Truthout

Subscribe to Truthout feed
Truthout sparks action by revealing systemic injustice and providing a platform for transformative ideas through investigative reporting and analysis.
Updated: 1 hour 43 min ago

A Year Since Trump's Election, as Explained by Terrible Pizza

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 21:00

As we encompass the calamitous anniversary of Donald Trump's election, a peddler of shoddy food provides a fitting parable for the age. Here is protest, bad business, excuse-making, presidential bloviating and racism on the march, all in one box of bad pizza. Papa John's provides an allegory for this year.

(Photo: Raja Sambasivan)

I would like to take a moment, here on this calamitous anniversary, to contemplate the political and cultural impact of bad pizza upon our zany little world. I am, of course, referring to the massive international chain restaurant called Papa John's, and to its wealthy owner, Mr. John Schnatter of St. Louis. The two entities -- the subpar pizza joint and the man with all the dough -- sit at the core of a small confluence of absurdity that explains nearly everything you need to know about Year One in the Age of Trump.

Ridiculous? Certainly. True? You tell me.

There are more than 5,000 Papa John's pizzerias in 45 countries around the world. It is the most widely recognized advertiser for the National Football League; if you watch the NFL on Sundays, like as not you'll see the face of "Papa" John Schnatter a dozen times mugging it up with the likes of Peyton Manning and the guy who mows the playing field. His connections to the NFL run deeper than TV commercials. Dallas Cowboys owner and billionaire oilman Jerry Jones owns more than 120 Papa John's franchises.

Schnatter played in Republican politics behind the scenes for a time, holding fundraisers for Mitt Romney in 2012 and donating to Donald Trump's campaign in 2016. He made his first ham-fisted entrance onto the public political stage about five years ago, when the passage of the Affordable Care Act motivated him to take out his rage on his customers and employees. If the ACA wasn't repealed, he said at the time, he would be forced to jack up the price of his pizza, and some of his franchises would have to cut workers' hours. Because this was nonsense, there was a fairly damaging backlash and Schnatter backed down.

Odds are Schnatter would have kept his head down for good after that mess, but then several things happened almost simultaneously: NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee to protest police violence against people of color, several players joined him, Donald Trump attacked them repeatedly and viciously, a whole slew of players then joined Kaepernick and the protest became a national thing, the NFL commissioner and ownership predictably redefined the term "clumsy reaction" in response, and somewhere in there a whole lot of people realized, for reasons having nothing to do with protests or presidents, that Papa John's pizza is just awful.

That last bit is important, because Schnatter recently announced that he is considering pulling his advertising from NFL games. Why? His sales are way down and, according to him, the NFL's refusal to come down hard on the anti-racism player protesters is the reason behind that decline. "NFL leadership has hurt Papa John's shareholders," said Schnatter last week during a call with analysts. "This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago. Good or bad, leadership starts at the top, and this is an example of poor leadership."

"Good or bad," said Schnatter. An interesting choice of words, given the fact that he has amassed a tremendous fortune peddling food that can only be called "pizza" because it is round and has "cheese" on it. Any reputable consumer survey puts Papa John's product somewhere between sewer rat and used floss on the quality scale. To quote Deadspin writer David Roth, "It's pizza that tastes the way long-distance bus travel feels." Occam's Razor would suggest that protests seldom televised by the NFL are less to blame for Schnatter's woes than market oversaturation of a crummy product. P.S., NFL: That means you, too.

Hot on the heels of Schnatter's broadside against the NFL and its ownership came another proclamation: The Daily Stormer, the white supremacist website which gained notoriety after the horrific violence in Charlottesville and Donald Trump's subsequent reaffirmation of his embrace of Nazis and Klansmen, announced that Papa John's was now the official pizza of racists everywhere. To underscore their zeal for Schnatter's product, they published a photo of a pizza bearing a swastika rendered in pepperoni slices.

This forced the public relations wing of the Papa John's empire to release a statement requesting that white nationalists, white supremacists, Nazis, Klansmen and racists in general refrain from purchasing their product, which is exactly how you want to spend your Friday when you're the press office for a well-known multinational corporation that is already collapsing under the weight of its own inadequacies.

When the long tale of this dented era is finally unspooled, "Papa" John Schnatter and his serial woes will wind up as a footnote for an afterthought. Yet this dim little parable perfectly illustrates the time and place we find ourselves in, one long year down the line. At the bottom of it all sits an execrably unpalatable product with a swastika squished into the middle. I think it is safe to say we could all use some better ingredients.

My country, 'tis of thee I sing.

Three more years. Maybe.

This story wasn't funded by corporate advertising, but by readers like you. Can you help sustain our work with a tax-deductible donation?
Categories: Latest News

Joe Ricketts Is a Walking Case for a $1 Million Maximum Income

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 06:06
Truthout is funded by readers, not by corporations, lobbyists or government interests. Help us publish more stories like this one: Click here to make a tax-deductible donation!

Late Thursday afternoon, multi-billionaire Trump donor Joe Ricketts shuttered the Gothamist and DNAinfo media empire he conglomerated in March. Ricketts closed the sites a week after staffers voted to unionize. In the process, he also made a stellar case for a $1 million maximum income.

What is a maximum income? Taxing every penny someone makes over a million dollars by 100 percent and putting it back into public coffers.

It would be hard to think of a better test case than Mr. Ricketts, whose net worth is around $2.1 billion and who -- like many rich people -- uses his wealth irresponsibly, and to the detriment of society.

Ricketts spent millions of dollars supporting Republicans in the 2012 election cycle. During that time, he launched a $10 million ad campaign, predicated on describing then-sitting president of the United States -- "Barack Hussein Obama" -- as a "metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln." The final version of the ad featured Americans who voted for Obama in 2008 but had since grown disillusioned, and was crafted in large part by Steve Bannon. Yes, Bannon directed the less racist version of an advertisement paid for by Joe Ricketts.

This isn't the only odious use Ricketts has made of his wealth. In the 2016 election cycle, he gave $1 million to Donald Trump's presidential campaign after having supported other Republican candidates with millions of dollars in the Republican primaries. Ricketts' Ending Spending Action Fund -- the Super PAC he founded, which sponsored the anti-Obama ads -- aims to put an "enforceable cap" on public spending and brand those who advocate for expansionary fiscal policy as "budget bandits." Despite railing against public spending, Ricketts, whose family owns the Chicago Cubs, has also accepted a generous public subsidy to build the team's spring training facility.

What if he just couldn't do all that, every piece of which involves having amassed vast stores of wealth? As they attempt to overhaul the tax code, Republicans have argued that one of their chief aims is to make the tax code simpler for average Americans. This is a lie, of course, but the goal is a worthy one. And what simpler solution than redistributing the wealth of everyone earning more than a cool million?

It's not that we need rich people's money to fund vital public programs. There's no one-to-one accounting between how much money the federal government takes in through taxation and what it can spend. Were that the case, going to war -- a costly endeavor -- would involve much more heated political debates.

As Raúl Carrillo and Jesse Myerson explained recently in Splinter, governments frequently run deficits on the basis of which services they prioritize and which they opt to farm out to the private sector. That's why budgets and tax codes are primarily political documents, not finely-tuned balance sheets. As Carrillo and Myerson write:

A household or a business may have to stash or borrow money before it can spend any, but we are users of the currency. The US government, which is the issuer of the currency, works differently: Congress votes to spend "new money" on something, then the Treasury and the Federal Reserve credit the relevant bank accounts, and ... that's it. The government has spent new money into existence. Later, Congress may tax "old money" back out of existence, but it isn't collecting money in order to spend it.

A maximum income -- and progressive taxation more generally -- is less about redistributing income than about redistributing power, though the two aims go hand-in-hand. If you think this sounds like radical Marxist nonsense, consider what the Republicans are doing right now. The GOP's newly-released "Tax Cuts and Jobs Act" would double the cut-off at which households become eligible to pay the estate tax -- protecting multi-millionaires and starving public coffers of funds -- while making it impossible to deduct expenses for healthcare.

Under the GOP plan, state and local tax credits would be fully eliminated for everyone but property owners, whose deduction would be capped at $10,000. Why? To make room for corporate tax cuts and more giveaways to the ultra-wealthy. Tax codes set a rough blueprint for what kinds of people and activities a society values most. For Republicans, that's a small cadre of 1 percenters and the corporations they run.

Of course, the inverse is also true: Governments can choose to prioritize good things, like support for the kind of neighborhood-by-neighborhood local journalism DNAinfo.com and Gothamist reporters built their site's hard-won reputations on.

In Sweden, news outlets with at least 1,500 paying subscribers that publish at least once a week can apply for subsidies from the government. In France, the government subsidizes private news outlets, and many countries make it a priority to fund high-quality, independent-minded public broadcasting. The US government could also prioritize funding the kind of robust social safety net that makes in-depth, investigative freelance reporting more possible.

As economist Marshall Steinbaum argued recently in Jacobin, progressive taxation can help make these types of social programs a reality, and has the more profound effect of curbing the influence of the ultra-wealthy and their ability to set national priorities -- i.e. what gets funded and what doesn't. Progressives taxation, Steinbaum notes, "was originally enacted to tame the excesses of wealth and power that dominated the economy in the Gilded Age. The point was not to raise money, nor even, really, to shift the burden of taxation towards those better able to shoulder it (though the latter played a role). Rather, it was to fundamentally alter the distribution of power in society."

The point of implementing high taxes on the wealthy in the depths of the Great Depression, as Roosevelt did, was to "make it de facto illegal to be too rich," Steinbaum writes. "When it's illegal to be too rich, many of the things rich people do -- exploit labor, monopolize markets, squeeze supply chains, offshore jobs, asset-strip their companies, commit fraud -- aren't worth doing."

This creates a balancing effect on the economy -- distributing money more equally, but also penalizing wealthy misanthropes like Ricketts and dampening the negative impact they have on the world.

Were we to enforce a 100 percent tax on all income over $1 million, Joe Ricketts would still be wealthy and -- on a personal level -- a bad guy. But he would be infinitely less rich, and wouldn't have the same stores of disposable income to wield over the media landscape and our democracy.

We don't need Joe Ricketts' money to fund programs like universal healthcare or a thriving ecosystem of local media outlets. But let's take it anyway, because screw that guy.

Categories: Latest News

In the Water-Scarce Southwest, an Ancient Irrigation System Disrupts Big Agriculture

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 06:04
Choose journalism that empowers movements for social, environmental and economic justice: Support the independent media at Truthout!

Water in the American Southwest has never been abundant. Its availability fluctuates depending on conditions like drought and mountain snowpack that feeds streams and rivers. But experts predict a future of greater extremes: longer and hotter heat waves in the summer, less precipitation, decreased snowpack, and more severe and frequent droughts that will place greater stress on water users.

In New Mexico and Colorado, legal statutes enable an area's original water users to transfer their portions of the resource, via pipelines, to the highest bidder virtually anywhere in the state. When scarcity hits, industrial mining and agricultural operations can afford to purchase additional water while small-scale farmers and ranchers remain vulnerable; in both states, water use already exceeds availability.

But for over a century, acequias -- an ancient form of community water management originating at least 1,000 years ago and now used by small-scale and backyard farmers and ranchers -- have resisted the flow of water toward corporations in New Mexico and Colorado. After receiving wider legal protections for self-governance in the 2000s, acequias are disrupting modern agricultural practices by assuring the equitable distribution of water to rural communities.

An Ancient System of Water Management

Acequias appeared in the United States centuries before New Mexico and Colorado were incorporated into the nation: more than a century, in fact, before the United States even existed. Brought by Spanish settlers to Mexican territory in the 16th century (including what is today the American Southwest), acequias were a system perfectly suited to the arid, high-elevation landscape where drought was common and the availability of water varied drastically from season to season and year to year.

Today, acequias function much as they did 400 years ago: as a series of irrigation ditches that harness gravity to distribute water. The allocation of water is democratic, where each participating farmer or rancher (called parciantes) is allotted an equal vote in how to manage the season's water in exchange for cleaning and maintaining the ditch system.

The equity in this system is especially important in drought years, says Ralph Vigil, chair of the New Mexico Acequia Commission. "Acequias are unique in that they share in times of shortages. There's not one person who's going to get more water than the next person." 

But acequias are about far more than just water distribution: They are at the center of the dynamic, living heritage of Southwestern communities, a heritage that includes traditional methods of food production and preparation, ecosystem sustainability, ancestral learning, and oral customs. "Most of us are still very much dedicated to a communal, more spiritual, and more ecological view of water," says Devon Peña, professor of American ethnic studies at the University of Washington and founder of the Acequia Institute in southern Colorado.

Modern Water Laws Rule in Western States

Despite its cultural and ecological value, because of its scarcity, water in the US West has always been political. In New Mexico and Colorado, today's legal system marginalizes the much older acequia system. According to the doctrine of so-called prior appropriation -- which is at the center of water law in 19 Western states -- an area's first water users are given "senior" rights to that original quantity year after year.

In many respects, says environmental attorney Jeffrey J. Wechsler, water under prior appropriation is treated as "a form of property that can be bought and sold and transferred." Prior appropriation and the buying and selling of senior water rights can benefit industrial operations -- like mining -- that require large quantities of water and can afford to buy it.

Water in both New Mexico and Colorado, and in the Southwestern region in general, is already being used more rapidly than it can be replenished. It is, in a word, over-allocated -- users own rights to more water than actually exists. The decreasing availability of water anticipated over the coming years will only exacerbate the problem and is likely to require state water managers and policymakers to appropriate the rights of some users to fulfill the needs of others.

So who loses their water? "Those water rights have to come from somewhere," says Paula Garcia, executive director of the New Mexico Acequia Association. "The prevailing trend? It comes from agriculture." And because large commercial operations are more economically and politically powerful than small-scale ones, it is family farms and ranches that are likely to be hit the hardest.

In New Mexico and Colorado, the law recognizes acequias differently.

In New Mexico, acequias have the second most-senior right to water in the state's 1882 territorial code and subsequent constitution (after indigenous communities, whose pre-colonial origins make them the region's first water users). And thanks to the establishment of statutes in 2003 recognizing their right to self-determination, acequias now have greater protections against the syphoning of their water to financially and politically advantaged users.

