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Updated: 1 hour 44 min ago

Minority Communities Suffer From Storms as GOP and Trump Administration Promote Oil and Gas

Thu, 11/02/2017 - 21:00
Pat Harris in her apartment in the Prince Hall complex in Port Arthur, Texas. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)   In times of great injustice, independent media is crucial to fighting back against misinformation. Support grassroots journalism: Make a donation to Truthout.

While victims in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico are still reeling from the devastation of three hurricanes worsened by a warming climate, the Trump administration and GOP senators in the Gulf continued to push fossil fuel extraction.

On October 18, two senators who reject the science of climate change, Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA), teamed up to introduce a bill to fast-track the regulatory process for exporting small-scale liquefied natural gas (LNG). And on October 24, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke proposed the largest ever sale of oil and gas leases in the United States. The plan would offer nearly 77 million acres of federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico for auction to the fossil fuel industry.

Prince Hall Village Apartments across from Valero's Port Arthur refinery on October 13, 2017. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)

FEMA interviewing residents at Prince Hall Village Apartments on September 20, 2017. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)

Rubio and Cassidy now both acknowledge that the climate has changed, but don't think mankind plays a major role in the stronger and more frequent storms, droughts, heat waves, and floods documented by researchers. Both have touted the expansion of the natural gas industry as good for the climate, citing the fact that gas burns cleaner than coal. But they ignore scientific evidence showing that when accounting for the production of natural gas, from extraction to delivery, the fuel could be worse for the climate than burning coal.

Their proposed legislation, if passed, would likely lead to an expansion of the fracking industry to meet the needs of the global market, as DeSmog's Steve Horn has reported recently. In his article, Horn explained the misnomer of "small-scale LNG," writing that "small-scale LNG does not refer necessarily to the actual amount of LNG which will be exported from the site, but rather the size of the tankers carrying the natural gas."

The new bill and lease sale are two of the many actions by Republican politicians and the Trump administration which show a willful indifference to climate change's impact on America, as laid out in the Third National Climate Assessment in 2014. (The Fourth Assessment is slated to be completed by late 2018.)

That assessment confirmed that climate change is affecting people and the economy in every region in the United States. The report also focused on how minority and low-income communities are especially vulnerable to the forces of a changing climate.

While Senators Cassidy and Rubio are touting a bill that flies in the face of mitigating climate change, some their own constituents are victims of extreme weather made even more intense and frequent because of rising temperatures.

Those who suffered significant damage to or loss of their homes may be entitled to help from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), but many of those I met in Port Arthur, Texas, had yet to meet with a representative when I visited on October 13.

Angela Andgelle pointing out the mold growing in her apartment in the Prince Hall housing complex in Port Arthur Texas, October 13, 2017. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)

Mold in Angela Andgelle's ground floor apartment in the Prince Hall housing complex in Port Arthur Texas, October 13, 2017. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)

There, I met with residents in the Prince Hall Village Apartments, a low-income housing complex located near the Valero and Motiva refineries. Most Port Arthur residents in the Prince Hall complex needed to be rescued from Hurricane Harvey's rising waters by boat or helicopter during the flash flooding that followed the region's 28 inches of rain on August 29.

Lionel Junior in his apartment in the Prince Hall complex in Port Arthur, Texas. He is doing the best he can to keep the mold off the walls but said it is a losing battle. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)

Cell phone photo of a snake that Lionel Junior removed from his apartment in the Prince Hall complex in Port Arthur, Texas, following Hurricane Harvey. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)

Lionel Junior, who lives in one of the ground floor units -- all of which flooded -- showed me a photo of a snake he found in his apartment. Though the complex's management removed the sections of drywall that were underwater, it didn't treat the apartments for mold, Junior told me, a concern echoed by the other Prince Hall residents I visited, many of whom showed me visible mold.

