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Updated: 39 min 14 sec ago

Soraya Chemaly on Mass Shootings: Focus Should Be on Boys and Men Who Can't Take "No" for an Answer

Sun, 05/20/2018 - 21:00

As details surface about the school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, Friday that left 10 dead, a familiar pattern has emerged: The shooter was a white male who had been rejected by a female classmate. The mother of Shana Fisher, one of the victims in the art classroom where police say 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis entered and opened fire, told the Los Angeles Times that her 16-year-old daughter "had 4 months of problems from this boy.… He kept making advances on her and she repeatedly told him no." Sadie Rodriguez said her daughter recently stood up to Pagourtzis in class, and "a week later he opens fire on everyone he didn't like." The Santa Fe shooting could be the second school shooting in recent months driven by such rejection. In March, 16-year-old Jaelynn Willey was shot in the head at Great Mills High School by 17-year-old Austin Wyatt Rollins after she had ended their relationship. Her injuries left her brain dead. She later died after she was taken off life support by her family. We are joined by Soraya Chemaly, a journalist who covers the intersection of gender and politics. She is the director of the Women's Media Center Speech Project.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Playing Trump for Peace: How the Korean Peninsula Could Become a Global Bright Spot

Sun, 05/20/2018 - 21:00

A man walks past a television news screen at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump on May 16, 2018. (Photo: Jung Yeon / AFP / Getty Images)

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When, in early March, Donald Trump agreed to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the Washington foreign policy elite nearly suffered a collective heart attack.

For one thing, the announcement came as a complete surprise. Trump had telegraphed his other foreign policy bombshells well in advance: leaving the Paris climate accord, ripping up the Iran nuclear deal, reversing détente with Cuba. North Korea was another matter. Trump had repeatedly insulted Kim Jong Un in his trademark style, calling him "Little Rocket Man" on Twitter and threatening at the UN in September 2017 to "totally destroy North Korea." Official Washington was braced for war, not peace.

You'd think, then, that an announcement of jaw-jaw, not war-war, would have met with universal acclaim in the nation's capital. Instead, observers across the ideological spectrum found fault with Trump and his attempt to denuclearize North Korea through negotiations. They criticized his timing, his impulsiveness, even the fact that the announcement came from South Korean representatives visiting Washington and not the president himself.

Experts on Korea promptly decried the president's move because he hadn't demanded any North Korean concessions first. "We'd expect such a highly symbolic meeting to happen after some concrete deliverables were in hand, not before," tweeted New America Foundation fellow Suzanne DiMaggio. (In fact, the North Koreans had declared a moratorium on further testing of their nukes and missiles, but that apparently didn't count.)

Worse yet, the North Koreans were getting the summit of their dreams for nothing. "Kim will accomplish the dream of his father and grandfather by making North Korea a nuclear state," tweeted Abraham Denmark, head of Asia programs at the Wilson Center, "and gain tremendous prestige and legitimacy by meeting with an American president as an equal. All without giving up a single warhead or missile."

Although some foreign policy professionals did express cautious optimism that something good could still come from the first summit between an American president and a North Korean leader -- now officially scheduled for June 12th in Singapore -- the overall verdict was one of barely concealed dismay. "The US has been getting played and outmaneuvered the past three months... and it's happening again, right now," tweeted former Pentagon official Van Jackson.

Skepticism is, of course, the default position of the foreign policy community. Bad things happen all the time in geopolitics; peace is an extraordinarily difficult feat to pull off; and most diplomatic outcomes are, at best, glass-half-full affairs. So, for pundits eager to maintain their gigs on network TV and a steady stream of interview requests from print journalists, it was a far better bet to put their chips on double zero.

And it's true, the history of US-North Korean relations has been a graveyard of defunct initiatives: the Agreed Framework of 1994, the Six Party Talks from 2003 to 2007, the Leap Day Agreement of 2012. If North Korea were to cancel the summit because of US-South Korean military exercises or the inflammatory statements of John Bolton, it would become just another headstone. Far more competent negotiators than Donald Trump tried their hands at preventing the North from going nuclear and suffered epic fails. More troubling still, Trump was preparing for negotiations without even an ambassador in South Korea, lacking a special representative for North Korean policy, and with a new secretary of state barely confirmed by the Senate. In other words, at that key moment, "understaffed" would have been an understatement when it came to the US diplomatic corps and the Koreas.

Finally, both Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump have posted some of the highest negatives since Attila the Hun. The notion that two such wrongs could make a right certainly tests the credulity of the most dispassionate observer. You wouldn't normally want to buy a used car, much less a complex diplomatic deal, from either of them.

And yet, don't fool yourself (even if most of Washington does): the upcoming Trump-Kim summit, if it happens, will represent an extraordinarily important step forward, whether it actually produces an agreement of substance or not. It may not end the longest ongoing conflict in US history, but that's really not the point. The summit's importance lies largely in its symbolic encouragement of another process entirely, one already underway between the two Koreas. US observers remain focused on nuclear weapons, but nukes aren't actually the key issue here. In fact, for all the talk about Donald Trump getting a Nobel Prize, to put events in perspective you need to remember that the American president is, at best, a third wheel in what's developing.

The leaders of the two Koreas have effectively manipulated him into supporting a genuinely hopeful, potentially history-changing process of reconciliation on their peninsula. It's been a brilliant tactic and if US observers of Korea could put aside their kneejerk skepticism, as well as their America First biases, they would be applauding the best chance in decades for Koreans themselves to defuse the most dangerous situation in Asia.

Playing the President

In keeping with his particular brand of narcissism, Donald Trump is convinced that he alone is responsible for bringing about change on the Korean peninsula. He believes that his threats against the North, his push for tougher sanctions, and his pressure on China to tighten the screws on its erstwhile ally were the key factors in Kim Jong Un's decision at the beginning of 2018 to reach out to his southern neighbor and extend an olive branch to Washington.

In truth, the initial impetus for the changes in Korea had little to do with President Trump.

After his country conducted its sixth nuclear test in September 2017 and its first ICBM test that November, the North Korean leader must have come to believe that his nuclear weapons program was the sufficiently solid deterrent and valuable bargaining chip he had been seeking. By then, too, he had consolidated his political control in Pyongyang by purging the party, the military, and even his own family, leaving him confident that he could negotiate agreements outside the country without worrying about a palace coup back home. Finally, the North Korean economy was actually managing modest growth, despite the fierce American sanctions campaign against it. This was in part because so many countries were willing to look the other way in the face of widespread violations of the global sanctions regime.

Undoubtedly, Kim was aware of warning signs as well: a dangerous economic dependence on China, a lack of capital for investment, and a declining growth rate. When it came to all three, the logical place to turn was South Korea. Since taking office in March 2017, South Korean President Moon Jae-in had pushed hard for a new engagement policy with the North.

For many months, Pyongyang did not respond, so Moon mended fences where he could. He launched a "New Northern Policy," focusing on fostering further cooperation with Russia. That November, he reached a compromise with China, promising not to expand a new US missile defense system placed in South Korea earlier in the year in exchange for Beijing lifting restrictions on trade and investment.

In a New Year's speech in January 2018, however, Kim Jong Un suddenly and very publicly reversed his position. Moon was already well primed -- some might say desperate -- to take advantage of such a gesture. As a result, in the full glare of international media attention, the two Koreas suddenly launched a policy of cooperation at the 2018 Winter Olympics being held at the time in the south. Then, at the end of April, Kim and Moon actually met in the first inter-Korean summit to take place on South Korean soil.

This was, admittedly, not the first time the two Koreas had attempted a détente, but previous efforts had been stymied, at least in part, by American opposition. Congressional hostility toward North Korea during the latter years of the Clinton era and George W. Bush's inclusion of North Korea in his ominous "axis of evil" in 2002 put a distinct damper on the possibility of inter-Korean cooperation.

This time, however, the two leaders adopted a new strategy for roping the United States into the process. Instead of appealing to the Korea policy community in Washington -- an unimaginative gaggle of Cassandras -- each of them decided to "turn" the US president.

Initially, both were undoubtedly as bemused by Donald Trump's erratic foreign policy tweets as the rest of the world. Still, Kim and his officials reached out to Republican-linked analysts in Washington and soon grasped that the new president valued personal relationships, discounted the advice of policy professionals, dismissed the importance of human rights, and measured his successes largely by the failures of his predecessors, especially Barack Obama.

Keep in mind as well that, for all the hostility Trump had directed toward Pyongyang during the 2016 presidential campaign, he had also signaled -- though at the time it was treated as a throwaway line -- that he'd be pleased to meet Kim Jong Un and serve him "a hamburger on a conference table." As president, in May 2017, months before he started threatening to deliver "fire and fury like the world has never seen" to the North, he even called Kim a "smart cookie" and reiterated his willingness to sit down with him. In both instances, he received mockery, not support, from America's Korea watchers who considered him "naïve" (which was true but beside the point).

Most critically, the North Koreans evidently realized that they could appeal to Trump's desire to destroy the legacy of Barack Obama. The president had fervently promised to unravel anything and everything his predecessor had ever done, from health care to climate change. But on the Korean peninsula, Obama had never achieved a thing. His policy of "strategic patience" had amounted to little more than eight years of hoping that North Korea would relocate to another planet. In such a situation, the North's appalling human rights record, its spotty negotiating history, and its very real nuclear weapons program mattered little in Trump's quest to once again one-up Obama.

South Korea faced a similar set of challenges. In the fall of 2017, Trump accused Moon Jae-in of the "appeasement" of North Korea, though he provided no specifics. Normally, such a charge would have been poison in Washington. Moon could certainly have upped the ante by retaliating in kind. Instead, he cannily held his tongue -- and when the tone suddenly shifted in inter-Korean relations in early 2018, the South Korean president pursued a psychologically even smarter tactic: he began heaping compliments on President Trump for making it all happen.

True, Moon's over-the-top praise flew in the face of what really lay behind the transformation in relations, but he, too, had been well briefed on the president's personality and predilections. He, too, grasped that the American narcissist-in-chief would incline toward praise like a plant toward the sun. When asked if he should get a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, Moon immediately insisted that it was Trump, and Trump alone, who deserved such an honor. (Only later did Trump's base begin chanting "Nobel! Nobel! Nobel!")

The leaders of both Koreas grasped a reality that eluded Washington's pundits: that Donald Trump was their best chance of disarming a skeptical American foreign policy elite. In gaining Trump's support, the two Koreas have indeed, however paradoxically, neutralized the United States as an actor in the drama of inter-Korean relations.

Confronting the Impossible

Think of the story of the two Koreas as a parable of two "impossibles."

The first impossible is denuclearization. Now that North Korea has a nuclear weapons program, it's difficult to imagine that it will surrender such weaponry. After all, given the relative decline of its conventional forces, nukes provide a genuine insurance policy against any outside effort at regime change. They're also the main reason the United States pays any attention to the country. Without nuclear weapons, North Korea would become as vulnerable as Iraq was in 2003 and as irrelevant as Laos after 1975. Nuclear weapons are Pyongyang's ticket to international respect. Why on Earth would Kim Jong Un give them up in exchange for a non-aggression "guarantee" from the United States, a pledge that a subsequent administration might simply tear up (just as Trump recently shredded Obama's nuclear deal with Iran)?

The second impossible is reunification. The Koreas are about as far apart as two countries coexisting in the same century could be, as economically disparate as Germany and Ghana, as politically different as Athens and Sparta. One country is thoroughly connected to the world community; the other maintains an isolation policy comparable to eighteenth-century Japan's. Like matter and anti-matter, the two Koreas risk catastrophe if suddenly brought together.

There are three imaginable ways of dealing with these two impossibles. The first, of course, is the regime-change approach of National Security Advisor John Bolton and his fan club. The idea would be to accelerate the demise of Kim's regime either indirectly through covert means or even directly through war. In the wake of a North Korean collapse, according to this crackpot scenario, the US Army would sweep into that country, gathering up the loose nukes, while South Korea absorbed the north just as West Germany swallowed East Germany in 1990. No one with an ounce of sense, from academics to Pentagon officials, considers this a viable approach, given the heightened risk of a war with mass casualties, possibly tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands dead and wounded, and the potential use of some of the North's nukes in South Korea and beyond. And that's not even taking into consideration the South's unwillingness to contemplate the immense costs of an overnight reunification.

Despite Trump's embrace of a summit with Kim Jong Un, Bolton hasn't given up on this regime-change approach. He initially sought to load the summit agenda with enough non-nuclear issues (missiles, abductions of Japanese and South Koreans) to make it unwieldy and bound to fail. More critically, he insisted that the "Libya" model would serve as the example the United States would follow with North Korea -- an ominous signal, given that the regime of Muammar Gaddafi collapsed under the pressure of a US-NATO intervention several years after it gave up its nuclear program. In explaining why North Korea might cancel the summit with Trump, a government spokesman singled out Bolton and his Libya references. And in truth, the North Korean reaction was not a "tantrum," as the Washington Post editorialized, but a reasonable objection to Bolton's tactics.

The second approach, the default position for several decades, has been to wait for North Korea to "come to its senses" and beg for an agreement with the United States. Tighter sanctions and an inflexible negotiating position, the adherents of this theory believe, will eventually inflict so much pain on the North that, sooner or later, even the autocratic leadership of Pyongyang will realize its people can't eat nukes and trade them in for a ticket to the global economy. However attractive this strategy may look, it obviously hasn't worked over many years. Here, Trump's critique of the Obama administration has for once been accurate.

The third approach, slow-motion reunification, finally seems to be emerging as the plan of choice for both Koreas. It treats each of the impossibles as resolvable over time.

Moon Jae-in adopted this approach to reunification from his mentor, former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung. Cooperative economic projects are to be designed to gradually bridge the income gap between the two countries. Negotiations over a rail link and fishing rights in adjoining waters are meant to begin the process of harmonizing the political approaches of the two countries. According to a plan Moon delivered to Kim via USB drive at the April summit, South Korea would help its northern neighbor enter the global community by degrees so that, like a diver surfacing from a great depth, it wouldn't suffer the bends.

Denuclearization is equally tricky. But a slow-motion process might also square the circle. If North Korea and the United States agree to a staged reduction of the North's nuclear weapons in exchange for a gradually increasing set of incentives, Kim Jong Un could potentially have his nukes (for a while) and give them up as well (eventually).

Although the elimination of nuclear weapons may be the ultimate goal -- for North Korea as well as all other nuclear states -- denuclearization as such could prove a distraction in the medium term. After all, Kim Jong Un could decide to reverse such a commitment or continue to pursue the objective secretly. So the goal should really be to ensure that North Korea doesn't want to use those weapons -- or any other weapons -- because to do so would jeopardize its newfound position in the global economy. That was the US strategy toward China in the 1970s after it, too, had become a nuclear power and it worked without either denuclearization or regime change.

In other words, the worst position Trump could take in Singapore would be to demand that North Korea completely and immediately abandon its nuclear weaponry before it receives any benefits from a reduction in global economic sanctions. By contrast, a more gradual timeline for denuclearization could well dovetail with slow-motion reunification. What many Korea watchers insist is a fatal flaw in the Trump-Kim summit -- a completely different understanding of what denuclearization entails -- might turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Such strategic ambiguity could allow both sides to make interim compromises and embrace an interim reduction in tensions even though they were incapable of really agreeing on the end game.

Which brings us back to all the skepticism surrounding the upcoming summit. Sure, it might end up more show than substance, but that would be fine. What the two Koreas really need is the equivalent of a papal benediction from Trump. Let the American president claim the credit, all of it, for processes of denuclearization and reunification meant to intersect at some distant horizon. Let him preen about his contributions to world peace (while he ratchets up war tensions against Iran). Let his fans chant and his Republican backers in Congress nominate him for a Nobel Prize. Let him cling to his misconceptions about North Korea, nukes, and the nature of geopolitics.

And then let him get out of the way so that the Koreans can do the real work, the historic work, the breakthrough work, of knitting the peninsula back together.

Categories: Latest News

Seventy-Two Percent of Democrats Say Progressive Platforms Should Be Top Priority for Candidates

Sun, 05/20/2018 - 21:00
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Amid congressional primary races and ahead of the November 6 election, new survey results indicate that a large majority of Democratic voters believe that promoting a "progressive agenda" should be the top priority of any Democrat running for Congress.

