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Updated: 1 hour 44 min ago

Is the Demise of Public Sector Unions on the Horizon?

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 21:00

In September, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Janus vs. AFSCME, a case that has the potential to undermine public sector unions by curtailing unions' right to charge non-members an "agency fee." This fee covers the protection and services the union is obligated to provide all employees in the bargaining unit.

Many labor leaders and pundits have identified unions' loss of revenue as the most dire consequence of an unfavorable ruling in the Janus case. Others have pointed out that the forces behind Janus don't only aim to weaken public employee unions: they are seeking to destroy the public sector and public ownership of resources across the board.

However, the Right's deeper, darker strategic purpose has been mostly ignored, even by unions: Janus fits in with a larger project, led by the State Policy Network -- a network of right-wing think tanks -- that aims not only to "defund and defang" unions but to "deliver the mortal blow to permanently break" the Left's "stranglehold on our society."

Anyone who cares about democracy and the social and economic well-being of workers has a stake in how unions will respond to the Court's decision. And with Trump-appointee Neil Gorsuch now sitting on the bench, it appears likely that the ruling will not go in labor's favor.

The Real Crisis at Hand

The tacit assumption of Janus supporters and foes alike is that, when faced with a choice between being a union member and paying dues or not, significant numbers of members will bolt, and non-members who have been paying "agency fees" will not join. Because unions understand the danger posed by Janus as largely financial, they have focused on saving money, cutting staff and pursuing mergers. Some have also determined that they must be proactive to stave off mass desertions and are reaching out to members to solidify their support as dues payers.

Belt-tightening and talking to members may temporarily fortify union apparatus, but this approach ignores the question Janus demands we ask: Why is labor predicting members will desert their unions and that agency-fee payers will refuse to join?

These assumptions labor holds around Janus exemplify the real crisis unions confront -- one not often discussed, even behind closed doors. In defining their purpose primarily as protecting members' narrowly conceived economic interests and shaping the organization to function like a business, unions construct a very limited role for the workers they represent. Under this status quo, members are generally considered passive, with limited authority and voice. Their sole "power" is to pay dues and cast votes in what are generally uncontested elections for officers.

The right-wing forces behind Janus have used their frighteningly vast financial resources to exploit this weakness. The Janus brief, filed by the National Right to Work Foundation on behalf of Illinois public employee Mark Janus, articulates anti-union arguments familiar to any union activist who has tried to recruit skeptical co-workers. The plaintiff's claims interrogate AFSCME's purposes, its presence as a political force and whether it serves as a collective voice for working people on the job and in the larger society.

The brief reads:

Janus objects to many of the public-policy positions that AFSCME advocates, including the positions that AFSCME advocates for in collective bargaining. For example, he does not agree with what he views as the union's one-sided politicking for only its point of view. Janus also believes that AFSCME's behavior in bargaining does not appreciate the current fiscal crises in Illinois and does not reflect his best interests or the interests of Illinois citizens.

In building support for Janus, the Right has questioned the meaning of union membership while also criticizing public employee unions' engagement in politics. Unions have frequently been ineffective in responding to the charge that they are just another special interest group, buying politicians for their members' benefit. Unions have disarmed themselves in this assault by adopting the mentality and tactics of special interests. Labor has by and large accepted the Right's definition of the contest (winning over "friendly" politicians in either party), the weapons (campaign donations), and the opponents (workers in other countries as our competitors). In doing so, labor has turned its back on its unique and most powerful resource -- an informed, empowered and mobilized membership.

Instead, labor has countered the Right's arguments on narrow grounds, railing against "free riders," who they say will require unions "to represent non-members", who would be paying nothing at all, passing that burden off to dues-paying members."

But this argument has little resonance to workers who already feel they are not well-represented. Like Mark Janus, they don't feel their voices count. The "union" exists apart from them, with staff and officials insulated from even hearing, let alone responding to, members' opinions and needs. The economic payoff from union dues can be hard to see when your paycheck hasn't increased or in some cases, has decreased, despite your union having bargained in your name.

And this argument also avoids addressing the larger case made by the Right: that joining a union is not in workers' best interest. The Right has confused workers by selling an individualistic, competitive ideology. And unions have been too slow to address why this ideology is harmful and antithetical to principles of collective action and solidarity. As others have observed, organized labor has by and large forgotten the grammar and vocabulary of class struggle.

From "It" to "We"

Though we shouldn't adopt their methods or mentality, labor can learn a great deal from the Right's victories. To move from defense to offense, labor needs to develop a new mindset. The strategies being discussed to avoid disaster post-Janus reflect many unions' unwillingness to reimagine themselves.

One of these strategies is to eschew the legal responsibility to be "exclusive representative" of the bargaining unit, thereby creating competition between unions. Multiple unions representing workers for a single employer is the norm in other countries, where unions are allied with political parties. And some might consider it an idea worth pursuing. But encouraging competition among unions is a disaster, as Chris Brooks demonstrates in a close study of what occurred in Tennessee when an NEA affiliate lost exclusive representation. Workers turn against one another, viewing one another as rivals. Company unions, masquerading as professional groups that offer low insurance rates, compete, successfully, against traditional unions.

Is a "Workers' Bill of Rights" an answer to Janus and the anticipated loss of collective bargaining in more states, as has been proposed in this publication? This is an interesting strategy but its limitation is that it's a legalistic solution, not a political one. It doesn't speak to the reasons workers choose not to join unions when they have that right, or to why they vote them down in elections.

Further, as Nelson Lichtenstein points out, the "rights discourse" is limited by being individual. What makes unions unique is that they represent members' individual interests through struggle for their collective interests. Moreover, such a bill of rights ignores social oppression that workers experience on the job and separates their lives and rights outside the workplace from those they have inside. This strategy's major flaw is not in what it tries to do but that it substitute for labor's ability to critically analyze its losses.

One way to understand what adopting a new mindset would mean is looking to what occurred when the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), the reform caucus of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), won the union's leadership. This caucus conceived of the CTU as a member-driven union that served members' economic interests best when it supported social justice issues across the board. The newly elected leadership altered the way the union made its purpose evident and worked to make all the union's operations support this new mindset.

CORE put the people it represented, employees of the Chicago Public Schools, at the center of its organizing, as Jane McAlevey puts it. A member-driven union gives people a reason to be union members and not agency fee payers. The goal? Shift the union from being an "it" to being "we."

Democracy or Bust

Putting workers at the center of organizing requires union democracy. It also demands moving towards international solidarity. What Kim Moody calls "labor nationalism" has weakened the unions by allowing workers to fall prey to Trump's xenophobia. "'Buy American" is very close to "Make America Great Again." Such slogans lead workers to become hostile to their counterparts in other countries rather than to the transnational corporations and elites that set economic policy.

Overcoming the fallout from Janus will require reimagining union membership by inverting hierarchical relations that replicate disempowerment on the job. To do this, unions need to grapple with a number of pressing questions:

Why have professional negotiators or paid staff sent to the bargaining table by national- or state-level unions rather than members who have been elected based on their leadership and ideas? Should union organizers be elected rather than being hired and appointed? Why aren't members allowed to know how their representatives vote in the unions' executive council meetings? Should endorsements for political office be made by the membership in a referendum? Should unions use "participatory budgeting" to have members decide priorities for where their dues are allocated? What is a member's responsibility for recruiting and educating co-workers about the union?

Activists who have tried to recruit co-workers to their union know that changing people's minds about joining can be slow and hard work. It requires listening and a deep commitment to union ideals because people often hold beliefs that are inimical to collective action. This work also requires having a union you trust will make a difference in the lives of its members. Like democracy anywhere, union democracy is difficult to obtain and fragile. It can be inefficient and it creates tensions. But it's also the key to union power. Vibrant democracy and a mobilized membership are crucial to winning at the bargaining table and to enforcing any agreement in the workplace. Like all legal rights, the contract is only as strong as members' knowledge of its provisions and willingness to protect it.

This is a moment of truth for unions and their supporters. We need to look in the mirror and see that Janus has two faces. The case could reduce organized labor to a shell, or it could be the start of a remarkable revitalization that draws strength from the widespread social movements that have emerged from both the Bernie Sanders campaign and Trump's election. The latter is possible, but it will be up to all of us to make it a reality.

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Is Trump's FCC Slashing Regulations to Help a Conservative Broadcasting Giant Consolidate TV Stations?

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 21:00

Democratic lawmakers are demanding an internal investigation of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who is working to roll back media ownership rules preventing the right-leaning broadcaster Sinclair Broadcast Group from gobbling up dozens of local TV stations. Reports indicate that the Trump campaign struck a deal for favorable coverage with Sinclair last year.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai arrives for his confirmation hearing for a second term as chair of the commission before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill July 19, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Two Democrats on the House committee that oversees the Federal Communication Commission are asking for an internal investigation into whether Ajit Pai, the FCC's Republican chairman, has been improperly rolling back regulations to help the Sinclair Broadcasting Group secure a controversial merger that would allow the right-leaning company to reach 72 percent of the nation's television viewers.

In a letter sent to the FCC's inspector general on Monday, Rep. Elijah Cummings and Rep. Frank Pallone wrote that recent deregulatory moves at the GOP-controlled FCC -- along with reports of a cozy relationship between Sinclair and President Trump -- have raised "serious concerns about whether Chairman Pai's actions comply with the FCC's mandate to be independent."

"These members of Congress have every reason to believe that there is a quid pro quo."

Sinclair, the nation's largest owner of TV stations, wants to acquire Tribune Media for $3.9 billion, a consolidation that would create a broadcasting behemoth controlling 233 local stations across the country. The proposed merger would easily exceed federal ownership limits and other regulations meant to keep media consolidation in check, but Pai has been busy rolling these regulations back since Trump appointed him FCC chairman earlier this year.

The FCC is scheduled to vote on a proposal to slash its broadcast media ownership rules on Thursday, a move that could clear all the remaining obstacles in the way of Sinclair's proposed merger. These rules are designed to promote diversity in media ownership by preventing a TV broadcaster from owning a major newspaper or radio station in the same local market, for example.

"Every action [Chairman Pai] has taken with regard to media ownership has one direct beneficiary: Sinclair Broadcast Group," said Timothy Karr, a spokesman for the media rights group Free Press that opposes the merger, in an interview. "These members of Congress have every reason to believe that there is a quid pro quo; that is to say, that favorable policies [are being traded] in exchange for favorable media coverage."

Last December, Politico reported that the Trump campaign had "struck a deal" with Sinclair, offering its outlets more access to Donald Trump and his campaign in exchange for running Trump interviews without commentary across the country. 

Trump appeared on Sinclair's TV stations 11 times during the final months of the presidential campaign, including in key swing states, such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to a New York Post story cited in the lawmakers' letter. The Post quoted two unnamed sources that said Trump met personally with David Smith, a top executive at Sinclair who supports conservative causes, and discussed rule changes at the FCC that would make the merger with Tribune Media possible. The report does not specify when the meeting took place.

"Pai's actions have been dramatic and they have changed decades ... of media policy."

"In the proposed merger there is a blatant violation of media ownership limits, and these are rules that were put in place by Congress," Karr told Truthout. 

In August, the New York Times uncovered records showing that Smith met with Pai to discuss deregulation as Trump was preparing for his inauguration. Soon after Trump named him chairman, Pai loosened Obama-era restrictions on revenue sharing among local broadcasting stations designed to curb media consolidation -- a topic he discussed with Smith weeks earlier.

Since then, Pai and the Republican majority at the FCC have been working to clear regulatory hurdles that stand in the way of Sinclair's proposed acquisition of Tribune Media. They even reinstated an outdated rule governing how broadcasters count different types of frequencies when reporting their area of coverage after industry analysts said it could stand in the way of Sinclair's aggressive expansion plans, according to the lawmakers' letter.

The day after the rule was reinstated, Sinclair announced a deal to buy a smaller media company, Bonten Media, for $240 million.

Pai has long been a supporter of deregulation, and people close to the FCC chairman have told media outlets that he is not working to benefit any particular company. Instead, they say, Sinclair and Pai simply share a common political ideology about government regulation of private businesses that use the public's airwaves.

"Pai's actions have been dramatic and they have changed decades ... of media policy that is designed to fulfill the FCC's main mission, which is to promote localism, competition and diversity over the public's airwaves," Karr said. "There is nothing in any of these proposed rule changes that supports that goal."

However, Trump is a reality TV show host who used his ability to command the attention of television audiences to become president. He has railed against the media and threatened to use the power of the White House to undermine cable stations that air unfavorable coverage of his presidency, even threatening to block a proposed merger between AT&T and CNN over coverage he deemed to be "fake news."

Cummings and Pallone are asking the FCC's internal investigator to determine whether FCC actions taken under Pai's leadership show a "pattern" of preferential treatment for Sinclair, and whether there has been any "inappropriate coordination" between Sinclair, the FCC, the White House and the Trump campaign. The lawmakers also want to know if Pai or his staff have used personal email or social media accounts to communicate with Sinclair, which could violate federal transparency laws.

The lawmakers said that before going to the inspector general, they asked Pai to answer these questions himself, but the inquiries went nowhere.

"The Chairman has repeatedly refused to adequately respond to Congressional inquiries on this subject," the lawmakers wrote. "His refusals -- contrary to his stated commitment to be responsive to all Congressional members -- only increase our concerns."

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As Trial Begins, Trump Protest Attendees Face 60 Years in Prison

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 21:00

Protesters block an access point to the general public entry of the parade route and the National Mall in Washington, DC, ahead of the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, on January 20, 2017.(Photo: Bastiaan Slabbers / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

On November 15, the first group of the nearly 200 people facing charges for protesting at Donald Trump's inauguration will be appearing in a DC court. In a move clearly designed to silence political protest, those arrested are facing 60-year prison sentences for allegedly rioting. Meanwhile, the murderous mayhem caused by white supremacists in Charlottesville, North Carolina, has resulted in just three arrests.

Protesters block an access point to the general public entry of the parade route and the National Mall in Washington, DC, ahead of the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, on January 20, 2017. (Photo: Bastiaan Slabbers / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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Content Warning: This article contains descriptions of graphic sexual assault.

A combined total of 12,000 years in prison is what close to 200 protestors, journalists and legal observers are facing from attending a protest at the January 20 inauguration of President Donald Trump. After a superseding indictment, the US prosecution is seeking to charge each person with 60 years for allegedly urging a riot, breaking less than 10 windows and conspiracy charges. The US Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia claims that the property damage totals to more than $100,000DC police spent $300,000 on weapons and equipment for the inauguration and just added $150,000 to the DC budget to review police conduct during the inauguration. While many lawyers are calling the blanket felonies and excessive charges unprecedented, civil liberty advocates are worried about the precedent these extensive charges and grandiose metadata subpoenas will have on chilling free speech and stifling dissent.

Social activist and community organizer, Carlo Piantini, who is a J20 defendant explained in an interview with Truthout that, "Charges like these are intended to silence communities when the time comes for people to resist, whether that be the activist community, the anarchist community, or any other." Piantini continued, "How are people expected to be brave enough to resist when the consequences could be a lifetime of incarceration? Never mind the beatings from the police. When taking the streets and demonstrating could mean facing concussion grenades, jail cells infested with roaches, and the promise of eight felony charges, who is going to stand up and fight back? These charges are intended to keep people afraid, indoors and obedient. And this case itself is intended to set the precedent for all of this."

Repression, Harsh Sentencing and Sexual Assault

The ACLU cited infringements of First Amendment rights in regards to the police "indiscriminately 'kettling' protesters, including journalists and legal observers," for using pepper spray, concussion grenades and stingers extensively, including on people already detained, and for holding people outdoors "for excessive periods of time" without access to food, water or bathrooms. The ACLU filed a lawsuit in June accusing police of using sexual abuse as a form of punishment with four people arrested during the protests. At a press conference held in June, photojournalist Shay Horse who was detained explained that he was taken to a "training facility," told to drop his pants and had his testicles "yanked on" and then the officer "stuck his finger up each of our anuses and wiggled it around." Horse continued, "I felt like they were using molestation and rape as punishment. They used those tactics to inflict pain and misery on people who are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty."