Despite these protections, though, acequias are still vulnerable. That's because each acequia is made up of a volunteer group of people coming together to protect a valuable resource in a high-poverty rural area, says Garcia. Because of this, acequias are susceptible to financial pressures that may prevent members from participating or that might make the group, as a whole, interested in selling their water rights.

While the new statute may not protect acequias against every threat, it does give them "a fighting chance," Garcia says. "They have some say in determining their own future."

In Colorado, acequias were only legally recognized in 2009. "They erased us for over 100 years," says Peña, whose academic research and writing became the framework and basis for the law.

In Colorado and New Mexico, Acequias Offer a Democratic -- and More Sustainable -- Alternative

Simply by practicing centuries-old methods of farming, acequias are standing against the industrialization of food and water. For one, acequias offer an alternative to the technology employed by the region's corporate farming and ranching operations. Unlike modern, mechanized irrigation, flood irrigation from acequia ditches leaves some water unused in low-lying areas called "sumps." From these, acequias create wetlands and wildlife corridors and their runoff returns to streams and aquifers.

In the naturally irrigated fields (milpas), farmers grow dozens of heritage plant species. "Any square foot of acequia milpa will be packed with life," Peña says, "including all the companion plants that we grow on purpose and those that come as volunteers."

And as a democratic system of water management, acequias offer an alternative to prior appropriation -- a system that commodifies water -- in both Colorado and New Mexico. "Not only are we disruptive -- we are decolonizing the water law," Peña says. Age-old forms of self-governance like acequias, which organize community members to make use equitably of a shared resource, "now have no choice but to be anti-capitalist."

Peña says that, nevertheless, in Colorado acequias are still in many ways fighting an uphill battle to secure full rights to a resource the state depends on to expand the economy.

In New Mexico, agitating on the fringes of the political landscape has limited value. For acequias to persist and thrive, they must navigate state policy from the inside. "Our survival depends on civic engagement," Garcia says.

Acequias face other challenges, too. Both Weschler and Peña are the first to admit that the acequia does not always function smoothly by the principle of "one irrigator, one vote." Internal politics are often afoot. "Acequias are only as good as the people who manage and maintain them," says Vigil. And in cases in which parciantes cannot work out their differences and the irrigation ditches go unused for five years, the state can reappropriate the water rights.

Still, acequias provide a real opportunity in the Southwest for responding to changing environmental conditions and promoting the conservation of scarce resources, including the heritage of the people that use them.

For the first time, the "acequia viewpoint" is being sought out by policymakers and agricultural actors in New Mexico. Recently, for example, Garcia was invited to speak at a conference for the Water Resources Research Institute, hosted by New Mexico Senator Tom Udall. "We've gained a certain level of respect in water policy circles," she says, and that may result in enduring changes that have an effect on state water management in the long term.

In the meantime, both the New Mexico Acequia Association and Peña's Acequia Institute are working to attract youth to farming and ranching in order to insure the survival of acequias for future generations. "We need to make some profound changes in the way we educate our young people," Garcia says. "There's something beautiful about this way of life."

Vigil agrees: "Acequias, they're the lifeblood of our communities."

Categories: Latest News

Jen Sorensen | Serve Your Country Club

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

It's Time to End Legal Immunity for the Gun Industry

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 21:00

National Rifle Association members visit exhibitor booths at the 146th NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits on April 29, 2017, in Atlanta, Georgia. With more than 800 exhibitors, the convention is the largest annual gathering for the NRA's more than 5 million members. (Photo: Scott Olson / Getty Images)

Guns, like cigarettes, are a public health crisis in the United States: Intentional gun violence, accidents and suicides are rampant. But Congress has effectively exempted the gun industry from liability for the foreseeable misuse of its products. It's time to demand the same level of accountability from the gun manufacturers as we did from makers of cigarettes.

National Rifle Association members visit exhibitor booths at the 146th NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits on April 29, 2017, in Atlanta, Georgia. With more than 800 exhibitors, the convention is the largest annual gathering for the NRA's more than 5 million members. (Photo: Scott Olson / Getty Images)

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.

In November 1998, the largest tobacco manufacturers in the country entered into a "master settlement agreement" with the attorneys general of 46 states in order to settle public health lawsuits that threatened to beggar the industry. The attorneys general had sued on the grounds that they had incurred immense Medicaid costs as the result of the tobacco industry's negligent marketing practices, causing millions of people to get hooked on cigarettes and suffering health effects that burdened the state health systems.

That same month, the City of Chicago filed a lawsuit against 22 gun manufacturers and sellers of guns in the Chicago suburbs and surrounding areas for causing a "public nuisance" in supplying and selling guns around the City at a level well above what the lawful gun market could support. The City's theory of the case was that the manufacturers and sellers must have known that the guns would end up on the illicit secondary market -- that is, on the streets of Chicago, where violence was continuing at high rates.

Congress has effectively exempted this one industry from the type of product liability and nuisance litigation that just about every other industry has to protect itself against.

The case wended its way through the court system for six years, finally being dismissed by the Illinois Supreme Court in November 2004. Chicago's suit was one of several that had been filed along similar lines -- all inspired by the success of the public suits against the tobacco companies. Most of these suits suffered similar ends by 2005 -- when Congress passed the Protecting Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) which granted the gun industry immunity from civil liability for the unlawful use of guns except in narrow circumstances.

The PLCAA effectively exempted this one industry from the type of product liability and nuisance litigation that just about every other industry has to protect itself against: liability for the foreseeable misuse of their products. This immunity acted as a second shield for gun manufacturers and sellers, who already enjoy some level of protection from product liability suits because they traffic in "inherently dangerous" products, which users know are dangerous. Therefore, users themselves assume a significant level of risk for these products' use.

However, as the tobacco story demonstrates, there is a precedent for compelling industries to take more responsibility for their dangerous products. The 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement required tobacco companies to amend their marketing practices and pay billions into a fund for health costs and wraparound services to cut down on smoking and fund education programs. However, with the PLCAA in place, no such reckoning appears to be on the horizon for the gun industry. Gun manufacturers' immunity from civil lawsuits brought by the victims, families of victims and cities impacted by gun violence ensures that the industry does not have to engage in the type of risk-management any corporate counsel worth their expense account would insist upon: tightly managing supply and sales procedures that could potentially result in a foreseeable misuse of a weapon.

When it comes to guns, a neoliberal consensus about the moral rectitude of profits has elided the language of social rights.

The basic principle of these kinds of liability suits are that when manufacturers or wholesalers engage in a chain of commerce where even the intentional misuse of the product was foreseeable, those impacted by the misuse can bring a lawsuit against the links in the supply chain to recover damages. In the case of guns, the damages could be quite serious: When gun violence results in death, wrongful death suits can result in damages in the form of a victim's lost lifetime earnings. The deterrent value of this type of potential litigation is immense.

Right now, "accountability" measures (which often result in incarceration) generally focus on individuals who use or are in possession of guns. This emphasis erases the origins of the weapons. Some 60 percent of gun crimes in Chicago can be sourced to gun sellers in Indiana, Wisconsin and Mississippi; more than 90 percent of those charged with gun possession were not the original buyers of the gun. This is because manufacturers and wholesalers can gleefully sell immense numbers of guns to small retailers and "hobbyists" with a wink and a nod, and these retailers can in turn sell large numbers of guns to cut-away dealers who flood Chicago's streets. At the same time, retailers and gun show sellers can sell guns in questionable circumstances with minimal protocols for vetting the buyers. If a ruinous lawsuit was on the other end of that transaction, every link in the supply chain would be redoubling efforts to constrict sales to low-risk buyers; the volume of sales would assuredly plummet, but not in a way that dooms the lawful market. Even if we accept the premise that individual gun ownership is a fundamental constitutionally protected right and that there should be a viable commerce in firearms, there is no reason there should be a gun available for every single person in the country.

Violence outward is the depredation wrought by empire; violence inward is the decay wrought by neoliberalism, and together they are bleeding our streets.

In the same sense that narcotics like OxyContin or fentanyl are necessary but should only be sold wholesale through the medical industry -- which is governed by regulations and professional codes of ethics, the violation of which can result in serious legal exposure -- and carefully prescribed in indicated doses with attendant education, so guns should only be sold through carefully constructed networks of distribution that, through sheer self-interest, mitigate exposure to protracted and costly litigation.

Perhaps the gun industry is constitutionally protected; an unbounded market size certainly is not. When it comes to guns, a neoliberal consensus about the moral rectitude of profits has elided the language of social rights.

Guns, like cigarettes, are a public health crisis in the United States. This comes not only in the form of intentional gun violence: accidents and suicides are rampant, with gun death rates reaching nearly half the rate of diabetes. Since 2005, the turbocharging of the US's overseas violent empire in the never-ending war on terror has infected domestic life, as new generations of veterans come home to a resource-deprived society, where the boundaries of the battlefield have transgressed national borders and the tactical ephemera of urban anti-insurgency warfare crop up on US streets. At the same time, austerity and privatization have stripped the bones of the social welfare that could ensure at-risk individuals have access to resources or counseling necessary to stem violence and self-harm. It is assumed that an industry's righteousness is proved by its profits.

Violence outward is the depredation wrought by empire; violence inward is the decay wrought by neoliberalism, and together they are bleeding our streets.

Categories: Latest News

As NYPD Officers Are Charged With Rape of Teenager, Advocates Call for End to Mass Sexual Violence

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 21:00

In New York City, two police officers have quit the New York Police Department after they were charged with rape, kidnapping and official misconduct. Prosecutors say former NYPD detectives Edward Martins and Richard Hall arrested an 18-year-old woman after stopping her car and finding a small amount of marijuana and a few anti-anxiety pills in her purse. Testing shows the DNA of both officers was found on the teenager. The former police officers are claiming the acts were consensual as their defense. "Violence is learned," responds Mariame Kaba, an organizer and educator who works on anti-domestic violence programs. "Of course people exposed to violence all the time will use it."

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Steven Mnuchin, Foreclosure King of the US: Secretary of the Treasury for the .01 Percent

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 21:00

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin walks off the podium following a news conference on September 21, 2017, in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

The stories at Truthout equip ordinary people with the facts and resources to create extraordinary change. Support this vital work by making a tax-deductible donation now!

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin doesn't exactly come across as the guy you'd want in your corner in a playground tussle. In the Trump administration, he's been more like the kid trying to cop favor with the school bully. That, at least, is the role he seems to have taken in the Trump White House. When he isn't circling the Sunday shows stooging for the president, he regularly plays the willing fall guy for tax policies guaranteed to stoke further inequality in the US and for legislation that will remove just about any consumer protections against Wall Street.

Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs partner, arrived in Washington with a distinct reputation. Back in 2009, he had corralled a bundle of rich financiers to take over California's IndyMac bank, shut down amid the 2008 foreclosure crisis by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).  Bought for $13.9 billion (but only $1.3 billion in actual cash), Mnuchin turned it into a genuine foreclosure machine, in the process sealing his own fate when it came to his future reputation. At the time, he didn't appear concerned about public approval. Something far more valuable was at stake: the $200 million that, according to Bloomberg News, he raked in personally, thanks to the deal.

No such luck, of course, for the bank's ordinary borrowers. During Mnuchin's reign, IndyMac carried out more than 36,000 foreclosures, tossing former homeowners (including active duty military servicemen and women) onto the street without hesitation or pity by any means necessary. According to a memo obtained by investigative reporter David Dayen, OneWest, the new name that Mnuchin and his billionaire posse coined for Indybank, of which Mnuchin was now CEO and chairman, "rushed delinquent homeowners out of their homes by violating notice and waiting period statutes, illegally backdated key documents, and effectively gamed foreclosure auctions."

Now, Mnuchin remains bitter and frustrated that he can't kick the reputation he got in those days.  As he told a House Financial Services Committee Congressional hearing this July, "I take great offense to anybody who calls me the foreclosure king."  Such indignation would ring truer if, in May, one of Mnuchin's banking units, a company called Financial Freedom, hadn't agreed to pay a more than $89 million settlement to the government for taking unreasonable advantage of thousands of seniors through reverse mortgages which convert equity in a home into a loan. (A few months later, in August, a watchdog group, Campaign for Accountabilitycalled upon the Justice Department to investigate Mnuchin for allegedly making false statements under oath to Congress about his actions at OneWest between 2009 and 2015.)

Like Donald Trump, Mnuchin is a man intent on making the rich richer and to hell with everyone else. Continually channeling Trump's ego, whatever his smoldering resentments may be, he soldiers on -- and in the context of the Trump White House successfully indeed. After all, this administration has lost 14 key people in less than a year, including an FBI director, a national security adviser, a White House chief of staff, and a White House communications director. Through it all, Mnuchin has remained in place, one of the relatively few members of The Donald's original team not related by blood or marriage who is seemingly thriving. (Admittedly, he and the president were linked in what CNN once called a "business capacity" even before he became Trump's campaign finance director in May 2016.)  

Hamilton, Trump and a Playbill for the Economy

There's a history of Treasury secretaries having a special rapport with presidents that snakes back to the founding of the Republic. Alexander Hamilton, the first of them, had the full confidence of the first president, George Washington. With such backing, he established federal taxes and came up with plans for real economic development. He understood federal taxes to be essential to building the US. In contrast, Mnuchin thinks the stock market is the ultimate arbiter of economic health and appears to consider taxation without representation (by the wealthy) the order of the day.

Since Mnuchin bagged one of the most influential economic positions on the planet, he's been remarkably consistent on just one thing: making sure he lends a helping hand to the world of big finance, his former universe. He has, for instance, pushed hard for more bank deregulation by claiming that it will help the smaller banks. Don't believe it for a second.  His disdain for reenacting the Glass-Steagall Act, which once made the merging of commercial and investment banking operations illegal and so curtailed the too-big-to-fail status of the largest banks, tells you all you need to know.  It reflects his real thinking when it comes to banks and the stability of the economy. Emblematic of this has been the way he steered the Financial Stability Oversight Council that he chairs to give AIG, the insurance company at the core of the 2008 financial meltdown, a gateway back to prominence by removing its too-big-to-fail label.