A CBS News/YouGov poll (pdf) asked Democrats, Independents, and those who lean toward voting for Democrats to choose between two options for what Democratic candidates' "first priority" should be. A full 72 percent said they want to see party candidates prioritize a progressive political agenda. The remaining 28 percent opted for merely opposing President Donald Trump's agenda.

Strong support for a progressive agenda was also reflected in responses to a question asked of everyone surveyed -- including Republicans and Republican-leaning voters -- that aimed to gauge the potential impact of endorsements: The largest amount of respondents, 29 percent, said they would be "more likely" to vote for a candidate endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), more than double that of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Although 29 percent also said they would be more likely to vote for someone backed by Trump, the president and Pelosi tied at 44 percent of respondents who said an endorsement would make them "less likely" to support a candidate. Asked about their views of Trump, the largest portion -- 41 percent -- said, "I am against Trump, period."

However, as the results indicate, Democratic voters want to see more than just opposition to the president; they want candidates for Congress who actually advocate for progressive policies. That momentum to propel progressives into political office has been seen in primary races throughout the nation -- even as the Democratic Party establishment plots against them.

Just last week alone, as In These Times reported, "at least eight candidates running on explicitly progressive platforms won out, including open socialists and political newcomers who took out longtime incumbents." Earlier this year, Marie Newman nearly ousted Rep. Bill Lipinski (Ill.), a Blue Dog Democrat who has come under fire for his record on reproductive and LGBTQ rights, healthcare, and immigration.

The rising support for progressive policies is even present in state and local races. Staunchly positioning herself as a progressive, education activist and actress Cynthia Nixon has mounted a fierce challenge from the left to New York's Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo.

"The 2018 midterm elections will be long remembered as a pivotal moment in American history because, if we are successful, we can put an end to the disastrous Trump agenda," Sanders said in March. "But we cannot defeat Trump and the Republican Party with the same playbook, or by supporting the same kind of candidates long favored by the political establishment and financial elite."

The only way to win back the states that swung toward Trump, and push the Democratic Party away from centrist policies, Sanders concluded, "is by supporting progressive candidates who have the guts to defend working-class families -- white, black, Latino, Asian American, Native American -- and take on the power and greed of the billionaire class."

Categories: Latest News

White House Launches Incoherent Counterattack on Mueller Probe

Sun, 05/20/2018 - 21:00

Donald Trump and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. (Photo: Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images; Win McNamee / Getty Images)

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Last week we found out that Michael Cohen, President Trump's now-notorious fixer, had been working on that Trump Tower Moscow deal much longer than was previously known. According to Yahoo News, congressional investigators and prosecutors have emails and text messages showing that Cohen was still working the deal with Trump associate and government informant Felix Sater well into 2016, even as Trump was sewing up the Republican nomination. Sater is the one who famously sent Cohen the email in 2015 that said "I will get Putin on this program, and we will get Donald elected." Cohen had insisted that the deal was scrapped at the end of 2015 and that turns out to be a lie. Shocking, I know.

Then there was the byzantine story of Michael Cohen and some Qatari investors in a basketball league, who were offering bribes and who may be involved in one of the Steele dossier's most intriguing rumors: the one about a quid pro quo involving the Trump campaign and the multibillion-dollar sale of one-fifth of the Russian fossil fuel giant Rosneft to the Swiss trading firm Glencore and Qatar's sovereign investment fund. Did I mention that it was byzantine? You can read all about it in this Slate article by Jeremy Stahl.

On Saturday the New York Times dropped a bombshell about yet another meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and some foreign agents offering to "help" with his dad's presidential campaign, this one in August of 2016, three months before the election. The group that met at Trump Tower included George Nader, an emissary for two wealthy princes from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Israeli social media specialist Joel Zamel and former Blackwater owner Erik Prince. (Nader and Prince also attended that suspicious Seychelles meeting with Russian and UAE officials a week before the inauguration)

The Times reported that Donald Jr. "responded approvingly," and Nader became a Trump intimate who subsequently met frequently with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn, the future (if short-lived) national security adviser. After the election, a company associated with Zamel gave Nader an "elaborate" presentation about how important social media had been to Trump's win and Nader, for unclear reasons, paid Zamel "a large sum of money, described by one associate as up to $2 million."

Everyone denies there was anything untoward about any of it, of course. They're all as innocent as newborn babes. But all these overlapping chess moves might lead one to take a second look at Trump's astonishing decision last summer to take sides against Qatar, a longtime US ally, in the dispute between that country and Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Those were just three big new stories that hit last week, opening up a whole different line of inquiry about foreign interference in the 2016 election. And yet, despite all the guilty pleas, indictments, interviews and subpoenas, two (admittedly tainted) congressional investigations and mountains of press reports that indicate something extremely unusual happened in the Trump presidential campaign, the conservative media has embarked on a crusade from an alternate universe.

In the right wing's alternative version of reality, none of these stories about Trump and his associates meeting with foreign actors eager to help him sabotage his rival's campaign, or large sums of unaccounted-for foreign money being funneled to his personal fixer, or even the obvious conflicts of interest suggesting that flat-out corruption is the most reasonable explanation for Trump's unpredictable foreign policy, even exist. In their reality, federal law enforcement intervened in the election to deny Donald Trump the presidency on behalf of Hillary Clinton. You may think they had a funny way of showing it, since they kept their investigation top secret while the FBI director went out of his way to sully Hillary Clinton's reputation at the last minute. But that's the conservative media's story and they are sticking to it -- at least for now.

The details in actual reality are pretty straightforward. The FBI had been keeping tabs on Paul Manafort and Carter Page for some time, well before they  signed on to the 2016 Trump campaign, because of their suspicious ties to the Kremlin and other high-level politicians in Moscow's orbit. In Page's case, he had been approached by Russian agents some years back, while Manafort was known to be engaging in financial crimes involved with Ukrainian oligarchs. It is not surprising that law enforcement antennae went up when people such as that joined a presidential campaign.

Then there was the hacking, the social media manipulation and the hiring of retired Gen. Michael Flynn, formerly the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, who had been fired by President Obama and had a huge ax to grind. Then a young foreign policy guy, George Papadopoulos, got drunk in London and spilled to an Australian diplomat that he'd been approached by Russians who told him they had all kinds of dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The New York Times and the Washington Post reported over the weekend that all of this led the FBI in the summer of 2016 to engage a longtime Republican foreign policy expert who had operated as an informant in the past to approach Papadopoulos, Page and Flynn to see what he could find out. We don't know whether this source he turned up anything, but investigating the possibility that campaign officials were being set up by foreign actors for blackmail or undue influence would be a standard counter-intelligence operation. Having an informant check it out is more discreet than sending in some G-men to interrogate the officials and, as I mentioned, the fact that the FBI never breathed a word of any of this during the campaign makes the suggestion that they were trying to help Hillary Clinton entirely absurd.

You will recall that Rudy Giuliani blabbed a while back that Team Trump was planning to "make a fuss" on the one-year anniversary of the Mueller investigation. This seems to be part of their coordinated extravaganza, with the president himself leading the charge:

Wow, word seems to be coming out that the Obama FBI “SPIED ON THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN WITH AN EMBEDDED INFORMANT.” Andrew McCarthy says, “There's probably no doubt that they had at least one confidential informant in the campaign.” If so, this is bigger than Watergate!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 17, 2018

Reports are there was indeed at least one FBI representative implanted, for political purposes, into my campaign for president. It took place very early on, and long before the phony Russia Hoax became a “hot” Fake News story. If true - all time biggest political scandal!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2018

This has been percolating for some time on the right, courtesy of House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who has been demanding that the name of this informant be released to him, and even threatening Attorney General Jeff Sessions with a contempt citation. The FBI and the Justice Department have refused, citing the usual danger to "sources and methods," but the name has been circulating in right-wing media for days anyway and is now public. The stories in the New York Times and the Washington Post are likely heavily sourced by this coordinated "fuss."

I'm not sure what was accomplished by this, or by the weird insistence among Trump supporters that this somehow proves the Mueller investigation is tainted. This argument by law professor Jonathan Turley seems to rest on the premise that the FBI was being unfair to the Trump campaign because, in keeping the investigation secret, it didn't give the campaign the opportunity to let the public know that it was under investigation for possible conspiracy with a foreign adversary. Does that make sense?

On Sunday, Trump made his next move:

I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes - and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2018

The Justice Department responded obediently that it had asked the inspector general to "expand the ongoing review ... to include determining whether there was any impropriety or political motivation in how the FBI conducted its counterintelligence investigation" launched in 2016. Trump must feel very powerful.

This tweet on Sunday night by HUD official Lynne Patton perfectly illustrates how reality is perceived in the Trumpian alternate universe:

Dear Fellow Americans:

Forget Russian interference. There is now DEFINITIVE PROOF that the @FBI infiltrated one American campaign for the benefit of another American campaign. @realDonaldTrump was right all along. #VindicationIsComing#AndSheStillLost#HesYourPresident pic.twitter.com/bYVd2mcvjU

— ?? Lynne Patton (@LynnePatton) May 20, 2018

Someone needs to remind these people that they won the election. They seem to have forgotten.

Categories: Latest News

Donald Trump's "Big Pharma First" Agenda

Sun, 05/20/2018 - 21:00

Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), not pictured, in the Cabinet Room of the White House May 17, 2018, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Andrew Harrer-Pool / Getty Images)

After handing huge tax cuts to the country's richest people and taking away health care insurance for millions, Donald Trump took another giant step toward abandoning his populist agenda last week. Instead of having Medicare negotiate to bring drug prices down, Trump put out a plan that is focused on making foreign countries pay more for drugs.

The most immediate and direct effect of this effort, insofar as it succeeds, will be to increase the profits of the major US drug manufacturers. This is a high priority for all those people who own lots of stock in Pfizer and Merck, but it is not a real goal for the other 99 percent of the country.

It's true that higher profits could lead to some additional spending on innovation in future years. But just like the claim that the corporate tax cut will lead to a huge flood of investment, good luck trying to find it in the data.

It is also wrong to imagine that the other 99 percent benefit when Pfizer and Merck can get more profits by making our trading partners pay higher prices. First, insofar as foreigners pay Pfizer and Merck more for drugs, they will have less money to buy US car parts or Boeing planes. Other things equal, insofar as Trump's crusade for higher drug prices succeeds, we can anticipate a larger trade deficit in manufactured goods. This ought to cheer up his supporters in the industrial states.

It gets even worse. As people familiar with negotiations know, if you get more concessions in one area, you get less in other areas. This means that if Trump can pressure our trading partner into paying our drug companies higher prices, he will be less able to use pressure to open doors for US exports. This is yet another way in which he is abandoning US manufacturing workers to increase drug company profits.

While Trump is making his Big Pharma First agenda clear, we should be thinking more carefully about a reasonable agenda for drug prices. In this context, we have unfortunately allowed reality to be turned on its head.

Most of the discussion proceeds as though we want the government to intervene in the market to bring drug prices down. In fact, the reason drug prices are high is the government has intervened by giving drug companies patent monopolies and related forms of protection.

Without these government-granted monopolies, drugs would almost invariably be cheap. Few drugs are expensive to manufacture. In some cases, high-quality generic versions in India cost less than one percent of the price of the patent-protected drug in the United States. In the free market, drugs are cheap. It is government-imposed patent monopolies that make them expensive.

Patents do serve the purpose of providing an incentive to innovate and develop new drugs, but the question is whether they are the best mechanism for this purpose. Patent monopolies mean that we are asking people who are sick and dying to pay for research that has already been done. It's like having the people whose house is on fire cough up the money to finance the fire department.

It doesn't help that the payers are often third parties, like private insurance companies or the government. In this case, we are expecting people facing serious health problems, and/or their families, to devote their efforts to lobbying to have the cost of their drugs covered.

There are alternatives, most obviously just paying for the research upfront. The federal government already spends more than $30 billion a year on biomedical research, mostly through the National Institutes of Health. While most of this money supports basic research, the government could double or triple this funding to finance the development and testing of new drugs. With this policy, all new drugs could be sold as generics.

Not only would this policy give us cheap drugs, it would likely give us better and more honest research. While the private sector could still do the bulk of the research, a condition of getting a government contract would be that all findings are made public as soon as practical.

This means that it would be possible to determine which drugs are best for specific patients. For example, some drugs might be better for men than women or be more likely to have serious side effects for some types of people. If the test results were fully public it would be easier for doctors to pick the best drug for their patients. It would also provide important information to other researchers about where gaps in treatment exist, which may not currently be recognized.

Ending patent monopoly financing would also end the incentives drug companies now have to misrepresent the safety and effectiveness of their products. As every Econ 101 student knows, when a government monopoly allows a company to sell a product at a markup of 10,000 percent, it gives the company enormous incentive to push its product, even if it means being dishonest.

Getting beyond the patent system of financing drug research is not an impossible leap. A bill introduced last year that was cosponsored by 17 senators, would have included funding for clinical trials, with successful drugs then sold as generics.

The pharmaceutical industry will fight like crazy to block any efforts to modernize the system of financing drug research. They are undoubtedly feeling very confident now that they have a lackey in the White House, but if people understand what is at stake, that could change quickly.

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Categories: Latest News

Employer Power in Labor Markets Further Sidelines Women and People of Color in Today's Economy

Sun, 05/20/2018 - 21:00

Increased monopsony in labor markets has allowed corporations to gain outsized power over individuals, leaving workers with less agency over the choices in their lives. Labor market monopsony refers to the concentration of employers and the resulting power they have to shape labor markets to their advantage. More concentration leads to fewer employers who offer fewer jobs, which gives employers the power to set wages and working conditions on their own terms. As a result, many Americans have less leverage over employers on issues that define their economic security, including compensation and benefits.

This is bad news for workers, but even more so for those already facing structural barriers in the labor market. Women, people of color, and in particular, women of color, face extensive limits on their freedoms and choices due to pervasive structural discrimination. Consequently, these individuals and communities bear compounded negative effects from this economic trend.

First, labor market monopsony can increase the likelihood of discrimination in hiring. When there are fewer jobs, as happens under labor market monopsony, firms have a greater ability to be biased in their hiring choices. For example, take a company that has a preference for a specific demographic and needs to fill five jobs. If only three individuals of that preferred demographic apply, then they must choose from the rest of the applicant pool for the remaining two positions. However, monopsony power in the labor market gives firms more control to dictate their demand for labor. If the company decides to only offer three jobs, they could simply hire the three preferred applicants and disregard everyone else.

Monopsony power also depresses wages, while structural discrimination funnels women and people of color into low-wage jobs. Increased concentration of companies in the past few years led to a 14 percent decrease in wages for posted job listings. Meanwhile, women, people of color, and in particular, women of color are often directed into the lowest paying professions. This means that when increased monopsony leads to lower wages, women and people of color are most hurt. For those earning at the bottom of the income distribution, this can mean that necessities like food and housing become more difficult to afford month to month.

Increased monopsony also affects the ability of workers to move between jobs, especially for Americans who are held back in the economy by their gender, race, or both. When there are fewer job options in the labor market, workers have reduced power to leave work environments where they may face harassment from customers or be vulnerable to employer abuses. A clear example of this is food service workers in the restaurant industry. Restaurant workers, particularly women and women of color, often endure inappropriate behavior from customers, often with no recourse. Decreased job mobility increases the incentive to stay at such a job due to the lack of alternative employment options. Without job mobility, workers can become trapped in hostile workplaces.

Lastly, though recent debate on monopsony in the labor market suggests that workers are less likely to move between local labor markets than economists may predict, it's important to note that those who do move are those most likely to have the resources to. People and women of color hold substantially less wealth and have less community or family wealth. These individuals also earn some of the lowest incomes. Relocation involves many upfront costs that require savings or assistance from community supports and may simply be prohibitively expensive. With fewer workers unable to consider relocating for work, competition in local labor markets that are available to these groups decreases further.

Increased monopsony power of firms in labor markets is a problem for the bulk of the workforce, but it's important to consider how demographic groups are differentially affected by this trend. Women, people of color, and women of color are disproportionately in low-wage work and face less competitive labor markets overall. When increased monopsony decreases available jobs, lowers wages, and reduces job mobility for everyone, women, people of color, and women of color face disproportionate constraints in their lives.

