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Private Market Fail -- US Indefinitely Reliant on Russian Government for Space Travel

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 21:00

Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft prepares for the launch to ISS with two American astronauts and one Russian cosmonaut on September 10, 2017, in Tyuratam 3 Airport, Qyzylorda, Kazakhstan. (Photo: Ninara)

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The US's future in space is largely in the hands of private companies whose work continues to be delayed and filled with uncertainty, a government watchdog testified on Wednesday.

NASA contractors Boeing and SpaceX were supposed to have commercial crew transport systems ready to be certified for launch by 2017, providing the US with its own manned space flight system for this first time since the Space Shuttle program was retired in 2011.

But those time schedules have since shifted. The certification date is now 2019. And that goal won't likely be reached until next decade, according to the Government Accountability Office.

In a report furnished as testimony on Wednesday before the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, the GAO warned that "uninterrupted access" to the International Space Station (ISS) is in danger due to the contractors' ongoing schedule overruns.

The delays also "lessen NASA's return on investment with the contractors," the oversight agency reported.

SpaceX and Boeing both received multi-billion dollar contracts from NASA in 2014 to build crew transportation systems to shuttle US astronauts to and from the ISS. Boeing garnered a $4.2 billion contract, while SpaceX pulled in $2.6 billion.

Since the inception of the agreement, however, the project has been plagued by contractor tardiness. In twelve quarterly reviews since 2014, "Boeing has reported a delay six times and SpaceX has reported a delay nine times."

The watchdog concluded that the contractors promises were overly "aggressive" from the beginning, and that "anticipated schedule risks have now materialized."

Each delay forces NASA to purchase seats on Russian rocket ships in order to send US astronauts to the ISS for routine activities.

GAO warnings about schedule delays in February 2017 prompted NASA to plan ahead and purchase seats aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Five seats were bought from the Russian Federal Space Agency for $410 million.

GAO's report on Wednesday stated that "if the Commercial Crew Program experiences additional delays, NASA may need to buy additional seats from Russia to ensure a continued US presence on the ISS." The agency provided no further recommendations to NASA.

Categories: Latest News

Reaching Rural America With Broadband Internet Service

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 21:00

All across the US, rural communities' residents are being left out of modern society and the 21st century economy. With an upcoming Federal Communications Commission vote on whether cellphone data speeds are fast enough for work, entertainment and other online activities, Americans face a choice: Is modest-speed internet appropriate for rural areas, or do rural Americans deserve access to the far faster service options available in urban areas?

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All across the US, rural communities' residents are being left out of modern society and the 21st century economy. I've traveled to Kansas, Maine, Texas and other states studying internet access and use -- and I hear all the time from people with a crucial need still unmet. Rural Americans want faster, cheaper internet like their city-dwelling compatriots have, letting them work remotely and use online services, to access shopping, news, information and government data.

With an upcoming Federal Communications Commission vote on whether cellphone data speeds are fast enough for work, entertainment and other online activities, Americans face a choice: Is modest-speed internet appropriate for rural areas, or do rural Americans deserve access to the far faster service options available in urban areas?

My work, which most recently studies how people use rural libraries' internet services, asks a fundamental set of questions: How are communities in rural regions actually connected? Why is service often so poor? Why do 39 percent of Americans living in rural areas lack internet access that meets even the FCC's minimum definition of "broadband" service? What policies, beyond President Donald Trump's new executive orders, might help fix those problems? What technologies would work best, and who should be in control of them?

The Wide-Ranging Rural Internet Problem

Since the dawn of the internet, rural areas of the US have had less internet access than urban areas. High-speed wired connections are less common, and wireless phone service and signals are weaker than in cities -- or absent altogether. Even as rural America's wired-internet speeds and mobile-phone service have improved, the overall problem remains: Cities' services have also gotten better, so the rural communities still have comparatively worse service.

National standards have not helped: As people, businesses and governments need and want to do more online, the FCC-set minimum data-transmission speeds for broadband service has climbed. The current standard -- at least 25 megabits per second downloading and 3 megabits per second uploading  -- is deemed "adequate" to stream video and participate in other high-traffic online activities

But those speeds are not readily available in rural areas. The FCC is actually considering reducing the standard, which critics say may make the rural digital divide disappear on paper, but not in real life.

Rural residents have few choices of internet service providers  -- or none at all. They pay higher prices for lower quality service, despite earning less than urban dwellers.

A related issue is that fewer rural Americans are online: 39 percent of rural Americans lack home broadband access -- in contrast to only 4 percent of urban Americans. And 69 percent of rural Americans use the internet, compared to 75 percent of urban residents. That means less participation in the culture, society, politics and economic activity of the 21st century.

Building a Nationwide Internet Structure

The basic problem is that high-speed internet has not yet reached huge swathes of rural America. There are two main ways to fix this problem: with wires, and without wires. 

Smaller towns in rural areas typically have two options for wired connectivity. About 59 percent of all fixed broadband customers use internet provided by the local cable company. Another 29 percent get their internet over phone lines, often called digital subscriber line service, or DSL. However, older systems in rural areas aren't upgraded as often, making them slower than those in metro areas.

A few small rural towns have fiber optic networks that are much faster, but they are exceptions.

One reason rural wired service is less available and less advanced is cost, which relates to population density. In urban communities, a mile-long cable might pass dozens, or even hundreds, of homes and businesses. Rural internet requires longer wires -- and often special signal-boosting equipment  -- with fewer potential customers from whom to recoup the costs. Rural homeowners who complain to me that they can't get DSL, but say the farm down the road can, are probably just a bit too far from the phone company's networking equipment. That's much less common in cities and towns.

Wireless Options

Covering these longer distances may be easier with wireless technologies, including satellite broadband, short-distance radio links and mobile-phone data. 

Satellite broadband -- where a customer has an antenna that connects with an orbiting satellite linked to a faster internet connection back on Earth -- is technically available anywhere in the country. But it is slower, and often more expensive, than wired broadband connections. And its connections are vulnerable to bad weather.

Radio connections can vary significantly. One type, called "fixed wireless," requires customers to be within sight of a service tower, much like a cellphone. Speeds can be up to 20 megabits per second. Satellite broadband and fixed wireless are used mostly in rural areas, but account for less than 3 percent of the US fixed broadband market.

Other options just being explored involve frequency ranges that are newly available. An approach using "white space" signals would transmit data on channels previously used by analog television broadcasters. Its signals, like TV broadcasts, can travel several miles, and are not blocked by buildings.

Another frequency range around 3.5 GHz, called "Citizens Broadband Radio Service," could let rural internet companies use frequencies previously reserved for coastal radar -- even in places far inland. But the FCC may be changing the rules to favor large telecommunications companies instead.

Mobile Wireless

The fourth type of wireless internet is already quite widespread -- it's on people's smartphones nationwide. Many people have higher-speed connections at home and use mobile data on the go. However, people who don't have access to, or can't afford, other internet service, often use mobile wireless service as their primary internet connection.

US wireless companies' coverage maps can be deceptive. Just because a carrier has a cell tower along an interstate highway does not mean the rest of the surrounding county also has good coverage.

In our group's research trips to Maine in 2016 and 2017, four people had phones with four different carriers, but there were plenty of places where not a single cell service was working. We have heard tales of small towns that have acceptable signals only in very specific spots -- like in the middle of a side street.

Mobile phone data service has different speeds, and is often priced by how much data and how fast it travels -- though even plans labeled "unlimited data" may slow down traffic after a customer transmits or receives a certain amount. Many companies promote their fourth-generation, or 4G, networks for their potential download speeds of around 20 megabits per second. But 5 to 12 megabits per second may be far more common, especially in rural regions -- making it more comparable to DSL. 

Mobile companies built massive networks to serve densely populated cities, leaving less populous rural markets without comparable improvements. Some hold out hope for the next wireless-data standard, the even faster fifth-generation 5G system -- but rural America may not see that service for a while.

Bringing High Speeds to Remote Places

In our work, we have found a lot of people on tight budgets figuring out how to use local Wi-Fi connections to download content onto their phones, so they use (and pay for) less mobile data. Public libraries, which generally have fast and free Wi-Fi, are popular options in rural areas. Many rural librarians have told us about people in their parking lots after hours simply using the library Wi-Fi. Those connections aren't always the fastest, but are a testament to the efforts of public libraries over many years to provide their communities' residents with computer and internet services.

The policy debates in Washington provide the US with the opportunity to choose to provide equal access to high-speed internet all across the country, or to relegate rural users to their smartphones, library parking lots and slow home connections. Real high-speed internet could change the lives of rural Americans: The FCC itself has reported that people use fixed broadband differently, and get more benefits from it than mobile data.

Fundamentally, it is a question of values. In the 1930s and '40s, the public sentiment was that the nation would be better off if everyone had reasonably comparable electricity and telephone service. As a result, the federal government established a system of loans and grants to ensure universal access to those key utilities. To help, the FCC set up a system to charge businesses and urban customers slightly higher fees to subsidize the higher costs associated with bringing phone lines to rural areas. 

The question facing the FCC and Congress -- and really, the US as a whole -- is whether we are willing to invest in providing broadband service equitably to both urban and rural Americans. Then we need to make sure it is affordable.

Disclosure statement: Sharon Strover receives funding from The Robin Hood Foundation in New York (for research on New York's public library system hotspot program) and the federal agency Institute for Museum and Library Services (for a research project looking at rural libraries). She has worked with several federal agencies and foundations on projects relating to communication policy topics over my 30-year career.

Categories: Latest News

New York Rescinds Controversial Prison Books Policy

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 21:00
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Getting books behind bars is no easy task. Correctional systems across the country have strict rules about which books prisoners can read and how they must be shipped -- and these rules are constantly changing.

In New Jersey, for example, a ban on "The New Jim Crow" was just lifted in response to public outcry. Last month, Texas banned 10,000 books from the prison system, and the ban remains in place.

And for a brief time in New York, a pilot program limited acceptable reading material at three facilities to less than 100 items. 24 of them were coloring books. It came in the form of a new directive from the New York State Department of Corrections, which limited the number of vendors allowed to send items to the prisons. That meant that people who wanted to send books had to pick from a pre-approved and very short list.

Prison officials argue that restrictions on reading material like these are necessary to prevent unrest -- for example, all books have to be shipped new in order to eliminate any secret messages or prohibited supplies from also being included. The distribution of pornographic and violent books is also disallowed. Censorship is permissible in this context, they claim, because without it, prisoners might be difficult to manage.

But for as long as prisons have been censoring, prisoners and advocates have been speaking out.

Depriving people of reading material feels especially inhumane for people trapped behind bars without other sources of enrichment or escapism. And sometimes those "controversial" reading materials contain important lessons about history and culture -- like the critical race theory in "The New Jim Crow" that explores inequality in the prison system.

The advocacy group Books Through Bars NYC warned that restricting inmate packages to pre-approved vendors effectively gave for-profit companies free rein in this particular domain. Families who wanted to send and bring gifts had to go through these vendors, no matter whether they provided the necessary products -- and regardless of the price. This isn't the only example of profiting off the prison system: The prison phone industry is infamous for this.

For families struggling to support incarcerated loved ones, this policy change could have a huge impact. Meanwhile, groups like Books Through Bars, which sends free books to prisoners across the US upon request, wouldn't have been able to serve their community.

A prison system concerned about rehabilitation should be delighted that prisoners want to read, expanding access to prison libraries and encouraging prisoners to request books when the library doesn't meet their needs. These kinds of policies often go into effect very quietly -- if you don't know your state's policies on books for prisoners, it's worth asking for more information. You might be surprised by what you learn.

Take Action!

You can join Care2 activists in telling Texas that inmates deserve "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and numerous other books inexplicably banned by the state.

Access to reading material isn't the only fight for prisoners: at the infamous Rikers facility in New York, where prisoners endure deplorable conditions, the injustice isn't limited to the prisons. Guards are also sexually assaulting visitors via invasive strip searches, and tens of thousands of Care2 activists think that should stop. Join them!

Categories: Latest News

Facebook's Algorithm Change: Maintaining the Flow of Information in Dangerous Times

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 21:00

(Image: Bill Hinton / Getty Images)

If you use Facebook regularly, you've probably realized that the items on your newsfeed don't appear at random or in chronological order. Facebook uses an ever-changing algorithm -- a mechanism that decides what content will appear for each person, and in what way it will be prioritized -- to determine what shows up in your feed. Recently, Facebook has made a significant change to its algorithm. Under this new iteration, users will encounter far less news from publishers in their everyday use of Facebook. Since most of us get at least some of our news from social media, this change will undoubtedly lead to a disruption in the flow of information. In the dangerous times we live in, we believe the flow of information has never been more crucial, but when corporations control over 90 percent of the media, and a corporate algorithm governs the distribution of news and analysis, events like this are bound to unfold. The relationship between journalism and social media has been a troubled one for some time, and instead of fostering a dynamic of direct connection, many media outlets have been cajoled into trusting an algorithm with the management of the truth itself.

The only way forward, given the extremity of this corrosion, is to be intentional about recreating connections between ourselves as publications, writers and readers -- and the need to build these connections has never been more urgent. Social platforms will continue to share posts from readers that spark dialogue. That means sharing and sparking discussion about the issues we care about most will be more crucial than ever to the flow of honest information. The corporate filter must be replaced with curation of a publication's readership. The flow of information will depend on the desire of readers to not simply be informed, but create dialogues around the information they receive.

Ensuring that stories about what harms disenfranchised communities, and what forces are, indeed, killing the Earth itself, are delivered to the public will now, more than ever, be a collective effort. We are ready to rise to that challenge, and embrace that change, because we believe that relationships, rather than mere facts and analysis, are the root of social transformation. At Truthout, we are asking our readers to join us in this culture-building shift, which we hope will take hold throughout the digital news sphere. If you believe in the necessity of independent journalism, we want to deliver the news to your doorstep. Truthout is committed to the free flow of information, and to keeping information free. We will create no paywalls. We will feature no ads. We will not be influenced by corporate sponsors. And in partnership with our readers, we will cut out the corporate middlemen and spread the truth from person to person, and inbox to inbox.

