Bipartisan opposition is growing to President Trump's proposal to greatly expand offshore oil and gas drilling. The reversal of the Obama-era restrictions would open more than a billion acres of water in the Arctic, Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico to offshore oil and gas drilling. Initially the Interior Department moved to allow offshore oil and gas drilling in nearly all of the United States' coastal waters, but then announced it has dropped plans to open up the waters off the coast of Florida, following fierce opposition by Florida's Republican Governor Rick Scott. Scott is an ally of President Trump, and the state is also home to Trump's winter resort at Mar-a-Lago. Now governors and lawmakers from Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, California, Oregon, Washington and other states are asking why only Florida is being exempted. We speak to Subhankar Banerjee, professor of art and ecology at the University of New Mexico. Banerjee is the author of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land and editor of Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point.
Please check back later for full transcript.
(Photo: Thomas Northcut / Getty Images)
In a move critics denounced as an effort to "stigmatize the poor" and undermine a life-saving component of the social safety net, the Trump administration on Thursday issued guidance that would for the first time allow states to force work or performance requirements on Medicaid recipients.
While Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, euphemistically described the new guidance as an effort to "transform Medicaid," analysts argued that the policy shift is little more than a "sneak attack" on an extremely popular program that provides crucial medical coverage to over 70 million Americans.
"This is just the latest in Trump and Republicans' relentless assault on Medicaid and the broader set of federal programs people rely on. And it's a sign that there is likely more to come," observed Chad Bolt, senior policy manager at Indivisible.
Who could lose their health coverage as a result of this new guidance? People who:
-can't find work
-live in areas of persistent unemployment
-got laid off during a recession
-have seasonal jobs
-don't get as many hours from their employer as they want 7/
As Common Dreams has reported, President Donald Trump and the Republican Party have been eyeing cuts to the already diminished safety net for months, and progressives have repeatedly warned that the deficit-exploding GOP tax plan -- signed into law just after Christmas -- would serve as a vehicle for draconian changes to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.
Even before the Trump administration's guidance was issued on Thursday, ten states -- including Maine, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, and Kentucky -- had already requested a federal "waiver" to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients, and more are likely to follow suit in the coming weeks.
"To qualify for a waiver, a state must provide a convincing justification that its experiment would 'further the objectives' of Medicaid," notes the Washington Post's Amy Goldstein.
Health policy experts were quick to argue that Trump's new policy will do precisely the opposite.
"Work requirements don't help the unemployed or underemployed find work," Bolt notes, "it punishes them when they're down -- which is exactly what the Trump administration wants to do."
BREAKING: Trump administration is allowing states to terminate automatic, guaranteed Medicaid coverage for people with disabilities, the medically frail, and people who can't find jobs. This is truly savage. https://t.co/5bVPUZCACM— Topher Spiro (@TopherSpiro) January 11, 2018
In addition to slamming the cruelty of the policy shift, analysts also poked holes in the assumptions being used to justify it.
Contrary to the right-wing trope that recipients of Medicaid are unemployed moochers, a Kaiser Family Foundation study published last month found that 80 percent of adult Medicaid recipients "live in working families, and a majority are working themselves."
"Among the adult Medicaid enrollees who were not working, most report major impediments to their ability to work including illness or disability or care-giving responsibilities," the study adds.
If Republicans truly cared about punishing "lazy" individuals soaking up money without having to work for it, they would be focusing their attention on "the idle rich," argued the Washington Post's Elizabeth Bruenig in a recent column.
"They soak up plenty of unearned money from the economy, in the form of rent, dividends and capital income," Bruenig wrote. "And yet rarely do politicians inveigh against the laziness of the well-off. In fact, the government shells out huge sums of money to the rich every year through tax breaks and subsidies."
Echoing Bruenig in a tweet on Wednesday, Roosevelt Institute fellow Michael Linden concluded, "There is perhaps no better example of the moral rot at the core of the Republican Party than imposing so-called 'work requirements' on sick Medicaid recipients just weeks after passing a massive tax cut for rich heirs who literally did no work at all to inherit their wealth."Thanks to reader support, Truthout can deliver the news seven days a week, 365 days a year. Keep independent journalism going strong: Make a tax-deductible donation right now.
Customers purchase copies of one of the first UK consignments of Michael Wolff's book on Trump's presidency Fire and Fury, at Waterstones, Piccadilly on January 9, 2018, in London, England. The book is already a bestseller with over a million orders in the US alone. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)This story was published because of support from readers like you. If you care about maintaining a free and independent media, make a donation to Truthout!
Along with a significant segment of the planet, I downloaded Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, Michael Wolff's ubiquitous new tell-all book, the first morning it was available. I expected to love it, for no other reason than its very existence motivated Trump into a paroxysm of cease-and-desist threats and looming defamation suits. How is that not fun all by itself?
I plowed through it, highlighting passages like a college kid working a thesis … then it was over, and there I was, just absolutely hating it. I felt dull, dirty and mean in its wake. It was as if the slime contained in the pages had slithered under my fingernails and into my bloodstream. I felt polluted. I felt like lice. I felt like the president of the United States.
Don't get me wrong, it's a fine read in the main. While Wolff's reporting in the book has taken a number of justified hits for being sloppy with the details, the essence of what he describes has been confirmed time and again by other reporters pursuing other stories. Since the very first day of this administration, Donald Trump and his people have approached their duties like kids dropping bricks off a highway overpass, and that sort of behavior leaves a very visible mark.Since the very first day of this administration, Donald Trump and his people have approached their duties like kids dropping bricks off a highway overpass.
This is how it is, and due respect to the author, anyone who has been paying attention didn't learn much of anything new from Wolff's book. The stories I'd never heard before were only depressing, not revelatory. Take the scene where campaign aide Sam Nunberg was tasked early on to explain the Constitution and Bill of Rights to candidate Trump, who had little understanding of either. The way Wolff tells it, Trump was rolling his eyes and bored by the time they got to the Fourth Amendment.
Not only did a candidate for president have no grasp of the country's founding documents, according to the book, he didn't care to know. Indeed, aggressive ignorance has been Trump's battle cry since he came down that fateful escalator like a blood sausage on a conveyor belt. Wolff's anecdotes paint a picture we can already see. It's not confirmation bias when it's already been confirmed a thousand different ways.
A great many people are hoping Fire and Fury has delivered a terrible blow to an already disorganized and disoriented administration. Perhaps it has. With the Mueller investigation still ticking away behind the White House walls like the tell-tale heart, and with the very real possibility of an electoral bloodbath lurking in November, Wolff's book may be remembered as the first real haymaker anyone has managed to land on Donald Trump since the 2016 campaign began, the one that buckled his knees on his trip to the canvass.
Still, Fire and Fury is a storyboard of the putrid place we occupy in history, for everything that has gone sideways and down, for what we have become as a nation. It is a collection of terrible people doing terrible things for terrible reasons. It broke my heart to read it, and I didn't think politics could do that to me anymore.Fire and Fury is a storyboard of the putrid place we occupy in history.
I hated reading it because it not only encapsulates the reality TV show our government has become, it expands upon it and in many ways, feeds it. Although there is merit to the book's publication, we should remember while reading it that there is no President Trump without the corporate news media's lavish assistance throughout the 2016 campaign. Candidate Trump was great TV; President Trump is even better. Throw a juicy scandal book onto the pyre and the ratings pop like a knot in the bark.
In April 2016, CBS CEO Les Moonves delivered some remarks at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference in San Francisco. Holding forth on the profitability of political advertising on local networks, Moonves shared some observations on Donald Trump's antics during the ongoing presidential campaign. "It may not be good for America," he said, "but it's damn good for CBS, that's all I got to say. So what can I say? It's -- you know, the money's rolling in, and this is fun."
There you have it. The presidency of Donald J. Trump has been a million white Broncos for much of the media, a million Desert Storms, a million 9/11s. Much of the North American continent has not turned off the TV since the man took office, because anything could happen at any minute, and even good people are going to ogle the wreck in the road. Such is the founding principle of modern TV journalism: Get them to look.It broke my heart to read it.
Trump has been a media creation all his life. His ascendancy, his vividly ongoing calamities and now a book that breathlessly describes what we already knew have formed a frictionless moneymaker for Murrow's lights and wires in a box. The TV loves this. Next up on the celebrity presidential parade: Oprah! Before long, we'll be amending the Constitution to stipulate that you can't run for office until you've appeared in at least one pilot.
I don't like Donald Trump. The Wolff book doesn't like Donald Trump. I was predisposed to enjoy it, and I did, because it is a peek at a wreck, and if some of the facts have a case of the wobbles, it's still difficult to look away.
Let's remember, though, that it is also a confection for the media, grist for the mill, cash money. Mainstream media outlets, clearly, are not at all tired of all this winning. We're trapped in a bad plot we didn't write, binge-watching history as the ratings soar.
Finally and for the sake of argument, say Michael Wolff made everything in his book up out of pure sunshine, that it's the tapestry of lies Trump's allies claim it is. It still doesn't matter, not one bit, because the behavior of the president of the United States of America -- every day, for many long years now -- makes every single thing in that book seem not just plausible, but likely. It looks like him, sounds like him, smells like him, and there is no joy in knowing it.We can enjoy this read, but we must also hope the next big book is about what we are doing to fix all this.
When I was 13, my father took me to see the movie Gremlins because I asked him to. It was blood and guts and puppets running amok, and my father frowned all the way through it. When it was over and the lights came up, he looked pained. I asked him what he thought of it. "It reminded me of the end of the world," he replied softly. "All those people getting killed in so many terrible ways, and the audience thought it was hilarious. Everyone was laughing at the wrong things. If that's how people are, it makes me feel doomed."
I hadn't thought of that moment in many years, not until I finished Wolff's book. There is nothing to feel good about with this, no "Gotcha" jolt or sense of empowerment that usually comes with new knowledge. It is just darkness painted black, and I feel doomed, too. We can enjoy this read, but we must also hope the next big book is about what we are doing to fix all this. Right now, there is too much laughter at the wrong things.
Iranian workers and the poor, mostly teens and unemployed young adults, have staged a wave of protests that is shaking the country, particularly the religious and political elite.
These are not the first protests against the Islamic Republic. In 2009, democracy activists built the Green Movement in opposition to then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's rigging of elections that returned the hard-liner to power. More recently, anger at growing class inequality has been the driving motive for strikes and actions over the last two years -- against a new president, Hassan Rouhani, who is associated with reform forces. In many ways, these economic protests have culminated in the current dramatic protest movement that swept through Iran over the last couple of weeks.
Frieda Afary is an Iranian-American librarian and translator, producer of the blog Iranian Progressives in Translation and member of the Alliance of Middle Eastern Socialists. Afary was interviewed by Ashley Smith about the causes of the ongoing revolt and the nature and prospects of the new Iranian resistance.
Ashley Smith: The protests that have swept Iran have captured the attention of the world. How did they begin and how did they spread?
Frieda Afary: On December 28, over 500 people protested in the holy city of Mashhad to oppose the rise in prices of basic goods and increasing poverty. There are rumors that these protests were organized to target President Hassan Rouhani by factions supporting the former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is now out of favor, or the former presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi.
Whether that is true or not, the fact is that the protesters in Mashhad went far beyond what any faction within the government would have wanted. They chanted "Death to Rouhani," "Death to the dictator [Ayatollah Khamenei]," "They turned Islam into a stepping stone and made people desperate," "Neither Gaza, nor Lebanon; I sacrifice my life for Iran," and "Leave Syria alone and think about us."
The protesters used the internet, specifically the Telegram messaging app, to spread the news and call for more actions. And the demonstrations immediately spread to Neyshabur, in the same province of Khorasan, and then to Yazd in the neighboring province.
Other cities followed: Kermanshah (which has a mostly Kurdish population and was the site of a devastating earthquake in November), Ahvaz (in the southern province of Khuzestan, the site of important labor protests), Isfahan, Shiraz, Rasht, Hamedan, Kerman, Zanjan, the holy city of Qom, and the capital of Tehran. All told, as many as 72 cities had protests in the course of the first week of the movement.
The participants are mostly young people under 30, but in some cases, they have included parents with their children. So far, at least 22 people have been killed (including two in detention), and 2,000 (including 100 university students) have been arrested by heavily present security forces.
As the actions spread, other even more radical slogans were raised by demonstrators. They chanted "Down with the regime," "The master [Khamenei] rules and the people beg," "Bread, work, freedom," "Reformists, principalists, this is the end of the story," "Death to Hezbollah," "Freedom for political prisoners," and "The media have gone deaf; Worse than theft."
On the other hand, there have been conservative and nationalistic chants as well, praising the first Pahlavi monarch Reza Shah.
Some government buildings and banks were set on fire by the protesters, and pictures of Khamenei, Khomeini and Qasem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force, have been burned.
What are the causes of this new uprising in Iran? Have there been precursors to this in terms of strikes and mobilizations against worsening economic conditions? How much do the protests have in common with similar ones throughout the Middle East in 2011?
The causes of this uprising are not only economic ones like poverty and unemployment, but also political and social.
About 40 percent of the population lives under the relative poverty line. Around 90 percent of Iran's workers are contract workers without any rights and benefits. The minimum wage of $230 per month -- which is one-fifth of what is needed to support a family of four -- is not even enforced.
On top of these basic economic grievances, there is a growing awareness in the population that the Islamic Republic is spending billions of dollars to fund its military interventions in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, and to some extent Yemen, by denying basic subsistence to the majority of its own population. So the protesters are angry at the state for its regional imperialism.
Furthermore, political repression in terms of lack of freedom of speech, assembly and the press, as well as social discrimination against women and national and religious minorities, is intensifying opposition in an ethnically diverse population that is increasingly literate, aware and connected to the world through the internet.
