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Updated: 1 hour 43 min ago

The US Southern Command's Silent Occupation of the Amazon

Thu, 11/09/2017 - 06:01

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, thanks a Brazilian soldier for assisting with his tour of the jungle training center in Manaus, Brazil, on March 28, 2012. Dempsey was there to visit the jungle training center which borders several different countries in the Amazon Basin. (DOD photo by US Army Staff Sgt. Sun L. Vega, Joint Staff)

The US is conducting joint military exercises on Indigenous territories in the Amazon under the pretext of training local troops to deliver emergency humanitarian aid. However, local activists are warning that the operation is nothing more than a strategic move to gain access to natural resources on Indigenous land and bolster US hegemony in the region.


Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, thanks a Brazilian soldier for assisting with his tour of the jungle training center in Manaus, Brazil, on March 28, 2012. Dempsey was there to visit the jungle training center which borders several different countries in the Amazon Basin. (DOD photo by US Army Staff Sgt. Sun L. Vega, Joint Staff)

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Brazil, Colombia and Peru share a triple borderland separating north from south on the South American continent. Located deep in the Amazon forest, this is the theater of operations in which more than 30 military companies test their services and merchandise. The multinational military exercise known as AmazonLog2017, is organized by the Armed Forces of Brazil. More than 1,500 members of the Brazilian military and military members from invited countries participated with high-caliber weapons and munitions, boats, aircraft, helicopters, information technologies, nautical and energy intelligent equipment, radars and sensors. The Southern Command of the United States -- the Unified Combatant Command of the United States Department of Defense with influence in the Caribbean, Central and South America -- is also an AmazonLog2017 participant.

Activists and researchers are alarmed about this military exercise. According to Mexican economist and geopolitical specialist Ana Esther Ceceña, AmazonLog2017 allows "the placement of troops that facilitate specific territorial incursions and rapid response operations, both of which imply the use of special forces, whether those be US forces, local or private on the triple borderland."

While the exercise involves temporary military drills, many fear that it welcomes larger future operations. According to Ceceña, AmazonLog2017 creates the conditions to allow future military operations of US troops, specifically in two strategic areas: the lower part of Venezuela and along the Atlantic coast, where Brazil will allow the US access to the Alcȃntara military base.

The AmazonLog2017 military actions were planned in three phases. The first, the industry's commercial phase, occurred between August 28 and September 1, 2017, in Manaus, the capital of the state of Amazonas. Two thousand personnel participated in this event, which was comprised of military, government agencies and arms industry corporations.

Between September 26-28, the second phase took place, focusing on ground operations organization. This phase consisted of the Humanitarian Logistics Symposium in conjunction with the Military Employee Materials Exposition and preparatory activities for the triple borderland military drills.

In the third, most important phase, the businesses will exhibit and test their products in jungle-based tactical humanitarian and war drills along the triple borderland with the Multinational Logistics Drill. This phase is scheduled for November 6-13, 2017. More than 1,500 people are expected to participate, including military personnel and arms industry agencies from Brazil, the US and other countries.

"This exercise will bring a series of improvements in the logistics of the western Amazon [...] we are developing a humanitarian aid doctrine of exchange between neighboring countries of interoperability between armed forces and civil agencies," said Theophilo Gaspar de Oliveira, general of the Brazilian Army. He is responsible for the logistical command of AmazonLog2017 and recently headed the negotiations between Brazil and the United States for the acquisition of four C-23 Sherpa aircraft in July 2017.

In order to concentrate the logistical teams, the Brazilian government created conditions for mounting a provisional logistical base in the Tabatinga Municipality in the Amazon State. There, armed forces were concentrated from 16 countries, including Germany, Canada, Chile, the United Kingdom, Japan and Israel, as well as observers from the Inter-American Defense Board, the Conference of American Armies and the Council of South American Defense.

Authorities Tout Aid While Laying Groundwork for Exploitation

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey and Army Col. Sam Prugh, Defense Attaché, listen to a staff member explain what members at the jungle training center learn in the classroom in Manaus, Brazil, on March 28, 2012. (DOD photo by US Army Staff Sgt. Sun L. Vega, Joint Staff)

Despite its military nature and origins, much of the publicity around the AmazonLog2017 exercises has centered on hypothetical benefits for civilians. In a press conference, General Racine Lima, the coordinator of AmazonLog2017, argued that the army would be focused principally on training to support peace operations and humanitarian aid. Lima mentioned that the upcoming exercises would also support the creation of the Tabatinga Integrated Multinational Logistics Base, which will serve as the provisional base during the military exercises.

AmazonLog2017 organizers took advantage of the military exercise to make infrastructure improvements that permit massive troop movements in remote Amazon locations. Smart energy grids, communication, water purification systems have been installed as well. For example, as part of these drill preparations, $15.8 million was invested in the micro-region of Río Alto Solimões, in the Brazilian state of Amazonas, to create docking terminals.

Behind the humanitarian discourse, it appears that the organizers of AmazonLog2017 chose the theater of operations for this multinational military exercise very strategically, to pursue natural resource extraction that threatens the territories of more than 300 Indigenous communities.

"As Pueblos of the Colombian Amazon, we do not have information about this exercise," said Álvaro Piranga Cruz, a communication adviser for the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia. "But we do know that there are vested interests in all of the Amazon. Interests of petroleum, mining and carbon-trading-based megaprojects. They come to deceive our Pueblos with environmental conservation projects, and we do not know [what] this implies. For example, there are mining agencies that are conducting seismic studies in our territories without anyone's consent."

According to a 2012 report from the Amazonian Network of Georeferenced Socio-Environmental Information, within the larger Amazon region, there are more than 327 plots of land designated for petroleum extraction, comprising 14 percent of the land in the Amazon.

The report notes that the Amazon countries most affected by petroleum extraction are Peru, Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador and further notes that "The mining zones occupy, today, 15% of Natural Protected Areas and 19% of indigenous territories in the Amazon."

"To the Colombian national government, the reality that the Indigenous Pueblos of Colombia live ... is completely unknown," said Piranga Cruz. "There is a law about the Indigenous Pueblos, but in practice, it does not work. For example, Indigenous Pueblos in the Northern Amazon are demanding that these territories be titled as Indigenous territory and the government is not responding to these needs, but it is responding to the needs of megaprojects and smashing our rights."

In February 2017 the Peruvian government announced the Peru-Petro reform based on the three pillars of new contracting models, incentive structures and a national hydrocarbon plan. "This triple strategy seeks to attract investment in both the exploration and exploitation phases of petroleum developments," said Alvaro Ríos, the managing partner of the consulting firm Gas Energy Latin America. "The principal corporate investors are Shell, Chevron, Total and the China National Petroleum Corporation," noted Ríos. 

But not everyone in Peru is seeing the benefits promised by the industry. "Petroleum activity has not brought us development; on the contrary, our lands and territory are contaminated and our subsistence resources are as well," argue the Peruvian Quechua, Achuar and Kichwa Pueblos in an October 2017 press release made by Pueblo traditional leaders. These groups have indicated their intent to maintain resistance against oil-based extractivism in the region.

Indigenous Territories in Danger

Exhibition of Military Employment Material and preparatory activities for the military exercise in the triple border. September 26 to 28, 2017. (Photo: Avispa Midia)

The Amazon region is composed of 7.4 million square kilometers and inhabited by 33 million people, including 385 Indigenous Pueblos of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Some of these groups have been living in isolation, meaning that for generations, they have maintained themselves deep within the Amazon forest without any outside contact. These areas have been considered inaccessible until now and are of great interest to the Brazilian military.

The Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI, from its Portuguese acronym) documented the murder of at least 118 Indigenous persons in 2016 and 137 in 2015.

According to data from a 2016 CIMI report, the greatest number of victims lived in the Brazilian Amazon state of Roraima, where there were more than 100 murders of primarily Yanomami Indigenous persons between 2015 through the beginning of 2017.

The governmental organization representing the rights of Indigenous peoples in Brazil, the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI, from its Portuguese acronym), has been a participant in the events of AmazonLog2017. This may seem odd; however, it is less odd when one considers that Franklimberg Ribeiro de Freitas, the current head of FUNAI, previously served as the adviser on institutional relations in the Amazon Military Command.

Truthout reached out to FUNAI to clarify its role within AmazonLog2017 and the vulnerability of Indigenous peoples in the region, but FUNAI did not respond to comment at the time of publication.

The Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources and the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation participated in the events of AmazonLog2017, serving as mediators between the government and corporations in order to foster the development and incursion of megaprojects in Indigenous territories.

Military Agreement With the United States

Transportation of the Guarani armored tanks for the military exercise. (Photo: Avispa Midia)

As Brazilian society is experiencing economic and political crises, the international military industry is taking advantage of the context of upheaval to test its equipment. Amazonlog2017 is a product of the arms industry and of powerful governments beyond Brazil, particularly the United States.

In 2016, the Brazilian Army signed an exchange agreement with the United States military. This agreement involves cooperation between US ground troops in joint maneuvers in 2017 and 2020. The two armies will end their activities in the United States at the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, Louisiana.

Lieutenant Colonel Alexandre Amorim de Andrade, head of the training division at the Jungle Warfare Training Center, affirmed that the US military had begun to train in the Amazon. "Beginning in 2016, there was a specific training focused exclusively on foreigners: The International Practice in Jungle Operations. Now this practice is called the International Seminar of Jungle Operations, and the United States and Peru have confirmed the participation of their military," said Amorim de Andrade.

Although Brazil has not declared war with another country for the last 100 years, its military has participated in UN peacekeeping operations. The current modernization program of the Brazilian Army is geared toward "non-conventional" warfare, including operations against "terrorism."

"Humanitarian Aid" in the South

Indigenous people from all over Brazil denounce invasions of agro-industrial companies on their ancestral lands. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

In 2010, after 30 years without an established military agreement, the US and Brazilian governments signed a military cooperation agreement, but the agreement did not authorize the use of bases or cession of rights of passage for US personnel. However, since President Michel Temer took office in 2016, the US has been given a wider berth in Brazil. The US Southern Command received the green light for more activities in Brazilian territory with the AmazonLog2017 exchange agreements and military exercises.

Before Temer took office, the groundwork was being laid for the Southern Command's presence in the region. In 2013, representatives from the US Embassy and the regional government of Tacna, Peru, inaugurated the Regional Emergency Operations Center. The US government provided $600,000 "to support the Center as part of the Department of Defense Southern Command Humanitarian Assistance Program," according to a press release from the US Embassy in Peru.

Representatives of Indigenous groups from the five regions of Brazil protest against Bill PEC 215. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

The US embassy noted that the Center was just one of the 15 Regional Emergency Operations Centers projected for Peru. The seven already-finished centers are located in Arequipa, Lambayeque, Pucallpa, Junín, Tacna, Tumbes and San Martín. Construction is also planned in Puno, Cuzco, de Huancavelica, La Libertad, Apurímac, Loreto, Ancash and Moquegua. In all, the US will provide more than $20 million for these projects, all part of the Southern Command Humanitarian Assistance Program.

"These Centers respond during times of natural disasters," according to the embassy's press release, and "they allow the integration of a complete range of public services required during an emergency, services like medical and public health services, police, firefighters, and military personnel." However, member organizations of the Campaña Continental América Latina y el Caribe, which promotes regional peace, declared in a press release that "behind these compounds financed by the Southern Command exists a process of regional occupation."

On February 20, 2013, the Southern Command announced it would be opening another Emergency Operations Center, this one in Santa Rosa del Aguaray, in the state of San Pedro, Paraguay. The announcement was made by the director of planning for the Southern Command, George Ballance, after a meeting with Bernardino Soto Estigarribia, Paraguay's defense minister,. These zones created by the Southern Command are in addition to the eight military bases already installed in Colombia.

For Marcelo Cero, a Brazilian sociologist and specialist in international relations, the objective of AmazonLog2017 is not simply to train troops to lead during humanitarian crises; it is to insert the Brazilian Armed Forces in the strategic orbit of the US, which has already taken steps to cooperate with Peru and Colombia. Furthermore, according to Cero, "The participating armies, without a doubt, will put pressure on Venezuela, a regime that opposes US interests in South America."

Meanwhile, in Ana Esther Ceceña's opinion, this military exercise enforces the US military's dominant presence in South America.

"It is Chevron's war, a war of coltan, of uranium, of thorium, of gas, and of gold," Ceceña said. "It is a US war to bolster their material conditions and hegemonic position."