Kristian Williams, author and scholar on policing and state violence stated in an interview with Truthout that, "one of the most distressing facts about the criminal legal system is just how common sexual assault is at every stage from police contact to arrest to incarceration. Sometimes in political contexts it's deliberately used as a weapon of terror, but more commonly the practices are informally tolerated and just fester in the culture of impunity." Regarding the excessive charges Williams explained, "Prosecutors reach for the highest conceivable charges, especially those with mandatory minimums attached, and scare defendants into accepting lesser charges, giving evidence against their co-defendants." Williams added that this process funnels people into prison and cuts cost on holding trials, stating, "If every case went to trial, the courts would grind to a halt and never recover from their backlog."

In an interview with Truthout, Jude Ortiz, who is chair of the Mass Defense Committee of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), explained that, "The novel part of this case is about charging everyone who was scooped up in the kettle with the conspiracy and all the blanket felonies in a very indiscriminate manner. That also coincides with the things that the prosecution has been doing against individuals who are named as defendants." Ortiz noted that 95 percent of criminal cases end in plea agreements explaining that the odds are often stacked against defendants, which coerces them to take plea agreements instead of gambling against a biased system. Ortiz further explained that the government is "Claiming that anybody who was indiscriminately scooped up that day in the streets is inherently guilty of that conspiracy and therefore culpable for all of the charges. That has a lot of scare potential and scare value because now people are facing 60 years because of the prosecutor's theory of the case." Ortiz pointed out that the irony of the conspiracy charges is that most of the defendants are only connected to each other because of the prosecution and the mass arrest.

Guilty by Association in the Age of Trump

If the NSA [National Security Agency] wasn't enough to have George Orwell and Aldous Huxley shouting "I told you so" from the grave, cellphones of the 230 arrested were seized and searched for their data, and DreamHost was subpoenaed by the government in August for hosting the site According to the ACLU, the warrant sought digital records to the site, had the possibility of implicating more than 1 million users, and would include the "IP addresses of over 1.3 million visitors to the site." Last month, Chief Judge Robert E. Morin, of the District of Columbia Superior Court, subdued the DOJ's warrant stating:

"while the government has the right to execute its Warrant, it does not have the right to rummage through information contained on DreamHost's website and discover the identify of, or access communications by, individuals not participating in alleged criminal activity, particularly those persons who were engaging in protected First Amendment activities."

In a statement to Ars Technica, Paul Alan Levy, a lawyer for Public Citizen cited the judge's shortcomings in the ruling, "The judge has decided to allow a search of emails from anonymous users (without their identifying information) even though the government never showed that it had a good reason to look at those emails." Levy further explained that "the judge is denying Public Citizen and DreamHost the opportunity to explain why the government's arguments for a search protocol or access to a particular record should be rejected."

In an e-mail correspondence with Truthout, Noam Chomsky stated that the J20 charges were "Utterly outrageous," and explained that although Woodrow Wilson's Red Scare and COINTELPRO were worse, he added, "Harsh repression of dissent is all too common in US history."

Comparing Charlottesville to J20: A Case Study in Hypocrisy

At the August 12, 2017, white supremacist "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where firearms were discharged by white supremacists, there were no initial arrests. Nor were they kettled and charged with blanket felonies and conspiracies to riot even though DeAndre Harris, a Black man, was brutally beaten by white supremacists (and later arrested). And although multiple people were injured and Heather Heyer was killed after a white supremacist allegedly drove a car through a crowd of counter protesters, few white supremacists have been arrested. The question is, why were protesters in DC targeted and excessively charged, while the violence by white supremacists in Charlottesville was downplayed by the infamous violence on "many sides" comment by President Trump? Kris Hermes, author of Crashing the Party: Legacies and Lessons from the RNC 2000 said, "There's no question that the Trump administration has a double-standard for how it treats opponents like anti-fascist activists versus how it treats white nationalists."

Regarding the disparity in treatment, Carlo Piantini stated that, "The resistance that took place on J20 was not beneficial to the state; the white-supremacist violence that took place in Charlottesville was. This country has always been a colonial, white-supremacist project, and the Trump regime rode its way into power by renormalizing explicit white-nationalism." Piantini explained, that white supremacist groups "share a politic of personal and systemic violence against a wide spectrum of marginalized identities, and they actively practice this at events like 'Unite the Right' or at Richard Spencer's recent failure at the University of Florida. That violence is beneficial to the state, it helps maintain a fundamental social order. So, time and again, we see the police acting in open cooperation with these formations, whether it's in Portland, Charlottesville, Gainesville or DC."

Solidarity, a Different Type of Precedent

Changing the narrative on precedents, Ortiz said, "People have come together in really incredible ways that actually are precedent setting for our movement and figuring out how to work together remotely, how to find common political solidarity and a reason to work together despite the tremendous consequences that they're facing. Despite all of the hardships that the government has imposed on them, that's a really strong testament to the resiliency of our movement." Along with the NLG, Dead City Legal Posse -- a collective that formed after the J20 arrests -- is helping and supporting defendants through the legal process.

Speaking about the struggles that he and the co-defendants face, Piantini said, "The most impressive organizing has been centered around material and emotional support for co-defendants." He added that the trauma of criminalization is stressful but has "created some truly beautiful relationships out of a group of strangers."

Kris Hermes noted that an independent investigation into police misconduct on Inauguration Day began in October and won't conclude until after the J20 trials begin. "It's outrageous enough that nearly 200 people are facing decades in prison for demonstrating on the streets of DC during Trump's inauguration," Hermes stated, "but to try people before it can be determined whether their arrests were lawful or whether the police violence helped to escalate tensions that day is unjust and incomprehensible." November 15, 2017, is the opening day of court for the first round of defendants, the second round is expected to begin December 11, 2017.

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How We Moved Congress to Action on Abuse of Palestinian Children in Military Detention

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 21:00

For years, human rights groups and even the State Department documented the detention and abuse of Palestinian children in the Occupied Territories with no effect on military aid to Israel. Now an intense campaign by a coalition of faith-based and other groups has resulted in a bill introduced this week requiring the state secretary to certify that US funds were not used to ill-treat Palestinian children.

People take part in a demonstration of Palestinians living in Greece to mark the Palestinian Prisoners Day, in Thessaloniki, Greece, on April 21, 2017. (Photo: Grigoris Siamidis / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Imagine you are a child between the ages of 12 and 17 years old. The army comes to your home in the middle of the night, wakes you from your bed, blindfolds you and ties your hands with plastic cuffs.

Your parents' pleas do not stop the soldiers from roughly taking you and throwing you in their Jeep, never telling you or your parents what you are charged with or where you are going.

You arrive at a detention cell in an Israeli settlement where you are interrogated without a lawyer or family member present, and you are pressured to confess to throwing stones so you can go back home to your family. Once you sign the confession, written in a language you can't read, you then face a military court hearing where a military judge sentences you to prison for three months, in a detention center in Israel where your family members are likely unable to visit.

This week, Congresswoman Betty McCollum and nine other members of Congress introduced a bill to ensure that US taxpayer funds do not go toward these types of abuses, which are commonplace for Palestinian children living under Israeli military occupation.

For a decade, US State Department annual country reports on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory have included documentation of these conditions for Palestinian children, yet no one in Congress or the White House took action to stop these practices or hold Israeli officials accountable. In fact, the US government increased its military aid to Israel to record levels of $3.8 billion a year.

Twenty-five years of documentation by Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCIP), UNICEF, the Israeli human rights group B'tselem and Human Rights Watch show that ill treatment is "widespread, systematic, and institutionalized," as UNICEF concluded in a 2013 report. Yet, this child abuse remains invisible to the very US public whose tax dollars are paying for it.

So, what finally causes members of Congress to recognize and act on these horrific human rights violations?

Three years ago, the small group of faith-based organizers in Chicago I am part of learned of the widespread, systematic nature of the detention and abuse of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention. We decided to do something. Partnering with DCIP, the Quaker group American Friends Service Committee -- where I work -- and other faith-based organizers from Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, Brethren, Mennonite, Episcopal, Methodist, Lutheran, Jewish, Muslim and secular backgrounds launched a campaign, "Israeli Military Detention: No Way to Treat a Child." Our goal was to educate and mobilize people of conscience around the US to advocate for policies that promote equality and human rights for Palestinian children. We asked that our elected officials hold the government of Israel accountable for its mistreatment of Palestinian children.

For three years, we built a base of supporters that have organized public lectures, conferences, film events and house parties to educate people about this issue. We've encouraged people to share their knowledge with their elected officials and request that Israeli officials end the routine practice of arresting and detaining children in an unjust, unequal and violent system. Our efforts included petitions and "Dear Colleague" sign-on letters in Washington to raise the profile of this issue to our elected officials.

Three years ago, congressional action on these abuses seemed like a distant dream. Now it is reality.

The bill introduced in Congress this week requires the secretary of state to certify that no US funds have been used by the government of Israel to support military detention, interrogation, abuse or ill treatment of Palestinian children.

The bill further encourages the state of Israel to create a juvenile justice system that does not discriminate between the treatment of Israeli and Palestinian children and adheres to internationally recognized standards of human rights. If the current practices of detaining children continue, the Israeli government undermines any US effort to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

No children should be snatched from their beds in the middle of the night and subjected to the abuses of a military court system. Upholding equality, human rights and dignity is the way to treat children and all people. The bill by Congress this week is a significant step forward for all those who want to align our values with the actions -- and aid monies -- of our government.

Now we need the rest of Congress to act by swiftly passing this breakthrough legislation. Looking at what has been accomplished since a small group of us sat at my kitchen table three years ago, agonizing over how to end these abuses, I know this vital change is possible.

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Title IX Requires Schools to Handle All Allegations Promptly and Equitably

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 21:00
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Janine Jackson: Claiming the current system had "failed too many students," Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently announced a change in sexual assault provisions for college campuses. Guidance issued by the Obama administration had underscored that "sexual harassment of students, which includes acts of sexual violence, is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by" federal rights law Title IX. But DeVos says, "Survivors, victims of a lack of due process, and campus administrators have all told me that the current approach does a disservice to everyone involved."

Media are covering it as sort of an Obama/Trump "culture war" thing, but what's a better way to talk about what seems to be going on here? Alyssa Peterson is state organizer with Know Your IX, a survivor and youth-led project that aims to empower students to end sexual and dating violence in their schools. She joins us now by phone from Connecticut. Welcome to CounterSpin, Alyssa Peterson.

Alyssa Peterson: Thank you so much for having me.

First, could you explain about this 2011 "Dear Colleague" letter, and the follow-up guidance, that Betsy DeVos is talking about rescinding? She and her supporters call it "overreach." What is their argument, and what did that letter actually say?

Betsy DeVos has absolutely misrepresented the contents of the Dear Colleague letter, which helped survivors like me access education after we were sexually assaulted on our campuses. The Dear Colleague letter, as you stated, clarified that Title IX applies to instances of sexual violence, and for people like me, it was the first time that I had heard anything more than Title IX covers women's sports. For a lot of us, it provided us with hope after we were assaulted. It helped us access the resources that we needed, because the Dear Colleague letter told us that our school was required to provide us with counseling, with housing accommodations, with extensions on term papers, that really helped many of us stay in school after we were assaulted.

So as for her rationale, Betsy DeVos has said that the guidance has failed both sides, which really has misrepresented the survivor position, because for many of us, six or seven years ago, our schools were not addressing this issue. The Dear Colleague letter signaled that the federal government took this issue seriously, which really helped us take that letter into meetings with our school administrators to change school policies, and we knew that the federal government had our back.

And the other major point that DeVos has made is that the campus process is fundamentally unfair to accused students. But every single example that she's used for that proposition, such as students not receiving notice of their hearing, or survivors not being given accommodations, is in fact a violation of the guidance and of Title IX, and if she was acting in good faith, she would enforce the law, just as the Obama administration did when schools were violating the rights of accused students and survivors alike.

That's what's so confusing. Certainly what you hear is that the problem that supposedly this action is going to solve is a lack of due process for people who are accused of rape. But if that's in the guidance itself, it seems like the solution would be to enforce that guidance, rather than remove it.

Exactly. And Title IX actually requires schools to handle all allegations promptly and equitably. That provides the Department with a lot of latitude to make sure that both survivors and accused students are being provided with process. What DeVos and her proponents want is a criminal process, which stacks the deck in the favor of accused students, rather than the civil rights law that Title XI actually is.

That seems to be a point that it turns on. And it's when you start talking about moving it to a criminal justice position or, you know, why don't we just call the police? -- then this other thing comes in. I've seen this subtext of coverage that suggests that somehow concern for survivors of sexual assault is racist. What is that theme? What is going on there?

Yeah. No, that's a really important issue. I think first off, I want to provide listeners with background about why Know Your IX and other survivors use Title IX, and it's in part because Title IX affords victims rights, and sometimes those rights -- well, for someone to stay in school, they need their rapist removed from their campus, because they can't function while he or she is there. So for that reason, Title IX does have this disciplinary component where someone can be removed from campus.

The reason that Know Your IX opts for a campus system instead of a prison system is because we believe that the prison system is fundamentally violent and racist, so we don't want to double down on that system, and we see Title IX as creating an alternative to incarceration. So then if you turn to the individuals who are alleging that the campus system is racist towards accused students, they are the same individuals who want to dismantle the campus system entirely. 

So I think the lead critic of this is Emily Yoffe, who wrote a series of very searing Atlantic articles. But when you dig into them, you realize that the data that she's relying on are a series of Google alerts that she's set, which for me should not be relied upon in policy-making; we need more data than that. And Emily Yoffe has also suggested previously that survivors should be accountable for drinking when they're sexually assaulted. So she's consistently opposed the idea that schools should handle these issues at all.

The other groups that have also levied this charge, as you said, support the idea that a survivor should be pushed into the criminal justice system, and that schools should have no role. But I can think of nothing more racist and harmful than requiring survivors, particularly survivors of color, to go into a criminal justice system that is completely biased against them, and is also biased against people who are accused of sexual assault. 

We are concerned that there is bias in the campus system, but we're concerned that there's bias for both survivors and accused students. And just as they handle other civil rights issues, we need schools to have data, which Know Your IX has called for schools to release aggregate data for two years now, talking about racial impacts and discipline. And if there is a disparity, the Department of Education needs to enforce that, just like they need to end the school-to-prison pipeline in K–12 schools, just like they need to stop a pushout of LGBT students. This should be considered a civil rights issue, but one that maintains the campus system, and should be enforced.

Let me just ask you about media. The media are covering it as almost like an identity politics or like a culture war debate. But I find it interesting that, meanwhile, many colleges seem to be saying, we're going to carry on with the guidance that we have, which suggests that outside the sort of talking heads arena, they find this Obama era guidance useful and workable.

Yeah, I think that's a really good point. It's in part because the changes that Betsy DeVos has been pushing are very radical, that seem to presuppose that schools should not have a role in this system, are imposing a criminal-like process on universities, which they don't feel comfortable executing, whereas a civil rights role, they are feeling more comfortable in that role.

And I think the second point is, schools have really invested a lot of resources into their policy. They've talked to members of their community, they've worked with survivors to refine the policy. They don't want to throw all that progress and work in the trash. And then, also, they know that if they do try to roll back their policies that afford protection to accused students and survivors, students will rise up. And just like students have been very vigilant using the media, we are watching for any school that tries to weaken protections for survivors and accused students. They have student backlash to fear, which I think is a major reason why they're keeping their policies in place.

Let me ask you, finally, Know Your IX has a quite insightful, I think, journalists' guide, for journalists who are covering gender-based violence and campus sexual assault. What are some of the concerns you have, or thoughts you have, about the way media tend to cover this set of issues? What would you like to see maybe more or less of?

I think media coverage has dramatically improved over the years. I think there are some areas of concern which are, first, there are certain survivors who are highlighted often in the media. They tend to be white women, cisgender women, and that means a lot of the stories about what people are experiencing on campus are not being told. And, frankly, it has created a perception that only white women are accusers in rape contexts, which is just deeply untrue. And that's what journalists like Emily Yoffe have seized upon to create their narrative, which is a false one. So I think making sure that survivors of all perspectives are being represented, and avoiding the kind of conflation of elite white female student who has been assaulted by an acquaintance at a fraternity party, which is sort of the dominant narrative. 