Sixty percent of Iran's university graduates are women. Most university graduates are unemployed. Forty-five million Iranians out of a population of 82 million have smart phones. The literacy rate is 87 percent.
More specifically, the latest protests have been preceded by over a year of almost daily actions and strikes by workers against non-payment of wages and terrible working conditions. There have been demonstrations by impoverished retirees and those who have lost their meager savings in bankrupt banks.
Teachers and nurses have staged strikes. Many political prisoners, including Reza Shahabi, a labor leader, have been on hunger strike off and on for several years.
Here are just a few examples of labor protests:
In Agh Dareh in the province of Western Azarbaijan, Kurdish gold miners struck, and the bosses' goons responded by flogging them in the summer of 2016.
In Yurt in the province of Golestan, following a mine explosion that killed more than 40 workers and injured many others in May 2017, workers protested against Rouhani's campaign appearance outside the Yurt mine and prevented him from giving his speech. They banged on and jumped on his car, expressing their anger and frustration with unbearable working conditions, lack of the most basic workplace health and safety standards, and nonpayment of wages and benefits.
Larger labor protests have involved the Azarab and HEPCO industrial workers in Arak who were beaten and arrested by anti-riot police in September 2017, and the Haft Tapeh sugar cane plantation workers in Khuzestan, whose strikes have been continuing off and on for several years. Both the HEPCO and the Haft Tapeh workers have gone on strike again as of a few days ago.
Teachers' strikes in March have demanded not only better pay, but also improved education for students. Nurses have protested against the severe pressure of their workload, as well as low wages.
All of these protests are very similar to the 2011 protests that began in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria. They are a response to both economic impoverishment and political and social repression. They have the added feature of opposing the military interventions of the Iranian government in other countries of the region.
How is this uprising different from the Green Movement in 2009? Is there a difference in the class character of the movement?
The Green Movement that swept Iran in 2009 was against the fraudulent presidential election that returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power. It was led by the reformist section of the establishment, had a predominantly middle-class base, and had hopes for the reform of the Islamic Republic, not its overthrow.
Today's protests are different in several important respects. They directly oppose poverty and systemic corruption and are not supporting some leaders within the regime as their possible saviors.
They include the wide participation of the working class (both men and women) as well as the unemployed. In 2009, most participants were from the urban middle class. The working class did participate in those protests as well, but not en masse.
The demands this time are far more radical. As I noted before, they include calls for an end to the Islamic Republic, death to Supreme Leader Khamenei, death to President Rouhani, death to the Revolutionary Guards. In 2009, the demands were mostly limited to a fair election and reforming the existing system.
Today's protests also have a more internationalist consciousness. After six years of Iran's military intervention in Syria, almost 40 years of presence in Lebanon through Hezbollah, and almost 15 years of presence in Iraq through various militias, demonstrators are explicitly demanding an end to Iran's military interventions.
There also have been more explicit challenges to the state's repressive gender policies. In some cases, individual women have bravely taken off their headscarves or veils in public places and have encouraged others to follow them. In general, women have had a very strong presence in these protests, as in 2009, but there have been more working-class women.
Whereas the 2009 protests mostly took place in major cities such as Tehran and Isfahan and were larger (reaching up to 1 million in Tehran in June 2009), the current protests have started in the smaller cities and are smaller in size (numbering hundreds or at best a few thousand). But the demonstrations have been far more widespread this time.
In fact, Tehran has been relatively quiet in comparison to other cities. Small protests have taken place at Tehran University and other locations. However, the largest number of arrests (450 out of 2,000 so far) have been made in Tehran. Some of those are leftist university students. Some of those arrested have not even participated in the latest protests. They have been arrested in their homes by security forces.
In comparison to the 2009 Green Movement, the slogans are much more radical. They oppose poverty, repression, Iranian military intervention and the whole regime.
However, slogans that would oppose patriarchy, misogyny and the oppression of national and religious minorities such as Kurds and Bahais are still missing. Such demands are urgently needed to strengthen the progressive content of the protests.
How have the different factions of the ruling class and state bureaucracy responded to the uprising?
State police and security forces as well as plainclothes forces have had an increasingly strong presence at the protests, but they have not been as violent as in 2009. The military and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have attributed the protests to US imperialism, the Trump White House, the CIA, Israel and the Western media.
On January 9, Ayatollah Khamenei announced that the protests were a conspiracy of the alliance of the US, the Gulf states and the Mujahideen Khalq. He said he was witnessing the "battle between Iran and anti-Iran, Islam and anti-Islam."
Earlier, the commander of the IRGC, Mohammad-Ali Jaafari, also indirectly accused former President Ahmadinejad of having instigated the protests. The IRGC's official statement claimed that the protesters had been influenced by US and Zionist propaganda.
Mohsen Rezai, the secretary of the powerful Council of Expediency, named Saudi Arabia and Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani as the instigators. Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda called the protesters "goons and hooligans."
President Hassan Rouhani's vice president, Ishaq Jahangiri, attributed the protests to a conspiracy of the opponents of Rouhani, and implicitly accused Ahmadinejad. Later, Rouhani announced that people should have a right to protest, so long as they are not violent. In fact, however, the strong presence of security forces has been aimed at stopping the protests.
A week after the protests began, the state also organized its own pro-regime protests in five cities. They did so to demonstrate that they retained a popular base and to intimidate anti-government activists. However, those demonstrations had much smaller numbers than ones previously organized by the regime.
And as I noted, at least 2,000 people have been arrested, and at least 22 people have been killed, including two in detention. The state has also blocked access to Telegram and Instagram instant messaging, and has limited access to the internet.
So the state is trying to run interference in the development of the movement. However, the crackdown has not yet been as severe and bloody as 2009 -- perhaps because this time, the protesters mostly represent what has been, for the past 39 years, the mass base of the regime.
One of the striking things about some of the slogans of the uprising is their opposition to Iran's assertion of regional power against its rivals Saudi Arabia and Israel in Lebanon, Syria, Gaza and elsewhere. What is the significance of these slogans?
The main slogans on this issue have been "Leave Syria alone, pay attention to us" and "Neither Lebanon, nor Gaza, I sacrifice my life for Iran." The first does not have any nationalist overtones and has been welcomed by Syrians, who are being bombed by the Assad regime, with Iran's support.
The second slogan, "Neither Lebanon, nor Gaza, I sacrifice my life for Iran," opposes Iran's military interventions from a nationalist point of view. Some have also objected to this slogan because it does not attempt to express sympathy for the Palestinians.
The fact that these protests are opposing Iran's military intervention in the region is extremely welcome and is showing those suffering under Assad and Hezbollah that the Iranian government does not represent the wishes of its people.
The antiwar slogans can help to weaken the war threats against Iran by Trump, Netanyahu and Muhammad Ben Salman. However, the movement needs slogans that are not nationalistic, but ones that express international solidarity from below with the people of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Yemen.
Another noticeable dynamic of this rising is the absence of coherent political leadership, at least so far. Why is this the case? Does this open the movement up to co-optation, either domestically or internationally or both? Are there signs of organizations forming that overcome this limitation?
There is a vacuum of political leadership for several reasons. The reformists have been discredited. Many analysts have criticized the latest state budget offered by the Rouhani administration, which massively cuts subsidies, increases prices, and increases the military and religious institutions' share.
It also needs to be added that Rouhani, who had been presented as the alternative to the hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, has on many occasions made it clear that he is not fundamentally opposed to the IRGC or Iran's military interventions abroad.
The IRGC, the government (both the president and the parliament) and the Guardian Jurist, Khamenei, are all united around the goal of preserving a strong state, with a smaller social welfare sector and a much larger military sector.
Socialists and Marxists have been distinctly absent from any kind of leadership role in the latest protests. Some have been involved in labor solidarity work that preceded the current wave of protests and have encouraged workers to call for an end to the privatization of state enterprises.
But this focus is too narrow and misunderstands the nature of the so-called privatization that is going on. The state has used the cover of "privatization" to transfer of capital from the state to the para-statal sector during the past 12 years. This has, in fact, concentrated and centralized capital in the hands of the state and its army.
The state has also used this faux privatization to enable these para-state enterprises to violate or avoid compliance with the meager labor laws that exist. For starters, then, socialists should actually argue that the IRGC and other para-statal institutions that hire labor without any regulations are part of the state and should be subject to its meager labor laws.
Another reason for the absence of socialists from the leadership of the current protest movement is that they have not taken a strong stand against Iran's military intervention in other countries in the region, especially Syria.
Some have even supported Bashar al-Assad as an "anti-imperialist" or "the lesser of the two evils" in comparison to ISIS. Some have also backed Putin's bombing of Syria.
What is lacking is anti-authoritarian socialist organization opposed to private and state capitalism, military intervention, patriarchy, and ethnic and religious discrimination, while promoting discussion on a humanist alternative to capitalism.
That type of organization is needed as an active participant in labor, feminist and oppressed minority struggles, and as a catalyst for regional and international solidarity. Without such an effort, the current movement would certainly be open to co-optation, both domestically and internationally.
At the same time, many of the independent unions have supported the demonstrations. The Free Union of Iranian Workers, the Association of Electrical and Metal Workers of Kermanshah, the Association of Painters of Alborz Province, the Tehran Bus Workers Union, the Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Workers, along with the Labor Defenders' Center and the Committee for the Pursuit of the Establishment of Labor Organizations have all issued powerful statements in solidarity with the protesters and their demands.
This is extremely positive and offers an opportunity for a genuine left alternative to be organized inside the working-class resistance to the regime.
What lessons should the new uprising in Iran take from the movement in 2009 and the Arab Spring more generally?
The main lesson from both 2009 and what became known as the Arab Spring is that for a movement to succeed, it needs to not limit itself to reformism or even to opposing the existing regime.
The movement needs to develop an alternative goal to both private and state capitalism. And it must build strong ties between labor, feminist struggles and the struggles of oppressed minorities.
All of these elements are needed to build regional and global solidarity with anti-capitalist struggles that also oppose patriarchy, racism and ethnic or homophobic prejudices.
Reading and discussing Marx, as a political economist and as a humanist philosopher, is critical for movement participants. We have suffered enough from Stalinism and Maoism and have seen the non-viability of Keynesian types of state capitalism. We need to revive the ideas of a genuine revolutionary socialism.
You are active in a new formation called the Alliance of Middle Eastern Socialists, which is trying to build solidarity among revolutionaries in the region. What are the aims of this project? How is this significant specifically for uprising in Iran today?
As we said in our founding statement of principles:
We have come together in an Alliance of Middle Eastern Socialists on the basis of the following goals:
1. Opposition to capitalism, militarism, authoritarianism, imperialism, religious fundamentalism, patriarchy/sexism/heterosexism, racism, ethnic and religious prejudice.
2. Developing connections and active forms of solidarity between labor, feminist, anti-racist, LGBT, student and environmental struggles in the Middle East region and internationally.
3. Tackling the deep and historical problems of Middle Eastern socialism.
The region has been so plagued by the politics of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" that any effort to develop an affirmative vision of a humanist alternative to capitalism around universal concepts and goals has been missing. As a result, revolutionary or progressive movements that do emerge, most recently those that arose in 2011, have been destroyed by authoritarian capitalist systems, religious extremism and sectarianism, with the assistance of various regional and global imperialist forces.
We have come together to address these issues in a collective way in a joint website and through joint conferences and other possible activities. We see this Alliance as a place for debate toward the aim of finding real solutions that are not trapped within the capitalist mindset.
We hope that this Alliance will be able to help the current movement in Iran by publicizing its progressive demands, addressing its contradictions, helping to deepen its content, and promoting solidarity between it and other regional and international social justice struggles.
Finally -- and this is important in the event of likely crackdown against the uprising in Iran -- the Alliance has initiated a campaign around political prisoners throughout the region, highlighting a number of prominent cases. What are you asking solidarity activists to do?
The aim of this campaign is fourfold.
First, to shine a spotlight on the political prisoners who are labor, social justice, feminist, anti-racist and human rights activists opposed to war, imperialism, occupation, authoritarianism, religious fundamentalism and extremism.
Second, to oppose all the global and regional imperialist powers in the Middle East: The US, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey and Iran.
Third, to demand that both state actors and non-state actors responsible for perpetrating war crimes in the Middle East be put on trial. We support initiatives meant to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity by enforcing universal jurisdiction, such as the cases filed in Spain, Germany, France and other EU states by local and Syrian lawyers.
Fourth, to show that demanding the immediate release of political prisoners in the Middle East is a crucial part of fighting the rise of authoritarianism and racism at home.
We are asking those who want to help to do the following: Invite a speaker from the Alliance of Middle Eastern Socialists to address your union or organization or classroom; choose a prisoner and write about them in your blog/website or your local newspaper; and join the sponsors of this campaign in organizing activities that connect labor, social justice, feminist, anti-racist, and LGBT struggles in your country to similar causes in the Middle East.
Marines fire a weapon at the Black Top Range training area on Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California, August 9, 2011. (Photo: DVIDSHUB / Cpl. Reece Lodder)
As Donald Trump might put it, major weapons contractors like Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin cashed in "bigly" in his first year in office. They raked in tens of billions of dollars in Pentagon contracts, while posting sharp stock price increases and healthy profits driven by the continuation and expansion of Washington's post-9/11 wars. But last year's bonanza is likely to be no more than a down payment on even better days to come for the military-industrial complex.