Mobilization of Indigenous peoples in Brazil, 2015. The government of Brazil has given priority in the political Constitution to transnational corporations. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

Categories: Latest News

Yemeni Journalist: Saudi Arabia's Total Blockade on Yemen Is "Death Sentence" for All

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 21:00

United Nations officials say Yemen will face the world's largest famine in decades if the Saudi-led coalition refuses to lift its blockade on deliveries of aid. On Monday, the coalition shut air, land and sea routes into Yemen after Houthi rebels fired a missile that was intercepted near the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Saudi Arabia says its blockade is needed to stop Iran from sending weapons to the rebels. The UN says aid agencies were given no prior notice of the Saudi decision to shut down all land, air and seaports in Yemen. Meanwhile, medical experts warn the clampdown will worsen Yemen's cholera epidemic, which has sickened more than 900,000 people. We are joined by Afrah Nasser, an independent Yemeni journalist who is the founder and editor-in-chief of the Sana’a Review. Facing death threats, she is in exile from Yemen but continues to report on human rights violations, women's issues and press freedom there. She is here in the US to receive the International Free Press Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

In China, Trump Talks Trade and North Korea, Ignoring Climate Change and Crackdown on Human Rights

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 21:00

We go to Beijing for an update on President Trump's meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping as part of his five-nation trip to Asia. Trump used the talks to call on China to sever ties with North Korea, and address the US trade deficit with the country he once accused of "raping" the United States. Human rights activists have urged him to use his trip to discuss climate change and challenge China over its crackdown on dissidents and call for the release of political prisoners. We speak with Joanna Chiu, China correspondent for Agence France-Presse, and Rajan Menon, professor of political science at the Powell School at the City University of New York and senior research fellow in the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: We begin today's show in Beijing, where President Trump is in talks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, following a lavish welcome on Wednesday that was billed as a "state visit-plus" and included the first state dinner for a US president inside the Forbidden City. The welcoming ceremony outside Beijing's Great Hall of the People was broadcast live on state television -- unprecedented treatment for a visiting leader. Trump used the talks to call on China to sever ties with North Korea.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The United States is committed to the complete and permanent denuclearization of North Korea. So important. China can fix this problem easily and quickly. And I am calling on China and your great president to hopefully work on it very hard. I know one thing about your president: If he works on it hard, it will happen. There's no doubt about it. They know.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Before arriving in Beijing, Trump used an address to the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, to deliver a stern message to China, North Korea's biggest trade partner. North Korean state media responded in a statement Wednesday, saying the United States should, quote, "oust the lunatic old man from power" and withdraw its hostile policy "in order to get rid of the abyss of doom." Meanwhile, on Wednesday, China insisted it is already fully enforcing UN sanctions. This is Chinese President Xi Jinping.

PRESIDENT XI JINPING: [translated] Regarding the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue, we reaffirm that we are staunchly committed to realizing the denuclearization of the peninsula and upholding the international nuclear nonproliferation system. Both sides will continue to strictly enact all UN Security Council resolutions. And at the same time, we are committed to continuing to solve the North Korean nuclear issue through dialogue and talks.

AMY GOODMAN: During President Trump's China visit, the leaders of the world's two largest economies discussed their trade deficit. On the campaign trail, Trump bashed China's trade policies, once accusing China of "raping" the United States. This is Trump then.

DONALD TRUMP: We have a $500 billion deficit, trade deficit, with China. We're going to turn it around. And we have the cards. Don't forget, we're like the piggy bank that's being robbed. We have the cards. We have a lot of power with China. When China doesn't want to fix the problem in North Korea, we say, "Sorry, folks, you've got to fix the problem," because we can't continue to allow China to rape our country. And that's what they're doing.

AMY GOODMAN: So that was President Trump on the campaign trail, when he was, well, just candidate Trump. On Wednesday in Beijing, he struck a more conciliatory tone.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Right now, unfortunately, it is a very one-sided and unfair one. But -- but I don't blame China. After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens? I give China great credit. But in actuality, I do blame past administrations for allowing this out-of-control trade deficit to take place and to grow.

AMY GOODMAN: Roughly $250 billion in deals with US companies are expected to be announced during Trump's visit.

Human rights activists and even Trump's fellow Republicans have urged him to use his trip to challenge China over its crackdown on dissidents and call for the release of political prisoners. Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Chris Smith issued a statement urging him to raise the forced isolation and ongoing surveillance of the wife of the late Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo.

Since arriving in China, where Twitter is banned, Trump has tweeted at least five times. A White House official said Trump would, quote, "tweet whatever he wants." Trump is on a five-nation tour in Asia and has already visited South Korea and Japan. He goes next to Vietnam, where he's expected to meet with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and then on to the Philippines.

We're going now to Beijing, China, where we're joined by Joanna Chiu, China correspondent for Agence France-Presse.

Joanna, it's great to have you with us. Can you talk about the significance of Trump's trip to China and also talk about the reaction of the Chinese people to the American president?

JOANNA CHIU: Right. So, thanks for having me. It seems like Trump's visit, his first visit as president to China, has gone without a hitch. As you said, he had a very lavish welcome. He was the only foreign leader in recent history to dine in the Forbidden City palace. And today, he just had -- he's wrapping up another state dinner with President Xi, where he showed a video of his granddaughter, Arabella, singing in Mandarin Chinese. And that went over well.

So, as far as we can tell, the visit was successful. And Trump and his counterpart seem to have reached some consensus on some of the big issues that have been points of tension between the two countries. I think a highlight was trade. We were -- some reporters were surprised at the tone that Trump gave during his remarks today. While it was softened from what he was like during the campaign trail, it was quite tough. At the same time, he also lavished a lot of praise on Xi Jinping, and the two leaders seemed very comfortable around each other. So, it seems like it went well. As you said, human rights wasn't brought up as a focus. Neither was the climate. So, it seemed like the talks focused on trade and on what China and the US could do on the North Korean nuclear peninsula issue.


JOANNA CHIU: As far as the reception from the Chinese -- mm-hmm?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Sorry, Joanna, I wanted to ask you, just to put this into some context: Why is it that China has granted Trump such an extraordinary -- in fact, unprecedented -- welcome, including a state dinner in the Forbidden City, the first time a US president has received such treatment?

JOANNA CHIU: Yeah, so reporters did ask that question yesterday to the Foreign Ministry in Beijing, and they said that it's what a host country should do. They said that Trump received a similar lavish welcome from the Japanese before he came to China. So that's how they addressed why he got this big welcome.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain what the Forbidden City is.

JOANNA CHIU: So, the Forbidden City, it's right in the center of Beijing. It's right in the center. It's where emperors for different dynasties had their center of power. So it's a very symbolic place. And it's unprecedented that they would shut down the whole thing -- it's a big tourist attraction -- to host the president and Melania.

AMY GOODMAN: To say the least, it's a different tone that he is adopting. I mean, it's not just tone. He talked about China "raping" the US, on the campaign trail, fiercely went after China, and now said it's not actually China's fault. He understands why a country would take advantage of another country on behalf of its own people. He blamed past administrations -- clearly, the Obama administration. Can you talk about your thoughts? To a good deal of applause when he said that.

JOANNA CHIU: Yes. Yeah, that was quite an unexpected and cheeky statement. It wasn't as harsh it was -- he was like earlier, but it was quite tough. And people were applause -- people were clapping, but in a quite an awkward way. They were surprised by the tone he had.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, Trump had repeatedly attacked China, at one point saying, "I'm going to instruct my treasury secretary to label China a currency manipulator." So, what do the trade talks mean right now? What is Trump trying to get? Trump, who seems to be at his weakest level in this year, in terms of popularity in the United States --

JOANNA CHIU: Well, he's trying to reduce the trade deficit that the US is currently --

AMY GOODMAN:  -- and President Xi has consolidated power.

JOANNA CHIU:  -- running with China, at as much as $350 billion. And the $250 billion in the US-Chinese business deals that were signed today, analysts say that they're not going to do much to reduce this really big trade deficit.

AMY GOODMAN: I was just asking that question about Trump at his lowest popularity in the United States now, at a time when President Xi has consolidated power. And if you can talk about President Xi in China, how he is seen, and what this -- him being at his point of greatest strength right now is all about? We're talking to Joanna Chiu, who is the China correspondent for Agence France-Presse. We're going to --

JOANNA CHIU: Hello? Can you hear me?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, Joanna, we can hear you. I was just asking about the --


AMY GOODMAN: Can you hear me now, Joanna? We'll go to a break, and we'll come back. We're talking to Joanna Chiu in Beijing, China. She is the China correspondent for the Agence France-Presse. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: "Run or Hide" by Run River North. This is Democracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. We're speaking about President Trump's visit to China right now, part of his five-Asian-nation trip. He's headed on to Vietnam, where he may be meeting with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and then to the Philippines. We're joined in Beijing, China, by Joanna Chiu, who's the China correspondent for Agence France-Presse, for AFP, and Rajan Menon, professor of political science at the Powell School at the City University of New York, senior research fellow in the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University, as well.

Professor Menon, let me put that question to you, about Xi at his greatest strength right now, the president of China, and Trump at his weakest point in popularity and how he's seen within his own party. The elections just took place, a referendum on Trump, and he lost badly.

RAJAN MENON: Good morning, Amy. There is quite a contrast. As you know, last year, there was a party -- last month, there was a party congress in China. Xi came out in a very powerful position. There is now something called "Xi Jinping Thought." Contrast that with Mr. Trump, the last I looked, his popularity ratings around below 40 percent. The Russia controversy continues to dog him. There's no legislation that he's gotten through Congress. So it is a significant contrast, no doubt.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, you know, on Tuesday, Trump told -- when he was speaking in Seoul, he said that the US stands ready to attack North Korea over its nuclear weapons program. The question is -- and now he's just been in China -- how much leverage does China have on North Korea? And what does Trump expect from China?

RAJAN MENON: To hear Mr. Trump say it and the American foreign policy establishment say it, you would think that if Xi Jinping picked up the phone and called Kim Jong-un and said, "I want you to dismantle your nuclear facilities," he would do that. That is a complete myth. For one thing, there's an enormous amount of bad blood between North Korea and China. And the tougher China is and we are on North Korea, the more likely they are to hang on to their nuclear weapons. That's the first thing.

The second thing is that the Chinese already voted for the very tough UN sanctions in August and September. Ninety-six percent of North Korea's trade is with China, but the Chinese don't want to asphyxiate, to choke the regime to death, for fear that it will collapse. That collapse would have immediate consequences for them economically and strategically. For one thing, in the long term, they, the Chinese, cannot exclude the possibility that a collapse in North Korea would mean, down the line, a unified Korean Peninsula aligned to the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Joanna Chiu, you're speaking to us from Beijing. You're covering extensively President Trump's trip. How is North Korea seen in China?

JOANNA CHIU: So the Chinese see North Korea as their neighbors. And generally, the Chinese have a pretty favorable view of people they share a border with. There is a lot of concern about all this nuclear rhetoric. And China has said repeatedly, in response to criticism from the US and other international bodies, that it completely, faithfully implements the UN Security Council resolutions, including sanctions. And these sanctions, as you know, has increased in the past year.

What we don't know, because there are no independent checks at the borders, is how well China really is reinforcing these sanctions. For example, just anecdotally, I visited the border with North Korea a couple months ago, and people there told me that they still get gold and silver from North Korea, even though it's been long banned under the UN sanctions. And just a few weeks ago, I went to some North Korean restaurants in Beijing and asked about their business, and they said every day they get seafood imports from North Korea to Beijing. And that's also against the sanctions. So, it's unclear how well China is enforcing, but definitely China is saying they're doing all they can.

And their tone is that they should not be the ones who shoulder all the blame. They want the US to reduce its more inflammatory rhetoric against Kim Jong-un and his regime, in order to bring all parties back to the negotiating table.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Joanna, could you, very quickly -- you've been writing about this. The human rights situation in China now under President Xi Jinping?

JOANNA CHIU: Well, it's quite severe under Xi Jinping's first five years as president. We have seen an unprecedented crackdown on people in civil society, from lawyers to bloggers to journalists to primary school teachers. It's ironic that Trump is tweeting while he's inside China's firewall, but people in China have been arrested just for social media posts they put on Chinese websites that are a little bit critical of their government. And recently, just this week, on Tuesday, a really famous veteran pro-democracy writer, Yang Tongyan, he passed away of brain cancer on medical parole. So he was still in police custody. And this is the pattern that we've been seeing, that dissidents are being jailed and then --

AMY GOODMAN: Joanna Chiu, speaking to us from Beijing, China. We just lost her satellite, lost it at the bottom of the hour, China correspondent for Agence France-Presse. Rajan Menon's still with us, professor of political science at Powell School at City University of New York. If you could continue what she was saying, this issue of human rights in China right now? It's very interesting that here is President Trump lauding President Xi in China while at the same time the Trump administration has just cracked down on Cuba and made it extremely difficult for individuals to visit Cuba, reversing the thaw in relations that President Obama had initiated.

RAJAN MENON: There is a very big contrast between the tone and the demeanor that Trump struck in South Korea and in Japan compared to China. He clearly does not want to do anything at all to embarrass Mr. Xi. He did not meet with dissidents. He didn't bring up the issue of human rights. He soft-pedaled, as you noted, as you noted earlier, the trade deficit. And so, I would say, from the Chinese standpoint, this summit has gone very well for them. Less so, I think, for Mr. Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of President Trump going to Vietnam tomorrow? And if they work out the framework -- I think that's the terms they're using -- he will be meeting with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in Vietnam.

RAJAN MENON: Correct. Well --

AMY GOODMAN: And the role Vietnam -- Russia could also play with North Korea?