He's proven adept at blurring the lines between what effective banking regulation would actually involve and how he can wordsmith out of pushing for it. In May, testifying before the Senate Banking Committee, for example, he noted that "we do not support [the] separation of banks and investment banks." When Senator Elizabeth Warren pointed out that this was hardly the position Donald Trump and his team had taken during campaign 2016 (or of the Republican platform, which had explicitly called for the reinstitution of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933), he promptly waffled: "We, during the campaign... specifically came out and said we do support a twenty-first-century Glass-Steagall... That means there are aspects of it that we think may make sense, but we never said before that we supported a full separation of banks and investment banks."

In June, when pressed on the matter by Senator Bernie Sanders, the Treasury secretary argued that Trump was not responsible for the language in the Republican party platform and remained opposed to breaking up the big banks. He added, "We think that that would hurt the economy, that would ruin liquidity in the market. What we are focused on is safe and prudent regulation for the large banks so we don't have taxpayer risk." 

In other words, this is a man who has a real sense of the opportunity that's embedded in this moment -- for the large banks and their CEOs to make a bundle of money -- but no appropriate sense of the risks involved or fear for a future in which he and his president might find themselves bailing out such banks, 2008-style. 

Lessons unlearned? If that isn't the Trump administration, what is?

Threatening the Market

Mnuchin may have little grasp of what constitutes real risk, but he can still make threats about it. In an October interview with Politico Money, he credited the stock market's postelection rally to positive expectations that Congress would pass a major tax "reform" bill.  If that bill doesn't go through, he warned, the markets will suffer big time -- and so will everyone else.

Coming from a Goldman Sachs alum, that should have rung a few bells. After all, in the fall of 2008, with the stock market tanking and banks imploding, then-Treasury Secretary and former Goldman Sachs CEO Hank Paulson took a similar position with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Following that chamber's initial rejection of a $700 billion bank bailout bill that sent the markets into a tailspin, he warned that, if she didn't get it through, the big banks would stop providing money to the US public.  Sure enough, Congress complied. With 91 Republicans joining 172 Democrats, the bill passed by a vote of 263 to 171.

Nine years and a plethora of big bank subsidies later, Mnuchin conflated market levels with legislation in a similarly threatening manner. As he told Politico, "There is no question that the rally in the stock market has baked into it reasonably high expectations of us getting tax cuts and tax reform done." He then added, "To the extent we get the tax deal done, the stock market will go up higher." But with that, of course, went a warning: "There's no question in my mind that if we don't get it done you're going to see a reversal of a significant amount of these gains." 

And speaking of reversals, the "Mnuchin Rule," as it was dubbed in January, 2017, underscored the then-prevailing Trump administration position that the wealthy should not be afforded tax cuts. By October, however, Mnuchin had changed his rule. "When you're cutting taxes across the board," he explained to Politico, "it's very hard not to give tax cuts to the wealthy with tax cuts to the middle class. The math, given how much you are collecting, is just hard to do." 

Actually, the math isn't hard to do at all. My eight-year-old niece could do it.  If you make more than a certain amount, your tax rates shouldn't get cut. That's the only math that makes sense. But in the land of tax subterfuge, even if you leave a top tax bracket rate as it is, you can still ensure that the wealthy get all the breaks in other ways.

On November 2nd, the Republicans finally released their "Tax Cuts and Job Act," which contained new blows to middle-class wellbeing, including the elimination of deductions for medical expenses, student loan interest, and state and local taxes. For corporations, already flush with cash, the plan calls for a significant, not to say staggering, tax break.  Their tax rate would be slashed from 35% to 20%. 

And don't forget repealing the estate tax, that other classic benefit for "the masses." Count on one thing: there will be no reversals from Mnuchin or Trump on that because the math couldn't be clearer.  Only the hyper-wealthy have estates big enough to reap rewards from such a change. At an Institute for International Finance conference, even Mnuchin had to agree that this was a benefit of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich: "Obviously, the estate tax, I will concede, disproportionately helps rich people." Indeed, the heirs to the estates of fewer than 1 in 500 Americans who die each year would benefit in any way from such a repeal, though the children or other relatives of 13 of the 24 members of Donald Trump's cabinet and the president himself would bag a collective estate tax break of about $1.5 billion.

Still, don't think that everything's coming up roses for our latest secretary of the Treasury.  Wall Street may now be king in Washington, but Mnuchin is not (though he is clearly a prince to the one man who truly matters right now, Donald Trump). In his efforts to promote the Trump vision (whatever that might be), the Treasury secretary seems to be coming up distinctly short, even with Republicans in Congress who have described his approach to lawmaking in terms ranging from "uncomfortable" to "intellectually insulting."

Donald Trump, of course, campaigned as an anti-establishment candidate who would offer a hand to regular people, drain the Washington swamp, and have our backs. Then he promptly began filling his administration, especially when it came to the economy, with the richest of the rich, figures guaranteed to promote the dismantling of whatever tepid regulations remained to protect citizens from economic disaster while enriching the usual .01%.

Mnuchin has yet to even do something as simple and seemingly straightforward as posting a full-scale explanation of the tax plan he's plugging so hard at the Treasury Department's web page. Even though until November 2nd it remained a chimera, that hasn't stopped him from rushing to its defense -- the defense that is, of giving the extremely wealthy yet more of their money back. Welcome to the twenty-first-century US politics of the .01%.

Meanwhile, Mnuchin has noted that he's a big fan of biographies, though his schedule doesn't allow much time for "pleasure reading." When asked about Alexander Hamilton, he said, "I have a beautiful painting of him in my office. He stares at me every day and I look at him for great advice."

But Hamilton understood that, without adequate taxation, you couldn't run a country, or pay its debts, a stance that informed how he implemented federal taxes in the new nation. As he said in 1801, "As to taxes, they are evidently inseparable from government. It is impossible without them to pay the debts of the nation, to protect it from foreign danger, or to secure individuals from lawless violence and rapine." He also believed that those with more money should pay more taxes. His excise tax plan, for example, required the taxation of luxury items, bastions of the rich.

This government has, in fact, received more than $2.96 trillion in total tax revenues so far in the first 11 months of fiscal year 2017. That figure comes with a budget deficit of $673.7 billion, which means that if the rich or corporations were to cease to pay various taxes (at least at present rates), money would still have to come from somewhere. To begin to make up for the shortfall, the less wealthy will simply have to pay more in some fashion, as will states and cities, and cuts in social spending will undoubtedly follow as night does day.

The High-Flying Treasury Secretary Covers Trump's Back

Mnuchin himself knows a situation ripe for the picking when he sees it, in government or out.  Take, for instance, his prodigious use of military planes for his personal travel, both on government business and for pleasure.  These flights have pushed the boundaries of judgement, if not legality.  According to a report from Rich Delmar, the counsel to the Treasury Department's inspector general, Mnuchin took military aircraft on at least seven occasions without obtaining appropriate authorization, skirting a "rigorous" preapproval process established to avoid undue use of such expensive amenities.  And though he withdrew a request to take his wife on their honeymoon to Europe last summer by military aircraft, he did use an Air Force jet to fly to Kentucky with her to watch the solar eclipse and -- he carefully added -- to "review the gold" at Fort Knox. Unlike Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price whose government aircraft fetish cost him his job, Fort Knox covered the solar eclipse for Mnuchin.

He classified each of those trips as a "White House support mission," which sounds dramatic and is a category technically reserved for situations in which commercial flights aren't available or there is a national security or other emergency. I checked, however.  There are several $200 economy flights from Washington to Kentucky, which more than beats the $10,000 per hour the Pentagon charges as its official aircraft expense when its planes are used in this way.

In addition to those flights, Mnuchin has been flying high as a kind of second Kellyanne Conway on all sorts of non-Treasury-related topics that threaten to eclipse his boss. With Trump embroiled in a bitter war of words with National Football League players taking a knee over racism, Mnuchin saw an opportunity and cruised the Sunday talk-show circuit attacking the players. He used his platform to insist that they should "do free speech on their own time" -- "off the field," not on it.

About a week later, he responded to the flak over the president's lackluster support for Puerto Rican recovery after Hurricane Maria devastated that island. Defending his boss and his tweets in another circuit of those talk shows, he doubled down on White House criticisms of San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz.  "When the president gets attacked, he attacks back," he told Chuck Todd on NBC's Meet the Press, adding, "I think the mayor's comments were unfair given what the government has done."

While the head of the Treasury isn't an elected official, his words do hold considerable weight -- and he is, after all, fifth in the line of succession for the presidency. The value, insights, and credibility of the Treasury Department impact economies, markets, investors, and confidence the world over.

Simply Swampy

Call it lying, misleading, flip-flopping, or the invocation of the "rights" of privilege, but Mnuchin has already amassed quite a catalogue of questionable statements in his brief career in public office and, while he's been at it, he's even made extra money along the way: at least $15 million and possibly as much as $53 million, reports Fortune, from "entertainment and real estate interests that he sold to comply with federal conflict of interest rules."

For him, as for his boss, whatever anyone says, the bottom line and their allegiance remains simple and clear: it's not to the middle class; it's to their class, the half-billion and up folks. 

Alexander Hamilton was no stranger to wealth either, but he understood that the nation's wealth should be shared more evenly.  He attempted to use his office as a national unifier and a place to coordinate efforts to pay off debts from the Revolutionary War. Mnuchin's doctrine is one of returning to a world of fewer rules for Wall Street and fewer taxes on corporations and the wealthy, which, in translation, means greater risks and costs for the rest of us and for the country as a whole. While President Trump isn't exactly the cannot-tell-a-lie inheritor of the Washingtonian tradition, his Treasury Secretary, the foreclosure king of the US, is distinctly no Alexander Hamilton.

Categories: Latest News

Nine Reasons to Stop the GOP's Giant Tax Gift Bucket

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 21:00

 

The GOP's tax bill includes $1.5 trillion in tax cuts that are not paid for by closing loopholes used by the wealthy and corporations. This will balloon the deficit and further endanger funding for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public education and more. (Photo: Pictures of Money)

Americans for Tax Fairness has just published "Nine Terrible Things About the Republican Tax Plan." All are good reasons for you should get on the phone with your member of Congress and tell them to vote against this travesty of a tax bill.

The number to call is 877-795-7862. If a staff member of your senator or representative asks you why you oppose the Trump/Republican tax plan, here are some facts you can cite:

1. It prioritizes corporations over health care.

The corporate tax rate is slashed from 35% to 20%, losing $1.5 trillion -- equal to the cuts Republicans plan to make to Medicare and Medicaid.

2. It puts Wall Street over seniors.

Hedge funds, law firms, and real estate companies like Trump's get a $448 billion tax cut from the drop (from 39.6% to 25%) in the top tax rate for "pass-through" businesses. The Republican budget cuts Medicare by $473 billion.

3. It is a real jobs killer.

By slashing the tax rate on foreign profits, the plan encourages multinational corporations to outsource more jobs and shift more profits offshore.

4. It hands a $500 billion tax cut to offshore tax dodgers.

American corporations already have $2.6 trillion in profits stashed offshore on which they owe $750 billion in US taxes. Rather than make them pay what they owe, like all the rest of us do, the tax plan will charge them only $220 billion -- over a half-trillion-dollar discount.

5. It makes the middle class pay more.

The plan repeals the deduction for state and local income and sales taxes (SALT). One-third of taxpayers making $50,000-$75,000 use this deduction, as do half of those making $75,000-$100,000.

6. It helps Donald Trump pay less.

The plan repeals the alternative minimum tax (AMT), losing almost $700 billion. Without the AMT, Trump would have paid just a 4 percent tax rate on $153 million in income one year. But thanks to the AMT, he paid $38 million for a tax rate of 25 percent.

7. It lets Ivanka and her siblings save billions.

In six years the bill repeals the estate tax, which will cost $170 billion. The Republican budget cuts education, job training and social services by $200 billion. Under the tax bill only estates worth at least $11 million would pay the estate tax. (That's double the current threshold of almost $5.5 million.) If Trump is worth the $10 billion he claims, his heirs could inherit billions tax free.

8. It breaks Trump's promise to close the "carried interest" loophole.

Remember when candidate Trump said "the hedge fund guys are getting away with murder" with this Wall Street tax break? This plan keeps it in place.

9. It adds $1.5 trillion to the national debt.

The bill includes $1.5 trillion in tax cuts that are not paid for by closing loopholes used by the wealthy and corporations. This will balloon the deficit and further endanger funding for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public education and more.

Ready to challenge injustice and spark real change? So are we. Support Truthout's mission today by making a tax-deductible donation.
Categories: Latest News

Empire Files: Trump Expands Police-State Crackdown on the Left

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 21:00

At Trump's inauguration, around 200 protesters and journalists were mass arrested and now face up to 70 years in prison on baseless charges. Many other legal assaults on civil liberties are in the works around the country, from treating anti-fascists as "domestic terrorists", to legislation protecting drivers who run over peaceful marchers.

To explore what this means for US activists today, Abby Martin sits down with constitutional rights lawyer Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, head of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (JusticeOnline.org), a premiere legal organization defending protest rights. Verheyden-Hilliard has litigated, and won, several cases against the US government for mass arrests and other types of repression.

Categories: Latest News

Will Mueller Get the Goods to Take Out Trump?

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 21:00
In times of great injustice, independent media is crucial to fighting back against misinformation. Support grassroots journalism: Make a donation to Truthout.

Donald Trump's possible connections to the Russian government and billionaire oligarchy came roaring back into the headlines last week with the announcement that the special investigation headed up by Robert Mueller had indicted three officials from the Trump presidential campaign.

Trump's one-time campaign manager Paul Manafort faces 12 charges, including money laundering, failing to register his activities as a lobbyist for a pro-Russian party in Ukraine and then lying about that failure to federal investigators. Manafort's business partner Rick Gates was also charged, and so was a lower-level foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, who is accused of lying to the FBI about his interactions with Russian officials.

None of the charges are against Trump or anyone in his administration, but it's widely expected that these indictments are an opening shot -- and that Mueller, the former head of the FBI, intends to squeeze Manafort and Co. to rat out people higher up on the food chain.