President Trump moved boldly in his first budget, seeking an additional $54 billion in Pentagon funding for fiscal year 2018. That figure, by the way, equals the entire military budgets of allies like Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Japan. Then, in a bipartisan stampede, Congress egged on Trump to go even higher, putting forward a defense authorization bill that would raise the Pentagon's budget by an astonishing $85 billion. (And don't forget that, last spring, the president and Congress had already tacked an extra $15 billion onto the 2017 Pentagon budget.) The authorization bill for 2018 is essentially just a suggestion, however -- the final figure for this year will be determined later this month, if Congress can come to an agreement on how to boost the caps on domestic and defense spending imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011. The final number is likely to go far higher than the staggering figure Trump requested last spring.
And that's only the beginning of the good news for the big weapons companies. Industry officials and Beltway defense analysts aren't expecting the real increase in Pentagon spending to come until the 2019 budget. It's a subject sure to make it into the mid-term elections. Dangling potential infusions of Pentagon funds in swing states and swing districts is a tried and true way to influence voters in tight races and so will tempt candidates in both parties.
President Trump has long emphasized job creation above much else, but if he has an actual jobs program, it mainly seems to involve pumping more money into the Pentagon and increasing overseas arms sales. That such spending is one of the least effective ways to create new jobs evidently matters little. It is, after all, an easy and popular way for a president to give himself the look of stimulating economic activity, especially in an era of steep tax cuts favoring the plutocratic class and attacks on domestic spending.
Trump's much-touted $1 trillion infrastructure plan may never materialize, but the Pentagon is already on course to spend $6 trillion to $7 trillion of your taxes over the next decade. As it happens though, a surprising percentage of those dollars won't even go into the military equivalent of infrastructure. Based on what we know of Pentagon expenditures in 2016, up to half of such funds are likely to go directly into the coffers of defense contractors rather than to the troops or to basic military tasks like training and maintenance.
While the full impact of Trump's proposed Pentagon spending increases won't be felt until later this year and in 2019, he did make a significant impact last year in his role as arms-dealer-in-chief. Early estimates for 2017 suggest that arms sales approvals in the first year of his administration exceeded the Obama administration's record in its last year in office -- no mean feat given that President Obama set a record for overseas arms deals during his eight-year tenure.
You undoubtedly won't be surprised to learn that President Trump greatly exaggerated the size of his administration's arms deals. Typically enough, he touted "$110 billion" in proposed sales to Saudi Arabia, a figure that included deals already struck under Obama and highly speculative offers that may never come to fruition. While visiting Japan in November, he similarly took credit for sales of the staggeringly expensive, highly overrated F-35 combat aircraft, a deal that was actually concluded in 2012. To add insult to injury, those F-35s that the US is selling Japan will be assembled there, not in the good old USA. (So much for the jobs benefits of global weapons trading.)
Nonetheless, when you peel away the layers of Trumpian bombast and exaggeration, his administration still posted one of the highest arms sales figures of the last decade and there's clearly much more to come. In all of this, the president may not have done major favors for America's workers, but he's been a genuine godsend for the country's arms manufacturers. After all, such firms extract significantly greater profits on foreign deals than on sales to the Pentagon. When selling to other countries, they normally charge higher prices for weapons systems, while including costly follow-on agreements for maintenance, training, and things like additional bombs, missiles, or ammunition that can continue for decades.
In fact, Trump's biggest challenge in accelerating US arms exports may not be foreign competition, but the fact that the Obama administration made so many high-value arms deals. Some countries are still busy trying to integrate the weapons systems or other merchandise they've already purchased and may not be ready to conclude new arms agreements.The Good News for Arms Makers: More War
There are, however, a number of reasons to think that the major weapons makers will do even better in the coming years than they did in the banner year of 2017.
Start with America's wars. As defense expert Micah Zenko of Chatham House explained recently at Foreign Policy, President Trump has been doubling down on many of the wars he inherited from Obama. The moves of his administration (peopled, of course, by generals from those very wars) include the increasing use of Special Operations forces, a dramatic rise in air strikes, and an increase in troop levels in conflicts ranging from Afghanistan and Yemen to Syria and Somalia. It remains to be seen whether the president's favorite Middle Eastern ally, Saudi Arabia, will be successful in goading his administration -- replete with Iranophobes, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo -- into taking military action against Tehran. Such calculations have been complicated by recent anti-government protests there, which the president and his inner circle hopewill lead to regime change from within. (Trump's crowing about unrest in Iran has, however, been decidedly unhelpful to genuine advocates of democracy in that country, given the low esteem in which he's held throughout Iranian society.)
Such far-flung military operations will naturally cost money. Lots of it. Minimally, tens of billions of dollars; hundreds of billions if one or more of those wars escalates in an unexpected way -- as happened in Afghanistan and Iraq in the Bush years. As a study by the Costs of War Project at Brown University's Watson Institute recently noted, our post-9/11 wars have already cost at least $5.6 trillion when one takes into account both direct budgetary commitments and long-term obligations, including lifetime care for the hundreds of thousands of American veterans who suffered severe physical and psychological damage in those conflicts. It's important to remember that such immense costs emerged from what was supposed to be a quick, triumphant war in Afghanistan and what top Bush administration officials were convinced would be a relatively inexpensive regime change operation in Iraq and the garrisoning of that country. (That invasion and occupation was then projected to cost just a cut-rate $50 billion to $200 billion.)
Don't be surprised if the conflicts that Trump has inherited and is now escalating follow a similar pattern in which actual costs far outstrip initial estimates, even if not at the stratospheric levels of the Afghan and Iraq wars, which involved the commitment of hundreds of thousands of "boots on the ground." All of this spending will again be good financial news for the producers of combat aircraft, munitions, armored vehicles, drones, and attack helicopters, among other goods and services needed to sustain a policy of endless war across significant parts of the planet.
Beyond the hot wars that have involved US troops and air strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, there are scores of other places where this country's Special Operations forces are on the ground training local militaries and in many cases accompanying them on missions that could quickly turn deadly, as happened to four Green Berets operating in Niger in October 2017. With Special Ops personnel engaged in a staggering 149 countries last year and a pledge to step up US activities yet more in Africa -- there are already 6,000 US troops and scores of "train and equip" missions on that continent -- spending is essentially guaranteed to go up, whatever the specifics of any given conflict. There are already calls by leading members of Congress to increase the size of US Special Operations forces, which, as TomDispatch's Nick Turse notes, already number nearly 70,000 personnel.Boondoggles, Inc.
Rest assured, however, that so far we've only taken a dip in the shallow end of the deep, deep pool of military spending. Equally important to the bottom lines of Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, General Dynamics, and their cohorts is the Trump administration's commitment to continue funding weapons systems the Pentagon doesn't need at prices we can't afford. Take the F-35 combat plane, a Rube Goldberg contraption once designed to carry out multiple missions and now capable of doing none of them well.
In fact, as the Project on Government Oversight has pointed out, it's an aircraft that may never be fully ready for combat. To add insult to injury, billions more will be spent to fix defects in planes that were rushed through production before they had been fully tested. The cost of this "too big to fail" program is currently projected at $1.5 trillion over the lifetimes of the 2,400-plus aircraft currently planned for. This means it is likely to become the most expensive weapons program in the history of Pentagon procurement.
Unfortunately, the F-35 is hardly the only boondoggle that will continue to pad the coffers of defense contractors while offering little in the way of defense (no less the usual offense). A recent estimate from the Congressional Budget Office, for example, suggests that a projected three-decade Pentagon plan to build a new generation of nuclear-armed missiles, bombers, and submarines, initiated under President Obama and close to the heart of Donald Trump, will cost up to $1.7 trillion dollars. This stunning figure includes spending on new nuclear warheads under development at the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration, one of many channels for military spending that are outside the Pentagon's already bloated budget. And given the history of such weapons systems and the cost overruns that regularly accompany them, keep in mind that $1.7 trillion will probably prove a gross underestimate. The Government Accountability Office, for instance, has released a report suggesting that the program to build a new generation of ballistic missile submarines, now priced at $128 billion, is going to blow past that figure.
In recent years, hawks in Congress have been pressing for more funding for missile defense and Donald Trump (with the help of "Little Rocket Man") is their guy. David Willman of the Los Angeles Times reports that the Trump administration wants to spend more than $10 billion over the next five years beefing up a deeply flawed project for placing ground-based missile interceptors in Alaska and California. This is just one of a number of missile defense initiatives under way.
In 2018, Lockheed, Boeing, and General Atomics are also scheduled to test drones that will reportedly use lasers to shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles like those being developed by North Korea. It's a program that will undoubtedly garner tens of billions of dollars more in taxpayer funding in the years to come. And Congress isn't waiting until a final Pentagon budget for 2018 is wrapped up to lavish more money on missile defense contractors. A stopgap spending bill passed in late December 2017 kept most programs at current levels, but offered a special gift of nearly $5 billion extra for anti-missile initiatives.
In addition, a congressionally financed study of the best place to base an East Coast missile defense system -- a favorite hobbyhorse of Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee that even the Pentagon has little interest in pursuing -- is scheduled to be released later this year. The Congressional Budget Office already suggests that the price tag for that proposed system would be at least $3.6 billion in its first five years of development. Yet deploying it, as the Union of Concerned Scientists has pointed out, would have little or no value when it comes to protecting the United States from a missile attack. If the project moves ahead, it won't be the first time Congress has launched a costly, unnecessary spending program that the Pentagon didn't even request.
Cybersecurity has been another expanding focus of concern -- and funding -- in recent years, as groups ranging from the Democratic National Committee to the National Security Agency have been hit by determined hackers. The concern may be justified, but the solution -- throwing billions at the Pentagon and starting a new Cyber Command to press for yet more funding -- is misguided at best. One of the biggest bottlenecks to crafting effective cyber defenses is the lack of personnel with useful and appropriate skills, a long-term problem that short-term infusions of cash will not resolve. In any case, some of the most vulnerable places -- from the power grid to the banking system -- will have to be dealt with by private firms that should be prodded by stricter government regulations, a concept to which Donald Trump seems to be allergic. As it happens, though, creating enforceable government standards turns out to be one of the most important ways of addressing cybersecurity challenges.
Despite the likely spending spree to come, don't expect the Pentagon, the arms makers, their lobbyists, or their allies in Congress, to stop crying out for more. There's always a new weapons scheme or a new threat to hype or another ill-conceived proposal for a military "solution" to a complicated security problem. Trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives later, the primary lesson from the perpetual wars and profligate weapons spending of this century should be that throwing more money at the Pentagon isn't making us any safer. But translating that lesson into a change in Washington's spending patterns would take major public pushback at a level that has yet to materialize.
Genuine opposition to runaway Pentagon spending may yet emerge, if, as expected, President Trump, Paul Ryan, and the Republican Congress follow up their trillion-dollar tax giveaway with an assault on Medicare and Social Security. At that point, the devastating domestic costs of overspending on the Pentagon should become far more difficult to ignore.Pledge your support for ethical, insightful independent media: Make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout and choose the "monthly" option at checkout.
Author Alex S. Vitale has no patience for the usual suggestions for police reform. In fact, he argues that some of them may make policing worse in many communities. The following is an excerpt from his book, The End of Policing.
Activists march against the International Police Chief Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, October 21, 2017. (Photo: Joe Piette)
Do the police protect communities or suppress them? Alex S. Vitale argues that far too often, it is the latter, and that it is only through the radical rethinking of policing and the role of communities in building safe neighborhoods can effective change be achieved. Get The End of Policing with a donation to Truthout now!
Author Alex S. Vitale has no patience for the usual suggestions for police reform. In fact, he argues that some of them may make policing worse in many communities. The following is an excerpt from his book, The End of Policing.
Any effort to make policing more just must address the problems of excessive force, overpolicing, and disrespect for the public. Much of the public debate has focused on new and enhanced training, diversifying the police, and embracing community policing as strategies for reform, along with enhanced accountability measures. However, most of these reforms fail to deal with the fundamental problems inherent to policing.Training
The videotaped death of Eric Garner for allegedly selling loose cigarettes immediately spurred calls for additional training of officers in how to use force in making arrests. Officers were accused of using a prohibited chokehold and of failing to respond to his pleas that he couldn't breathe. In response, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton announced that all New York Police Department (NYPD) officers would undergo additional use-of-force training so that they could make arrests in the future in ways that were less likely to result in serious injury, as well as training in methods to de-escalate conflicts and more effectively communicate with the public.
Such training ignores two important factors in Garner's death. The first is the officers’ casual disregard for his wellbeing, ignoring his cries of "I can't breathe," and their seeming indifferent reaction to his near lifelessness while awaiting an ambulance. This is a problem of values and seems to go to the heart of the claim that, for too many police, black lives don’t matter. The second is "broken windows"-style policing, which targets low-level infractions for intensive, invasive, and aggressive enforcement. This theory was first laid out in 1982 by criminologists James Q. Wilson and George Kelling. They presented existing behavioral research that showed that when a car is left unattended on a street it is usually left alone, but if just one window of the car is broken, the car is quickly vandalized. The lesson: failure to indicate care and maintenance will unleash people's latent destructive tendencies. Therefore, if cities want to establish or maintain crime-free neighborhoods they must take action to ensure that residents feel the pressure to conform to civilized norms of public behavior. The best way to accomplish this is to use police to remind people in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that disorderly, unruly, and antisocial behavior are unacceptable. When this doesn't happen, people's baser instincts will take hold and predatory behavior will reign, in a return to a Hobbesian "war of all against all."
