agreement is designed to help countries avoid the perils of the so-called "resource curse" often faced by undeveloped, resource-rich nations.

It's little surprise that the countries that have benefited from the EITI regulations are among the poorest and most corrupt in the world, for example, Ghana and Azerbaijan.

The Chairman of the initiative, Fredrik Reinfeldt, responded to Trump's decision in a prepared statement, saying, "This is a disappointing, backwards step. The EITI is making important gains in global efforts to address corruption and illicit financial flows." Some have interpreted the US withdrawal from the EITI as part of the country's indiscriminate and large-scale gutting of regulations, treaties and international agreements. But there is also concern that the Trump administration is giving extractive industries too much control over their own regulations.

In a resignation letter written by a Department of Interior official-turned-whistleblower, Joel Clement stated: "Secretary Zinke: It is well known that you, Secretary David Burnhardt, and President Trump are shackled to special interests such as oil, gas, and mining." In light of the recent news, the fact that Interior Secretary Zinke oversees the Department of Natural Resources Revenue is indeed troubling.

During his time in Congress, Zinke, then a representative from Montana, consistently voted and legislated in favor of extractive industries. Watchdog groups have raised concerns about contributions Zinke received from those industries, totaling at least $345,000 since 2003. Other members of the Trump administration also have ties to extraction industries, notably Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil.

It's no secret that the "fox guarding the henhouse" approach has typified the Trump administration's approach to governance from the start. And given Trump's long history of favoring Big Oil and non-renewable resources, protecting oil companies from having to declare foreign payments on their taxes may now be at the root of the US's withdrawal from the EITI.

The Department of Natural Resources Extraction contends that the EITI didn't take account of the complex US legal framework, explaining that laws such as the Trade Secrets Act prevent the US from participating. The department put forward industry research -- which was itself funded by the extractive industry -- arguing that there is no clear relationship between "good governance" and the EITI.

However, even this research has acknowledged that the pact may ultimately prove effective in some countries. Meanwhile, other research has shown that although the EITI doesn't have a clearly positive effect on the rule of law and control of corruption, it has had a positive effect on government effectiveness, economic development and regulatory quality.

The specious argument made by Big Oil is that the EITI isn't 100 percent successful in eradicating corruption, therefore we shouldn't engage in it at all. However, none of the research shows that the EITI does any demonstrable harm or provides a justifiable reason not to participate. The real reason for US withdrawal from the EITI, it seems, is so that the extraction industry can hide its contributions to foreign governments, including bribes.

Strangely, Exxon itself last month came out in support for the EITI, saying it will voluntarily participate in the pact despite the US's withdrawal. This draws into question the real motives behind Trump's move to bring down 15 years of anti-corruption negotiations. Is it solely for corporate interests? Or perhaps it is just another example of Trump's hatred of anything Obama touched, and succeeded in accomplishing.

The decision to pull the US out of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative may not affect our everyday lives as Americans. But it destroys hope for reform in the world's darkest corners, and further damages America's credibility as an international mediator or fair player on the world stage. While the country's withdrawal from the global Anti-Corruption Pact may have slipped through the autumn news cycle, it will have repercussions on international relations for decades to come.

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How Northwest Communities Are Stopping Big Oil Projects

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 21:00
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"This is more fun than I've ever had in my life," Don Steinke told me when I called him this month. Steinke, a retired science teacher, is a leader in the fight to stop what would be the nation's largest oil-by-rail terminal. This month, the state agency in charge of reviewing the application voted unanimously to oppose the terminal -- a vote that could spell the end of the project.

First proposed in 2013 by Vancouver Energy, the terminal would have been built along the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington; 360,000 barrels of oil a day were to be brought by rail and then loaded on ships for transport to West Coast refineries. But the project quickly ran into local opposition.

The power of local organizing to stop this project got my attention. The opposition is fueled both by local impacts on water and air, and by the fact that building new oil-transport infrastructure is a terrible idea at a time when we must phase out the use of fossil fuel if we are to avert climate catastrophe.