That's why last week's announcement left Trump and his supporters furious -- and Democrats with new hope that they can somehow defeat Trump without having to do anything themselves.

The actual violations that Mueller is investigating are undoubtedly far less dramatic than the ongoing neo-Cold War baloney about how "the Russians" brainwashed millions of Americans with fake news to vote for Putin's orange-toned Manchurian candidate.

But that doesn't mean it wouldn't be nice to see the Trump administration held accountable for at least some of its many crimes -- the most obvious two in this case being perjury and obstruction of justice.

If anything, it's bizarre to have to wait months for federal agents to uncover evidence about crimes that are already well known. We know for sure that White House officials like Attorney General Jeff Sessions lied during their confirmation hearings about their history of meetings with Russian officials. And Trump himself is blatantly guilty of obstructing justice by firing FBI chief James Comey, which Trump admitted was at least in part because of "this Russia thing."

This isn't exactly a job for Sherlock Holmes.

But the outcome of the Mueller investigation will be determined less by legal proof and more by the balance of political power. Trump's considerable powers as chief executive will only be challenged within mainstream politics if he's overwhelmingly viewed by American elites as a negative who is hampering their ability to continue business as usual.

That kind of challenge is only likely to come about if those elites are put under more substantial pressure from protest movements mobilizing the people most affected by Trump's attacks -- immigrants, workers, women and more.

And right now, the main organizations that claim to speak for these millions of people -- and that have the resources to turn anger into action right now -- are mostly committed to a narrow electoral strategy of trying to win Congress for the Democrats in 2018.

If that continues unchallenged from below, then the investigation of Trump's crimes is most likely to remain a partisan football, contained inside the theater of mainstream politics.

***

The Russia investigation might seem to be dragging on forever, but according to many legal observers, Mueller is moving quite quickly and aggressively by the standards of a federal investigation.

There's a strong likelihood that Papadopoulos, who has already pled guilty to lying to investigators about his attempts to arrange connections between Russian officials and the Trump campaign, is cooperating with Mueller to get a reduced sentence.

And it's widely assumed that Mueller also has his sights on Trump's one-time National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who is being investigated on similar charges of lying about his Russian contacts and failing to disclose lobbying work for a foreign country -- in his case, Turkey.

Federal prosecutors have an outrageous amount of power -- which is normally used to go after the vulnerable, rather than rich and powerful figures like Manafort and Flynn -- to stray far beyond the allegations that started an investigation. Even if they don't find enough evidence to prove a crime, they can often nab suspects on perjury charges for lying to investigators.

As Vox pointed out in a recent article:

There are basically three kinds of crimes Mueller's team might uncover. The first is crimes directly related to the election -- if the Trump team engaged in a criminal conspiracy to help hack Hillary Clinton's e-mails (stealing documents is illegal) or violated campaign finance laws by soliciting help from a foreign source, for example. The second kind is crimes committed during the investigation itself: witness intimidation, perjury, obstruction of justice and the like. And the third is crimes committed by Trumpworld members even before they joined the campaign.

Most of Mueller's indictments so far are in the second and third category and not the first, leading Trump and his supporters to claim they face a witch hunt by the "deep state."

It is, in fact, unusual for lobbyists to be given anything more than a slap on the wrist for not properly registering their work for foreign governments (let that sink in for a second as you ponder the hypocrisy of a country that routinely spies on Muslim citizens with the excuse of their usually unproven ties to foreign forces).

Nor is this just a Republican issue. Manafort's indictment led immediately to the resignation of Democratic power broker Tony Podesta from his lobbying firm, which was caught by Mueller lobbying without disclosure for the same Ukrainian Party that Manafort worked for.

But Manafort and Flynn have only themselves to blame for lying to federal investigators -- just as Trump certainly made matters worse for himself by firing Comey, and being too stupid to repeat the party line that this had nothing to do with the Russia investigation.

***

Whatever Trump could possibly be charged with by Mueller will pale in comparison to his larger crimes, committed each and every day. But that doesn't mean there might not be some real dirt that should see the light of day.

The underlying question about Trump and Russia has always been whether the president of the United States could be vulnerable to pressure from either Russia's billionaire oligarchs or its autocratic state -- either because Trump's business empire is propped up to a great degree by Russian investors or because someone in Moscow has the dirt on some of Trump's past illicit business activities.

Federal prosecutor Preet Bharara, for example, was investigating money laundering at the Russian real estate firm represented by the lawyer who infamously met with Donald Trump Jr. last June, which makes Trump's firing of Bharara earlier this year especially troubling.

Whether there is something to these allegations or not, no one should get carried away by the Russia hysteria being put forward on a daily basis by the non-Fox corporate media. This report from the New York Times is typical: "More than 126 million users potentially saw inflammatory political ads bought by a Kremlin-linked company."

To begin with, there are the double standards of the US complaining about its elections being interfered with by foreign powers. Vladimir Putin will have to seriously step up his game to have anywhere near the impact that Bill Clinton's administration did in helping discredited President Boris Yetsin get re-elected in Russia in 1996, a fact that is surely not forgotten in Russia, even if few Americans know it.

As for social media shenanigans during the election, Ryan de Laureal explained last month at SocialistWorker.org that while there are "genuine concerns raised by the issue of Twitter bots and fake accounts," the Democrats are showing selective outrage:

[T]he Democrats' only apparent concern is the use of bots and fake accounts by the Russians -- even though bots have become a fairly regular feature of US political campaigns over the past few years, with Republicans and Democrats alike investing in automated Twitter traffic to spread their campaign propaganda, alongside more traditional advertising routes.

It's also easy to forget that beyond social media, we're barraged by billions of dollars of homegrown political propaganda -- far more than any other country spends -- via campaign ads funded by big-money donors.

Even when it comes to foreign meddling, it's worth remembering, hard as it is these days, that not everything Trump does, or is accused of doing, is unprecedented.

Other countries have "meddled" in US elections before. In 2012, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu openly lobbied for Mitt Romney against Barack Obama, but that didn't cause a Democratic freakout because their party is just as committed to Israel as the Republicans.

More crookedly, in the 1968 election, Richard Nixon's campaign plotted to wreck peace talks in Vietnam that Nixon feared would give Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey an advantage. And it's long been suspected that Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign sabotaged negotiations with Iran over the release of hostages held at the occupied US embassy in Tehran.

***

Nevertheless, there are two somewhat contradictory factors worth keeping in mind about Trump and Russia.

The first is that there is a coherent policy agenda at stake: The Trump administration's desire to shift American imperial strategy by seeking better relations with Russia in order to more aggressively confront China, an approach that goes against the previous bipartisan consensus.

The second is that whatever shards of a coherent agenda exist in the Trump White House are often overshadowed by the staggering incompetence and blatant self-interest among the collection of liars, grifters and fanatics gathered together under its roof.

Trump stands out from past presidents for his failure to show loyalty to the ruling class to which he belongs. For his right-wing supporters, this is a sign that Trump is his own man and is looking for them. To everyone else, it's obvious that Trump is just out for himself.

The indictments are a reminder of why the ruling class really didn't want this guy to become president -- and how his victory is a sign of instability and division at the top of US society.

There's nothing new about corruption at the top of US society -- see "Clinton, Bill/Hillary." But it's pretty much unprecedented, at least since the US became a major imperial power, that a US president might be a weaker party in a relationship with a foreign government -- another humiliating symbol of America's relative decline as a pre-eminent superpower.

So does Mueller's aggressive prosecution of the Trump administration represent the "deep state" getting its revenge on the candidate it didn't want to win? Or is it a logical response to the potential of serious crimes committed by the White House?

The best answer might be: yes.

***

So what happens now? Trump is reacting with sputtering rage and demanding that the FBI investigate Hillary Clinton for...well, just about anything: uranium sales, Donna Brazile's book and, probably soon, Colin Kaepernick's national anthem protests.

But Twitter tantrums are clearly standard operating procedure in the Trump era. The bigger question is if Trump feels threatened enough to try to obstruct justice again -- either by pressuring the deputy attorney general to fire Mueller or pre-emptively stating his intention to pardon the indicted so they don't feel any pressure to testify against the higher-ups.

If Trump does that, it would precipitate a real crisis in Washington and raise the question of impeachment. But that's a less likely outcome, even if the Trump White House and Congress come to blows.

The Republicans control both houses of Congress for the next year at least, and probably longer. Getting enough Republicans on board with impeachment is going to require some devastating accusations.

That can't be ruled out -- particularly considering that Mueller could expose some of the truly filthy secrets that must lie at the heart of the Trump business empire.

What's more likely, however, is a continuation of the same pattern we've seen through Trump's first year in office: the Mueller investigation slowly turns up the heat on Trump, who responds with more erratic attacks, while the Democrats continue to feel validated in their strategy of doing as little as possible and waiting for Trump to be brought down by his own incompetence.

For our side, that's a recipe for failure at best, if not an outright political disaster. Relying on elements of the political and business establishment to take down Trump will radicalize Trump's right-wing base without building the capacities or organization of the left in any way.

And remember: Corporate America and the state want stability, not justice. They might ultimately move against Trump if he is too much of a threat to business as usual, but it might be more effective for their interests to work around him -- or to simply do nothing and wait for Congress to pass tax cuts.

As TheNation.com columnist and SW contributor Dave Zirin recently emphasized in a different context, politics is not a spectator sport. Rather than hope that the "deep state" will do the dirty work of bringing down Trump, we need to concentrate on building our own struggles for justice against the Trump administration -- for Puerto Rico, for health care, for immigrant rights and women's rights.

If the Trump scandals give us more ammunition -- proposed slogan: "Immigrants aren't illegal! Trump is!" -- so much the better.

Protests and struggles that translate Trump's unpopularity into effective resistance to his policies will make him more politically vulnerable among Democrats and Republicans alike.

But sitting around waiting for him to be brought down by his own will make that less likely. It can't be said enough: No one -- least of all the FBI -- will save us from Trump but ourselves.

Categories: Latest News

Democracy on Life Support: Donald Trump's First Year in Office

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 21:00

Donald Trump's ascendancy in US politics has made visible a culture of cruelty, a contempt for civic literacy and a corrupt mode of governance that has been decades in the making. As Trump marks the anniversary of his election this week, he'll no doubt reinforce how governance can collapse into a theatre of self-promotion, absurdity and a dark and frightening view of the world.

 US President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (not seen) hold a joint press conference after holding an inter-delegation meeting at Akasaka Palace in Tokyo, Japan, on November 6, 2017. (Photo:Kiyoshi Ota / Pool / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)

Support from readers allows Truthout to produce the authority-challenging journalism that's going to be imperative in the years to come. Click here now to support this work!

Donald Trump was elected president of the United States a year ago this week.

His ascendancy in US politics has made visible a culture of cruelty, a contempt for civic literacy, a corrupt mode of governance and a disdain for informed judgment that has been decades in the making. 

It also points to the withering of civic attachments, the undoing of civic culture, the decline of public life, the erosion of any sense of shared citizenship and the death of commanding visions.

As he visits Asia this week in a trip that those in the White House, as usual, feared could careen spectacularly off the rails, the world will once again witness how Trump's history of unabashed racism and politics of hate is transformed into a spectacle of fear, divisions and disinformation. 

Under Trump, the plague of mid-20th century authoritarianism and apocalyptic populism have returned in a unique American form. A year later, people in Asia and the rest of the world are watching, pondering how such a dreadful event and retreat from democracy could have taken place.

To read more articles by Henry A. Giroux and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

How could a liberal society give up its ideals so quickly? What forces have undermined education to the extent that a relatively informed electorate allowed such a catastrophe to happen in an alleged democracy? 

George Orwell's "ignorance is strength" motto in 1984 has materialized in the Trump administration's attempts not only to rewrite history, but also to obliterate it. What we are witnessing is not simply politics but also a reworking of the very meaning of education both as an institution and as a broader cultural force.

Trump, along with Fox News, Breitbart and other right-wing cultural institutions, echoes one of totalitarianism's most revered notions: That truth is a liability and ignorance a virtue. 

As the distinction between fact and fiction is maligned, so are the institutions that work to create informed citizens. In Trump's post-truth and alternative-facts world view, nothing is true, making it difficult for citizens to criticize and hold power accountable. 

Education Viewed With Disdain

Education and critical thinking are regarded with disdain and science is confused with pseudo-science. All traces of critical thought appear only at the margins of the culture as ignorance becomes the primary organizing principle of American society. 

For instance, two thirds of the American public believe that creationism should be taught in schools and more than half of Republicans in Congress do not believe that climate change is caused by human activity. Shockingly, according to the Annenberg Public Policy Center, only 26 per cent of Americans can name all three branches of government. 

In addition, a majority of Republicans believe that former President Barack Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim, a belief blessedly skewered upon Trump's arrival a few days ago in Hawaii, Obama's birthplace. 

Such ignorance on behalf of many Americans, Republicans and Trump supporters operates with a vengeance when it comes to higher education. 

Higher education is being defunded, corporatized and transformed to mimic Wal-Mart-esque labour relations by the Trump administration under the preposterous ill-leadership of a religious fundamentalist, Betsy DeVos. It's also, according to a recent poll, viewed by most Republicans as being "bad for America." Higher education is at odds with Trump's notion of making America great again.

This assault on higher education is accompanied by a systemic culture of lies that has descended upon America. The notion that democracy can only function with an informed public is viewed with disdain. Trump apparently rejoices in his role as a serial liar, knowing that the public is easily seduced by exhortation, emotional outbursts and sensationalism.

Americans Over-Stimulated

The corruption of the truth, education and politics is abetted by the fact that Americans have become habituated to overstimulation, a culture of immediacy and live in an ever-accelerating overflow of information and images. Experience no longer has the time to crystallize into mature and informed thought.

Popular culture as an educational force delights in spectacles of shock and violence. Defunded and stripped of their role as a public good, many institutions extending from higher education to the mainstream media are now harnessed to the demands and needs of corporations and the financial elite. 

In doing so, they are snubbing reason, thoughtfulness and informed arguments.

Governance, meantime, is now replaced by the irrational Twitter bursts of an impetuous four-year-old trapped in the body of an adult.