The emergence of this theory in 1982 is tied to a larger arc of urban neoconservative thinking going back to the 1960s. Wilson's former mentor and collaborator, Edward Banfield, a close associate of neoliberal economist Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago, parented many of the ideas that came to make up the new conservative consensus on cities. In his seminal 1970 work The Unheavenly City, Banfield argues that the poor are trapped in a culture of poverty that makes them largely immune to government assistance:
Although he has more "leisure" than almost anyone, the indifference ("apathy" if one prefers) of the lower-class person is such that he seldom makes even the simplest repairs to the place that he lives in. He is not troubled by dirt or dilapidation and he does not mind the inadequacy of public facilities such as schools, parks, hospitals, and libraries; indeed, where such things exist he may destroy them by carelessness or even by vandalism.
Unlike Banfield, who in many ways championed the abandonment of cities, Wilson decried the decline of urban areas. Along with writers like Fred Siegel, Wilson pointed at the twin threats of failed liberal leadership and the supposed moral failings of African Americans. All three of them argued that liberals had unwittingly unleashed urban chaos by undermining the formal social control mechanisms that made city living possible. By supporting the more radical demands of the later urban expressions of the civil rights movement, they had so weakened the police, teachers, and other government forces of behavioral regulation that chaos came to reign.
Wilson, following Banfield, believed strongly that there were profound limits on what government could do to help the poor. Financial investment in them would be squandered; new services would go unused or be destroyed; they would continue in their slothful and destructive ways. Since the root of the problem was either an essentially moral and cultural failure or a lack of external controls to regulate inherently destructive human urges, the solution had to take the form of punitive social control mechanisms to restore order and neighborhood stability.
Wilson's views were informed by a borderline racism that emerged as a mix of biological and cultural explanations for the "inferiority" of poor blacks. Wilson co-authored the book Crime and Human Nature with Richard Herrnstein, which argued that there were important biological determinants of criminality. While race was not one of the core determinants, language about IQ and body type opened the door to a kind of sociobiology that led Herrnstein to coauthor the openly racist The Bell Curve with Charles Murray, who was also a close associate of Wilson.
What was needed to stem this tide of declining civility, they argued, was to empower the police to not just fight crime but to become agents of moral authority on the streets. The new role for the police was to intervene in the quotidian disorders of urban life that contributed to the sense that "anything goes." The broken-windows theory magically reverses the well-understood causal relationship between crime and poverty, arguing that poverty and social disorganization are the result, not the cause, of crime and that the disorderly behavior of the growing "underclass" threatens to destroy the very fabric of cities.
Broken-windows policing is at root a deeply conservative attempt to shift the burden of responsibility for declining living conditions onto the poor themselves and to argue that the solution to all social ills is increasingly aggressive, invasive, and restrictive forms of policing that involve more arrests, more harassment, and ultimately more violence. As inequality continues to increase, so will homelessness and public disorder, and as long as people continue to embrace the use of police to manage disorder, we will see a continual increase in the scope of police power and authority at the expense of human and civil rights.
The order to arrest Eric Garner came from the very top echelons of the department, in response to complaints from local merchants about illegal cigarette sales. Treating this as a crime requiring the deployment of a special plainclothes unit, two sergeants, and uniformed backup seems excessive and pointless. Garner had experienced over a dozen previous police contacts in similar circumstances, including stints in jail; this had done nothing to change his behavior or improve his or the community's circumstances. No amount of procedural training will solve this fundamental flaw in public policy. Many advocates also call for cultural sensitivity trainings designed to reduce racial and ethnic bias. A lot of this training is based on the idea that most people have at least some unexamined stereotypes and biases that they are not consciously aware of but that influence their behavior. Controlled experiments consistently show that people are quicker and more likely to shoot at a black target than a white one in simulations.
Trainings such as "Fair and Impartial Policing" use roleplaying and simulations to help officers see and consciously adjust for these biases. Diversity and multicultural training is not a new idea, nor is it terribly effective. Most officers have already been through some form of diversity training and tend to describe it as politically motived, feel-good programming divorced from the realities of street policing. Researchers have found no impact on problems like racial disparities in traffic stops or marijuana arrests; both implicit and explicit bias remain, even after targeted and intensive training. This is not necessarily because officers remain committed to their racial biases, though this can be true, but because institutional pressures remain intact.
American police receive a great deal of training. Almost all officers attend an organized police academy and many have prior college and or military experience. There is also ongoing training; large departments have their own large training staff, while smaller departments rely on state and regional training centers. Many states have unified Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) agencies that set minimum standards, develop training plans, and advise on best practices. While police training standards are still more decentralized in the United States than in many countries that have national police forces and academies, the new POST system has gone a long way in raising standards and creating greater uniformity of procedures.
However, even after training officers often have inadequate knowledge of the laws they are tasked to enforce. Police regularly disperse young people from street corners without a legal basis, conduct searches without probable cause, and in some cases take enforcement action based on inaccurate knowledge of the law. In Victoria, Texas, an officer assaulted an elderly man he had pulled over for not having a registration sticker on his license plate. The man tried to explain that the vehicle had a dealers' plate, which in Texas is exempt from the sticker requirement. When the officer refused to listen, the man attempted to summon his boss at the car dealership where the confrontation was occurring. Rather than working to resolve the mistake, the officer attempted to arrest the man and in the process injured him with a Taser so badly that he was hospitalized. In the subsequent inquiry, the officer insisted that the man's passive resistance was a threat that had to be neutralized. Since the incident was recorded on the dashboard camera of the police cruiser, the officer was fired.
The training police receive at the academy is often quite different from what they learn from training officers and peers. The emphasis is on strict discipline and rote learning of laws and rules, and emphasizes proper appearance over substance. Cadets are given little in the way of substantial advice about how to make decisions in a complex environment, according to two veteran officers' memoirs. Even sympathetic portrayals, such as the reality television show The Academy, provide stark evidence of a militarized training environment run by drill sergeants who attempt to "break down" recruits through punitive drilling and humiliating personal attacks. When officers start working, the first thing their peers often tell them is to forget everything they learned in the academy.
In some ways, training is actually part of the problem. In recent decades, the emphasis has shifted heavily toward officer safety training. Seth Stoughton, a former police officer turned law professor, shows how officers are repeatedly exposed to scenarios in which seemingly innocuous interactions with the public, such as traffic stops, turn deadly. The endlessly repeated point is that any encounter can turn deadly in a split second if officers don't remain ready to use lethal force at any moment. When police come into every situation imagining it may be their last, they treat those they encounter with fear and hostility and attempt to control them rather than communicate with them -- and are much quicker to use force at the slightest provocation or even uncertainty.
Take the case of John Crawford, an African American man shot to death by an officer in a Walmart in Ohio. Crawford had picked up an air gun off a shelf and was carrying it around the store while shopping. Another shopper called 911 to report a man with a gun in the store. The store's video camera shows that one of the responding officers shot without warning while Crawford was talking on the phone. In Ohio it is legal to carry a gun openly, but the officer had been trained to use deadly force upon seeing a gun. The officer involved was not charged, and Crawford's girlfriend was intimidated and threatened while being questioned after the incident.
Similarly, in South Carolina, a state trooper drove up to a young man in his car at a gas station and asked him for his driver's license. He leaned into the car to comply and the officer shot him without warning: see unexpected movement, shoot.
Part of this emphasis on the use of deadly force comes from the rise of independent training companies that specialize in service training, staffed by former police and military personnel. Some of these groups serve both military and police clients and emphasize military-style approaches and the "warrior mentality." The company CQB (Close Quarters Battle) boasts of training thousands of local, state, and federal police as well as American and foreign military units such as the US Marines, Navy Seals, and Danish, Canadian, and Peruvian special forces. Its emphasis is on 'battle-proven tactics." Trojan Securities trains both military and police units and offers police training in a variety of weapons in numerous settings, including a five-day "Police Covert Surveillance and Intelligence Operations" course.
This problem is especially acute when it comes to SWAT teams. Initially created in the early 1970s to deal with rare acts of extremist violence, barricaded suspects, or armed confrontations with police, these units now deal almost exclusively with serving drug warrants and even engage in regular patrol functions armed with automatic weapons and body armor. These units regularly violate people's constitutional rights, kill and maim innocent people -- often as a result of being in the wrong location -- and kill people's pets. These paramilitary units are increasingly being used to respond to protest activity. The militarized response to the Ferguson protests may have served to escalate the conflict there; it's probably no accident that the Saint Louis County police chief's prior position had been as head of the SWAT team. These units undergo a huge amount of in service training, funded in part by seizing alleged drug money.
The federal government also began to fund training and equipment for SWAT teams in the 1970s as part of the last round of major national policing reforms, which were intended to improve police-community relations and reducing police brutality through enhanced training. These reforms instead poured millions into training programs that resulted in the rise of SWAT teams, drug enforcement, and militarized crowd control tactics.Diversity
There is no question that the racial difference between the mostly white police and the mostly African American policed in Ferguson, Missouri, contributed to the intensity of protests over the killing of Mike Brown. Reformers often call for recruiting more officers of color in the hopes that they will treat communities with greater dignity, respect, and fairness. Unfortunately, there is little evidence to back up this hope. Even the most diverse forces have major problems with racial profiling and bias, and individual black and Latino officers appear to perform very much like their white counterparts.
Nationally, the racial makeup of the police hews closely to national population figures. The US population is 72 percent white; 75 percent of police nationally are white. Blacks make up 13 percent of the population and 12 percent of police. Asians and Latinos are somewhat less well represented relative to their numbers but not dramatically so. In the largest departments, only 56 percent of officers are white. The disparities seem greater in communities of color because of the deep segregation there. In these cases, there are invariably large numbers of white officers patrolling primarily nonwhite areas. This contrast stands out more than its converse, because whites are rarely concerned about being policed by nonwhite officers and because white communities tend to have fewer negative interactions with the police.
There is now a large body of evidence measuring whether the race of individual officers affects their use of force. Most studies show no effect. More distressingly, a few indicate that black officers are more likely to use force or make arrests, especially of black civilians. One new study suggests that small increases in diversity produce worse outcomes, while large increases begin to show some improvements; but only a handful of departments met this criterion. In the end, the authors conclude, "There's no evidence to suggest that increasing the proportion of officers that are black is going to offer a direct solution." Use of force is highly concentrated in a small group of officers who tend to be male, young, and working in high-crime areas. This high concentration of use of force may be exacerbated by weak accountability mechanisms and a culture of machismo that rewards aggressive policing, formally and informally. These same cultural and institutional forces militate against differential behavior by nonwhite officers.Truthout Progressive Pick
Incremental police reforms are not enough.Click here now to get the book!
At the department level, more diverse police forces fare no better in measures of community satisfaction, especially among nonwhite residents. These departments are also often just as likely to have systematic problems with excessive use of force, as seen in federal interventions in Detroit, Miami, and Cleveland in recent years. Both New York and Philadelphia have highly diverse forces (though not as diverse as their populations), yet both have come under intense scrutiny for excessive use of force and discriminatory practices such as "stop and frisk." This is in large part because departmental priorities are set by local political leaders, who have driven the adoption of a wide variety of intensive, invasive, and aggressive crime-control policies that by their nature disproportionately target communities of color. These include broken-windows policing, with its emphasis on public disorder, and the War on Drugs, which is waged almost exclusively in nonwhite neighborhoods. Having more black and brown police officers may sound like an appealing reform, but as long as larger systems of policing are left in place, there is no evidence that would give cause to expect a significant reduction in brutality or overpolicing.....Community Policing
Everyone likes the idea of a neighborhood police officer who knows and respects the community. Unfortunately, this is a mythic understanding of the history and nature of urban policing, as we will see in chapter 2. What distinguishes the police from other city agencies is that they can legally use force.
While we need police to follow the law and be restrained in their use of force, we cannot expect them to be significantly more friendly than they are, given their current role in society. When their job is to criminalize all disorderly behavior and fund local government through massive ticketing-writing campaigns, their interactions with the public in high-crime areas will be at best gruff and distant and at worst hostile and abusive. The public will resist them and view their efforts as intrusive and illegitimate; the police will react to this resistance with defensiveness and increased assertiveness. Community policing is not possible under these conditions.
Another part of the problem lies in the nature of community. Steve Herbert shows that community meetings tend to be populated by long-time residents, those who own rather than rent their homes, business owners, and landlords. The views of renters, youth, homeless people, immigrants, and the most socially marginalized are rarely represented. As a result, they tend to focus on "quality of life" concerns involving low-level disorderly behavior rather than serious crime.
Across the country, community police programs have been based on the idea that the "community" should bring concerns of all kinds about neighborhood conditions to the police, who will work with them on developing solutions. The tools that police have for solving these problems, however, are generally limited to punitive enforcement actions such as arrests and ticketing. Community policing programs regularly call for increasing reliance on Police Athletic Leagues, positive non-enforcement activities with youth, and more focus on getting to know community members. There is little research, however, to suggest that these endeavors reduce crime or help to overcome overpolicing.
Low-level drug dealing and use generates a tremendous number of calls for police service. Criminalizing these activities has done nothing to reduce the availability and negative effects of drugs on individuals or communities. It has produced substantial negative consequences for those arrested, however, and has been a major drain on local and state resources. The research shows that community policing does not empower communities in meaningful ways. It expands police power, but does nothing to reduce the burden of overpolicing on people of color and the poor. It is time to invest in communities instead. Participatory budgeting and enhanced local political accountability will do more to improve the wellbeing of communities than enhancing the power and scope of policing.
Copyright (2017) by Alex S. Vitale. Not to be reposted without permission of the publisher, Verso Books.
Kathleen Hartnett White is probably best known for her idealistic view of fossil fuels, but a scandal from her tenure as a top environmental regulator in Texas is drawing attention to radiation in drinking water -- a problem environmentalists say is widespread and a public health concern.