We are currently developing new ways to work in partnership with our readers to tell stories that fuel movements, and that will better enable our readers to connect with the struggles they care about. While the internet has added some sharp edges to the exchange of information, we must not sacrifice the truth. This is the work of change. This is part of the fight. And de-consolidating knowledge will help set us free.

If you want to receive our daily edition, and help spreads news that can promote change, sign up here.

Categories: Latest News

New York City Councilmember Jumaane Williams: Civil Disobedience Is Needed to Protect Immigrants

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 21:00

New York City Councilmember Jumaane Williams was arrested last Thursday along with fellow City Councilmember Ydanis Rodríguez and 16 others as they and others attempted to block an ambulance being used to transport Ravi Ragbir to detention last week. Speaking at Judson Memorial Church, Williams talked about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's inspiration and the need for civil disobedience.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Is ICE Targeting Immigration Activists? Family Members of Detained and Deported Leaders Speak Out

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 21:00

Ravi Ragbir, the executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition of NYC, was detained on Thursday when he went to his check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. Ravi's detention sparked a peaceful protest that was met with police violence. Police arrested 18 people, including members of the New York City Council. He is now being held in Florida and faces deportation. We speak with his wife Amy Gottlieb, a longtime immigrant rights advocate with the American Friends Service Committee.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

These 18 Senate Democrats Just Voted to Hand Trump Mass Spying Powers

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 21:00

Sen. Doug Jones is seen during a photo op in the Capitol on January 3, 2018. Jones was one of 18 Democrats who voted in favor of expanding Donald Trump's warrantless spying powers. (Photo: Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call)

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Senate Democrats had an opportunity Tuesday night to block legislation that places expanded warrantless spying powers into the hands of President Donald Trump -- who they have frequently criticized as a deranged authoritarian -- but 18 Democrats opted instead to do the opposite, providing the decisive votes in favor of a cloture motion that essentially ensures the bill's passage this week.

While many viewed the Senate's approval of cloture as a sure thing, a bit of drama ensued Tuesday night as the motion was two votes shy of the necessary 60 with two senators -- John Kennedy (R-La.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) -- left to vote. 

But after Kennedy opted to vote in favor of the motion, McCaskill quickly followed with a yes vote of her own -- giving the Republican majority enough votes to kill debate on the the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017 (S.139), block any possible privacy amendments, and clear its path to the Senate floor.

In total, 18 Democratic senators -- as well as Angus King (I-Maine) -- voted with Republicans to move the widely denounced bill forward.

The 18 Democrats were: Tom Carper (Del.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Maggie Hassan (N.H.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Doug Jones (Ala.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Joe Manchin (W.V.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Mark Warner (Va.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.).

Democrat Claire McCaskill just made the deciding vote: she voted YES on on cutting off debate for privacy amendments to the NSA spying bill.

The bill—which expands the Trump admin's ability to conduct domestic surveillance—will now almost certainly pass.

— Trevor Timm (@trevortimm) January 17, 2018

Civil liberties groups were quick to condemn every senator who cast a vote in favor of legislation that, if passed, will renew Section 702 of FISA, which allows the government to spy on the electronic communications of Americans and foreigners without a warrant.

"Members of both parties who voted in favor of this legislation should be sharply rebuked for supporting a bill that is in flagrant violation of the rights enshrined in the Constitution," ACLU declared on Twitter following Tuesday's vote. "Instead of instituting much needed reforms and safeguards, Senators supported legislation that would give spying powers to an administration that has time and time again demonstrated its disregard for civil rights and civil liberties."

60 Senators tonight voted to make it easier to spy on people against whom the FBI has no evidence of wrongdoing than against criminal suspects.

— emptywheel (@emptywheel) January 17, 2018

The Senate's vote on Tuesday came just a week after 65 House Democrats momentarily dropped their skepticism of Trump's mental capacity and voted to gift him and Attorney General Jeff Sessions the ability to conduct mass surveillance of Americans with little oversight.

What follows is a full list of the senators who voted in favor of the cloture motion Tuesday night. (Ten of the Democrats on the list are up for reelection in November.)

 

Categories: Latest News

We Cannot Expect a President With Racism "in His DNA" to Save DACA

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 21:00

After a federal judge ruled that Trump's racist comments likely led him to illegally end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Trump filed an appeal with the Ninth Circuit and Supreme Courts. Now his "shithole countries" comment not only threatens Dreamers, but it could also lead to a government shutdown. It's up to the courts and Congress to save DACA.

Donald Trump listens to his Kazakh counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev speak to the press at the White House in Washington, DC, on January 16, 2018. (Photo: Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images)

After Donald Trump called Haiti and African nations "shithole countries" and exclaimed, "We should have more people from Norway," Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) noted that being a racist "must be in his DNA, in his makeup." Trump's offensive characterization of Haitians and the entire continent of Africa, the latest in his pattern and practice of racist epithets, imperils legal protection for the 800,000 "Dreamers" who have been able to remain in the United States under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

On September 5, 2017, Trump rescinded the DACA program, effective March 5, 2018. Attorney General Jeff Sessions incorrectly declared that Barack Obama had overstepped his legal authority when he established DACA, as I explained previously.

Indeed, US District Judge William Alsup disagreed with Sessions and ordered the Trump administration to shield existing DACA enrollees from deportation until the courts could rule on the legal challenges to the program. Alsup concluded that plaintiffs contesting the rescission of DACA would likely prevail on the merits of their constitutional and statutory claims.

To read more stories like this, visit Human Rights and Global Wrongs.

Ironically, Trump's habit of spewing racist bile has come back to bite him. In his ruling, Alsup wrote there is "a plausible inference that racial animus towards Mexicans and Latinos was a motivating factor in the decision to end DACA." Alsup cited Trump's rhetoric against Mexicans and Latinos during the presidential campaign, specifically calling Mexicans "rapists" and referring to migrants crossing the border as "animals."

After rescinding DACA, Trump reacted to the overwhelming opposition to his decision by tossing the ball to Congress, tweeting, "Congress has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama administration was unable to do). If they can't I will revisit this issue!"

Two days later, Trump tweeted, "For all of those (DACA) that are concerned about your status during the six month period, you have nothing to worry about -- No action!"

The president's "shithole" words were uttered in a meeting called to save the Dreamers. It appeared there was a bipartisan consensus to reinstitute DACA with a path to citizenship for Dreamers; allocate "border security" funding, including money for Trump's "beautiful wall"; prevent Dreamers from sponsoring their parents for legal immigration status; and end the diversity visa lottery system.

Trump sought "a bipartisan bill of love," pledging to sign any bill that came to his desk as long as it contained money for "the wall."

But pressure from right-wing hardliners, who Trump considers his base, scuttled the deal in the volatile meeting in which he made the grotesque remarks. Trump also stated, "Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out," indicating an intention to remove Haitians from the United States.

The initial reaction from the White House was revealing. One official told CNN's Kaitlan Collins:

The President's "shithole" remark is being received much differently inside of the White House than it is outside of it. Though this might enrage Washington, staffers predict the comment will resonate with his base, much like his attacks on NFL players who kneel during the National Anthem did not alienate it.

But after the firestorm erupted in response to his outrageous comments, Trump denied uttering the words "shithole countries" or "take them out," insisting, "I am not a racist."

Astoundingly, although several attendees at the meeting confirmed Trump's "shithole" comments, Sens. David Perdue (R-Georgia) and Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) said Trump had not used that language. According to the Washington Post, "[t]hree White House officials said Perdue and Cotton told the White House that they heard 'shithouse' rather than 'shithole,' allowing them to deny the president's comments on television over the weekend. The two men initially said publicly that they could not recall what the president said."

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), who was present in the meeting, confirmed that Trump used the phrase "shithole countries" several times. But whether Trump said "shithole" or "shithouse" to refer to other nations is insignificant. Both are equally insulting.

Trump's Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen also tried to shield the president, testifying under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee, "I did not hear that word."

Earlier in the week, Trump had ended temporary protected status for 200,000 people from El Salvador, effective September 2019; many of them have been in the United States for 20 years. In November, Trump had halted temporary protected status for 59,000 Haitians, who are still reeling from the earthquake and cholera epidemic that have devastated that country.

Trump's use of racist language in regard to immigrants -- including those from Haiti -- is, of course, nothing new. The New York Times reported Trump's comments during a meeting in June 2017:

Haiti had sent 15,000 people. They 'all have AIDS,' [Trump] grumbled, according to one person who attended the meeting and another person who was briefed about it by a different person who was there. Forty thousand had come from Nigeria, Mr. Trump added. Once they had seen the United States, they would never 'go back to their huts' in Africa, recalled two officials, who asked for anonymity to discuss a sensitive conversation in the Oval Office.

Democrats insist that reaching a deal to protect the Dreamers is a prerequisite to securing their votes to continue funding the government. Trump blames the Democrats for the impending government shutdown, tweeting, "DACA is probably dead because the Democrats don't really want it, they just want to talk and take desperately needed money away from our military."

But Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) told the New York Times, "To believe that you can successfully blame Democrats for a shutdown over the DACA debate is naïve." Graham, who also attended the controversial meeting, confirmed to Sen. Tim Scott (R-South Carolina) that Trump said "shithole countries." Graham said he had confronted Trump about the president's words during the meeting.

The deadline to fund the government is Friday, January 19. Trump's racist tantrum has put not only DACA, but also the entire government, in jeopardy.

Trump has appealed Alsup's ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. It remains to be seen whether the appellate courts or Congress will ultimately save DACA.

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Categories: Latest News

The Electoral Justice Project Is Seeking Black Liberation and Political Transformation

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 21:00

The Electoral Justice Project (EJP) is working to build a political home for Black people across the country where they can actually discuss transformative public policy, say activists and organizers Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson and Jessica Byrd. The EJP wants to spark the biggest Black political renaissance -- independent of political parties and organizations.

People carry signs and march at a Black Lives Matter protest in Seattle, Washington, on April 15, 2017. (Photo: Jason Redmond / AFP / Getty Images)

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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 106th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

Today we bring you a conversation with Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, the co-executive director of the Highlander Research and Education Center, and Jessica Byrd from Three Point Strategies and one of the lead organizers for the Electoral Justice Project. They discuss how the newly launched Electoral Justice Project seeks to address the daily hardships of Black people while simultaneously organizing around elections.

Sarah Jaffe: I want to start off looking back at 2017, which was "The Year of Trump," but also the year of some pretty impressive victories for movement-aligned candidates and movements, particularly in the South. What were some of the lessons that were learned last year? What were some of the victories that were particularly exciting?

Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson: It takes a lot of intersectional cross-issue, cross-frontline organizing inside and outside of election cycles to make sure that we are able to win some of the victories that we have been able to win in the South. I think that it required lots of folks committed to political education through popular education. It required a conversation about governance inside of and outside of elections.

I think we saw really, really amazing collaborative work between folks who are building movements around formerly and currently incarcerated people having a right to vote. Some of the things like [Pastor] Kenny Glasgow and the Ordinary People Society did, or folks really focusing on Black women voters and Black voters in general ... connecting issues of housing to why it is important to elect people that care about you.

I think that ... we have seen people, through the Southern Movement Assembly, having conversations about governance from how to build people's democracy. I think we're starting to see some of the fruits of that labor.

I don't think many people in the region were surprised at the rise of Trump and white supremacy in its most overt form. I think we even called it, to some degree. I think that these wins aren't a response to Trump. I think in some ways they are related, but even more, it is just the long-haul work that Southerners have been doing to resist white supremacy and white nationalism and to say that we are better than this. It is really wonderful to see some of this work starting to come to fruition.

Jessica Byrd: I also think in addition to all of the things that she mentioned that create a context and a soil that makes victories possible, I also think on top of that, primaries really matter. Where Black people, where low-income folks, where non-traditional leaders, where folks that are inspiring us right now, like trans folks and folks that are running and able to win ... because we are truly engaging in the primary process at the local level and we are engaging in a conversation around our values and around who we truly believe who should be at the table and thinking about transformative public policy.

The Movement for Black Lives is calling for what we have always deserved and not just what we would concede to.

I think that is really important, because oftentimes primaries make people really uncomfortable; but, in particular, Democratic primaries are where candidates who have been largely left out of the system have to engage in that battle in order to ever even access to an elected political seat. I think that 2017 really showed us that there can be a lot of excitement; new folks with better, more radical ideas can get elected.... But that can't happen unless we get really comfortable with the way that the battle feels, with the way that the election feels. I think that we have to get really comfortable with that if we want to continue to see this type of radical change happen at the ballot box.

We have seen the real serious crackdown on voting rights in recent years, around voter ID. It's not like gerrymandering is new, but it has gotten quite intense. One thing that played an important role in a couple of elections was re-enfranchising formerly incarcerated people. Before we talk about specific elections or anything like that, talk about the terrain on which we are even having elections.

Byrd: This part of elections that I think we talk about the least is the real structural barriers in accessing democracy. Right now, our democracy is really an aspirational one versus one that we are actually finding the fruits of. What happens as we attempt to continue to access it more and more is that there are more barriers put in place for us to fully participate. When I say "us," I mean nearly everyone but white men who own land and have a college degree, etc. Those laws largely were passed as folks were gaining access to democracy and access to voting and elected leadership and finding ways to make their voices heard in our electoral system. Part of what the movement has to engage in, as well, is removing those barriers.

Places like Florida and Alabama and Georgia and parts of California have really taken on rights restoration, ensuring that incarcerated folks can vote as just one basic step to several to achieve the aspirational democracy that people so often talk about. For the Electoral Justice Project, we intend to do much, much more, and engaging in places in the South where we are able to not only work in partnership with folks who have been doing this for a long time, but also to make that an intersectional issue.

What we know is that rights restoration is pretty bipartisan, that there are folks across political parties, across political ideologies who have been kept out of our system. That is one way to organize and to talk about issues without getting lost in some of the binaries that our DC electoral system would like us to get caught up in.

Henderson: I think that what has become ever more real in the Southern-specific context is that even with the achievements of Black liberation movements before us -- specifically around voting rights and civil rights -- that we deserve more than what policy ever gave us. I think that the Movement for Black Lives is really pushing both in the Electoral Justice Project and through the Vision for Black Lives policy platform, calling for what we have always deserved and not just what we would concede to.