The high priest of caustic rants, Trump's insults and bullying behaviour have become a principal force shaping his language, politics and policies. He has used language as a weapon to humiliate just about anyone who opposes him. He has publicly humiliated and insulted a disabled reporter along with members of his own cabinet, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, undermining their respective ability to do their jobs. 

More recently, he has mocked Sen. Bob Corker's height, referring to him on Twitter as "Liddle Bob Corker" because the senator criticized him in announcing his resignation.

Ignorance is a terrible wound when it is self-inflicted. Trump's lies, lack of credibility, lack of knowledge and unbridled narcissism have suggested for some time that he lacks the intelligence, judgment and capacity for critical thought necessary to occupy the presidency of the United States. 

But when accompanied by his childish temperament, his volatile impetuousness, his disdain for higher education and a world view that reduces everyone else to friends or enemies, loyalists or traitors, his ignorance puts lives at risk.

Governing via Wilful Ignorance?

Trump's presidency is forcing us to deal with a kind of nihilistic politics in which the search for truth and justice, moral responsibility, civic courage and an informed and thoughtful citizenry are rapidly disappearing.

Government in the United States now apparently runs on wilful ignorance as the planet heats up, pollution increases and people die. 

Evidence is detached from argument. Science is a subspecies of fake news, and alternative facts are as important as the truth. As language is emptied of meaning, standards of proof disappear, verification becomes the enemy of power, and evidence is relegated to just another opinion. 

Trump has sucked all of the oxygen out of democracy and has put in play a culture and mode of politics that kills empathy, wallows in cruelty and fear and mutilates democratic ideals. 

Anyone who communicates intelligently is now part of the fake news world that Trump has invented, a world in which all truth is mobile and every form of communication starts to look like a lie. 

Impetuousness and erratic judgment have become central to Trump's leadership, one that is as ill-informed as it is unstable. As he marks the anniversary of his election while in Asia this week, he'll no doubt reinforce how governance can collapse into a theatre of self-promotion, absurdity and a dark and frightening view of the world.

Categories: Latest News

The Return of Black Political Power: How 1970s History Can Guide New Black Mayors Toward a Radical City

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 07:06

A new pantheon of elected or soon-to-be elected Black mayors' uniqueness lies not in their race per se, but in their willingness to defy the Obama-era neoliberal, post-racial orthodoxy about municipal economic development. These new Black mayors are a resurgence of the old mixed with the sophisticated new. They are Black Political Power, 2.0.

On Saturday, January 14, 2017, in Washington, DC, Ras J. Baraka, Mayor of Newark, New Jersey, addresses the crowd at the We Shall Not Be Moved march. (Photo: Cheriss May / NurPhoto via Getty Images)   Want to see more coverage of the issues that matter? Make a donation to Truthout to ensure that we can publish more original stories like this one.

On November 7, Detroit's Coleman Young II may join the new pantheon of elected or soon-to-be elected Black mayors. This group's uniqueness lies not in their race per se, but in their willingness to defy the Obama-era neoliberal, post-racial orthodoxy about municipal economic development. These new Black mayors are a resurgence of the old mixed with the sophisticated new. They are Black Political Power, 2.0.

If the analogy seems exaggerated, it bears noting that three of these elected or upcoming Black mayors have direct lines to 1960s Black Power. Ras J. Baraka, Newark's mayor, is the well-known son of famed poet and activist Amiri Baraka. Baraka gained fame as one of the key writers of the 1960s Black Arts Movement and as co-chair for both the 1967 Black Power Conference and Gary Convention. Chokwe Antar Lumumba, the "radical" mayor from Jackson, Mississippi, was elected to fill the position his father held for a tragically short eight months before his untimely death in office. The elder Lumumba had a long history of activism as a member of the Republic of New Afrika. And of course, there is Coleman Young II, son to none other than Detroit's first elected Black Mayor Coleman Young, who rode an initial wave of Black electoral success in the 1960s and 1970s.

These are not isolated cases, but instead signal a larger movement afoot. A growing body -- including mayoral candidate Farad Ali of Durham, North Carolina; newly elected Mayor Randall Woofin of Birmingham, Alabama; mayoral candidate Charles Francis in Raleigh, North Carolina; Mayor Sylvester Turner in Houston, Texas; 27-year-old Stockton, California, Mayor Michael Tubbs; and more -- find themselves locked in a similar battle that beleaguered local Black politicians during the 1970s. And it is not just men. Black women are also joining the struggle, including Compton, California's youngest elected mayor, Aja Brown; Atlanta candidate Keisha Bottoms; my former Miami University colleague Yvette Simpson running in Cincinnati; Minneapolis NAACP President Rev. Dr. Nekima Levy-Pounds; and many others.

These folks are tasked with the near impossible: rescue decaying communities in a landscape marked by poverty, declining city budgets and city services, under-funded and (re)segregated schools, persistent unemployment and declining availability of affordable housing. Though many policy makers and economic development professionals celebrated the revival of downtowns as the solution to urban crisis, the truth was that poor Black communities lagged behind in the decades of "renewal" marked by the return of the young, affluent and white to the urban core.

Chokwe Antar Lumumba's remedy for delivering economic justice to his city's permanent underclass is to turn Jackson, Mississippi, into "the most radical city on the planet." This is no small feat. How exactly do you create a radical city? What does a radical city look like in the midst of gentrification, food deserts, poor public transportation, climate change and the dogged, intractable 1970s dilemmas of city decline?

Carl B. Stokes and the Cleveland Model

The ascent of these new mayors is an opportunity to build real solutions for those left behind by decades of disinvestment and dispossession. Yet radical intentions and hard-hitting rhetoric is not enough to produce radical answers to economic problems. Black mayors must actively incorporate history and make it an essential part of this project to study the successes and failures of a previous generation. Historian Leonard Moore noted that Cleveland's Carl Stokes, the first Black mayor of a major urban city, entered politics to wreak havoc on this "corrupt machine," or rather the political structures that hindered black attainment of power in Cleveland and throughout the United States. However, he quickly learned he "didn't know where the buttons were." Not long into his tenure, Stokes not only found the buttons but began pushing them when he launched Cleveland NOW! The project combined private, state, federal, philanthropic and individual funding into a proposed $1.5 billion plan for housing improvement, employment, urban renewal, youth services and economic revitalization.

Cleveland NOW! had community support in the form of neighborhood economic improvement groups, like the Hough Area Development Corporation. But the most sweeping proposal came from an entity created by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a civil rights organization. During the late 1960s, CORE shifted its focus from desegregation in public accommodation and education toward political community control and municipal development projects. In 1968, CORE created a model for economic development called CORE Enterprises (CORENCO). CORENCO constructed a cooperative wealth-building model that included employee stock ownership, community owned shopping centers and housing developments, and job training designed to promote advancement from manual labor to high tech and industry positions. CORE labored to meld private and public interests in new enterprises that facilitated cooperative ownership and global manufacturing, building links for direct trade with Africa and Asia.

However, both endeavors ultimately failed to permanently transform Cleveland's circumstances. The reasons are wide and varied, but key factors included a hostile city council, middle-class ambivalence (both Black and white) to low-income housing, media portrayals quick to seek saviors and quicker to assert failures, and short-lived investment from private interests who steadfastly ignored the need for long-term economic commitment.

Current Black mayors and candidates would do well to remember the innovations and processes which produced efforts like CORENCO and Cleveland NOW!, and more importantly, the reasons why they collapsed. They should ask themselves: What barriers did CORENCO/Cleveland NOW! break? How did funding sources become both a political landmine and/or a resource for innovation and experiment? They must courageously question our economic structure and wonder: Is it possible to transform a city through a national network, or must mayors borrow CORE's idea and establish economic relationships beyond the US borders? How does the political aim of cooperative economy navigate a system still mired in dogmatic adherence to laissez-faire capitalism?

Déjà Vu but Not Quite

Three Black mayors may well be on their way to answering these questions and creating the radical city. The young Michael Tubbs launched his mayoral tenure with a call for universal basic income, a proposal that harkens back to Martin Luther King's "Other America" contestation that only guaranteed income can end poverty. Chokwe Antar Lumumba intends to find "creative economic development measures [by] looking to structures like cooperative businesses, where the community can decide what it wants to own." He also has an opportunity to introduce industries that produce jobs for technology and health services, particularly given the recent report on global warming's effect on economic inequality for the US South.

In Newark, Ras Baraka's private and public development projects are reshaping the city. The administration just introduced the 2020 plan, which aspires to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour and expand employment and training programs for city residents. Newark's new vertical farm (a food cultivation process that made the Netherlands the world's second-largest food exporter) is particularly exciting and tackles the food desert dilemma. Indeed, there is much to like about this administration and the 2020 plan, but its weakness stems from a dependence on corporate cooperation and solvency. The problems that Black mayors inherited during the 1970s included deserted cities and few hiring opportunities. The 2020 plan gives tax abatements to companies with at least 50 percent hire rate for Newark residents, but the goal for 2,020 workers for 2020 falls quite short of the city's 29 percent poverty rate -- a number that would equal close to 80,000 or more.  

Additionally, there is a great need to markedly increase Newark's promotion of cooperative economics as an alternative that expands community economies that potentially serve as a bulwark against city job losses and an opportunity for Black workers to transition beyond low-wage laborers. The outcome determines whether city development outpaces economic justice, development opens the door to gentrification, and Newark's future ability to remain financially stable should these corporations desert the city as it did in the 1970s.

While Lumumba, Tubbs and Baraka offer insight for economic development, the potential elections of Farad Ali and Coleman Young, II in Durham and Detroit could point to innovations around housing and the problems of gentrification.

Ali faces a rather challenging space in Durham, North Carolina. Surrounded by its sister cities Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Cary and the Research Triangle Park, investment was slow in the Triangle's poorer, darker city until population expansion pushed the surrounding areas to its seams. Investors then turned to Durham -- pushing out long-time Black businesses and turning Black spaces unrecognizable. As one Durham resident -- adjacent to the gentrified American Tobacco District -- told me, "We knew they was coming when they put all that new stuff up there and said they would revitalize the neighborhood. But they didn't. They just bought up everything for nothing, and now look."

Similar to Harlem, Durham now undergoes a rebranding process where Blackness has proven rather inconvenient. In both places, for instance, conflicts have emerged around the issue of drumming and public space, with longstanding Black cultural traditions provoking hostile reactions from new white residents.

While Durham has investors breathing down its proverbial neck, Detroit wrestles with an even bigger crisis. Mayoral candidate Coleman Young II recalled that his father "beat back stress and the Big Four and diversified the city workforce," but lamented "What was all that sacrifice for if we're going to engage in gentrification and Negro removal?" Coleman plans to redirect urban removal funds toward halting home foreclosure, but it is an open question to what extent he can influence state and federal policies.

Young must navigate private interests, state political power and other external groups that operate beyond his control. His father's experiences and that of other 1970s Black mayors offer insight. Yet regrettably, he insisted in a recent interview that there was no need to evaluate or "question any of the decisions that the Honorable Coleman Alexander Young made." Proceeding without this reflection, however, is a grave miscalculation. "Opportunity for All," a report published by The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, has noted that Detroit's problems are rooted in more than 50 years of housing disparity, education denial, racial segregation and low economic opportunity. Over the long term, Coleman Young's policies barely alleviated the Black community's decline, and Detroit's financial and housing crisis became entrenched. To undo these structural inequalities, Young II and other Black mayors will need to examine how 1970s Black mayors failed to institutionalize processes or a continuum for change over time.

The new Black mayors tread a path well traveled. Though some economic development policies reflect the spirit of the 1970s, there are lost opportunities to institutionalize these ideas beyond the mayor's tenure and to ensure that uplift equals or outpaces development. From Durham to Detroit, gentrification is the outcome of development without poor and working-class people. This is not to say that the radical city is impossible. The radical city is absolutely crucial for ending urban decline and economic inequality. However, if Black mayors ignore history, they remove one of the most important tools for community transformation. And the city revitalizes while the people are once again left behind.

Categories: Latest News

After Mass Murder in Texas, Republicans and Democrats Echo Familiar Refrains

Sun, 11/05/2017 - 21:00
Law enforcement officials continue their investigation at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs during the early morning hours of November 6, 2017, in Sutherland Springs, Texas. *A shooter* killed 26 people at the church and wounded many more when he opened fire during a Sunday service. (Photo: Scott Olson / Getty Images)   Help Truthout keep publishing stories like this one: We depend on reader support! Click here to make a tax-deductible donation.

The nation is trying to make sense of yet another mass murder, this time in the rural Texas town of Sutherland Springs, where a gunman dressed in black tactical gear attacked a service at a small Baptist church with a Ruger AR assault rifle on Sunday. The attack left at least 26 men, women and children dead, and 20 others wounded.

The suspect in the shooting, a 26-year-old former Air Force member named Devin Patrick Kelley, was found dead after crashing his vehicle and apparently shooting himself, according to reports. Kelley fled the scene after exiting the church and exchanging fire with an armed bystander, who waved down a vehicle and pursued Kelley in a car chase.

Details about Kelley continue to emerge, with multiple outlets reporting that he was court martialed and jailed after assaulting his wife and child while working at an Air Force base in New Mexico. He received a "bad conduct discharge" for domestic violence and left the military in 2014. He divorced his wife and remarried around the same time, according to The New York Times.

Police have yet to state a motive for the attack. Reports indicate Kelley had recently had a dispute with in-laws who live in a nearby town and had attended the church on several occasions, but they were not at the church on Sunday.

It has been just over a month since the mass shooting in Las Vegas that left 400 people injured and 58 people dead. The shooting in Texas is the 307th mass shooting in the United States this year, according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive

The political response in Washington has fallen along predictable party lines. Republican lawmakers have offered mere prayers and condolences, and have in some cases blamed the shooting on the perpetrator's "mental health." Meanwhile, a chorus of Democrats is once again calling on Congress to take action on gun control.

"The terrifying fact is that no one is safe so long as Congress chooses to do absolutely nothing in the face of this epidemic," said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), in a statement attacking lawmakers who act on behalf of the gun lobby. "The time is now for Congress to shed its cowardly cover and do something."