Jo Woodson in his apartment in the Prince Hall housing complex in Port Arthur Texas, October 13, 2017. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)

Mold in Jo Woodson's ground floor apartment in the Prince Hall housing complex in Port Arthur Texas, October 13, 2017. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)

Jo Woodson complained of an invasion of pests that included roaches and rats. I rescued a frog under a kitchen sink. The smell of mold in his apartment was overwhelming. There were areas of drywall which management did not remove, and his flood-damaged furniture remained in place.

Though he plans to get rid of the moldy furniture, like many of the others I spoke to, he worried that if he removed the storm-damaged contents of his apartment, he would not be able to prove to FEMA what he had lost.

Pat Harris with her father, who moved in with her after Hurricane Harvey on September 20, 2017. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)

Pat Harris's grandchildren, Jerianna, 6, and Jonathan, 2, in her apartment in the Prince Hall housing complex in Port Arthur, Texas, on September 20, 2017. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)
Pat Harris is another resident of the Prince Hall complex. Her father moved in with her after his home was flooded even worse than hers, but she worries about his health and the health of her grandchildren. Still, she told me there is nothing she can do; she has nowhere else to go. Although Harris has faith the management will fix her apartment soon, she doesn't think it is right that she and others in the complex are required to pay full rent when living in substandard conditions.

Percy Blacke in front of Hurricane Harvey debris he removed from his house in Port Arthur, Texas, across from the Prince Hall Village Apartments on September 20, 2017. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)

"People are going to die from cancer and have mold for the chaser," Percy Blacke, who lives across the street from the complex, told me. He gutted his home himself. Blacke pointed out that his community is already dealing with harmful emissions from Port Arthur's nearby petrochemical refineries on a daily basis. Topping it off with excessive mold, he fears, could kill some of the elderly who live there.

He isn't against industry, Blacke says, but he's certain the refineries could be operated without polluting the air as much as they do. Because the plants are located next to an African American community, no one is doing anything to protect them, he says. "Race plays a role in the bad air we breathe, and the slow pace of getting people back on their feet," Blacke told me. "You won't see too many Red Cross vehicles in this part of town giving stuff out."

As Horn recently pointed out, the billionaire Koch brothers and others connected to the fossil fuel industry are key contributors to Cassidy and Rubio.

Not only are these two senators ignoring the overwhelming scientific consensus and the cries of people devastated by even more extreme weather, they are also ignoring the teachings of the religious leader Pope Francis. "You can see the effects of climate change with your own eyes, and scientists tell us clearly the way forward," Pope Francis said when commenting on Harvey's aftermath, stressing that leaders have a "moral responsibility" to act.

The Pope continues to rebuke the United States for pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, praising the international agreement as a means to mitigate the destructive effects of global warming. But the GOP, a party that frequently boasts of its Christian values, doesn't seem to hear.

Categories: Latest News

Trump Exploits New York Attacks to Promote Guantánamo and Perpetual War

Thu, 11/02/2017 - 08:49

Unlike the vehicular attack in Charlottesville by an ideologically motivated white supremacist, the attack in New York City by an Uzbek immigrant drew an immediate response from Trump to push his administration's agenda of keeping Guantánamo prison open. While this government will always exploit tragedies to promote draconian policies and perpetual war, it's up to the public to challenge these policies at every turn.

Donald Trump speaks while meeting with members of his cabinet November 1, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Win McNamee / Getty Images)

Adding to the litany of mass acts of violence that have become increasingly normal, on Tuesday, October 31, an Uber driver used a Home Depot truck to mow down a group of innocent cyclists and pedestrians in New York City's Lower Manhattan. He killed eight people and injured 11. He then jumped out of the truck with a pellet gun and a paintball gun, at which point police shot and injured him. He survived. 

The suspect is Sayfullo Saipov, a 29-year-old immigrant from Uzbekistan who came to the United States in 2010. He worked as a truck driver in Ohio and Florida before moving to New Jersey and becoming a driver for Uber. A handwritten note was found in the truck Saipov was driving, in which he declared his allegiance to ISIS (also known as Daesh). President Donald Trump then immediately manipulated the event for militaristic purposes: He said he'd consider sending Saipov to Guantánamo. As is typical of governments, Trump is exploiting the impact of this horrific tragedy to further his administration's agenda of perpetual war and keeping Guantánamo open. 