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Categories: Latest News

Vermont Legislators Pass a Drug Importation Law to Challenge High Drug Prices

Sun, 05/20/2018 - 21:00

Last week, Vermont passed a law that would facilitate the state's importation of prescription drugs wholesale from Canada, which would represent the state's effort to tackle head-on the issue of constantly climbing drug prices. However, there are some challenges that lie ahead for importation champions, and what that shows about the future of the drug pricing fight.

(Photo: Alfexe / Getty Images)

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Last week, Vermont passed a first-in-the-nation law that would facilitate the state's importation of prescription drugs wholesale from Canada. It represents the state's effort to tackle head-on the issue of constantly climbing drug prices.

Other states, including Louisiana and Utah, have debated similar legislation and are watching Vermont's progress closely.

After all, the issue of drug importation polls well across the political spectrum and has been endorsed by politicians ranging from candidate Donald Trump, before he became president, to liberal firebrand Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

So how much impact might a state law like this actually have?

Trump has since stepped back from his campaign position, and the White House did not include drug importation in its proposal this month to bring down drug prices.

And cautions abound that importation may not actually save that much money as questions swirl about whether the policy undermines drug safety standards.

Kaiser Health News breaks down the challenges that lie ahead for importation champions, and what it shows about the future of the drug pricing fight.

States Needs Approval to Launch Any Kind of Importation Program

Just having a law like Vermont's on the books is not enough to legalize importation. The next step is for the state to craft a proposal outlining how its initiative would save money without jeopardizing public health. The proposal, in turn, is then subject to approval by the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

HHS has had yea-or-nay power over state importation programs since at least 2003, because of a provision included in the law creating Medicare Part D. But it's never actually approved such a plan. And -- despite mounting political pressure -- there's little reason to think it will do so now.

In the past weeks, HHS Secretary Alex Azar has come out strongly against importation, calling it a "gimmick" that wouldn't meaningfully bring down prices.

He also has argued that the US government cannot adequately certify the safety of imported drugs.

HHS declined to comment beyond Azar's public remarks.

Importation backers -- including the National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP), which helped craft Vermont's bill and has worked with state lawmakers -- hope he'll reverse these positions. But few are optimistic that this will happen.

"I don't expect that Vermont alone will be able to bring sufficient pressure to bear on Secretary Azar to convince him to change his mind," said Rachel Sachs, an associate law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, who tracks drug-pricing laws.

A State's Importation Program Would Also Require Buy-In From Canadian Wholesalers. What's in It for Them?

Perhaps not much. Canadian wholesalers might stand to lose financially.

After all, pharmaceutical companies that market drugs in the United States might limit how much they sell to companies that have supply chains across the border. They could also raise their Canadian list prices.

"Almost inevitably, Canadians would cease getting better prices," said Michael Law, a pharmaceutical policy expert and associate professor at the University of British Columbia's Center for Health Services and Policy Research. "If I were a [Canadian] company, I wouldn't want that to occur -- and [drugmakers] could take steps to limit the supply coming north. … It probably results in [Canadians] getting higher prices."

Trish Riley, NASHP's executive director, dismissed this concern, saying some Canadian wholesalers have indicated interest in contracting with Vermont.

Vermont would still have to prove to HHS that its proposal would yield "substantial" savings. This  won't be easy.

In fact, some analysts suggest savings would be limited to a narrow slice of the market.

Importation could bring down the price of some generics and off-patent drugs by increasing competition, suggested Ameet Sarpatwari, a lawyer and epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School who studies drug pricing.

Many generic drugs have also seen substantial price hikes in recent years -- but curbing these costs is only part of the equation.

"It's not a panacea for the drug-pricing reform or high drug prices as a whole," Sarpatwari said.

Branded drugs, which drive much of the American problem with prescription price tags, are distributed by a single company and, therefore, that company has greater control over supply and pricing pressure.

Drug Saferty Looms Over the Debate 

The worry, according to critics, is that American regulators can't effectively determine whether imported drugs meet the same safety standards as those sold directly in the United States. A year ago, a bipartisan group of former Food and Drug Administration commissioners made that very argument in a letter to Congress.

Azar has argued this same point, as has the influential pharmaceutical industry, represented by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

"Lawmakers cannot guarantee the authenticity and safety of prescription medicines when they bypass the FDA approval process," said Caitlin Carroll, a PhRMA spokeswoman, in a statement released on Vermont's law.

This position, though, draws skepticism.

In cases of drug shortages or public health emergencies, the United States has imported drugs. And many Canadian and American drugs are made and approved under similar standards, Law noted.

"In terms of general safety, it is kind of nonsense. … We share plants," he said. "The idea that Canadian drugs are somehow unsafe is a red herring."

An argument in favor of plans like Vermont's focuses on the idea that because the state would import drugs wholesale -- rather than enabling individuals to shop internationally -- it would be able to address concerns about safety or quality, Riley said.

Plus, Sarpatwari suggested, the government has resources to track drugs that come from Canada, especially if a drug were recalled or ultimately found to have problems.

"Our technology is catching up with our ability to do effective monitoring," he said. "Particularly when it's coming from a well-regulated country, I think there is less fear over safety."

States Have Been Leading the Charge on Addressing the Drug Price Issue, but Their Efforts Reach Only so Far

The federal government has taken little action to curb rising drug prices -- though HHS now says it plans to change that.

So far, state legislatures have been pushing for laws to penalize price gouging, promote price transparency or limit what the state will pay.

But state initiatives often require federal permission.

Vermont's law, which is arguably meaningless without HHS' say-so, is just one example.

Sarpatwari pointed to a request from Massachusetts to develop a drug formulary for its Medicaid insurance program -- theoretically giving the state more leverage to negotiate cheaper prices by reducing how many drugs it's required to cover.

That proposal also is contingent upon approval from HHS. The administration has been publicly silent, though some news reports suggest it leans toward rejecting the request.

Meanwhile, Sachs said Vermont's law, and others like it, will challenge the White House to show its mettle in taking on drug costs.

"We're seeing explicit actions by the states to put pressure back on the federal government," Sachs said. "The administration is publicly committed to lowering drug prices. It is being asked to make decisions which will, in some ways, show how much it really is attempting to accomplish that goal."

KHN's coverage of prescription drug development, costs and pricing is supported by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

Categories: Latest News

Israel Continues to Aggress Against Syria While Playing the Victim

Sun, 05/20/2018 - 21:00

In recent months, much has been written and discussed in the US mainstream media about the possibility of all-our war between Israel and its adversaries in the region. In reality, Israel has been ratcheting up tensions in the region for years, conducting largely one-sided acts of aggression against Syria, Lebanon and Iran in the name of "deterrence."

Israeli Merkava tanks are deployed near the Israeli-Syrian border on May 10, 2018, in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights. (Photo: Lior Mizrahi / Getty Images)

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In recent months, writers have poured sweat and ink over the pages of  The New York Times and other leading Western journals about the possibility of war between Israel and its adversaries in the region; but the truth is that Israel has been at war in Syria for years. The fight has been almost entirely one-sided, with Israel striking its enemies whenever it pleases, receiving little to no backlash from Hezbollah, Assad, Iran or Syria's emerging hegemon, Russia. Although US media outlets have paid more attention to Israel's role in Syria since Assad downed an Israeli fighter jet in February, mainstream journals have largely blacked out Israeli airstrikes in Syria in recent years (a prime example being Thomas Friedman's recent falsification of history in the Sunday Times). Hence, in order to even begin an intelligent discussion on these issues, we must start by reviewing the record of Israel's conduct in Syria and Lebanon since the outbreak of the civil war.

Over the past six years, Israel has launched at least 100 attacks against convoys in Syria that were allegedly carrying weapons (perhaps advanced missiles) to Hezbollah and other Shi'ite militias. In February, the Guardian reported that Israel had been conducting near weekly strikes in Syria for the past 18 months, and there's little reason to think that the rate of attacks has since ebbed. These attacks, which escalated under Trump, target Syrian government forces, Hezbollah and, as of late, Iran.

Israel often launches these strikes, as well as reconnaissance missions, from the sky over Lebanon, violating sovereign Lebanese airspace on a daily basis. Lebanon has proved powerless to deter Israel. Last September, Israeli jets buzzed so low over southern Lebanon that they broke windows, causing a panic. Syria sometimes fires at Israeli jets flying over Lebanon near the Syrian-Lebanese border, but Assad's anti-aircraft fire always misses, with the noted single exception. Nonetheless, Israel retaliates massively against Assad for even attempting self-defense, often destroying Syrian anti-aircraft batteries. After Syria shot down the Israeli jet in February -- a major offense since it put a small blemish on the otherwise almighty image of the Israeli military -- Israel took out nearly half of Assad's anti-aircraft missile defenses, thus giving Israel nearly unfettered access to the Syrian and Lebanese skies. The latest reports suggest that Russia will soon supply the Syrian government with new S-300 anti-aircraft defense systems. Israel has promised to strike Syria if these batteries were obtained and deployed by Assad, showing once again that the enemy's attempts at deterrence and defense, however feeble, are red lines for the Israeli military.

The one check on Israeli air power has apparently been Russia. Jerusalem and Moscow maintain open lines of communication in order to avoid any friction between the two nuclear-armed powers. Reportedly, had Russian President Vladimir Putin not called Netanyahu and told him to rein in the airstrikes, Israel would have bombed even more targets in Syria in retaliation for the downing of its jet. However, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman recently told Israeli news site Walla, "We will maintain total freedom of action [in Syria]. We will not accept any limitation when it comes to the defense of our security interests," not from Russia or any other country. Thus far, Israel's strikes against Russian allies in Syria (namely, Assad and Iran) have apparently elicited little more than firm rhetoric from the Kremlin. Given the lack of Russian military response to Israel, we can infer that Putin isn't willing to risk a direct, all-out war with Israel, and consequently the United States, in order to protect its Middle Eastern partners from Israeli bombing. This tactical decision may result from a conclusion by Putin that the United States no longer aims to oust Assad, and so he chooses to tolerate Israel's aggression in service of his larger goal of keeping his Syrian client in power.

In recent years, the border between Israel and Lebanon has remained mostly quiet except for occasional minor skirmishes, which Israel then escalates as a matter of policy. For example, in 2015, after Israel assassinated an Iranian colonel and a high-ranking Hezbollah officer in the Syrian Golan Heights, Hezbollah launched six guided missiles into Israel, killing two Israeli soldiers and injuring several civilians. In response, Israel fired heavy artillery and mortar shells filled with the chemical weapon white phosphorus across the Israel-Lebanon border, killing a UN peacekeeper. (The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon has documented repeated use of white phosphorus by the Israeli military in Lebanon, an especially ugly munition that Israel admitted to using during the Second Lebanon War.) Occasionally, we hear hardliners on both sides calling for the annihilation of the other country -- led by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on the Lebanese side and Education Minister Naftali Bennett on the Israeli side -- but most agree that neither Hezbollah nor Israel are presently eager to act on these genocidal threats.

Lastly, we have to acknowledge accounts of Israel continuing to support various Sunni rebel groups in the Syrian Golan Heights. Former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon admitted in 2015 that Israel had been sending medical and humanitarian aid to jihadist groups in southern Syria. According to a paper published by the Institute for National Security Studies (Tel Aviv), there have been widespread reports of understandings and coordination between Israel and al-Nusra, al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria. Back in 2014, the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), alongside al-Nusra, seized control of most of the Syrian Golan Heights using the weapons, cash and ammunition supplied by the CIA via the Military Operations Command (MOC) based in Amman, Jordan; since Donald Trump shut down the CIA-led MOC base, it appears that Israel has replaced the United States as the supplier of weapons, ammunition and money to non-jihadist Sunni groups in southwest Syria (although, of course, this supply chain reaches back to the United States, directly or indirectly). Furthermore, Israeli journalist Elizabeth Tsurkov reports that rebels have said that Israel sometimes provides these Sunni groups with direct military assistance against southern Syria's local ISIS (also known as Daesh) affiliate, launching drone strikes and arming them with high-precision and anti-tank missiles. Tragically, these rebels have been hoping that Israel would help them overthrow Assad, but with 70 percent of the country now back in his hands, that is no longer on the table.

A Bull in a China Shop

So, with the near history in clear view, how do we interpret Israel's present aims in Syria?

Late last year, Major Gen. Amir Eshel, then the outgoing commander of the Israeli Air Force, spoke about current Israeli military doctrine rather honestly. He described the Israel Defense Forces' approach as that of "a bull in a china shop." Eshel told Haaretz, "When Israel has a vested interest, it acts irrespective of the risks. I think that in the view of our enemies, as I understand things, this language is clear here and also understood beyond the Middle East." In other words, the Israeli military is playing the "madman" of President Richard Nixon's (in)famous "madman theory," which says that if your adversary thinks that you are a loose cannon, that you are willing to do anything (e.g., drop a nuclear bomb, resort to the use of chemical weapons, inflict massive destruction in response to minor provocations, etc.), then the adversary might be willing to stand down. (This theory actually dates back to Machiavelli.)

This method of "peace through deterrence" fits well within Israel's core expansionist, militarist doctrine of the Iron Wall, not to mention US neoconservatism. But we have to be careful about our language, because "deterrence" is a polite-sounding, policy-planning term that often obscures outright aggression and brutality. Hence, when Israeli snipers kill dozens of Palestinian protesters in Gaza and injure thousands, Israel is said to be deterring Palestinians from crossing its border. It is deterrence, yes, but that term alone fails to capture the larger picture of Israel incarcerating almost 2 million Palestinians in Gaza for over a decade. Similarly, one could say that the Trump administration is deterring migrants from crossing the US/Mexico border by kidnapping their children upon arrival in the United States, or that a mafia don is deterring a shopkeeper from pledging allegiance to a rival don by breaking her nose; but the liberal-hearted would probably cringe at such a milquetoast characterization of these analogous scenarios, revealing how progressive some people are, except on the issue of Palestine.

Israel claims to be acting in the name of defense and national security. However, to my knowledge, few people have tried to seriously argue that Israel's attacks against Assad, Iran and Hezbollah really constitute preemptive self-defense under international law, seeing as these arguments collapse upon even cursory analysis. No UN Security Council resolution has sanctioned the attacks and hardly anyone pretends that Israel faces an imminent attack from Assad and company. (Even if we assume for the sake of argument that the drone that penetrated Israel's airspace in February was armed and Iranian, this attack would've come after Israel had already repeatedly attacked Iran in Syria.) On the other hand, Assad could much more plausibly make the case for preemptively attacking Israel, seeing as Israel has already aggressed against his regime repeatedly for decades, including the most recent intensification of hostilities.

Among Israel's stated "vested interests" in Lebanon and Syria are the following: blocking Hezbollah from acquiring advanced weaponry (e.g., guided missiles) and building a factory to produce the same; keeping Shi'ite militias away from its northern border; and preventing Iran from establishing a military foothold. Additionally, Israel had threatened to attack Lebanon if its citizens choose wrongly in the country's recent parliamentary elections. In late January, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis told Haaretz that if Hezbollah manages to "elbow out the Sunni camp in the upcoming May 2018 elections," then the Israeli army "is ready and prepared ... and will be improving its readiness this year." So, according to the general, the self-proclaimed "only democracy in the Middle East" considers democracy in Lebanon a red line if it goes against Israel's vested interests, just as Israel and the United States found the outcome of the free and fair Palestinian elections of 2006 intolerable (Hamas won) and then tried to stage a coup.

We can uncover further objectives from Israeli/US actions. The United States, with its attack dog Israel, definitely wants to weaken Assad as much as possible before the dictator re-establishes full control of the country. Israel has accepted Bashar al-Assad at its northern border for most of his tenure. When the Bush Jr. administration approached then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for his input on the prospect of toppling Assad, Sharon said that Israel preferred the devil it knows. Whether or not this same preference still exists in Jerusalem today, the United States no longer appears to be offering regime change in Syria as an option, likely wanting to avoid direct confrontation with Assad's main backer, Russia. However, under the cloud of the ongoing civil war, the US-led coalition is succeeding in undermining their enemy Assad, so that when the dust settles, there will be a weak regime on Israel's northern border.