We are seeing more and more people experimenting in what self-determined governance looks like inside and outside of systems, including elections.

That looks like demanding even more protections for folks that are exercising their right to vote as one particular form of participation and building people's democracy. It is not the only tactic, but it is definitely one that we don't have the luxury to ignore, especially with working-class Black people, especially in places that tend to be more disenfranchised -- whether because you are a formerly or currently incarcerated person. Alabama, again, is another case study -- people who have never been convicted of a crime that are literally not being allowed to vote. We saw folks fight and win protections for those folks and over 10,000 formerly and currently incarcerated people registered to vote in this last election.

I think we are seeing people actually step up and talk about what the self-determined governance looks like inside and outside of structures that exist. I think Louisiana is another case study of folks that are like, "If we are going to say that voting is a tactic that our folks should be participating in, then why aren't we making it accessible to people?" Whether it be same day registration, whether it is through making sure we are doing intentional voter education work, and really being able to identify candidates regardless of their political affiliation that actually would want to serve our people. We should get to dictate that.

We are seeing more and more people experimenting in what self-determined governance looks like inside and outside of systems, including elections. I think folks in Alabama, folks in Louisiana [and] Jackson, Mississippi, and our comrades there are really giving a play by play of experiments that might be models in other places. I feel really excited about that.

Tell us about the launch of the Electoral Justice Project and the plans for it.

Byrd: ... I have been in electoral politics for the last 15 years. In 2014, I participated with my personal hat on in protest and uprising after the murder of Michael Brown in St. Louis, Missouri. I was asking myself about how electoral politics could be a meaningful tool for the movement as I watched the movement grow, as I watched my friends become visible leaders, as I put my life on the line and watched lots of others do the same thing.

Starting Three Point Strategies was an attempt to answer some of those questions. Could we create a bridge between electoral strategy and movement vision? Was it actually possible, or was our system just way too broken, way too exclusionary to do that? Over the course of these last three years, I started to realize that while our system absolutely is broken and that there are very real structural barriers in the path to participation, there is also hope and a lot of self-determination and being able to participate on our own terms and in our own way. Along that journey, I was working on a mayoral campaign in St. Louis, Missouri, for Tishaura Jones and I met Kayla Reed, who had been on the frontlines of organizing in Ferguson, Missouri, since August 9, 2014. She had been able to translate a lot of that frontline energy into a very real viable field program for Tishaura -- who folks in St. Louis really felt like was a movement candidate, was one of the first movement candidates really in the country to come out and say, "I am running because of this uprising. I am running to represent Black people and to really challenge the police."

Kayla and I then began working together and building out the idea of this project. We officially launched in October and it intends to do three things. We want to build a political home for Black people across the country who feel like there isn't a place to actually dream and talk about transformative public policy. We intend to provide a movement help desk [for] anyone who wants to engage in electoral political work where they live across the country. Right now, we have a listserv of 15 Black political operatives who are down to answer questions about how to write a voter engagement plan, what is legally allowed to engage in elections, etc. We are really excited that that gives us the opportunity to go really wide and to provide services to as many people as possible.

Then, this month ... we are officially launching the Electoral Justice League, which will be led by Rukia Lumumba and myself. It is an intensive political institute for electoral organizers. There are going to be 20 people. The application is going to go live at the end of this month. What that is an attempt to do is to go really deep in 20 different places on 20 specific issues that movement organizations want to lead on.

Then, lastly, we just had the part of our launch that we called Black November. Black November was an attempt to let people know we are in the game for electoral justice. We essentially put out a call for any Black person across the country who wanted to hold a town hall on what it would mean to engage in elections in a radical movement-aligned way. We had town halls in November in every single region of the country. We actually had more in the South than anywhere else. We engaged thousands of people in a conversation about what their visions were in terms of electoral politics where they lived. Right now, we are in the process of creating a really beautiful political map that includes all of the political opportunities that people are engaging in, the issues that people want to work in, and how they can get connected to each other so that we truly are a movement as we move toward November.

Talk about how this focus on these trainings and all of this will connect up to the work that has been done already around things like the Vision for Black Lives policy platform and the connections with movement organizing that is going on outside of the electoral arena.

Henderson: I think that what we found in the Movement for Black Lives is that when our ancestors and elders said, "By any means necessary," they meant by all the means. If we are going to be pushing for transformative public policy that will move us a little bit closer to freedom and liberation in our lifetime, then we have also got to be able to have some sort of say over the folks that are the legislators, that are the people that are controlling budgets, etc. I think we see it as an alignment with multi-tactical, multi-ideological strategy. I definitely think that some people are going to get down with policy, some people are going to get down with direct action, some people are going to get down with the organizing, some people are going to get down with electoral strategy or multiple tactics. We are not purists.

We do think it is going to require us to have some level of expertise in a multitude of sectors and be able to build the kind of progressive movement that will get Black people free.... I think that is something that I haven't seen really on a national level in my lifetime. I think that to see people doing that with such intentionality about local people leading their work, about making sure we are doing the sort of political education necessary to fill the gaps of where our knowledge is. I think it is really exciting to have seen thousands of people registered for calls, hundreds of people across the region and across the country really come together across difference in their front lines, but all of the unity about building a political home where Black people feel welcome is really exciting to me.

When you show up for people on a daily basis, they will be more ready to fight with you when you really need them.

I think it is really, really critical that these tables be in relationship with each other and we are excited about continuing to build the structure for that to happen.

Byrd: We are in this time where, through radical visions that we see ... many of us believe in and are hoping for a world that we live without prisons, without cages, that we hope we live in a world where everyone truly has access to housing and a place to sleep and enough food to eat -- really basic things that feel really far away right now. In order to achieve anything that looks like that, we need a movement in the millions, in the many, many millions. Part of what electoral organizing provides us the opportunity to do is talk to our people and that is what we intend to do. We are not going to make any false promises. I promise, and I have promised everyone who we are working with, that I won't make any false promises about what electoral politics can provide in the short term.

But, what I do think that it can provide in the long term is the ability to have said that we truly talked to our folks, that we know what they want, that we know what their lives are like, that we are engaging with them by calling them up on the phone and knocking on their door and going to the bus stop where they get on the bus, and going to the train station, and truly thinking about their every single day [and their] lives right now in the present. My hope for electoral work and my hope for 2018 and then for 2020 is that we ... can mitigate harm for our people and reduce the amount of harm that is being brought to them by this administration. I hope that we can provide them some hope by electing people who truly love them and are willing to say that out loud.

Then, also, I hope that what we do is begin to till the soil so that when we are truly ready for this revolution that we are fighting for, that we actually have the people that can do it. I think that when you show up for people on a daily basis, that they will be more ready to fight with you when you really need them. That is my commitment to this project and I think that is this project's commitment to Black people.

What are some of the things you heard from folks in the town halls, and are hearing since you launched, that they are interested in working on this year?

Byrd: The town halls were so beautiful. We are in kind of a synthesis time now and the folks who are working on this project are all meeting in two weeks to officially move into the next phase. The way that we have set up the town halls is that it would be a place of deep dreaming and visioning. Black people deserve so much righteous anger right now and they deserve to be pissed off with this administration and at all of the shitty leadership across the country that says that it represents them and doesn't.

Sometimes what we miss in movements, because we think so far ahead, is that people just want a way to fight back.

But what we wanted was to create a space where people could come and say, "This is what I want my community to look like." There were some places where they produced a brand-new budget for their city that completely gets rid of police, where they were able to dream about a new park in their community or an after-school program or providing meals to every single elder in their community three times a day. There was really cool visioning that was happening as people were engaging in what their communities would look like if they are being led by someone who truly loved Black people.

Then, in other ways, people came up with tangible plans around what they wanted to work on in 2018. We saw a lot of rights restoration, people who wanted to fight for ballot initiatives that ensure that incarcerated people could vote. There are also places where people wanted to un-elect a horrible racist district attorney or prosecutor. Those were all things that were coming up across the country. Mostly we just got a lot of excitement around people being together. Sometimes what we miss in movements, because we think so far ahead, is that people just want a way to fight back. They want a way to feel like they are a part of something that feels like there isn't this huge DC power that ... has effects over their lives and they don't actually get to do anything about it. So, we got tons of emails and notes and messages online of people that were just like, "Thank you for giving me a place to go to talk with somebody and to just say how angry I am and how hurt I am. I want to fight back." That also feels really good, too, for people to be building community in which they can truly be resilient and resist what this current political time looks like and feels like.

This is going to be an election year and we are going to be hearing a lot about elections. What and where are y'all looking this year for campaigns that are going to be exciting, places where people are really pushing something transformative?

Byrd: I feel like I am going to answer you in a couple of ways. One thing ... I want to be really clear about, is this is in no way ... a project of the Democratic Party. At all. We do not exist in a red to blue/blue to red binary. That is not what this project is. This project is not in service of a party. It is not in service of a particular organization. It is not a special project for Black people that people just get to pour money into and then say that they did Black people stuff. That is not what this is.

This is around truly building a ground-up, localized center of gravity on the things that Black people want to do where they live. That means a few things for us. One is that we have made a commitment to our movement ... to do very real Southern work. Our organizing program has committed that at least 10 of the organizers in that 20-person cohort are going to be placed in the South. What that also means, too, is that these issues are going to be locally sourced by our movement family and organizations who work there.

That is a process that we are going through right now ... to actually talk with all of our organizations and to say, "What do y'all need capacity to do? If you could have an organizer work on something every single day for the next 10 months, what would you have them work on?" We are building a map of both issue-based campaigns, as well as candidate campaigns where we are legally allowed. Also, if we can just create a beautiful voter mobilization project that make people feel excited and connected and also wins on a host of issues, then we also want to add capacity in those ways, as well. We are going to truly attempt to be as many places as possible, and in 20 places where we are going to go very, very deep.

Henderson: I think, as per usual, energy is going to get stopped up around the elections.... I think that Southern organizing is going to continue to be the thing that saves this country. Which is not a new practice. "As [the South] goes, [so] goes the nation" is not an opinion, it is a fact that we have concrete evidence for.

... I feel incredibly blessed the Movement for Black Lives is also a part of that Southern organizing tradition more and more. I think we are going to do our work. I think we are going to provide direct service for our people. I think we are going to come up with organizing campaigns and build alternatives while simultaneously exercising our power and flexing a little visionary muscle in the systems that already exist while challenging them to do right by our people. I think we are going to continue to build the world that we want outside of these systems that have never been good for us, while also challenging power in the systems as they exist right now. I think because of that, it is going to create entry points that all of our people can get down with and build the mass movement that our people have always deserved, and I feel incredibly lucky to get to be a part of it.

I don't know that I feel like we are going to be shocked by anything that happens. I think that what we are going to see is that the Movement for Black Lives is going to keep doing good work to keep saving Black people's lives. I think we are going to see a Southern freedom movement that keeps saving everybody because it is being led by Black folks like the Movement for Black Lives. That is something to call home about and be really excited about, I think.

Byrd: One thing that we keep saying is that the day after election day, that we are going to wake up to this beautiful headline that says, "The Movement for Black Lives sparks the largest Black political renaissance in the last 50 years." Part of the reason that that is so motivating is that we truly believe that we have everything that we need to be building an independent Black political core that really motivates and inspires people -- but also, when they look around their day-to-day lives, they are like, "This is actually changing my life. This is actually making my life better." That is really the point of this project.

I think it is going to give people something to feel excited about, versus something that we are only doing because it is a crisis and we need to strap up and save each other.

Do I think that in 2018 that we are going to win everything everywhere? Maybe not. But what I do think is that for one of the most clear times in history, we actually have the ability to talk specifically about what Black people need, what Black people deserve and the way that Black people should be led. This project intends to do that every single day of this election cycle. I think we are going to do it in a way that makes even you feel not tired of hearing about it, because it is so good and so delicious and so inspiring and so centered on the real stories of what is happening in the community that it is going to make wins later on possible that we might not have even been able to dream of.

Henderson: ... Our people's frustration with all the systems that exist, that have harmed us in the past or not served us, and how that gets lumped into all things electoral -- I think will feel different because this is different. This is not about some single party only talking to us around an election cycle and ... telling us what we can be concerned about and not listening to, what we are saying we are concerned about. This has been an exercise from top to bottom in really listening to what the most marginalized in our communities really feel. Listening to Black working-class people talk to each other about what they want and then synthesizing that and helping to support the building of the capacity to be able to get what they want regardless of the tactic.

I think that is going to mean that this particular round of work includes elections, but is also very much bigger than that. I think it is going to give people something to feel excited about, versus something that we are only doing because it is a crisis and we need to strap up and save each other. I think that is something that is really, really powerful. I think that is literally the important everyday kind of life-saving work that base-building does. I think that as much as this is an electoral project ... what is exciting to me is that this is also about people building their own power for those decisions about stuff that happens to them every day. That, to me, is a radical revolutionary act.

I think that is the kind of movement we are trying to build and I think that we would be remiss not to have folks like the [Electoral Justice Project] squad helping to support our people that are telling us that this is a tactic that they have to exercise if they are going to be able to survive the next four years. I think, to me, the reason that I don't feel exhausted by conversations about elections is because we are literally seeing that when we meet our people where they are at, give them the resources to build the capacity to get to where they want to go, that we can win. Our people, I think, are thirsty for models of how to win right now.

How can people get involved in the project?

Byrd: They can text EJP to 91990 and then they will be added to our email list and text list and they will get all of the updates about this project. Then, they can also visit ejp.m4bl.org and check out our website, what our vision is for 2018, as well as sign up to be a part of this project.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

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

Focusing on Trump's Mental Health Deflects Attention From His Politics

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 21:00

Ever since Donald Trump hit the presidential campaign trail more than two years ago, there has been a drumbeat about whether he is mentally unstable -- from mainstream news sources (the Washington Post: "Is Trump mentally ill? Or is America? Psychiatrists weigh in") to the left media (Democracy Now!: "Psychiatrists 'deeply concerned' by Trump's instability call for urgent mental health evaluation").