First off, sending Saipov to Guantánamo would likely be illegal, since he is a legal resident arrested on US soil. University of Texas law professor Stephen I. Vladeck points out, "Saipov was lawfully present in the United States at the time of his arrest and is therefore entitled to a full suite of constitutional protections -- especially those provided by the Fifth Amendment's due process clause." It'd be difficult for Trump to make the case, in court, for detaining a legal resident arrested on US soil at a military detention facility in Cuba.  

The call to send Saipov to Guantánamo is especially curious when compared with Trump's reaction to another recent vehicular act of violence in the US: the racist attack in Charlottesville by a white supremacist who ran over a group of antifascist protesters and killed a woman named Heather Heyer. Both attacks were ideologically motivated. But there were no calls for detaining the white supremacist killer at Guantánamo. Instead, Trump blamed antifascists (even though they killed no one) and said there were some "fine people" on the neo-Nazi side. Of course, by Trump logic, this reaction makes perfect sense: White supremacists are Trump's base. Since Saipov is an Uzbek Muslim, this attack can be easily manipulated to push for "war on terror" policies like keeping Guantánamo open. 

As we dig deeper into the connections between Saipov's attack and policies like sending people to Guantánamo, we have to acknowledge an often-ignored reality: The Iraq war created ISIS. The radicalization of prisoners at the US military prison Camp Bucca, torture at Abu Ghraib, and the dissolution of Iraq's military during the war provided the fertile ground from which ISIS would emerge. When the United States bombs Muslims countries and tortures people from those areas, it generates hostility toward the US and more recruits for militant groups like ISIS. Sending Saipov to Guantánamo would make him look like a warrior, further strengthening ISIS. Even from a strategic standpoint, it'd be foolish.  

In fact, Uzbekistan was part of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program. Under this program, the CIA kidnapped individuals suspected of terrorism ties and sent them to harsh foreign governments where the United States knew they would be tortured. According to Open Society Foundations, 54 countries participated in the program, including Uzbekistan. The CIA reportedly sent terrorism suspects to Uzbekistan for detention and interrogation. In addition, Uzbekistan allowed the CIA to use its airspace and airports for extraordinary rendition operations. 

Extraordinary rendition was just one part of the Bush administration's post-9/11 torture program. The CIA tortured nearly 120 people suspected of terrorism ties in its network of secret prisons around the world. Meanwhile, the US military tortured war-on-terror detainees at Guantánamo, the vast majority of whom were wrongfully detained. The US military and the CIA used a myriad of torture techniques, such as beatings, stress positions, water-boarding and extreme temperatures. Moreover, what also made Guantánamo despicable was the policy of indefinite detention, which continues to this day. Currently, 41 detainees remain at Guantánamo. 

A day before Saipov's attack, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told a Senate hearing that there should be no geographic or time limits on the war on terror. Meanwhile, US drone strikes continue.

President Donald Trump promised to keep Guantánamo open, and Republicans are on his side. Sen. Mitch McConnell agreed in 2016 that it should stay open. Sen. John McCain supports Trump's call to put Saipov in Guantánamo. We cannot count on so-called "reasonable" Republicans to rein Trump in.

Governments manipulate tragedies like the one in New York City to push for draconian policies and more war. Trump is no different. This means the public must be vigilant and challenge these policies at every turn.

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Categories: Latest News

A Visit to Heaven and Hell: Mapping Planet Earth

Thu, 11/02/2017 - 08:11

Author Eduardo Galeano. (Photo: Rafael Holanda Barroso)

The following passages are excerpted from Hunter of Stories, the last book by Eduardo Galeano, who died in 2015. Thanks for its use go to his literary agent, Susan Bergholz, and Nation Books, which is publishing it next week.