RAJAN MENON: Correct. The Russians can play a role, but much less of a role than China. As I pointed out, 96 percent of the trade that North Korea does is with China. But the Russians do have a residual influence. But much more importantly, Russian and Chinese views are closely aligned. But it is to China that he's looking.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the significance, from your perspective, of this trip that President Trump has made? I mean, we know that when President Xi was in Florida, he made a deal with Trump's daughter, with one of his advisers, Ivanka Trump, giving her exclusive copyrights on various of her products being sold in China. The significance of any kind of business deals being made? We know Trump famously, yesterday, in the middle of his address to the South Korean Assembly, where he was talking about taking on North Korea -- and, of course, the threat of war with North Korea is more extreme than it's ever been -- he talked about his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey.

RAJAN MENON: There are business ties between the Trump Corporation and the Chinese. You mentioned Ivanka Trump. The Trump Corporation itself has about 123 trademarks. There is a building in New York, of which Mr. Trump is part owner, where the Chinese National Bank has lent about $950 million. So there are such ties. I think that those are not the things that are driving Trump. I think he wants some progress on the trade front. He wants some progress on the North Korean front. He's gotten, really, not very much of either.

AMY GOODMAN: Is there anything you'd like to add, Professor Menon, on the significance of this overall Asia trip that he's taking?

RAJAN MENON: Yes. One of the things that was interesting to me is that he was much tougher on the Japanese when it came to the trade deficit. Now, their trade deficit with the United States at the end of last year was about $70 billion. With China, it was $350 [billion]. That is five times as much. Yet he treated the China pretty much, as you pointed out, with kid gloves. He was much tougher on the Japanese. He told the Japanese, "Why do you just import cars into the United States? Why don't you just make them here?" Well, the Japanese make 4 million units of vehicles here, and they have about 24 manufacturing plants. So the contrast between how he --

AMY GOODMAN: In the United States.

RAJAN MENON: Correct. So the contrast between how he dealt with the Japanese on the trade issue and the Chinese, I thought, was very telling.

AMY GOODMAN: Also selling billions of dollars of weapons on this trip.

RAJAN MENON: Correct, correct.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us, Rajan Menon, professor of political science at the Powell School at the City University of New York, senior research fellow at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia university.

When we come back, a humanitarian crisis in Yemen -- cholera, famine, war. We'll speak with a woman who founded a news agency there but had to leave because of death threats and now reports in exile about her home country. And we'll talk about what's happening in Saudi Arabia, as the prince consolidates power, as many people are arrested, and Saudi Arabia continues to bomb, with US support, Yemen. Stay with us.

Categories: Latest News

Crisis Management

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

LEFT OUT: David Harvey on Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 21:00

David Harvey is arguably the most influential living geographer, as well as one of the world's leading Marxist scholars. He is among the most cited intellectuals of all time across the humanities and social sciences.

Harvey currently works as distinguished professor of anthropology and geography at CUNY, where he has been teaching Marx's "Capital: Critique of Political Economy" for more than four decades. His course on Marx's Capital has been downloaded by over two million people internationally since appearing online in 2008.

Harvey is also a famous author of several bestselling books, including The Enigma of Capital, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, 17 Contradictions and the End of Capitalism and many more.

His latest book, Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason, makes the core of Karl Marx's thinking in the three volumes of Capital clear and accessible for the lay reader, without compromising their depth and complexity.

Marx's trilogy concerns the circulation of capital: volume I, how labour increases the value of capital, which he called valorisation; volume II, on the realisation of this value, by selling it and turning it into money or credit; and volume III, on what happens to the value next in processes of distribution.

As Harvey argues in our interview, most people who read Capital often stop after the 1,152 pages of Volume I, which is very problematic if you want to understand the workings of capital as a totality.

We ask Harvey why understanding all three volumes of Capital is so crucial, and why technological, economic and industrial change over the last 150 years makes Marx's analysis more relevant now than ever.

In the last half of the discussion, we probe into whether it's necessary for social movements today to develop a stronger institutional basis for understanding how capital and capitalism works, and ask Harvey what the Left most focus on to effectively organize for a better economy and society.

Help preserve a news source with integrity at its core: Donate to the independent media at Truthout.
Categories: Latest News

Firing Robert Mueller Could Be a Lot Harder Than You Might Think

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 21:00
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White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders says he won't do it.

Last Monday, she was asked: "Is the President going to rule out, once and for all, firing [Special Prosecutor] Robert Mueller." 

"There's no intention or plan to make any changes in regards to the special counsel," she replied.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn), fresh off warning that the President might start World War III, can't imagine he'll do it.

Last Tuesday, a reporter cornered the president's harshest Senate critic in a hallway and posed the following: "There are stories that the President is thinking about firing Mueller. Do you think that's appropriate?"

The tired-looking Corker replied: "I can't imagine there's any truth or veracity to the president thinking that he would consider firing Mueller. ... Hopefully the question being asked is a question about something that cannot possibly be reality."

Yet, all last week the President reportedly "seethed" in his third-floor private residence as he watched cable television reports of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's first indictments. Firing Mueller, the AP reported, is 

Indeed, as far back as July, Trump mused about firing Mueller. In a New York Times interview, Trump was asked if he would fire the special counsel if he started looking at subjects unrelated to the Russia probe, such as his finances.

"I would say yeah," Trump first replied. Then he added more forcefully, "I would say yes."

But suppose the president decided to ignore the advice of Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer in charge of the Russia probe, and John Kelly, his chief of staff, and decided to fire Mueller?

Just for fun, let's see how a Trump move to fire Mueller could play out.

His first call would be to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. "Sorry, Mr.President," Session might begin. "No can do. I recused myself from this investigation, remember? Surely you recall saying you never would have hired me as attorney general if you had known I would recuse myself. Why don't you try Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general? He's the one in charge of Mueller. Hold on while I find his number."

So Trump would then call Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, a career Justice Department official, summa cum laude graduate of Penn, and former Harvard Law Review editor.

"Mr. President, as I explained in Senate testimony in June, 'I am not going to follow any orders unless I believe those are lawful and appropriate orders.' The special counsel can only be fired for good cause. With all due respect sir, you've put nothing in writing that proves good cause exists to dismiss the special counsel.

"Moreover, as I'm sure your lawyer can tell you, I have been interviewed as part of the investigation into the firing of former FBI Director James Comey. So I feel like I need to decline your order

At this point, the call likely ends in one of two ways: either Rosenstein is fired or he quits.

Next up on Trump's phone tree: the third highest-ranking official at Justice, Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, a Harvard Law School graduate and former clerk to Justice Anthony Kennedy.

"Mr. President, as I'm sure you know, I can only fire Bob Mueller for 'misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Departmental policies.' And the law also says that the Special Counsel must be informed 'in writing of the specific reason for his or her removal.'

'Sir, if I may speak freely, why don't you have your lawyers draw something up, and I'll take a look at it?"

At this point, Brand would probably be fishing in her purse for her office keys to hand to Justice Department security on her way out.

Trump, increasingly anxious because he might miss the  opening of Sean Hannity would then reach out to Solicitor General Noel Francisco, a former Justice Antonin Scalia clerk and University of Chicago Law School graduate.

"Well, you see Mr. President, I've got a problem here," Francisco might say. "Before you brought me into the Solicitor General's office, (thanks for that, by the way), I worked for Jones Day in DC where I was a partner with your White House Counsel, Don McGahn. And sir, you know how hard it is to unwind all these partnership things -- I have money tied-up in the firm. And your 2020 campaign paid Jones Day $800,000 in the third quarter alone. I need to call the department's ethics director, Cynthia Shaw. Can I get back to you in a few days? Oh also, do you have anything in writing why there's good cause to fire him?"

Now here is where things get even stranger. According to a March 31 Executive Order on Justice Department succession, the next three officials in line are the US Attorneys for the Eastern District of Virginia, the Eastern District of North Carolina, and the Northern District of Texas.

So the president's next call is to Dana Boente, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. Boente has had a wild ride in the Trump administration. He was appointed to his current post by President Obama. But when Acting Attorney General Sally Yates was fired in February for refusing to defend the President's travel ban, Boente was named to replace her. He served as Acting Attorney General for ten days before Jeff Sessions was sworn in. 

Boente then served as Acting Deputy Attorney General, the no. 2 post, for 75 days until Rod Rosenstein took over. Then Boente was one of 46 US Attorneys in March who Sessions ordered to resign. Yet, Trump rejected his resignation. Now, Boente is serving as acting head of the Department's National Security Division until Trump's nominee is confirmed. A 33-year Department veteran, Boente is known for his mild manner and intense devotion to work.

"Dude, don't you read the papers? I announced my resignation Friday before last. I'm sticking around until you guys name a successor. Anyway, permit me to remind you that I was the guy who worked with Jim Comey investigating former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's lobbying deals. I empaneled grand juries that subpoenaed his business records. Those grand juries are now being run by Mueller. And you want me to fire the guy?"

It is now 8:54 p.m. Only six minutes left before Hannity.

On to Robert "Bobby" Higdon, Jr., the Trump-appointed US Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Higdon spent nearly 25 years as a federal prosecutor, working in both North Carolina's Eastern and Western districts. Yet, his record is hardly unblemished. He led the campaign finance fraud prosecution of former North Carolina Sen. and presidential candidate John Edwards, which resulted in an acquittal on one charge and the dismissal of the remaining five after a hung jury. (Full disclosure: I worked as Edwards' Senate legislative director.)  

In 2013, Higdon was removed as head of the Eastern District's criminal division after two federal appellate judges delivered a blistering critique of the section, saying that it had frequently withheld evidence and failed to correct false trial testimony.

Higdon was sworn-in as US Attorney October 10.

People behave unpredictably in unprecedented circumstances. It's entirely possible Higdon may prove no more malleable than the other recipients of the president's calls. As Trump himself likes to say: Stay tuned.

Categories: Latest News

Union Rights Were the Difference Between NFL Players Kneeling for the Anthem and Bowing to Trump

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 21:00
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At a September 22 political rally, President Donald Trump kicked off a kerfuffle by calling on the National Football League (NFL) to fire players taking a knee during the National Anthem. "Wouldn't you love," said the president, "to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he's fired. He's fired!'"

The NFL and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) responded immediately in support of the players. As protests continued, Trump kept blasting away. Debate raged on for weeks about free speech, race, social justice, patriotism and more. Altogether overlooked, however, were the players' union rights that effectively render Trump's demand worthless.

Ground Rules

The NFL and the NFLPA are co-equal parties to a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that sets wages, rules and working conditions. The union is the workers'accredited representative, while the employer manages the workplace with policies that don't violate the CBA or the law.

In general, union workers are not "at will" employees like nonunion workers. If disciplined (warned, suspended or terminated), they may resort to the CBA's grievance procedures, including neutral and binding arbitration. The employer must show just cause for discipline by proving that the worker breached a policy that was reasonable, known and consistently applied -- and that discipline was reasonable and proportional.

There is no way Club owners could do that. Neither the CBA nor employer policies prohibit protest, and there is no egregious conduct at issue -- such as theft or attacking another worker -- that would warrant discipline on its face. Consequently, amid swirling controversy, the NFL and NFLPA met and agreed to uphold existing policy in the NFL's game operations manual that players "should" stand during the Anthem. In other words, it's optional.

The deal stopped any question of discipline in its tracks and promised mutual efforts toward addressing the sociopolitical issues that gave rise to the protests. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who had threatened players after consulting with Trump, had no "just cause" for discipline based on rules, policies or conduct.

Make no mistake. This is all about collective bargaining. The parties affirmed a "past practice," which, in a union workplace, can be just as binding as a CBA rule. If the NFL had unilaterally changed the policy -- and especially if a protesting player got fired, as Trump insisted -- the door would swing wide open to a union grievance and potential arbitration, dragging out more controversy the parties wanted to avoid.

Union defense

Contract language limits discipline even more. A review of the current CBA, found online and confirmed with an NFLPA spokesperson, signals game over for the Trump-Jones threat.

Article 42, Section 2(a):

All Clubs must publish and make available to all players at the commencement of preseason training camp a complete list of the discipline that can be imposed for both designated offenses ...and for other violations of reasonable Club rules.

The Cowboys' training began July 24, weeks before Trump's demand and Jones' subsequent capitulation. The Cowboys provided no confirmation that a Club rule about protest had been duly listed.

Article 46, Section 4:

The Commissioner's disciplinary action will preclude or supersede disciplinary action by any Club for the same act or conduct.

The CBA and past practice indicate that the NFL Commissioner has the final say on what discipline a Club may pursue. Commissioner Roger Goodell was not disposed -- before or after the joint meeting -- to discipline protesting players. All but one Club owner, Jerry Jones, agreed.

Article 49, Section 1:

There will be no discrimination in any form against any player by the NFL, the Management Council, any Club or by the NFLPA because of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or activity or lack of activity on behalf of the NFLPA.

Given rules, policy and practice, it could be argued that curbing protests initiated by players of color over government mistreatment of people of color violates this section. Furthermore, the reference to NFLPA "activity" reflects longstanding labor law protecting workers' rights to participate (or not) in "concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection."