Like the statements issued by other leading Democrats, Murphy's did not offer specifics on what exactly Congress should do to control guns.

President Trump, whose remaining base of support includes hardcore gun control opponents and the National Rifle Association, dismissed the idea that easy access to military-grade firearms had anything to do with the latest mass shooting. Instead, he attempted to blame the massacre on the "mental health" of a "very deranged individual."

"This isn't a guns situation," said President Trump, who is currently visiting Japan. "This is a mental health problem at the highest level. It's a very, very sad event."

Mental health conditions are quite common -- about one in five adults in the US has at least one. Lumping mass murderers in with people with mental health conditions reinforces harmful stigma around mental health. In fact, Trump himself was the subject of such "mental illness" scapegoating when opponents questioned his mental health after he took office.

"It's an insult to people who have real mental illness to be lumped with Trump," Dr. Allen Frances, who wrote the clinical criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder, told Truthout in February.

People with mental illness are much more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of violence.

Gun control has become, in some ways, a political football, thrown back-and-forth on Capitol Hill after every mass shooting. In the wake of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, where a student killed 32 people and injured 17 others in two separate attacks, Congress bolstered the national background check program. The Republican-led Congress repealed the rules earlier this year with legislation signed by Trump.

In her statement calling on Congress to act, House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Americans "must resolve to denounce all forms of hatred and violence and to drive them from our communities and our nation." Although Pelosi offered no ideas for achieving such a goal, it's clear that legislation alone will not be enough.   

Few public officials have drawn attention to how the larger forces of violence such as militarism, misogyny and state violence may impact individual acts of violence like this one. As mass shootings continue, there remains a marked lack of public discussion around the deeper roots of violence, and how to eradicate them.

Categories: Latest News

Why Did Media Overlook September Shooting in Plano, Texas, When Estranged Husband Killed Wife and Seven Others?

Sun, 11/05/2017 - 21:00

While Sunday's shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, has received wall-to-wall media coverage, there was another mass shooting in Texas in September that received far less attention. In Plano, Texas, a man allegedly killed his estranged wife and her friends in what appears to be the deadliest incident of domestic violence in the town's history. Twenty-seven-year-old Meredith Hight was watching the Cowboys football game with a group of friends and family when her estranged husband reportedly entered her house and opened fire, killing her and seven other adults. The shooter was killed by police. Local news reports Hight had filed for divorce in July. Hight's mother said her daughter "loved hosting friends and families. This was her first opportunity to do it after the divorce, and he didn't take it well." For more, we speak with Ed Scruggs, vice chair and spokesperson for Texas Gun Sense, and Sarah Tofte, research director at Everytown for Gun Safety. Her team has just published a new report on the links between domestic violence and mass shootings.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: But I wanted to ask Ed Scruggs about the Plano, Texas, mass shooting that occurred in September. And I bet a lot of people are saying right now, "What?" Yes, the Plano, Texas --

ED SCRUGGS: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN:  -- mass killing where an estranged husband shot and killed eight people at a football party.

ED SCRUGGS: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Describe what happened and the reaction.

ED SCRUGGS: One of the biggest missed stories of the year, or at least the last several months, was this mass shooting, which occurred in Plano, near Dallas. A football watching party where an estranged husband, accused of domestic abuse, or at least heavily suspected, in the process of divorcing his wife or splitting up -- she was holding a football watching party, like they tended to do during their relationship. He didn't like that. He showed up at the home in the middle of the party with an AR-15. They argued. He shot her. He entered the home. He shot everyone in the home and then was taken down by police and killed.

This received almost no national attention on the news. I believe there was something going on with the Russia investigation during that time, or something to that effect, but it received almost no coverage. I may have seen one small crawl on CNN, and that's it -- not one interview, not one report from the scene.

And what's troubling about that is, one, we've become so desensitized that now nine deaths doesn't qualify as news, but that the domestic violence component, it is -- again, as I think Sarah mentioned earlier, it is a common link in many mass shootings. And this almost was a textbook case, where it evolved into a mass shooting of a large scale. And that was a direct connection. You can link it to this case of the church shooting, domestic violence included. The first mass shooting in the United States in the modern history, well known to many, the 1966 UT tower shooting here in Austin, that shooter, serious domestic violence against his wife. It is just a common thing.

So, we were -- the media did not have its eye on the ball when the Plano shooting occurred. And it really has just stopped covering all of these smaller shootings, of murder-suicides. The majority of those involve domestic violence, where perhaps a spouse is killed, perhaps a child, one other person. That is happening all across the state and across this country. And we have just either become desensitized or not interested in covering that. So, people are shocked that this type of crime can happen in the church shooting in Texas, but the truth is, it has been happening on a rather large scale, but people have just not been paying attention. And that is very disturbing to me and, I think, to many other people.

AMY GOODMAN: And you were referring to Charles Whitman, the former Marine sharpshooter, who took rifles and weapons to the observation deck atop the main building tower at the University of Texas, Austin, opened fire for the next hour and a half, killed 15 people. Ultimately, he was shot dead, but again, began --

ED SCRUGGS: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN:  -- with domestic violence. Now, I want to end with Sarah Tofte --

ED SCRUGGS: Yes, and --

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, very quickly, Ed?

ED SCRUGGS: Yes, sorry. And I would just say that Whitman had a history of abuse himself, with a very abusive father, and surrounded by violence and surrounded by firearms at a very young age. I think that's something, when you go into these cases and look at them, you'll also find that with many of these shooters, as well. So, you know, one way to attack gun violence is to attack domestic violence. We have a 10-year program to attack opioid addiction. We have a war on drugs. How about a war against domestic violence and spousal abuse? You'll not only cut that, but you'll also cut violence. That is what I would think.

AMY GOODMAN: Sarah Tofte, we just have 30 seconds, but you just came out with a report for Everytown for Gun Safety around the deep connections between domestic violence and these mass killings. What is Everytown for Gun Safety recommending?

SARAH TOFTE: We have to address abusers' access to firearms -- excuse me. And we can do that in so many ways, making sure they're prohibited from possessing firearms, making sure they turn in the firearms they own. And we, as a country, have to understand more the connections between domestic violence and firearm violence. We have to care more, not just for the victim, but for their families and for our entire communities. It is the way that we will prevent mass shootings in this country and the way that we can prevent everyday gun violence as it relates to domestic violence. And we can do so much more.

AMY GOODMAN: Sarah Tofte of Everytown for Gun Safety, speaking to us from Atlanta. Ed Scruggs, speaking to us from Austin, Texas, Texas Gun Sense. And George Ciccariello-Maher of Drexel University, speaking to us from Philadelphia.

When we come back, the Paradise Papers. How do they implicate everyone from the current commerce secretary to the queen of England? Stay with us.

Categories: Latest News

Paradise Papers: Millions of Leaked Docs Reveal Shady Ties and Tax Evasion by Trump's Inner Circle

Sun, 11/05/2017 - 21:00

This weekend, a slew of 13.4 million leaked documents revealed how the world's richest men stash away billions of dollars in wealth in offshore tax havens. The revelations, known as the Paradise Papers, implicate more than a dozen of President Trump's Cabinet members, advisers and major donors. The 13.4 million leaked documents also reveal how millions of pounds of the British queen's private estate were hidden in an offshore fund based in the Cayman Islands, and how the senior adviser to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau helped funnel millions of dollars to offshore tax havens. For more, we speak with Frederik Obermaier, co-author of the Paradise Papers. He is an investigative reporter at Germany's leading newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung. Obermaier also worked on a separate investigation, the Panama Papers, and is co-author of the book Panama Papers: The Story of a Worldwide Revelation.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: We end today's show with a slew of shocking revelations about how the world's richest people stash away billions of dollars in wealth in offshore tax havens. The revelations, known as the Paradise Papers, implicate more than a dozen of President Trump's Cabinet members, advisers and major donors, among them Wilbur Ross, who's continued to conduct business with Vladimir Putin's son-in-law through a shipping company, even after Ross became Trump's commerce secretary. The shipping company, Navigator Holdings, is also linked to a Russian oligarch subject to US sanctions.

The papers also show President Trump's Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was the director of a Bermuda-incorporated oil and gas company linked to ExxonMobil which ran a controversial scheme to export tens of millions of barrels of natural gas from the oil fields in western Yemen.

Trump's chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, served as president or vice president of 22 separate companies based in Bermuda between 2002 and 2006, while he was at Goldman Sachs. The registered addresses of all 22 Bermuda-based companies were 85 Broad Street in Manhattan, then the headquarters of Goldman Sachs.

Even the Trump administration's top banking watchdog, Randal Quarles, vice chair for supervision at the Federal Reserve, was the officer of two separate firms based in the Cayman Islands. The 13.4 million leaked files also implicate Trump's Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin; Jon Huntsman, Trump's new US ambassador to Russia; and Carl Icahn, Trump's billionaire former adviser.

They also reveal how millions of pounds of the British queen's private estate were hidden in an offshore fund based in the Cayman Islands, and how the senior adviser to the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau helped funnel millions of dollars to offshore tax havens.

The documents also take aim at the world's biggest companies, showing how Nike and Apple avoid taxes and how Facebook and Twitter received hundreds of millions of dollars linked to the Russian state.

The files [were] obtained by reporters at the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and then shared with International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The files were then analyzed by more than 380 journalists from over 90 media organizations across 67 countries.

For more, we're joined by Frederik Obermaier, co-author of the Paradise Papers, investigative reporter at Germany's leading newspaper, also worked on the Panama Papers investigation and is co-author of the book Panama Papers: The Story of a Worldwide Revelation.

Well, we do not have much time, Frederik, but if you could just start off by explaining how these papers were released, and then talk about some of the most outstanding examples within it, who this is implicating?

FREDERIK OBERMAIER: Hello. We started the Paradise Papers investigation more than a year ago. And it was the results -- the first results were published yesterday noon or noonish US East Coast time. The Paradise Papers show actually how the super-richest and how corporates hide their money offshore. Sometimes it's illegal. Sometimes it's still legal, but I think it's still illegitimate, because hiding and avoiding taxes means that there's money going away, money that our countries need, our societies need, for example, to building universities, to build streets, to build schools. So, I think this is a global problem. It's a problem in the US, but also in the European Union. And I think there's, therefore, a global approach needed.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about some of the most stunning findings in this, what you were most shocked by?

FREDERIK OBERMAIER: I was really surprised of the huge extent of how people being very close to Donald Trump being involved in offshore dealings. I think the case from Wilbur Ross shocked me the most, because we all know that there was -- he was already questioned in regards to how he disinvested, but, I mean, nobody was aware of his connection to Russia. And, I mean, he now claims that the company, Navigator Holdings, where he is still holding some interest, that he didn't know that they -- that the company they did business with in Russia, a company called SIBUR, that there is -- one stakeholder is or one shareholder is, for example, Vladimir Putin's son-in-law or the oligarch Timchenko. And I think I must admit that from a secretary of commerce, I would expect to at least know this, to research it. And I think it shows a huge conflict of interest that, in my opinion, should now be investigated.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, explain, because the commerce secretary, when questioned, said he was divesting from his holdings. So, what does the Paradise Papers show?

FREDERIK OBERMAIER: The Paradise Papers show that he indeed did disinvest from most of his companies, but that he kept -- even after becoming secretary of commerce, that he kept, via a chain of offshore companies, interest in Navigator Holdings and that he didn't disinvest from that one. And given the current debate in the US about Russia's influence in the US, I think it is very important to have a close look at what went on there and that not only media, but also authorities and investigators, should have a look on that one.

AMY GOODMAN: You also uncovered, for example, Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state; Steve Mnuchin. Explain what you found.

FREDERIK OBERMAIER: Well, in the case of Mr. Mnuchin, it is interesting that his former bank, the CIT Bank, that they help their customers to set up structures, when they, for example, bought airplanes, to set up structures to avoid taxes. And this is things we have seen in many cases, and we have already seen that millions of dollars of taxes are avoided through such structures. And given the fact that nearly every country of the world needs money, needs tax money, to -- basically, to keep up the infrastructure, keep up universities and schools running, I think this is something the public should be well aware of, that in the Trump government, in the Trump administration, there are many people with offshore ties and that this is something they should have a close look to.

AMY GOODMAN: And very quickly, the companies, like Apple and others, what role the Paradise Papers exposes them playing?

FREDERIK OBERMAIER: The Paradise Papers show that those multinational companies are looking for -- to find always a loophole in the global tax system. So, when one loophole is closed, they try to find another one. They try to keep their taxes as low as possible. And it is countries like the US that basically miss the taxes. So, for example, if -- when a company like Nike sets up a complicated structure in the tax haven of the Netherlands, this actually means that it is a huge amount of taxes that the US state misses.

AMY GOODMAN: Frederik Obermaier, we're going to have to leave it there now, but we're going to do Part 2 and post it online at democracynow.org. He's co-author of the Paradise Papers. I'm Amy Goodman. Happy birthday, Andre Lewis!

Categories: Latest News

How One Muslim Woman Is Helping Countless Others to Defend Themselves Against Islamophobic Violence

Sun, 11/05/2017 - 21:00
It takes less than two minutes to support the bold, independent journalism at Truthout. What are you waiting for? Click here to donate now!

At 16, Rana Abdelhamid was on her way to volunteer at a domestic violence shelter in New York City when she was assaulted by a stranger who tried to rip off her hijab. A black-belt in Shotokan karate, Rana was able to defend herself, but after her shock wore off, she realized that most women in her community didn't have the same opportunity. A year after her own attack, she started a self-defense class.

The series of self-defense workshops became WISE, the International Muslim Women's Initiative for Self-Empowerment, an organization dedicated to empowering Muslim women to fight back against physical attacks and cultural stereotypes. Now in six cities across the United States and three in Europe, WISE offers an intensive summer program, self-defense workshops and leadership development for young Muslim women determined, as Abdelhamid explained in a phone interview, to "shift ideas of where power and strength come from."

At first, the idea was met with resistance. Muslim New Yorkers, Abdelhamid said, "had been so policed after 9/11. People just wanted to keep their head down. People didn't want to talk about hate-based violence, didn't want to bring more attention. A lot of parents weren't enthusiastic."