And then, I think, the other issue that I've personally experienced is, often a journalist will call and will ask for a survivor's story, and I'm happy to talk about my experience, but the reason I do that is because it provides fodder for policy discussions. But sometimes I and other survivors have found that journalists will just truncate the policy discussion, and only share the story, which is just really disempowering, and not presenting the actual picture that many of the survivors have now gone to law school, we're deeply interested in policy, we've changed policy at our schools, and we're more than just "sad raped girls," which is really what a lot of journalists, unfortunately, have portrayed us in the media.

So I think those are the two primary issues. And then I think there are other stylistic things, like a lot of people have talked about the use of a passive voice in talking about sexual violence, which, even in the act of crafting a piece, avoids accountability for the person who perpetrated the violence. So stylistic things, and then there are also choices on who is featured, and in what context they're featured.

Yeah, I'd like to give, actually, a shout-out to Robyn Powell at Rewire who talked about the impact of rescinding this guidance on students with disabilities, who are less likely to report assaults and are more likely to be sexually assaulted. So it seems that that coverage is coming in; maybe it's not the main story, but we do have reporters out there who are trying to find underexplored angles on this story.

Exactly. That was a phenomenal piece. I'd like to give my own shout-out to Anna Walsh, who is the author of the toolkit, and she's a journalist, so we kind of intended the resource as a journalist-to-journalist guide in how to cover this issue.

All right then. Well, we've been speaking with Alyssa Peterson. She's state organizer at Know Your IX. You can find them online at Alyssa Peterson, thank you so much for joining us today on CounterSpin.

Thank you so much for having me.

Categories: Latest News

How the Proposed Budget and Tax Cuts Could Stunt New Affordable Housing

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 21:00

Low-income Americans are already struggling to keep a roof over their heads due to a growing affordable housing shortage.

But budgets drafted by the Trump administration and Congress, along with provisions in the tax cut package, are bound to make matters worse

As a researcher who studies the intersection of tax law and housing policy, I am concerned about how these proposed changes would reduce the volume of new housing for low-income people and cut aid that people facing economic hardship use to cover their rent.

Rep. Al Green grilled Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson regarding cuts the Trump administration has proposed.

Spending on Housing

The federal government stopped building public housing two decades ago after years of declining construction. Although it has demolished many of these homes, the government continues to own and rent out about 1.1 million of these units.

Nowadays, the government mostly seeks to help make privately owned and operated housing affordable by providing rental assistance to low-income tenants. The main way it does that is by funding the US$19.3 billion Housing Choice Voucher program through which eligible tenants get help paying their rent.

The federal government also subsidizes the construction of privately owned and operated housing units that are officially designated as "affordable." Private sector developers who build or rehabilitate affordable housing projects do so with the aid of the federal low-income housing tax credit.

In the U.S., affordable housing is defined as dwellings that cost less than 30 percent of low-income tenants' income for rent and utilities or the owners' mortgage, property taxes, homeowners' insurance and utilities -- based on regional median income levels. 

The tax credit, which has provided about $8 billion in subsidies for new affordable housing projects each year, has financed about 3 million new or rehabbed homes since 1987.

In addition, municipal and state debt governments often issue "private activity bonds" to finance low-income housing -- as well as student loan programs, hospitals and big infrastructure projects like bridges and highways. Until now, these bonds have been exempt from federal taxes.

Not Enough

The supply of affordable housing is so low that there is no state, city or county in the country where a full-time minimum wage employee can afford to rent a two-bedroom unit, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, an advocacy group.

And the department of Housing and Urban Development says that the number of low-income families paying more than half their income for rent or living in severely inadequate housing conditions without help from the government is nearing record levels.

As of 2015, roughly 20 million American households (excluding the homeless) were officially eligible for housing assistance. But nearly 75 percent of them did not get this help because of a lack of funds.

Meanwhile, a new study by Freddie Mac, a government-owned company that buys mortgages from lenders, found that the number of affordable housing units has plunged over the last 15 years. The study focused on the affordability of rental units in buildings that were both financed by Freddie Mac and refinanced during that same period.

In those buildings, the share of rental units affordable to very low-income renters -- people living on an income that is less than half of their area's median, adjusted for their household size and local economy -- dropped from 11.2 percent to 4.3 percent.

Calling the results "striking," Freddie Mac speculated that the trend reflected a combination of increasing rents, stagnant incomes and potential changes to housing subsidies. 

Curbing Help

These housing woes are sure to become more dire. 

One reason for this is that the proposed tax-cut package would abolish private activity bonds. These bonds currently help pay for the construction of more than 40 percent of new affordable housing units.

Less obviously, current tax reform proposals also stand to reduce the effectiveness of the low-income housing tax credit. While GOP lawmakers are not aiming to end the tax credit as part of their package of tax changes, the low corporate tax rates proposed in the tax bill before Congress would surely reduce the value of the tax credits.

The reason for this grim outlook has to do with the complicated way low-income housing tax credits work.

To spur new affordable housing projects, the tax credits must deliver a meaningful subsidy to housing developers. But developers usually don't use the tax credits directly. Instead, they sell the right to use the credits to banks and other investors. The investors essentially purchase the tax credits at a discount. The lower the price falls, the less value the developer receives. 

The price that investors are paying to use the tax credits has already plummeted in anticipation of reduced tax rates, leaving developers unable to secure the funding they need to produce affordable housing. One expert analysis estimates that the proposed tax cuts could lead to 1 million fewer affordable housing units being produced over the next 10 years -- about a third of what is currently produced.

Simple and Stark

While the budget bills approved by the House and the Senate do not slice $6 billion from HUD's budget, as the Trump administration tried to do in its spending proposal, they would still leave more American families unable to afford a roof over their heads. 

The relatively generous Senate version of the housing line items appears likely to prevail as a way to make way for the tax overhaul. Even so, every state would have less money for housing vouchers, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank that researches safety net programs. 

Perhaps this all sounds technical and complicated. But the outcome for many low-income Americans will be simple and stark.

The proposed tax changes that make it harder to finance new affordable housing units, combined with proposed cuts to tenant voucher programs, will increase the risk of becoming homeless and take a toll on the poor.

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Categories: Latest News

Police Violence Persists, Though Most Media Have Stopped Paying Attention

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 21:00

This year is the fourth in a row that the number of people killed by law enforcement in the US has reached the 1,000 mark. Most of these deaths have received no media attention. A look at the statistics maintained by a volunteer organization hints at why this may be so: A vast majority of the victims are people of color.

(Photo: Garrett Wilber)

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October was an especially brutal month when it comes to the tally of people killed by police in this country, particularly for people of color. I emphasize people of color because my lifelong research on this topic tells me that their killings are not random, but rather are a result of dehumanization and the constant patrolling of bodies and communities of color, especially those of Native, Black and Brown peoples. 

Unfortunately, this is not a new phenomenon. This pattern of killings with impunity has been ongoing since 1492. Regardless of whether the killings are random or targeted, the number of law enforcement killings in this country is unparalleled anywhere else in the "developed" world. (KBP) lists 93 people killed in the month of October. For September, the number was "only" 84.

Let that sink in; that is more than three per day, and November is on the same pace.

There are other groups that keep similar tallies, but KBP has done the most consistent job since mid-2013. (The Guardian was doing excellent work on this topic; however, it stopped this past year.) It is shameful that in this day and age, a volunteer effort, year in and year out, does a better job than the federal government at keeping track of such statistics.

In October, five Native people were listed as killed. This includes: Robert James Lightfeather, 33 (tribe unidentified); 27-year-old Lucas John de Ford (Ho-Chunk Nation); George Gip Jr, 35, (while his tribe was not identified, he was reportedly killed on the Standing Rock Reservation); Dexter David Anthony Baxter, 30, (tribe unidentified); and Johnny Bonta, 43 (tribe unidentified).

The death of five Indigenous people in one month may seem extraordinarily high, considering they make up but 1 percent of the population. However, Native people are consistently killed by police at a higher rate than any other racial group in this country.

Additionally, I counted at least 19 victims labeled as Latinos/Latinas, though only six were identified as such. The 19 are identifiable as Latino/Latina primarily by their last names. There may be more, because often, Latinos and Latinas -- most of whom for these purposes are Mexican or Central American -- are often mislabeled as white or Black, and in other cases, they are not identified at all. As currently counted, they can be of any race. Because the Latino /Latina label is inconsistently applied across the country, it, of course, makes the compilation of statistics somewhat more complex. Jorge Cabrera, for instance, is not identified as Latino, though most certainly should be added to the count, bringing to 20 confirmed in this category.

In early October, an unidentified man was killed by police in Los Angeles. While his name was not provided by the Los Angeles Police Department, KBP does identify him as Latino. This brings to 21 confirmed. On November 2, KBP listed one more Latino, killed on October 31, bringing to 22 for the month of October. The number of Latinos killed by police are also extremely high, though almost always invisibilized by the mainstream media.

KBP lists 22 Black people killed this past month; however, the numbers are certain to be higher (due to those that are unidentified thus far) because this nation's streets continue to be killing fields when it comes to police violence against Black people.

What I show then from KBP is:

  • Twenty-two are listed as Black.
  • About 22 are Latino (six identified, 16 not identified and possibly one to two more, due to last names.)
  • Five are listed as Indigenous.
  • Twenty-nine are listed as white.
  • The rest are currently not yet identified, though due to last names and geographic locations, they are probably either Black or white, though possibly Indigenous or Latino.

Thus, KBP lists 93 deaths at the hands of law enforcement for the month of October. This list tells us several things:

1) We live in a very violent society.

2) The numbers, regardless of cause, are unparalleled by countries in Europe or other "developed" nations worldwide.

3) The numbers of people of color being killed, when considered in proportion to their numbers in society, are at a crisis level.

4) While the mainstream media report on a few spectacular cases, for the most part, virtually all those killed here will remain nameless, publicly forgotten. Most Americans will have never heard of any of them at all.

5) Quite a few of those killed each month are either mentally ill or homeless or both. Often, they end up dead because the officers are not properly trained to deal with their conditions or situations.

The number of those killed by law enforcement for the month of October is almost double the number killed in the mass shooting in Las Vegas at the beginning of the month (58) and almost four times (26) the number of those killed in Sutherland Springs, Texas, at the beginning of this month.

The fact that police killings continue unabated, and that none of these 93 killings have been covered nationally, screams normalization. At the end of October of this year, the number of killings was at 996. The number at the beginning of November is now already past 1,000. This too is "normal": 2017 is the fourth year in a row, based on KPB statistics, that this nation has seen at least 1,000 deaths at the hands of police.

Categories: Latest News

When Unions Lead Education Reform

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 06:42
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In the summer of 1995, Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association, and Helen Bernstein, former president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), organized a group of union leaders from 21 locals across the country to discuss how teacher unions might mobilize their resources to strengthen and improve public education. The Teacher Union Reform Network (TURN) launched one year later, and over the next two decades, the voluntary network would convene several times per year to share ideas on how their American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and National Education Association (NEA) locals could do things differently and better. 

In October, marking a notable shift for this generally loose, informal network of locals, TURN released their first-ever national report -- a chance, they say, to revitalize public education and strengthen democracy through "the collective wisdom of teachers." The report emphasizes priorities that have been largely sidelined by corporate school reformers over the last few decades, such as strengthening citizenship, promoting racial integration and providing wrap-around social services. However, lacking a well-defined organizing strategy, it's not clear how TURN's ideas will amount to more than an aspirational blueprint.

The report is divided into four sections: promoting "learner-centered" schools, recognizing teaching as a profession, promoting excellence with equity and promoting collective bargaining for educational equity. Within each of these sections, TURN lays out policy ideas -- ranging from the relatively specific (supporting pre-kindergarten and full-day kindergarten programs for all children) to the fairly vague (developing "authentic, performance-based and broad-based assessments").

Funded by the Ford Foundation, the report has four lead authors with deep ties to the labor movement. Adam Urbanski is still president of the Rochester Teachers Association, and Ellen Bernstein is president of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation. Tom Alves is the executive director of the Sun Juan Teachers Association, and Richard Kahlenberg is a senior fellow at The Century Foundation. Urbanski told In These Times that between soliciting feedback from other TURN members at national gatherings and distributing the evolving draft for electronic input among their TURN regional networks, close to 1,000 educators helped them write it.

"This was a huge change for the TURN network to come to a consensus," said Bernstein in an interview with In These Times, explaining that the project took them a little over three years to complete.

"We're advocates of improving public education, not replacing it with charters and vouchers and privatization," Urbanski said, emphasizing that traditional public schools can be leaders of change, and that the report "could be viewed as a summary of our learning over the last twenty years."

TURN shares some similarities with another growing labor effort -- Bargaining for the Common Good -- whereby unions partner with local allies to push for more community-oriented demands in their contract negotiations, such as less punitive school discipline policies and more equitable access to healthcare. Although unions have generally been legally restricted to bargaining over little more than wages and benefits, more locals are coming to think that ceding to this legal reality without a fight is neither the right thing to do, nor something unions can politically afford.

Like Bargaining for the Common Good, TURN members also believe teachers need to approach bargaining more creatively and boldly. Specifically, TURN wants to see unions negotiate over policies that "advance student learning," such as reducing the number of standardized tests students must take while also pushing for new kinds of assessments that measure skills like creativity.

Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, told In These Times she can recall when her former union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) in New York City, became a founding TURN member. At the time, she says, UFT was seen as a "risk-taking" local for joining this reform-minded coalition. Today, however, Weingarten says TURN is seen not as unusual -- but as the standard operating procedure for teachers' unions. She added that AFT's values are "very much aligned" with TURN's. Weingarten, and the union is proud to join with TURN to turn their ideas into reality.

The NEA did not return multiple requests for comment.

Some rank-and-file teachers have expressed skepticism about the TURN report -- and TURN more generally.

Peter Greene, a classroom teacher of 39 years and a member and past president of his local NEA chapter in northwestern Pennsylvania, thinks TURN has an interesting history, but "their main achievement seems to be finding unobjectionable broad descriptors for many of the same reform-y ideas" that have long dominated the debates. He says he thinks the four broad categories included in TURN's report are innocuous enough, but finds its lack of specific details suspicious.

For example, TURN calls for "differentiated pay" for certified teachers -- as opposed to a traditional steps-and-lanes salary schedule. However, TURN says this would be accomplished "without creating a zero sum game in which aid to colleagues reduces a teacher's own chances of receiving a fair financial remuneration."

Greene says the idea that school systems could reward excellence without turning it into a zero-sum game sounds nice. "But without specifics, it's just magic thinking," he argues. "School districts only have a finite amount of money. Everything is a zero sum game."

Xian Franzinger Barrett, a public school teacher in Chicago, told In These Times that the report's overall principles and vision tend to be positive. But given its lack of discussion about the root causes of educational inequality, he says TURN's solutions seem insufficient. "It's not enough to acknowledge that austerity, racial segregation and attacks on workers' rights must end," he says. "We must face the reality that these are design features of the system."

TURN's report asks how education can once again become the great equalizer, and Barrett argues this change will come through teaching students to use their own power to dismantle unfair systems. "Unfortunately," he says, "most of the teacher 'leadership groups' neglect this focus of instruction and education."

For now, TURN leaders like Urbanski and Bernstein remain optimistic about their network's potential, and insist that a proactive, teacher-led policy coalition can and will change longstanding assumptions about unions, school reform and public education.

Categories: Latest News

Trump's Pick for Health Secretary Led Company That Jacked Up Insulin Prices

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 21:00

Trump says his latest nominee for health secretary, Alex Azar II, would be a "star" in the effort to lower prescription drug prices. While Azar was a leading executive at Eli Lilly and Co., the pharmaceutical giant raised the price of a crucial insulin medication for diabetes by 345 percent.

Alice Dautry, the director of the Pasteur Institute, a French research laboratory, smiles next to then-US Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar II, February 6, 2006. (Photo: Stephane De Sakutin / AFP / Getty Images)

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The Canadian research team that developed insulin as a breakthrough treatment for diabetes back in 1923 sold the patent for just $3, essentially giving its intellectual property away for the greater good.

Nowadays, the companies that manufacture this crucial medicine raise the price on a regular basis in order to maximize profits. One of those companies is Eli Lilly and Co., where Alex Azar II, the man that President Trump has selected to run the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently worked as a top executive.