(Photo: Delwin; Edited: LW / TO)
Kathleen Hartnett White, President Trump's pick to run the White House Council on Environmental Quality, is probably best known for her idealistic view of fossil fuels. In 2014, she suggested that energy from fossil fuels "dissolved the economic justification for slavery" in the British Empire. As the Texas Observer noted at the time, coal mining fueled industrialization that actually increased demand for cotton picked by colonial slaves in the early 19th century.
Hartnett White has other controversial ideas. She told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in November that climate science is still "subject to debate," and the degree that human-caused carbon pollution is contributing to climate disruption is "uncertain." White's remarks prompted 300 scientists and scholars to sign a letter "defending scientific integrity" and opposing her nomination, which seemed all but doomed until Trump resubmitted her name to Congress this week.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry appointed Hartnett White to serve as chair of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) from 2003 to 2007, and her track record alarmed Democrats considering her nomination. Under Hartnett White's supervision, the TCEQ gave federal regulators faulty data about the amount of radiation in Texas drinking water, which had exceeded federal limits in several communities, according to reports.
"It is virtually impossible to find anyone who can, after watching Ms. White's hearing, sincerely say that she is well-qualified for the important job to which she has been nominated," said ranking member Sen. Tom Carper (D-Delaware), in a statement on Monday. He added that he had "never sat through a hearing as excruciating as Ms. White's" in 17 years of serving in the Senate.
As head the White House environmental quality office, Hartnett White would have influence over how federal agencies regulate drinking water. Tap water used by 170 million Americans in all 50 states contains some level of radiation that may increase the risk of cancer at least marginally, according to a new report from the Environmental Working Group analyzing state data from 2010 to 2015. Only a small percentage of water systems serving a total of 276,000 people in 27 states reported radiation levels exceeding federal limits, but environmentalists warn those limits are already too high and should be updated to improve water quality.
Radiation in drinking water comes from naturally occurring elements in the Earth's crust and may be higher in areas disturbed by mining or oil and gas extraction, according to the report. The most common sources of radiation are radium-226 and radium-228, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires utilities to test for these elements to make sure radiation in tap water does not exceed the federal limit.
During Hartnett White's tenure at TCEQ, some water utilities in Texas that could not meet the federal standards for radium-226 and radium-228 faced violations that would have required them to notify residents, so state regulators ducked the limits by reporting radiation levels in tap water minus the margin of error attributed to the laboratory test, a practice the EPA had warned state regulators against.
Bill Walker, an environmental analyst and author of the report, told Truthout that Hartnett White and other top state officials knew that radiation levels in the tap water for some Texas communities were high enough to increase the lifetime risk of getting cancer to 1 in 400. However, the TCEQ continued reporting lower radiation levels for years, which helped Texas utilities avoid at least 35 violations before an EPA audit flagged the practice in 2008.
"In the field of public health, that is just outrageous, that is just beyond the pale," Walker said, adding that Hartnett White's nomination to run the White House Council on Environmental Quality is a "step too far, even for this administration."
Hartnett White defended the practice in an interview with the local news station that exposed the scandal in 2011, saying that the federal standards were too costly and TCEQ "did not believe the science of health effects justified the EPA setting the standards where they did."
"I believe local first, state second and federal government third," Hartnett White said.
She defended herself again before the Senate committee in November and in written statements to Carper and other Democrats, claiming that other lawmakers and state leaders had also questioned whether the EPA's standards were justified. In the end, she said, EPA and TCEQ had interpreted the federal rules for reporting radiation in tap water differently.
Hartnett White also gave Democrats some of the same answers, verbatim, that they had received from Scott Pruitt when he was nominated to run the EPA, leading to allegations of plagiarism. Frustrated, Senate Democrats refused to vote on her nomination before the end of the year, a procedural move that effectively sent her nomination back to the president. Trump resubmitted Hartnett White's nomination this week without comment.
As head of the Council on Environmental Quality, Hartnett White would coordinate policy for the White House and make recommendations for meeting environmental goals across federal agencies, but filling the position is not as urgent as naming the head of a major federal agency like the EPA. At this point, it's unclear if or when Congress will reconsider Hartnett White's nomination to the post.
"The Trump administration's decision to resubmit her name ... rather than take this opportunity to select a new and better qualified candidate is shortsighted, irresponsible and, I believe, will prove to be a mistake," Carper said.
Walker said it's important to remember that while most tap water meets federal safety standards, those standards are not necessarily equivalent to what scientists say are safe. For example, the federal limit for combined levels of radioactive radium-226 and radium-228 in drinking water has not changed since 1976. California's Office of Environmental Hazard Assessment has more recent research to recommend a much lower standard as a public health goal for the state, which would lower the already small risk of getting cancer from drinking tap water over the course of a lifetime.
A spokeswoman for the EPA did not respond to an inquiry from Truthout by the time this article was published.
Even with public health goals that go above and beyond federal standards, California has more residents impacted by radiation in their tap water than any other state, according to the Environmental Working Group. Almost 800 water systems serving 25 million people reported levels of radium-226 and radium-228 in their drinking water. There is plenty of work to be done, and Walker says politicians must respect and strengthen public health standards in Washington, not ignore them like Harnett White's agency did in Texas.
"We basically believe that everyone in the US should have a home water filter," Walker said, adding that members of the public can review the test results for water in their area by using the database on the group's website.Help Truthout keep publishing stories like this one: We depend on reader support! Click here to make a tax-deductible donation.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry has repeatedly expressed concern over the past year about the reliability of our national electric power grid. On Sept. 28, 2017, Perry ordered the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to revise wholesale electricity market rules to help ensure "… a reliable, resilient electric grid powered by an 'all of the above' mix of generation resources." Perry's proposal included an implicit subsidy to owners of coal and nuclear power plants, to compensate them for keeping a 90-day fuel supply on-site in the event of a disruption to the grid.
On Jan. 8, FERC issued a statement, supported by all five commissioners, terminating Perry's proposal. The commissioners held that paying generators to store fuel on-site would only benefit some fuel types. And although coal and nuclear plants are retiring in large numbers, commissioners were not persuaded that this was due to unfair pricing in power markets.
In my view, FERC made an appropriate and well-grounded decision. The commission opted to gather more information and examine many possible approaches to improving reliability, instead of rubber-stamping a directive that had not been fully vetted. The commission's action is a good example of the kind of evidence-based policymaking that Americans should expect from the federal government.What Makes the Power System Reliable?
There is no question that our electricity supply is changing rapidly. As of 2016, over one-third of US electricity generation at utility-scale facilities came from natural gas, followed by coal at 30 percent and nuclear power at nearly 20 percent. Renewable sources such as wind, solar and hydropower provide nearly 15 percent, up from just 8.5 percent in 2007.
Technology advances and cost decreases for renewables, particularly solar and wind, are the key factors driving their growth. Meanwhile, coal and nuclear plants, which are less economically competitive, are retiring at high rates.
As the eastern United States emerges from a record-setting deep freeze, we all can appreciate the importance of reliable energy supplies. Indeed, 2017 was a record-breaking year for weather and climate disasters, from hail and tornadoes to three major hurricanes striking US soil.
Many of these events disrupted vital power supplies. Notably, as of late December nearly half of Puerto Rico's electricity customers -- more than 600,000 people -- still lacked electric power in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
Perry's proposal assumed that storing extra fuel on-site at generating plants would make the grid more resilient against disasters that could interrupt fuel deliveries. But resilience is not just a matter of having fuel close at hand.
Recognizing this, FERC's order included a new study of the resilience of the "bulk power system" -- the part of the electric grid that includes generation and transmission facilities, which are interconnected across regions. If this system is disrupted in any way, the impacts can be felt across wide areas.
The commission directed operators that manage regional power networks across the nation to submit information within 60 days on the resilience of the system, and to advise on whether FERC needs to take additional actions to improve it. This approach makes clear that the FERC commissioners want more evidence before they make any calls for actions such as subsidizing marginal fuel supplies.Look at the Evidence
Whether FERC commissioners know it or not, their approach follows many recommendations set forth recently by a national Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking. This panel was created in 2016 through legislation co-sponsored by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray of Washington. Its task was to examine how federal agencies use data, research and evaluation to build evidence, and to strengthen those efforts in order to make better policies.
"You always hear people in Washington talk about how much money was spent on a program, but you rarely hear whether it actually worked. That has to change," Ryan said, when the commission was established. "This panel will give us the tools to make better decisions and achieve better results."
In its final report issued on Sept. 7, 2017, the commission noted the importance of securing and making accessible data which can be used for effective policymaking. To most casual observers, this may seem straightforward. Why would you want to change a policy, which could affect many consumers and businesses, without first looking at the data and understanding all of the potential impacts of a change?
In reality, data can be disputed (think "fake" data), and policies can be motivated by political ideology. Policy choices could become detached from the evidence and fail to incorporate the pros and cons or seek consensus.
In this case, however, FERC's 5-0 decision shows that the commissioners agreed on their course, and it appears that policymaking based on evidence won the day. This decision had the potential to affect millions of electricity customers, as well as power markets and the environment. FERC deserves congratulations for putting evidence before action.
Ellen Hughes-Cromwick is a member of the National Association for Business Economics. She served as chief economist at the US Department of Commerce from November 2015 to January 2017.In these troubling and surreal times, honest journalism is more important than ever. Help us keep real news flowing: Make a donation to Truthout today.
For centuries, hunters have relied on lead ammunition to quickly and humanely kill game, but with each shot they release a potentially lethal poison into the environment, threatening vulnerable animal populations.
While harmless to humans, the gut piles and carcasses hunters regularly leave behind often contain lead fragments, which can be deadly for scavengers who eat them, particularly raptors like bald and golden eagles, California condors and turkey vultures.
Consequently, a seemingly unlikely alliance between sportspeople and environmental activists has formed to tackle the issue by advocating for copper and other non-lead options and promoting hunters as environmental stewards.
Hunter Russell Kuhlman, who serves as the Institute for Wildlife Studies' non-lead ammunition outreach coordinator for California, says, "I think there's a movement within the hunting community towards people wanting to get into the conservation and support of wildlife by hunting. [It's] not so much the good old boys' club of hanging out with your friends and shooting the biggest deer that you see."
In a time when species extinction rates are 1,000 times higher than if humans didn't exist, the recovery of bald eagle populations has been viewed as a successful conservation effort. But the majority of injured and sick eagles and birds brought into wildlife rehabilitation facilities around the country test positive for lead.
Although no federal agency keeps comprehensive track of wildlife lead poisoning, a documented 130 species, which include mammals, reptiles and amphibians, have been exposed or killed by ingesting the poisonous heavy metal.
Kuhlman says bald eagles' patriotic symbolism has brought attention to the issue -- including a recent high-profile eagle death in the nation's capital -- but that only in recent years has published research focused on lead ammunitions' environmental consequences. He says, in the past, many avian populations were too small to conduct comprehensive studies.
While lead remains the industry standard because it's accurate and affordable, the bullets are prone to shattering on impact. When fragments are ingested, they can not only be lethal, but also in lower doses, attack an animal's brain and nervous system.
Impaired flight from lead leaves birds susceptible to injury or death by obstructions like cars and power lines. Due to direct and indirect mortality, it's difficult to track lead deaths, especially because poisoned birds often hide while dying and can be scavenged by larger animals. Consequently, Kuhlman and others across the United States are raising awareness with environmental organizations, hunting associations and other invested parties.
Leland Brown, the non-lead hunting education coordinator with the Oregon Zoo, talks to sportspeople around the state, which is known for big game deer, elk and cougar hunting.
"We're trying to get some of the larger national groups engaged in this issue and understanding that this is about how as hunters we can continue to make sure we aren't having any unintended consequences," says Brown. "It's supposed to be a one shot, one kill. With a non-lead bullet, I can guarantee that."Why Hunters Need to Be at the Forefront of the Non-Lead Effort
Although the majority of American hunters live in the East and Midwest, much of the non-lead movement is based in the western United States, where many of the most impacted populations live. The Klamath Basin in southern Oregon and northern California is home to the largest wintering concentration of bald eagles in the lower 48. California condors, an endangered species, are also susceptible to lead poisoning, particularly in their namesake state and Arizona.
In 2013, largely because of the damage to condors, California took the seemingly progressive charge of being the first state to ban lead bullets -- a ruling which is slowly going into affect, with complete prohibition to be implemented by July 2019. Although this seems like a move non-lead advocates would applaud, Kuhlman and Brown believe outlawing lead bullets is a step in the wrong direction.
They explain that ammunition bans are difficult to carry out because much hunting occurs on private land, and it's next to impossible for a state enforcer to know what kind of ammo is loaded in a firearm. On a larger scale, Kuhlman says, restrictions often pit hunters against environmentalists, without giving either party a fair say in crafting legislation.
As one of the Obama Administration's final acts, one day before Trump's inauguration, outgoing U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Director Dan Ashe issued a ban on lead bullet use on federal lands. But this proved short-lived. Almost immediately after Ryan Zinke, Trump's pick for Interior secretary, was sworn in last March, he overturned the ban stating that "affected stakeholders," i.e. hunters, had not been considered.
"I think the best way to do that would be to involve states and hunting organizations and even bring in groups like the National Audubon Society and have them all sit down at a table together and discuss how to best implement that," says Kuhlman. "And in Dan Ashe's order there was none of that. It was kind of black and white."
In some cases, nationwide bans have proven effective: A 1991 prohibition of lead shot used for waterfowl hunting helped prevent "species threatening" die-offs of aquatic game birds. Many states have also outlawed or restricted lead fishing sinkers, jigs and other tackle, which have poisoned loons and other marine life, but lead use still abounds in upland hunting.