Free

By day, the sun guides them. By night, the stars.

Paying no fare, they travel without passports and without forms for customs or immigration.

Birds are the only free beings in this world inhabited by prisoners. They fly from pole to pole, powered by food alone, on the route they choose and at the hour they wish, without ever asking permission of officials who believe they own the heavens.

Shipwrecked

The world is on the move.

On board are more shipwrecked souls than successful seafarers.

Thousands of desperate people die en route, before they can complete the crossing to the promised land, where even the poor are rich and everyone lives in Hollywood.

The illusions of any who manage to arrive do not last long.

Monster Wanted

Saint Columba was rowing across Loch Ness when an immense serpent with a gaping mouth attacked his boat. Saint Columba, who had no desire to be eaten, chased it off by making the sign of the cross.

Fourteen centuries later, the monster was seen again by someone living nearby, who happened to have a camera around his neck, and pictures of it and of curious footprints came out in the Glasgow and London papers.

The creature turned out to be a toy, the footprints made by baby hippopotamus feet, which are sold as ashtrays.

The revelation did nothing to discourage the tourists.

The market for fear feeds on the steady demand for monsters.

Foreigner

In a community newspaper in Barcelona's Raval neighborhood, an anonymous hand wrote:

Your god is Jewish, your music is African, your car is Japanese, your pizza is Italian, your gas is Algerian, your coffee is Brazilian, your democracy is Greek, your numbers are Arabic, your letters are Latin.

I am your neighbor. And you call me a foreigner?

The Terrorizer

Back in the years 1975 and 1976, before and after the coup d'état that imposed the most savage of Argentina's many military dictatorships, death threats flew fast and furious and anyone suspected of the crime of thinking simply disappeared.

Orlando Rojas, a Paraguayan exile, answered his telephone in Buenos Aires. Every day a voice repeated the same thing: "I'm calling to tell you you're going to die."

"So you aren't?" Orlando asked.

The terrorizer would hang up.

A Visit to Hell

Some years ago, during one of my deaths, I paid a visit to hell.

I had heard that in the underworld you can get your favorite wine and any delicacy you want, lovers for all tastes, dancing music, endless pleasure...

Once again, I was able to corroborate the fact that advertising lies. Hell promises a great life, but all I found were people waiting in line.

In that endless queue, snaking out of sight along narrow smoky passages, were women and men of all epochs, from cavemen to astronauts.

All were condemned to wait. To wait for eternity.

That's what I discovered: hell is waiting.

Prophecies

Who was it that a century ago best described today's global power structure?

Not a philosopher, not a sociologist, not a political scientist either.

It was a child named Little Nemo, whose adventures were published in the New York Herald way back in 1905, as drawn by Winsor McCay.

Little Nemo dreamed about the future.

In one of his most unerring dreams, he traveled to Mars.

That unfortunate planet was in the hands of a businessman who had crushed his competitors and exercised an absolute monopoly.

The Martians seemed stupid, because they said little and breathed little.

Little Nemo knew why: the boss of Mars had seized ownership of words and the air.

They were the keys to life, the sources of power.

Very Brief Synthesis of Contemporary History

For several centuries subjects have donned the garb of citizens, and monarchies have preferred to call themselves republics.

Local dictatorships, claiming to be democracies, open their doors to the steamroller of the global market. In this kingdom of the free, we are all united as one. But are we one, or are we no one? Buyers or bought? Sellers or sold? Spies or spied upon?

We live imprisoned behind invisible bars, betrayed by machines that feign obedience but spread lies with cybernetic impunity.

Machines rule in homes, factories, offices, farms, and mines, and also on city streets, where we pedestrians are but a nuisance. Machines also rule in wars, where they do as much of the killing as warriors in uniform, or more.

The Right to Plunder

In the year 2003, a veteran Iraqi journalist named Samir visited several museums in Europe.

He found marvelous texts in Babylonian, heroes and gods sculpted in the hills of Nineveh, winged lions that had flown in Assyria...