The conventional analysis says that the last major war between Israel and Hezbollah began because each side miscalculated how the other would respond to provocation. In an atmosphere today where all parties are armed to the teeth, a similar miscalculation could lead to a very bloody all-out war in which civilians (Israeli, Syrian and Lebanese) would likely perish in great numbers. While Hezbollah possesses a significant arsenal of missiles, it is clearly no match for Israel, which has one of the mightiest militaries on the planet. It would be grossly irrational for Hezbollah to start a war now or in the near future. However, if Hezbollah felt backed into a corner -- say, by Israel assassinating more of its leaders in the wake of Hezbollah's success in these past elections -- Hezbollah might lash out thinking that it's fighting for its survival, potentially triggering Assad and Iran to come to its defense. Again, the great powers Russia and the United States loom large in this scary array of alliances.

On the other hand, we could see Israel and the United States consciously initiate war with Iran et al. Warmongering rhetoric has been emanating from the Trump administration for months. In February, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump's former national security adviser, said, "the time is now ... to act against Iran." Trump has since replaced McMaster with ultra-hawk John Bolton, who has been calling for regime change in Tehran for years, most recently in front of a conference of Iranian defectors in late March. Not to be outdone by the White House, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has laid the groundwork for war herself, speaking belligerently while standing in front of a hunk of an Iranian-supplied Houthi missile a few months ago. Haley very likely coordinated her PR stunt with Netanyahu, who performed with a hunk of alleged Iranian hardware at a security conference in Munich. Netanyahu's presentation, along with the announcement by the Israeli military that the downed Iranian drone was armed (contrary to its initial statement), suggest that the Israeli government may be preparing its public for a major war with Iran. Indeed, Israel's major strike against Iran in Syria last month, which killed another senior Iranian officer, and Israel's seismic strike against Assad and Iran on April 30 are both major provocations that succeeded in eliciting a restrained military response from Iran. So, it would appear that Israel, with the backing of the new Trump war cabinet, aimed and succeeded in inciting its enemies into attacking Israel on its own soil. Not satisfied with the low-grade hostilities thus far, in response to Iran's restrained retaliation, Israel launched another massive attack on Assad and Iran, yet another dangerous provocation.

Meanwhile, diplomatic options remain on the table. The Iran nuclear deal, which Netanyahu and the Israel lobby in the United States staunchly opposed, has now been acknowledged as an overwhelming success by virtually the entire world, including the Israeli military. The US and Israel have now nixed that particular diplomatic route for the time being, again revealing their desire for war, not peace. Nonetheless, at a later date, this multinational agreement could be reinstated by the United States. And we have even more opportunities for peace through negotiation available to us. For example, almost all the countries of the Middle East support making the region free of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, chemical and biological weapons; unfortunately, two countries remain notably absent from this consensus -- Syria and Israel. Israel would almost definitely refuse to give up its nuclear and chemical weapons arsenal of its own volition, but its boss, the United States, could pressure Israel into joining this agreement in a deal that would see Russia compelling its client, Syria, into doing the same. Lastly, ending the occupation, including immediately and unconditionally lifting the brutal, decade-long siege of Gaza in accordance with international demands, would remove one huge cause of contempt for Israel in the Arab world.

Unfortunately, the present regimes in Washington and Jerusalem have little to no appetite for diplomacy. Instead, present trends will probably continue, bringing us closer and closer to the precipice of sustained, high-key war between very well-armed regional powers.

Categories: Latest News

An Extreme Climate Forces Extreme Measures as Worst-Case Predictions Are Realized

Sun, 05/20/2018 - 21:00

Mt. Rainier. (Photo: George Artwood; Edited: LW / TO)

The speed of planetary warming and all of its subsequent consequences continues to outpace previous worst-case scientific predictions. While some people are already exploring adaptation measures, such as towing Antarctic icebergs to Cape Town, South Africa, as a solution to an ongoing water crisis, the denialist movement in the US continues to reach new lows.

Mt. Rainier. (Photo: George Artwood; Edited: LW / TO)

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"One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise." -- Aldo Leopold

Mountaineering, which has become more of a balm and solace for me than ever before, is an increasingly bittersweet experience. While the internal freedoms experienced continue to match the external while up in the high country, being on and amongst glaciers today entails being on one of the most dramatic front lines of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD).

A small team of us worked our way across icy slopes of Mount Rainier in Washington State en route to a satellite peak recently, weaving our way through and around crevasses, only to find our route ultimately made impassible. According to route photos and information from just a few years ago, the third glacier we were to traverse had melted and broken up dramatically, leaving us with no choice but to turn around and plan another route, for another day.

Despite Mount Rainier being the most glaciated peak in the contiguous 48 US states, it is losing its ice rapidly now. Like most glaciers around the world, we are watching them vanish before our very eyes. At current rates of planetary warming, we will almost assuredly be hard pressed to find an active glacier in the 48 US states by 2100.

But it becomes obvious that these dramatic changes should be expected when we look at the bigger picture of ACD today.

Earth's worst-case warming scenarios are probably the most likely now. Ice and glaciers around the world are melting far more quickly than believed possible even just a short while ago -- the Greenland Ice Sheet is threatening to collapse, and is already slowing ocean currents, which could collapse far faster than expected as well.

We are losing potentially dozens of species every day.

Sea levels are rising at an increasingly rapid pace, and projections have already doubled for this century alone, not even to speak of what the next century will bring. The seas are warming as well, with each of the last five years having set a new record for the warmest they have ever been since humans have been on the planet. Widespread death of marine life is at a record pace, and we are likely already on the edge of an anoxic event as oceans are depleted of oxygen. Half of all the marine life on the planet has already been lost since just 1970.

Already in the Sixth Mass Extinction Event Earth has known, this one triggered by humans, we are losing potentially dozens of species every day already.

The Great Barrier Reef, the single largest reef system on Earth, has been changed "forever," according to scientists, who have described the bleaching events that are wiping out the reef as "unprecedented" and "catastrophic."

Freshwater from melting glaciers is likely already shifting the circulation of the oceans, causing scientists to warn that one of the worst-case predictions about ACD could already be happening. This circulation shift will ultimately lead to faster-rising seas and superstorms, along with shifting of entire climates for vast swaths of the planet.

Bizarre phenomena are already happening to what ice is left in the Arctic, and the sea ice of the Bering Sea never melted out so quickly or early in the season as it did this year.

Esteemed 86-year-old social scientist Mayer Hillman recently told the Guardian, humans are "doomed" due to what we have done to the planet. "The outcome is death, and it's the end of most life on the planet because we're so dependent on the burning of fossil fuels. There are no means of reversing the process which is melting the polar ice caps. And very few appear to be prepared to say so."

While people like Hillman and dispatches like this continue to show us how very far along we already are regarding ACD, the time to savor our relationship to the planet -- and each other -- has never been more pressing than it is right now.

We must take this information in if we are to have an accurate map of reality, so as to better navigate the time we have left on Earth.

Earth

While it's long been known that nations emitting the least carbon around the world are those most damaged by ACD, a recent study showed another layer to this effect: "tropical inequality," is how the study puts their finding, which shows that the countries emitting the least carbon are also typically those which experience the greatest temperature swings from ACD, along with their respective impacts like droughts, floods, wildfires and extreme weather events.

While the UN has projected, conservatively, 200 million ACD refugees by 2050, even within the US, thousands of people are already facing displacement, and the number is sure to grow.

Marine salvage experts are hoping to use ships to tug icebergs from the Antarctic to Cape Town in order to help create a temporary solution to that city's ongoing drought.

Yet another study has shown how ACD is shifting the times nature is able to eat, this time focusing in on 88 specific species that are being impacted. The study showed that these species' biological feeding times are moving out of sync an average of six days every decade. For example, nearby where I live, Lake Washington's plant plankton are blooming 34 days earlier than the zooplankton that eat them, which means the entire base of that ecosystem's food chain is being deleteriously impacted.

Another report showed that as the planet continues to warm apace, energy demand for air conditioners and refrigeration are projected to jump 90 percent over 2017 levels. This also, of course, brings about a corresponding increase in CO2 emissions from the increased use of such devices.

Lastly in this section, as glacier melting around the planet continues to increase, the melting is destabilizing mountain slopes and literally causing mountainsides to collapse, sometimes falling into the sea.

Water

Rising sea levels are now threatening to burst a more than $1 trillion real estate bubble, as a recent study has shown a "pricing signal from climate change." The study revealed how in Miami, housing values of homes located at lower elevations have not kept apace with rates of appreciation of homes located at higher elevations along the coastal areas. Another even broader study, "Disaster on the Horizon: The Price Effect of Sea Level Rise," showed that homes which are exposed to sea level rise are already being priced 7 percent lower than homes the same distance from the coast but which are less exposed to flooding.

Given that most people's savings are tied up in their home, when the home loses all of its value from sea level rise causing an economic bubble to burst, one can imagine the myriad problems this will generate across South Florida.

Large portions of the Western US are expected to have "above-average" potential for "significant" wildfire activity this year.

Almost needless to say, Florida's Everglades National Park is under threat not just from sea level rise (the highest point in the park is four feet), but from the fact that the mangroves there are facing death also from the rising seas, according to a recent study.

The mangroves are literally being drowned by rising seas, and consequently, the land they hold steady from the sea is being washed away, allowing the seas to encroach upon more land even faster. "They are done," Randall Parkinson, affiliated with the study, told the Guardian of the mangroves. "The sea will continue to rise and the question now is whether they will be replaced by open water. I think they will. The outlook is pretty grim. What's mind boggling is that we are facing the inundation of south Florida this century."

Up the coast from Florida in North Carolina, "sunny day flooding" (caused by sea level rise) is happening decades sooner than previously predicted, according to a recent report. "Sunny day flooding" is tidal flooding, which is a (for now) temporary inundation of low-lying areas during high tides.

Another recent study showed how Galveston, Texas, is under increasing threat from sea level rise, as this will make the island that much more vulnerable to more extreme hurricanes in the future. The study showed how hurricanes of the future will cause 65 percent more people there to become displaced, and five times as many buildings to be damaged. The study also showed how, already, more than 60 percent of the Gulf Coast and most of the bay shorelines are already retreating in those areas where 25 percent of the entire population of Texas lives.

The NOAA recently confirmed a sharp rise in methane -- a greenhouse gas 100 times more potent than CO2 -- in the atmosphere over a 10-year time frame.

Meanwhile, the US military paid for a study on sea level rise, and the results are sobering. The study showed that thousands of these low-lying tropical islands' populations will become rootless; and their water supplies are already threatened "in the very near future" -- an issue that will, of course, bring security concerns of its own.

The other side of the coin of ACD's impacts in the watery realms is drought.

recent report showed that droughts across the Southwestern US will continue and prolong the threat of wildfires in that region. With mountain snowpacks already low in many of those states, such as Colorado and New Mexico, this summer will likely prove to be yet another exceptional wildfire season.

Another recent study showed how farmers along the arid-humid boundary that runs along the 100th meridian in the US will most likely be hit by dramatic ACD impacts like drought. The arid-humid boundary has shifted 100 miles eastward, bringing arid conditions further into what was formerly farmland.

Ongoing drought across Kansas has set the stage for what could be that state's smallest wheat crop since 1989, likely a harbinger of things to come as that region continues to dry further.

In California, another study has underscored what we've known for years now, which is that extreme droughts and floods there are set to worsen as ACD progresses. The frequency of what the study refers to as "precipitation whiplash events" of shifting from droughts to floods will worsen across the state, but in Southern California, will double by 2100.

Over in Afghanistan, the lowest snowfall and rain in years over this last winter has led to the onset of a major drought that is already sounding alarms across that US-occupied war-torn country. Twenty of the 34 provinces of that country are already "suffering badly," according to a report.

An overheated atmosphere is able to hold more moisture, hence the ongoing increase of dramatic rainfall events like the recent one in India, where a rainstorm killed at least 91 people, and injured more than 160 as houses collapsed and trees were toppled.

Meanwhile, up in Alaska, this winter saw a record low in sea ice coverage. Winter sea ice cover across the Bering Sea was literally half that of the previous record low. "There's never ever been anything remotely like this for sea ice," Rick Thoman, an Alaska-based climatologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told Scientific American about the new record-low.

Signs of the times of extremity we are living in abound, like in South Africa, where marine salvage experts are hoping to realize a plan to use ships to tug icebergs from the Antarctic all the way to Cape Town in order to help create a temporary solution to that city's ongoing drought and water crisis.

Oslo, Norway, has moved forward with banning all cars from the city by 2019.

Lastly in this section, scientists recently discovered yet another ACD-related feedback loop: This one is a result of warming temperatures around the globe contributing to increasing growth in freshwater plants within the world's lakes in recent decades, which will cause the amount of methane emitted from lakes to double.

Fire

The National Interagency Fire Center with the USDA Forest Service has predicted that this year will be a "challenging" wildfire year across the country. Large portions of the Western US are expected to have "above-average" potential for "significant" wildfire activity this year, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Washington.

Not included in that list of states was Florida, where by early May, wildfires in Big Cypress National Park had burned more than 38,000 acres, and a fire in the Texas panhandle had burned more than 30,000 acres.

Air

In Pakistan, recent temperatures are reported to have cracked 50.2 degrees Celsius (122.3 degrees Fahrenheit) in Nawabshah, located about 127 miles northeast of Karachi. A regional newspaper there reported that the heat was so intense it caused people to pass out and that "business activities came to a halt" in a district of 1.1 million people. That area saw a record of 45.5° C (113.9° F) in March, setting an all-time March record for the entire country.

Warmer than normal temperatures in the US are afflicting places like Miami, where it is now warmer and wetter for far more of the year than it used to be. This sets the stage for that region to become more friendly to mosquitoes, hence increasing the likelihood that the Zika virus could return to Miami. Meanwhile, tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease are rapidly spreading across the US, with some fearing that Lyme disease could already be the first epidemic related to ACD.

The NOAA recently confirmed a sharp rise in methane -- a greenhouse gas 100 times more potent than CO2 -- in the atmosphere over a 10-year time frame. The atmosphere already has two and a half times more methane than it did before the industrial revolution began, and now scientists are working to understand how in just the past decade, methane levels have increased as rapidly as they have.

Atmospheric CO2 concentrations have, for the first time ever recorded, surpassed 410 parts per million (ppm), and sustained that increase for more than a month.

Another interesting unintended consequence of ACD is how it is likely to cut down on the amount of dust being blown into the atmosphere from the Sahara Desert by up to 100 million tons every year. This would act to starve the Amazon rainforest of much-needed nutrients, in addition to causing temperatures to rise across the North Atlantic. The amount of dust will decrease because warmer temperatures mean less wind, and hence less dust. The lack of dust means the rainforest will not get as much iron and phosphorous in the dust for its plants and marine life.

Denial and Reality

In April, the US Senate confirmed ACD-denying Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine from Oklahoma as the head of NASA. Bridenstine has no scientific credentials and does not believe humans are to blame for ACD.

Wasting no time, by early May, the agency, under Bridenstine, had ended NASA's Carbon Monitoring System, which had been, at least up until then, a $10 million annual effort to fund programs intended to improve the monitoring of carbon emissions around the world.

While this is just the latest in ACD-denial antics from the Trump administration that are having catastrophic impacts on the environment and climate, the denialism is thankfully grossly outweighed by reality.

The city of Oslo, Norway, has moved forward with banning all cars from the city by 2019.

Pakistan is attempting to plant 1 billion trees, and the World Bank has announced it will no longer fund oil and gas exploration.

Meanwhile, deeply troubling signs of how far along the planet is regarding ACD continue apace.

Atmospheric CO2 concentrations have, for the first time ever recorded, surpassed 410 parts per million (ppm), and sustained that increase for more than a month.

It is worth noting that human beings did not exist on the planet the last time there was this much CO2 in the air. CO2 is now over 100 ppm higher than any of the direct measurements that have been taken from Antarctic ice cores over the last 800,000 years, and most likely substantially higher than anything Earth has experienced for at least 15 million years, including eras when the planet was mostly ice-free.

Categories: Latest News

New Reports Surface of Trump Campaign's Involvement with Foreign Entities

Sat, 05/19/2018 - 21:00

Days after the Senate Judiciary Committee released a transcript of its interview with Donald Trump, Jr. regarding his meeting with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 presidential campaign, new reports surfaced suggesting that the president's son met with other foreign entities to discuss the election.

The New York Times reported Saturday that Trump, Jr. met with George Nader, a businessman who was representing the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in August 2016. Nader reportedly informed Trump, Jr. that both countries were "eager to help his father win election as president."