Gordon Batcheller, a retired former chief wildlife biologist for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation who is active in the non-lead movement, says it's important that government agencies "respond in a regulatory way when documented environmental problems are causing population level impacts."
While it's easy to view lead bullets as a partisan issue -- especially with groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) presenting it as an attack on gun rights -- Kuhlman, Brown and Batcheller agree that it's crucial for hunters to be at the forefront. On a larger scale, through non-lead advocacy, they see hunting returning to its roots as a way to gather sustainable, safe food sources and to connect with nature.
And they have a large audience: Kuhlman and Brown individually give presentations to thousands of hunters every year. Batcheller also organizes workshops in New York and around the country. In addition to sharing research on the benefits of switching away from lead, they bring copper ammo and give hunters the opportunity to try alternatives.
"When you give someone the information, the majority of the time, they're smart enough to make the correct decision," says Kuhlman. "When you tell somebody that they have to do something and don't give them any information on the reasoning, they tend to be a little more hostile towards that ban, law or rule."
Brown, who previously worked for the Institute for Wildlife Studies in California, says he was a "punching bag" for hunters frustrated about the state ban. In Oregon, where some hunters fear similar legislation will eventually go into place, Brown sees more impact in encouraging hunters to make a voluntary switch.A Grassroots Approach
Last summer, while working at a newspaper in the rural town of Klamath Falls, Ore., I attended Brown's talk at a local hunting association meeting. As an August lightening storm brewed outside, Brown and members of a wildlife rehabilitation center were met with open minds. While some hunters expressed concerns about their pastime becoming a "rich man's game" because of non-lead ammunition's higher price, they invited Brown back for an ammo demonstration.
While this grassroots approach will take time, the leaders of the non-lead movement have faith they can shift hunting practices that go back generations.
"We're dealing with a long-term issue that's going to take a long-term solution," Brown told me after the presentation. "We're going up against at least 100 years of tradition, so people need an opportunity to wrap their heads around it and come to the other side."
(Photo: Bill Diodato)
The successful #MeToo campaign has labor advocates hoping to generate a similar level of awareness for a campaign against a different and overlapping type of harassment: workplace bullying. As the Trump administration rolls back several workplace regulations, advocates are working to push legislation like the Healthy Workplace Bill to protect workers from physical and verbal abuse.
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Many are hoping that 2017 represented a turning point in the fight against workplace harassment, as the #MeToo moment put a spotlight on sexual misconduct. Now some labor advocates are hoping that the momentum of #MeToo helps to fuel an additional campaign against a different and overlapping type of harassment: workplace bullying.
While there's been increased attention paid to the bullying of children in recent years, there hasn't been the same kind of focus on bullying among adults, but statistics indicate that it's a major problem. According to one 2008 study, nearly 75 percent of participants have witnessed workplace bullying at their job and 47 percent have been bullied at some point in their career. Another 27 percent said they had been bullied within the last 12 months. In a 2014 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), 72 percent of the respondents said that their employer either condones or encourages the behavior.
There's no universal definition of it, but the WBI defines it as repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is:
- Threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or
- Work interference -- sabotage -- which prevents work from getting done, or
- Verbal abuse.
WBI sprang from a campaign that was started by Ruth and Gary Namie, a husband-and-wife team of psychologists. In the late 1990s, Ruth worked in a psychiatric clinic and was bullied by her supervisor. To their surprise, the Namies discovered there was very little Ruth could do about the situation. Employment discrimination laws existed, but they didn't cover things like your boss screaming at you daily or a co-worker trying to sabotage your imminent promotion. If you hadn't been targeted for abuse because of your race, sex or national origin, or because you blew the whistle on something related to the company, there wasn't a legal avenue for you to pursue.
The Namies also discovered that there were no organizations working on the issue in the United States, so they started the Work Doctor at the WBI website, where they wrote about the issue, drawing heavily on existing research from countries where it was taken seriously (such as Sweden, Belgium and France). They also created a toll-free hotline for workers to call, counseled thousands of people on the issue, and hosted the first US conference dedicated to the subject of workplace bullying.
At the end of 2001, the campaign moved from California to the state of Washington. At Western Washington University, Gary Namie taught the first US college course on workplace bullying, and the campaign evolved into WBI after a group of research students volunteered to do more survey research.
That same year, Suffolk University law professor David Yamada -- one of the only academics working on the issue in the United States at the time, and a presenter at the aforementioned workplace bullying conference -- drafted the text for a Healthy Workplace Bill, a piece of legislation that defines "an abusive work environment," holds the employer accountable and provides victims with legal redress. An "abusive work environment" is an employment condition where an employer acts with intent to cause pain or distress to a worker, subjects them to abuse that causes physical harm, psychological harm, or both. The bill requires proof of either demonstrable health or economic harm to the plaintiff.
In 2003, a Healthy Workplace Bill was introduced in California. Now similar bills have been introduced in more than half of the states, in over 100 versions, and have been sponsored by over 400 lawmakers. The campaign for the Healthy Workplace Bill is led by state coordinators who all start with the same bill language and recruit local volunteers to help educate lawmakers on the issue.
Although no state has passed the bill so far, there have been some partial victories. In 2014, California passed a bill that required sexual harassment training to include information about "abusive conduct" in the workplace. That same year, Tennessee introduced a law that requires public-sector employers to adopt policies that prevent abuse. In 2015, Utah passed a bill that established training for state workers that defined specific kinds of bullying.
Massachusetts resident Deb Falzoi became involved in the movement after she was bullied at her former workplace, a local university. She couldn't figure out why the behavior was legal and, after doing some research, she discovered Yamada's work. At that point, Yamada had already drafted the bill, but it lacked backing. Now Falzoi works as the marketing director for the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Bill, which would create a legal claim for targets of bullying in the state. She told Truthout that while training employees on workplace bullying is important, it doesn't accomplish much if there are no consequences for the perpetrators. "Employers can train managers on what workplace bullying is and their workplace bullying policies, but without enforcing those policies through accountability and consequences for bullies, employees are still stuck with toxic cultures they don't deserve," said Falzoi. "Training is meaningless without enforcement."
Falzoi said Massachusetts has come further in implementing a Healthy Workplace Bill than most states. In January 2017 Massachusetts State Sen. Jennifer Flanagan introduced one in the form of Senate Bill S.1013. The bill is currently sitting in the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development and the deadline to move it toward the Senate and House is February 10.
Advocates like Falzoi are encouraging residents to pressure their lawmakers before the deadline and before local employers are able to mount an offensive against legislation that would potentially hold them responsible for these kinds of abuses. It's a valid concern, as variations of the bill have already seen defeat in 29 state legislatures. Critics contend that such legislation would lead to frivolous lawsuits that could tank businesses.
"We all agree with the concept that there shouldn't be jerks in the workplace, but the issue is whether we can legislate that," said business-side labor lawyer Rick Grimaldi in a 2013 article about the push for legislation. "The whole concept is difficult to get your head around when you think about how expansive this could be. Every disgruntled employee becomes a potential plaintiff."
Falzoi says these kinds of concerns don't really add up when you consider that existing workplace discrimination laws haven't led to a huge amount of haphazard legal action. "We have all these sexual harassment cases happening right now and we don't see a lot of false accusations," she said.
Gillian Mason is the coordinator of development and education at the Massachusetts chapter of Jobs With Justice, the nationwide union rights organization. She told Truthout that every single complaint she has heard from a worker has involved workplace bullying in some capacity. "Almost all wage theft claims and discrimination claims are accompanied by claims of workplace bullying," she said. "It's like extra added ammunition for [bullies.]"
Mason's assertion lines up with many of the high-profile sexual harassment scandals of recent months. The infamous stories involving film producer Harvey Weinstein are marked not only by disturbing tales of sexual assaults and sexual harassment, but also by abusive emotional behavior. "I'll tell you what I did know," Weinstein's brother Bob told The Hollywood Reporter:
Harvey was a bully, Harvey was arrogant, he treated people like shit all the time. That I knew. And I had to clean up for so many of his employee messes. People that came in crying to my office: "Your brother said this, that and the other." And I'd feel sick about it.
Last winter, it was revealed that Texas GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold used taxpayer money to settle sexual harassment allegations. It was later reported that, in addition to making sexually inappropriate comments, Farenthold regularly went into fits of rage, slammed his fists on desks, berated aides and referred to them as "fucktards."
Mason described local scenarios that mirrored these high-profile cases. She recounted one instance in which a worker said a chair had been thrown at them by a supervisor; moments later, the same supervisor tried to hug them and tell the person how much they were valued. "A lot of this kind of abuse is psychological," said Mason.
As the Trump administration continues to roll back regulations that have historically protected working people, legislation like the Healthy Workplace Bill could emerge as a crucial component of the country's upcoming labor battles.
Israel faces a possible International Criminal Court war crimes probe over its 2014 assault on Gaza, which killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, including over 500 children. For more, we speak with Norman Finkelstein, author of the new book Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom. He is the author of many other books, including The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Human Suffering and Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End.
Please check back later for full transcript.
As International Criminal Court Considers Probing Israel for War Crimes, US Moves to Defund UN Palestine Refugee Agency
Israel is facing a possible International Criminal Court war crimes probe over its 2014 assault on Gaza and the ongoing expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank. Despite the threat, the Israeli defense minister announced on Tuesday Israel would approve the construction of hundreds of new settlement homes in the West Bank. This comes as Sweden criticized the Trump administration for threatening to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars of annual aid to the UN's relief agency for Palestinian refugees. Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi compared President Trump's threat to cut off aid money to blackmail. For more, we speak with author and scholar Norman Finkelstein. His new book is titled Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom. Norman Finkelstein is the son of Holocaust survivors. He is the author of many other books, including The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Human Suffering and Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End.
Please check back later for full transcript.
The Northern Cheyenne Tribe and a coalition of environmental groups are asking a federal court in Montana to throw out the Trump administration's decision to remove grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park from the endangered species list. They want the grizzlies protected from trophy hunters while federal wildlife officials complete a review of their decision to delist the bears.
A grizzly bear and cubs play in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, on June 3, 2017. (Photo: Wolverine 9 5)The following article could only be published thanks to support from our readers. To fund more stories like it, make a donation to Truthout by clicking here!
The Northern Cheyenne Tribe and a coalition of environmental groups are asking a federal court in Montana to throw out the Trump administration's decision to remove grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park from the endangered species list -- a move that has paved the way for trophy hunts of the iconic animals.Delisting the Yellowstone bears opened the door for Montana, Idaho and Wyoming to allow grizzly bear hunting on vast areas of land.
Grizzly bears in the lower 48 states are endangered and qualify for special federal protection. However, last year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service finalized a rule that carved out the bear population in the Yellowstone region and removed it from the endangered species list. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a Trump appointee who oversees the wildlife agency, personally announced the change in June 2017.
Delisting the Yellowstone bears opened the door for Montana, Idaho and Wyoming to allow grizzly bear hunting on vast areas of land outside of the national park system, and Wyoming officials are already making plans to propose grizzly bear hunts later this year.
"We're not anti-hunting, but we are certainly not excited about trophy hunting of grizzly bears in one of the last few places where they continue to exist," said Timothy Preso, an attorney with Earthjustice who filed the legal request, in an interview with Truthout."Nobody needs a grizzly bear in the freezer to get through the winter." -- Timothy Preso, Earthjustice
Preso said some hunters in the region hunt elk and other large game for food, but grizzly bears are likely to be hunted as trophies. Yellowstone grizzlies are much more valuable as icons that draw tourists to the region and as "ambassadors of wildness," as Preso put it, than as trophies in a big-game hunter's private collection.
"Nobody needs a grizzly bear in the freezer to get through the winter," Preso said.
A number of environmental groups and nine Native tribes sued Zinke and the Interior Department last year for removing the Yellowstone grizzly bears from the endangered species list, a designation that has helped protect their habitat from logging and oil and gas development. Zinke is aggressively working to lift restrictions on development and fossil fuel extraction on public lands.
US Fish and Wildlife is now reviewing its decision to delist the Yellowstone grizzlies and is asking for public comment in light of a recent court ruling that returned federal protections to wolves in the Great Lakes region. Officials have left the rule delisting the bears in effect while they reconsider it, allowing state game wardens to move ahead with hunting plans.
Preso said the move by US Fish and Wildlife to reconsider the decision without withdrawing it altogether is unusual. His coalition is asking a federal judge in Missoula to restore the endangered species protection to the Yellowstone grizzly bears while federal wildlife officials complete a review of their delisting decision, which they have promised to do by March 31.Taking some Yellowstone grizzlies out of the gene pool could put the entire population at risk.
"The Yellowstone region's grizzlies deserve better than to be subjected to trophy hunting based on a half-baked government decision," Preso said in a statement.
The environmental coalition argues that US Fish and Wildlife's effort to review its own rulemaking is proof that the agency "did not complete its homework" before removing Yellowstone grizzly bears from the endangered species list. For example, conservationists say officials must research how delisting could impact the total population of endangered grizzly bears across the West.
Grizzly bears have made a comeback in the Yellowstone region, where the population has grown from 136 when the bears were originally listed as endangered in 1975 to about 690 today, according to the National Park Service. However, environmentalists warn that grizzlies across the rest of the lower 48 states have not done as well, and taking some Yellowstone grizzlies out of the gene pool could put the entire population at risk.
Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said grizzly bears occupy less than 5 percent of their former range in the lower 48 states, so they clearly have not recovered.
"Attempting to delist the Yellowstone bears and expose them to trophy hunting without considering grizzlies' poor status overall is simply ludicrous," Greenwald said in a statement.
Hunting is not allowed in Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks, but it is allowed outside the park boundaries, where wildlife is managed by state agencies in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Wyoming officials are currently considering public input on a management plan for bears that would potentially include hunting within federal limits, according to local reports.