But it is wrong to put all this focus on Trump's mental health because it deflects attention from his reactionary politics. As David Perry wrote at Pacific Standard magazine in an article titled "Stop speculating about Trump's mental health":

I don't believe Trump's mental condition is all that relevant to his miserable performance as president. I believe he's always been a liar, a merchant of racism and sexism, and a person willing to exploit any perceived weakness for the sake of personal gain. The urge to pathologize his conduct says much more about the ableist biases of American society than whatever is going on in the president's brain. What's more, Trump's enablers will resist any such reporting.

To be blunt, the label of "crazy" is both too gentle for the monster who sits in the White House and also insulting to millions of people who suffer from mental illness. As Perry writes:

He lies, boasts, exaggerates, grifts, swaggers, spreads hate and division, and does whatever he can to improve his own fortunes while concealing his vast incompetencies and bottomless ignorance. None of these characteristics requires a pathology to explain. Trump's complete lack of fitness as president has nothing to do with whether he has any diagnosable conditions.

***

It turns out that there are accepted guidelines for how psychiatrists and psychologists should treat speculation of the mental health of elected officials when they take place in the media. They are known as the Goldwater Rule, as Christie Aschwanden explained at FiveThirtyEight:

The rule arose from a 1964 cover story in Fact magazine that had the headline, "FACT: 1,189 Psychiatrists Say Goldwater is Psychologically Unfit to Be President!" which led Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater to sue for libel -- and win.

The American Psychiatric Association's Goldwater Rule explicitly states: "[I]t is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement."

Ashwanden quotes Allen Frances, a co-author of the APA's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and a defender of the Goldwater Rule.

"Bad behavior is rarely a sign of mental illness, and the mentally ill behave badly only rarely," Frances wrote in a New York Times op-ed article. "Psychiatric name-calling is a misguided way of countering Mr. Trump's attack on democracy."'

Ashwaden wraps up the article with a point that liberal commentators might do well to think about: "People accusing Trump of insanity might well feel different about the practice if it was turned on one of their favored candidates."

The answer to this part of the "crazy" label is simple: Trump -- like any other serial abuser, for that matter -- is responsible for his actions and must be held responsible, or he will be unaccountable.

***

Stigma against mental illness is serious problem in this culture. Our society has made important improvements from the draconian days of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but that stigma persists -- and both Republicans and Democrats help perpetuate it, while cutting desperately needed resources.

Access to mental health care is worse than other types of medical services -- in a country that already has horrifically bad health care when compared to other developed countries.

The impact on people who suffer real mental health problems -- which are often rooted in the oppressive and alienating world around us -- is drastic. Many end up in prison, houseless, or dependent on partners or family to make up for their inability to function in a way that serves capitalism's needs.

This gives a very different picture of mental illness and its consequences from the media stereotypes. All too often, for example, the media tend to blame mass shootings on "mental illness," when mentally ill people are more likely to be the victims of violence rather than commit it.

Rev. William J. Barber, the architect of the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina who is now launching a new Poor People's Campaign, made an important point on Democracy Now!: "I've been looking at how people are focusing now on Trump's "mental status." I think that's the wrong thing...Dr. King talked about America being sick."

In fact, Donald Trump is the human embodiment of this sickness, having been born into wealth and grown into a spoiled, racist, serial rapist who was then accidentally elected president of the richest and most militarily advanced country in the world.

Trump is erratic and extreme in his self-aggrandizement, and those traits no doubt shape his behavior. But to use mental illness as an explanation is to ignore how the rulers of the capitalist system collectively use sexism, racism, transphobia, Islamaphobia and so on to keep their profit system functioning.

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Categories: Latest News

The Unexpected Significance of a "Shithole" Comment

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 21:00

People join together, near the Mar-a-Lago resort where President Donald Trump spent the last few days, to condemn President Trumps statement about immigrants from Haiti and to ask that he apologize to them on January 15, 2018, in West Palm Beach, Florida. President Trump is reported to have called Haiti, Africa and El Salvador places "shithole countries" last week, whose inhabitants are not desirable for US immigration. (Photo: Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

White House staff and Donald Trump apologists spent Thursday defending and justifying comments by the president that immigrants from "shithole countries" don't deserve to be in the US.

While Trump in an early-morning tweet storm tried to deny it, his people never bothered: quintessential Trump.

The man has never tried to hide his disdain for certain immigrants. During a meeting with lawmakers to discuss a bipartisan deal to help young immigrants, he reportedly questioned why the US continues to accept people from "shithole" countries like Haiti and unspecified ones in Africa. He wanted to know why we don't bring in more people from countries like Norway, whose prime minister Trump had met with the day before.

Of course, the people from countries he describes as shitholes are people of color, while the Norwegians he covets are White. As an immigrant myself, from the British Virgin Islands and a person of color, I find it hard to read the president's statement as anything but racist. It's hard not to feel maligned.

Even people who agree with him in spirit may openly denounce what Trump said. The ongoing economic struggle of many of these countries is no secret, and many understand enough to blame US policies for fueling some of the conflicts that have led people to flee their countries in the first place.

But referring to them as shitholes is the talk of barroom bullies or possibly White nationalist family-dinner conversations. You don't expect it in an open forum by the president of the United States, not even this one.

It wasn't the first time Trump has used the presidency's platform to lay out racism and xenophobia as support for national policy. He said recently that 15,000 Haitians who received US visas have AIDS. He said Nigerians would never return to their huts after seeing the US. His campaign speech about Mexicans as rapists and murderers has become a headline for his immigration stance, and Trump is on a never-ending crusade to ban Muslims from the country.

But Thursday's comment wasn't just another eye-roll anti-immigrant rant. The United Nations stepped in to call it out, saying that the comment is "about opening the door to humanity's worst side, about validating and encouraging racism and xenophobia."

Other nations also denounced Trump's comments, and our own government's Africa Media Hub scrambled and issued a statement reiterating our commitment to working with African allies.

And at the same time Haiti is marking the 8th anniversary of the deadly 2010 earthquake, the country's foreign minister summoned the US Chargé d'Affaires Robin Diallo for clarification on the shithole statement.

Trump's comments came as lawmakers and his White House are trying to hammer out a deal for young DREAMers, those who were brought illegally to this country as children. Trump is canceling the Obama-era program, officially called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, setting it on a course to expire in March unless Congress comes up with a solution. In exchange for signing off on any fix, he has said he wants funding for a wall. On Thursday he rejected as too weak a bipartisan proposal that addressed border security, the diversity visa lottery, and chain migration.

The White House in a statement defended Trump, saying this is his way of fighting for the American people. "Like other nations that have merit-based immigration, President Trump is fighting for permanent solutions that make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy, and assimilate into our great nation."

Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, the first Black Republican woman elected to Congress, is the daughter of Haitian immigrants. She called for Trump to apologize. "The President's comments are unkind, divisive, elitist, and fly in the face of our nation's values," she said. "This behavior is unacceptable from the leader of our nation."

She probably knows better than to expect an apology from Trump, who on Friday denied he made the comments. He's proven he lacks the capacity for atonement, but more disturbingly it's also clear the president is playing to his base -- that segment of the country that worries about the gradual browning of America.

What does it say about this country's democracy that we have a president who believes his base is more important than the majority nation's opinion, or the world's opinion? How many people who voted for him could rationalize everything that he's done and remain with him? Polls show the numbers are dropping. And this could likely drop them more.

Perhaps there's an opportunity here -- one of many, and of many more surely to come -- for this president to grind his base down to the smallest nubbin of a demographic. Or perhaps this is the painful way our nation will slowly figure out who it is, and who it is not.

Trump earned unusual praise from Democrats as well as the media for his handling of a rare televised meeting with lawmakers on Tuesday, in which he seemed eager to reach compromise on a deal for DREAMers and offered to take the heat for both Republicans and Democrats on a measure for comprehensive reform. But that idea didn't play well with his supporters. So by Thursday he was taking it back: "shithole countries."

I chose to stay in this country after college because I, like many immigrants, liked the opportunities it gave me. I chose to become a US citizen because I wanted to participate fully in its democracy. And while during the last year, under Trump, I have been made to feel increasingly unwelcome, I intend to stay, alongside immigrants from all those other "shithole countries" who demonstrate the resilience and hope that America still represents to me.

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How to Achieve Zero Emissions With a Green New Deal, Even if the Federal Government Won't Help

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 21:00

(Image: Lauren Walker / Truthout)

It's obvious that we can't expect anything good on climate change to come out of the Trump administration, but we also can't afford to wait, says economist Robert Pollin. Two recent studies produced by Pollin and his colleagues for New York and Washington states offer a path for states to make a just transition away from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy while creating thousands of new jobs.

(Image: Lauren Walker / Truthout)

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With Donald Trump in the White House, the prospects for fighting climate change have never been any bleaker in the US. Yet there are options available to state governments to move forward with the greening of the economy even without federal support. This point is made crystal clear in two studies produced recently by economist Robert Pollin and some of his colleagues at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for the states of Washington and New York. In this exclusive interview for Truthout, Pollin explains the significance of Green New Deal programs.

C.J. Polychroniou: Bob, two new studies on fighting climate change have been produced by you and two PERI researchers for the states of New York and Washington. How did these studies come about?

Robert Pollin: These were both commissioned studies. For the New York study, the commissioning group was New York Renews, which is a coalition of over 130 organizations in New York State, including labor unions, environmental groups and social justice organizations. For the Washington State study, three important groups within the US labor movement commissioned the study -- the United Steelworkers, Washington State Labor Council of the AFL-CIO and the Tony Mazzocchi Center for Health, Safety and Environmental Education (TMC). Tony Mazzocchi was a great visionary labor leader with the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union (OCAW -- [which] has since merged into the United Steelworkers), who fought to link the aims of working people with those of environmentalists.

It is obvious that nothing good on climate change is going to be coming out of the federal government under Trump. It is equally obvious that we can't wait around on climate issues.

It is not an accident that my co-workers and I were asked to do these similar studies at basically the same time. In both cases, the groups supporting the studies are advancing ambitious green economy programs within their respective states. It is obvious that nothing good on climate change is going to be coming out of the federal government under Trump. It is equally obvious that we can't wait around on climate issues (and many other matters) until somebody less awful gets into the White House. We therefore have to take the most forceful possible actions at the level of state politics. This is what the coalitions are doing in both New York and Washington States.

It is also significant that, with both studies, our priority was to show how a viable climate change project can be completely compatible with -- indeed, supportive of -- a pro-labor agenda. Trump and others on the right have feasted on the divides between labor and environmentalists, claiming that if you are for the environment, then you have to be against working people and their communities. These studies show in great detail (some might even say excruciating detail) that these Trump claims are flat-out wrong.

The Washington State program aims to reduce CO2 emissions by 40 percent as of 2035 relative to 2014.

I will emphasize though that we have to be very careful in making this case (and thus the excruciating detail in these studies). In particular, there is no getting around that, if we are going to stop burning fossil fuels to produce energy -- as we absolutely must to have any chance of stabilizing the climate -- the jobs of people in the coal, oil and natural gas industries -- along with many other allied sectors of the economy -- will be lost over time. We need to forthrightly confront this fact, but then advance beyond it, to develop what Tony Mazzocchi himself termed a "just transition" for workers and communities who will be hurt by the necessary environmental transitions. The overarching point of both of these studies is precisely to show how we can stop burning fossil fuels that produce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that are the primary cause of climate change, and to accomplish this in ways that expand job opportunities overall while also creating a just transition for workers and communities that are currently dependent on the fossil fuel industry.

What exactly are Green New Deal programs, and can they be supported without the involvement of the federal government?

The basic features of Green New Deal programs are simple. The centerpiece is investment in clean energy -- i.e. investments that can dramatically raise energy efficiency levels in buildings, transportation systems and industrial processes; and equally, dramatically expand the supply of clean renewable energy sources, including solar, wind, geothermal, small-scale hydro and clean bioenergy. Raising energy efficiency levels and expanding the supply of clean renewable energy will enable economies to end their dependency on fossil fuel energy over time, and thus drive down CO2 emissions to zero. These investments will also be a major new source of job creation wherever these investments are made, including New York and Washington States, but equally in other places.

At what levels do these investment programs need to be mounted in order for high efficiency and clean renewable energy to supplant fossil fuel dependency over the next few decades? As we show in these studies and elsewhere, the needed level of investment amounts to about 1.5 percent of the overall level of economy activity -- that is, GDP -- within virtually all economies. That ends up being a lot of money -- for example, about $30 billion per year in public and private investment in New York State, and about $7 billion per year in Washington State. But keep in mind that while these are indeed very large sums of money, they still only represent about 1.5 percent of each state's annual GDP. That means that 98.5 percent of the state's economy can proceed as it would otherwise, while we are channeling 1.5 percent of state's resources into the Green New Deal project that will significantly support climate stabilization.

Neither businesses nor households should ever have to pay more for energy as the economy transitions out of fossil fuels.

It would, of course, be easier to raise this level of investment funds in both New York and Washington States, and elsewhere, if the federal government was supporting the project -- as was being done to a significant, if not adequate extent under Obama. But that's not the world we are living in now. So, we have to fight to advance these Green New Deal projects right now, in the existing political environment, as best we can. I am very impressed by the work being done by both the coalitions in New York and Washington States. I am looking forward to their success.

For the state of Washington, the aim is to reduce carbon dioxide by 40 percent in comparison to 2014 levels. How can this target be achieved, and what do you think will be its impact on the environment, given that it will be a localized effort to combat climate change?

The Washington State program aims to reduce CO2 emissions by 40 percent as of 2035 relative to 2014. This can happen through the clean energy investment program of raising energy efficiency standards and expanding the supply of clean renewable energy.  

I should emphasize that through investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy, neither businesses nor households should ever have to pay more for energy as the economy transitions out of fossil fuels. This is because energy efficiency investments, by definition, save money for consumers. Meanwhile, the average costs of wind, geothermal, small-scale hydro and clean bioenergy are already at rough cost parity with fossil fuels. Solar energy is still a bit more expensive, but its costs are coming down rapidly. It was also notable that, amid the Trump/ Republican Congress's loathsome tax bill that passed in December, they did not cut the subsidy for investments in solar energy. That investment tax credit will continue to support the rapid expansion of the solar industry.