Still, the classes were met with high demand. Over the past seven years, Abdelhamid, now 24 and living in Palo Alto, Calif., and WISE have trained thousands of Muslim women in self-defense, leadership development and community organizing. There's even an intensive summer program for girls ages 13-19, Mentee Muslimah. Those selected get eight weeks of training in all three program areas. Each cohort gets to partner with local entrepreneurs to help jumpstart their businesses. This year, WISE held its first National Muslim Women's Summit at Harvard University, training 50 Muslim American women in leadership and community organizing. The work has become even more necessary following the election of Donald Trump. According to a study from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, in 2017, anti-Muslim hate crimes in the United States rose 91 percent in the first half of the year compared with the same period in 2016.

While self-defense was the initial focus, WISE added entrepreneurship training because "financial empowerment is so important. Within Islamic history, women have been entrepreneurs." In addition to the self-defense introductions available on its website, WISE is creating a series of videos, to be released in early January, for training in basic financial literacy: how to pitch an idea, write a business plan and attract investors.

Abdelhamid notes that Muslim women are at the "intersection of two forms of violence, especially women wearing a headscarf," violence against their gender and violence against their religion. People assume they're weak, when in fact they're incredibly strong. They're fighting stereotypes both from Americans who don't know Muslims personally, and so get their information from "horrific news stories about tragedies that happen unfortunately in the name of Islam," as well as from their own communities.

It's frustrating, and Abdelhamid admits "it shouldn't be on women to learn how to defend themselves," that women are expected to do the work, while men are not held accountable for their behavior, but unfortunately, "the current reality calls on us." What makes Abdelhamid a little sad is some of the questions she gets following the workshops. At the Women's Convention in Detroit, "one young woman raised her hand and said if this happened to me, I wouldn't have the strength to react."

Still, the work is both emotionally and physically empowering. For the self-defense component, WISE classes start with basic techniques, "defense and stiff grabs, basic strikes, how to use your voice, how to de-escalate with language." A single class, she admits, "won't make you Jackie Chan, especially after years of female socialization." It takes practice, Abdelhamid notes; "it takes muscle memory. That's why we have eight-week sessions, three-day intensives. We want this to be a reflex. I try to really emphasize that."

The most rewarding part of the education is when women get over that hesitation and surprise themselves with their own strength. Abdelhamid heard one woman say, at a class she gave at the Women's Convention, "I didn't realize I could do this." It's a proud moment when she watches a 15-year-old topple someone twice her size.

WISE is about to get more national attention, now that Abdelhamid has been nominated for a L'oreal Paris Women of Worth award, which, she says, is a "huge honor for me because the other women are so incredible. Their stories are really incredible, and I'm so excited to meet them. Most remarkable is being part of a group, and an issue I care deeply about." The nomination comes with a $10,000 donation to WISE. Starting November 1, the public can vote at L'Oreal's website for the winner, who will receive an additional $25,000 donation.

The additional funding would help WISE achieve Abdelhamid's ultimate goal: to expand its programming to multiple marginalized communities around the world.

Categories: Latest News

Productivity Growth Is Up, Are the Robots Finally Coming?

Sun, 11/05/2017 - 21:00
(Photo: Freaktography)   Truthout is your go-to source for news about the most critical issues of our time. If you want to see more stories like this one, make a tax-deductible donation today!

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that productivity grew at a 3 percent annual rate in the third quarter of 2017. While this report got little attention, it is potentially very good news.

Before going into the good news part, it is worth briefly saying a bit about what productivity is. Productivity measures the value of the goods and services produced in an hour of work. It is the main determinant of living standards. If we want more or better housing or health care, we either have to work more hours to produce it, or we need higher productivity.

Alternatively, we may decide we are content with our material living standards but would like more leisure time. This could take the form of shorter workweeks, parental and family leave or vacations. However, this would also require more productivity.

We could improve the living standards of much of the population with policies that reverse the upward redistribution of the last four decades. But if we don't get productivity growth going forward, there is a limit to how far we can go with such policies. Unless people are content with stagnant living standards, we need productivity growth.

This is why the third quarter number is such good news. Contrary to the endless stories in the media about robots taking all the jobs, robots actually have been taking very few jobs in recent years. Productivity growth, which reflects the rate at which robots and other technologies displace workers, has been extremely slow in recent years. In fact, it has averaged less than 1 percent annually over the last five years.

By contrast, productivity growth averaged almost 3 percent in the years from 1995 to 2005. This was also the average rate of productivity growth in the long boom that followed World War II, from 1947 to 1973. The quick pace of productivity growth allowed for rapid increases in wages and living standards, especially in the years after World War II when strong unions and government policies ensured that workers shared in the gains of growth.

The lackluster productivity growth in the years since 2005 has been one of the reasons that wages have been stagnant. The weak labor market caused by the high unemployment of the Great Recession led to falling wages for most workers, as they had little bargaining power.

This has changed in the last two or three years as unemployment has fallen to levels not seen since the 1990s boom. The tighter labor market has allowed workers, especially those at the middle and bottom of the income distribution, to make up some of the ground lost in the Great Recession, as real wages are now rising by roughly 1 percent a year.

This is good news, but to see the strong 2-3 percent annual wage growth of the late 1990s or the long post-war boom, we need more rapid productivity growth. This is why the third quarter number is such good news.

But we should hold off celebrating for the moment. Productivity data are notoriously erratic. Sometimes we see a big jump in one quarter followed by extraordinary weak or even negative growth in subsequent quarters, so we will need more data before we can be confident that this is the start of a new trend with higher growth.

But there are some reasons for thinking that we may be at a turning point. When labor markets start to tighten and wages rise, some low productivity jobs disappear just because they are no longer profitable for businesses.

Think of a greeter at Walmart or a clerk working the midnight shift at a convenience store. It may be worth hiring these people at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. But if a tight labor market pushes up wages to $14 an hour, these low paying, low productivity jobs may go unfilled. If we have fewer low productivity jobs, average productivity rises.

Higher pay also gives employers more incentive to invest in technology in order to reduce their need for workers. And we have seen an uptick in equipment investment over the last year, which is consistent with businesses trying to economize on labor.

We'll want to see at least two more quarters of solid productivity growth to support the case that we have turned the corner, but the most recent data is definitely good news that deserved some attention. Among other things, it could mean that we already have the faster growth promised by Donald Trump with his tax cut, without even having to do the tax cut. That might be bad news to the 1 percent who stood to get the bulk of the gains, but it is very good news for the rest of us. 

Categories: Latest News

Atmospheric CO2 Reaches Highest Level in Nearly a Million Years

Sun, 11/05/2017 - 21:00
 According to the World Meteorological Organization, atmospheric CO2 levels have reached the highest level in 800,000 years -- a gain that took just a few decades. The agency warns that urgent action is needed to reverse this worrying trend -- and notes that we have the technology, but perhaps not the political will.

This announcement is especially alarming, given that the Trump administration has adopted aggressively anti-environmental policies, including placing climate change deniers in key policymaking positions.

The WMO report states that atmospheric CO2 levels have reached 403.3 parts per million, an increase from 2015. The agency claims that some of this rise can be explained by a particularly strong El Niño year, but human activity was also a contributing factor. The spike represents a 145 percent increase over pre-Industrial levels, reflecting a rapid change over a relatively short period of time.

Methane levels have also jumped radically, and researchers aren't quite sure why. Some methane is natural in origin, while other amounts come from human activities, including agriculture. One reason why methane levels are increasing may be a rise in global temperatures, which leads to more methane release.

Nitrous oxide is also on the rise, with levels reaching about 122 percent of those seen prior to 1750. This gas destroys ozone, a key part of the atmosphere that makes the planet habitable.

One option for addressing the increase of greenhouses gases is to set -- and meet -- strict emissions targets worldwide, a major goal of the Paris Agreement. But these targets are only effective when all nations commit to honoring them, and they require creative problem solving for polluting industries that need to develop cleaner, more efficient methods of doing business.

Mitigation efforts may also be key, along with research like this, which generates a tremendous amount of useful data to help track emissions trends.

Additionally, nations should seriously consider strategies for climate change resilience. Even if we sharply reverse emissions and meet other goals, sea levels will likely continue to rise, and severe weather could become the norm. Planning for such events must include conversations about building robust and flexible infrastructure, relocating communities when necessary and developing a sustainable legacy for the next generation.

While the Obama administration promoted action in all of these areas, unfortunately, the Trump administration doesn't view the climate as a priority. And this should worry US residents -- especially those living in hurricane-prone areas and regions subject to wildfires.

This issue remains one of global importance, as the US is responsible for 29 percent of greenhouse gases emitted worldwide in the last 150 years. The US has contributed heavily to the Earth's burden, and now it must be part of the solution.

Categories: Latest News

Congress's Romance with Cowardice: War Without War Powers

Sun, 11/05/2017 - 21:00
US Army soldiers test a weapon on Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, on August 22, 2014. (Photo: The US Army)   Nonprofit, independent news outlets like Truthout are critical to countering the mainstream media narrative. Help get the real stories out by supporting Truthout with a tax-deductible donation.

On September 1, 1970, soon after President Nixon expanded the Vietnam War by invading neighboring Cambodia, Democratic Senator George McGovern, a decorated World War II veteran and future presidential candidate, took to the floor of the Senate and said,

"Every Senator [here] is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave... This chamber reeks of blood... It does not take any courage at all for a congressman or a senator or a president to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in Vietnam, because it is not our blood that is being shed."

More than six years had passed since Congress all but rubber-stamped President Lyndon Johnson's notoriously vague Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which provided what little legal framework there was for US military escalation in Vietnam. Doubtsremained as to the veracity of the supposed North Vietnamese naval attacks on US ships in the Tonkin Gulf that had officially triggered the resolution, or whether the Navy even had cause to venture so close to a sovereign nation's coastline. No matter. Congress gave the president what he wanted: essentially a blank check to bomb, batter, and occupy South Vietnam. From there it was but a few short steps to nine more years of war, illegal secret bombings of Laos and Cambodia, ground invasions of both those countries, and eventually 58,000 American and upwards of three million Vietnamese deaths.

Leaving aside the rest of this country's sad chapter in Indochina, let's just focus for a moment on the role of Congress in that era's war making. In retrospect, Vietnam emerges as just one more chapter in 70 years of ineptitude and apathy on the part of the Senate and House of Representatives when it comes to their constitutionally granted war powers. Time and again in those years, the legislative branch shirked its historic -- and legal -- responsibility under the Constitution to declare (or refuse to declare) war.

And yet, never in those seven decades has the duty of Congress to assert itself in matters of war and peace been quite so vital as it is today, with American troops engaged -- and still dying, even if now in small numbers -- in one undeclared war after another in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, and now Niger... and who even knows where else.

Fast forward 53 years from the Tonkin Gulf crisis to Senator Rand Paul's desperate attempt this September to force something as simple as a congressional discussion of the legal basis for America's forever wars, which garnered just 36 votes. It was scuttled by a bipartisan coalition of war hawks. And who even noticed -- other than obsessive viewers of C-SPAN who were treated to Paul's four-hour-long cri de coeur denouncing Congress's agreement to "unlimited war, anywhere, anytime, anyplace upon the globe"?

The Kentucky senator sought something that should have seemed modest indeed: to end the reliance of one administration after another on the long-outdated post-9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) for all of America's multifaceted and widespread conflicts. He wanted to compel Congress to debate and legally sanction (or not) any future military operations anywhere on Earth. While that may sound reasonable enough, more than 60 senators, Democratic and Republican alike, stymied the effort. In the process, they sanctioned (yet again) their abdication of any role in America's perpetual state of war -- other than, of course, funding it munificently.

In June 1970, with 50,000 US troops already dead in Southeast Asia, Congress finally worked up the nerve to repeal the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, a bipartisan effort spearheaded by Senator Bob Dole, the Kansas Republican. As it happens, there are no Bob Doles in today's Senate. As a result, you hardly have to be a cynic or a Punxsutawney groundhog to predict six more weeks of winter -- that is, endless war.

It's a remarkably old story actually. Ever since V-J Day in August 1945, Congress has repeatedly ducked its explicit constitutional duties when it comes to war, handing over the keys to the eternal use of the US military to an increasingly imperial presidency. An often deadlocked, ever less popularCongress has cowered in the shadows for decades as Americans died in undeclared wars. Judging by the lack of public outrage, perhaps this is how the citizenry, too, prefers it. After all, they themselves are unlikely to serve. There's no draft or need to sacrifice anything in or for America's wars. The public's only task is to stand for increasingly militarized pregame sports rituals and to "thank" any soldier they run into.

Nonetheless, with the quixotic thought that this is not the way things have to be, here's a brief recounting of Congress's 70-year romance with cowardice.

The Korean War

The last time Congress actually declared war, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president, the Japanese had just attacked Pearl Harbor, and there were Nazis to defeat. Five years after the end of World War II, however, in response to a North Korean invasion of the South meant to reunify the Korean peninsula, Roosevelt's successor, Harry Truman, decided to intervene militarily without consulting Congress. He undoubtedly had no idea of the precedent he was setting. In the 67 intervening years, upwards of 100,000 American troops would die in this country's undeclared wars and it was Truman who started us down this road.

In June 1950, having "conferred" with his secretaries of state and defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he announced an intervention in Korea to halt the invasion from the North. No war declaration was necessary, the administration claimed, because the US was acting under the "aegis" of a unanimous United Nations Security Council resolution -- a 9-0 vote because the Soviets were, at the time, boycotting that body. When asked by reporters whether full-scale combat in Korea didn't actually constitute a war, the president carefully avoided the term. The conflict, he claimed, only "constituted a police action under the U.N." Fearing that the Soviets might respond by escalating the conflict and that atomic reprisals weren't out of the question, Truman clearly considered it prudent to hedge on his terminology, which would set a perilous precedent for the future.

As American casualties mounted and the fighting intensified, it became increasingly difficult to maintain such semantic charades. In three years of grueling combat, more than 35,000 American troops perished. At the congressional level, it made no difference. Congress remained essentially passive in the face of Truman's fait accompli. There would be no war declaration and no extended debate on the legality of the president's decision to send combat troops to Korea.