Trump repeatedly pressured owners to fire protesters in violation of the CBA. "Concerted activities" have blossomed with displays of solidarity among players -- and even some management. They take a knee, lock arms, or raise a fist. And some, as they always have, choose to stand, which is their right.

Holding the Line

On October 29, protest reached the "boiling point," Deadline reported.

Houston Texans owner Bob McNair's comment comparing players to "inmates running the prison" instantly "caused an uproar in a league where 70 percent of players are black and already protesting perceived injustice," Deadline observed. In response, players planned the biggest protest yet.

Word circulated that joint meetings to address social justice concerns had been cancelled.

Jones -- still agitated and agitating -- had reportedly organized a Club owners' conference call to discuss ousting Goodell. He also cut lineman Damontre Moore, who had raised his fist during the Anthem. The Cowboys said it was merely a roster move.

Moore joins Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49er who started the protests and then got zero job offers after becoming a free agent. Kaepernick's lawyer filed a grievance alleging collusion between the Clubs and the NFL in violation of CBA Article 17, appropriately titled, "Anti-Collusion."

As it stands now, no player has been officially disciplined for protesting, and the policy, practice and CBA are intact.

Categories: Latest News

Drilling, Drilling, Everywhere: Will the Trump Administration Take Down the Arctic Refuge?

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 21:00
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What happens in the Arctic doesn't just stay up north.  It affects the world, as that region is the integrator of our planet's climate systems, atmospheric and oceanic. At the moment, the northernmost places on Earth are warming at more than twice the global average, a phenomenon whose impact is already being felt planetwide.  Welcome to the world of climate breakdown -- and to the world of Donald Trump.

The set of climate feedbacks contributing to further warming in the Arctic are about to be aided and abetted by President Trump, his Interior Department, and a Republican-controlled Congress.  The impact of their decisions will be experienced around the world. While the United States is still recovering from the deaths, suffering, and devastation caused by extreme hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, as well as historically deadly wildfires across the West, Trump's Department of the Interior is preparing a five-year strategic plan that never once mentions climate change or climate science.  It does, however, plan to open previously protected public lands of all sorts to the increased exploitation of fossil fuels -- and Arctic Alaska is anything but exempt.

"Alaska [is] open for business," Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told a cheering crowd at an Alaska Oil and Gas Association conference in Anchorage earlier this year. The secretary was visiting as part of a presidential mandate to "prepare our country to be energy dominant" -- even though the U.S. has been the largest global producer of oil and gas since 2012 and, in this era, has often been referred to as "Saudi America." What that energy-dominance slogan signals is nothing short of the beginning of a war against environmental conservation, justice, and the planet as a welcoming habitat for all life.

"The only path for energy dominance is a path through the great state of Alaska," Zinke assured the Anchorage audience. What he evidently wants to do is sell off the most ecologically and culturally significant places in the state to Big Oil. On the sacrifice block is a long endangered stretch of public land, Area 1002, or the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a biological nursery of global significance and a place sacred to the indigenous Gwich'in Nation. Like her father, also a Republican senator from Alaska, Lisa Murkowski is championing the task of opening the refuge to drilling by abusing the filibuster-proof budget process rather than debating this controversial issue as stand-alone legislation in Congress.

I first visited the Arctic Refuge in March 2001, spending a never-to-be-forgotten 14 months there during which, among so many other remarkable sights, I watched a polar bear mother playing with her two cubs outside their den in the Canning River Delta. As sea ice in the region continues to rapidly disappear, thanks to accelerating global warming, and as species like the polar bear that once used that sea ice as a primary denning habitat struggle for survival, the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge becomes increasingly significant as a land-denning habitat. And keep in mind that it's a place that harbors the highest density of onshore polar bear dens in Alaska. Any seismic exploration and drilling activities in the refuge are expected to severely affect those bears. (Seismic exploration is the process by which subsurface deposits of fossil fuels and minerals are detected by using shock waves.)

On that first visit to the refuge, I witnessed caribou from the Porcupine River herd giving birth around our tent. Nearly 200,000 of them migrate more than 1,500 miles annually from their wintering habitats to the south to their calving grounds on the coastal plain and back again, the longest land migration of any mammal on Earth. In the summer months, I had difficulty sleeping because the sun quite literally never sets and birds sing around the clock. More than 90 species of them migrate from five continents and all 50 states to nest and rear their young on that coastal plain. No wonder the Gwich'in people call it "the sacred place where life begins."

A Vast Transnational Nursery

"Saddle up, it's going to be a tough fight, but we come from survivors, we come from warriors," Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich'in Steering Committee wrote in a Facebook post, as she faced the increasingly grim Trumpian future that seems to be in store for the preserve.  To understand the situation she and her people find themselves in, join me on a brief journey into what might be called multispecies justice.

On December 6, 1960, after a decade-long campaign by conservationists George Collins, Lowell Sumner, and Olaus and Mardy Murie, among others, Secretary of the Interior Fred Seaton signed Public Land Order 2214 setting aside 8.9 million acres in northeast Alaska as the Arctic National Wildlife Range. Its purpose: "preserving unique wildlife, wilderness, and recreational values." Twenty years later, the "range" was renamed a "refuge" and more than doubled in size as part of the Alaska National Interest Land Conservation Act, or ANILCA, signed into law on December 2, 1980, by President Jimmy Carter. Protecting the habitat of the Porcupine River caribou herd was a crucial focus of the conservationists who helped create the refuge.

Just as the original refuge was being established, the Gwich'in were beginning their own advocacy for the protection of the caribou. "Our people have been raising concerns about the impact of development on the caribou since the sixties," Gwich'in elder and activist Sarah James of Arctic Village told me during my visit to Alaska last month.

Jonathon Solomon from Fort Yukon, who would later become one of the most influential indigenous activists in Alaska, founded Gwichyaa Gwich'in Ginkhe ("people of the flat speak") to fight a proposed dam on the Yukon River, which would have flooded 10 indigenous villages on the Yukon Flats. He also advocated for the animals whose habitats the dam might damage or destroy, including caribou, salmon, and waterfowl. In 1967, the project was shelved and in 1980, as part of ANILCA, the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge was established adjacent to the Arctic Refuge. This represented a major victory for the indigenous people and the conservationists who had united in defense of environmental justice.  Without them, there would have been a mud-banked reservoir the size of Lake Erie and 10 indigenous villages under hundreds of feet of water, with salmon migrations blocked, and the loss of one of North America's most productive waterfowl nesting areas.

In the early 1970s, a major Arctic pipeline project was proposed to carry natural gas from the Prudhoe Bay oil fields across the Arctic coastal plain to the Mackenzie River Delta, and from there south to Alberta, Canada. "Our people were very concerned about the potential impact on the caribou as the pipeline would traverse their birthing grounds in the Arctic Refuge and in Canada," Sarah James told me. Jonathon Solomon helped organize opposition in the villages of the region. In his 1977 report, Northern Frontier, Northern Homeland, the influential Canadian jurist Thomas Berger recommended that "no pipeline be built and no energy corridor be established across the Northern Yukon."

Berger further advocated for the establishment of a national park in the region, one in which the "native people must continue to have the right to hunt, fish, and trap." His proposal prevailed.  The pipeline was never built and, in 1984, in line with the land claims of the Inuvialuit people, a Northern Yukon National Park was established adjacent to the Arctic Refuge. In 1992, it was renamed Ivvavik National Park.

In the Inuvialuktun language, Ivvavik means "nursery" or "birthplace." Fran Mauer, a retired wildlife biologist who has studied the caribou and worked for 21 years in the Arctic Refuge, explained to me that the Porcupine River herd uses the coastal plain that stretches across Alaska and the northern Yukon as one large birthplace and nursery. Any oil and gas development in that protected plain on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border, however, would endanger the herd's survival and so the way of life of the Gwich'in, who have always called themselves "the caribou people." As a map prepared by the Gwich'in Steering Committee indicates, the habitat of the caribou overlaps their own traditional homeland of 15 villages spread across Alaska, the Yukon, and the Northwest territories. They depend on that vast herd for nutritional, cultural, and spiritual sustenance. Their map is an exemplary depiction of multispecies justice in which the border between the two countries is no more than a dotted line.

In 1995, based on Gwich'in land claims in Yukon, Canada, one more refuge, Vuntut National Park, was established adjacent to both Ivvavik National Park and the Arctic Refuge. Following a recent Senate vote that could portend the future opening of the refuge to Big Oil, Chief Bruce Charlie of the Vuntut Gwitchin (People of the Lakes) First Nation said, "Our mandate from our elders is to permanently protect the sacred calving grounds on the coastal plain of the refuge, and we will not stop our fight until that is achieved and our human rights are respected." In this spirit, he and his compatriots urge us to set aside national territorial claims in favor of multispecies justice.

The four contiguous protected areas -- the Arctic Refuge, the Yukon Flats Refuge, Ivvavik National Park, and the Vuntut National Park -- should be thought of as a vast transnational nursery for innumerable species and a living testament to seven decades of hard work by conservationists and indigenous peoples from two countries. To destroy this interconnected, interdependent web of life by turning the "sacred place where life begins" into a vast oil field and so fossil-fuelize Donald Trump's dreams of 1950s-style American glory, would be little short of a crime against both nature and humanity.  In the wake of any such development, there will, of course, be the inevitable oil spills, toxic residues, and other environmental crises as ever more oil and natural gas are extracted from a planet that can ill afford to see them burned.

A Vast Reservoir of Intimidation, Myths, and Deception

In 1981, when President Ronald Reagan appointed James Watt as his secretary of interior and Anne Burford as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, conservationists became alarmed about the large-scale sale of public lands and waters to the extractive industries. In fact, the opening up of the Arctic Refuge coastal plain to oil and gas development would soon become a priority for the Reagan administration.

In 1984, seismic exploration was conducted on the coastal plain. At that time, federal scientists working at the Arctic Refuge's office in Fairbanks, Alaska, were put under a gag order by the Department of the Interior and forbidden to discuss the value of the Refuge's wildlife or wilderness with the media or the public, as biologist Pamela Miller who resigned in protest, becoming a conservationist and defender of the refuge, told me. In 1988, alarmed by developments in Washington and Alaska, all 15 Gwich'in villages called an emergency gathering and passed a resolution, Gwich'in Niintsyaa, which demanded that, "the United States Congress and president recognize the rights of our Gwich'in people to continue to live our way of life by prohibiting development in the calving and post-calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd."  They further requested that "the 1002 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge be made Wilderness to achieve this end."

Given the groundwork put in place by the Reagan administration and the Alaska congressional delegation, a bill to open up the refuge to drilling was nonetheless sailing through the Senate in 1989. In March of that year, however, an ironic twist of fate occurred. The Exxon Valdez, a giant oil tanker made national headlines by running aground on a reef in Alaska's Prince William Sound, spilling almost 11 million gallons of crude oil into its waters and polluting the region. In response to an environmental disaster on such a scale, congressional lawmakers pulled the plug on oil exploration and drilling at the refuge. 

But that didn't end matters.  The Alaska congressional delegation renewed the push to open up the refuge as soon as George H.W. Bush took office.  Ever since then, advocates of drilling have continued to peddle a laughable myth: that oil development would actually be good for the region's caribou because, as George W. Bush would claim at a rally in the 2000 election campaign, those caribou "will come up against the pipe, nice warm pipe, they'll make love, and you'll have more caribou."

Soon after moving into the White House, Bush once again made opening the refuge to drilling a priority for a Republican administration. In 2001, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources asked Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, who had infamously described the Arctic Refuge coastal plain as a "flat white nothingness," for information on caribou calving and oil drilling there and she, in turn, queried the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) on the subject.

In a May 24, 2001, memorandum, the refuge manager wrote to his supervisor at the FWS: "During the period for which there are adequate records, Porcupine herd calving concentrations have occurred within the 1002 [coastal plain] area 27 out of 30 years." That July, however, in a letter responding to questions about the dangers of opening the Arctic Refuge from Senator Frank Murkowski, Norton responded, "Concentrated calving occurred primarily outside of the 1002 Area in 11 of the last 18 years." When questioned about this, her spokesperson insisted that the problem had been a typographic error, not an urge to mislead Congress. And so it's gone ever since.

Recently, during a Senate hearing on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Refuge, biologist and former research professor at the University of Alaska Matthew Cronin testified that caribou had not been "significantly impacted" by the oil fields in Alaska's Prudhoe Bay area. When Senator Al Franken asked if he received funding from the oil companies -- ExxonMobil and BP Exploration -- for his research, Cronin responded with a "yes." Lois Epstein, Arctic Program Director of the Wilderness Society, who also testified, promised that she will submit a report challenging Cronin's research, so that the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee can make a "responsible decision" on the refuge.