Driving down CO2 emissions to zero in New York State by 2050 is entirely feasible, both technically and economically.

Now, of course, all of these investments in Washington State will only lower emission in Washington State. Meanwhile, climate change must be addressed not only at the local level, or even the national level. It is a global issue. But we must fight for victories every single place until we get those victories. We at PERI are working, or have worked in the past, on Green New Deal projects in other places, including the US overall, China, India, sub-Saharan Africa, Spain, Brazil, South Korea, South Africa, Germany, Indonesia and Puerto Rico. The same basic principles work everyplace, after adjusting for local conditions, of course.

Will such a program have beneficial effects for the economy as a whole?

The investment program for Washington State will expand overall job opportunities in the state by an average of about 40,000 jobs per year. It will also be fully compatible with a healthy economic growth rate for the state, since, as mentioned above, the costs of energy will not rise on average.

One of the aims of the study for the state of New York is to reduce emissions to zero level by 2050, which is in line with recent UN reports that we must reduce emissions to zero by 2070 in order to avoid global warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius. Do you feel that the political climate in the US is conducive to such bold undertakings on the climate change front?

I can't claim to be an expert prognosticator of what politics will allow in New York State, or the US overall, between now and 2050. What we do show in the study is that driving down CO2 emissions to zero in New York State by 2050 is entirely feasible, both technically and economically. As with Washington State, we show that the clean energy investment project that will be the foundation of a zero-emission New York State by 2050 will be a net source of job creation, creating roughly 150,000 jobs per year through 2030, then about 100,000 jobs per year until 2050. We show that this clean energy investment project will not deter New York State from enjoying a healthy overall rate of economic growth, even as the economy transitions over the next 30 years into one with zero emissions. Moreover, we develop specific proposals for supporting both the workers and communities that are currently dependent on the fossil fuel industry, to minimize the negative impact on these workers and communities from the year-by-year contraction, leading to the total shutdown of the fossil fuel industry in New York State.

Given these features of the Green New Deal project for New York State -- just as with that for Washington State -- there should be, in principle, overwhelming support for this project. Now, of course we know that fossil fuel companies will fight these programs relentlessly, with all the various tricks they have, and with the enormous amounts of money they are prepared to spend to defend their sources of big-time profits. They are not about to throw in the towel. Everyone must realize that.

But organizers have to be equally wary of Democratic Party policymakers who give strong support in rhetoric, and even some support in actual policies, though nothing close to what is adequate to meet the challenges we face. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is a perfect case in point here. Thus, Cuomo was powerful in denouncing President Trump's decision last June to pull out of the 2015 Paris Global Climate Summit agreement. Cuomo also strongly reaffirmed at that time his administration's commitments to climate stabilization policies. His administration's policies are in fact quite good on paper, very much in line with those of New York Renews. But Cuomo has consistently been unwilling to match his rhetoric with a level of financial and regulatory commitment that will deliver on these stated goals.    

The response here is simple to state, if difficult to achieve: We simply have to defeat these people and their interests -- both the outright opponents among the fossil fuel giants and liberal policymakers who talk a good game, but are unwilling to commit to policies that will deliver on their promises. Getting victories against both sets of forces will require huge amounts of very effective organizing. I am confident that New York Renews in New York State and the coalition led by the Steelworkers and the State Labor Council in Washington State are ready to take on the challenge and succeed. I also look forward to their successes inspiring similar efforts and successes throughout the rest of the US.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Categories: Latest News

How to Get New Activists to Stay Engaged for the Long Haul

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 21:00

After a year of working with people newly mobilized by the 2016 election, one organizing lesson feels particularly clear: People need to feel part of a community that is making change in order to stay engaged for the long haul. This realization may not be surprising, but it has practical implications for organizations and movements that want to grow -- especially when outrage at the Trump presidency is still high, but the initial wave of protest has subsided.

The heightened need for community became immediately clear after Trump's election. To help focus the many people desperate to do something useful, I decided to offer a month-long course through the online platform Zoom. Independent of any organization, and not knowing who would show up, I posted the idea on Facebook and soon had 180 people in the first round. I offered some basic social change theory, inspiring stories from the past, and a chance for participants to discuss their own concerns through the magic of Zoom's small group function.

The first participants expressed huge relief at being part of a group, particularly one that included like-minded people from every region of the United States. Several asked how to find a group in their own area, and -- in hindsight -- I should have given more attention to this issue, which I had assumed would be easy to solve with a Google search. For many, it wasn't that easy. After teaching six online courses (the next one on How to Build a Nonviolent Direct Action Campaign starts January 15) I'm convinced that finding a group where they felt both included and effective has been a key difference between the students who have engaged in meaningful, ongoing activist work and those who haven't.

I might have predicted this from my own experience. For many years, especially when my children were young, I attended the occasional anti-war protest. Most often, I felt invisible at a gathering where no one bothered to say hello to me -- let alone request my contact information, even when the gathering was small. Showing up once and never hearing from the group again, I also felt ineffective, with no sense that my sporadic actions were part of a larger movement. Eventually, I stopped showing up altogether, focusing on individual actions like taking short showers and composting my banana peels to combat climate change, which also left me feeling isolated and discouraged.

A turning point for me came in 2011 when I stumbled into Earth Quaker Action Team, or EQAT (pronounced "equate"), where I was warmly greeted and given a task within a few weeks of my first meeting. In its early years, EQAT didn't always capture email addresses and phone numbers at our nonviolent direct actions, but eventually we learned to assign friendly greeters to rove the crowd with a sign-in clipboard. At our monthly meeting, we have participatory activities that invite newcomers to engage. We also have a snack table and a break during the two-hour meeting, simple ways to foster community.

Deeply engaging new recruits takes more effort, but it's key to building people power. For example, last May, EQAT organized a 100-mile walk to pressure PECO, Pennsylvania's largest utility, into making a major shift to solar and to do it in a way that creates jobs in low-income communities. Walking through Philadelphia and its suburbs, speaking at church halls and community centers along the way, we met many new people. Calling them all afterwards, inviting them to a training or some other next step, was a tremendous amount of work, but it helped us develop new leaders in the suburban counties. On December 7, we held a "Big Change for Solar Jobs" action at four PECO locations, featuring giant penny props representing the big change we need and people depositing a penny on their PECO bill to send a message that "small change is not enough." While the optics and messaging were fun, the most energizing part of the day was the fact that much of the organizing had been done by people who had never led an action before. These new leaders reached out to their own networks, resulting in well-attended suburban actions and increased pressure on PECO.

Deeply engaging newcomers also gives organizers a chance to counter the despair and disempowerment that easily surface when people don't see immediate results, especially in this political climate. More than in any previous year, I have heard newcomers ask, "What will this action accomplish?" It's a great question. My answer is "Nothing. This action by itself will accomplish nothing. But during our successful campaign to get PNC out of financing mountaintop removal coal mining, we held 125 actions, and 125 actions was enough to win against a $4 billion-a-year bank." Then I explain how the current action is one of many and that their arrival is a sign that we are growing and building the pressure on PECO through our geographic expansion, the same strategy that won against PNC.

Of course, this type of answer only works if you actually have a long-term strategy. In the wake of the election, thousands of local groups formed that gave people needed emotional support and focus in the early months of the Trump administration, but the level of strategic thinking in these groups varied widely. In my home state of Pennsylvania, a popular response to every Trump action was to call Sen. Pat Toomey in protest, despite the fact that the intransigent conservative had just been re-elected and was not particularly vulnerable to voter pressure. It didn't take long for frequent phone-callers to start to feel discouraged. As time goes on, it will be increasingly difficult for local groups to keep people involved if they don't see evidence that their actions are making a difference, or at least hear a compelling explanation for why staying the course will ultimately succeed.

In EQAT's campaign against PNC, we did have a compelling explanation, but it was a strong sense of community and commitment to building our own skills that held the group together for a five-year campaign during which there were few outward signs that we were impacting our target. What signs there were, we celebrated -- such as when PNC started locking us out of their bank lobbies, a move that could have disheartened us if we hadn't framed it as a sign that we were getting to them. Activist communities today have to look for and celebrate such small victories. That doesn't mean sugarcoating the political realities -- just honoring the very human needs for hope and encouragement. Without them, people will stop showing up -- just as I, and thousands of others, stopped showing up to protest the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some of my former students have already stopped showing up, but many have found fulfilling ways to stay active in their communities. Still, others are ready to move beyond simply calling their elected officials and are actively looking for the next group to join. For those of us who are looking to bring these folks in to our organizations, recognizing that they are looking for effectiveness as well as community can help us engage with them more successfully. Feeling that their involvement can in fact make a difference -- with others and over time -- is key to keeping them from sinking back into isolation and discouragement.

And it doesn't hurt to serve snacks.

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Categories: Latest News

What We Can Learn From Closure of Charter School That DeVos Praised as "Shining Example"

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 21:00
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When Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and first lady Melania Trump visited Excel Academy Public Charter School last spring, DeVos praised the school as a "shining example of a school meeting the needs of its students, parents and community." Melania Trump called the charter school "an exceptional example of a school preparing young women both academically and personally so that they may succeed in a global community."

The visit made international headlines due to the fact that it also featured Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan. In terms of publicity, a school could not ask for a better platform.

Unfortunately, we now know the praise the school got during its brief time on the world stage did not match its poor performance.

On Jan. 11, the DC Public Charter School Board voted unanimously, 6-0, to shut down the Pre-K-8, all-girls school at the end of the current school year. The board action wasn't because of some sudden turn of events after Secretary DeVos, Melania Trump and Queen Raina paid their visit. Instead, records show, it was because the "trend for student performance over the past several years has been negative, despite any benefits that may have occurred from learning in an all-girl setting."

Excel Academy charter school now joins the 200 to 300 charter schools that are shut down each year across the nation due to poor performance, financial shortcomings and low enrollments.

The Excel case magnifies how the cost of charter school failure is born by parents and their children, communities, educators and local residents. Indeed, many of the 700 or so girls who currently attend Excel must now scramble to find another school by next fall.

The closure of Excel represents a prime opportunity to focus on what we know about school choice and to move the discussion beyond ideological and partisan debates.

This is particularly crucial since between fall 2004 and fall 2014, overall public charter school enrollment increased from 900,000 to 2.7 million students. During this same period, the percentage of public school students who attended charter schools increased from 2 to 5 percent, and the percentage of all public schools that were charter schools increased from 4 to 7 percent. In addition to increasing in number, public charter schools have also generally increased in enrollment size over the last decade.

In 2017, the number of students enrolled in charter schools surpassed 3 million nationwide and the number of charter schools reached 6,900

This past September, the U.S. Department of Education awarded US$253 million in grants through the Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools Program to states and nonprofit charter management organizations. This level of funding is consistent with the level of federal support for charter schools in previous years.

Given all these developments, there is no better time for an honest discussion about what the research shows about charter school performance.

As the author of several books on school choice and a researcher who is currently examining the impact of choice policies on families, schools and neighborhoods, there are five points I would highlight that are based on the research on charter schools.

  1. The performance of charter schools as a whole varies widely. This is the most consistent finding across charter school evaluations. It serves to heighten the importance of continuous monitoring of how charters are authorized -- and how they perform -- as the number of charter schools continue to multiply across the nation.

  2. Similarly, the impact of charter middle schools on student achievement is a mixed bag based on various factors. In other words, you can't say charter middle schools are better or worse than traditional public schools. It all depends. One study examined student performance in 36 charter middle schools across 15 states, and found that charter schools were "neither more nor less successful than traditional public schools in improving student achievement, behavior, and school progress." The study also found that "charter schools serving more low income or low achieving students had statistically significant positive effects on math test scores, while charter schools serving more advantaged students -- those with higher income and prior achievement -- had significant negative effects on math test scores."

  3. The first three years of charter schools predict academic performance, financial viability and sustainability. In other words, it's pretty much do or die for new charter schools. This finding underscores the need to be proactive. It suggests charter authorizers should work with new charter schools at the start -- actually, well before the doors open. The proactive approach stands in stark contrast to a "wait to fail" posture where a school lingers and lurches toward the final days of operation. Is this educational malpractice? Maybe so.

  4. The overall performance of charter schools has increased between 2009 and 2013. This increase was driven in part by the presence of more high-performing charters and the closure of low-performing charter schools. Thus, while the recent decision to close Excel may be unfortunate for its students, it might ultimately be good for the overall quality and performance of the public charter school sector as a whole.

  5. Students who attend charter high schools are more likely to graduate than students who attend traditional public high schools. They are also more likely go to college and earn a higher income. "Maximum annual earnings were approximately $2,300 higher for 23- to 25-year-olds who attended charter high schools versus conventional public schools across the state of Florida," concluded one recent study conducted by Vanderbilt University, Mathematica and Georgia State University.

As new charter schools continue to open at a rapid pace while others are shut down, charter school operators and supporters should pay close attention to what took place at Excel, which first opened its doors in 2008. This is particularly true for new charter schools that may be struggling academically.

Darren Woodruff, chair of the DC Public Charter School Board, explained how many of the steps that Excel planned to take to turn things around were too little too late.

In a written statement, Woodruff said Excel's recent changes -- including the planned addition of a chief academic officer and a school turnaround plan -- all represent "welcome steps that ideally would have been implemented when the first indications of decreased student performance became evident."

"However," Woodruff said, "without these steps more fully in place and clear data on their impact, this Board lacks convincing evidence that Excel represents the best opportunity for these young girls that we all care so much about."

The lesson for charter school leaders and advocates is that these kinds of things need to be in place on day one. This is especially important since the research shows the first three years of a charter school are so crucial.

Claire Smrekar receives funding from US Department of Education. In 2006-08, I was an Investigator with the IES-funded National Center on School Choice at Vanderbilt University, which involved research on charter schools and magnet schools.

Categories: Latest News

As the "Alt-Right" Strays From Its Roots, Will It Turn to Open Fascism?

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 06:31

Fascism has always been about reinvention, and without a dynamic opposition, it will just find a way to repackage itself to the same constituencies it draws from. Even as the "alt-right" seems to be in decline due to widespread public revulsion and mass resistance from antifascist organizations, especially after Charlottesville, we cannot afford to ignore it. We must exploit and widen the points of rupture within the coalition.