During Azar's eight-year tenure as president and vice president of Eli Lilly's operations in the United States, the pharmaceutical giant raised the price of Humalog, a fast-acting form of insulin, from $2,657 per year to $9,172. That's a 345 percent price increase for a drug that millions of patients depend on, according to Peter Maybarduk, the director of the Access to Medicines Program at the watchdog group Public Citizen.

President Trump announced on Wednesday that he is nominating Azar to replace a disgraced Tom Price as health secretary:

Happy to announce, I am nominating Alex Azar to be the next HHS Secretary. He will be a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 13, 2017

 "As Tweeter-in-Chief, Trump tells us Azar will be a 'star' who will lower prescription prices," Maybarduk said in a statement. "Maybe he should have asked the six million diabetic Americans whose insulin prices have more than tripled under Azar's watch at Eli Lilly."

Azar served as a general counsel and deputy secretary of HHS during the Bush administration and later entered the private sector, where he became a leading executive at Eli Lilly. He is a staunch conservative who has criticized the Affordable Care Act and reportedly supports converting federal Medicaid funding into block grants, a longstanding Republican goal that critics say could limit access to health care for low-income people.

Shortly after Azar left the company in January amid a downsizing of its US operations, Eli Lilly hiked the price of Humalog and another insulin product by nearly 8 percent, according to reports. The hikes came despite public outcry over insulin prices, including a class action lawsuit filed against Lilly and other manufacturers on behalf of diabetes patients that accuses the companies of price fixing and gouging.

Elizabeth Rowley, a member of the advocacy group Patients for Affordable Drugs who has lived with diabetes for 25 years, said a 2016 survey found that the average patient in the US spends $571 a month to treat their diabetes.

"Even with insurance, many Americans are spending around half their income on insulin and other supplies they need to stay alive," Rowley said in a statement. "This has to stop."

Now, the high cost of pharmaceuticals is a hot topic in Washington, where politicians are quick to ride the coattails of consumer outrage despite doing little about the problem. Trump himself has said that Big Pharma is "getting away with murder" and has attacked drug companies on Twitter over rising prescription prices.

Trump has repeatedly promised to sign an executive order to address high drug prices. However, critics say provisions in a draft order released earlier this year would benefit the industry by easing regulations while doing nothing to lower prices for consumers.

Azar would be the top government regulator of an industry that he just recently left.

If the Senate confirms Azar as health secretary, the former pharmaceutical executive would be charged with rolling out Trump's drug-pricing policies: He would be the top government regulator of an industry that he just recently left.

"Drug corporations have undue influence over health policy in the US, and they use it to make money on the backs of patients and taxpayers," said Ben Wakana, the executive director of Patients for Affordable Drugs, in a statement. "To have a former drug company executive nominated as HHS secretary adds to our concern that this administration may continue to disappoint through its lack of action on skyrocketing drug prices."

As health secretary, Azar would also oversee the Trump administration's efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act through regulations and executive action.

In the world according to Trump, what's best for business is also what's best for everyone else. Many of his high-profile picks to run various federal agencies have worked closely with the industries they will now be regulating, as Senate Democrats have pointed out in one committee hearing after another. However, without a majority, Democrats have so far been unable to block Trump's nominees.

In the world according to Trump, what's best for business is also what's best for everyone else.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), the leading Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, which will hold the hearing on Azar's nomination, said on Monday that he would "closely scrutinize" Azar's record and ask for his commitment to bring down prescription drug costs and "faithfully" implement the Affordable Care Act. Wyden also attacked Trump's track record on health care, which he called "abysmal."

"At every turn, the president has broken his promises to American families to lower health care costs, expand access and bring down the high price of prescription drugs," Wyden said in a statement. "Trump's previous leader at HHS, Tom Price, abused the public trust on multiple occasions, led efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, and enabled congressional Republicans' disastrous attempts to pass Trumpcare."

Wakana said some advocates are willing to give Trump's latest nominee a chance.

"Mr. Azar is well-qualified and has the chance to stand up for patients because he knows exactly how our drug pricing system is broken," Wakana said. "If he wants to take meaningful action to lower drug prices, we want to help him."

Others disagree. Public Citizen President Robert Weissman said that Azar's own public statements show that he is opposed to measures that would limit profiteering and improper marketing in the pharmaceutical industry while favoring weaker safety approval standards.

"Americans understand, passionately, that price gouging leads to rationing of care. It is unethical and must end. Even President Trump says so," Weissman said. "But it is highly unlikely that a pharmaceutical company executive who has made passionate arguments against price restraints is going to advance real reform. Much more likely is that he serves as the instrument by which Big Pharma aims to defend its monopolies and unaffordable prices."

Categories: Latest News

Special Report: Revolt at Trump's Pro-Coal, Pro-Nuclear and Pro-Gas Panel Rocks UN Climate Summit

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 21:00

Democracy Now! was there when activists and Democratic lawmakers at the UN climate summit in Bonn, Germany, staged a full-fledged revolt Monday when the Trump administration made its official debut at this year's conference with a forum pushing coal, gas and nuclear power. The presentation was entitled "The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation." The panel was the only official appearance by the US delegation during this year's UN climate summit. Of the four corporate representatives pushing nuclear, gas and coal, Lenka Kollar of NuScale Power and Amos Hochstein of Tellurian told Amy Goodman that they disagreed with Trump's decision to pull the US out of the climate agreement.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. We're broadcasting live from the UN climate summit here in Bonn, Germany. Yesterday, people revolted. We're urging you to go to the phone right now. Here in Bonn, Germany, over -- well, close to 200 countries are gathered. The US says that it is pulling out of the climate accord. Well, on Monday night, activists and Democratic lawmakers staged a full-fledged revolt as the Trump administration made its official debut at this year's COP at a forum pushing coal, gas and nuclear power. The presentation was entitled “The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation.” It included speakers from coal company Peabody Energy, the nuclear engineering firm NuScale Power and a gas exporter. The panel was the only official appearance by the US delegation during this year's UN climate summit.

Well, Democracy Now! was there Monday night as the US delegation made its official debut. It didn't go too well. At least, it didn't begin well, with a White House consultant telling Democracy Now! we could not film him.


WHITE HOUSE CONSULTANT: I don't know what you're doing, but please don't take any photos of me.

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, this is Governor Kate Brown from Oregon and Governor Jay Inslee from Washington.

GOV. JAY INSLEE: This is a sideshow. It is a blip. The world is not paying any attention to it, because the world is not going to listen to someone who says that climate change is a hoax. You can report this news from Bonn. While Donald Trump is trying to sell old technology to an unforgiving world and an unforgiving science, the third-largest economy in the world is moving forward with clean energy jobs, and that's the United States Climate Alliance. And I'm proud to be leading it. Kate Brown of Oregon.

GOV. KATE BROWN: Thank you so much. Thank you, Governor Inslee. We're delighted to be here. It is absolutely clear that President Trump is rejecting the economy of the future. Three states, working together -- California, Washington and Oregon -- with British Columbia, we represent one-fifth of the world's economy. That's an extraordinary resource. We're all pulling together. We're rolling in the same direction. And we're going to move this economy forward. And we're doing it by investing in renewable energy and energy conservation.

ANNOUNCER: Thank you, everybody.

GOV. JAY INSLEE: Thank you. Good luck. Viel Glück. Viel Glück.

GOV. KATE BROWN: Thank you. Thank you.

GOV. JAY INSLEE: Viel Glück.

AMY GOODMAN: We're about to see the only US Embassy press conference or public event here at the COP. And it is filled with corporate executives from the nuclear industry, from coal -- Peabody Coal, to be exact -- and natural gas. The room is packed, because, well, it's the only event that they've held in this two-week COP so far.

FRANCIS BROOKE: With that, I'd like to introduce to you Dave Banks, who's President Trump's special assistant for international energy and environment.

DAVID BANKS: The United States is blessed with an abundance of all types of energy. The president wants to use our country's vast resources to create jobs at home and create a competitive advantage that helps revitalize US manufacturing. The president also wants to use our energy resources to benefit our allies and partners, to provide them greater energy security and prosperity.


PROTESTERS: [singing] So you claim to be an American
But we see right through your greed.
It's killing all across the world
For that coal money.
And we proudly stand up until you
Keep it in the ground.
The people of the world unite
And we are here to say

You claim to be an American
But we see right through your greed.
It's killing all across the world
For that coal money.
And we proudly stand up until you
Keep it in the ground.
The people of the world unite
And we are here to say

You claim to be an American
But we see right through your greed.
It's killing all across the world
For that coal money.
And we proudly stand up until you
Keep it in the ground.
The people of the world unite
And we are here to say…

ISABELLA AZIZI: So, my name is Isabella Azizi. I come from Richmond, California. I'm 23 years old. I'm part of the Indigenous Environmental Network delegation here, but I'm also a member of the Idle No More SF Bay in San Francisco, Bay Area, in California. And today there was a huge walkout rally from the US press conference that was happening in the room right behind US Who they were really promoting, the so-called clean energy of using coal, nuclear plants and also liquefied natural gas. And so, that was their way of saying, you know, like, “Yeah, you know, this is good energy.” But we, from the United States, we're saying, no, this is a false solution.

THANU YAKUPITIYAGE: My name is Thanu Yakupitiyage. I'm with And I am the coordinator of the US People's Delegation, which includes a lot of the groups that were here on stage speaking after the White House panel. I was inside. And it was just a really beautiful collective moment of resistance, where over -- close to a hundred people who entered the White House panel, we listened to basically a crony for President Trump speak about clean coal and clean nuclear and give his reasoning for why this is super important, even though nobody else at the COP is saying it, and then we collectively rose up, together, in unison, singing a song of resistance. And we turned and faced the press. And we held the space for over 10 minutes.

And then we marched out to link with the front-line communities, who -- including It Takes Roots coalition, who's also part of the People's Delegation, who are holding the space here. And together, we really put forward the voices of those most impacted by the climate crisis. And we really wanted to hold a space in contrast to this panel that was really propping fossil fuel billionaires and telling the lies of the Trump administration, and really contrast that with the truth from our communities.

VARSHINI PRAKASH: Hi. My name is Varshini Prakash. I am from Boston, Massachusetts, and I'm here with the SustainUS youth delegation and also Sunrise Movement. And I am here because, as a young person, I am scared about the threat of climate change right now and in the future, and I am angry that people like Donald Trump and Rex Tillerson are putting my life and the lives of billions of others at risk.

So we just sang inside a fossil fuel panel, basically, presentation, and about a hundred of us stood up together and sang our own version of “God Bless America” to really reclaim this identity that America should be about liberty and justice for all, that it should be about an actual American dream, not just a dream for the fossil fuel billionaires and the elite 1 percent in our country. So, we sang this song, and we walked out, all of us, and left them talking to each other and to almost nobody in the room itself, and came out and joined hundreds of other people who weren't able to make it into the panel room itself.

JESÚS VÁZQUEZ: Hey. My name is Jesús Vázquez. I'm from Puerto Rico. It's day number 56 since Hurricane Maria devastated our islands. And for us, it is very important to get our message out that we know climate change is real. We know the Caribbean waters and the Atlantic Ocean are warmer. We know -- we experimented two big hurricanes in a short amount of time, you know? We have Hurricane Irma. Then, two weeks after, we got Hurricane Maria.

So, for us, it is very disrespectful to know that this is going to continue, knowing just that 56 days ago we got hit hard by a hurricane, and we're still in a country that is militarized by the US, US military presence. We have limited access to clean water, and we have almost no power, no electricity. So we know this thing is real. And to know that fossil fuels are going to be continuing, and also nuclear energy, it's just guaranteeing that next year we're going to be in the same situation, and the risk is going to continue.

FRANCIS BROOKE: Our final speaker today is Lenka Kollar. She's the director of business strategy at NuScale Power.

LENKA KOLLAR: I really appreciate the young people that were in here earlier voicing their opinion. I think it's important to do that. And I only wish they had stayed in the room. As Amos said earlier, we need to listen to each other -- we don't do that enough -- even if we disagree with each other. Last week I spoke at a Women in Cleantech & Sustainability event at Google, and I talked about the tribalism that we often see in this field and how we pit ourselves against each other, and that doesn't really get us to the goals that we mutually want to reach. … Nuclear energy needs to be a part of the conversation here at the climate talks in Bonn and at future climate talks and all of the forums that we host throughout the year in which we're talking about large energy transitions.

FRANCIS BROOKE: I'm going to introduce Holly Krutka, the vice president of coal generation and emissions technologies at Peabody Energy.

HOLLY KRUTKA: Let me begin by saying that while some people clearly believe that there's no common ground here and that there's no path forward for fossil fuels in a carbon-constrained world, we don't believe that's the case. There are technologies available today and others in the technology development pipeline that can dramatically reduce emissions from coal and other fossil fuels. And more to the point, these technologies are vital to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement.

AMY GOODMAN: I'm Amy Goodman from the Democracy Now! news hour.

FRANCIS BROOKE: All right, this is -- this is our -- this is our last question before we have to wrap up.

AMY GOODMAN: Quick question, just a simple yes or no from each of you: whether you support President Trump pulling the US out of the Paris climate accord? If we could begin with Lenka?

LENKA KOLLAR: I'm here for a reason, and that's to support climate change mitigation.

AMY GOODMAN: Just a quick, simple yes-or-no answer.

LENKA KOLLAR: The question was?

AMY GOODMAN: Whether you support President Trump pulling the United States out of the Paris climate accord?

LENKA KOLLAR: No, I don't support it.


HOLLY KRUTKA: I know you want yes or no, but our company's statement wasn't a yes or no, so please just allow me to say what it is. We did not ever weigh in. There was reports, actually, that we weighed in in both directions. Our opinion was that it's up to them. There's a lot to decide. But whether or not the US is in the Paris climate agreement, we will continue to work on low-emissions technologies for coal.

AMY GOODMAN: And you, personally, Holly?

HOLLY KRUTKA: Gosh, I'm not really a policy person. I'm sorry, that was a cop-out. You're right. I, personally -- I'm not here to represent myself, so come talk to me afterwards.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes or no, are you for or against?

HOLLY KRUTKA: I'm not going to answer for my personal opinion.


AMOS HOCHSTEIN: I think I have the easiest task. I don't think Dave or Francis expect me to say anything else. I worked for the Obama administration. I supported the Paris Agreement fully, thought it was a great achievement for the president.

AMY GOODMAN: Barry Worthington, yes or no?

BARRY WORTHINGTON: There's actually two answers.


BARRY WORTHINGTON: The US Energy Association did not take a position before the president pulled out of Paris. As soon as he pulled out of Paris, we issued a statement saying that he should renegotiate Paris. From my own personal standpoint, the answer is yes, because of the reasons I laid out. We're --

AMY GOODMAN: You support Trump pulling the United States out.

BARRY WORTHINGTON: We're achieving the emissions reductions goals without having the regulatory burden. We're doing it for other reasons.

AMY GOODMAN: Francis Brooke?

FRANCIS BROOKE: Thanks, Barry. Now we're going to go to closing from our speakers.

AMY GOODMAN: No, Francis, I'd like your response.

FRANCIS BROOKE: Can you -- we are not here --

AMY GOODMAN: Just two more people, simple question, just yes or no.

AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Takes five seconds! Answer her! Answer it!

FRANCIS BROOKE: I mean, pretty clearly, we both work for the administration, so that's who we're here to represent, and it's not going to change anything. So we're going to go through closing now.

AMY GOODMAN: And, David Banks, your -- final question.

FRANCIS BROOKE: So we're going to start with Barry Worthington.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes or no?

FRANCIS BROOKE: He's going to close for US

AUDIENCE MEMBER: David, any answer?

DAVID BANKS: I work for the president of the United States.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: So is it a yes or a no?

AMY GOODMAN: And that was David Banks, White House special assistant for international energy and environment, the person we've been trying to get on the show who's been standing next to our broadcast. Before that, Francis Brooke, policy aide in the Office of Vice President Mike Pence. Of the four corporate representatives pushing nuclear, gas and coal, two of them said they were -- well, Lenka Kollar of NuScale energy and Amos Hochstein of Tellurian disagreed with Trump pulling the US out of this climate agreement. Holly Krutka of Peabody wouldn't say, and Barry Worthington of the US Energy Association agreed with President Trump's withdrawal. That was the final question at the Trump administration's one and only panel here at the COP23.