The report marks the first indication that foreign entities other than Russia may have sought to influence the election, working closely with the Trump campaign.

Erik Prince -- brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, advisor to the Trump transition team, and former head of the private military company Blackwater -- apparently arranged the meeting, and an Israeli "social media specialist" named Joel Zamel presented information about his company's ability to give Trump's campaign an "edge" on social media.

As with Trump, Jr.'s 2016 meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, the president's son's response to the report of his meeting with Nader, Prince, and Zamel has focused on his claim that nothing came of the encounter.

"Prior to the 2016 election, Donald Trump Jr. recalls a meeting with Erik Prince, George Nader, and another individual who may be Joel Zamel," Alan Futerfas, a lawyer for Trump, Jr., said in a statement. "They pitched Mr. Trump Jr. on a social media platform or marketing strategy. He was not interested and that was the end of it."

According to the Times report, "two people familiar with the meetings said that Trump campaign officials did not appear bothered by the idea of cooperation with foreigners."

In his investigation into the Trump campaign, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has reportedly questioned Nader in recent weeks and has sought information about any attempts by the UAE to financially support Trump's run. Nader has also been questioned about his role in arranging a meeting between Prince and a Kremlin-connected businessman in January 2017.

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Categories: Latest News

Trump's Abortion Gag Order Is Already Hurting Health Care in Developing Nations

Sat, 05/19/2018 - 21:00
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Imagine this: You're a health care provider in a nation that receives foreign aid from the United States, and your patient has experienced an unplanned pregnancy. The patient knows they want an abortion, but you can't talk about abortion, provide counseling or offer a referral -- otherwise you'll jeopardize your clinic's funding.

That's the reality under the Mexico City Policy, also known as the Global Gag Rule. Republican presidents have been slapping this policy on recipients of foreign ai d since 1984, with Democrats reversing the order almost as soon as they get into office.

This back-and-forth dance imperils foreign aid for organizations providing assistance to people in developing nations all over the world -- and it's about nothing more than imposing ideology.

Let's be clear: This isn't an executive order mandating that foreign aid from the United States can't be used for abortions, although that would be bad enough. It also wouldn't be necessary, because the Helms Amendment already bars the use of foreign aid for this purpose.

Instead, the Global Gag Rule mandates that entities receiving aid from the United States cannot perform abortions, period -- even if the funds to provide them come from other sources. Health care providers also can't discuss abortion with patients in the course of pregnancy counseling, nor can they refer patients to facilities that provide abortions. Technically, there are supposed to be exceptions for rape and incest, but those tend to be more theoretical than practical.

In essence, the United States is dictating what kind of health care and counseling that aid workers provide.

Oddly enough, research suggests that these kinds of restrictions on foreign aid can actually lead to an increase in the abortion rate. Access to comprehensive, inclusive family planning and health care makes it easier for people to make informed choices about sexuality and their bodies.

Many organizations feel pressured into accepting this terrible deal because they rely on US dollars to function and reach as many patients as possible. Their work often includes STI screening and treatment, perinatal care, sex and health education, new baby wellness and a variety of other services that have nothing to do with abortion -- and are, in fact, things that the pro-life movement claims to care about, like providing babies with healthy starts in life and supporting new parents who are struggling to care for their children.

The Global Gag Rule isn't good for patients. This policy makes it hard to provide comprehensive counseling, education and outreach, for example. Patients who need abortions and can't get referrals may find themselves making unsafe and unhealthy choices on the basis of minimally available information. Lack of abortion care can make it challenging to treat patients experiencing complications after abortions, or bad pregnancy outcomes that may require surgical intervention.

Some entities aren't willing to make that choice, like Family Health Options Kenya, which provides a range of family planning and health care services -- including abortion. The group decided it didn't want to comply with the terms of Trump's executive order. As a result, the organization is losing some $2 million in funding -- all because it wants to ensure patients have access to a range of health care options that meet their needs, without stigma or compromise. That's nearly 60 percent of its operating budget, a harsh blow.

The clinic provides services like abortions for victims of child sexual assault, family planning for people who want to control the timing and spacing of their children, and a variety of sexual health services. It's cutting back staff and services in addition to implementing fees that not everyone can afford. That's going to exacerbate health care inequalities and, in turn, entrench poverty and suffering.

Family Health Options Kenya won't be the last in a growing list of organizations losing foreign aid over this issue, however. SheDecides, a Dutch program fighting the Global Gag Rule and promoting sexual autonomy for women worldwide, is working hard to address funding imbalances created by the Trump administration's cruel move.

But US residents aren't entirely powerless: We can contact our legislators to ask them to address this issue, and support organizations providing these services at home and abroad, like the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

Categories: Latest News

Why "Blue State" Teachers Need Their Own Revolt

Sat, 05/19/2018 - 21:00
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California is arguably the bluest of blue states.

We have a Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, both houses of the state legislature are about two-thirds Democratic, the state's two U.S. senators are Democrats, and almost three-quarters of the delegation to the U.S. House is Democratic. Los Angeles and San Francisco have Democratic Party mayors and are considered liberal strongholds.

California is also by far the richest state in the nation. In fact, considered by itself, it's the sixth-largest economy in the world, home to mega-corporations like Apple, Chevron, Wells Fargo, Disney, Visa, The Gap, and Hewlett Packard.

Yet California public schools languish at 46th out of the 50 states in per-pupil funding.

What does this mean for teachers and students? Here are the numbers: California spends $75,560 per year for each person it incarcerates and only $10,291 per student. Some 57 percent of California school districts don't employ a single nurse.

The K-12 student-to-teacher ratio in California ranks among the highest in the nation. Each school counselor serves an average of 945 students, compared to the 250 students recommended by the American School Counselors Association. While the state auditor recommends one school librarian for every 785 students, the ratio in California is one to 8,091.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, where I teach, class size "limits" in our contract -- which actually can be waived if our school district declares a "fiscal emergency" -- are 37 for 9th and 10th grade academic classes and 46 for all other high school classes. In our current contract campaign, we're fighting for lower class sizes and real, enforceable caps.

My classroom is so crowded with student desks that my students and I sometimes can't get from one side of the room to the other unless we walk outside and enter through the other door.

I teach at a large high school with a sprawling campus which once had 18 custodians to clean it in the evening. Now we have just three. Classrooms get pretty dirty since custodians aren't given enough time to sweep -- only to empty the trash cans. My classroom has a resident mouse living behind one of the bookcases.

Our air conditioners were installed in the 1960s, and they're so noisy it can be hard to hear students sharing their ideas in class discussion. When the AC breaks, it often takes days to get a replacement part. Meanwhile, LA temperatures in the spring and fall frequently reach 100 degrees.

As UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl told the Nation magazine: "This isn't a red-state issue, it's a blue-state issue, too. The rank and file are going to take the fight to the Democrats who have been complicit in the attack on public education and teachers unions."

* * *

What about teacher pay? A recent comparison of teacher pay by state shows Oklahoma, Arizona and West Virginia ranking second-, fifth- and sixth-lowest respectively, with California ranking fourth-highest. The implication is that higher-pay states, like California, would likely be immune from teachers taking such drastic action as a statewide strike to win higher salaries.

But according to Oakland-based education activist Joel Jordan, that conclusion would be highly misleading. As Jordan wrote in a recent report:

When taking cost of living into account, the differences narrow dramatically. In 2016, California teachers earned $26,865 more than West Virginia teachers, but when cost of living is factored in, only $6,429 more. Those differences would narrow further for super-high-cost urban areas of California, where housing costs alone are among the highest in the nation.

Teacher salaries in my district can't keep up with the cost of housing in Los Angeles, so most of my coworkers who own homes live in outlying cities to the east -- which means they can spend one to two hours commuting to work every day.

And when you compare other factors like class size and overall education funding, West Virginia actually comes out ahead of California. According to a 2016 NEA analysis, West Virginia spent 50 percent more per student than did California.

Meanwhile, California ranks with some of the poorest states in the country, like Mississippi and Alabama, in terms of the gap between rich and poor school districts. "[T]he highest poverty school districts fall as much as $14,000 to $16,000 per pupil below the necessary spending levels," according to a report by the Rutgers Graduate School of Education.

* * *

THE OUTRAGEOUS underfunding of California schools is due to our state government's failure to address major problems in the tax system that favor corporations, going back to the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978.

Prop 13 reduced the tax rate on homes and businesses by about 57 percent and changed the law so that the property tax rate is based on the value at the time the property was bought, rather than the property's current market value.

This has been a windfall for corporations, while devastating funding for schools and public services. For example, the bulk of Disneyland's property is taxed at 1975 rates: five cents per square foot. If Disneyland were paying current rates, they would owe at least $4.7 million more per year in taxes.

After years of efforts without support from Democratic Party politicians, a coalition, including the California Federation of Teachers, has recently launched a ballot measure called Schools and Communities First, which would reform Prop 13 so that homeowners aren't affected, but corporations pay a tax rate based on the fair market value of their property.

People have called repealing Prop 13 the "third rail" of California politics because Democratic Party politicians are afraid of the public backlash that comes when you challenge corporations and the rich with proposals that would raise their taxes.

Their failure to act has robbed us of decent schools and public services for 40 years. But this new coalition with very limited resources has already achieved very favorable poll numbers for the ballot measure.

National trends affect Los Angeles schools, too, according to Alex Caputo-Pearl. The Los Angeles Unified School District spends "$1 billion of its $6.4 billion budget on special education to cover the shortfall in federal funding for kids with special needs," he told the Nation.

Then there is the impact of education "reform." A "287 percent increase in private charter schools in LA has diverted $600 million per year from neighborhood schools," he added.

* * *

Even though the state provides the lion's share of funding to education, just like it does in West Virginia or Oklahoma, the difference in California is that money is distributed through the separate school districts.

And because, unlike in many red states, collective bargaining at the district level is legal, this means that teachers' unions have tended to lower their horizons for what can be won because of limited district budgets -- rather than taking on the state and demanding revenue increases to create a bigger pie, as all the recent statewide teacher rebellions have done. This can also lead to divisions among different school unions, which can see themselves in competition for district resources.

What about the statewide unions? In states with collective bargaining, these unions serve as "advisors" to local unions, but focus most of their attention on lobbying and elections.

Yet they tend to have big, bureaucratic apparatuses that get in the way of militant statewide action -- unlike the statewide union in West Virginia, which was relatively weak and more willing to take the lead from the rank and file.

In 2017, more progressive teachers unions in Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Diego spearheaded the creation of a new network to raise statewide demands: The California Alliance for Community Schools (CACS). The alliance now includes nine locals committed to pushing for more state funding and more regulation of charter schools.

CACS is pushing the Schools and Communities First ballot measure, but it was also able to hold a first-ever statewide week of action in the fall.

The level of rank-and-file organizing and mobilization is still very uneven in different locals and needs to be built as the foundation, but hopefully, CACS can pave the way for greater consciousness and common action statewide in the future.

What we need to see is strike action from a local union that can inspire others, tied to demands for increased state funding.

For the first time, United Teachers Los Angeles is tying our local contract demands to a statewide demand of 20 by 20: funding levels of $20,000 per pupil in California by the year 2020.

And in a positive step for solidarity among all school unions, the UTLA Board of Directors voted unanimously for a sympathy strike with the planned one-day Unfair Labor Practices strike by classified staff in SEIU Local 99 (the strike was called off when Local 99 reached an agreement the next day).

UTLA is planning a citywide rally on May 24 and a strike authorization vote in the fall if we haven't reached an agreement by September.

Time will tell if the struggle builds toward a walkout and other militant actions in LA later this year, but we know this much already: Blue-state teachers need their own rebellion.

Categories: Latest News

Kansas Governor Signs Anti-LGBT Adoption Bill Into Law

Sat, 05/19/2018 - 21:00

Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer delivers a speech on Jan. 31, 2018. (Photo: Bo Rader/ Wichita Eagle / TNS via Getty Images)

Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer signed a bill into law on Friday that will allow adoption agencies to refuse same-sex couples.

The bill, known as the Adoption Protection Act, was designed to insulate religious organizations that want to discriminate against the LGBT community. Approved in the Kansas Legislature earlier this month, the bill permits agencies to refuse homes "for foster care or adoption when the proposed placement of such child would violate such agency's sincerely held religious beliefs."

Similar adoption bills are being considered in Oklahoma and Colorado, and at least seven other states have already passed such laws. Some of these laws only apply to organizations that do not receive government funding. The Kansas law extends to agencies operating under taxpayer-funded contracts.

On Friday, Gov. Colyer signed the bill surrounded by legislators, faith leaders and foster care workers.

"What I want Kansans to know is this is about fairness and that we are protecting everyone," Colyer said Friday. "It's not about discrimination, it's about fairness. We're looking after those kids that need a forever home."

Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who helped lead the investigation into voter fraud for President Donald Trump, and a current candidate for governor in the state, also supported the legislation.

"Faith-based adoption agencies can continue the great work they do knowing they will always be able to operate in accordance with their faith in Kansas," he said in a statement.

Not every Republican in Kansas thought the bill was sound policy.

Jim Barnett, a former state senator and another Republican candidate for governor, said the law will open the state to lawsuits and deter young people and businesses from moving to the state, the Wichita Eagle reported.

"This is a moment of truth for Jeff Colyer today," Barnett said. "He signed discrimination into Kansas law and showed Kansans that the people that controlled [former Gov. Sam] Brownback control him."

State Rep. Susan Humphries helped push the bill through the Legislature and ensure it would get to Colyer's desk.

Humphries said Friday that the goal was to make sure faith-based groups were not discriminated against when it came to adoptions. She insisted there are both faith-based and non-faith-based adoption agencies in Kansas.

Allies of the LGBT community argue the law legalizes discrimination.

"We need to attract more qualified families to care for Kansas kids," Lori Ross, the CEO of Foster Adopt Connect, said. "And this legislation is going to eliminate perfectly wonderful, acceptable families from fostering or adopting those children."

Categories: Latest News

Indigenous Women Built These Tiny Houses to Block a Pipeline and Reclaim Nomadic Traditions

Sat, 05/19/2018 - 21:00

Mayuk (left) and Kanahus Manuel (right), founders of the Tiny House Warriors, in front of a completed tiny house on the Neskolinth Reserve outside of Kamloops, British Columbia. (Photo: Janice Cantieri)

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Tiny houses are a trendy way to live minimally and downsize -- but for a First Nations community in British Columbia, they're an act of resistance.

Since the fall, indigenous women of the Secwepemc Nation -- calling themselves the Tiny House Warriors -- have been constructing tiny houses that they plan to strategically place in the pathway of the proposed Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

"Our women came together to specifically address how we would launch our fight against this pipeline," said Secwepemc artist and activist Kanahus Manuel, who cofounded the Tiny House Warriors. "When we saw that we were able to build those tiny houses so fast, we came together to really develop a strategy for how we were going to fight against this Kinder Morgan pipeline coming into our land."

These tiny homes have the potential to have a big impact for Secwepemc communities. The houses are being used as symbols of resistance, and they're also providing something more tangible: affordable, efficient housing that could revitalize Secwepemc nomadic lifeways.

The houses are solar-powered, fitted with composting toilets and wood-burning stoves, and are completely fossil fuel- free. And they're on wheels. According to Kanahus, the small, moveable houses are also bringing back elements of the Secwepemc's nomadic hunter-gatherer culture.

Kanahus, her twin sister, Mayuk, and women in the Secwepemc Women Warriors Society founded the group after Kanahus returned from Standing Rock in 2016, where they participated in indigenous resistance efforts against the Dakota Access pipeline. There, a Native youth group from Portland, Oregon, constructed a tiny house for Kanahus and her children within one week.

Kanahus and the Secwepemc women were inspired, and when they returned home, just outside of Kamloops, British Columbia, they considered how to use tiny homes in their own fight.

Indigenous-led actions against the controversial pipeline have been ongoing since 2010, but cohesive actions along the pipeline route started up again in March, when tribes came together to build a traditional watch house in the pipeline's path. If the expansion is completed, it would nearly triple the amount of oil transported through unceded indigenous territories from the Alberta tar sands to Vancouver. In recent months, there have been a wave of actions to reclaim indigenous land and protect tribes' natural resources.

"The water has connected us for tens of thousands of years. From the receding of the glaciers until now, the water has connected us. Now, it's sad to say, but this pipeline is connecting us into a big strong force that Trudeau will have no other choice but to shut [the pipeline] down," Kanahus said.