Communities throughout the Northwest, often led by Native American tribes, have been stopping one project after another.

Just last year, for example, what would have been the largest coal export terminal in the United States was cancelled in response to opposition from the Lummi Tribe, which holds treaty fishing rights to the nearby waters. The Otter Creek mine in southeast Montana was also canceled in the face of opposition from the Northern Cheyenne Tribe and area ranchers. Early this year, Washington state Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark rejected a lease for a coal export facility in Longview, Washington, along the Columbia River; a county hearing examiner later denied the plant shoreline permits. Also this year, plans for a large oil terminal on the Washington coast were set back by a state Supreme Court ruling. The proposed terminal, which was opposed by the Quinault Tribe, would have shipped 17.8 million barrels of oil a year.

Seattle-based think tank Sightline Institute calls this opposition the "thin green line" separating tar sands oil, Powder River Basin coal, and Bakken fracked gas and oil from Asian markets. If these projects go through, Sightline estimates, they will release the carbon equivalent of five KXL pipelines.

How are these local groups able to succeed in the face of the power and money of huge energy corporations? What is it about place-based work that succeeds?

There are many answers to this question, and the leadership of Northwest tribes is among the most important. But I was intrigued by Steinke's continued enthusiasm after years of mobilizing opposition to oil transport, and before that, to coal trains.

"I made a thousand friends!" Steinke told me. "I'm feeling overwhelmed with the blessing of knowing so many people will show up over and over again."

And show up they did. On November 28, when the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council rejected the terminal, council chairwoman Roselyn Marcus noted the quarter million comments they'd received on the project, calling it "probably the longest process in the council's history."

Residents objected to the risk of fire, explosions, and water pollution associated with having thousands of oil-filled rail cars traveling through the Columbia Gorge and through their towns and cities. The Yakama Nation, a Native American tribe, noted their right to fish and practice cultural and religious traditions along the Columbia River, "including the area threatened by the proposed Tesoro-Savage [a joint venture of Vancouver Energy] project site," Yakama chairman JoDe Goudy said in a statement. "We cannot allow any further pollution to our river."

Others spoke of the terminal's impact on the climate.

"This is on my watch," Steinke told me. "I can't sit idly by."

After years of disappointment at U.S. government inaction on the climate crisis, Steinke had nearly given up. But then he learned of plans for new fossil fuel infrastructure in his own community.

"It may be too late," he said. "But it might not be. I'm morally obligated to do everything I can to avert the worst."

Steinke began by speaking at neighborhood meetings and submitting comments on the proposed terminal to the local newspaper's website. He stood outside the library with a clipboard and a petition, and gradually built up an email list of 1,500 people; many showed up to testify and comment on the proposal.

Another opponent of the terminal, Don Orange, owner of a local auto repair shop, organized dozens of small business owners to oppose the terminal before declaring his candidacy for the Port of Vancouver commission. His Republican opponent, insurance agent Kris Greene, who was running for office for the first time, received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the companies backing the terminal -- 87 percent of his campaign contributions, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Although he had far less money to spend, Orange won the November election with 65 percent of the vote.

It's up to Washington Governor Jay Inslee now to make the final decision.

Meanwhile, Steinke is thinking about his next moves. There are other proposed fossil fuel infrastructure projects to be stopped. He wants to convince local school districts to use heat pumps, not natural gas, in school construction. And he wants the city of Vancouver to adopt a climate action plan as ambitious as Portland's.

His advice for others who want to make a difference: "Show up, speak up, and make your case repeatedly. Without advocates, nothing happens. Elected officials don't want to rock the boat, but if you rock it, they will be receptive."

And, if Steinke's experience is any indication, the deeper sense of community and commitment that results could be oxygen for local revolution.

Categories: Latest News

The Republican Tax Bill Is a Poison Pill That Kills the New Deal

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 21:00

Many Trump supporters thought tax reform meant relief for the "forgotten Americans" he talked about on the campaign trail. But the GOP had other plans, intending to take a wrecking ball to the system of government that has been in place since 1933 and replace it with one based in their own ideology. If the "Tax Cuts and Jobs Act" becomes law, they will have succeeded.