Indeed, most congressmen rallied to Truman's defense in a time of... well, police action. There was, however, one lone voice in the wilderness, one very public congressional dissent. If Truman could commit hundreds of thousands of troops to Korea without a congressional declaration, Republican Senator Robert Taft proclaimed, "he could go to war in Malaya or Indonesia or Iran or South America." As a memory, Taft's public rebuke to presidential war-making powers is now lost to all but a few historians, but how right he was. (And were the Trump administration ever to go to war with Iran, to pick one of Taft's places, count on the fact that it would still be without a congressional declaration of war.)

Vietnam and the War Powers Act

From the start, Congress rubber-stamped President Johnson's Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which passed unanimously in the House and with only two dissenting Senate votes. Despite many later debates and resolutions on Capitol Hill, and certain strikingly critical figures like Democratic Senator William Fulbright, most members of Congress supported the president's war powers to the end. Even at the height of congressional anti-war sentiment in 1970, only one in three members of the House voted for actual end-the-war resolutions.

According to a specially commissioned House Democratic Study Group, "Up to the spring of 1973, Congress gave every president everything he requested regarding Indochina policies and funding." Despite enduring myths that Congress "ended the war," as late as 1970 the McGovern-Hatfield amendment to the Senate's military procurement bill, which called for a US withdrawal from Cambodia within 30 days, failed by a vote of 55-39.

Despite some critical voices (of a sort almost completely absent on the subject of American war in the twenty-first century), the legislative branch as a collective body discovered far too late that American military forces in Vietnam could never achieve their goals, that South Vietnam remained peripheral to any imaginable US security interests, and that the civil war there was never ours to win or lose. It was a Vietnamese, not an American, story. Unfortunately, by the time Congress collectively gathered the nerve to ask the truly tough questions, the war was on its fifth president and most of its victims -- Vietnamese and American -- were already dead.

In the summer of 1970, Congress did finally repeal the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, while also restricting US cross-border operations into Laos and Cambodia. Then, in 1973, over President Richard Nixon's veto, it even passed the War Powers Act. In the future, that bill stated, only a congressional declaration of war, a national defense emergency, or "statutory authorization" by Congress could legally sanction the deployment of the armed forces to any conflict. Without such sanction, section 4(a)(1) of the bill stipulated that presidential military deployments would be subject to a 60-day limit. That, it was then believed, would forever check the war-making powers of the imperial presidency, which in turn would prevent "future Vietnams."

In reality, the War Powers Act proved to be largely toothless legislation. It was never truly accepted by the presidents who followed Nixon, nor did Congress generally have the guts to invoke it in any meaningful manner. Over the last 40 years, Democratic and Republican presidents alike have insisted in one way or another that the War Powers Act was essentially unconstitutional. Rather than fight it out in the courts, however, most administrations simply ignored that law and deployed troops where they wanted anyway or made nice and sort of, kind of, mentioned impending military interventions to Congress.

Lots of "non-wars" like the invasions of Grenada and Panama or the 1992-1993 intervention in Somalia fell into the first category. In each case, presidents either cited a U.N. resolution as explanation for their actions (and powers) or simply acted without the express permission of Congress. Those three "minor" interventions cost the US 19, 40, and 43 troop deaths, respectively.

In other cases, presidents notified Congress of their actions, but without explicitly citing section 4(a)(1) of the War Powers Act or its 60-day limit. In other words, presidents politely informed Congress of their intention to deploy troops and little more. Much of this hinged on an ongoing battle over just what constitutes "war." In 1983, for example, President Ronald Reagan announced that he planned to send a contingent of US troops to Lebanon, but claimed the agreement with the host nation "ruled out any combat responsibilities." Tell that to the 241 Marines killed in a later embassy bombing. When combat did, in fact, break out in Beirut, congressional leaders compromised with Reagan and agreed to an 18-month authorization.

Nor was the judiciary much help. In 1999, for instance, during a sustained US air campaign against Serbia in the midst of the Kosovo crisis in the former Yugoslavia, a few legislators sued President Bill Clinton in federal court charging that he had violated the War Powers Act by keeping combat soldiers in the field past 60 days. Clinton simply yawned and pronounced that act itself "constitutionally defective." The federal district court in Washington agreed and quickly ruled in the president's favor.

In the single exception that proved the rule, the system more or less workedduring the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf crisis that led to the first of our Iraq wars. A bipartisan array of congressional leaders insisted that President George H.W. Bush present an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) well before invading Kuwait or Saddam Hussein's Iraq. For several months, across two congressional sessions, the House and Senate held dozens of hearings, engaged in prolonged floor debate, and eventually passed that AUMF by a historically narrow margin.

Even then, President Bush included a signing statement haughtily declaringthat his "request for congressional support did not... constitute any change in the long-standing position of the executive branch on... the constitutionality of the War Powers Resolution." Snarky statements aside, sadly, this was Congress's finest hour in the last 70 years of near-constant global military deployments and conflicts -- and it, of course, led to the country's never-ending Iraq Wars, the third of which is still ongoing.

Approving Enduring and Iraqi "Freedom"

The system failed, disastrously, in the wake of 9/11. Just three days after the horrific attacks, as smoke still billowed from New York's twin towers, the Senate approved an astoundingly expansive AUMF. The president could use"necessary and appropriate force" against anyone he determined had "planned, authorized, committed, or aided" the attacks on New York and the Pentagon. Caught up in the passion of the moment, America's representatives hardly bothered to determine precisely who was responsible for the recent slaughter or debate the best course of action moving forward.

Three days left paltry room for serious consideration in what was clearly a time for groupthink and patriotic unity, not solemn deliberation. The ensuing vote resembled those in elections in Third-World autocracies: 98-0 in the Senate and 420-1 in the House. Only one courageous person, California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, took to the floor that day and spoke out. Her words were as prescient as they are haunting: "We must be careful not to embark on an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target... As we act, let us not become the evil we deplore." Lee was simply ignored. In this way, Congress's sin of omission set the stage for decades of global war. Today, across the Greater Middle East, Africa, and beyond, American troops, drones, and bombers still operate under the original post-9/11 AUMF framework.

The next time around, in 2002-2003, Congress proceeded to sleepwalk into the invasion of Iraq. Leave aside the intelligence failures and false pretenses under which that invasion was launched and just consider the role of Congress. It was a sad tale of inaction that culminated, just prior to the ignoble 2002 vote on an AUMF against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, in a speech that will undoubtedly prove a classic marker for the decline of congressional powers. Before a nearly empty chamber, the eminent Democratic Senator Robert Byrd said:

"To contemplate war is to think about the most horrible of human experiences... As this nation stands at the brink of battle, every American on some level must be contemplating the horrors of war. Yet, this chamber is, for the most part, silent -- ominously, dreadfully silent. There is no debate, no discussion, no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of this particular war. There is nothing.

"We stand passively mute in the United States Senate, paralyzed by our own uncertainty, seemingly stunned by the sheer turmoil of events."

The evidence backed up his claims. Late on the night of October 11th, after only five days of "debate" -- similar deliberations in 1990-1991 had spanned four months -- the Senate passed a so-called war resolution (essentially a statement backing a presidential decision, not a congressional war declaration) and the invasion of Iraq proceeded as planned.

Toward Forever War

With all that gloomy history behind us, with Congress now endlessly talking about revisiting the 2001 congressional authorization to take on al-Qaeda (but not, of course, the many Islamic terror groups that the US military has gone after since that moment) and little revisiting likely to occur, is there any recourse for those not in favor of presidential wars to the end of time? It goes without saying that there is no antiwar political party in the United States, nor -- Rand Paul aside -- are there even eminent antiwar congressional voices like Taft, Fulbright, McGovern, or Byrd. The Republicans are war hawks and that spirit has proven remarkably bipartisan. From Hillary Clinton, a notorious hawk who supported or argued for military interventions of every sort while she was Barack Obama's secretary of state, to former vice president and possible future presidential candidate Joe Biden and present Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the Democrats are now also a party of presidential war making. All of the above voted, for instance, for the Iraq War Resolution.

So who exactly can antiwar activists or foreign policy skeptics of any sort rally to? If more than 70 years of recent history is any indication, Congress simply can't be counted on when it comes time to stand, be heard, and vote on American wars. You already know that for the representatives who regularly rush to pass record Defense spending bills -- as the Senate recently did by a vote of 89-9 for more money than even President Trump requested -- perpetual war is an acceptable way of life.

Unless something drastically changes: the sudden growth, for example, of a grassroots antiwar movement or a major Supreme Court decision (fat chance!) limiting presidential power, Americans are likely to be living with eternal war into the distant future.

It's already an old story, but think of it as well as the new American way.

Categories: Latest News

During Childbirth, Enduring the Patriarchy Was the Hardest Part

Sun, 11/05/2017 - 21:00
Truthout refuses corporate funding and all the strings that come attached. Instead, reader support powers us. Make a tax-deductible donation today!

Everyone from medical professionals to strangers tell pregnant people what they should and shouldn't be doing with their bodies. Throughout my two pregnancies, OB-GYNs, nurses, family, and friends often used phrases like "you can't," "you're not allowed to," and "we'll let you" when discussing my body.

Unfortunately, this is standard practice in US medicine, which supports a disease-based, doctor-centered, patriarchal model of care (as opposed to patient-based care, which emphasizes collaboration, understanding, and choices). Policies and protocols are set up to avoid liability. While in labor with my first child in 2015, I was told I couldn't move around or go to the bathroom on my own, switch positions without assistance, or eat anything besides ice chips.

Not being able to go to the bathroom on my own was annoying; not being able to switch positions or move the way my body wanted to increased my pain. Enduring labor without eating or drinking was exhausting and directly affected my resolve to keep going without an epidural.

It's also just dumb. Not long after I gave birth, new research showed that food during labor was not harmful and could actually be beneficial. Sometimes new research affects medical policies, sometimes it slowly trickles down, and sometimes it doesn't change anything.

At my second child's birth, a nurse repeatedly told me not to scream, which I did naturally to cope with the pain. Between the contractions and labored breathing, it took me a while to protest. And when I finally did speak up, it wasn't particularly assertive -- "It's all right, I can scream" -- but it did get the nurse to stop.

When that kind of misogynistic, restrictive language is directed at you for nine months, it's easy to forget that people (including the medical professionals you hired) may be giving you advice about your body -- but that you're the one who gets to make the decisions.

Pregnant people have a lot of experience being told what to do with their bodies. By the time they've made it to their first prenatal appointment, they've been told one or more or all of the following about their bodies in their lifetimes: They should dress it in pink; shave their legs and arm pits; keep it smooth and cellulite-free; and cover a certain amount of it most of the time and some parts of it all the time lest it send the "wrong message."

People who become used to their bodies being policed may not have a sense of body ownership and agency. There are a wide variety of abuses that occur during childbirth because people either don't know or don't feel like they have options. They are coerced, given unnecessary interventions, threatened. They are denied lack of informed consent, which requires the provider to give the patient a comprehensive overview of possible risks and benefits of a treatment.

"The most pervasive language I find when dealing with pregnant people in the medical setting is coercive," said my doula, Erin Carter, when I asked her about the language she's encountered in medical settings. "[It's] either meant to convince a parent that they don't know what they know, or elicit their consent by questioning the safety of the baby (whether or not there is a safety concern at play)."

She continued. "I have literally heard the phrase, 'Well you don't want a dead baby, do you?' come out of a nurse's mouth. … It's ironic that I have seen this coercive language used most frequently in early labor with what would be typically considered minor medical interventions. And when clients have encountered true medical emergencies, the language used with them has more frequently been compassionate and fact-based in nature," Carter said.

According to Cristen Pascucci, founder of organization Birth Monopoly as well as a childbirth legal rights advocate, these practices are based on the idea that the person giving birth is under the authority of the medical provider or institution.

"In more progressive places, women have more freedom, but that freedom belongs to them only as far as their care providers or institution allows it," she said.

These normalized practices of medical bullying are now starting to get some pushback: Recent US court cases that addressed abuse and coercion during childbirth include one with a physician being charged with assault and battery (based on lack of informed consent) for performing an unwanted episiotomy on a patient who repeatedly said no to the procedure, a nearly unprecedented decision. In another case, a plaintiff was awarded $16 million after receiving unnecessary medical interventions that left her permanently injured from a hospital that had advertised itself as a natural birthing environment.

After feeling pressured into a C-section during my first birth, I had more of an idea of what I would and would not allow to happen to my body during delivery. To address these decisions, I hired a midwife and doula in addition to an OB-GYN (in case I ended up at the nearest hospital, which didn't permit midwife care) to guide me through pregnancy and birth.

Supported by my doctor, midwife, and doula -- all women -- I was kept up to date on what was going on in my body and my baby's, given treatment options, and ultimately felt cared for. In the delivery room, everyone worked together to ensure I had a safe and successful vaginal birth after cesarean. My daughter arrived after just four hours of labor, and I felt like my body belonged to me, something I did not feel at the end of my first birth.

Unfortunately, that's not a typical experience, especially for people of color, poor people, LGBTQ people, and disabled people, who often lack adequate access to health care that empowers them.

In the birth environment, Black women struggle for supported, healthy births. The maternal mortality rate for Black women is almost four times higher than for White women. Even when Black and White women share the same socioeconomic status, Black women are still more likely to die. Black patients are also more likely to suffer severe birth complications, be denied effective pain medication, and lack support for breastfeeding.

Black women have different language directed at them. Sherronda J. Brown, author of the essay "White Women in Robes," explained that Black cisgender women deal with their sexuality and reproduction being politicized with stereotypes of "mammies," "jezebels," "sapphires," and "welfare queens," each of these working to construct Black women as inherently undesirable, emasculating, licentious, angry, and sexually irresponsible.

"Continually battling against words like 'grown' and 'mannish' that are inscribed upon our bodies from the time that we are children. We are muled, by everyone," Brown said.

The language we use directly reflects the way we treat each other. The differences between my two births were largely due to the team of caregivers I assembled, all of whom practiced some form of respectful maternity care. The language used during my second birth was also much more respectful, with far less occurrences of restrictive verbiage.

Each person is the only one who gets to make decisions about their body. 

Categories: Latest News

Pages