As predator populations slowly recover from deforestation and loss of habitat caused by human development, their territory increasingly butts up against ours. In 2016, wildlife managers captured 39 grizzly bears in Wyoming to resolve "conflicts" with humans, according to a state report. These "conflicts" typically involved bears killing livestock, eating pet food or foraging in someone's garbage. Twenty-two of the captured bears were killed, often for having a history of "conflicts" with people and their property.
Voters cast their ballots inside the Hawthorne Recreation Center near uptown Charlotte, North Carolina, on election day November 8, 2016. (Photo: LOGAN CYRUS / AFP / Getty Images)
In a ruling hailed as a major and historic "victory for democracy," a federal court on Tuesday deemed North Carolina's 2016 congressional map unconstitutional on the grounds that it was drawn to discriminate against Democratic voters -- marking the first time a federal court has struck down a redistricting plan for partisan gerrymandering.
"Every American deserves representation in Washington, but the gerrymandered map struck down by the court today robbed much of the state of a representative voice in the nation's capital," said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, one of the advocacy groups the legal challenge against North Carolina's Republican Party. "Partisan gerrymanders are quite simply undemocratic."
The three-judge panel's decision (pdf) on Tuesday may have been unique in its stand against extreme partisan redistricting, but it was not the first time North Carolina's Republican-drawn congressional map has been struck down for violating the constitutional rights of voters. As Prema Levy of Mother Jones points out, "the state's previous map was deemed illegal for being racially gerrymandered in 2016" -- years after the map allowed the GOP to take a vast majority of the state's House seats.
Following the 2016 ruling, North Carolina Republicans explicitly looked to structure the state's congressional map to give themselves a "partisan advantage" -- resulting in what the Brennan Center for Justice called "one of the worst partisan gerrymanders of the decade."
North Carolina voters have scored a big victory against one of the worst partisan gerrymanders of the decade. https://t.co/Xl3uhCRbBY-- Brennan Center (@BrennanCenter) January 10, 2018
"I acknowledge freely that this would be a political gerrymander, which is not against the law," Rep. David Lewis (R-N.C.), chairman of the state House's Redistricting Committee, declared during a 2016 meeting. "I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats. So I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country."
The North Carolina district court's determination on Tuesday that extreme partisan gerrymandering is, in fact, unconstitutional -- violating the Equal Protection Clause, the First Amendment, and the Election Clause of Article I of the Constitution -- is likely to gain national significance in the coming months, as the Supreme Court is currently considering two similar partisan gerrymandering cases in Wisconsin and Maryland.
This decision is so thorough. It tells the story of how unfettered partisan gerrymandering hijacked democracy in North Carolina. The decision is long but worth the read. https://t.co/H0RfzOAdcw https://t.co/ZidOKzAwFa-- Sherrilyn Ifill (@Sifill_LDF) January 10, 2018
North Carolina Republicans are expected to appeal to the Supreme Court to put the ruling on hold until the other two cases are decided -- a delay that would allow the current map to remain in place through the 2018 midterm elections.
J. Michael Bitzer, professor of political science at Catawba College, told the New York Timesthat if Tuesday's ruling is upheld, it "gives hope to Democrats" looking to wrest control of the state's legislature from the GOP.
"I can imagine the Republicans being furious, but they have to see political reality, and it's not just in the next two weeks: It's come November," Bitzer concluded.Truthout doesn't take corporate money and we don't shy away from confronting the root causes of injustice. Can you help sustain our work with a tax-deductible donation?
Congress has no choice but to act to preserve the temporary protected status of El Salvadorans and other immigrants, because somebody is going to pay the price for this administration's actions in upcoming elections, says Jaime Contreras, vice president of SEIU 32BJ. The labor movement will be putting the pressure on Congress.
A 6-year-old girl from El Salvador holds a placard during a rally around Trump Tower in support of immigrant workers on April 8, 2017, in New York. (Photo: KENA BETANCUR / AFP / Getty Images)
Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. We're now nearly a year into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators and educators, not only about how to resist, but how to build a better world. Today's interview is the 105th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.
Today we bring you a conversation with Jaime Contreras, the vice president of SEIU 32BJ. Contreras discusses the Trump administration's latest attack on El Salvadoran immigrants with temporary protected status in the US and how the SEIU will fight back.
Sarah Jaffe: We are talking today about the Trump administration's latest attack on immigrants. To start off with, tell us a little bit about this latest revocation of temporary protected status (TPS). Who does this apply to? What is the justification the administration is giving for doing this?
Jaime Contreras: First of all, I think it is unfortunate that TPS for close to 200,000 Salvadoran legal workers in the country is going to end by September 2019. It is un-American. It is inhumane. The excuse the administration gave for doing this is, "Well, you know, there hasn't been an earthquake in El Salvador lately or a natural disaster and you no longer have a civil war," but the reality is ... I have been to El Salvador not too long ago; things for Salvadorans [are still bad], there is still dire poverty in El Salvador. There is gang violence in El Salvador.
Sending 200,000 workers who have done everything right by the law, paying their taxes, contributing to the economy, who have ... around another 200,000 US-born children. What is going to happen to those kids and these folks? It is really sending them back to misery, and some of them may even face death when they get back. That, to me, is not the right thing to do. I came here in 1988 during the civil war in El Salvador at the age of 13. My parents brought me here. I had no say in that decision. Since then, I have served in the United States military. I have become a US citizen. I own a house. I work every day. To me, it is offensive as a former military person that this administration has taken this stance with immigrants who are no different than me.
Can you explain a little bit more about what temporary protected status is for people who aren't familiar with this?
Temporary protected status is given to people who are already in the United States undocumented, fleeing some sort of a natural disaster, a civil war or conflict in their homeland. It is given to those people as a way to protect them to allow them to work legally in the United States, [and] live without fear of deportation. That is what temporary protected status is. It has been given to over 10 countries, including Nicaragua -- which was also eliminated, but it is a really small number of 2,500 people -- Honduras, Haiti, Sudan and a bunch of other countries who have turmoil in their land. So, those people have temporary protected status and all of those people are about to lose it. The largest recipient of TPS is really Salvadorans.
This administration already eliminated TPS for Haiti and Nicaragua and Sudan. Now this is the fourth country. This goes along with revoking DACA protections. The one thing this administration seems to be keeping its promises on, unfortunately, seems to be taking protections away from immigrants.
Yes. To me, this didn't come as a surprise. We all heard the rhetoric during the campaign from this president. We knew it was coming. If there is one thing different between the Republicans and the Democrats, it is Republicans say what they are going to do and they do it. Democrats -- it is the ever-frustrating part where you say you are going to do something and then you do something opposite. Republicans at least stick to their guns and ... do what they said they were going to do. It is unfortunate. A lot of people were hoping it was only going to be rhetoric, but it is not a surprise.
You asked earlier, "What are we going to do and how are we going to get ourselves organized?" SEIU and the rest of the labor movement -- along with churches, community organizations, even the business community ... the Chamber of Commerce is against eliminating TPS. Obviously, they weren't heard. Now it is in the hands of Congress. Congress has to act and fix DACA, fix TPS, and allow these people to continue living in the United States as they have been. A lot of these people, like I said, they own homes, some of them are business owners, they have US-born children, they have roots here.... You can't uproot people who have been here for over two decades just like that. It is just not the American thing to do. So, we are going to be lobbying Congress and demanding they fix this problem once and for all for these people who really should be US citizens by now, if they were allowed the opportunity to do that.
You mentioned that the Democrats have not done what they promised on this front. Do you think that Trump's really open attacks will help push the Democratic Party to act on this front?
Well, you know, I think the Democratic Party and the Republicans, frankly, have no choice but to act, because there is always the next election. We have elections this year in the midterm and we have elections in 2020. Somebody is going to have to pay the price because of the actions of this administration. It is unfortunate that these people who have, every 18 months for the last 20 or so years, been going to get their background checks done, their fingerprints done.... They have done everything they have been asked to do. These people should have been given the opportunity to become US citizens a long time ago.
But because we have a broken immigration system, this was not done and the only way forward is really for Congress to fix our broken immigration system once and for all. And not only fix it for DACA and TPS recipients, but really fix it for all the 11+ million people here who are undocumented, who are working every day two and three jobs to really make this country what it is, which is a country of immigrants and a country that is successful because of the work of immigrants and other communities.
Tell us a little bit about what your union has been doing in the last year. [SEIU] 32BJ, obviously, has a lot of members who are immigrants and from various places and with various kinds of statuses. Talk a little bit about what the union has done this year, fighting this administration on immigration.
We have been active locally on passing sanctuary cities in jurisdictions where we can, driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. We have been helping elect pro-immigrant/pro-worker politicians. We have been lobbying Congress. We have been creating coalitions to help counter-attack the attacks of this administration against immigrants. We are going to continue to do all of those things.
For SEIU, we have 100,000 Salvadorans or more organized in SEIU. Most people estimate that one in five Salvadorans have TPS, which means at least 20,000 of our members will be affected negatively by the actions of this administration. It is incumbent upon us [not only] as SEIU and 32BJ, but as the labor movement, to continue to pressure these politicians to do the right thing.
Is there anything that you can do in terms of job contracts, in the workplace on this front?
We are going to be informing our members throughout the union about what some of the options are. Obviously, we are encouraging all the TPS recipients to renew their TPS. They do have 18 more months after March to continue to work here legally, but they have to renew. A lot of TPS recipients are eligible for political asylum. Some of them could be petitioned by their employer. Some of them could be petitioned by their children, if they have children that are over 18. So, we are going to be finding out all the things that are available currently for this population and help get the word out and help get them connected to people who will responsibly help them get through this phase. Hopefully, a good chunk of those people will be able to adjust their status by doing some of the things.
How can people keep up with you and with the union's work?
They can always go to our website, which is www.SEIU32BJ.org or they can go to www.SEIU.org. There is a lot of awesome information on those websites about what people can do. Obviously, we can always be available via phone. Our numbers for people to call if they have questions is (202) 387-3211, and there will be more information given to the community as we find out more what this really means.
It is what we do for a living. I wouldn't have another job. Our community needs as much help as they can get, and we are going to try to give them as much help as we can give them.
Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission.Grassroots, not-for-profit news is rare -- and Truthout's very existence depends on donations from readers. Will you help us publish more stories like this one? Make a one-time or monthly donation by clicking here.
After human resources was informed in 2014 that Emily Nestor, former front desk assistant for the Weinstein Company, was allegedly sexually harassed by Harvey Weinstein, company officials reportedly informed Nestor that any complaints would be directly reported to Weinstein himself.
And when Helen Donahue, a former Vice employee, complained to human resources in 2015 that Jason Mojica, the head of Vice News at the time, had non-consensually groped her, she says she was told by then-human resources director Nancy Ashbrooke to "forget about it and laugh it off."
Engineer Susan Fowler says that when she complained to Uber's human resources department that a manager had propositioned her for sex, she was instructed to either move to a different job at Uber or continue working for her alleged harasser. A manager later threatened to fire Fowler for registering the complaint with human resources, she claims.
As #MeToo testimony shines new light on these industries' cultures of rampant sexual violence, the complicity of human resources is a thread running throughout several stories of predation and retaliation. While some have presented HR departments as a solution, the above experiences make clear that HR is at best a distraction from the real solution to workplace abuse: collective organizing led by, and accountable to, workers themselves. As unions and worker organizations have long recognized, workplace abuse will not be corrected by benevolent management -- it must be defeated by worker power.
Presented as neutral arbiters, human resources departments in fact report to management and function to shield bosses from repercussions. They emerged from early anti-union efforts and social-control initiatives implemented by notorious industry titans like the Ford Motor Company -- and today often house top-down efforts to undermine worker solidarity and protect companies from lawsuits. Some labor historians and organizers tell In These Times that the present climate offers an opportunity to dispense of the falsehood that human resources departments exist to protect workers.
"Human resources departments exist primarily to keep the employer from being sued," author and longtime labor organizer Jane McAlevey tells In These Times. "While they may play functional bureaucratic roles, the chief purpose of HR departments in my experience -- after a lifetime in the labor movement -- is to protect the company, not workers. Obviously they will be totally ineffective to address the sexual harassment crisis in this country."
As Weinstein and others of his ilk now fall from grace, any effective postmortem must examine human resources among the structural foundations that uphold powerful men as they perpetrate large-scale harm."Treating Labor as a Commodity"
According to the anti-harassment policy of the Society for Human Resource Management, human resources departments are in place to help employers "prevent, correct and discipline behavior" that qualifies as "unlawful discrimination or harassment of any kind."
Yet, the history of human resources departments tells a different story.
Elizabeth Anderson is a professor of Philosophy and Women's Studies at the University of Michigan and author of Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don't Talk About It). She tells In These Times that the roots of modern-day human resources can be traced to initiatives like the Ford Motor Company's "Sociological Department," established in 1914. With its introduction of a $5-per-day pay rate, deemed a boost at the time, the company established codes of conduct to ensure that workers were sufficiently orderly and worthy of this sum. The Henry Ford, an organization that oversees a museum in Dearborn, Mich., describes this program:
The Sociological Department monitored employees at home, as well as on the job. Investigators made unannounced visits to employees' homes and evaluated the cleanliness of the home, noted if the family had renters, checked with school attendance offices to determine if children were attending school and monitored bank records to verify that employees made regular deposits. Sociological Department investigators also assisted workers' families by teaching wives about home care, cooking and hygiene.
"They really said they were going to govern workers' lives," says Anderson, explaining that such efforts were often aimed at "Americanizing European immigrants."