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Shortly after President Trump took office, House Speaker Paul Ryan could feel just how close he was to finally achieving the goal he and his party colleagues had dreamed about for decades. With Republicans in uncontested power in Washington, he tweeted, they had a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enact real comprehensive tax reform and get our economy moving." Many Trump supporters thought reform meant relief for the "forgotten Americans" he talked about on the campaign trail. But Republicans had other plans, intending to take a wrecking ball to the system of American government that has been in place since 1933 and replace it with one based in their own ideology. If the "Tax Cuts and Jobs Act" becomes law, they will have succeeded.

It is hard to overstate the significance of this bill. It is a poison pill, killing the New Deal. The series of laws put in place by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and a Democratic Congress in the 1930s regulated business so employers could no longer abuse their workers or destroy the environment. It provided basic social welfare to support the elderly and infirm, and it developed infrastructure to guarantee everyone equal access to economic opportunity. Crucially, Democrats based their system on a distinctive ideology: The government must keep the economic playing field level for all Americans. As people at the bottom prospered, they would fuel economic growth for everyone.

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This was indeed a "new deal for the American people," as FDR put it. When he named it in 1932, government policy was based on the opposite ideology. Republicans who controlled the government in the 1920s insisted that national prosperity depended on government protection of the rich, who they believed would plow their capital back into the economy to provide jobs and higher wages for workers. When they took control of all branches of the federal government in 1921, they used their unchecked power to remake the government along the lines of their ideology. They slashed taxes and regulations and turned government over to businessmen, arguing that their policies would speed up the economy and bring the nation untold wealth.

In fact, the Republican policies did increase worker productivity by about 43 percent, but the profits went to business owners. So did the benefits of the tax cuts. By 1929, 5 percent of the population received one-third of the nation's income. The structural weaknesses of this economy plunged the nation into the Great Depression. By the time FDR took office, 13 million people -- 25 percent of the population -- were out of work, the price of wheat had dropped from $1.05 to 39 cents a bushel, mothers went hungry so their children could eat, and people who had lost their homes lived in packing boxes in "Hoovervilles," named after Herbert Hoover, the Republican president who oversaw the crash. Roosevelt's call for a government responsive to the general welfare rather than the demands of the very wealthy won him the White House in a landslide, and the popularity of his New Deal committed the federal government to providing for the general welfare for the foreseeable future.

But while a vast majority of Americans -- Democrats and Republicans both -- liked the New Deal and believed it was a necessary corrective to the unfettered capitalism that had plunged the country into economic ruin, there was always a rump group of Republicans who loathed the idea that they could not run their businesses without check. They insisted that it was not their policies that had created the Depression, but rather that their policies had not been implemented fully enough. Rather than destroying individual liberty with government activism, government must be slashed still further. "Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate," advised Hoover's treasury secretary. "It will purge the rottenness out of the system. High cost of living and high living will come down. People will work harder, live a more moral life. Values will be adjusted, and enterprising people will pick up the wrecks from less confident people."

When Republican Party leaders ignored the Hoover holdouts and embraced a philosophy similar to that of the Democrats, the discredited faction howled that the Grand Old Party had become a "Me, too" party embracing socialism. In the 1950s, with America enjoying a prosperity and standard of living unimaginable to the rest of the world, they insisted that Democrats and Eisenhower Republicans were cozying up to Communists and crushing the US economy. To save America -- and the Republican Party -- they demanded a return to the ideology of the 1920s.

To get there, a cabal of Republicans deliberately chose to abandon reasoned argument and pushed their ideology as sacrosanct. In 1951, William F. Buckley, Jr.  dismissed as "superstition" the Enlightenment belief that societies progressed through the free exchange of ideas. After all, given the facts, Americans chose an active government. Buckley argued that true Americans should refuse to compromise the principles of individualism and the Christianity they believed supported it.