So far, the group has built three houses and are installing wood-burning stoves inside them for heating. They plan to build at least 10 homes over the next few months to be deployed along the pipeline route, where pipeline construction threatens food and medicine gathering grounds and spiritually and culturally important sites, Kanahus said.

By building tiny homes, the Tiny House Warriors aim to resist a pipeline while reasserting sovereignty over traditional lands and housing practices in the process.

Warrior Roots

The Manuel family has a deep history of fighting back against colonialism. Arthur Manuel, Mayuk and Kanahus' father, was an international leader and vocal critic of Canada's residential schools. He wrote several books on indigenous rights, served on the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and was active in indigenous-led resistance efforts until he passed away in January.

Their grandfather George Manuel founded the World Council of Indigenous Peoples and traveled internationally to advocate for indigenous rights. Other family members have organized against deforestation and led organic gardening efforts to revitalize Secwepemc culture and build sovereignty.

"[We are] fighting back through gardening, fighting back by learning our language," Kanahus said. "All of the stuff we're doing is a form of resistance and a form of decolonizing."

Kanahus herself became a vocal environmental activist after witnessing several environmental disasters occur on Secwepemc territory in British Columbia, characterized by mountains and an inland temperate rainforest. One of the worst of these disasters was the 2014 Mount Polley mine disaster, where 350 million cubic feet of wastewater from the Imperial Metals mine leaked into Quesnal Lake. The spill contained high levels of arsenic, lead, copper, and nickel.

"No one could stop the sludge from going right into our salmon run," Kanahus said. "Our women had to get evacuated from picking huckleberries." So Kanahus and others went to the site to set up a sacred fire, bringing media attention with them.

More than 100 Secwepemc leaders and opponents of the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline gathered outside of Kamloops, British Columbia, on Earth Day for a "Picnics, not Pipelines" event to resist the pipeline. 

More than 100 Secwepemc leaders and opponents of the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline gathered outside of Kamloops, British Columbia, on Earth Day for a “Picnics, not Pipelines” event to resist the pipeline. (Photo: Janice Cantieri)

The corporations that are responsible for disasters like this one often operate without indigenous consent, she said. Unlike indigenous communities in other parts of North America and Canada, many indigenous communities in British Columbia never ceded the titles to their territories. Many, including Kanahus', believe that they should ultimately control what happens on their lands and that settlers have encroached on and destroyed their land without indigenous consent.

From that perspective, the Kinder Morgan pipeline is just the most recent example in a history of encroachments on the lands and rights of Secwepemc people.

Throughout the 1990s several violent standoffs occurred between indigenous people, the Canadian government, and white settlers, including the Oka Crisis in Quebec and the Gustafsen Lake Standoff on Secwepemc Territory in British Columbia. And after several years of First Nations resistance, in 2004 the provincial government allowed Sun Peaks Ski Resort to bulldoze indigenous homes, including Mayuk's.

Mayuk had built her house outside the reserve on Secwepemc territory after a landmark 1997 case in the Canadian Supreme Court established a clearer framework for indigenous land rights. Even with this ruling, provincial governments were initially able to issue permits for mining, construction, and logging on indigenous lands. In 2014, however, a second Supreme Court decision placed stricter requirements on corporations to consult with indigenous nations before projects were approved. Still, said Kanahus, corporations have often been able to establish the appearance of indigenous consent without their agreement.

The idea to place the tiny houses on wheels was in response to the Sun Peaks Ski Resort incident.

"There are a bunch of different things that we have in our memory, our real, recent memory, of how the government bulldozed down our homes, how they got injunctions and gave us trespass and seizure notices," Kanahus said. "We couldn't move our homes because they were there, permanent. So, we were like, What happens if we put them on wheels and what happens if we are mobile?"

The Warriors also intend the homes to provide affordable -- and safe -- housing for displaced community members who need it.

"A lot of people have been living on the reserve or in urban settings because we don't have access to our lands," Kanahus said.

And government housing on reserves is often unhealthy and unaffordable. Kanahus said these homes are often filled with toxic chemicals like asbestos and formaldehyde and came with 50-year mortgages that were difficult to pay off. At the same time, living off the reserve is difficult because much of the Secwepemc land has already been claimed by ranchers, businesses, or towns.

"[The land] is all spoken for already," Mayuk said. "The next mountain's spoken for and the next mountain, so we're going to have to fight for our land. This is what this is, a big fight," Mayuk said.

Revitalizing Secwepemc Culture

Before the Secwepemc were forced to live on designated reserves, they were semi-nomadic, traveling to different parts of their territory based on the season to harvest berries, hunt, and fish. Secwepemc women were experts at setting up and taking down camp to facilitate their hunter-gatherer lifestyle, according to Kanahus.

"We were always tiny-house people. We lived in traditional underground pit houses and cedar bark lodges. It's nothing new for us," Manuel said. "We were always a nomadic people, we were hunter-gatherers in our nation. So, we said, Let's go with the tiny houses, let's go with calling it the Tiny House Warriors. It was inspired by the women in our community."

Because the houses are on wheels, they've created a modernized, efficient, and fossil-fuel free revival of their nomadic lifestyle.

The Tiny House Warriors are working with Lubicon Solar, a women-led solar power initiative by members of the Lubicon Cree Nation whose territory and traditional hunting grounds have been impacted by the Alberta tar sands mining. The houses will be completely solar-powered, with heating created by wood-burning stoves and electricity from solar panels.

The sides of the houses are covered with colorful murals by Secwepemc artist and professor Jeffrey McNeil-Seymour, which illustrate aspects of Secwepemc culture and issues affecting indigenous communities. The Tiny House Warriors have also released a music album with songs by indigenous artists to support their efforts.

"A lot of this is creativity … is the art of war through media, through videos, and through images," Kanahus said. "We want to do some different art pieces along the pipeline route."

Each tiny house will also address a different issue affecting indigenous communities in Canada, she said.

The Warriors also hope to have a house dedicated to protecting the habitats of salmon they've fished for generations.

In addition, the Warriors are speaking out against proposed "man camps" that would bring in all-male construction crews to build the pipeline. These man camps, filled with workers who stay for short periods of time, lead to documented increases in violence against indigenous women.

Another issue they're hoping to tackle is the apprehension of children from indigenous communities, Kanahus said. "We see that there's discrimination against indigenous kids, where they are apprehended from their homes for reasons like poverty, or lack of adequate housing or food," Jane Philpott, Canadian minister for indigenous services, told The GuardianRecently, British Columbia passed a law that requires child services to consult with First Nations communities before taking their children.

"We want to connect those dots, because it all has to do with the displacement of our [people from our] territory," Kanahus said about the different themes represented on the tiny-house murals.

At the moment, it's unclear whether the pipeline will be built, but Kinder Morgan will face fierce resistance from the Tiny House Warriors at every step of the way.

"We are modern-day Indians, modern day warriors," Kanahus said. "Consultation is not consent."

Categories: Latest News

To Survive the Trumpocalypse, We Need Wild Disability Justice Dreams

Sat, 05/19/2018 - 21:00

(Photo: Lauren Walker / Truthout)

For years, awaiting this apocalypse, I have worried that as sick and disabled people, we will be the ones abandoned when our cities flood. But thinking of the histories and visions of disability activism, I am dreaming the biggest disabled dream of my life -- not just of a revolutionary movement in which we are not abandoned, but of a movement in which we lead the way.

(Photo: Lauren Walker / Truthout)

This story is the tenth in Truthout's "Visions of 2018" series, in which activist leaders answer the question: "What would you like to see created, built, imagined or begun this year?" Each piece will focus on a bold idea for transformation, to give us fuel as the year moves forward.

Sick and disabled and neurodivergent folks aren't supposed to dream, especially if we are queer and Black or Brown -- we're just supposed to be grateful the "normals" let us live. But I am the product of some wild disabled Black and Brown queer revolutionary dreaming, and I am dedicated to dreaming more sick and disabled queer Brown femme dreams in 2018.

It's been 13 years since the original Disability Justice Collective -- made up of activists Patty Berne, Leroy Moore, Mia Mingus, Sebastian Margaret and Eli Clare, a group of queer Black and Asian, queer and trans white disabled people -- came together to coin the term "disability justice" and lay the groundwork for a movement-building framework of intersectional, revolutionary disability politics. Sick of single-issue, casually racist white-dominated disability rights movements on the one hand, and of non-disabled Black and Brown movements forever "forgetting" about disability on the other, they decided to create some kind of luscious, juicy movement that would be like what environmental justice was to environmental rights, but in a disability context. This work has been carried on by organizations like Sins Invalid and the Harriet Tubman Collective, and many individuals and unnamed collectives doing visible and also highly invisibilized work.

Disability justice, when it's really happening, is too messy and wild to really fit into traditional movement and nonprofit-industrial complex structures.

And right now, we're at an interesting moment in the history of disability justice. It's a moment in which many social justice activists slap "disability justice" on their manifestos or add "ableism" to the list of stuff they're against. But then nothing else changes: All their organizing is still run the exact same inaccessible way, with the 10-mile-long marches, workshops that urge people to "get out of their seats and move!" and lack of inclusion of any disabled issues or organizing strategies in the work.  Many abled Black and Brown activists I know and am comrades with remain ignorant of the fact that sick and disabled Black and Brown people are doing critical organizing and cultural work on issues from protesting the police murders of Black and Brown disabled people to not being killed off by eugenics, killer cops and medical neglect. Many remain ignorant of how we are organizing against getting locked up in back rooms or institutions, and how we are fighting the end of the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and the Americans with Disabilities Act. And, no matter how much shit I post on Instagram about it, many remain ignorant of the fact that we have histories and cultures and skills and visions. And that if we're going to survive the Trumpocalypse and make the new world emerge, our work needs to be cripped the fuck out. Our work needs to center disability justice and the activists at the heart of it who have reclaimed "crip" or "krip" as a positive identity, where being sick, disabled, mad, neurodivergent/Autistic and/or Deaf is at the heart of our radicalism.

The Crip Art of Failure

Recently, on a conference call, a totally well-meaning able-bodied person asked me: "We just have one question! Uh ... What is disability justice? Like, how do we do it?"

I was polite as hell, but in my head, I shook my head, laughed and thought: You want to know how you'll know if you're doing disability justice? You'll know you're doing it because people will show up late, someone will vomit, someone will have a panic attack and nothing will happen on time because the ramp is broken on the supposedly "accessible" building. You won't meet your "benchmarks," on time or ever.

Disability justice means people with disabilities taking leadership positions, and everything that means when we show up as our whole selves, including thrown-out backs or broken wheelchairs making every day a work-from-home day, having a panic attack at the rally, or needing to empty an ostomy bag in the middle of a meeting. It means things moving slowly and being led by people even the most social-justice-minded abled folks stare at. And what holds many social justice abled folks back from really going there is that our work may look like what many abled people have been taught to think of as "failure."

It's so easy to look at a list of disability justice principles and nod your head. But the real deal is messy and beautiful -- as messy and beautiful and real as our sick, disabled, Deaf and crazy body/minds. Disability justice, when it's really happening, is too messy and wild to really fit into traditional movement and nonprofit-industrial complex structures, because our bodies and minds have always been too wild to fit in those structures. And that is on purpose: Nonprofits, created in the '60s to manage dissent, have much overlap with "charities" -- the network of institutions designed to institutionalize and control disabled people. Changing work to really embody disability justice means throwing out most ways people have learned how to organize.

Disability Is a Set of Innovative, Virtuosic Skills

It's one of the biggest paradigm shifts to get abled people to understand disability not as an individual tragedy, health problem or fate worse than death, but as communities of people who have brilliance, histories, cultures and skills. When abled people fuss about how it's "so impossible" to make access happen, I laugh and think about the time the ramp on the van that three wheelchair-using performers were travelling in to our eight-hour rehearsal broke, trapping people inside. All of us brainstormed for two hours -- Maybe if we pull another van up and lower their ramp on the busted ramp, folks can get out? Who has plywood? If we go to the bike shop, will they have welding tools?  -- until we figured out a way they could get out.

No one likes to be included as a favor. Inclusion without power or leadership is tokenism.

The brilliance of disability comes from this innovation and commitment to not leaving each other behind. It includes the power of a march moving as slow as the slowest members, who are at the front. It includes the power of a lockdown of scooter users blocking police headquarters with huge pieces of adaptive equipment. It takes the shape of movements that know how to bring each other food and medicine and see that care work as not a sideline to "the real work" of activism, but the real work of activism, all while building cultures where we don't shame each other for being sick or having needs. It means knowing how to organize while sick, from the bed and from the access van lineup. All of these are crucial disabled skills. I am for us loving and being for ourselves as disabled people -- particularly as sick and disabled Black and Brown people first -- but I also want abled people to learn that we know shit that can and will save your life. Because it saves ours, daily.

Disability Justice Is About Building Relationships

Over the past decade, I've seen many a well-meaning abled person read an access checklist and do all the right things -- get an accessible space, book an ASL interpreter and ask people to be fragrance free -- and then be surprised and miffed when disabled, Deaf, sick and mad folks don't show up en masse.

It shouldn't be so hard to figure out why this is: Often, the abled people in question don't know any actual disabled folks. Ableism and audism structurally separates disabled and Deaf people from abled and hearing folks. It's hard to build relationships when the bar where you are used to hanging out has a flight of stairs or when you don't know the language of the person you're trying to talk to.

When people get ASL interpreters and ramps and fragrance-free lotion but haven't built relationships with any disabled people, it just comes off like the charity model once again -- Look at what we're doing for you people! Aren't you grateful? No one likes to be included as a favor. Inclusion without power or leadership is tokenism.

When I see disability justice flourishing, it comes from years of relationship building, building trust, learning from mistakes and showing up for each other. In Toronto, hearing disabled people and Deaf people built with each other for years, including creating community-controlled queer ASL classes so hearing disabled people could learn to communicate with Deaf and hard of hearing folks, so we could have the tools and cultural fluency to communicate. This kind of active solidarity is love in action, and also creates the rock-bottom tools we need to talk, laugh, hang out, disagree, organize, break isolation and fall in love. And it's the opposite of a well-meaning but relationship-less, access provision.

Abled People: Time's Up. Especially Because You Will Become Us, Eventually

It would be easy for me to write the same article that disabled folks have written to the abled since time immemorial -- one asking you to get it the fuck together and stop "forgetting" about access and disabled demands. It would be easy to write because it's still so needed: Nondisabled activists continue to "forget" about basic access until someone disabled bugs them about it. Or they remember for a few months following a workshop, and then the commitment fades.

This forgetting breaks my heart every time, and it also frustrates the hell out me. If movements got it together about ableism, there is so much we could win. We could win movement spaces where elders, parents and sick and disabled folks could be present -- vastly increasing the number of people who can be included in "the revolution." We could create movement spaces where people don't "age out" of being able to be involved after turning 40 or feel ashamed of admitting any disability, mental health or chronic illness. We could create visions of revolutionary futures that don't replicate eugenics -- where disabled people exist and are thriving. We could win a unified analysis bringing together prison abolitionist and anti-institutionalization organizing, recognizing that at least 50 percent of Black and Brown people murdered by police are also disabled, Deaf or autistic/Mad. (This is not new analysis on my part -- Black disabled organizations like Krip Hop Nation and The Harriet Tubman Collective have been organizing for years around these issues.)

So, I will say it one time: I want abled people to get it together in 2018. Stop forgetting about disability. Face your own terror of being disabled, sick or mad. Unpack the stories of disabled people in your families and communities. Listen to those people. Read some of the many brilliantmade-by-disabled people access guides out there. Normalize access and disability. Be resourceful, like this article that has a million hacks to make bathroom access happen. Ask how you're fighting ableism in every campaign you do. Don't forget about us. Realize you are or will be us.

Wild Disability Justice Dreams and Unpacking Shame

Sometimes when disabled Black and Brown people bring up access needs, I see able-bodied comrades' faces turn stony and shut down. This often doesn't come solely from a casual hatred of disabled people, though that's there too. But in many Black, Indigenous and/or people of color communities, in my experience, someone who's angry and defensive about an inaccessible space is sometimes also flashing back to a memory of an uncle's polio or schizophrenia that no one would talk about, or a memory of medical experimentation or lack of access to basic needs. The only survival story that many Black and Brown communities have had is to deny our needs and work 16 hours a day, "keeping up." Many of us were taught from a young age that care, softness and healing were for other people, and we needed to just suck it up and make it work. Many of us hold stories about how our families survived enslavement, colonization and other forms of violence's grueling physical labor by not being disabled. Disabled people in those stories didn't make it -- they got killed. We sit in legacies of scarcity, survival and deep, unpacked grief.