Categories: Latest News

"Climate Apartheid": South African Climate Activist Kumi Naidoo Slams Inequality at UN Summit

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 21:00

As the UN climate summit gets underway in Bonn, Germany, African negotiators, activists and youth are particularly vocal about the need for urgent action to mitigate the most devastating effects of global warming. Africa is expected to suffer more from climate change than any other continent. This summer, flooding and mudslides in Sierra Leone killed more than 1,000 people, while extreme drought has left millions of people at risk of famine in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia. We speak with Kumi Naidoo, longtime South African anti-apartheid activist and former head of Greenpeace International. He is the chair of a new organization called Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. We're broadcasting live from the UN climate summit here in Bonn, Germany. We just played for you the protest that took place, the revolt that took place yesterday at the US's only session that they held here, this first COP after President Trump announced plans to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord. But it's a four-year process. And if that goes through, it ends the day after the next Election Day. The official debut of the US administration was at a forum pushing coal, gas and nuclear power, the presentation including speakers from Peabody Energy, NuScale nuclear and a gas exporter.

We are continuing our conversation now with Kumi Naidoo, South African activist, former head of Greenpeace, now chairperson of Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity.

Now, we have pleaded with David Banks, the US president's representative, President Trump's representative here, who said he was completely accessible, stayed right next to our booth throughout the time all of our producers went out to talk to him, but said he would not come on the broadcast, at least today. We'll attempt to try. But, Kumi Naidoo, as you went off the set for a few minutes, you got a chance to speak with David Banks.

KUMI NAIDOO: Yes. I spent about 15 minutes with him. He seems to be a decent human being. He basically is not denying any of the things that we are saying, but his argument is, "Oh, technology and innovation will sort everything out." And I --

AMY GOODMAN: But not solar and wind.

KUMI NAIDOO: Yeah, yeah. No, it's really focused on a hold -- and I put it to him that "Do you realize that you are actually giving up economic opportunities, because of successful economies?" Body language suggests that they are aware of that. And the fact, the isolation -- and they say they -- President Trump has not ruled out the possibility of coming back. But right now, let me tell you -- and, Amy, you and I have been at COPs for so long. Right now, almost now, people want to say, "Actually, if the USis going to behave like this, better they stay out. Let the rest of the world go ahead. And we'll work with the governors of those states that want to be involved, the majority of municipalities in the United States that want to be involved, the civil society." And --

AMY GOODMAN: This is the We are Still In coalition.

KUMI NAIDOO: Yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Yesterday, Governors Inslee and Governor Kate Brown of Oregon, and Washington state, almost took over the USgovernment's press event --

KUMI NAIDOO: Yes, yes.

AMY GOODMAN:  -- by just coming in and stating, basically, "This is a sham."

KUMI NAIDOO: And I want to say something to the UNFCC. The people that did that peaceful protest, they've been debadged and thrown out. Right?

AMY GOODMAN: They have been, yesterday?

KUMI NAIDOO: That's what I understand. I stand to be corrected, if that -- anyway, I did a protest; that's what happened to me, as well, some years ago. But what they did with that panel, this only first panel, is an impeachable offense, really. I mean, it may -- they come and present something --

AMY GOODMAN: You mean the US government.

KUMI NAIDOO: The US government.

AMY GOODMAN: The Trump administration.

KUMI NAIDOO: To do a panel that actually goes against 99.99 percent of those scientific consensus in the world -- right? -- and to give them a platform to do that, I say to the UNFCCC that, in fact, it is inappropriate, and the UN cannot continue to pander to the madness that comes out of the Trump administration. We have to say to them, "If you want to be out, you stay out. Don't come and poison this negotiations the way that you're doing." Those that are aligned to the vision of the Paris accord, limit -- you know, imperfect as it is, let us move ahead. Because what they do here is they come, they suck up a lot of oxygen, they hold back negotiations. And let's be blunt about it. It's not as if the Obama administration was perfect here. They also held us back. It's just that, you know -- or, certainly, the Trump administration --

AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds for your final message.

KUMI NAIDOO:  -- also did it. So, time is running out. We need American people. And we are happy that at least the American people are with us, if not the American president.

AMY GOODMAN: We thank you so much, Kumi Naidoo, South African activist, former head of Greenpeace, now chairperson of Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity.

And that does it for our broadcast here in Bonn, Germany.

Categories: Latest News

Southern Movement Assembly Creates a Framework With a Labor Sensibility for Southern Struggles

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 21:00

The Southern Movement Assembly's strategic framework operates on the principles of social unionism, economic justice, and the interconnectedness of community and workplace issues. Southern Movement Assembly Coordinators Libby Devlin and Saladin Muhammad, along with Project South Founder Rita Valenti, elaborate on the group's principles in this conversation.

Libby Devlin, Saladin Muhammad and Rita Valenti participate in the Worker Justice Assembly at SMA VII. (Photo: Southern Movement Assembly [SMA Vll])

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. We're now several months into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators, and educators, not only about how to resist, but how to build a better world. Today's interview is the 90th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

Today we bring you a conversation with Libby Devlin, Saladin Muhammad and Rita Valenti of the Southern Movement Assembly. In this interview, they discuss the importance of a movement in the South to create framework and tie local organizations and struggles together.

Libby Devlin: I am Libby Devlin. I am the southern region director for National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC)/National Nurses United (NNU). I am on the governing council of the Southern Movement Assembly and I am on the coordinating committee for the Southern Workers Assembly which runs the Southern Workers School.

Saladin Muhammad: I'm Saladin Muhammad, retired international rep for the United Electrical Workers union, founding member of the Black Workers for Justice and co-coordinator of the Southern Movement Assembly.

Rita Valenti: I am Rita Valenti. I am a registered nurse. I work with National Nurses Organizing Committee. I'm on the board of Healthcare-NOW! I am a Project South founder.

Sarah Jaffe: We are talking a little while after the Southern Movement Assembly happened. Tell our readers what that was.

Muhammad: It is a convergence of organizations, grassroots organizations, largely anchored in the African American grassroots struggles in all of the states in the South creating a movement framework to tie what essentially has been a local organization and local struggles so that there is some sense of strategy and program in people's understanding of the Southern freedom movement.

Tell us a little bit about the history of the Movement Assembly; how long this has been going on and the background to this coming together.

Valenti: This is the Southern Movement Assembly 7. Our first one was in 2012 in Lowndes County, Alabama. Each Movement Assembly has built on the one before it and has developed a sense of principles in which people can work together and practice consciousness, vision and strategy in terms of coordinating our activity and ultimately try to build power from the bottom up to end oppression and exploitation of our people in the South.

Devlin: I would add to that that all the organizations -- I think there are 20 organizations that participate in the Southern Movement Assembly -- we have all agreed to a blueprint which is the Southern People's Initiative which includes working to build a new economy, to establish more of a people's democracy and to protect and defend each other within that democracy. Those are the overriding principles that we are working toward, in the context of the principles of unity that we have all agreed to in terms of the process by which we work toward those goals.

Devlin, Muhammad and Valenti at the Worker Justice Assembly at SMA VII. (Photo: Southern Movement Assembly [SMA Vll])

Let's talk a little bit about how this past assembly went. Was it at all different from what you were thinking about with Trump as president or are you still pretty focused on the same things that were happening before?

Muhammad: We have a long-term perspective and that is regardless of who is president. Obviously, the Trump presidency has some influence on how we think about the long-term perspective, because it certainly is a part of the long-term perspective of the elite class and the direction of the system. We felt that it is important that people have a perspective so that we don't just panic because of this open facilitation of white supremacy and white nationalism. So, building on the past assembly informed us on the road ahead. It has had some influence, but it didn't disrupt perspective.

Some of the Southern organizers I have talked to recently have said, "America woke up in the South after Trump was elected. We have already been struggling with people who are a lot like Trump." Tell us a little bit about what happened at this assembly. What were some of the sessions like? Who was there? What were some of the conversations that people were having?

Valenti: I think there were about 300 people there. That showed, to me, more and more of a deep commitment, because to get to Whitaker, North Carolina is not just landing [at] an airport someplace. You actually have to be engaged and really committed to building this work.

Essentially, it was a series of frontline assemblies that engaged a National Student Bill of Rights; another assembly dealt with mass incarceration and de-incarcerating the assemblies; one on climate change, people's democracy assembly, and then, of course, the assembly that Libby and Saladin and I and a lot of other folks put together -- the Workers Justice Assembly, an assembly on migration and one on economies for survival. Plus, a number of skill-building assemblies that dealt with strategy and tactic, as well as vision.

It was a beautiful space and in a lot of ways, it created a harm-free liberation zone where people felt very comfortable to share their views and really try to come together to develop political strategy, recognizing and honoring the space that we were in -- from native peoples who had once been in the Franklinton Center space to the plantation system of slavery that had also been [there] ... and now to a liberating space where we are looking to build  power to come together and free our people.

Devlin: I know Black Workers for Justice has been involved in the past and I think this is the third assembly that the NNU has participated in, but this particular assembly had, I think, more focus on the idea of workplace democracy and building worker organizations in their workplaces as a way to expand democracy and as a way to protect and defend each other. There was a little bit more attention to the idea that we need to have a worker-based movement if we intend to really do anything about income inequality, the wealth inequality, the lack of democracy really in our country at this point.

On that note, why don't we talk a little bit about the Workers Justice Assembly, in particular, and the things that were discussed and the people who took part and what the next steps are.

Muhammad: The Workers Justice Assembly represented a new entity, or as described in the Southern Movement Assembly, a new frontline. That is, a new battlefront, a new issue struggle. The question of organization in the Southern Movement Assembly has become a kind of common notion of community-based organization. The question of building organization at the workplace, and organization that directly impacts the economy from the standpoint of how the system produces commodities and creates the basis for wealth.

The Workers Assembly provided an experience that has been a little different from other frontline assemblies. We involved participants in a practice that trade union organizing does; meeting other people, asking them where they work, asking them about what issues they face where they work, etc. Then, going out to some real workplaces to leaflet and talk to workers and to be able to report back that experience, to have a sense of some of the things that workplace organizing entails. I think that was a new experience and a new practice and hopefully will be appreciated in whole [in the] ongoing motion of the Southern Movement Assembly.

Devlin: Also, obviously a lot of the unions have a real vested interested in having strong alliances with community organizations, particularly the nurses [who] are natural allies, our patients and community. It is important for the unions to be involved in the Southern Movement Assembly because it engages unions and community organizations together. The unions bring something important to this relationship in that we, as unions, are the ones who directly confront capital every day at work. Many of the community organizations, they engage in really important organizing, but they don't necessarily have an automatic relationship via their union to directly confront some of the economic systems that are particularly exploitative and unfair to people.

So, we bring that alliance together to figure out, "Where do these community organizers themselves work and are they interested in participating in a broader economic struggle for economic justice?" Also, to bring that consciousness to people. I thought it was very interesting and informative for me; [an] educational experience to go through ... with people and discuss [the] people's perspective ... and to build a broader relationship with people. We are all on the same team. We might approach it from different methods, but we are all on the same team and how do we become larger than the sum of our parts?

Valenti: I was very, very excited about the presence of some of the key unions that have an understanding of social unionism which brings together the workplace and community issues and sees those things interconnected as opposed to a more elitist business unionism model that tends to collaborate with the boss.

The other thing that I think also came out of this is this whole notion, as well, of a gig economy and what a lot of young workers are facing in terms of internships and contracting and some of the real problems that young workers face in an economy that is constantly changing and has been developing in a way that unpaid labor and lack of benefits are the norm for so many of the young workers.

How does this collaboration between unionism and grassroots organizing actually begin to challenge power and transform our society in ways that address the current situation? In our assembly we had nurses, we had retired workers, we had representatives from [United Electrical Workers], of course, from NNU, as well as a lot of workers who are working in 501(c)3s and struggling to bring together their work experience with their desire to transform this country. It was new and exciting in a lot of ways and the next step in terms of building power because as the South goes, so goes the nation.

Devlin: We also had some online journalists as part of the Workers Justice Assembly. This was before Ricketts closed down his business rather than deal with unions. What he did, I think we need to learn from that and think about how we approach -- I don't know if I would call online journalists as part of the gig economy, but it certainly is precarious work. How are we going to approach the precarious work to be able to have people take power? What do we learn from that and how do we build on that and figure out what the next and proper steps are?

Muhammad: I think that an important lesson when there are so many different frontlines is dealing with the experience of the role of the state locally and the role of the state nationally, and its international role and recognizing that this also develops contradictions. That is, that contradictions in people's language in terms of how they frame things, contradictions in people's sense of the importance of their various areas of work.

For me, the Southern Movement Assembly raises the issue of how a movement has to deal with contradictions that emerge out of organizing in a changing economy and also in a changing political reality and whether or not the differences that exist should be viewed as antagonistic within the movement or a learning curve that the movement has to understand in order to be able to move forward collectively.

There were challenges, even as we talk about a liberated space to be able to deal with questions and issues. I think we learned that even in liberated spaces, sometimes there will be differences that a movement has to try to navigate and work out. Understanding challenges in the course of carrying out a strategy and a program is something that I think the assembly helped us to learn.

One of the things that different parts of the south have been facing this year -- you had people from Puerto Rico join this assembly, too -- one of the challenges that several places have faced this year has been hurricanes and looking forward into a world of climate change. I wonder how much you guys talked about these storms and what being ready for the next ones would look like.

Valenti: I think one of the leaps that has occurred in the Southern Movement Assembly process was Southern Movement Assembly 5, Gulf South Rising that marked the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath of Katrina with a huge amount of privatization that went along on New Orleans and a real wakeup call that Saladin has mentioned, the state is not organized to support our people. So, what is it that we have to do in terms of building leverage and power? One of the reasons that I love this movement assembly process is because it is beginning to address that.

Also, NNU started the RN to RN program with Katrina that brought nurses into the gulf after Katrina and has also sent nurses into Puerto Rico. Not from the perspective of colonizers, but from the perspective of "What is on the ground and how do we assist with that?" Part of the bringing in of unions, progressive unions, into the Movement Assembly is the building of capacity and organization, the other question that comes out of the Southern Movement Assembly process ... is: What is the nature of organization we have to build to win?

Devlin: As NNU/National Nurses Organizing Committee, we have a very strong position opposed to the things that create climate change. We have an environmental and climate justice working group in our union. We just passed a very strong resolution at our convention last month to oppose the things that cause climate change. We have a very active anti-fracking group that we work with. We are allied with Food and Water Watch on the anti-pipeline work and anti-fracking work. We are looking to participate in helping to solve some of the root causes of these climate disasters.

Then, we also have the Registered Nurse Relief Network, which we send folks out to wherever there are major disasters. In our union, we have hundreds of nurses in Houston and Corpus Christi who are members of the union. We have thousands that were impacted by the Irma hurricane. We don't actually have any active membership in Puerto Rico, but we did send our largest delegation of disaster relief nurses to go work there. That was, obviously, by far the biggest in terms of [inadequate] governmental response ... [to] the most need. In our view, it would be better to not need [RN-to-RN] to be able to resolve the climate change problem.

Valenti: Right.

Muhammad: Hurricane Katrina, for many of us, brought forward the beginning [of] understanding of disaster capitalism. That is an important aspect of our understanding about the question of climate change and the role of the state, the failures of the state. It is bringing to what has essentially been a network, concepts and understandings to be able to be a movement. That is very important. There are so many conferences that take on similar, not identical, characters as the Southern Movement Assembly. But, the difference between the Southern Movement Assembly and a conference and workshops, etc., is that it is part of an ongoing process of forging and building a movement with a consciousness that is local, national and international, global. To really see how those features are forged is a way to look at the experience of the Southern Movement Assembly and its annual convergence.

You said "As goes the South, so goes the country." I think that is particularly true in the age of Trump. What are a couple of the lessons from this past assembly and from the work of doing these assemblies more broadly that people from outside the South should take?

Valenti: I really want to underscore what Saladin just said, this notion of not just mobilizing, not going backwards in history to a time that is past, and not just a series of workshops, but actually deep political organizing that produces a change of consciousness and begins to actually discuss the vision of the world that we want to build in this hugely transitional and chaotic period. And development of strategies.