Someone approached him, offered to help: "Shall I call a doctor?"

Squatting, Samir buried his face in his hands and swallowed his tears.

He mumbled, "No, please. I'm all right."

Later on, he explained: "It hurts to see how much they have stolen and to know how much they will steal."

Two months later, US troops launched their invasion. The National Museum in Baghdad was sacked. One hundred seventy thousand works were reported lost.

Stories Tell the Tale

I wrote Soccer in Sun and Shadow to convert the pagans. I wanted to help fans of reading lose their fear of soccer, and fans of soccer lose their fear of books. I never imagined anything else.

But according to Víctor Quintana, a congressman in Mexico, the book saved his life. In the middle of 1997, he was kidnapped by professional assassins, hired to punish him for exposing dirty deals.

They had him tied up, face down on the ground, and were kicking him to death, when there was a pause before the final bullet. The murderers got caught up in an argument about soccer. That was when Víctor, more dead than alive, put in his two cents. He began telling stories from my book, trading minutes of life for every story from those pages, the way Scheherazade traded a story for every one of her thousand-and-one nights.

Hours and stories slowly unfolded.

At last the murderers left him, tied up and trampled, but alive.

They said, "You're a good guy," and they took their bullets elsewhere.

***

Quite a few years ago now, during my time in exile on the coast of Catalonia, I got an encouraging nudge from a girl eight or nine years old, who, unless I'm remembering wrong, was named Soledad.

I was having a few drinks with her parents, also exiles, when she called me over and asked,

"So, what do you do?"

"Me? I write books."

"You write books?"

"Well... yes."

"I don't like books," she declared.

And since she had me against the ropes, she hit me again: "Books sit still. I like songs because songs fly."

Ever since my encounter with that angel sent by God, I have attempted to sing. It's never worked, not even in the shower. Every time, the neighbors scream, "Get that dog to stop barking!"

***

My granddaughter Catalina was ten.

We were walking along a street in Buenos Aires when someone came up and asked me to sign a book. I can't remember which one.

We continued on, the two of us, quietly arm in arm, until Catalina shook her head and offered this encouraging remark: "I don't know why they make such a fuss. Not even I read you."

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Categories: Latest News

Puerto Ricans Still Desperately Need Help: Teamsters Return From Disaster Relief Trip

Thu, 11/02/2017 - 07:55

In times of disaster, you have folks like the unions who want to really help out and you have those who want to take advantage of the situation and extort everybody, says Dan Maldonado of Teamsters Local 445 who was part of a delegation of 327 Teamsters to Puerto Rico. They were backing up unions on the island with disaster relief work, delivering supplies and driving medics.

Teamsters listen to Liz Schuler ahead of their trip to Puerto Rico in October. (Photo: Alex Moore)

We're now several months into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators and educators, not only about how to resist, but how to build a better world. Today's interview is the 87th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

Today we bring you a conversation with Dan Maldonado, a business agent with Teamsters Local 445. Maldonado discusses his recent disaster relief trip to Puerto Rico with a delegation of union volunteers.

Sarah Jaffe: You just returned from a trip to Puerto Rico with a union delegation. Tell me about your connection to Puerto Rico and why this is important for you to go?

Dan Maldonado: My connection is, first and foremost, I am Puerto Rican. I have a lot of family that still lives down there. We didn't have a lot of communication with a lot of my family. That was very important for me. Second of all, I am a Teamster. There was a little rumor started that the Teamsters in Puerto Rico were not moving product, which was completely false. We were there as a backup for them, also. It was a union movement, but those were the two main reasons why I went.

Tell us a little bit about what you saw while you were down there.

What we saw was a lot of destruction. We saw some roads that were impassable. We saw a lot of destroyed homes. We saw broken spirits. There were people who had been without water and food for weeks. Very bare minimums.

What part of the island were you on?

We stayed in the San Juan Coliseum. That was basically our living quarters. But, we touched the island pretty much from east to west and north to south. We went all over the island.