I am dreaming not just of a revolutionary movement in which we are not abandoned, but of a movement in which we lead the way.

I've also been a part of many non-disabled people of color organizations in which having no money was the norm and was something we prided ourselves on knowing how to make work and look gorgeous. We could make a 24-city action happen on a quarter-tank of gas and no sleep. We didn't have money to pay ourselves for hundreds of hours of work; every space said "no" to us, so we made do with the one queer bar or community center space we had. And when someone pointed out that the space was up a flight of stairs, or asked if there was ASL interpretation or wanted some kind of fragrance-free product, we often met them with a mix of bitterness and rage: We're not even paying ourselves and you want what??? My grandmother worked in the fields all her life; she never had an "access need."

I honor the survival skills of denying need and getting by on nothing that have helped keep us alive. But I also deeply believe our beloved dead want us to do more than live on one cracker and an inaccessible building. We have other lineages of sick and disabled Black and Brown ancestors. Before colonization, enslavement and disaster, we had cultures where disability was a normal part of human existence and disabled people were honored and valued. I want us to honor those lineages and ancestors and bring them into the present. As Black disabled queer writer and organizer Cyree Jarelle Johnson remarked to me, "Harriet Tubman had seizures and narcolepsy because a slave owner threw a weight at her head. While on trips she likely had to sit down, lay down, move slow and rest. Her comrades didn't abandon her then, and we can figure out how not to abandon each other now."

We have ancestral shame to heal. And that's not easy. But I believe a key part of our work is about honoring, remembering, claiming and learning from our disabled queer Black and Brown ancestors, and unpacking shame and silence in our own lives so we can become those ancestors.

Let's Live Long, Beautiful, Cripped-Out Lives

I know more than one genius organizer -- usually a Black or Brown sick or disabled woman or nonbinary person who doesn't have a ton of disability community -- who's casually told me that they'll be dead by 50. I respect that some disabilities are progressive and might result in shortened lives, and that we're up against everything from insurance denials to police who are trying to kill us who want to do the same damn thing. But as I hear my friends talking about how they're sure they'll die young, I wonder if actually building care collectives -- communities where caring for each other is something we actually practice and build the structures to hold -- might change what feels possible. I think of my friend Loree Erickson, a queer disabled Toronto-based activist who built a mutual aid care collective made up of a bunch of friends who have been doing her personal care tasks for over 18 years. Her collective is a place where so many people get brought into disabled community; it is also deeply joyful, sexy and fun in a way that many people don't think of when they think of care. I think of the disability networks I'm in where friends bring each other soup and share meds. In these networks, we reward each other not just for being supercrips working at breakneck speeds; we also reward each other for existing in the incredibly vulnerable times when just living is enough.

Recently, my comrade Stacey Milbern brought up the concept of "crip doulas" -- other disabled people who help bring a person into disability community or into a new kind of disability than you may have experienced before, a more seasoned disabled person who teaches the hacks you might need, holds space for your feelings and shares the community's stories. It's telling that there's not even a word for this in mainstream English. How would it change people's experiences of disability and their fear of becoming disabled if this were a word and a way of being? What if this were a form of emotional labor that more folks knew of? I have done this with hundreds of people. What if this is something we could all do for each other? How would our movements change?

Cripping the Apocalypse: We've Already Survived the End of the World

2017 felt apocalyptic. One place I felt the apocalypse was in the wildfires that covered the Pacific Northwest. I live in South Seattle, and one morning last August, I went outside and the air was dark grey. Something grey was sprinkling from the sky. Was it ... ash?

At first the people on the news were optimistic. It should be over in a day. Then a week. Then maybe next week we'd have breathable air. The news reports trickled in: Fueled by climate change, giant wildfires in British Columbia had spread to cover most of Washington State. Fires started in the Columbia River basin near Portland. Then fires came to Santa Rosa and Southern California. Everyone was coughing and stressed out. I cancelled a planned writing retreat in Northern California because I was scared of driving through fires circling the highway.

Anxiety started to spread: Hey, is anyone else feeling like they can't breathe, like they're sick from all the smoke? Am I making a big deal out of nothing, or is the smoke making me feel super foggy?

In this moment, it was sick and disabled folks who already knew about masks, detox herbs and air purifiers. Over and over, it was sick and disabled folks -- particularly folks with environmental illness, asthma and other autoimmune conditions, who'd been navigating unsafe air for years -- who shared our crip survival knowledge and skills for coping with anxiety. We had comprehensive information about where to get masks and respirators and about the right herbs to take to detox after exposure to air pollutants. We knew to go to libraries and other air-conditioned places to get an air break. We knew about HEPA air filters and how you can make one with a furnace filter and a box fan. We knew it was normal to be feeling fatigue, confusion and panic, and we knew to hit inhalers and take anti-anxiety herbs. Lightening Bolt, a disability justice activist group formed in the wake of Trump to do community-based trainings around access and community safety without the police, led a successful  "Masks to the People" campaign, crowdfunding money to buy masks that they distributed to people living in tent cities in the Bay Area, since people living outside walls are extremely vulnerable to toxic smoke.

Since Trump got elected, many people in my community have been talking about how Octavia Butler was a prophet and how her books Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents eerily predicted the climate change, wildfires and fascism of our current world. Many people in movement spaces have taken Butler's words as prophecy.

What I've not often seen discussed is how Lauren Olamina, Butler's Black, genderqueer teenage hero who leads her community out of the ashes and founds a new spirituality that embraces change as god, is disabled. In the book, she is called a "Sharer": someone with hyperempathy syndrome. She feels everything everyone feels, and it's often overwhelming in a way that reminds me of some autistic and neurodiverse realities.

To me, Butler's Parable books are a Black disability justice narrative. Lauren often struggles with her non-normative mind, but it also gives her Black disabled brilliance. Her hyperempathy makes her refuse to leave anyone behind. It allows her to innovate, co-creating a resistance community and rebuilding it when it is destroyed.

For years awaiting this apocalypse, I have worried that as sick and disabled people, we will be the ones abandoned when our cities flood. But I am dreaming the biggest disabled dream of my life -- dreaming not just of a revolutionary movement in which we are not abandoned, but of a movement in which we lead the way. With all of our crazy, adaptive-deviced, loving kinship and commitment to each other, we will leave no one behind as we roll, limp, stim, sign and create the decolonial living future.

I am dreaming like my life depends on it. Because it does. And so does yours.

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Categories: Latest News

From The Women's March to the Poor People's Campaign, A Call for Economic Human Rights

Fri, 05/18/2018 - 21:00

Teachers in Kentucky marching for health care and students organizing against the school to prison pipeline have a core value in common: They are fighting for human rights. Yet, an elite framing of human rights has consistently ignored the people on the frontlines. This week, a new Poor People's Campaign is engaging in direct action in communities across the United States for the rights to housing, education, healthcare, decent jobs and more. It's time to recognize that these grassroots struggles for a social safety net and a decent standard of living add up to a larger and meaningful demand for a society that recognizes the human rights and dignity of everyone.

Yale professor Samuel Moyn recently wrote in The New York Times that human rights "movements" have failed because they have been limited to efforts to "name and shame" and have not tackled economic inequality. But, he appears to recognize only elite international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as human rights actors. This omission fuels the manufactured and false narrative that human rights ideas belong only to the professional class.

The notion that every human being is deserving of a broad set of fundamental rights is a moral concept that has been embraced by rising movements. The values and principles document for the Women's March affirms, "We believe that Women's Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women's Rights," and later states, "We believe in an economy powered by transparency, accountability, security and equity." These are integrally connected for leading-edge social justice movements in the United States. 

Effective human rights movements are not aimed at merely naming and shaming. They build power. The Fair Food Movement in the United States is spearheaded by the farmworkers of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) -- a self-described human rights organization that defines its vision using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The CIW has been the only worker organization to bring 14 major transnational corporations to the table through massive consumer campaigns that led to legally binding agreements transforming conditions in their supply chain. 

Human rights movements today are led not by professionalized NGOs, but by those most affected by injustice. The powerful Dignity in Schools Campaign, with a presence in 27 states with upwards of 120 member organizations, has been a formidable force in working to end the school-to-prison pipeline. This coalition, democratically led by a majority of parent and youth groups and anchored at the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, also embraces human rights as a core part of its vision and describe itself as connected to "broader movements for social justice and human rights." 

There are equally impressive state-level efforts that form the foundation of our human rights movement. Examples include Vermont, where Rights and Democracy and the Vermont Workers' Center have been calling for healthcare as a human right and inching ever closer towards a universal healthcare victory. The Border Network for Human Rights has thousands of members fighting for the safety and peace of border communities under a broader human rights vision. 

This week marks the revival of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Poor People's Campaign, through the work of Reverend William Barber and Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis at the Poverty Initiative, housed at Union Theological Seminary. Like its predecessor, the "Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival" embraces a moral vision of human rights explicitly focused on economic and social rights. It has galvanized thousands of people in 39 states, with a statement of principles that recognizes, "Given the abundance that exists in this country and the fundamental dignity inherent to all humanity, every person in the United States has the right to dignified jobs and living wages, housing, education, healthcare, welfare, decent and dignified jobs and the right to organize for the realization of these rights." 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights embraces the full range of economic and social rights: education, healthcare, a decent standard of living and more. Yet, Moyn also implies that not everyone needs human rights, and that they are only necessary for "vulnerable minorities." Human rights values do compel us to put the most marginalized communities at the center of social change, but these movements have always done so while fighting for a better world for all. And everyone needs the systems and structures that ensure economic and social rights. An equitable but universal vision is central to human rights movements. 

People's movements -- from civil rights, economic justice, women's rights and gender justice, LGBTQ rights, immigrant rights, racial justice and more -- are where human rights movements emerge. And when these movements call for a human rights vision, grounded in a moral framework that centers our humanity, elites make every effort to erase the message. As a result, not many people today in the United States think of human rights in connection with our domestic fight for social justice. This is not an accident, but a direct result of a repressive political history. 

As Carol Anderson documents skillfully in her prize-winning book Eyes off the Prize, when the Civil Rights Movement embraced human rights, in particular economic and social rights, it was attacked by elite allies and had to tactically narrow its vision publicly. But moral leaders from Reverends King to Barber have always based their struggles in universal human rights, and seeing that connection will help us to build towards the larger vision we need to meet the very serious challenges of our time.

 

Categories: Latest News

Subway Woes? Don't Blame Workers

Fri, 05/18/2018 - 21:00
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"Dirty, delayed, and dangerous." That's the slogan of a new ad campaign that blames New York City's subway woes on construction unions.

The campaign plays on New Yorkers' mounting frustrations with a system roiled by delays and overcrowding. It's part of a volley of attacks on the city's building trades unions by powerful developers and corporate mouthpieces.

The "Subway Scam" ads are the latest baloney from the Center for Union Facts, a corporate-backed nonprofit devoted to attacking unions. According to recent tax filings, its funders include Long Island hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, a major backer of the Trump presidential campaign and right-wing media outlet Breitbart News.

Subway delays have more than doubled in the past five years. Last year a series of New York Times articles dug into the history of neglect of the city's transit system.

The paper faulted various politicians for starving the transit budget, miring the system in debt, and squandering construction funds on station makeovers instead of maintaining signals and tracks. While New York's property values have skyrocketed -- thanks in part due to subway access -- none of the tax revenue from sales has been set aside for transit.

Workers Scapegoated

The Times trained its spotlight on the high cost of building new subway lines. New York's per-mile transit construction costs are the highest in the world, according to the paper.

Part of that is due to the high cost of worker health insurance, which in the US gets rolled into labor costs, unlike in other countries with national health care systems. But the series claimed that only accounted for one-tenth of increased costs.

High-priced consultants were mentioned briefly, along with higher land and insurance costs. New York City also has a higher cost of living than most of the world.

But the investigation zeroed in on union wages, benefits, and supposedly archaic work rules.

The Times painted a picture of overstaffed construction sites where hundreds of unnecessary workers roam around pocketing up to $1,000 a day; where 25 people operate a tunnel boring machine, while cities elsewhere use 10 or fewer; where outdated jobs linger on, like the crane "oiler" -- a relic of the days when cranes needed to be manually lubricated.

This image of union bloat is what the new ad campaign plays on.

Tough, Dangerous Work

But workers on the 2nd Avenue Subway project -- a particular focus of the Times -- say the reported numbers seem inflated.

Surveyor Matt Murphy suggested that perhaps there were 25 total in the hole if you included the surveyors, operators, and workers running the train back and forth with excavated rock, and that 25 might have jumped in for a photo op.

Andy Latosek, a tunnel worker and member of Sandhogs Local 147, says every job he's been on in his 31-year career, including some brief time at the 2nd Avenue Subway, has had eight or nine people on the boring machine. Each one has a critical job: operating the machine, running the bag line, running air and water lines, maintaining electricity, and placing pre-cast forms around the tunnel.

While the pay scale varies by union and job, tunnel workers generally command a high wage because it's such dangerous work.

"You're breathing in bad air, all the time. You're working in a round circle, so your ankles are gone," said Latosek. He's lost half a dozen co-workers in his career, and remembers many near misses where blasted rock or a large boulder almost crushed someone.

"Any tunnel, you have no idea what's going to happen," he said. "The drills go up into the rock, you don't know if it's going to fall down on you."

Contractors often have trouble finding enough people willing to do the work, even at high pay. Latosek said they normally take a new hire to look down the hole before orientation: "Two out of three people look down the hole and say the hell with it."

As for crane "oilers," the only relic is the name itself. Oilers are responsible for fixing anything that goes wrong on a crane, usually the most expensive piece of equipment on the job, and must know basic electrical, piping, and welding. If the crane goes down, everyone is sent home.

Oilers are also responsible for assembling and "jumping" or raising cranes, often very dangerous work. Operating engineers spend time training first as oilers, learning everything about the crane and how to fix it, before being entrusted to operate it.

Open Shop at Hudson Yards?

Meanwhile the city's building trades unions are embroiled in a major fight at Hudson Yards, the largest private real estate development in US history.

The developer, Related, recently filed a lawsuit against the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, claiming the costs on Phase I of Hudson Yards had been inflated by more than $100 million over the past six years. Like the Times articles, the suit cites work rules and staffing for driving up costs.

Related wants to use an "open shop" or "merit shop" on Phase II of the development -- meaning the developer would pick which pieces of the project to use union labor and nonunion labor. This model is an attempt to pit unions against each other, allowing developers to reward unions that give more concessions and punish those that fight workplace and safety violations.

Most if not all the work rules and staffing choices mentioned in the lawsuit are tied directly to worker safety and union jobsite standards. The media has focused on one job in particular: the "coffee boy" who's paid $42 an hour.

On most jobs, apprentices making anywhere between $11 and $25 an hour typically take coffee orders. Concrete high-rise jobs are the exception.

These jobs typically have 100-200 workers out in the elements, up on top of a new building rising out of the ground. Prepping food, coffee, water, and Gatorade and taking everything up to these workers by hand -- including up ladders and staircases -- is no light-duty job.

Dehydration and heatstroke are serious threats; breaks for water and food are very important. And the alternative to the "coffee boy" is impractical -- having a couple hundred workers go downstairs and come back up could take an hour.

#CountMeIn

Building trades members are fighting to keep Hudson Yards a union job, and to avoid setting a dangerous precedent for the types of jobs that can now be built with non-union workers.

As part of the #CountMeIn campaign, every Thursday since October, building trades members meet up at 6 a.m. outside Hudson Yards to protest. These militant and energetic rallies can draw upwards of 1,000 workers from all trades, many on their way to work at Hudson Yards.

The campaign was born out of a grassroots Facebook group called "Union Building Trades of NYC," started in 2015 by rank and filers. The group has since grown to include more than 12,000 members.

Some workers are taking the lawsuit as a sign that Related is weak, and that the company is retaliating in an effort to turn down the #CountMeIn heat.