Mike Enoch (L) stands with white nationalist Richard Spencer, who popularized the term 'alt-right' as he speaks during a press conference at the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on October 19, 2017 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo: Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

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On October 7, 2017, around 50 people from far-right organizations like Identity Evropa and the National Policy Institute returned to Charlottesville, Virginia: the site of the confrontation that brought together a thousand white supremacists from around the country and left one protester dead. As the torches again lit up the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University, the appearance of white nationalist leader Richard Spencer was a stark reminder of the new status quo. After the death of activist Heather Heyer, Spencer and his ilk were even less welcome in Charlottesville than they were before, yet they returned, reveling in their status as hated outsiders.

Spencer, who coined the term "alt-right" and has set its tone and image since 2010, had always tried to shuffle off the ugly image of the US's white nationalist history. Instead, he was taking his cues from the European "identitarian" movement and spoke of building a "meta-politic": a set of ideas that would help to manifest his vision of a traditionalist "Ethnostate" for white people.

Since 2015, the rise of Trump and the entry of the "alt-right" into the public lexicon, Spencer has consistently brought his "elite" movement further into the gutter. While he had built the original AlternativeRight.com on disgraced European philosophers, racist paleoconservatives, fringe economists and alternative spiritual leaders, as his movement moved from the "big tent," it began to lose the core that it had used to change the public's perception of fascist politics. As we move into 2018, the "alt-right" has been hit on multiple fronts, as platforms reject their presence and a mass movement forms to repudiate them, and so they have headed into a period of what could rightly be termed "decadence." Traditionally, this means a period of decline and decay, one where the essential core of their movement has been lost, and they are returning to the blatant viciousness that has defined white nationalism, as opposed to the more cloaked variety.

Reclaiming White Settler Colonialism

The defining ideas of the "alt-right" came from what is known as the European New Right (ENR). Founded by French philosopher Alain de Benoist and established through the Research and Study Group for European Civilization (GRECE) and associated journals, they wanted to use the popular New Left politics of the 1960s to reinvigorate a far-right racist, nationalist vision for Europe. Using the argumentation found in anti-imperialist and "third-worldist" circles of the time, they argued for an "Ethno-pluralist" politic that saw a "nationalism for all peoples" as the solution to the degenerating effects of globalized commodity capitalism. Instead of the internationalist and egalitarian vision of the New Left politics they appropriated, they wanted to see a deep relativism, to have cultures kept separate from cosmopolitan influence with the understanding that different peoples were too different in skills and temperament to abide by each other's rules and customs. The founding principle here was an opposition to egalitarianism, primarily on the belief that human beings were not equal, either as individuals or as groups. The primary segment of this was racial, and by using the decolonization rhetoric, they could argue that white Europeans were facing colonization by globalism and had to join up with other liberation movements that they could reframe through ethnic nationalism.

The primary philosophical thread that the ENR came from is known as "Third Positionism," in which fascists use leftist politics in a strange synthesis of the left and the right. Anti-capitalism, environmentalism, post-colonialism, antiwar politics and the like have all been appropriated heavily in white nationalist circles, so much so that they have seen crossover between the left and the far-right in a number of movements since the 1960s. It was from this tradition that Spencer and the "alt-right" hailed, arguing in support of movements in the Global South to reject capitalist development and in favor of non-communist forms of anti-capitalism. It was these principles they used to buck off accusations of white supremacy, saying that instead of "ruling over non-whites," they simply want to return to their ethnic roots and live an "indigenous" form of life. This has played out in more contemporary times as the  "alt-right's" support for North Korean nationalism, the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad or the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar.

Since 2015, the dominant discourse on the "alt-right" has shifted away from that type of Third Positionist synthesis and in favor of straightforwardly angry bigotry, focusing on vicious racial jokes, slurs and harassment. The Daily Shoah -- the most popular white nationalist podcast today, which receives tens of thousands of downloads a month -- made a brand out of using "shock jock" rhetoric for white nationalists. In common "alt-right" fashion, their culture of one-upmanship has made the most violent racial discussions commonplace, often talking about genocide, calling Black people subhuman and proposing Jews as the enemy. The neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer took this to another level, blogging multiple times a day in rants filled with racist rage.

As this trend took over, and the trolls on sites like 4Chan and Twitter took hold of the movement, they moved steadily away from the academic veneer that Spencer had held. Any false notion that this is a movement that is "not about hate" and instead simply about identity has been dashed by their own statements.

Spencer, for his part, has joined in completely. While AlternativeRight.com and the Radix Journal -- leading "alt-right" publications run by Richard Spencer -- tried to keep his racial separatism "intellectual," his new AltRight.com shot directly for the gutter. The publication now, which looks a lot more like The Daily Stormer than one of GRECE's journals, is the modern equivalent of the White Aryan Resistance's newspaper, which was filled with racist cartoons and accusations of conspiracy. Spencer's public speeches, which were once toned from academic conferences and filled with well-researched dramatics, are now opportunities to simply mock the crowd, framed by laughter and cruel insults.

Genocide

One of the key arguments made by the "alt-right" for years was that it was completely and totally against racial conflict; rather, they said, it was modern multicultural society that made conflict inevitable. Instead, the "alt-right" took the old-fashioned segregationist motto of "stop the hate, separate" and argued that racial separatism would be healthy for all people. Nationalism, they argued, was for all people, often coined as "Ethno-pluralism." They tried to pretend a great deal of sympathy for First Nations people, arguing that we needed to avoid this type of racial colonialism. While that rhetoric is still formally used in many of their publications and public arguments, it is quickly disappearing from the dominant public "alt-right" discourse.

The Right Stuff, the website that hosts The Daily Shoah, recently ran a blog post arguing that the most appropriate action for white nationalists would be to kill all Black people in Africa so that they could use the continent for "living space." "Extermination of the brown hordes in their homelands could give vast new territories to us. They are ours for the taking," it read, arguing that racial struggle is inevitable and that, as nature predicts, often the superior species will wipe out the inferior.

The Daily Shoah has created a financial infrastructure so it can employ a few staff people regularly, including Mike Enoch, who lost his job after his identity was revealed to be a six-figure software developer in Manhattan with a Jewish wife. One of their other regular hosts, who goes by the pseudonym "Jayoh," has referred to himself openly as an "exterminationist." He believes nationalists would have to actively exterminate Black Africans, who, he says, would eventually enter into white nations and corrupt them.

While many on the "alt-right" would fail to go as far as openly arguing for the extermination of billions of people, they are reclaiming a colonial sense of themselves. Spencer's rhetoric has changed from the idea of isolated tribal states to envisioning the white Ethnostate as a great empire. This fulfills what he says is white people's "Faustian spirit," the internal drive to explore and conquer. Spencer's own "Alt Right Politics" podcast regularly celebrates European colonialism and expansionism, discussing colonialism as something that is a sum benefit for the colonized. He refers to Indigenous tribes as "humiliated peoples" who he does not want to become; therefore, he says, white Europeans must win this racial conflict. While previously "alt- righters" would have argued that ruling over others was an unnecessary evil and that they instead wanted "nationalism for all peoples," the idea that non-whites need to be controlled by whites is again gaining popularity, even if many of the thought leaders would deny this when pressed.

Street Action

The next move for the "alt-right" was to go from the world of internet chatter and private conferences into street activism. The "alt-right's" ideas were not developed through active struggle; they were instead built through echo chamber dialogue. This has made their organizations generally unskilled in activism. Instead of trying to organize and agitate on issues, using public clashes as opportunities for radicalization, they do what they have discussed in their conferences: They simply want to get at white populations to shift their consciousness towards racist "in group" and "out group" thinking.

Their step into street activism has been by and large a failure, with almost every public appearance being shut down entirely. The only opportunities they had were by uniting with their slightly more moderate "crossover" figures in what has been called the "alt-light." This is the group of "independent Trumpists" and those aligned with publications like Rebel Media and Breitbart who, while sharing their style and many of their immediate policy aims, refuse to get on board with full-tilt white nationalism. While they had some success in collaborating at the "free-speech" rallies that started in Berkeley, they were inevitably betrayed by this contingent and left on their own.

The "alt-right" helped to catalyze this split, angered over the inability of "alt-light" people like Mike Cernovich or Alex Jones to get on board with open fascism. "Alt-right" leaders thought that they had grown large enough riding on the coattails of these Trump supporters that they could still lead a large following when they broke free. That was the intent of the August 12, 2017, "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, which was intended to show that the "alt-right" had become a mass movement. Instead, they had to phone in hundreds of more traditional white nationalist types, including KKK organizations, skinhead gangs and the National Socialist Movement. In the end, the "alt-right" and its organizations and media outlets were just another branch of the US white nationalist movement, like Stormfront or the Aryan Nations. Their branding effort was a failure.

Dual Power

The primary avenue that the "alt-right" utilized was, until recently, web 2.0 platforms, where they had equal footing with major media and political figures. Anyone could post on 4Chan, and an internet celebrity could eclipse a sitting US senator in Twitter followers. Podcasts, web hosting, social media and video broadcasting had been heavily democratized, and the "alt-right" was, in a sense, the price that was paid. In that world, they were able to amplify a white nationalist message far beyond what they were capable of in times restricted to basement-printed newspapers and Xeroxed flyers.

Since the "alt right" has intensified its rhetoric and headed into violent street action, the country has further revolted against it. With poor media coverage and dog-whistle memedom, it was hard for average people to catch on to the "alt-right's" explicit fascism, but it has now been fully revealed, and there is a collective revulsion taking place. After the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, media and web hosting companies went on a tirade of mass platform denial for the "alt-right." Major "alt-right" publications and figures lost their websites -- many permanently -- as well as social media accounts, podcast hosting, email services, YouTube channels, payment systems and even dating websites. The recent Twitter "Terms of Service update" was another blow, closing dozens of far-right accounts simultaneously.

In response, they began creating their own infrastructure. Patreon, the payment platform that allowed people to pay publications or individuals monthly donations, was replaced by Hatreon, a similar service that did not ban users for neo-Nazi associations. Gab was presented as a "free-speech" alternative to Twitter, and had "alt-right" accounts flood its servers when announced. Many websites, including the white nationalist podcast The Daily Shoah and AltRight.com, began limiting their content to paid subscribers, all in the effort to create a financial infrastructure as "alt-right" figures were fired from their jobs and banned from the mainstream internet. As this all happened, their reach was further limited. Hatreon did not work as promised, no one outside of the "alt-right" ventured to Gab, and with their content behind paywalls, they lost their audience. Simply put, the "alt-right's" alternative internet was subpar, and they are slipping from the public conversation.

The coming months will show exactly how much the "alt-right" has been limited by the web platform denial and their own infrastructural incompetence, and attacks on net neutrality will only further limit their ability to create their own media community.

Fascism in the Age of Dinosaurs

The "alt-right" was, in and of itself, an attempt to save white nationalism from the dregs of history, where it had been placed through years of vacant terrorist acts, buffoonish behavior and the mass resistance from antifascist organizations. The European New Right, from which it received its earliest inspiration, was an effort to bring the right back into the culture, to avoid the failures of French nationalism seen during the waning years of Algerian colonialism, and to save fascist philosophy from its disrepute. The "alt-right's" expansion was due to its quality of quick adaptation to new technology, political climates and social mores.

We are hitting a period of heavy decline for the "alt-right," and the second half of 2017 has been a sequence of critical hits against it. However, this is not a prediction of its irrelevance and failure. Instead, it is simply a sign of the cracks in the coalition, the points of rupture that can be exploited and widened.

Fascism has always been about reinvention, and without a dynamic opposition, it will just find a way to repackage itself to the same constituencies from which it has drawn in the past.

Categories: Latest News

When Sexual Assault Victims Speak Out, Their Institutions Often Betray Them

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 06:03
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A 27-year-old medical resident in general surgery is sexually harassed by two men -- the chief resident and a staff physician at the hospital. She feels trapped. When one of the men's actions escalates to assault, she struggles to find the strength and courage to report it.

When she finally does, will the outcome harm her even more?

The story, a fictional composite based on real accounts in our research, is agonizingly familiar. The outcome is often worse. When sexual harassment and assault occur in the context of an institution -- a school, the military, a workplace -- the behavior of institutional leaders can become a powerful force in how the victim fares. 

From Susan Fowler's poor treatment by Uber's human resources department to the silence of non-abusive men in Harvey Weinstein's orbit, our most powerful institutions often act without courage. 

Over 25 years, my students and others have amassed a substantial body of empirical work revealing the real psychological and physical harm that institutions can do to those they betray.

However, if institutions want to do the hard work, they can help victims and prevent violence in the first place -- by choosing courage instead of betrayal.

How Betrayal Harms Health

My colleagues and I first introduced the term institutional betrayal in 2007, and have since explored it further, including in a book, "Blind to Betrayal."

Institutional betrayal is harm an institution does to those who depend upon it. This betrayal can take the form of overt policies or behaviors, such as discriminatory rules or genocide.

Harm can also mean failing to do that what is reasonably expected of the institution, such as not providing relief to disaster victims or failing to respond effectively to sexual violence. For instance, some victims of assault are punished or even demoted or fired for reporting the assault to their institution. 

In our studies, we found that more than 40 percent of college student participants who were sexually victimized in an institutional context did also report experiences of institutional betrayal.

These power ratios between harasser and victim can be quite significant, depending on the victim's status. While the medical resident's issues in our first example are deeply troubling, she may have more leverage to seek justice than a hotel or restaurant worker who is the daily and unrelenting target of harassment.

My work with clinical psychologist Carly Smith at Penn State shows that institutional betrayal can cause both emotional and physical health problems, even for those who have experienced similar levels of trauma from interpersonal betrayal.

One study found that institutional betrayal exacerbates symptoms associated with sexual trauma, such as anxiety, dissociation and sexual problems. 

Other researchers have found similar effects. For instance, military sexual trauma survivors who have also experienced institutional betrayal have higher rates of PTSD symptoms and depression than those who have not experienced it. Perhaps most alarming, the survivors with institutional betrayal experiences had higher odds of attempting suicide. 