Buckley and his brother-in-law L. Brent Bozell not only hated Democrats; they cheered on Sen. Joe McCarthy's attacks on the Republican Eisenhower administration. In 1954, the two self-proclaimed "conservatives" condemned "liberals," by whom they meant everyone, Democrat or Republican, who argued for fact-based government activism. Complaining that liberals were socialists who dominated all public spaces in America -- government, media and universities -- Buckley hit up rich industrialists for money to start a magazine to give voice to the "violated businessman's side of the story."

Led by National Review, "movement conservatives" set out to oust liberals from power, arguing that Americans were wrong to think that active government protected them from the excesses of unfettered capitalism. Rather, big government destroyed the lives of hardworking Americans. It sucked up a man's hard-earned wages through taxes and gave it to lazy voters who demanded handouts. In the 1950s, when the government began to enforce desegregation, the "takers" were African-Americans, but over time, the category of takers included all women, minorities, and union members who wanted the government to level the playing field. This redistribution of wealth crushed the individual, they said; it was communism.

In 1971, business lawyer and future Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell actively enlisted business interests in the crusade. He urged the director of the US Chamber of Commerce to attack media, education, politics, and the courts in order to destroy the socialists who were attacking the American system of free enterprise.

The onslaught worked. Voters signed on to the goal of reducing handouts to lazy ingrates. In 1980, they put Ronald Reagan in the White House, and he promptly began to roll back regulations, cut taxes and slash social welfare programs. Wealth began to move upward.

Rather than acknowledging that their programs did the opposite of what they promised, the Reagan administration pushed movement conservative ideology by killing the Fairness Doctrine, an FCC regulation that required news to be honest, equitable and balanced. Immediately, talk radio hosts and Fox News started their own media, calling it "fair and balanced" because it gave airtime to the ideological narrative of movement conservatives.

Propelled by talk radio, movement conservatives gained control of the Republican Party in the 1990s. They purged from it as "RINOs" -- Republicans In Name Only -- all leaders who were willing to admit any role for government regulation or social welfare legislation. They vowed to oppose all taxes under any circumstances whatsoever, for without money, the federal government would be forced to shrink and cut regulation and welfare programs. Their ideology was absolute: The New Deal state must be destroyed. True believers, they would not compromise with Democrats or moderate Republicans, and as they refused to budge, they moved the window of acceptable policies closer and closer to their ultimate goal

Republican reshaping of the government continued. By 2015, the top 1 percent of families took home more than 20 percent of income. Wealth distribution was 10 times worse than that: the families in the top 1 percent owned as much as the families in the bottom 90 percent. And yet the dismantling of the New Deal state was not complete because Americans clung to FDR's signature programs: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Donald Trump capitalized on movement conservative rhetoric in the 2016 election by turning the party's racist and sexist dog whistles into bullhorns, but it was his promises to protect the New Deal state by expanding health care, bringing back jobs, "draining the swamp" and reforming taxes that put him over the top.

But his promises were a con. With majority control in Congress, Republicans are scrambling to deliver a final death blow to the New Deal. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Acts slashes taxes on the very wealthy and kills regulations with the idea that rich businessmen will invest their money into the economy to support workers -- the same idea that Republicans embraced in the 1920s. The $1.4 trillion hole the bill creates in the deficit will require crippling cuts to Medicare and Medicaid: This is deliberate. The bill also repeals the individual mandate, the piece of the ACA that enables it to work. That cut follows Congress' refusal to fund the originally bipartisan Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Today's Republicans would have fit right in to Hoover's administration. Regarding social welfare programs, Utah's Sen. Orrin Hatch noted: "I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won't help themselves -- won't lift a finger -- and expect the federal government to do everything." Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley defended killing the estate tax because the repeal "recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it's on booze or women or movies." Conservative economist Stephen Moore, who advised Trump on tax policy, explained the Tax Cuts and Jobs Acts with crystal clarity: "It's death to Democrats."

Welcome back to the Roaring '20s.

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