Two large "Subway Scam" billboards look out over midtown Manhattan. But a week after they went up, the Building and Construction Trades Council put up a billboard of a different sort eight blocks to the south, displaying the slogan "New York City is a UNION TOWN! #CountMeIn." On April 4, more than 10,000 building trades members rallied underneath it.

New book from Labor Notes: Secrets of a Successful Organizer is a step-by-step guide to building power on the job. "Full of so many creative examples and powerful rank-and-file stories, it makes you want to dive right in." Buy one today, only $15.

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How Weakened US Fossil Fuel Regulations Threaten Environmental Justice in Colorado

Fri, 05/18/2018 - 21:00
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From the start, President Donald Trump's administration has made dismantling regulations, especially for the oil, gas and coal industries, a top priority.

And though his claims of rolling back more regulations than any other administration are exaggerated, Trump's team has tried hard to erase many environmental and energy-related rules.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Trump have teamed up with the Republican-led Congress to get federal agencies on the case, by streamlining environmental permitting and attempting other sweeping changes.

As an environmental sociologist who has spent hundreds of hours researching communities directly affected by oil and gas production, I find that many people living in these places feel that fossil fuel industries already had the upper hand before Trump took office.

Even among people who support drilling, many believe these industries need to be more regulated. The residents I have interviewed report feeling uncertain and vulnerable. They tell researchers like me they consider themselves powerless to control their surroundings or to protect the environment, their health or their property. Reducing regulations even more will only intensify these problems.

The fracking boom

Thanks to an oil and natural gas boom that began a decade ago, US production of those fuels has hit new records. The nation now ranks as the world's top natural gas producer. American oil output is beginning to rival Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Hydraulic fracturing and the directional drilling of shale rock formations, commonly called "fracking," powered this surge. So did deregulation. Companies using these methods enjoyed significant exemptions from federal environmental regulations that date back to George W. Bush's presidency and remained on the books throughout the Obama administration.

After the enactment of the 2005 Energy Policy Act, the law that codified many of these exemptions, states became responsible for creating their own policies, procedures, budgets and enforcement plans -- most of which weren't in place before the boom got underway. The government exempted fracking from federal environmental regulations like the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act.

States could decide rules like setbacks from homes, zoning, water acquisition and disposal, and most other aspects of drilling. This made it easier and quicker to permit hydraulic fracturing, but the states had to scramble to determine how to regulate it.

As fracking spread into more densely populated areas, wells ended up within a few hundred feet of homes, schools, hospitals and other buildings in states like Colorado, Texas, Pennsylvania and North Dakota. That made a big impact on people's quality of life.

But in places like Denton, Texas, and Colorado's Front Range -- a booming region that stretches along the Rocky Mountains and includes cities like Fort Collins and Pueblo -- the people who live in places most affected by these types of changes have no seat at the table. They live alongside oilfields and gas patches but have little power to affect what happens around them.

Health hazards and other problems

As a result, there's a mounting debate regarding state and local control over oil and gas development. Having spoken to people affected by fracking's spread, I believe it's clear why people are demanding a bigger say.

A growing pool of scientific evidence indicates that living near oil and gas production can endanger public healthRates of hospitalizationfatigue, certain childhood cancers and birth defects are higher, for one thing.

There's also more air pollution, including methane emissions and smog, which have been linked to asthma in children. And communities near fracking operations are contending with loud noises, bright lights, vibrations and truck traffic, as well as contaminated water and soil.

Drilling and daily life

Colorado's experience shows how oil and gas production can disrupt people's daily lives, especially when the public is excluded from decisions about it. The state's more than 50,000 permitted wells make Colorado a top producer of what the industry calls "unconventional" oil and gas. Its oil extraction has more than tripled since 2010, when the fracking boom began, and its natural gas production has more than doubled since 2001.

Like other states where oil and gas production has soared, Colorado struggles to balance the desires of drillers with local needs. In many communities, people living fracking sites say they are at risk. But Colorado's state Supreme Court has ruled that only the state government can control where and when fracking may occur.

Weld County, which has small towns, subdivisions and rural areas where farmers raise cattle and plant grains and sugar beets, alone has at least 21,000 wells. It ranks 11th in oil production in the US -- and is the nation's top agricultural producer outside California.

I belong to a team that unites social scientists, epidemiologists and statisticians. Together, we are completing a detailed study that measures how oil and gas drilling affects the quality of life in several Colorado communities. We have conducted surveys, in-depth interviews, ethnography and even taken blood and hair samples to examine how drilling may affect people's stress levels and health, their daily lives and physical symptoms of stress, like elevated cortisol levels.

While doing this research, I have personally witnessed the toll that underregulation is taking. To collect our data, I've sat around kitchen tables and listened as people described their concerns about water qualityearthquakes and air pollution.

They are uncertain about how it affects the health of their children, grandchildren and elderly parents. I've visited once-idyllic homes, now set in the shadows of sound barrier walls standing 30 feet tall and stretching for hundreds of feet.

No way out

Coloradans who want to stop fracking and drilling near their homes now have two options. They can draft agreements about protocols with a willing operator -- a process that often requires expensive legal advice and lots of time. Or, residents can locate an acceptable alternative site that is equally suitable for production -- which of course only pushes risks into someone else's backyard.

But some people have little recourse. Consider the situation facing Bella Romero Academy, a Weld County middle school. Its students are primarily Latino and belong to low-income households. Many have undocumented relatives.

Despite efforts by activists to block drilling, a company called Extraction Oil and Gas aims to place 24 well pads and other infrastructure within about 1,300 feet of the school and even closer to its athletic fields.

When activists protested as the site was prepared for drilling, one was arrested. Extraction is now suing several of these activists, along with unnamed "John and Jane Does."

Environmental injustice

The Colorado context illustrates the lived reality of what researchers like me call "environmental injustice" amid the oil and gas development also afflicting other states.

People who live near drilling may be exposed to a wide array of environmental and health risks. In this way, they experience "distributive injustice," due to their exposure to more than their fair share of pollutants and hazards. Hundreds of studies have shown that people of color, low-income communities and otherwise marginalized groups in the U.S. are more likely to be exposed to disproportionate environmental risks and hazards from polluting facilities and industrial activities.

The public has little power to zone or regulate oil and gas production near their homes, especially in states like Colorado. This is a form of "procedural inequality."

When local governments try to restrict oil and gas production, they can face steep penalties meant to discourage local control.

The Trump administration's efforts to further reduce federal regulations will surely escalate these sorts of injustices. Instead of serving the interests of communities where oil, gas and coal production takes place, I believe that its actions will disempower and divide the public.

Categories: Latest News

After Texas School Shooting, Progressives Say Refusal to Take on NRA Leading to "Slaughter After Slaughter"

Fri, 05/18/2018 - 21:00

Candles, flowers and stuffed animals line a table during a vigil in Santa Fe, Texas for the victims of the mass shooting on May 18, 2018.(Photo: AFP / Getty Images)

"Let's call it like it is," declared Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Friday in response to the mass shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas that left at least nine students and one teacher dead. "The horrifying inaction of Congress, slaughter after slaughter, has become a green light to would-be shooters, who pervert silence into endorsement."

In placing blame for the gun violence crisis that continues to inflict communities nationwide on inaction at the highest levels of the U.S. government -- where the National Rifle Association (NRA) holds tremendous sway, particularly over President Donald Trump and the Republican Congress -- Murphy echoed the reaction of many students, activists, human rights groups, and progressive lawmakers to Friday's massacre, which was the 22nd school shooting of 2018.

America's gun crisis has become so severe that Santa Fe High School student Paige Curry told an interviewer on Friday that she has "always felt" a mass shooting "would eventually happen here too."

Interviewer: "Was there a part of you that was like, 'This could not happen at my school?'"

Santa Fe High School student: "No. It's been happening everywhere. I've always felt it would eventually happen here, too."pic.twitter.com/MPxVScd3QE

— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) May 18, 2018

"This says it all," Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) wrote in response to Curry's interview, which quickly went viral as students from Parkland, Florida -- where another high school shooting took place in February -- shared the clip and expressed solidarity.

"Those with the power to stop these shootings have let our children down," Jayapal added.

The Parkland shooting, which left 17 people dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, sparked a national movement of students demanding that Congress and the president confront the NRA head-on and pass strict gun control measures.

Trump ultimately bowed to the NRA and made little to no effort to alter the nation's gun laws, except to repeatedly propose arming teachers.

There has been some action at the state level, but the changes have been a far-cry from the kinds of sweeping transformations necessary to address a crisis that takes up to 96 lives every day.

Friday's massacre -- allegedly carried out by 17-year-old student Dimitrios Pagourtzis, who was reportedly armed with a shotgun and a pistol -- sparked another upsurge of calls for lawmakers to directly take on the NRA or be replaced.

"Enough is enough!" wrote Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) following Friday's shooting. "There's little left to be said about the horrific school shooting tragedies that we've seen over and over -- today in Texas. These are very sick acts. Congress and Trump must finally have the courage to stand up to the NRA and do what the American people want."

Other progressive members of Congress also slammed their fellow lawmakers' refusal to act in the face of America's "national epidemic of gun violence":

My heart breaks for the students at Santa Fe High School and their loved ones.

Again, we see another community devastated by this national epidemic of gun violence. Congress's inaction in the face of this horrific, constant violence is a betrayal of our kids. #DoSomething https://t.co/8sAUEtQJJn

— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) May 18, 2018

It's never "too soon" to talk about the continued inaction of Congress to pass gun safety measures. A failed generation of political leadership continues putting Americans at risk and young people need to take the reins.

— Ro Khanna (@RoKhanna) May 18, 2018

Describing the U.S. as a "nation that allows its gun laws to be written by gun lobbyists," Shannon Watts, founder of the gun control advocacy group Moms Demand Action, concluded on Friday: "We should all be outraged by the lack of action from too many lawmakers who do nothing to stop this school shootings crisis."

Categories: Latest News

Donald Trump Really Shouldn't Have Run for President

Fri, 05/18/2018 - 21:00

US President Donald Trump speaks at the East Room of the White House May 18, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Trump's shady dealings is slowly reaching a fever pitch, and the administration has gone on the attack against its own Justice Department. One must wonder how on Earth Trump could ever have believed his lifetime of corrupt business practices would stay secret under the bright lights of the White House.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the East Room of the White House May 18, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

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After such a wild and wooly week in Washington, it behooves me to ask an all-important yet oft-ignored question: Why would a man run for president when the skeletons in his closet are so numerous they have their own union? It is hardly a secret that Donald J. Trump is the premier grifter of the late 20th and early 21st century, the moral inheritor of Charles Ponzi, Marc Drier and Bernie Madoff. In the words of columnist Paul Madoff:

He may well be the single most corrupt major business figure in the United States of America. He ran scams like Trump University to con struggling people out of their money. He lent his name to pyramid schemes. He bankrupted casinos and still somehow made millions while others were left holding the bag. He refused to pay vendors. He exploited foreign workers. He used illegal labor. He discriminated against African-American renters. He violated antitrust laws. He did business with the mob and with Eastern European kleptocrats. His properties became the go-to vehicle for Russian oligarchs and mobsters to launder their money.

Add to all that the fact that almost none of this is a secret if you ask the right people in Manhattan, Moscow or Atlantic City, and what you wind up with is a guy who really should have stayed out of politics.

Not just for his own good, but for the good of all the people who want no part of the bright light being shined on all things Trump. I find it amazing that some guys with broken noses and Brooklyn accents didn't sit him down two years ago to have a come-to-Jesus chat about subpoenas, shady real estate transactions and the wonders of the RICO Act.

Maybe something just like that did happen, but it was too late. Barack Obama, whose citizenship Trump had questioned, utterly humiliated him at the 2011 Correspondent's Dinner in front of a media/power crowd whose affections he had been feverishly craving since the Reagan era. These were the same kind of people who shunned Trump at parties back in New York, and they laughed at him that night, right in his face.

After that, Trump's grifter friends helped him rub his narcissistic woes to a fine sheen and jumped on for the ride to the White House, seeking plunder the way pirates have since ships first sailed the high seas. The ultimate flaw of grifters is baked into their most essential nature: To do what they do, they must be able to pretend the heat isn't right around the corner, especially when it is.

Good grifters require a level of self-confidence that staggers belief. Raise, and then raise again. Push the chips to the center of the table and smile over the aces you're not holding. It's an old story, and it's amazing how often it still works. Not in the White House, though, right? Not under all that light, not even with a bought Congress, could anyone realistically believe so many open secrets could be kept under wraps by a walking thumb like Michael Cohen.

Trump believed it, and here we are. Money laundering, Russian election tampering, gleeful Trump campaign cooperation, the serial ham-fisted efforts by the Trump Syndicate to disrupt and distract Robert Mueller's investigation, 19 people and 3 companies charged with various crimes so far, with 5 guilty pleas and agreements to cooperate already in hand, and it's only been a year. Ken Starr took more than twice that long chasing not nearly as much.

This thing, on the other hand, is getting almost too big to see. It has so many moving parts, a whole slew of which decided to move at the same time this past week. "Days like Wednesday," wrote Heather Digby Parton, "are filled with various emerging details of different aspects of the Trump scandals that are potentially important -- and in any other administration would cause bipartisan garment rending and calls for commissions, committee investigations and special counsels -- but come out of left field and don't really clarify anything."

Emerging from the mayhem was a report that could precipitate all-out war between the White House and the Department of Justice along with the intelligence agencies. Michael Cohen's secret bank records were allegedly leaked by a government employee. With House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes serving as wingman, Trump is agitating for the release of a DoJ strategy memo regarding the Mueller investigation, along with the name of the alleged leaker. They believe there is enough dynamite contained therein to end the special counsel's investigation altogether.

Trump, as is his way, approached the situation with his usual measured grace. "Wow," he tweeted, "word seems to be coming out that the Obama FBI 'SPIED ON THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN WITH AN EMBEDDED INFORMANT.' If so, this is bigger than Watergate!" Trump attorney and human banana-peel gag Rudy Giuliani took to the airwaves to press Trump's case that the FBI is riddled with Obama/Clinton traitors out to get the White House at all costs.

Meanwhile, Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee cut Trump and Nunes down with a single bi-partisan joint statement: "Our staff concluded that the (intelligence community's) conclusions were accurate and on point. The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated, and ordered by President Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton."

At about the same time, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee released thousands of documents related to their own Russia investigation, including transcripts of testimony by Donald Trump Jr. regarding the infamous "Trump Tower Meeting" with Kremlin-linked Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya and others. Junior's testimony included more than 50 "I don't know" answers, putting him in the same league as Ronald Reagan's Iran-Contra memory loss before Congress.

The worst part for Trump and his friends? All this, all the vastness of this is still only the tip of Mueller's iceberg. He and his staff know far more than they're telling and far, far more than they're leaking, and I would be shocked if that fact alone isn't keeping Donald Trump up nights. I'd love to see his 3:00am phone logs: "Hannity, am I awesome? Thanks!" Click, beeps. "Rudy, Sean says I'm awesome. Is he right? Thanks!" Lather, rinse, repeat.

The White House is frightened, with cause. This unprecedented menacing of the Justice Department, the demeaning of the FBI, is all they have left to them: Attack the institutions that have the power to investigate and charge administration officials, throw enough logs in the road to disrupt the process, make the populace so sick of hearing about it that they'll welcome an abrupt end to the whole thing.

That's their bet, their very last one. If these slash-and-burn tactics work, the country will fall ass-backwards into outright fascism not because Trump is actually a fascist in his heart, but because he doesn't want to get caught. Authoritarian regimes don't answer subpoenas.

I just have to believe a moment has come somewhere in all this, somewhere deep down in the dark teatime of Trump's shriveled faux-Machiavellian soul, when he has asked himself, in all honesty for once, what the Hell he was thinking when he decided to run for president. No one cared about his tax returns before the campaign, his lawyers weren't coughing up file cabinets filled with all the dirty deeds done dirt cheap over the years, and it didn't cost people 500 grand in legal fees to be his friend.

There's an answer for that, too. A one-sentence letter and a quick helicopter ride, and Trump is back on the golf course … or maybe not. The crypt doors have been cracked, and the bodies will not lie still. Even if he resigned tomorrow, the law is going to have its way with him, unless he destroys the rule of law to save himself. However it all shakes out, Donald Trump should have stayed home. I'm guessing no one knows that better than him.

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