I think the South has had much more of a handle on that because we have had a lot less, since our inception, resources that we have had to rely on each other and respect each other and understand the centrality of our history based in genocide and slavery. Wall Street has controlled the South and through that control has really controlled the nation. We see that in not just this Trump era, but more so in the history of Right to Work in terms of labor, the history of "state's rights," particularly in terms of healthcare and failures to expand Medicaid. What we bring, I think, to this table is that we try to listen to each other and not just tell each other.

Devlin: I guess I always kind of hoped that the standards in the northern states would move South, not vice versa. So, when you look at income inequality, it is worse in the South. Health outcomes are worse in the South. Education quality is worse in the South. Infant mortality rates are worse in the South. The percent of unionization rates is directly linked to all of that, as well. Particularly, income inequality and wealth inequality, there's a reverse correlation between union strength and income inequality. The stronger the union is, the less income inequality is.

I think what we bring from the South is that we have been living under these same conditions that the existing government and their funders would like to see brought throughout the country. We have existed. We have survived. We can say we have done that. I think a lot of people in places like Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, they are all going to be faced with the same conditions that we have now. I know that they are working to try to figure out "How do you fight back in that environment?" because the political climate has been different there. One thing that people can learn from us is how to be scrappier. How do you fight in that context? There has been a lot of cross-state discussion that has been going on and I think that is helpful and useful.

Muhammad: Historically, the labor movement in particular, has not recognized the strategic role of the South in a national strategy. The South is a zone of global capital very much like, and that pre-existed, NAFTA, the maquiladoras, etc. The South hasn't been looked at almost as if it had maquiladoras, but international capital is now seeing it as a region of concentration that is protected by a state that is dominant internationally. Economists have said that the regional economy of the South would be considered as the world's fourth largest economy, following Japan. If we are not recognizing this concentration of global capital in the South and understanding how to challenge the outrageous actions of US and global capital then I don't think we are looking at a strategy correctly.

When Wisconsin happened and the issue of Right to Work was raised, it appeared as if the sky had fallen. We have been living under Right to Work and it never sounds like the sky is falling for the South. Almost as if that is normal for us. "Let's worry about something that is not normal for everyplace else." In terms of how capital, in terms of so-called de-industrialization and the Rust Belt and all of that stuff utilize the South, I don't think that we have a good handle outside of the South on understanding what that is going to mean for the labor movement in terms of the shrinkage and the light. Again, I think looking at the South almost as a kind of internal colony, if you will, in terms of how capital has used it in reorganizing itself. I think that is something that the northern forces have to get a better handle on.

I know your work is going to go on in various places after this assembly. How can people keep up with the work each of you [is] doing and the organizations you are part of?

Muhammad: We have a Southern Workers School, supporting the school is a part of how to be able to relate to the work of our various organizations.

Valenti: There is so much going on. I know that the next piece that is following right on the heels of this is the United States Human Rights Network ... also meeting here in early December. We are going to be building out a National Nurses Council here in Atlanta that will also incorporate some of our understandings in the Southern Movement Assembly. There are monthly Southern Movement Assembly membership calls. It really provides a space for people to engage politically.

Devlin: To add to the Southern Workers School issue, it is not a location. We can run these schools really anywhere that people have an interest in doing it. The idea being that you would have a cadre of people in various workplaces and all across the South who have a way of communicating with each other about different strategies that they have used at work, what worked, what didn't work, what they could have done better, how they can confront issues in the workplace like job discrimination or underpay or short staffing or any number of issues that people have every day. And what are the methods that they are using that have been effective. We can set one up really anywhere. We did one in Raleigh. We have done one in Atlanta. We are thinking about doing one in Tampa. We can set it up with any gathering of people that want to talk about it. I think it is a very important development that has happened in the past....

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

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Massive Overkill: Brought to You by the Nuclear-Industrial Complex

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 21:00

Mushroom cloud resulting from the test detonation of a hydrogen bomb, the world's first thermonuclear explosion, on October 31st, 1952. (Photo: US Dept. of Energy / Science Photo Library)

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Until recently, few of us woke up worrying about the threat of nuclear war. Such dangers seemed like Cold War relics, associated with outmoded practices like building fallout shelters and "duck and cover" drills.

But give Donald Trump credit. When it comes to nukes, he's gotten our attention. He's prompted renewed concern, if not outright alarm, about the possibility that such weaponry could actually be used for the first time since the 6th and 9th of August 1945. That's what happens when the man in the Oval Office begins threatening to rain "fire and fury like the world has never seen" on another country or, as he did in his presidential campaign, claiming cryptically that, when it comes to nuclear weapons, "the devastation is very important to me."

Trump's pronouncements are at least as unnerving as President Ronald Reagan's infamous "joke" that "we begin bombing [the Soviet Union] in five minutes" or the comment of a Reagan aide that, "with enough shovels," the United States could survive a superpower nuclear exchange.

Whether in the 1980s or today, a tough-guy attitude on nuclear weapons, when combined with an apparent ignorance about their world-ending potential, adds up to a toxic brew.  An unprecedented global anti-nuclear movement -- spearheaded by the European Nuclear Disarmament campaign and, in the United States, the Nuclear Freeze campaign -- helped turn President Reagan around, so much so that he later agreed to substantial nuclear cuts and acknowledged that "a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought." 

It remains to be seen whether anything could similarly influence Donald Trump. One thing is certain, however: the president has plenty of nuclear weapons to back up his aggressive rhetoric -- more than 4,000 of them in the active US stockpile, when a mere handful of them could obliterate North Korea at the cost of millions of lives.  Indeed, a few hundred nuclear warheads could do the same for even the largest of nations and those 4,000, if ever used, could essentially destroy the planet. 

In other words, in every sense of the term, the US nuclear arsenal already represents overkill on an almost unimaginable scale.  Independent experts from US war colleges suggest that about 300 warheads would be more than enough to deter any country from launching a nuclear attack on the United States.

Despite this, Donald Trump is all in (and more) on the Pentagon's plan -- developed under Barack Obama -- to build a new generation of nuclear-armed bombers, submarines, and missiles, as well as new generations of warheads to go with them.  The cost of this "modernization" program?  The Congressional Budget Office recently pegged it at $1.7 trillion over the next three decades, adjusted for inflation. As Derek Johnson, director of the antinuclear organization Global Zero, has noted, "That's money we don't have for an arsenal we don't need."

Building a Nuclear Complex

Why the desire for so many nukes?  There is, in fact, a dirty little secret behind the massive US arsenal: it has more to do with the power and profits of this country's major weapons makers than it does with any imaginable strategic considerations.

It may not surprise you to learn that there's nothing new about the influence the nuclear weapons lobby has over Pentagon spending priorities. The successful machinations of the makers of strategic bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles, intended to keep taxpayer dollars flowing their way, date back to the dawn of the nuclear age and are the primary reason President Dwight D. Eisenhower coined the term "military-industrial complex" and warned of its dangers in his 1961 farewell address.

Without the development of such weapons, that complex simply would not exist in the form it does today.  The Manhattan Project, the vast scientific-industrial endeavor that produced the first such weaponry during World War II, was one of the largest government-funded research and manufacturing projects in history.  Today's nuclear warhead complex is still largely built around facilities and locations that date back to that time. 

The Manhattan Project was the first building block of the permanent arms establishment that came to rule Washington.  In addition, the nuclear arms race against that other superpower of the era, the Soviet Union, was crucial to the rationale for a permanent war state.  In those years, it was the key to sustaining the building, funding, and institutionalizing of the arms establishment.

As Eisenhower noted in that farewell address of his, "a permanent arms industry of vast proportions" had developed for a simple enough reason.  In a nuclear age, America had to be ready ahead of time.  As he put it, "We can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense."  And that was for a simple enough reason: in an era of potential nuclear war, any society could be destroyed in a matter of hours.  There would be no time, as in the past, to mobilize or prepare after the fact.

In addition, there were some very specific ways in which the quest for more nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles drove Eisenhower to give that farewell address.  One of his biggest fights was over whether to build a new nuclear bomber.  The Air Force and the arms industry were desperate to do so.  Eisenhower thought it a waste of money, given all the other nuclear delivery vehicles the US was building at the time.  He even cancelled the bomber, only to find himself forced to revive it under immense pressure from the arms lobby.  In the process, he lost the larger struggle to rein in the nation's nuclear buildup and corral the burgeoning military-industrial complex.

At the same time, there were rumblings in the intelligence community, the military establishment, the media, and Congress about a "missile gap" with the Soviet Union.  The notion was that Moscow had somehow jumped ahead of the United States in developing and building intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). There was no definitive intelligence to substantiate the claim (and it was later proved to be false).  However, a wave of worst-case scenarios leaked by or promoted by intelligence analysts and eagerly backed by industry propaganda made that missile gap part of the everyday news of the time.

Such fears were then exaggerated further, thanks to hawkish journalists of the era like Joseph Alsop and prominent Democratic senators like John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, as well as Stuart Symington, who just happened to be a friend and former colleague of an executive at the aircraft manufacturing company Convair, which, in turn, just happened to make ICBMs. As a result, he lobbied hard on behalf of a Pentagon plan to build more of that corporation's Atlas ballistic missiles, while Kennedy would famously make the nonexistent missile gap a central theme of his successful 1960 campaign for the presidency.

Eisenhower couldn't have been more clear-eyed about all of this.  He saw the missile gap for the fiction it was or, as he put it, a "useful piece of political demagoguery" for his opponents. "Munitions makers," he insisted, "are making tremendous efforts towards getting more contracts and in fact seem to be exerting undue influence over the Senators."

Once Kennedy took office, it became all too apparent that there was no missile gap, but by then it hardly mattered. The damage had been done.  Billions of dollars more were flowing into the nuclear-industrial complex to build up an American arsenal of ICBMs already unmatched on the planet.

The techniques that the arms lobby and its allies in government used more than half a century ago to promote sky-high nuclear weapons spending continue to be wielded to this day.  The twenty-first-century arms complex employs tools of influence that Kennedy and his compatriots would have found familiar indeed -- including millions of dollars in campaign contributions that flow to members of Congress and the continual employment of 700 to 1,000 lobbyists to influence them. At certain moments, in other words, there have been nearly two arms lobbyists for every member of Congress.  Much of this sort of activity remains focused on ensuring that nuclear weapons of all types are amply financed and that the funding for the new generations of the bombers, submarines, and missiles that will deliver them stays on track.

When traditional lobbying methods don't get the job done, the industry's argument of last resort is jobs -- in particular, jobs in the states and districts of key members of Congress. This process is aided by the fact that nuclear weapons facilities are spread remarkably widely across the country.  There are nuclear weapons labs in California and New Mexico; a nuclear weapons testing and research site in Nevada; a nuclear warhead assembly and disassembly plant in Texas; a factory in Kansas City, Missouri, that builds nonnuclear parts for such weapons; and a plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, that enriches uranium for those same weapons.  There are factories or bases for ICBMs, bombers, and ballistic missile submarines in Connecticut, Georgia, Washington State, California, Ohio, Massachusetts, Louisiana, North Dakota, and Wyoming. Such a nuclear geography ensures that a striking number of congressional representatives will automatically favor more spending on nuclear weapons.

In reality, the jobs argument is deeply flawed.  As the experts know, virtually any other activity into which such funding flowed would create significantly more jobs than Pentagon spending.  A study by economists at the University of Massachusetts, for example, found infrastructure investment would create one and one-half times as many jobs as Pentagon funding and education spending twice as many. 

In most cases it hasn't seemed to matter that the jobs claims for weapons spending are grotesquely exaggerated and better alternatives litter the landscape. The argument remains remarkably potent in states and communities that are particularly dependent on the Pentagon.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, members of Congress from such areas are disproportionately represented on the committees that decide how much will be spent on nuclear and conventional weaponry.

A Field Guide to Influencing Nuclear Thinking in Washington

Another way the nuclear weapons industry (like the rest of the military-industrial complex) tries to control and focus public debate is by funding hawkish, right-wing think tanks.  The advantage to weapons makers is that those institutions and their associated "experts" can serve as front groups for the complex, while posing as objective policy analysts. Think of it as an intellectual version of money laundering.

One of the most effective industry-funded think tanks in terms of promoting costly, ill-advised policies has undoubtedly been Frank Gaffney's Center for Security Policy.  In 1983, when President Ronald Reagan first announced his Strategic Defense Initiative (which soon gained the nickname "Star Wars"), the high-tech space weapons system that was either meant to defend the country against a future Soviet first strike or -- depending on how you looked at it -- free the country to use its nuclear weapons without fear of being attacked, Gaffney was its biggest booster.  More recently, he has become a prominent purveyor of Islamophobia, but the impact of his promotional work for Star Wars continues to be felt in contracts for future weaponry to this day.

He had served in the Reagan-era Pentagon, but left because even that administration wasn't anti-Soviet enough for his tastes, once the president and his advisers began to discuss things like reducing nuclear weapons in Europe.  It didn't take him long to set up his center with funding from Boeing, Lockheed, and other defense contractors.

Another key industry-backed think tank in the nuclear policy field is the National Institute for Public Policy (NIPP).  It released a report on nuclear weapons policy just as George W. Bush was entering the White House that would be adopted almost wholesale by his administration for its first key nuclear posture review.  It advocated such things as increasing the number of countries targeted by the country's nuclear arsenal and building a new, more "usable," bunker-busting nuke.  At that time, NIPP had an executive from Boeing on its board and its director was Keith Payne.  He would become infamous in the annals of nuclear policy for co-authoring a 1980 article at Foreign Policy entitled "Victory Is Possible," suggesting that the United States could actually win a nuclear war, while "only" losing 30 million to 40 million people.  This is the kind of expert the nuclear weapons complex chose to fund to promulgate its views.

Then there is the Lexington Institute, the think tank that never met a weapons system it didn't like.  Their key front man, Loren Thompson, is frequently quoted in news stories on defense issues.  It is rarely pointed out that he is funded by Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and other nuclear weapons contractors.

And these are just a small sampling of Washington's research and advocacy groups that take money from weapons contractors, ranging from organizations on the right like the Heritage Foundation to Democratic-leaning outfits like the Center for a New American Security, co-founded by former Obama administration Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy (who was believed to have the inside track on being appointed secretary of defense had Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election).

And you may not be surprised to learn that Donald Trump is no piker when it comes to colluding with the weapons industry.  His strong preference for populating his administration with former arms industry executives is so blatant that Senator John McCain recently pledged to oppose any new nominees with industry ties.  Examples of Trump's industry-heavy administration include Secretary of Defense James Mattis, a former board member at General Dynamics; White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who worked for a number of defense firms and was an adviser to DynCorp, a private security firm that has done everything from (poorly) training the Iraqi police to contracting with the Department of Homeland Security; former Boeing executive and now Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan; former Lockheed Martin executive John Rood, nominated as undersecretary of defense for policy; former Raytheon Vice President Mark Esper, newly confirmed as secretary of the Army; Heather Wilson, a former consultant to Lockheed Martin, who is secretary of the Air Force; Ellen Lord, a former CEO for the aerospace company Textron, who is undersecretary of defense for acquisition; and National Security Council Chief of Staff Keith Kellogg, a former employee of the major defense and intelligence contractor CACI, where he dealt with "ground combat systems" among other things.  And keep in mind that these high-profile industry figures are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the corporate revolving door that has for decades been installed in the Pentagon (as documented by Lee Fang of the Intercept in a story from early in Trump's tenure).

Given the composition of his national security team and Trump's love of all things nuclear, what can we expect from his administration on the nuclear weapons front?  As noted, he has already signed on to the Pentagon's budget-busting $1.7 trillion nuclear build-up and his impending nuclear posture review seems to include proposals for dangerous new weapons like a "low-yield," purportedly more usable nuclear warhead.  He's spoken privately with his national security team about expanding the American nuclear arsenal in a staggering fashion, the equivalent of a ten-fold increase.  He's wholeheartedly embraced missile defense spending, pledging to put billions of dollars more into that already overfunded, under-producing set of programs.  And of course, he is assiduously trying to undermine the Iran nuclear deal, one of the most effective arms control agreements of recent times, and so threatening to open the door to a new nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Unless the nuclear spending spree long in the making and now being pushed by President Trump as the best thing since the invention of golf is stopped thanks to public opposition, the rise of an antinuclear movement, or Congressional action, we're in trouble.  And of course, the nuclear weapons lobby will once again have won the day, just as it did almost 60 years ago, despite the opposition of a popular president and decorated war hero.  And needless to say, Donald Trump, "bone spurs" and all, is no Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Categories: Latest News

Patriotism vs. Nationalism

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

Over 15,000 Scientists Just Issued a "Second Notice" to Humanity. Can We Listen Now?