In another study, we discovered that institutional betrayal is associated with physical health problems, such as headaches, sleep problems and shortness of breath. 

Institutional Courage

What can we do to prevent and address institutional betrayal? The antidote is something my colleagues and I call "institutional courage." 

The details of institutional courage depend to some extent on the type of institution involved, but there are 10 general principles that can apply across most institutions.

1. Comply with criminal laws and civil rights codes.

Go beyond mere compliance. Avoid a check-box approach by stretching beyond minimal standards of compliance and reach for excellence in non-violence and equity.

2. Respond sensitively to victim disclosures.

Avoid cruel responses that blame and attack the victim. Even well-meaning responses can be harmful by, for instance, taking control away from the victim or by minimizing the harm. Better listening skills can also help institutions respond sensitively. 

3. Bear witness, be accountable and apologize.

Create ways for individuals to discuss what happened to them. This includes being accountable for mistakes and apologizing when appropriate.

4. Cherish the whistleblower.

Those who raise uncomfortable truths are potentially the best friends of an institution. Once people in power have been notified about a problem, they can take steps to correct it. Encourage whistleblowing through incentives like awards and salary boosts.

5. Engage in a self-study.

Institutions should make a regular practice of asking themselves if they are promoting institutional betrayal. Focus groups and committees charged with regular monitoring can make all the difference.

6. Conduct anonymous surveys.

Well-done anonymous surveys are a powerful tool for disrupting institutional betrayal. Employ experts in sexual violence measurement, use the best techniques to get meaningful data, provide a summary of the results and talk openly about the findings. This will inspire trust and repair. 

We developed a tool called the Institutional Betrayal Questionnaire. First published in 2013, the questionnaire probes a company's employer-employee work environment to assess vulnerability to potential problems, the ease or difficulty of reporting such issues and how complaints are processed and handled. 

7. Make sure leadership is educated about research on sexual violence and related trauma.

Teach about concepts and research on sexual violence and institutional betrayal. Use the research to create policies that prevent further harm to victims of harassment and assault. 

8. Be transparent about data and policy.

Sexual violence thrives in secrecy. While privacy for individuals must be respected, aggregate data, policies and processes should be open to public input and scrutiny.

9. Use the power of your company to address the societal problem.

For instance, if you're at a research or educational institution, then produce and disseminate knowledge about sexual violence. If you are in the entertainment industry, make documentaries and films. Find a way to use your product to help end sexual violence.

10. Commit resources to steps 1 through 9.

Good intentions are a good starting place, but staff, money and time need to be dedicated to make this happen. As Joe Biden once said: "Don't tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you value."

Categories: Latest News

Sessions Doubles Down in the War on Weed

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 06:03
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Four days after California rang in the New Year as the sixth state to legalize recreational use of marijuana -- and more than 21 years after it became the first state to legalize medical marijuana use -- Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared war on the most populous state.

Sessions issued a Marijuana Enforcement Memo providing guidance to US Attorneys on "which marijuana activities to prosecute" by following "well-established principles" to "disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis, and thwart violent crime across our country."

The Trump administration's Pot Memo doesn't immediately affect medical marijuana usage -- now available in 29 states, plus the District of Columbia -- but it does roll back the 2014 Cole Memorandum, which guided federal prosecutors away from targeting marijuana businesses operating legally under state law.

The Cole Memo was a federal response to the growing shift in public opinion given the number of states "that have moved to legalize marijuana for medicinal, agricultural or recreational use."

The Sessions memo sent ripples through a cannabis industry already struggling to fund state legalization under contradictory federal laws, but those who have been on the front lines of the legal battles responded forcefully. As Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said:

Jeff Sessions' obsession with marijuana prohibition defies logic, threatens successful state-level reforms and flies in the face of widespread public support for legalization.

Rescinding the Cole memo is not just an attack on sensible marijuana polices -- it's an attack on civil and human rights. Police have long relied on the suspicion of minor marijuana offenses to profile, harass, arrest and even lock up massive numbers of people, especially in communities of color. We can't stand by and let the drug war be used as a tool to harm vulnerable communities or to deport and destroy families.

***

The "principles" alluded to by Sessions include the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, a product of the "war on drugs" initiated by Richard Nixon. In 1994, Nixon's domestic policy advisor John Ehrlichman candidly admitted the racist roots of Nixon's crusade to Dan Baum of Harper's Magazine:

You want to know what this was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

Arrests for small-scale possession and distribution of pot have been the leading edge of drug enforcement ever since, which, in combination with the mandatory minimum sentencing laws created by Bill Clinton's two crime bills, created the system of mass incarceration under which people of color and the poor have been disproportionately pushed into an overpopulated prison system.

The US still has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and 57 percent of those in prison for drug offenses are Black or Latino -- even though white people use and sell drugs at similar rates.

All of this has come at a tremendous cost, not only in lives ruined, but in taking money away from social programs that can help people live stable and healthy lives. The US spends more than $50 billion a year on the drug war -- far more than the entire $38.8 billion budget of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But the tide has been turning against these policies. 2016 saw a record number of measures to legalize or decriminalize marijuana. Voters across the country rejoiced when Maine, Massachusetts and California legalized recreational marijuana, while five other states -- Arkansas, Florida, Montana, Nevada and North Dakota -- legalized medical marijuana use.

Marijuana legalization is more popular than it has ever been, with a recent Gallup pollfinding it favored by 64 percent of Americans.

***

The "growing drug crisis" Sessions lectured about has nothing to do with marijuana legalization and everything to do with how our society treats addiction and mental health in general and regulates our access to health care, housing and food.

As Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, pointed out in a 2014 interview with Frontline,

Drug abuse and drug addiction is not unique to poor communities of color. It is like this everywhere in America, but how we respond to drug abuse and drug addiction in poor communities of color is radically different than how we respond to it in more privileged communities....

People in [poor] communities have little choice but to self-medicate, and when they do, when they decide to turn to marijuana or turn to cocaine or turn to some type of substance we've designed, we've decided is prohibited, is off-limits, then rather than responding to these people with drug treatment and say[ing], "How can we help you cope with your crisis and help you through this period of time and help you deal with your drug addiction?" instead we say: "Oh, the answer for you is a cage."...

That's our answer to drug abuse and drug addiction in these communities. If we really cared about people who lived there, would that be our answer? I think not. I think the way in which we respond to drug abuse and drug addiction in these communities speaks volumes about the extent to which these are people we truly care about.

There are ongoing debates and critiques about whether legalization and regulation have done more to benefit cannabis businesses than individuals who gain new access to marijuana. But there is no credible defense for the racism at the heart of the "war on drugs" and the US criminal justice system.

No matter how you read the pot leaves say about the future of the marijuana market, one thing is certain. It will take large-scale protests to make Sessions and his fellow drug warriors afraid again. And it will require a movement that puts the fight against racism front and center to successfully fight for access to health care and decriminalization to turn the tide on mass incarceration and drug addiction.

The "war on drugs" doesn't work, and it will require strategies based on solidarity and liberation to take up the calls to put an end to it. As the Drug Policy Alliance urges, "It's time for a new approach grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights."

Categories: Latest News

Carrier Workers Are Livid After Facing Layoffs Despite Trump's Promises

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 06:02
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Even before he officially took office, President-elect Donald Trump flew to Indianapolis in December of 2016 to trumpet a deal he had reached with air conditioning and heating furnace manufacturer Carrier. In return for Trump's pledge to reduce the corporate tax rate and reduce regulations, as well as $7 million in economic incentives, the company agreed to keep some jobs in the state rather than move them to a plant in Mexico as it had planned.

While Trump bragged that he had saved 1,100 jobs, the truth was just 730 jobs were preserved at the Indianapolis plant. In reality, 550 from Indianapolis were still being moved to Mexico, and all 700 workers at the company's Huntington plant would still lose their jobs.

The fine print of Trump's deal has now turned into reality for Carrier's Indianapolis employees. Roughly 340 workers lost their jobs in July. The last round of layoffs mean 250 workers will clock in in for their final shifts today despite Trump's pledges.

Duane Oreskovic is one of them. "Tomorrow will be the last time I clock in, at 5:00 p.m.," he told In These Times. "We'll get off at 3:30 in the morning, and that's the last time we'll clock out."

It came as a deep shock when he and his coworkers were told they'd be laid off in February. "We were more than surprised," he said. "We were at awe, we were astonished … It was beyond shock, to tell you the truth."

When Trump came to the plant and gave his speech, Oreskovic said, everyone thought he was going to save all of their jobs, particularly with Vice President Mike Pence -- the former governor of Indiana -- by his side. But, Oreskovic figures, Carrier's plans were already set in stone by the time the politicians got there. "It was avoidable but unavoidable," he said.

"I would have hoped something would have been done, I mean, for example, someone from Congress would maybe speak up, 'Hey this is something we should look at Mr. Trump,'" he said. "We were hoping someone would intervene, but apparently it never happened," he added, scoffing: "Politics."

He has two job prospects lined up, but neither is likely to pay as well as the job at Carrier. "Financially I'm concerned," he said. "If I've got to settle for a job at three dollars less an hour, three dollars doesn't sound like a lot, but that is somewhat of a lifestyle change when it's based on 40 hours or 50 hours a week."

But perhaps even more wrenching is the prospect of disbanding his close-knit group of coworkers. "We work over 10 hours a day, five or six days a week. We know each other better than our family members," he said. But after today, they'll be less likely to regularly ask each other about children or how their weekends went. "I look at this like a divorce. We're getting ripped apart from one another."

When asked how he feels about completing his last day, he responded, "Emptiness."

Frank Staples also feels like a community is being disintegrated by the layoffs. "We spend more time with each other than we do with our own families," he told In These Times.

He started at Carrier in 2005 but knew his job was in danger when the company announced in February of 2016 it was moving the plant to Monterrey, Mexico. The news was a surprise: He knew that the plant was making money from what he was told in quarterly meetings. "Here we are making a profit for them, and they're going to leave us and go somewhere else?" he said. "That was just heartbreaking and devastating to a lot of people."

Even before the election, Staples said, he and the United Steelworkers union had tried reaching out to Pence several times to have him intervene. "He would never meet with us," he said. He doesn't think the Trump administration has done a whole lot to help.

"There's a lot of things that Trump could sign as an executive order, because he has that power, that would keep American workers working. But Trump's sitting on his ass not doing any of it," he said. "I would say to Trump, 'You made a decision and ran on a campaign promise that you were going to help the American worker. Stand up and do it.'"

The news of layoffs in early 2016 fused with personal tragedies to send Staples into an episode of depression. First he got divorced. During the divorce, "I started having issues with wanting to be at work because I was so depressed," he said. "I already knew our jobs were gone, I was like, 'To hell with this shit.'"

Then his brother was murdered, he said. He tried to go on medical leave but ended up getting fired. The union that represents Carrier workers, United Steelworkers Local 1999, fought to have him reinstated, but he's still in limbo -- not having been asked to come back in for work yet.

"It's been scary and nerve-wracking," he said. "Everybody's on edge because we don't know what's going to happen."

"It's been hell," he added.

Categories: Latest News

"When They Call You a Terrorist": The Life of Black Lives Matter Cofounder Patrisse Khan-Cullors

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 21:00

We turn now to a powerful new book, released today, that tells the story of one woman as she fights back against the impacts of social and racial injustice in America on her family. That woman is Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter. The book, titled When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, is both an account of survival, strength and resilience, and a call to action to change the culture that declares innocent black life expendable. Patrisse's story follows her childhood in Los Angeles in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as her mother worked three jobs, struggling to earn a living wage. And it puts a human face on the way mass incarceration and the war on drugs hurt young black men, including her relatives and friends. Patrisse's father was a victim of the drug war. He died at the age of 50. Her brother spent years in prison for nonviolent crimes stemming from his battles against mental illness. He was once even charged with terrorism after being involved in a car accident. The police would target Patrisse, too -- raiding her house without just cause. In 2013, after George Zimmerman was acquitted for the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, Patrisse co-founded Black Lives Matter along with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi. The movement began online but soon spread across the country. We speak to Patrisse and her co-author, asha bandele. asha is author of five books, including the best-seller, The Prisoner's Wife. She is a senior director at the Drug Policy Alliance.

TRANSCRIPT

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to a powerful new book, released today, that tells the story of one woman as she fights back against the impacts of social and racial injustice in America on her family. That woman is Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter. The book, titled When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, is both an account of survival, strength and resilience, and a call to action to change the culture that declares innocent black life expendable. Patrisse's story follows her childhood in Los Angeles in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as her mother worked three jobs, struggling to earn a living wage. And it puts a human face on the way mass incarceration and the war on drugs hurts young black men, including her relatives and friends.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrisse's father was a victim of the drug war. He died at the age of 50. Her brother spent years in prison for nonviolent crimes stemming from his battles against mental illness. He was once even charged with terrorism after being involved in a car accident. The police would target Patrisse, too, raiding her house without just cause.

In 2013, after George Zimmerman was acquitted for the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, Patrisse co-founded Black Lives Matter along with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi. The movement began online but soon spread across the country. "Black Lives Matter" became the rallying cry at protests decrying the police killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Eric Garner in Staten Island, and many others, including Sandra Bland, who died in a Texas jail after a traffic stop.

Patrisse Khan-Cullors joins us in the studio today, on the day of the publication of her new book, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir. She wrote the book with the award-winning journalist asha bandele, who also joins us. asha is the author of five books, including the best-seller The Prisoner's Wife. She's a senior director at the Drug Policy Alliance. Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele will join us after this break to talk about Patrisse's remarkable life story. Patrisse Khan-Cullors, a survivor. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Music recorded last spring at Judson Memorial Church at a gathering for Ravi Ragbir ahead of one of his check-ins with ICE. Last week, he was detained, and he is now in deportation proceedings in a jail in Florida. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

Our guests are Patrisse Khan-Cullors, talking about her new book, released today, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, written with the award-winning journalist asha bandele.