At that hearing, the boosters of drilling also touted two other false claims made regularly during the Bush years:

  • that drilling in the refuge will involve only a very small "footprint," just 2,000 acres, even though the entire 1.5 million acres of the coastal plain would, in fact, be opened to oil and gas leasing, as well as a sprawling network of pipelines, roads, and year-round production infrastructure;

  • that advances in technology make "modern" Arctic drilling environmentally safe, even though there have been "450 spills each year during 1996-2008" and "nearly one spill per day" between October 2012 and October 2017 in the existing Prudhoe Bay oil fields, as Epstein pointed out in her written testimony to that Senate committee. She also wrote that earlier this year, BP suffered a "production well blowout due to thawing permafrost," thanks to rapid Arctic warming.

Already, the opening of the refuge is deeply enmeshed in the congressional tax "reform" process, as Senate Republicans are hoping to raise $1 billion over the next decade from the anticipated oil lease sales in the refuge to help defray their $2 trillion tax reform "giveaway" to the rich.

Last month, during my visit to Alaska -- a significant part of the state's budget comes from oil revenues -- I witnessed much euphoria about protected public lands finally being "opened for business." There's nothing new about this. There was a similar euphoria over the Rampart Dam and Arctic Gas Pipeline, mega-projects that were, in the end, defeated by conservationists and indigenous activists. The world is better off today because of their foresight and hard work, and the planet richer in the diversity of life thanks to it. 

I also witnessed voices of resistance getting louder as conservationists and indigenous activists girded themselves for what will be the battle of a lifetime. "Congress must take drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge off the table," Bernadette Demientieff wrote. "It's up to all of us to protect this sacred place for generations to come."

Opening up the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the crown jewel of that vast transnational nursery, to a world of harm at a time when the "sixth mass extinction" in our planet's history is already underway could prove to be one of the crimes of the century -- of any century, in fact.

Categories: Latest News

Trump's Medicaid Chief Endorses Work Requirement Schemes

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 21:00
Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, listens as Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a meeting on healthcare reform in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, DC on Monday, June 05, 2017. (Photo: Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images)   Your support is crucial to keeping ethical journalism alive! Donate now to keep our writers on the streets, covering the most important issues and beats.

States that want to force Medicaid recipients to get a job before qualifying for healthcare have an ally in the Trump administration, according to remarks made on Tuesday by the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Speaking to the National Association of Medicaid Directors, Seema Verma gave a nod to the several states across the country that had hoped to enact Medicaid work requirements only to be shot down by the Obama administration.

"Those days are over," Verma said in prepared remarks.

"Believing that community engagement requirements do not support the objectives of Medicaid is a tragic example of the soft bigotry of low expectations consistently espoused by the prior administration," she added.

Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, Utah, and Wisconsin are all seeking to implement work requirements on the low-income public health insurance program. The proposals would require non-disabled Medicaid recipients to get a job or engage in community service in order to receive health care benefits.

A Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that about 60 percent of non-elderly, non-disabled Medicaid recipients are currently employed.

More than half of the states seeking waivers also accepted Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, in which the federal government footed most of the bill for expanding the program's reach to 11 million more people who make below $16,600 annually.

Verma suggested work requirements were an appropriate response to the expanded Medicaid population.

"The thought that a program designed for our most vulnerable citizens should be used as a vehicle to serve working age, able-bodied adults does not make sense," she claimed, noting that the Obama administration "fought state led reforms that would've allowed the Medicaid program to evolve to meet the needs of these new individuals."

New York Medicaid Director Jason Helgerson, who was on hand to hear Director Verma's speech, told The Washington Post that her remarks were "completely reprehensible."

"Shocked, appalled would be the two primary reactions I have," he added.

Kentucky's Medicaid chief Stephen Miller, however, said his state was "right in sync" with Verma. Miller told the Post he expects his Kentucky's work requirement waiver to approved "soon."

Categories: Latest News

Does the Mass Murder of Indigenous Americans in California Qualify as Genocide?

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 21:00

Genocide is a twentieth-century word, but it describes an ancient phenomenon. In 1846, when the United States seized California, elected civilian state legislators and federal officials created a catastrophe. Under US rule, California Indians died at an even more astonishing rate. The California Indian population cataclysm of 1846–1873 continued a pre-existing framework of violent colonialism.

The Cross of Calvary monument at the Spanish mission of San Francisco Javier. During the era when Spaniards, Russians and Mexicans colonized the region, around 62,600 Indigenous American deaths occurred at or near California’s coastal region missions. The death rate only increased under US rule. (Photo: Kirt Edblom)

History professor Benjamin Madley has written the first comprehensive investigation of the catastrophe that befell California's Indigenous population from 1846 to 1873: a catastrophe that was entirely man-made. An American Genocide catalogs the killing of tens of thousands of Native people during those years, and proves just how complicit the Californian and United States government were in the slaughter. Order this important book by donating to Truthout today!

Today, California is the most populous state in the US. But its history includes the deliberate mass murder of Indigenous people in the 1800s. In this excerpt from An American Genocide, Benjamin Madley argues that this organized catastrophe qualifies as genocide.

As the sun rose on July 7, 1846, four US warships rode at anchor in Monterey Bay. Ashore, the Mexican tricolor cracked over the adobe walls and red-tiled roofs of California's capitol for the last time. At 7:30 a.m., Commodore John Sloat sent Captain William Mervine ashore "to demand the immediate surrender of the place." The Mexican commandant then fled, and some 250 sailors and marines assembled at the whitewashed customs house on the water's edge.

As residents, immigrants, seamen, and soldiers looked on, Mervine read Commodore Sloat's proclamation: "I declare to the inhabitants of California, that although I come in arms ... I come as their best friend -- as henceforth California will be a portion of the United States, and its peaceable inhabitants will enjoy the same rights and privileges as the citizens of any other portion of that nation." As the USS Savannah's sailors and marines hoisted the Stars and Stripes to a chorus of cheers, three ships of the US Pacific Squadron fired a sixty three-gun salute. The cannons' roar swept over the plaza to the pine-studded hills above the bay before echoing back over the harbor. The first hours of conquest were relatively peaceful, but a new order had come to California. The lives of perhaps 150,000 California Indians now hung in the balance.

The US military officers who took control of California that July under martial law had the opportunity to reinvent the existing Mexican framework within which colonists and California Indians interacted. Instead, these officers reinforced and intensified existing discriminatory Mexican policies toward these Indians. The elected civilian state legislators who followed them then radically transformed the relationship between colonists and California Indians. Together with federal officials, they created a catastrophe. 

Yet, the California Indian population cataclysm of 1846–1873 continued a pre-existing trajectory. During California's seventy-seven-year-long Russo-Hispanic Period (1769–1846) its Indians had already suffered a devastating demographic decline. During the era when Spaniards, Russians, and Mexicans colonized the coastal region between San Diego and Fort Ross, California's Indian population fell from perhaps 310,000 to 150,000. Some 62,600 of these deaths occurred at or near California's coastal region missions, and, in 1946, journalist Carey McWilliams initiated a long debate over the nature of these institutions when he compared the Franciscan missionaries, who had held large numbers of California Indians there, to "Nazis operating concentration camps." Today, a wide spectrum of scholarly opinion exists, with the extreme poles represented by mission defenders Father Francis Guest and Father Maynard Geiger, on the one hand, and mission critics Rupert and Jeannette Costo -- who called the missions genocidal -- on the other. However one judges the missions, Russo-Hispanic colonization caused the deaths of tens of thousands of California Indian people.

Under US rule, California Indians died at an even more astonishing rate. Between 1846 and 1870, California's Native American population plunged from perhaps 150,000 to 30,000. By 1880, census takers recorded just 16,277 California Indians. Diseases, dislocation, and starvation were important causes of these many deaths. However, abduction, de jure and de facto unfree labor, mass death in forced confinement on reservations, homicides, battles, and massacres also took thousands of lives and hindered reproduction. According to historical demographer Sherburne Cook, an often-quoted authority on California Indian demographic decline, a "complete lack of any legal control" helped create the

context in which these phenomena were possible. Was the California Indian catastrophe just another western US tragedy in which unscrupulous individuals exploited the opportunities provided in a lawless frontier?

The organized destruction of California's Indian peoples under US rule was not a closely guarded secret. Mid-nineteenth-century California newspapers frequently addressed, and often encouraged, what we would now call genocide, as did some state and federal employees. Historians began using these and other sources to address the topic as early as 1890. That year, historian Hubert Howe Bancroft summed up the California Indian catastrophe under US rule: "The savages were in the way; the miners and settlers were arrogant and impatient; there were no missionaries or others present with even the poor pretense of soul saving or civilizing. It was one of the last human hunts of civilization, and the basest and most brutal of them all." In 1935, US Indian Affairs commissioner John Collier added, "The world's annals contain few comparable instances of swift depopulation -- practically, of racial massacre -- at the hands of a conquering race." In 1940, historian John Walton Caughey titled a chapter of his California history "Liquidating the Indians: 'Wars' and Massacres." Three years later, Cook wrote the first major study on the topic. He quantified the violent killing of 4,556 California Indians between 1847 and 1865, concluding that, "since the quickest and easiest way to get rid of [the Northern California Indian] was to kill him off, this procedure was adopted as standard for some years."

In the same year that Cook published his groundbreaking article, Nazi mass murder in Europe catalyzed the development of a new theoretical and legal framework for discussing such events. In 1943, legal scholar Raphael Lemkin coined a new word for an ancient crime. Defining the concept in 1944, he combined "the Greek word genos (tribe, race) and the Latin cide," or killing, to describe genocide as any attempt to physically or culturally annihilate an ethnic, national, religious, or political group. The 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide more narrowly defined genocide as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such," including:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The Genocide Convention thus provides an internationally recognized and rather restrictive rubric for evaluating possible instances of genocide. First, perpetrators must evince "intent to destroy" a group "as such." Second, perpetrators must commit at least one of the five genocidal acts against "a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such." The Genocide Convention criminalizes the five directly genocidal acts defined above and also other acts connected to genocide. The Convention stipulates that "the following acts shall be punishable," including:

(a) Genocide;

(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;

(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;

(d) Attempt to commit genocide;

(e) Complicity in genocide.

Finally, the Convention specifies that "persons committing genocide or any of the other acts enumerated . . . shall be punished, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals."

In US criminal law, intent is present if an act is intentional, not accidental. The international crime of genocide involves more, comprising "acts committed with intent to destroy" a group "as such." International criminal lawyers call this specific intent, meaning destruction must be consciously desired, or purposeful. Yet, specific intent does not require a specific motive, a term absent from the Genocide Convention. Under the Convention's definition, genocide can be committed even without a motive like racial hatred. The motive behind genocidal acts does not need to be an explicit desire to destroy a group; it may be, but the motive can also be territorial, economic, ideological, political, or military.

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The decimation of California’s Indigenous population through state-sanctioned mass murder.

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Moreover, the Convention declares that "genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law." If the action is deliberate, and the group's partial or total destruction a desired outcome, the motive behind that intent is irrelevant. Yet, how does a twentieth century international treaty apply to nineteenth-century events? 

The Genocide Convention does not allow for the retroactive prosecution of crimes committed before 1948, but it does provide a powerful analytical tool: a frame for evaluating the past and comparing similar events across time. Lemkin himself asserted that, "genocide has always existed in history," and he wrote two manuscripts addressing instances of genocide in periods ranging from "Antiquity" to "Modern Times."

Genocide is a twentieth-century word, but it describes an ancient phenomenon and can therefore be used to analyze the past, in much the way that historians routinely use other new terms to understand historical events. Indeed, Lemkin planned chapters titled "Genocide against the American Indians" and "The Indians in North America (in part)," but he died before he could complete either project.

Copyright (2016) by Benjamin Madley. Excerpts from the 2017 paperback edition are not to be reposted without permission of the publisher, Yale University Press. 

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Robert Mueller Is Moving Toward Donald Trump

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 21:00

Robert Mueller's opening salvo was just the tip of the iceberg. As the special counsel moves toward criminally charging Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn and others, both the president and his son, Donald Trump Jr., could find themselves in Mueller's crosshairs as the investigation into the conspiracy to violate the Federal Election Campaign Act continues.

Special counsel Robert Mueller (Center) leaves after a closed meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee June 21, 2017, at the Capitol in Washington, DC. The committee meets with Mueller to discuss the firing of former FBI Director James Comey. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)   Support your favorite writers by making sure we can keep publishing them! Make a donation to Truthout to ensure independent journalism survives.

Last week's indictments of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his longtime associate Richard Gates, together with the guilty plea by former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, sent shock waves through the White House.

It turns out that since July, Papadopoulos has been serving as a "proactive cooperator." Special counsel Robert Mueller filed a document in federal court that says, "Defendant has indicated that he is willing to cooperate with the government in its ongoing investigation into Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election." Papadopoulos was likely wired for sound during conversations with administration officials whom he may implicate in criminal conduct.

But Mueller's opening salvo was just the tip of the iceberg. As the special counsel moves toward criminally charging Donald Trump's former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn and others, even the president could find himself in Mueller's crosshairs.

NBC News reported on November 5 that Mueller has enough evidence to bring criminal charges against Flynn and his son, Michael G. Flynn. Father and son worked together in Flynn Intel Group, a consulting and lobbying group.