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 21:00

(Image: Pixabay)

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Over 15,000 scientists hailing from more than 180 countries just issued a dire warning to humanity:

"Time is running out" to stop business as usual, as threats from rising greenhouse gases to biodiversity loss are pushing the biosphere to the brink.

The new warning was published Monday in the international journal BioScience, and marks an update to the "World Scientists' Warning to Humanity" issued by nearly 1,700 leading scientists 25 years ago.

The 1992 plea, which said Earth was on track to be "irretrievably mutilated" baring "fundamental change," however, was largely unheeded.

"Some people might be tempted to dismiss this evidence and think we are just being alarmist," said William Ripple, distinguished professor in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, and lead author of the new warning. "Scientists are in the business of analyzing data and looking at the long-term consequences. Those who signed this second warning aren't just raising a false alarm. They are acknowledging the obvious signs that we are heading down an unsustainable path."

The new statement—a "Second Notice" to humanity—does acknowledge that there have been some positive steps forward, such as the drop in ozone depleters and advancements in reducing hunger since the 1992 warning. But, by and large, humanity has done a horrible job of making progress. In fact, key environmental threats that demanded urgent attention a quarter of a century ago are even worse now.

Among the "especially troubling" trends, they write, are rising greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, agricultural production, and the sixth mass extinction event underway.

Taking a numerical look at how some of the threats have grown since 1992, the scientists note that there's been a 26.1 percent loss in fresh water available per capita; a 75.3 percent increase in the number of "dead zones";  a 62.1 percent increase in CO2 emissions per year; and 35.5 percent rise in the human population.

"By failing to adequately limit population growth, reassess the role of an economy rooted in growth, reduce greenhouse gases, incentivize renewable energy, protect habitat, restore ecosystems, curb pollution, halt defaunation, and constrain invasive alien species, humanity is not taking the urgent steps needed to safeguard our imperiled biosphere," they write.

Among the steps that could be taken to prevent catastrophe are promoting plant-based diets; reducing wealth inequality, stopping conversions of forests and grasslands; government interventions to rein in biodiversity loss via poaching and illicit trade; and "massively adopting renewable energy sources" while phasing out fossil fuel subsidies.

Taking such actions, they conclude, are necessary to avert "widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss."

"Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. "

The goal of the paper, said Ripple, is to "ignite a wide-spread public debate about the global environment and climate." 

Categories: Latest News

Meet the South's History-Making Winners in This Year's Elections

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 21:00
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A year ago this week, US voters elected to the presidency Donald Trump, a man who has trafficked in white nationalism and other forms of bigotry. And they did it with the help of an Electoral College that traces its roots back to the defense of slavery.

But a dramatic political swing like that -- from the first African-American president to one who writer Ta-Nehisi Coates has called America's "first white president" -- often results in the pendulum swinging hard in the other direction.

And that's what we witnessed in last week's off-year election, with a wave of wins for progressives in state and local races across the nation. That wave also brought historic victories for people of color and LGBT candidates across the South.

Here are some of the candidates whose wins this week will go down in the history books:

Dawn Adams

Adams became the first out lesbian elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. A political newcomer from Richmond, the Democrat defeated five-term GOP incumbent George M. "Manoli" Loupassi and has pledged to prioritize the issues she heard about from voters while canvassing: economic growth, education, health care, and protecting the environment. Her win was part of a blue wave that's put control of the chamber, which currently has a 66-44 GOP majority, up in the air.

Hala Ayala and Elizabeth Guzman

Ayala and Guzman, both Democrats from Virginia's Prince William County, became the first Latinas ever elected to the state's House of Delegates.

A women's rights advocate, Ayala is the former president of the Prince William County chapter of the National Organization for Women and helped organize buses to the historic Women's March in January. She has channeled her own experiences as a single mother and Medicaid beneficiary, vowing to protect the health care program for the poor and disabled. She beat four-term incumbent Republican Rick Anderson with 53 percent of the vote.

Guzman, who was backed by Bernie Sanders' "Our Revolution," supports expanding Medicaid and early childhood education programs and creating stronger support systems for veterans. She defeated eight-term incumbent Republican Lee Scott Lingamfelter.

Brendan Barber

Barber became the first African American elected to serve as mayor of Georgetown, South Carolina, a majority-Black city of 9,000 people and the state's second-largest seaport. A Democrat who had served on city council for 20 years, Barber defeated fellow council member Ron Charlton, a Republican. Barber wants to find federal funding to clean up the land around the city's idle steel mill and to address flooding problems.

Booker Gainor

Just 27 years old, Gainor was elected as the first African-American mayor of Cairo, Georgia, a majority-Black city of 9,600 people in the southwestern corner of the state. After getting his start in community service by hosting back-to-school events, he ran to serve as a voice for the underserved and described his election as "a victory for the city, not me."

Stephe Koontz

Koontz became Georgia's first openly transgender elected official when she won a council seat in Doraville, a city of 8,300 people in DeKalb County northeast of Atlanta, beating opponent Lee Flier by just six votes. The recently retired owner and manager of several auto repair shops, Koontz serves as a director for the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta and as lieutenant governor for the North Atlanta Division of Kiwanis service clubs. Her campaign emphasized local issues like potholes and code enforcement.

Vi Lyles

Lyles was elected as the first African-American woman mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, this week. The current mayor pro tem, she defeated incumbent Mayor Jennifer Roberts in the Democratic primary earlier this year and went on to beat Republican city council member Kenny Smith by a margin of 59 to 41. Her campaign focused on building a "city of opportunity and inclusiveness," and she has pledged to create good-paying jobs and more affordable housing.

Jonathan McCollar

McCollar became the first African American elected to serve as mayor of Statesboro, a city of 28,000 in southeastern Georgia. The Democrat defeated incumbent Jan Moore, the first woman elected to the position. With a platform of "People Over Politics," McCollar wants to decrease poverty and crime in the city, which serves as a regional economic hub.

Mary Parham-Copelan

Parham-Copelan became the first African-American woman elected to serve as mayor of Milledgeville, Georgia, a city of 18,000 about 30 miles northeast of Macon. She defeated incumbent Mayor Gary Thrower by just five votes. A political newcomer, Parham-Copelan says she ran because residents wanted a change.

Danica Roem

Elected this week to the Virginia House of Delegates, the Manassas resident is set to become the first openly transgender person elected to serve in a US statehouse. A Democrat and former journalist, Roem defeated 25-year incumbent Republican Bob Marshall, who describes himself as "Virginia's chief homophobe" and authored a trans-discriminatory bathroom bill. Though the key issue in the election was supposed to be transportation improvements, Roem's gender identity took center stage when Marshall refused to debate her and referred to her using male pronouns.

Kathy Tran

Tran became the first Asian American elected to the Virginia House of Delegates and the first Vietnamese-American elected at any level in the state. The West Springfield resident defeated Republican Lolita Mancheno-Smoak in the race to represent Northern Virginia's 42nd House District, capturing 61 percent of the vote.

Tran was an infant when she arrived in the US as a refugee from Vietnam. She never thought she would seek political office, but she said the election of Trump and the birth of her fourth child, Ellis -- named for Ellis Island -- made her realize that the basic American values of hope, opportunity, and freedom were under attack. So she decided to run as a form of resistance.

Categories: Latest News

Poverty Is Largely Invisible Among College Students

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 21:00
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The first time I met an undergraduate who hadn't eaten in two days, I was stunned. The first time I spent the afternoon with a homeless college junior, I cried for most of the night. Now, after a decade of research on food and housing insecurity among college students, I'm just numb.

I teach at an urban public university -- a "Research 1," top-of-the-Carnegie-rankings institution. I'm not one of Philadelphia's school teachers; I'm a professor with just one class to teach each term and a big research budget. But those trappings of prestige no longer shield me from the realities of poverty in our city, and more importantly, they don't help my students.

Since 2008, my team's research on how students finance college has revealed that the main barrier to degree completion isn't tuition; it's having a place to sleep and enough food to eat. The best estimates suggest that food insecurity affects as many as 1 in 2 college students -- much higher than the rate in the general population. Just as many struggle with housing insecurity, and a significant number (14 percent at community colleges) are homeless.

This is a largely invisible problem. Stereotypes of Ramen-noodle diets and couch-surfing partiers prevent us from seeing it. They trick us into thinking that food insecurity is a rite of passage, that hunger and even homelessness among our students is normal. But it is time to admit that we have a serious problem in higher education.

Some campuses have begun implementing small reforms to address food insecurity. The College and University Food Bank Alliance has more than 525 members from coast to coast, with food pantries housed at community colleges and universities, public and private. This is a stunning increase, since in 2012 there were just over 10. That provides emergency assistance to the students who are lucky enough to know about them, though what they actually stock varies. Sometimes there are fresh fruits and vegetables, but usually there are cans and bags, some bread, and the occasional bottle of shampoo or body wash.

In some cases, colleges are moving beyond food pantries. Just over two dozen schools operate a program known as Swipe Out Hunger, which reallocates unused dollars on meal plans to students who need them. Homegrown efforts such as Single Stop are helping students apply for SNAP, and some institutions are beginning to acceptEBT on campus. In Houston, the local food bank is offering "food scholarships" to community college students, proactively providing groceries rather than waiting for emergencies to occur. There are food recovery networks, nutrition programs, and educational activities like Challah for Hunger, where students gather to break bread and learn about poverty. These efforts are entry points to systemic change, and they make it possible to envision a time in which the National School Lunch Program operates on all campuses, providing breakfast and lunch to every student who needs it.

Stereotypes of Ramen-noodle diets and couch-surfing partiers prevent us from seeing it.

But when it comes to housing, things don't look so good. When colleges and universities think about housing, they see dollar signs to be gained from residence halls catering to wealthy and international students, rather than opportunities to facilitate affordable living. Given massive state disinvestment throughout the country, it is hard to blame the public institutions. But it means that a growing number of students are being left out in the cold.

Students who struggle to pay rent are at risk of eviction, like so many other low-income adults around the country. Those who seek out shelters find the same overcrowded and sometimes dangerous conditions that have long plagued those temporary accommodations, and students often miss out on beds because the lines form while they are still in class. Even young people who grew up in public housing can lose their housing when they enroll in college if their local housing authority deprioritizes full-time undergraduates.

The financial aid system contributes to these problems. Consider a 23-year-old adult living on the streets, estranged from two middle-class parents because he is queer. Under federal law, his parents' income is used to determine his financial aid, even though he lacks access to those resources. His only hope of disregarding their income and qualifying for more support is to endure a "special circumstances" process that requires documentation verifying that he is homeless, which can be challenging if he was not homeless in high school and is not in the shelter system. In 2015-16, nearly 32,000 college students completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) verification process and were officially deemed homeless for financial aid purposes. However, more than 150,000 students indicated that they were homeless on an initial filtering question, but could not complete the necessary documentation process.

The oversight of the very real housing and food needs of undergraduates is hypocritical given the intense pressure we place on people today to complete college degrees. It is very difficult to complete anything -- whether it is a vocational training program for a welding certificate, an associate's degree in nursing, or an engineering program -- without first having your basic needs met.

I am trying, in my own way, to do what I can. Last year, I created the FAST Fund to provide students with cash, quickly, when it is needed. And I added a statement to my syllabus that will remain there indefinitely:

Any student who has difficulty affording groceries or accessing sufficient food to eat every day or who lacks a safe and stable place to live, and believes this may affect their performance in the course, is urged to contact the CARE Team in the Dean of Students Office for support. Furthermore, please notify me if you are comfortable in doing so. This will enable me to provide any other resources that I may possess.

It is but a start, meant to help establish a culture of care in my classroom, one that I hope can be transmitted and reflected throughout the university. We can and must go further. Every college and university must help its students connect to every public benefits program for which they are eligible. That support, coupled with emergency cash assistance, can help shield students from hunger and help them keep a roof over their heads. Colleges should also pursue external partnerships with local food banks, housing authorities, and homeless shelters. And most of all, higher education has a responsibility to tackle poverty among its students in a data-driven way that acknowledges that students without resources do not lack talent, drive, or intellect. They simply need access to the same sorts of supports that students from families with money enjoy every day.

Talk about social mobility is all the rage in higher education right now. But let's get real: College is a great route out of poverty, but for that path to work students must escape the conditions of poverty long enough to complete their degrees.

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Why We Need to Confront the "Billionaires' Paradise"

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 21:00

The concentrated wealth of the global plutocracy is the dark matter of the world economy: it is rarely glimpsed and difficult to measure, yet it reshapes everything around it. Two recent reports reveal ways corporations and the ultra-wealthy avoid taxes. In doing so, they offer a glimpse into this darkness. It's time to "strike back" -- not against wealthy individuals, but against oligarchy itself.

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The concentrated wealth of the global plutocracy is the dark matter of the world economy: it is rarely glimpsed and difficult to measure, yet it reshapes everything around it.

Two recent reports -- the UBS/PwC report on the "new Gilded Age" of the international billionaire class, and the "Paradise Papers"  released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) reveal ways corporations and the ultra-wealthy avoid taxes. In doing so, they offer a glimpse into this darkness.

Together, these releases tell us a lot about the wealthy few who run the world.

We now know that the British royal family has been less than open with the people they rule, who preserve their dubious privilege to monarchy. And we have learned that, by investing in a Lithuanian shopping center as an end run around taxes, U2's Bono may have finally found what he's looking for.

But these reports also help us see how much we still don't know about the powerful few. In an era when, according to the Institute for Policy Studies, only three Americans  -- Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett -- own more wealth than half of our entire population, we need to do more to understand  -- and confront -- the super-concentration of resources.

Billionaire Boom

The Swiss bank UBS and the American accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers weren't looking to write an exposé when they prepared their annual "Billionaires Insights" report for 2017.  On the contrary. So-called "very high net worth individuals" are the financial industry's most sought-after clients.  The report is entitled, without any apparent irony, "New value creators gain momentum."

And gain momentum these billionaires did.  As the report notes, "Globally, the total wealth of billionaires rose by +17% in 2016, up from USD $5.1 trillion to USD6.0 trillion."

Did your net worth grow by 17 percent last year?  Unless you're one of the world's 1,542 billionaires, chances are it didn't.

The US Wealth Gap

In the United States, wealth for most households grew at a much slower rate, while racial disparities in wealth persist in middle-class households.

Analyses from economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman show a dramatic gain in income for the very wealthy -- and no one else -- in recent decades. In a useful explainer, David Leonhardt of the New York Times concluded:

Yes, the upper-middle class has done better than the middle class or the poor, but the huge gaps are between the super-rich and everyone else. The basic problem is that most families used to receive something approaching their fair share of economic growth, and they don't anymore.

Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve reports that millions of Americans continue to struggle.  30 percent of adults, roughly 73 million people, are finding it difficult to make ends meet or are barely getting by. Just under one fourth of all adults said they could not pay all their bills for the current month. 44 percent said they could not cover an emergency expense of $400, and one fourth of all adults reported that they had to forgo medical treatment during the past year because of the cost.

A Second Gilded Age

As of last report, America's ten wealthiest men -- they are all men -- are collectively worth more than $633 billion. The combined wealth of these 10 men has risen by nearly $116 billion since the start of this year alone.

The explosive growth of billionaire wealth, at a time when the middle class is dying and millions of Americans are struggling, has implications for democracy as well as the economy.

The work of political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page has shown that the preferences of the majority have very little effect on government policy, while the political wishes of the wealthy few are far more likely to become reality.

As history teaches us, centralized wealth often leads to political oligarchy. Our country is no exception. Expand this oligarchical effect across the globe, and you get a sense of the global reach of the billionaire class. As Oxfam international reported earlier this year, just eight men possesses as much of the world's wealth as half the global population.

The author of the UBS/PwC report commented that "We are now two years into the peak of the second Gilded Age," with levels of inequality not seen since 1905. He also says that "this is something billionaires are concerned about," leading to fears that the world's population could "strike back."