In the 1920s and 1930s, the Australian sociologist Elton Mayo oversaw a series of experiments at Hawthorne Works, a Western Electric factory in Cicero, Ill. Researchers examined the impact that changes in conditions -- for example, brightening and dimming lights -- had on workers' productivity. He concluded that workers perform better when researchers show interest in them -- that the perception of attention and interest can itself boost output. The principle that attention is a key workplace motivator became the bedrock of the field of "human relations." This field influenced companies to create human resources departments to give the appearance that workers are cared for and tended to.
But Peter Rachleff, a labor historian and executive director of the East Side Freedom Library in St. Paul, Minn., tells In These Times that there is a significant gap between appearance and reality. "How can you get more of this commodity for less? How can you get more labor produced by that commodity? That's the grounding of human resources," he says."Where Union Busters Set Up Camp"
Early human resources departments also had other aims. Peter Cappelli, professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, tells In These Times that human resources departments emerged as "a more serious development with the rise of unions. Companies started to see them as a way of keeping unions out. They put in place practices that would buy out discontent."
"These departments are not set up by the government, and their job is not to protect employees," emphasizes Cappelli. "These are private organizations."
With a spate of anti-workplace-discrimination laws and orders passed in the 1960s, including the Civil Rights Act, the focus of human resources shifted to protecting companies from lawsuits. "The idea was [companies] could shield themselves, and workers could be obliged to report their complaints to the internal process," explains Anderson. "You get a huge incentive for larger corporations to set up human resources departments to shield themselves from liability."
Today, human resources departments often operate in concert with efforts to undermine unions and other forms of worker organizing. In just one example, the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against Tesla in August 2017 charging that the company's security guards and human resources personnel directly intimidated workers at a Fremont, Calif., factory for distributing pro-union materials -- and ultimately forced them to leave the premises. The complaint states that a human-resources official "interrogated" an employee about "the employee's Union and/or protected, concerted activities and/or the Union and/or protected, concerted activities of other employees."
As McAlevey puts it, "The human resources department is the traditional place where union busters set up camp -- the office out of which union-busting firms will run union-busting campaigns."
Of course, the absence of a human resources department is not a good in itself, and abolishing HR wouldn't fix the problem. As Aída Chávez reported January 5 for The Intercept, The New Republic, AlterNet and The Nation Institute "had no real HR when abuses occurred" (Full disclosure: This author is a prior employee of AlterNet and formerly received reporting funding from The Nation Institute's Investigative Fund.)
While noting that "such departments are no panacea," Chávez argues that "the absence of any HR department at many small news outlets creates a unique vulnerability for employees, whose fates may rest entirely in the hands of their often charismatic leaders or founders."
And indeed, the problem of retaliation and intimidation encompasses the vast majority of industries, with or without HR. A 2003 study referenced by the federal US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission "found that 75 percent of US workers who spoke out against workplace mistreatment faced some form of retaliation."
Organizers have long argued that the solution to workplace harassment lies in building collective solidarity among workers -- and tilting the balance of power away from institutions that are under the control of management, including but not limited to human resources.
There is no shortage of organizing efforts lighting the way. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) highlights its worker-led Fair Food Program as a bottom-up strategy to protect some of the most vulnerable workers in the United States from a plethora of workplace atrocities, including sexual violence and slavery. The program includes a 24-hour, independent worker-complaint hotline, and worker-led political education and organizing programs. Through broad-based campaigning, CIW has forced 14 food industry giants to join their labor agreement.
From the fields to the factories, union and worker center members engage in day-to-day efforts to protect each other, by staging direct actions, organizing and enforcing contracts, and extending support and solidarity, in the many forms that takes. As McAlevey puts it, "What changes is if you have a union."
As 2017 came to a close, a groundswell of Iranian protesters captured international attention. The demonstrators' slogans questioned everything from the price of eggs to the legitimacy of the highest levels of government, as viewers from around the world sought to pin down the precise motivations for their displeasure. At this time, the protesters may offer more questions than answers. Reports are building conflicting narratives as to who the protesters are, what brought them into the streets, and what they hope to accomplish.
Though there may be cacophony of analyses -- many of them surely to be discredited in coming days and weeks -- some facts still remain undisputed. Primarily among them: the protests are taking place against a backdrop of economic frustration and inequality within Iran.
Economic concerns have been simmering for some time. As Iranian writer Amir Ahmadi Arian noted in the New York Times, inequality has become front and center as the wealthy display their opulence with luxury cars in city streets, while the rest of the country struggles. The economy was a focal point in the country's May 2017 elections. President Hassan Rouhani campaigned on the nuclear deal, promising it would bring more money into the country. But while Iran's economy grew -- by 13.4 percent in 2016 -- it didn't necessarily translate into prospects for Iranians. Unemployment rose to 12.6 percent that same year, a number that's even higher for Iranian youth.
The discrepancy between the promise and reality of the nuclear deal hasn't been lost on the country's residents. In May of 2015, when hopes for the agreement were high, more than half of Iranians felt the economy was at least somewhat good. But by 2017, nearly two thirds called the country's economic situation bad, one poll found. And they're not optimistic about the future -- fifty percent of people said they thought the economy was getting even worse.
Just as with the protests, analysts will point fingers in a variety of directions as to the cause of the country's economic ills. Certainly, years of crippling international sanctions have played a role. And while the nuclear deal left the door open for more economic opportunities, constant uncertainty over the future of the agreement has left banks and businesses skeptical.
But regardless of the causes, the protests signal that Iran's citizens may disagree with the government on next steps. One spark behind the recent demonstrations? President Rouhani's conservative 2018 budget, released even as minor protests took place around the country over lost jobs and missing wages.
One particular point of ire is the budget cut to the country's popular cash transfer program. As economist Djavad Salehi-Isfahani notes in one analysis, the program -- which gave Iranians a small monthly stipend -- played a role in stemming poverty rates, especially in the country's rural areas, helping to bridge inequality between Tehran and the rest of the country. Salehi-Isfahani also points out that high inflation already cut the value of the transfers to less than a third of their original value. To top off that indignity, the government has decided to limit the number of people eligible for the program.
While the international community buzzes about the meaning behind the protests, at least one group is standing behind Rouhani's austerity budget. The IMF released a consultation report on Iran in December, shortly before the protests took off, in which they said revisions to the cash transfer program, among other measures, would lead to "much needed fiscal space." In a memo, Peter Bakvis, who directs the Washington, DC office of the International Trade Union Confederation, questioned this move. "It is safe to assume that no one among those participating in the recent mass protests in Iran was consulted by the IMF's mission before it endorsed the 2018/19 budget and issued recommendations for the country's economic and social policies." Though the IMF does not lend to Iran, their recommendation still carries a good deal of weight.
The question to be asked: will Iran listen to groups like the IMF or the voice of its people? The government says the demonstrations have died down. But no matter the face of Iran's protesters or the future of their movement, this much is clear: the country needs to deal with inequality, or the frustration will continue to simmer.Whether you read Truthout daily, weekly or even once a month, now's the perfect time to show that you value real journalism. Make a donation to Truthout by clicking here!
America is in the throes of a deep and pervasive social crisis -- and it's killing people at an alarming rate.
That's the takeaway from the announcement in December that, for a second year in a row, average life expectancy in the US has declined.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans can now expect to live 78.6 years on average -- a decline of 0.1 year for 2016 over the figures from 2015, which also represented a drop.
That might not sound like a lot, but any decrease in life expectancy is a rare occurrence in a developed nation. In this case, it's the direct result of the opioid crisis that continues to ravage large swathes of the country.
To put it in perspective, the last time there was a decline in life expectancy in the US was in 1993 at the height of the AIDS crisis -- and the last time there were two years of decline was 1962-63 as a result of a major flu epidemic.
Worse, 2017 is on track to produce yet another decline in life expectancy, according to the National Center for Health Statistics' Bob Anderson. "We have data for almost half of 2017 at this point. It's still quite provisional, but it suggests that we're in for another increase" in drug-related deaths, Anderson told CNN. "If we're not careful, we could end up with declining life expectancy for three years in a row, which we haven't seen since the Spanish flu 100 years ago."
Actually, seven of the top 10 leading causes of death in the US -- including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and influenza -- declined in 2016. But that was more than offset by a rise in deaths from Alzheimer's disease, suicide and "unintentional injuries" -- a category that includes drug overdose deaths.
According to the Washington Post, "More than 42,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses alone in 2016, a 28 percent increase over 2015. When deaths from drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine and benzodiazepines are included, the overall increase was 21 percent."
Overall, noted the Post, "Deaths from fentanyl and other synthetic opioids more than doubled from the previous year. Heroin and prescription opioid overdose deaths also rose, but more modestly."
The picture is especially bleak among Millenials. The statistics show that from 2014 to 2016, the death rate for 25-34 year olds jumped by 19 percent, from 108 per 100,000 to 129 per 100,000.
The crisis is hitting particularly hard in Rust Belt areas, where a decades-long decline in manufacturing has decimated formerly solid working-class communities, leaving Virginia, New Hampshire and Ohio with highest rates of overdose deaths in the country. Morgues in many of the hardest-hit counties continue to run short on space to hold the bodies of the dead. From mid-2016 to mid-2017 in West Virginia, the state spent $1 million just to transport bodies to and from morgues.
In the town of Petersburg (population: 2,500) one pharmacy allegedly sold more than 1.8 million doses of opioids that had no medical purpose.
"It was like passing out candy on Halloween," Breanne McUlty, a recovering addict from Petersburg, told the Washington Examiner. "I can't say there isn't one person I know who hasn't been strung out...I'm the only person in my family right now who hasn't had an active addiction."
It's important to note, however, that it isn't only white Rust Belt communities that are suffering. Taking a closer look at the 2016 figures, the New York Times reported in late December that deaths related to opioids spiked by a whopping 41 percent in Black urban communities, especially among older Black men who are dying from heroin laced with fentanyl.
This, the Times wrote, "suggests that the common perception of the epidemic as an almost entirely white problem rooted in overprescription of painkillers is no longer accurate, as fentanyl, often stealthily, invades broader swaths of the country and its population."
In Washington, DC, for example, drug deaths doubled in a single year -- and are now "on par with those in Ohio and New Hampshire."
There is an urgent need for a drastic response from the government including addiction and treatment services, jobs programs, medication and other resources.
For months, public health officials have been begging the Trump administration to declare the opioid crisis a national emergency, which could have made a large amount of funding available. Instead, in October, Trump declared it a "public health emergency" and devoted few additional resources.
As if to underline the administration's lack of seriousness in approaching the opioid crisis, Trump appointed not an expert or a scientist, but his former campaign manager and current White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway to lead White House efforts to combat the crisis.
Conway, who has zero experience with anything related to addiction or addiction policy, once told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that the White House failed to increase funding for the opioid crisis because what addicts really need is "a four-letter word called 'will.'"
Such comments, said Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, are a "death sentence for addicts."
Hoping to score cheap political points, Trump announced in late November that he would be donating his $100,000 third-quarter presidential salary to the Department of Health and Human Services. But the paltry amount will do next to nothing to stem the crisis -- especially when his administration is cutting funding in other ways.
After all, $100,000 is a drop in the bucket compared to the $190 billion over 10 years that public health advocates like Harvard University health economics professor Dr. Richard Frank say will be needed to help stem the crisis. And given that Medicaid currently covers some 34 percent of the estimated 2.66 million Americans with an opiate-use disorder, the crisis will deepen if Republican plans to further gut government health-care programs come to fruition.
In fact, as the Huffington Post reported in late October, Trump's budget calls for cutting funding for the opioid crisis by $97 million -- including a massive cut to the budget of the National Institutes of Health:
The president could have tied other actions to his public health emergency declaration but did not, said Regina LaBelle, former chief of staff at the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the Obama administration.
"Such actions could have included building a naloxone stockpile, addressing regulatory barriers to mobile methadone vans, not to mention including more funding to address the epidemic," LaBelle said in a statement. "At a time when only 20 percent of people with opioid use disorders get needed treatment, we need to act with urgency."
Instead of "urgency," America was treated to Trump lecturing the media about "an idea that I had" for kids to say no drugs -- a nod to the totally ineffective "just say no" campaign of the 1980s, which never showed a direct connection to reducing drug use.
"If we can teach young people -- and people, generally -- not to start," Trump said. "it's really, really easy not to take them."
Truly, words of wisdom from a "stable genius."
The decline in US life expectancy is a kind of "canary in a coal mine" -- a troubling indication of the degree to which whole sections of US workers are in living in despair under a system that is designed not to meet their needs.
Princeton University economist Anne Case recently told NPR that opioid deaths, along with the uptick in suicides and deaths from alcohol, are all "signs that something is really wrong, and whatever it is that's really wrong is happening nationwide."
But while much of the media attention has focused on the spike in opioid addiction among whites, researchers are pointing out that working class and poor Blacks -- who already suffer higher rates of disease and mortality as a result of preventable causes often related to poverty and institutional racism -- are also suffering.
"Rates of mortality for African Americans have risen after a fairly long period of decline, and that is concerning and disturbing and it may reflect a wider array of harms arising from drug issues," Jonathan Skinner, a Dartmouth College economic professor, told NPR.
In general, there has been a systematic failure of the government at the local, state and federal levels in all communities to provide the resources that people deserve.
While the Trump administration is spending its time policing scientists at the Centers for Disease Control over their use of words and phrases like "evidence-based" and "vunerable," millions of Americans are needlessly suffering and communities are being ripped apart by a crisis with no end in sight -- and no solutions on offer.The current political climate is hostile to real accountability. Help us keep lawmakers and corporations in check -- support the independent journalism at Truthout today!