Mueller is reportedly investigating Michael T. Flynn for money laundering and lying to federal agents about overseas contacts. The special counsel is also exploring whether Flynn tried to assist in removing a chief rival of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan from the United States to Turkey in return for the payment of millions of dollars, two officials told NBC News.

Trump Fired Comey to Protect Flynn

Recall that in February, Trump pressured then-FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation of Flynn. That happened the day after Trump fired Flynn for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about Flynn's contacts with Sergey Kislyak, Russian ambassador to the United States.

Trump warned Comey, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go." Comey testified, "I took it as a direction" that "this is what he wants me to do.... [I] replied only that '[Flynn] is a good guy.'"

According to Comey, the president asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Jared Kushner and others to step out of the Oval Office before he requested that Comey drop the "open FBI criminal investigation" of Flynn for "his statements in connection with the Russian contacts, and the contacts themselves."

Two weeks earlier, the president had twice demanded "loyalty" from Comey, who testified that Trump told him, "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty." Pressed by Trump, Comey said he finally assured the president he would get "honest loyalty" from the FBI director.

When Comey didn't halt the investigation of Flynn, Trump fired the FBI director. The next day, Trump boasted to Russian officials in the Oval Office, "I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job," adding, "I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off."

The day after boasting to the Russians, Trump told NBC's Lester Holt, "When I decided to just do it [fire Comey], I said to myself ... this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story."

Philip Allen Lacovara, former Justice Department deputy solicitor general and counsel to Watergate special prosecutors Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski, wrote in The Washington Post:

Comey's statement lays out a case against the president that consists of a tidy pattern, beginning with the demand for loyalty, the threat to terminate Comey's job, the repeated requests to turn off the investigation into Flynn and the final infliction of career punishment for failing to succumb to the president's requests, all followed by the president's own concession about his motive. Any experienced prosecutor would see these facts as establishing a prima facie case of obstruction of justice.

Mueller Could Pressure Flynn to Incriminate Trump

If Mueller charges Michael T. Flynn, that could strengthen the obstruction of justice case against Trump. In fact, once Mueller secures a grand jury indictment of the two Flynns, it's quite possible that the special counsel will pressure the elder Flynn to become a "proactive cooperator" in exchange for lenient treatment of his son and even himself.

Trump has gone to great lengths to protect Flynn, likely because the latter has information that would incriminate the president. It took Trump 18 days to fire Flynn after learning of his lies to Pence. Trump leaned heavily on Comey to look the other way in the Flynn investigation and fired Comey when he refused to let Flynn go.

It was the firing of Comey that led to the appointment of special counsel Mueller.

Trump Jr. and Others in Mueller's Crosshairs

Flynn is not the only official whose family members could be implicated in the Russia investigation; Trump himself faces the same predicament. In June 2016 Donald Trump Jr., Kushner (Trump's son-in-law) and Manafort met at Trump Tower with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin. Trump Jr. arranged the meeting with the expectation of receiving negative information the Russian government supposedly had about Hillary Clinton.

British publicist and former tabloid reporter Rob Goldstone had told Trump Jr. in an email exchange that the Russian government had "some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary," adding, "This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump." Seventeen minutes later, Trump Jr. replied, "If it's what you say I love it."

Trump Jr. insisted that nothing of substance came from the meeting with Veselnitskaya. But five days later, DCLeaks released internal documents from the Clinton campaign for the first time. And one week later, WikiLeaks published numerous hacked Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails. Additional disclosures of hacked data continued to emerge until the presidential election.

Even if the meeting and the release of DNC documents were unrelated and nothing substantive came from that meeting, Trump Jr. and possibly Manafort and Kushner could be liable for attempted violation or conspiracy to violate the Federal Election Campaign Act.

Moreover, new information has come to light that could increase Trump Jr.'s criminal liability. On November 6, Bloomberg reported that Veselnitskaya made explosive statements about Trump Jr. in a Moscow interview. The Russian lawyer claimed that before the election, Trump Jr. indicated to her that if his father became president, the Magnitsky Act -- a US law that froze some Russian officials' access to real estate and to money they had kept in Western banks -- could be reconsidered. The act also banned these officials from entering the United States. Russia retaliated for the Magnitsky Act by halting US adoptions of Russian children.

After the June 2016 meeting became public, in damage control mode, Donald Trump crafted a statement for his son to deliver. It said,

It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up. I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.

NBC News reports that Trump Jr. is "under scrutiny by Mueller." It's quite possible that Mueller is investigating both Trump and Trump Jr. for conspiracy to violate the Federal Election Campaign Act. In this case, the president could potentially be named as an unindicted co-conspirator.

Kushner and former Trump adviser Carter Page are also under scrutiny by Mueller, according to NBC News. And Sessions has been called to testify before Congress again for lying about Trump campaign contacts with Russian officials.

Donald Trump should be very worried.

Categories: Latest News

As Voters Reject Republicans, Progressives Point to Democratic Party's Own Crisis

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 21:00

As voters on Tuesday turned against the Republican Party one year after Donald Trump was elected president, a new report, "Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis," examines the role of Democratic Party loyalists in the party's 2016 defeat. We look at the outcomes from election night and speak with the report's co-author, Norman Solomon.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News


Tue, 11/07/2017 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

Trump's Commerce Secretary Owns Stake in Russian Companies While He Oversees Potential Sanctions

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 21:00

The Paradise Papers revealed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is conducting business with Russian President Vladimir Putin's son-in-law through a shipping venture in Russia. According to the leaked documents, Ross owns a stake through offshore entities in Navigator Holdings, a shipping firm that receives millions of dollars from a company owned by Putin's close allies. On Monday, Ross told the BBC he had declared his interests earlier this year when he joined Trump's administration, and had done nothing wrong. "This Trump administration is responsible for imposing sanctions on various Russians, some of whom are involved in this company, Sibur," responds our guest Jon Swaine of The Guardian. "That's a pretty big conflict."

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Democrats Defy Expectations With Huge Gains in Virginia and New Jersey

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 21:00

Danica Roem (right), who ran for the Virginia House of Delegates against GOP incumbent Robert Marshall, and activist Linda Daubert (left) check out election results at a party at Grafton Street Restaurant and Bar on Tuesday, November 7, 2017, in Gainesville, Virginia. Roem became the first transgender legislator elected in the US later that night. (Photo: Jahi Chikwendiu / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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A giant blue wave swept 2017's most important state elections Tuesday as Democrats won governors' races in Virginia and New Jersey. 

Moreover, in a feat some analysts did not think was possible, early returns showed Democrats on the verge of taking control of Virginia's House of Delegates, its lower chamber, in a state that the GOP gerrymandered in 2011 to create a red super-majority.

In Virginia's governor's race, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam beat Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman, by 9 percentage points, 54-45. The nation's leading voter turnout experts said the race was marked by women voting in historically high numbers and overall voter turnout exceeding expectations in non-presidential years.

In New Jersey, Democrat Phil Murphy, a first-time candidate, took back the governor's seat for the Democrats by defeating the lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, capping a turbulent eight years under Republican Gov. Chris Christie. The party was also on track to win a state legislative majority, putting Democrats back in control of the state.

Both parties' political insiders will see Virginia's election as a national bellwether. Virginia was viewed as an indication of whether swing-state Republicans could survive President Trump's deep unpopularity. In addition to winning the governor's seat, a race where the GOP threw everything nasty at the Democrat, including race-baiting, the biggest shock was early returns suggesting Democrats could take over the House of Delegates.

"BREAKING: Democrats are IN THE LEAD to pick up the VA House of Delegates. They've picked up 12 GOP seats & currently lead in 6 (!!!) more. Whoa," tweeted Dave Wasserman, US House editor of the non-partisan Cook Political Report and one of the nation's foremost experts on extreme redistricting -- which Virginia Republicans did in 2011 to their legislative seats. "You can't really look at tonight's results and conclude that Democrats are anything other than the current favorites to pick up the US House in 2018."

"Some of these leads are nail biters. Could see recounts," countered a tweet by Michael McDonald, an associate professor at the University of Florida who specializes in voter turnout. Earlier in the day, he tweeted, "The first hints of a 2006 [blue] wave came when Democrats took back control of the Virginia Senate in 2005. Was first Southern legislative chamber to flip back to the Democrats."

Other leading pollsters and data crunchers also did not foresee Virginia's blue wave.

"Massive turnout. Running 8 percent higher ahead of our estimates, which were 8 percent ahead of 13! Could be heading for nearly 2.7 million votes," tweeted the New York Times' Nate Cohn.

Larry Sabato, the University of Virginia's Institute of Politics executive director, said the results were an open rebellion against the GOP and President Trump.

"Dear Pundit Friends, please stop attributing this D landslide in VA to 'changing demographics'. VA hasn't changed that much since last Nov. 8 (Hillary [won] by 5%). The bigger explanation is a backlash to Trump and Trumpism, pure and simple, " Sabato tweeted.

Among the unexpected victors in Virginia was Democrat Danica Roem, 33, who became the first openly transgender elected official in Virginia.

Roem defeated longtime Republican incumbent Del. Robert G. Marshall. Their race primarily concerned local issues like traffic in suburban Prince William County, the Washington Post noted, but "also exposed the nation's fault lines over gender identity. It pitted a local journalist who began her physical gender transition four years ago against an outspoken social conservative who has referred to himself as Virginia's 'chief homophobe' earlier this year introduced a 'bathroom bill' that died in committee."

It may be several days until the final composition of the House of Delegates, including its majority, is known, Wasserman said.

"Amazingly, the current margin is 150 votes or less in 5 of the 7 VA HoD districts that are still too close to call," he tweeted. "That means control will be decided by absentee/provisional ballots, and may not be determined for days."

"Virginia House of Delegates shaping up to be a 50-50 tie, with one or more recounts. Dems could take HD-94 where Yancey (R) leads by 12 votes with provisional ballots outstanding," McDonald tweeted. "In upside down bizzaro world where Trump is a boring politician, Reps probably wouldn't have had such a bloodbath tonight. Voters would have been satisfied with the economy."

"BREAKING: Cheryl Turpin (D) has unseated Del. Rocky Holcomb (R) in Virginia Beach's  #HD85, reversing the Jan. special election result. Dems +14, need 3 more for control," Wasserman tweeted, just after 11 PM EST. "In a sign of just how bad tonight was for VA GOP, a Dem is within 47 votes in retiring House Speaker Bill Howell's  #HD28. Likely headed to recount."

Meanwhile, in Washington state, it appeared Democrats were poised to take complete control of their state government.

"First results in in WA state Senate race: Dem leads Repub 55-45. Looks like Dems will pick up the seat, and with it total control of WA government," tweeted Reid Wilson, a reporter for

"Washington an all-mail ballot state. Ballots post-marked today will continue to be accepted. WA election officials joke their highest turnout day is day after election. In other words, if this one is close, don't bother to stay up," replied McDonald. "Is it time yet for Democrats to thank Russians for helping take back control of state governments?"

Analysis: Look at Virginia Turnout Margin for 2018

As midnight passed on the east coast, Wasserman noted what might be the most important statistic of the night as applied to the Democrats' prospects in 2018. "Across VA today, raw votes cast were up 16% vs. '13."

The 16 percent figure is key. In states where the GOP imposed extreme gerrymandering after the 2010 election, the Republicans created a starting line advantage of 6-to-8 percent by segregating each party's reliable voters. In other words, they looked at which voters turned out in every election and made sure that Republicans had a 6-8 percent advantage when drawing election districts. They also packed Democrats into districts where they'd win by upwards of 70 percent of the vote.

In addition to the 6-to-8 percent starting line advantage from extreme partisan redistricting, the GOP also imposed voter suppression tactics like stricter voter ID requirements to get a ballot. Those deter another 2-3 percent of likely Democratic voters in fall elections. Thus, the GOP has a structural advantage in many swing states of roughly 10 percent.

However, Virginia's turnout, which as Wasserman said was 16 percent above 2013, its last gubernatorial race, is an indication of what Democrats must do in 2018, voter turnout-wise, to take back the US House and win other key governors' races, such as in Florida, Ohio, Michigan and Georgia (all GOP-gerrymandered states). Keep that figure in mind as you hear analyses of Tuesday's vote; it's the real baseline for 2018.

Categories: Latest News

By Treating Overdoses Like Murder, Prosecutors Are Making the Opioid Crisis Deadlier

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 21:00

The push for murder charges against people who share drugs or sell small amounts of opioids to support their own addictions is only driving vulnerable people further into the shadows of a deadly crisis, advocates say. The resources spent on these prosecutions would be better spent on treatment and harm reduction efforts.

Activists attend a protest denouncing the city's "inadequate and wrongheaded response" to the overdose crisis, outside of the NYPD headquarters, August 10, 2017, in New York City. (Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

Peter Bruun and his family were not going to let another young life be destroyed.

In 2014, Bruun's 24-year-old daughter Elisif contacted her friend Sean Harrington while she was receiving treatment for heroin addiction at a mental wellness facility in North Carolina. She asked Harrington, who struggled with the same addiction and was living houseless in Philadelphia at the time, to send her heroin in the mail. Harrington agreed.