Patrisse, congratulations. This is an astounding book.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: This weekend, I flew to Colorado and then came back yesterday through Chicago's snowstorm, and everyone on the plane knew I had misplaced my book, because I said, "I must finish reading this book," until asha kindly sent me the manuscript on the plane, right? And then I said, "OK," to the pilot, "we can now take off." And I read aloud on the -- no, not exactly -- on the loudspeaker. But the story you have told of growing up against all the odds --

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us where you were born and place us in Los Angeles, in your community, one -- next to one of the richest and whitest in the United States.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yes. I was born in Van Nuys, California, which is not known, but it's a suburb outside of Los Angeles inner city. And it was literally in between multiple white neighborhoods, including Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Northridge. And I witnessed consistent policing, militarized policing. I witnessed the impact mass incarceration had on my family members. And the most early memories for me were my home being raided by LAPD and LAPD lighting up my siblings and their friends, at 11, 13 years old, stopping and frisking them. And this became our normal in our neighborhood, even though I knew it was not normal.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you know?

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Because I could feel the humiliation in every stop, in every moment LAPD was around. I could feel the impact it had on my mother. I could feel it in our community. And I knew that we shouldn't be living this way. I knew that there was more for us. And then I ended up going to a mostly white school, and I got to see the very real difference between how they were treated, and never actually witnessing police in their neighborhoods, and then how my family and my community was treated.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about that. You write so eloquently about the differences. This was in the middle school that you went there. And the -- talk about some of the examples of the difference in treatment between that mostly upper- and middle-class white community, so close to yours, and the way your own neighborhood was being dealt with.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: I mean, it was just in the school itself. It was not policed. There were no cops on campus, compared to the middle school that I went to for summer school, which was the first time I was arrested, at 12 years old.

AMY GOODMAN: You can name your schools.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Millikan Middle School was in Sherman Oaks, which was the upper-middle-class middle school with mostly white folks. And Van Nuys Middle School was mostly working-class, poor, immigrant communities and black folks. And it was just literal. I mean, one looks like a prison, and one looks like a university.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And one had metal detectors. And could you talk about the experience of one time you were arrested in the -- in that summer school?

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yes. I was arrested because I was -- had been smoking weed in the bathroom. And at Millikan, you could do that, and no one was checking for you, worried about you.

AMY GOODMAN: You mean the white school.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: At Millikan, the white school in Sherman Oaks, yes. It just sounds like a white school: Millikan. And at Van Nuys --

AMY GOODMAN: And lots of girls did it.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yeah. I mean, all the white girls did it. I mean, that's actually who introduced weed to me, was the white girls. And Van Nuys Middle School was mostly, like I said, working-class, communities of color. And I was -- a cop came into my classroom. It was my science class. And when I -- as a younger person, when I saw law enforcement, I feared them. There was already sort of that emotional response. The entire classroom got kind of tight. And the science -- you know, the cop whispered in the science teacher's ear, and the science teacher called me up to the class. He handcuffed me in front of my classroom and then walked me down a hallway.

AMY GOODMAN: You were 12 years old.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: I was 12 years old. And all I can think about -- because when you're 12, I wasn't thinking about the political, you know, analysis of the moment. I was thinking about: What is my mother going to say? What am I going to tell my mother? Which I lied through my teeth. But it wasn't until I got older that I realized the impact of that moment and the impact that would have on me for the rest of my life.

AMY GOODMAN: You also describe your brothers and the places you all had to hang out, very limited -- you didn't have the playgrounds of Sherman Oaks, rec centers, arts programs -- and the police moving in on them when they were kids. You were right nearby. You were like what? Nine?

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yeah, 9 years old. I was 9 years old, yeah. And once again, when you're a child, you just pick the places that are most convenient. That was alleyways. That was the front of our building. Sometimes it was in our homes. But it was -- you know, when you're a child, you're playing. You want to play outside.

And because of the war on gangs, because of gang injunctions, the boys, specifically, in my neighborhood, were labeled as gang members. And my brother will tell the story, which is, they never considered themselves a gang, until the police called them a gang, that that's not how they related to themselves. They were a bunch of boys hanging out. And those -- and at 9 years old, bearing witness to that type of humiliation has an impact on you.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, asha bandele, what made you decide that you thought this was an important story to tell, if you could talk about that, as well, and how you first came together?

ASHA BANDELE: So, Patrisse and I had known each other for a good number of years as organizers. And I thought it was monumentally important to go behind the statistics and unpack the real-world story of the impact of the drug war and mass incarceration on people's lives. It's sort of what I've dedicated my life to, as, you know, someone who had family members in prison and as somebody who has seen the human cost of mass incarceration. I wanted Patrisse to tell her story in a full, complete way.

And I was especially enraged that Black Lives Matter and the leaders of Black Lives Matter had been called terrorists, when I knew that these were people dedicated deeply to peace in our communities, peace for our children. I knew the impact Patrisse had on my own daughter, of love and of peace. And I wanted people to see that. I don't think that you get to misname people. And I think that the history of who we are needs to be told and needs to be documented. And that's my dedication as a writer and as an organizer.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrisse, I want people to meet your family the way you introduce them to us, because that's really the point of this book, is people speaking for themselves, your unique experiences and the difference in how you grow up in this country from other communities. Can you introduce us to your mothers, your fathers, your brothers, your sister?

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yes. Cherisse Foley, who is my mother, a brilliant woman who literally raised four children on her own in the middle of the '80s, '90s, she is powerful. I mean, she's literally powerful.

Monte Cullors, who was my first best friend, who was criminalized very early on -- Monte's first time in juvenile hall was 13 years old, and he would spend from 13 'til 36 in and out of juvenile hall, prisons and lockdown facilities, simply because of his mental illness and the war on drugs.

My brother Paul Cullors, who was a parent to us, as my mother worked three, sometimes four, jobs, and also has become my security -- he's a security guard, so he does my security in Los Angeles. He's pretty much my first protector.

My sister Jasmine Cullors, who -- in a lot of ways, we kind of kept her from so much of what we witnessed and experienced. We protected her.

And my two fathers -- my biological father, Gabriel Brignac, who I met when I was 11 years old, that I detail in the story and always kind of knew someone else was out there, always asked questions of my mother, but got to meet his brilliance at 11 and learned so much about myself because of him and my family. And Alton Cullors, the father who raised me, who is -- used to work at the GM Van Nuys plant, and was shut down and was forced into taking jobs that were not so meaningful, and now owns a mechanic shop in Las Vegas.

AMY GOODMAN: If you can talk about Monte and your experience -- well, first, he's -- after he's arrested, before he's diagnosed, what this all means, and then this unbelievable moment where you decide to call in the police, after he's back from jail?

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yeah. Monte -- we didn't know Monte was suffering from mental illness. Unfortunate reality is many communities of color, working-class poor communities, we don't have people coming in and educating us about the crisis of mental health. And so, we just thought some -- we didn't know what was wrong. We didn't. And when Monte was arrested for a robbery and when he was 18 years old, broke someone's window, he said the voices told him to do it, and ended up going to prison for three years. In his stay in prison, he was tortured by the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, brutally beaten. And --

AMY GOODMAN: Your mother first seeing him -- she couldn't even find where he was.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: No, no, they disappeared him. And this is actually -- was a common practice of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department. It's disappearing prisoners. And when she finally saw him, two months later, he was emaciated. My brother is 6'2", almost 300 pounds. They had completely overmedicated him. And we would learn, later on, years later, just what he endured in that jail cell.

When he was released, when he was 23 years old, it was one of the most exciting days of my life. I get to see my brother. I hadn't seen him in years. We didn't know that we could visit people. You know, they don't give you sort of what are the steps when your loved one is incarcerated. We didn't realize that we could go visit him, so we didn't see him for four years. We just wrote a lot of letters. And the first thing that I noticed when I picked him up from the bus stop is they let him out in flip-flops, an undershirt and boxers. And I just -- I was -- I was so disturbed, like I couldn't --

AMY GOODMAN: He was at the bus station in boxer shorts?

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: He was in boxer shorts and a white T-shirt and flip-flops, which -- shower shoes, essentially. And I ushered him in the car. And he was acting very different. It was not the brother that went inside and that I knew. And the minute he got into the house, my mother said, "This is -- something's wrong with my son." And, you know, as every child, I was like, "Mom, be quiet. He just got out of prison. Like just give him some time."

And over a week, he slowly -- he quickly deteriorated. And I didn't know who to call. And eventually I called the ambulance, and I made the unfortunate choice to tell them that my brother had just been released from jail. They said, "Well, that's not our problem; you have to call the police." And I said, "I can't call the police on my brother. You have no" -- you know, this is before Black Lives Matter, before we've seen, you know, black people be killed at the hands of law enforcement, especially black people with mental illness. But I just knew that that was not the right choice.

But I didn't have anybody else to call, and I did call the police. And I talked them through, and I let them know what was happening. And the first thing they said to me -- I said, "What happens if my brother happens to get violent?" And they said, "We'll just taser him." I mean, just like flat-faced --

AMY GOODMAN: These are two young cops who came.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Two young rookie cops, clearly scared out of their minds. And I said, "You cannot taser him. Like, that's not -- that's unacceptable." They walked into my house, and the minute they walked in, my brother just put his hands up and went on his knees and just started begging them. You know, he just started begging them. And I just knew I made a mistake. I just knew I made a mistake. And I, you know, held my brother. I said, "It's OK." And I told them to leave. And it was in that moment that I realized that we're on our own, that we are literally on our own, and there is no infrastructure for black poor families when dealing with mental illness. There's just none. And we had to piece the infrastructure together.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the -- talk about the time that he was charged with terrorism.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yeah, it was in those years, as he was off and on his medication. He was in a fender bender. And he was in the middle of a manic episode. And he might have cursed at the woman, might have not. We don't know. We weren't there. But the woman claimed that he had cursed at her. And because my brother was a second striker, then because they said that the cursing was threatening, they --

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean by "second striker."

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: He has had two strikes on his record, which is part of the three strikes law, and was --

AMY GOODMAN: In California.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: In California -- and could end up getting -- if he were to receive his third strike, end up in jail for life. And --

AMY GOODMAN: Even if that third strike is stealing a candy bar.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Stealing a candy bar, getting in a fender bender. So, we went to court, when we finally found where my brother was. We went to that first court date, and the lawyer said, "You know, your brother is being charged with terrorist threats, and that is a felony. And they will probably be putting him away for the rest of his life." And he was 24, 24 years old. And I said, "That's not -- not on my watch."

AMY GOODMAN: And you're a kid.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: You're a kid through all of this.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yeah, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: You describe a scene where you're in the white school, and so you're making some white girlfriends, who you really cared about. And you describe going to one of their homes and the lovely, unbelievable scene that unfolds at dinner and the way they respected you. Describe what happened. Describe the dad of the family and how he treated you.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yes, this is -- was one of my closest friends, growing up, in middle school. And you become friends with the people that are in proximity to you. So, it was a significantly white program, significantly white school. Those are my friends. And I went back to this friend's house and what looked like a mansion to me. It's probably not that big of a house, but compared to our neighborhood and tiny apartment, this house looked like a mansion.

And we were all at dinner. And the father is jolly. I mean, honestly, like probably -- he looked like the original Santa Claus, like big, jolly white man with a beard and super sweet and a smile on his face all the time. And we're talking, you know, and I've never been in a scenario like this, where you sit around and have dinner, and people pass things and ask questions of you. And he's, you know -- and we get to a point in the conversation where he -- I don't know how. Maybe he asked me, because oftentimes, you know, middle-class parents ask what your family does. And I'm talking about my mother, and he says -- you know, repeats my mother's name, "Cherisse. Where do you live?" And I tell him my address. He says, "Oh, I own those apartments."

And my heart dropped, because it was the apartment that I lived in that we didn't have a refrigerator for a year, that sometimes appliances didn't work, that we -- I realized very quickly that that was our slumlord. And the contradiction in that moment, it was hard to settle, and a tension in that moment started to develop.

AMY GOODMAN: Because he was the first person who said to you, "Patrisse" -- before you learned he was your slumlord -- "what do you want to do with your life?"

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: "What are your plans?"

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: "How are you going to execute them?"

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Exactly, exactly. And yeah, what do you do with those moments, when the person who clearly has investment in you doesn't actually have investment in your entire family and an infrastructure that your family is living in? It's hard to manage.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: You also described, at a point, inviting a friend from that other world to your house, and him coming into your house, and the ambulance in the background --

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yeah.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ:  -- that you just took for granted.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yes.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And he suddenly remarks, "I didn't know you live like this," or something like that.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yeah.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Could you talk about that?

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: That's exactly what happened. And, you know, I think what's interesting about growing up black and poor is you don't actually realize how bad it is until you see what else someone else has. And my mother was very particular about who we let over. And I begged her. I begged her to let my friend over. He was my best friend. You know, I didn't think there would be any judgment. I didn't assume there would be any judgment. And there definitely was.

And he walked in my home. And I remember that day so vividly, because there was the ambulance in the background. I was like, "Why does the ambulance have to be here today? Why the sirens today?" And I was nervous about him coming in. And he walked into my living room, and I was sitting on the couch. And he said -- kind of looked around. He was like, "I didn't know you live like this."

And I got that -- I got that a lot from other middle-class children, because they only know their world, and they don't have to actually enter the world of communities of color and of poor communities, in particular.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you also describe that Van Nuys was a racially mixed neighborhood, a large Mexican-American community.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yes.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: There were Korean Americans. There were even a few white folks who lived in the neighborhood. Talk about that experience, as well.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yeah, I grew up mostly around Latinos. And my community -- my experience with both law enforcement and witnessing what was then INS, Immigration National Security, was really prominent. And I think it was important, you know, to grow up in such a multiracial environment. Many of us, our family members were getting, you know, social welfare. Many of our family members were getting food stamps, when they actually looked like stamps and they looked colored. And like, we grew up in this environment, and we really raised each other, and we really took care of each other. And it colored -- I think it really colors how I am in this movement. We have to take care of each other. We didn't have local government taking care of us.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to break, and when we come back, what it meant to come out in your community, with your family, with your friends; your response to Trayvon Martin's death and George Zimmerman being acquitted; how you came up with that hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter. And we want to talk with asha about how this story shows us the stories about the effects of drug policy and mass incarceration. Today is the day that a remarkable book has just come out, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir. It's by our guests today, Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele. This is Democracy Now! Back with them in a moment.

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