It's a rational fear.

How They Hide

The report lists some of the ways the billionaire class spends its money. Art collections, sports clubs, and philanthropy all rate a mention. Recent political events in the US demonstrate that they're also using their power to further enrich themselves and keep the majority from "striking back."

One thing the wealthy are apparently not doing with their money is paying much in taxes. The ICIJ's Panama Papers revealed that many people are using illegal means to avoiding taxation.

The Paradise Papers reveal something equally important: how billionaires and corporations can evade taxation -- and public scrutiny of their wealth -- through legal means. These documents were obtained from Appleby, one of the world's leading law firms specializing in offshore accounts.

The New York Times recently profiled two billionaire political donors, one Democratic and one Republican, in an article about the papers that also cited an Appleby publication on the ultra-wealthy's problem of "motivating children with means."

The Appleby brochure includes the picture of a small boy in a three-piece suit; apparently that counts as cute to the super-rich. Another handout shows "a handsome couple" rushing to board a private jet, while another is captioned "wealth seeks out safe harbours."

Appleby's Clients

Appleby clients include prominent Democrats like Penny Pritzker, Commerce Secretary under President Obama, George Soros, and the aforementioned donor, James Simons. They also include prominent Republicans like Sheldon Adelson, Carl Icahn, and billionaire Robert Mercer, who used some of the money he saved avoiding taxes to set Steve Bannon up with a media empire.

When it comes to disseminating their ideas, it's striking how many hard-core conservatives don't trust the "free market" to get the job done.

Sen. Bernie Sanders has called for an investigation into the papers, noting that corporations such as Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Apple, and Nike are implicated in the documents.

Offshore havens do more than just help clients evade taxes. They also help them avoid responsibility. As the Times reports, "another offshore firm… advertises that it helps clients 'preserve wealth from the ravages of litigation, political tumult and divorce.'"

The Frontman

Pop stars also availed themselves of Appleby's services, including the aforementioned Bono, who took advantage of Malta's generous tax rates for foreign investors when he funneled money into that Lithuanian shopping center.

But then, the self-satisfied singer has a long history of giving high-minded speeches while failing to deliver for the poor, either personally or politically.

In his book The Frontman, author Harry Browne writes that Bono's politics are "broadly … conservative" and can be seen as "fundamentally non-threatening to the elites that have wreaked havoc on the world." To Browne, Bono is "a slick mix of traditional missionary and commercial colonialism, in which the poor world exists as a task for the rich world to complete."

A Veneer of Conscience

In an oligarchical world, figures like Bono matter. They provide the singer's "friends," who range from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to Jesse Helms, with a veneer of conscience. They inoculate members of the global elite from the guilt that is rightfully theirs.

Speaking of "frontmen": the papers also show that Britain's Prince Charles invested millions of pounds offshore. His estate insisted that the investment, which may have indirectly benefited from the prince's environmental campaigns, be kept secret. The Queen also invested heavily in offshore companies, including one that has been criticized for exploiting poor families.

The Royals insisted that they obtain no tax advantage from these investments, which suggests that the public face of Britain's government may well have been trying to hide its wealth from Britain's people.

The Network

The authors of the UBS report probably didn't intend these words to sound as ominous as they do:

Billionaires are leveraging their networks. They have always worked with groups of peers for business, investment and philanthropic ends. But they are using them more, for example to access significant funding outside the capital markets. Better connectivity is helping them to work together more effectively.

They are undoubtedly correct.  Americans need look no further then Donald Trump's cabinet and circle of advisers, where billionaires gather to plot everyone else's future while the rest of the Republican Party dutifully falls in line. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and Chief Economic Advisor Gary Cohn were among those implicated by the Paradise Papers.

The effect of billionaire "networks" may also be found in the Democratic Party's struggle to develop a platform that reflects the needs of working Americans without alienating very many high-net-worth donors. Hint: It can't be done.

The Response

Concentrated wealth tends to be amoral, and the ultra-wealthy are growing more powerful all the time.  And since small businesses usually can't afford the services of firms like Appleby, legalized tax evasion increases inequality among both individuals and businesses.

How can the United States and the world respond before it's too late? Economists like Piketty and Zucman have called for a global wealth tax, although that would be difficult to enforce.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) argued that taxes on the western world's 1 percent should be "significantly higher." The Paradise Papers illustrate the importance of ending legalized tax evasion, and Zucman wrote an op-ed on the topic for the New York Times.

But it is hard to pass such measures in today's political world. Here in the United States, there's a strong chance Trump and Congress will cut taxes on billionaires and corporations instead. That's what that happens when wealth becomes too concentrated and political power follows suit.

What We're Looking for

The undemocratic and unequal state of our own country can no longer be hidden. These reports are informative, but so far we've only glimpsed the oligarchy's reach and power.

This concentration of power must be investigated, and then it must be confronted -- by a majority determined to take back the economy and democracy from the powerful few who have made it their plaything, before it's too late.

It's time to "strike back" -- not against wealthy individuals, but against oligarchy itself.

Categories: Latest News

Indigenous Activists Disrupt California Gov. Jerry Brown's Speech at COP23, Demand Statewide Frack Ban

Sun, 11/12/2017 - 21:00

Democracy Now! broadcasts live from the UN climate summit in Bonn, Germany, where representatives from nearly 200 nations have gathered for negotiations aimed at bolstering the landmark 2015 Paris climate accord. This year's climate change conference comes after President Trump has vowed to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord, but there are still a number of US delegations in Bonn. One is a coalition of US lawmakers, universities, companies and faith groups that is staging an anti-Trump revolt by rejecting Trump's action and declaring, "We are still in." On Saturday, a group of protesters, many of whom were Native American, disrupted California Governor Jerry Brown's speech at Bonn, calling on California to ban fracking, yelling, "Keep it in the ground!"


AMY GOODMAN: Yes, we are broadcasting live from the UN climate summit in Bonn, Germany, where representatives from nearly 200 nations have gathered for negotiations aimed at bolstering the landmark 2015 Paris climate accord. This year, Fiji has made history by becoming the first small island nation to preside over the UN climate summit. The event itself is being held in Bonn because of the logistical challenges of hosting 25,000 people in Fiji at the start of the South Pacific cyclone season. But it's still being called the "Island COP."

Climate change poses a particularly devastating threat to low-lying island nations like Fiji. A new report says Fiji would have to spend four-and-a-half billion dollars over the next decade to adapt to climate change -- a sum equivalent to its entire annual gross domestic product. Meanwhile, a new report released today shows climate change threatens one in four natural World Heritage sites, from the Florida Everglades to Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

This year's climate change conference comes after President Trump has vowed to pull the United States out of the landmark 2015 Paris climate accord. Last week in Bonn, Syria signed on to the Paris deal, meaning that if President Trump fulfills his vow to pull the US out of the deal, the United States would become the only nation on Earth that is not a party to the agreement.

There are, in fact, a number of US delegations here in Bonn, though. One is a coalition of US lawmakers, universities, companies and faith groups that are staging an anti-Trump revolt by rejecting Trump's action and declaring "We are Still In."

Well, on Saturday, a group of protesters, many of whom were Native American, disrupted California Governor Jerry Brown's speech here in Bonn, calling on California to ban fracking. The protesters yelled "Keep it in the ground!"

PROTESTERS: California's fracking spreads pollution!

GOV. JERRY BROWN: Yeah, I wish -- I wish we could have no pollution, but we have to have our automobiles.

PROTESTERS: In the ground!

GOV. JERRY BROWN: In the ground.

PROTESTERS: In the ground!

GOV. JERRY BROWN: I agree with you. In the ground. Let's put you in the ground so we can get on with the show here. Anyway --

AMY GOODMAN: That's California Governor Jerry Brown Saturday saying, "Let's put you in the ground." Well, I questioned Governor Brown about his comments, just before we went to broadcast today.

AMY GOODMAN: On Saturday, a group of protesters, mainly Native American --


AMY GOODMAN:  -- disrupted your event and called for a ban on fracking.

GOV. JERRY BROWN: No, they called for a ban on all oil production.

AMY GOODMAN: So they said, "Keep" --

GOV. JERRY BROWN: All oil production.

AMY GOODMAN: So they said, "Keep it in the ground."


AMY GOODMAN: And you responded by saying, "Let's put you in the ground."


AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what you meant?

GOV. JERRY BROWN: That was a joke. Now, Amy, don't use your media outlet for this kind of silliness. That was an ironic remark in the face of a noisy demonstration when it's very hard to even hear, much less keep your thought there. And --

AMY GOODMAN: But it was Native Americans, and they took it very seriously. Do you --

GOV. JERRY BROWN: Look, no one has been more --

AMY GOODMAN: Do you apologize for that comment?

GOV. JERRY BROWN: No. Come on, you know that, in California, we have the strongest Native American policy of any state in the country. And we have the most environmental, and we have toughest rules on oil. I don't think we should shut down oil in California and then take it from Venezuela or take it from places where the rules are even worse. We have to stop the cars. We have to get electric. We have to get public transportation. We need better land use. We've got to solve the problem. And I understand, because we deal with protest all the time. But California, we are cutting our oil consumption. We're cutting our greenhouse gases. That's what we have to do, not just a slogan or a march around or talk talk. I'm talking about reality. And California has the strongest oil reduction rules in America. We're the ones -- we're the leader. If someone wants to say, "Oh, get rid of oil," you mean get rid of our cars. If you got rid of cars, you would have a revolution, and there would be shooting in the streets.

AMY GOODMAN: They were --

GOV. JERRY BROWN: No one is serious about it.

AMY GOODMAN: They were calling on a ban on fracking, like New York and Maryland.

GOV. JERRY BROWN: No, they were calling on a banning of all oil production.

AMY GOODMAN: But also fracking. What is your approach to that?

GOV. JERRY BROWN: My answer is: I don't think it makes sense to import oil by train. It's very dangerous. And people who say, "Hey, don't take oil out of your ground. Bring it by train or by boat," that's far more dangerous. The answer is stop using oil in cars, in trucks. You need a renewable vehicle grid. That's the answer. And I think to say anything else is not intellectually honest and is not helpful.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you considering a ban on fracking?

HANDLER: OK, we're actually moving. Thank you. Let's go.

GOV. JERRY BROWN: We're considering a ban on oil over the next 25 years. We're reducing it. That's pure rhetoric. Pure rhetoric. What are you going to do if you're --

AMY GOODMAN: New York and Maryland did it.

HANDLER: You know, we've got to go. We've got to get going.

GOV. JERRY BROWN: Yeah, because they don't have the same situation. Pennsylvania didn't do it. It's -- this is just kind of a little left-wing routine here.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I don't -- I don't think fracking is.

HANDLER: Let's go.


AMY GOODMAN: Fracking is a very serious issue, as you know.

GOV. JERRY BROWN: Fracking is very serious. And horizontal fracking is very dangerous and uses 10 times the water. And in California, it's a very small part. What I'm talking about, we'd like to get rid of all oil drilling. But we have to do it in a systematic way, reducing the demand and not just the supply, because if we don't reduce the demand, we'll get the supply by boat and by train, and that is really dangerous to human beings. People die from the training of -- bringing in of oil. So that's the honest truth. I don't know whether that is something you're going to want to deal with, but I'm telling you the way it is.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was California Governor Jerry Brown.

Categories: Latest News

COP23: Activists From Puerto Rico to Island Nations Demand Climate Reparations, End to Fossil Fuels

Sun, 11/12/2017 - 21:00

At the UN climate summit in Bonn, Germany, Democracy Now! was there when thousands of people took to the streets Saturday for a march to demand an end to fossil fuel extraction, and some also called for climate reparations.


AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, on Saturday afternoon here in Bonn, thousands of people took to the streets for a rally and march to demand an end to fossil fuel extraction. These are some of their voices.

CARLOTTA GROHMANN: Hi. My name is Carlotta Grohmann. I am from the Bonn Youth Movement. And we are here today because we think that climate change, that environmental pollution, is not just one cause. It's not just the carbon emissions. It's not just coal. It's everything. It's nuclear power. It's the way that we are putting war all over the planet and destroying it. It's the way that our economic system is working for the profit of few.

KATIA AVILÉS-VÁZQUEZ: My name is Katia Avilés-Vázquez. I came from Puerto Rico to be here in Bonn. Part of the reason I'm here is we, the Caribbean, just got hit with two major-force hurricanes, and we had unusually high activity of hurricanes, particularly part of the effects of increased temperature due to climate change. And while we're living and struggling through the effects of climate change, the decisions that are causing it are being made here.

And I'm hoping, by being here, we can kind of highlight the struggles that we're going through, what climate change is doing in the now. This is not something to prepare for in the future. We're living it, we're suffering, we're dying at this moment. We have lost power. We lost communications. We lost potable drinking water. And our economy is collapsing due to that.

So we need just -- we need climate reparations. One of the things that we're demanding, ending the Jones Act, ending the colonial rule and PROMESA. We want to be able to work, trade and heal with our Caribbean sister islands, like they have offered to help, but the US has told them no. And we want to make sure that we transition into renewables, not just rebuilding the Puerto Rico of old that replicates the oppression that led us to being in such vulnerable positions.

AMY GOODMAN: Just as we flew here from the United States, we saw whatever power was restored to San Juan. When we were in San Juan, there was some pockets of electricity, that, once again, San Juan has been plunged into darkness. That's just in San Juan, which is the most --


AMY GOODMAN:  -- successful in returning electricity.

KATIA AVILÉS-VÁZQUEZ: Correct. That's actually been one of the most painful things about being here, is seeing that whatever little progress was made, we set up, a couple steps back. And it's important to highlight that that was the one line that Whitefish fixed and that Whitefish got that contract because their owner or someone has stocks, that's a Trump donor. So, again, it highlights the need to -- for whatever transition we demand needs to be just, and it needs to correct past oppressions, and it needs to be towards renewable, not just fixing an old and decaying infrastructure.

The other thing that happened while we were here -- just today it came out -- that FEMA is going to relocate at least 3,000 Puerto Ricans out of Puerto Rico, when we have so much housing that's available and that's apt to have humans. They're moving our people out systematically. And now it's -- the gentrification that was already happening due to Law 2022 is now being officialized by the US government, and that's just completely unacceptable.

MONICA ATKINS: My name is Monica Atkins, and I am here representing Cooperation Jackson in Mississippi, as well as the Climate Justice Alliance. And I'm here to stand in solidarity with the communities of color, indigenous people, whose land are being polluted, whose waters are being polluted and whose land is being taken over. So we're just here standing in solidarity and showing support.

CHIEF NINAWA HUNI KUI: [translated] My name is Chief Ninawa. I am from Acre, Brazil, with the Huni Kui people. I came to bring a message from the forest to this climate conference. This message is of life, love, peace and hope. We believe that nature should not be commercialized for big capital. We came here to demand respect for human beings, for the water, for the forest and everything that depends on the forest.

MIRIAN CISNEROS: [translated] My name is Mirian Cisneros. I'm the president of Sarayaku and Kichwa people in the Ecuadorean Amazon. I'm here because the indigenous people around the world are affected by climate change. And we came with a proposal, the Living Forest proposal, to advance this call for the living forest, but also to join forces and gain solidarity from other people, other movements, so that we can unite and be in this fight together.

DARIO KOPPENBERGER: I'm Dario Koppenberger, and I'm from Wiesbaden in Germany. [translated] It's become evident, from what we've seen at the world climate conference that is in progress here, that the climate targets that they had established are not sufficient. At the same time, it is clear that they are not truly willing to carry them out anyway. I believe that there is enough wealth in the world to be able to accommodate both our concerns for the environment as well as job security for workers. In other words, there need not be starvation or unemployment, because there is enough work in the world, and it is more a question of how to spread it around among all. We need the environment. We cannot exist without it. Therefore, the question is simple for me. It is that capitalism lies at the basis of our problems and that we critically need groundbreaking alternatives to it.

AMY GOODMAN: Voices from the streets of Bonn, Germany, here on Saturday.

When we come back, we'll look at President Trump's meeting with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte in Manila and the threats climate change poses to the Philippines and other island nations, like the host of the Bonn summit. It's called the "Island COP." We'll talk with a climate warrior from Fiji. Stay with us.

Categories: Latest News