Elisif overdosed and died at the treatment facility after taking the drugs, a tragedy that accompanies relapse all too often. Police followed a paper trail right back to Harrington, who was arrested and extradited to North Carolina on second-degree murder charges. He faced up to 52 years in prison.

The Bruuns initially told prosecutors that they would rather see the person who mailed the drugs receive treatment than prison time if their situation was anything like Elisif's. After learning that the suspect was a friend who was also addicted to heroin, not a "professional" drug dealer who preyed on sick people, the Bruuns reiterated their stance in an email that went unanswered. The prosecution proceeded anyway, perhaps influenced by media-driven panic around the opioid overdose crisis. The Bruuns refused to cooperate.

"Indeed, we had established a relationship with Sean and his family and, as you might expect, we had a lot more in common with them than with the prosecutors," Peter Bruun told reporters this week on a call organized by the Drug Policy Alliance.

After he spent two years in jail, Harrington's charges were dropped, in part because the Bruuns did not cooperate with the prosecution. The young man is successfully recovering and has not used drugs in three years. Bruun said nothing has helped with his own healing process like "Sean's redemption and good health."

"Elisif was ill, and so was Sean, and they both deserve life and don't deserve blame," said Bruun, who is now an activist challenging stigma around drug use.

The decision to charge Harrington with the murder of his own friend is part of a disturbing national trend. Under a federal drug-induced homicide law and similar laws in North Carolina and 19 other states, prosecutors can charge people who sell or share drugs that lead to death with manslaughter and even murder.

Many of the state homicide laws were passed by legislatures in 1980s and 1990s, when lawmakers and law enforcement mistakenly believed the war on drugs could be "won" by cracking down on suppliers. The laws were rarely used for years, but now prosecutors are increasingly returning to these statutes to pursue homicide charges in response to the opioid crisis.

Lawmakers in at least 13 states have introduced bills that create or strengthen drug-induced homicide statutes in 2017 alone. Even in states that don't have such laws on the books, prosecutors are increasingly pursuing homicide charges in response to rising rates of opioid overdose deaths.

There is no available data on the number of drug-induced homicide prosecutions nationwide, but the Drug Policy Alliance found that the number of media stories mentioning such prosecutions increased by 300 percent from 2011 to 2016. Coverage of the opioid overdose crisis also increased during this time, and prosecutors and district attorneys often respond to public outcry by seeking more serious charges.

Prosecutors argue their efforts deter drug sales and take traffickers profiting from the misery of others off the streets, but advocates say there is not a "shred of evidence" that enforcing drug-induced homicide laws reduces drug use, sales and deadly overdoses, according to a new report from the Drug Policy Alliance. Instead of preventing deaths, this expansion of the criminal dragnet deters drug users from seeking medical treatment and calling 911 in the event of an overdose.

Moreover, the history of drug criminalization suggests these enhanced prosecutions disproportionately impact poor communities and communities of color.   

For example, in Louisiana, a spike in overdose deaths in New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas inspired a law enforcement crackdown in recent years. Top cops and prosecutors warned drug dealers in interviews with the local media that selling heroin could land them a life sentence under the state's homicide statute, but that did little to prevent deaths. From 2014 to 2015, the number of fatal overdoses increased by 12 percent.

Prosecutors are abusing their already sweeping discretion in drug cases by seeking homicide charges against people who are often no more culpable than the person who died, according to the Drug Policy Alliance report. In order to secure homicide charges, prosecutors must prove the defendant "caused" a death, and that evidence becomes more difficult to come by as the investigators move up the supply chain. As a result, the vast majority of drug-induced homicide charges are brought against friends and family who share drugs or acquaintances who sell small amounts of opioids in order to support their own addictions.

"They say these laws will be used to go after so-called kingpins, when in fact what all of the data to date shows is that these laws are actually being prosecuted most often against the very last person to touch the drug," said Lindsay LaSalle, a senior attorney at the Drug Policy Alliance, at a press conference on Tuesday.

The trend toward heightened charges has another dangerous effect: The friends and family currently being targeted for prosecution are often the very same people who are in the best position to call an ambulance during an overdose.

In response to the overdose epidemic, many cities and states have enacted "911 Good Samaritan" laws that typically prevent police from making arrests for minor drug and paraphernalia possession when responding to an overdose, thus encouraging users to call for help. The enforcement of drug-induced homicide laws has undermined this effort because people fear facing decades in prison if they call 911.

"These laws are more than just a misguided response to overdose deaths, they are truly inhumane," Lindsay said.

Homicide prosecutions are also very expensive, and advocates argue there are much better ways to spend public dollars. As Truthout has reported, treating the overdose crisis as a public health problem by expanding access to evidence-based drug treatments and harm reduction services is a proven strategy for helping people recover without throwing them behind bars.

For example, governments in countries such as Portugal support efforts to supply heroin users with testing kits that detect deadly adulterants like fentanyl. While drug testing kits are becoming more popular at music festivals, the US government has yet to support this harm reduction strategy in local communities.  

"Suppose for a moment if it was easier to get into treatment than it is to get into jail," said Gwen Wilkinson, a former district attorney in western New York who now advocates for public health solutions to drug problems.

Increasing criminal penalties for selling drugs has never solved drug problems. The supply for drugs like opioids that cause physical dependence is driven by demand, not the other way around. By seeking murder charges for people involved with opioids, prosecutors are driving vulnerable people deeper into the shadows of a deadly crisis.

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Categories: Latest News

Paul Manafort's Role in the Republicans' Notorious "Southern Strategy"

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 21:00

As part of the ongoing probe into Russian efforts to help Donald Trump in the 2016 US presidential election, Special Counsel Robert Mueller last week handed down criminal indictments of three Trump campaign associates, among them former campaign chair Paul Manafort of Virginia.

In a 12-count indictment that also named his business partner, Manafort was charged with conspiracy to launder money, serving as an unregistered agent of a foreign power, making false statements and other crimes. The charges relate to his laundering through foreign shell companies millions of dollars made lobbying for a pro-Russia party in Ukraine -- work he failed to properly disclose -- and using it to buy luxury goods and property while avoiding taxes. Manafort surrendered to the FBI, pleaded not guilty and was placed under house arrest. If convicted, the 68-year-old faces up to 80 years in prison.

The charges against Manafort -- a Connecticut native with business and law degrees from Georgetown University -- cap off a controversial career in politics. Much of it he spent lobbying for notorious human rights abusers such as Angolan anti-communist rebel leader Jonas Savimbi and dictators Ferdinand Marcos of the PhilippinesMohammed Siad Barre of Somalia and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo).

But before he was advocating for human rights abusers on the world stage, Manafort was helping the Republican Party gain advantage by embracing the politics of racism at home.

After launching his political career in 1976 as a delegate-hunt coordinator for the President Ford Committee, Manafort went on to co-found a political consulting firm. In that capacity he served as Southern coordinator for Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign, in which he exploited the GOP's "Southern Strategy" -- an effort to build political support for the Republican Party among white Democratic voters in the South through dog-whistle appeals to racism against African Americans. It can be traced back to Republican Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential run and was used with great success by the Nixon campaign in 1968.

Two weeks after Reagan became his party's nominee at the 1980 Republican convention in Detroit, Manafort arranged to have him speak at Mississippi's Neshoba County Fair, a traditional forum for right-wing politics. The visit was hosted by Trent Lott, at the time a Mississippi congressman who would go on to serve in the US Senate only to lose his leadership position in 2002 after praising the segregationist politics of former Dixiecrat-turned-Republican US Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.

The Neshoba County Fair takes place just seven miles from the county seat of Philadelphia, Mississippi. That's where during Freedom Summer of 1964 members of the Ku Klux Klan with help from the local sheriff and police murdered James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner, young civil rights workers who had been registering rural black residents to vote.

Mississippi declined to prosecute anyone involved in the killings at that time, so the federal government stepped in. After a lengthy battle, US prosecutors finally managed to indict 18 people on federal charges of depriving the victims of their civil rights by murder. Held before an all-white jury and a white judge with a record of hostility to the civil rights movement, the trial resulted in convictions for seven men. None served more than six years in prison, so it's possible they attended the fair to hear Reagan speak.

In that historically and racially charged setting, what was the Reagan campaign's message to the overwhelmingly white crowd of 10,000? "States' rights" -- the rallying cry for secessionists during the Civil War and for segregationists during the civil rights movement. Reagan said:

I believe in states' rights. I believe in people doing as much as they can for themselves at the community level and at the private level, and I believe we've distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the Constitution to that federal establishment.

He went on to pledge to "restore to states and local governments the power that properly belongs to them." As Bob Herbert of the New York Times wrote years later in response to Republican efforts to cast Reagan's Neshoba County appearance in a more benign light, "Reagan may have been blessed with a Hollywood smile and an avuncular delivery, but he was elbow deep in the same old race-baiting Southern strategy of Goldwater and Nixon."

A More Abstract Racism

Reagan went on to win a landslide victory over incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter of Georgia and racked up a record hostile to civil rights.

He cut funding for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He sided with the Christian fundamentalist Bob Jones University in South Carolina in a case over whether institutions that discriminate on the basis of race can get federal funds. He even vetoed the Civil Rights Restoration Act requiring publicly funded institutions to comply with civil rights laws, though Congress overrode him.

The day after the 1984 general election, in which Reagan won a second term in an even more overwhelming landslide, Republican political consultant and White House political aide Lee Atwater of South Carolina became a senior partner in Manafort's consulting firm.

Atwater was known for his use of aggressive and racially charged tacticsin his work with congressional campaigns, such as fake surveys implying an opponent was a member of the NAACP. In his work with Manafort's firm, Atwater masterminded the racially charged Willie Horton attack ads run by the George H. W. Bush campaign in 1988 accusing Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis of being weak on crime.

Atwater had discussed the origin and thinking behind the Southern Strategy in a 1981 interview with a political scientist. It surfaced in an audio recording obtained by The Nation magazine in 2012. In it he said:

You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger" -- that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states' rights, and all that stuff, and you're getting so abstract. Now, you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites. … "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger."

Before he died in 1991, Atwater apologized for the tactics he used, noting that while he didn't invent negative politics he was "one of its most ardent practitioners." Manafort, though, has offered no apologies.

Making a Monster

The racially divisive tactics pioneered by Manafort and his colleagues remain a feature of US politics today, though they've been adapted to the times by exploiting white resentment toward Latinos and immigrants as well as African Americans.

After Manafort joined the Trump operation as chair in March 2016, political observers noticed a change in the campaign's tone. Trump stopped with the blatantly outrageous statements, such as saying protesters deserve to be punched in the face, and instead deployed new messaging about threats to "our way of life," and of crime and violence and the need for safety to "be restored."

And in a nod to history, the Manafort-led campaign had Donald Trump Jr. speak at the Neshoba County Fair that July. The crowd chanted, "Build that wall" while some waved Confederate flags. Asked before his speech about the controversy over the Mississippi state flag with its Confederate symbolism, Trump Jr. answered, "There's nothing wrong with some tradition."

But by August 2016, Manafort's work on behalf of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych had begun drawing scrutiny in the US press, which reported that Manafort may have illegally received millions of dollars in off-the-books payments from Yanukovych's party. Manafort resigned from the campaign on Aug. 19, 2016. But Republican leaders continued to praise his work for Trump.

"Nobody should underestimate how much Paul Manafort did to really help get this campaign to where it is right now," said political consultant Newt Gingrich, the former congressional leader from Georgia and GOP presidential candidate who served as an adviser for the Trump operation.

How did the Southern Strategy as refined by Manafort work for Trump? In the end, Southern states delivered 160 Electoral College votes to him -- more than half of the 306 total that sent him to the White House. White voters favored Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton by 21 points. Trump won among white men, white women, whites with and without college degrees, and whites of every voting age group.

One analysis found that had only white people voted in the election, Trump would have captured over 80 percent of all electoral votes -- an outcome that Manafort and other Republicans helped engineer over the course of decades. As Jeet Heer observed in the New Republic, "The Southern Strategy was the original sin that made Donald Trump possible."

Manafort's trial is now tentatively set for April 2018. Regardless of what happens to him next, though, the political monsters he helped create live on.

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Trans Youth Use Theater to Raise Awareness and Change Policy

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 21:00
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At a community building in the small town of Port Townsend, Washington, the cast of "Queer Survival Quest" is gathering before tonight's play. Mel Edwards, 22, puts on eyeliner. Max Stewart, 14, hands out pretzels. Jax DeLuna, 19, has brought a blanket. He groans and drags himself to a quiet corner. Last night's performance was three hours long, and tonight's will be, too.

Seven young people, ages 14 to 23, are all transgender (an "umbrella term," the program explains, "for any gender identity that differs from the one associated with the sex assigned at birth"). They're putting on a piece of public interactive theater to immerse the community in the challenges they face as transgender individuals at their schools, at the county hospital, and at home.

In the process, it also allowed others to see the youth actors not just as transgender, but as happy individuals living complex lives that can't be reduced to a simple label.

The audience had been told to come prepared to participate, because this isn't just performing arts: It's an attempt to engage the community to make concrete policy changes around a community justice issue.

This technique is called legislative theater because the intended audience includes legislators and leaders of local institutions along with the public. They're decision-makers who are interested in understanding how their policies affect an underrepresented group, in this case, trans youth in Port Townsend.

Led by a trained facilitator, the skits highlighted real-life scenarios of injustice. They were performed twice, but the second time around, audience members yelled "stop!" and stepped onstage, replacing the protagonist and improvising alternate outcomes. Then the audience debated potential policies that could be put into action, ranging from mandatory staff training to asking for a grace period from health insurers and agencies to resolve name and gender marker changes.

After the show and in the following days and weeks, the cast and crew connected with the local leaders who attended the show to make sure they were following up with the policy ideas that were discussed.

Mike Glenn, the CEO of Jefferson Health Center, is commissioning a training video to reaffirm the health center's commitment to respectful and compassionate care of patients of diverse gender identities. Carrie Ehrhardt, the principal of Port Townsend High School where two of the actors are students, says the school plans to conduct staff training on terminology, pronouns, how to talk about and to transgender students, among other issues.

"I was really moved by the courage and confidence that the students demonstrated during the [performance], and in their interactions with the audience," Ehrhardt wrote in an e-mail. She invited the two actors who attend PTHS to discuss how the administration could support them.

"For me it is around giving LGBTQ students an environment which helps to free them from some of the stress that they may be experiencing as someone who may not 'conform to the norm'," Ehrhardt said.

The play also inspired the students to action. Liv Crecca, 15, a sophomore at PTHS, hopes to be able to pressure administration for trans-inclusive sex ed in the next year, as well as reactivate the school's Gay-Straight Alliance.

"I've gone through the public-school system my entire life, and I got no education around being queer or around being trans, which is really, really problematic," Crecca says.

Legislative Theatre is not new in the US, but only two groups regularly bring it before a live audience. One is the Port Townsend-based Mandala Center for Change, which put on this play -- it's their third -- and the other is Theatre of the Oppressed NYC in New York. Both groups adapted their methods from Theatre of the Oppressed, a set of techniques developed in the 1960s by the Brazilian actor and politician Augusto Boal, who used them during his term on the Rio de Janeiro city council. Boal envisioned theater as an active part of the democratic process.

"We understand that storytelling is key to helping decision makers understand the humanity and the depth and the nuance of the problem, and that those stories need to be told by people who are experiencing those problems -- for accuracy, for ethics," says Katy Rubin, the executive director of TONYC.

"In a situation when the legislation might be missing some nuance because of the experience of community members, or missing some creative way to solve a problem in the legislation, that's where this kind of work is really key," Rubin says.

Both the Mandala Center and TONYC hold workshops and training sessions for advocacy groups that are looking for other ways to help their communities.

Marc Weinblatt, who is the founder of the Mandala Center and directed "Queer Survival Quest," says that theater lends itself to social change because it's a useful tool for working with difficult issues. Not only that, but it's also fun.

"And that's not to be flippant about it all, that's just to say: Theater is alive. It's engaging. You laugh," Weinblatt says.

In "Queer Survival Quest," Max Stewart's character, Kevin, confronts people that have no idea how to interact with a transgender person, and he's having a really bad day. At school, bullying and sexual harassment sets in after his teacher outs him in front of a class -- not all of his classmates know that he's transgender. Later, at a pharmacy, he can't get medication because the staff won't accept his insurance because of his recent name change.

As transgender, gender-fluid, non-binary or questioning youth, the Kevins among us are not alone, but in a town of 10,000, they might feel like they are. "A lot of people don't think they know any trans people. But they do," says Beau Ohlgren, who advised the production. The transgender population is under-studied, but an analysis from the UCLA School of Law's Williams Institute estimates that one in 137 teenagers identify as trans.

Ohlgren, a youth worker and advocate who also is transgender, said it's hard for people -- all people, even if they're gay, queer, or transgender themselves -- to grasp these issues when they're only now becoming aware of trans youth and don't even have the vocabulary to describe their identity and experiences.

"Being non-binary is newer in cultural consciousness of the US and people fight back against it, and it can feel like a really uphill battle for youth that is really just trying to 'live their bliss' and get access to things," Ohlgren says.

Though many Port Townsend school and hospital policies are outwardly accepting, when their individual staff members are ignorant of the experiences and needs of their transgender patients and students, it bars them from actually benefiting from these policies -- and can cause harm.

"A lot of our antagonists aren't inherently antagonistic people, but well-meaning and ignorant," says Mel Edwards, who played the role of Kevin's mother.

Eamon Redding, 23, agrees. "All the situations on the on stage could have been avoided if people were educated," Redding says. "If you aren't queer, how are you going to put yourself in the position of someone who is queer?"

For these youth, the play's the thing.

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Meet the Congresswoman Trying to Remove Barriers to Opportunity for People With Records

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 21:00

This article was published by 

Today, as many as 1 in 3 Americans have some type of criminal record -- many convicted of only minor offenses, and some having only arrests that never led to a conviction. But even a minor record can create lifelong barriers to employment, housing, education, and more, relegating many people with records and their families to a lifetime in poverty.

That's why a bipartisan coalition in Pennsylvania has worked for more than two years to pass first-in-the-nation "clean slate" legislation that would allow minor nonviolent records to be automatically sealed once an individual remains crime-free for a set period of time. A bill was unanimously approved in the Pennsylvania Senate, 50-0, earlier this year, and it is expected to clear the House soon. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) has said he will sign the legislation into law. Even the Philadelphia Eagles are vocally supporting the bill.

And now there is movement to bring clean slate to the halls of Congress. At the recent #UnlockingOpportunity conference in Washington, I spoke with Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D) -- Delaware's first woman and first person of color elected to Congress -- about her run for office and the prospect of clean legislation at the federal level.

Rebecca Vallas: I'd love to hear from you about your background and why you've decided to take on criminal justice reform and re-entry.

Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester: First, I never ran for office in my life. But in 2014, my husband ruptured his Achilles tendon on a business trip and blood clots went to his heart and lungs and he passed away. It changed everything for me.

I'm typically a very joyful person. Every job I've ever had I brought joy to it -- from working as a summer youth employment coordinator, to working in the office of then-Congressman Tom Carper as an intern, to being a case worker and working on Social Security Disability and housing and other issues, to being Delaware's secretary of labor. But when Charles passed, it made me question why am I here. What's my purpose? And that election year I saw so many people who looked either sad or mad, who had a feeling of loss. Whether they lost their job or home during the housing crisis, or a child to gun violence, it just felt heavy. And the people who were running for office … I was like, "I'm already sad, and y'all are bringing me down."

One or two encounters with the law should not stop you from supporting yourself or your family.

So, I decided to run. And I was debating Ivy League lawyers. People would comment on blogs that I looked like a deer in the headlights -- because I was a deer in the headlights, I was scared to death. But the more stories I heard from people in my state, the more compelled I felt. And I remember one day at a campaign event in the park a guy was talking about the fact that he had gotten out of prison, and no matter how hard he tried he could not find a job. It reminded me of my own family history -- my uncles and cousins in Philadelphia who went in and out of the prison system. And so this whole concept of clean slate rang true because your one or two encounters with the law should not stop you from supporting yourself or your family. This issue touches people's ability to buy a home, to rent an apartment, to just live.

When I heard about Pennsylvania's legislation, it was a no-brainer for me that this is an issue that cuts across parties. And so we can announce here that I will be introducing federal clean slate legislation.

Thank you. And I'd love to hear from you how a federal clean slate law could remove barriers not just for people with records but for their children and for their families.

We all know the impact that a parent going through a criminal justice system has on families. An article in The Atlantic magazine is a perfect example. It's about a woman who was 57 years old, who was a grandmother. This charge had been following her for 38 years and stopping her from getting a job. But this legislation is saying it shouldn't be hard for you to clean your record when you've served your time, some time has gone by, and it was a nonviolent offense. Anything that gets rid of the barriers for people to live, go to school, have a job, rent or own a home, that's the goal of this legislation is to clean the slate so that you can live your life.

What are the chances of seeing something actually move through Congress?

We can at least try to find common ground. I already have in mind a [Congressperson] who's got a criminal justice background, who will probably seem way to the other political extreme of me, but who can also provide credibility. I believe that we can get this done -- and it doesn't even cost money. The fact that it could possibly save money and help the economy and help people's lives I think makes it a win-win-win.

I also want to leave everyone with a message of encouragement. That no matter what you see swirling around you, stay focused. I was a dancer as a kid, and we'd do pirouettes. And people would say, "How can you spin and not fall?" It's because you would focus on one spot, even though everything is spinning around you. We're gonna make it through all of this swirl.

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How Silicon Valley Exploits Consumers in Order to "Serve Mankind"

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 21:00

Silicon Valley leaders propose a society in which personal freedoms are near absolute and government regulations wither away, writes Noam Cohen. In his book, Cohen discusses how these leaders tap into our yearning for a utopia made real, while not fully understanding humanity itself.

(Photo: Bhupinder Nayyar; Edited: LW / TO)

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The following is an excerpt from the introduction of Noam Cohen's new book The Know-It-Alls: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball.

Silicon Valley surely is unrivaled in the American economy in its claims to "serve mankind." So much so, in fact, that the satirical TV show Silicon Valley has a running joke that whenever a start-up founder is introduced, no matter how absurdly technical his project may be, he assures the audience that he is committed to "making the world a better place." Paxos algorithms for consensus protocols … making the world a better place. Minimal message-oriented transport layers … making the world a better place. Yet strip away the satire, and you find that Google works from the same playbook. The company assures us that it collects and stores so much personal information about its users to better serve them. That way, Google sites can remember what language you speak, identify which of your friends are online, suggest new videos to watch, and be sure to display only the advertisements "you'll find most useful." Even when Google is being paid by businesses to show you ads, it's really thinking about making your life better!

Facebook similarly insists that it acts in the best interest of humanity, no matter how its actions may be perceived. For example, there is the Free Basics project, which provides a Facebook-centric version of the Internet for cell phone users who cannot afford access to the actual Internet. Critics in India objected to Facebook's apparent largesse, seeing the program as pushing a ghettoized, fake-Internet experience for poor people merely to keep its audience growing. Facebook's chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, didn't back down, however, describing the dispute as a choice between right and wrong, between raising hundreds of millions of people out of poverty through even limited Internet access or leaving them to suffer without any access at all. He made a public appeal by video, which concluded, "History tells us that helping people is always a better path then shutting them out. We have a historic opportunity to improve the lives of billions of people. Let's take that opportunity. Let's connect them."

(Book cover courtesy of The New Press)Certainly, from time immemorial, moguls have believed that their own prosperity must be good for all of society, but only the recent batch of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have acted as if money were an unanticipated byproduct of a life devoted to bettering mankind. Marc Andreessen, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist who serves on Facebook's board, was scathing when he learned that the Indian government had sided with the critics and blocked Free Basics. The government's decision was "morally wrong" and punishing to the world's poorest people, Andreessen wrote on Twitter, offering yet another example of how India has been on the wrong track since its people kicked out their British overlords. "Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades. Why stop now?" he asked sarcastically. Andreessen quickly apologized when he saw the furious response to those comments, particularly within India, but they nonetheless proved that he belonged among a tiny class of public figures who would have the self-assurance to make such a statement in the first place, to trash Indian democracy and self-determination in defense of their own belief systems and their own particular business models.

The Know-It-Alls is the story of these powerful, uber-confident men, starting with Andreessen, who helped nurture the World Wide Web to prosperity in the 1990s before switching to investing. It ends with Zuckerberg, who has the most ambitious plans for linking the world within his own commercial online platform. Along with Andreessen and Zuckerberg there's a bevy of tech Internet billionaires, including Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google, Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn, and the early Facebook investor Peter Thiel. They are a motley crew -- some, like Hoffman, are outwardly friendly, cuddly even, while others, like his good friend Thiel, cultivate an aura of detachment and menace. Some, like Brin and Page, one suspects would prefer to be left alone with their computers, while others, like Bezos or Zuckerberg, seek the limelight. Some were born to program, others to make money. But they share common traits: each is convinced of his own brilliance and benevolence, as demonstrated by his wildly successful companies and investments, and lately each is looking beyond his own business plans to promote a libertarian blueprint for us all.

Collectively, these Silicon Valley leaders propose a society in which personal freedoms are near absolute and government regulations wither away, where bold entrepreneurs amass billions of dollars from their innovations and the rest of us struggle in a hypercompetitive market without unions, government regulations, or social-welfare programs to protect us. They tap into our yearning for a better life that technology can bring, a utopia made real, yet one cannot escape the suspicion that these entrepreneurs may not fully appreciate what it means to be human. That is, not just to be a human individual -- the unit that libertarianism is so obsessed with -- but to be part of a family, a community, a society.

Note: Footnotes can be found in the book.

Copyright © 2017 by Noam Cohen. This excerpt originally appeared in The Know-It-Alls: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball by Noam Cohen, published by The New Press. Reprinted here with permission.

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