Talk about the work that you guys were doing while you were down there.

A lot of the work that I, myself, primarily did was I worked with the Red Cross. We did a lot of the heavy lifting for them. We drove box trucks for them and we helped distribute food and water. A lot of Teamsters down there, they served as drivers for nurses and they went all over with nurses. All different types of towns to see people. We were like the chauffeurs for nurses. Besides all that, we did all the heavy lifting for Red Cross.

What is it that people here are missing about what is happening in Puerto Rico right now?

Well, what is missing is basically the infrastructure is so destroyed. That is creating such a big challenge for the stuff to be distributed. It is not that people are not chipping in, but that the infrastructure ... [and] impassable roads. There are certain roads that you really can't get to as a normal civilian, where you need maybe some engineers to lay down a bridge just so you can get from one side to the other. Unless you are going to get there through a helicopter.

It is hard for us to get a sense here, without having seen it, the breadth of the destruction that still exists and the different challenges people have, just getting through the day.

I want to add one thing that I think is very important that people are missing out on. When you look at the death toll ... and right now, they are saying it is 51. It may not seem like a lot, 51. But the bigger concern is the long-term health effects. Let me give you two examples: one from what I knew from another Teamster and a personal one, myself.

One, being that there was a Teamster that went to a neighborhood with a group of nurses and the lady had gangrene. Basically, she was in such a condition that her daughter kept obeying all her commands and we basically had to tell the daughter, "We understand that you respect your parents, but her mind is not there. The gangrene is getting inside of her." We were able to get a VIP room for her. Unfortunately, her legs were amputated, but that was the only way for her to survive.

Me, on a personal level, I have an uncle who is a diabetic, he had no electricity.... So, for seven days he didn't take his [diabetes] medicine and he has the funds, he is economically stable to come over here, but now, because [he didn't take his medicine], his legs got swollen, which affected his kidneys and now he has got a pacemaker. So, he is in a catch 22 where he can't get on a plane because he has got a pacemaker and he has got to stay in Puerto Rico. So, a lot of the long-term ill effects are something that we are concerned with down the road.

I think that is one of the things that we should think about more. There is the short-term and the medium-term and the long-term recovery issues, and the stuff that you are seeing now, we are getting into the medium and long-term questions.

Right now, the government said that by December, 95 percent of the island is going to have electricity. Well, my question to the government is: Is that 95 percent based on the current population of 3.4 million or is that based on the population that you are going to have left? As you know, there is an exodus of people leaving for the mainland.

Talk a little bit about that. I don't think we have talked that much about the implications of people leaving a place when it has been so devastated by disaster.

When all hope is lost, you have an island where 40 percent live at the poverty level, where you are making $18,000 or less. And everyone knows that when you have times of disaster, you have your people like the unions that wanted to go down there and really help out and give a helping hand. Then you have those people that take advantage of the situation and their mission is to extort everybody. Like I said, you have 40 percent that live in poverty. I think another 23 percent are elderly. If I am a young person, what do I have to look forward to in the future? If I am an 18-year-old man right now, the rebuilding phase is going to take at least three to four years. Do I want to stick around for that? People are leaving.

The situation ... there were economic problems in the past. It is not a secret. The economy has gotten worse. Let me give you a perfect example. I made friends with a cop down there. He is working six days a week, 12-hour shifts. There is no money to pay him overtime. So, the way they are going to repay him is with comp time. So, you are working six days a week, 12 hours a day. That is 72 hours a week and 32 of the 72 hours is going to be paid to you in comp time. So, they are frustrated and are looking to leave the island themselves and do other things and try a new career.

You were there for a week?

I was there for two weeks.

Was there any noticeable difference from when you got there in the beginning to when you left?

How do I say this.... [we] did what we could, but we didn't even put a dent in the situation. There was so much catastrophe that it was like we went to one neighborhood and we know that we left that one neighborhood with food. The next day we are repeating the same thing. So, when we left, you still had the situation where they had problems with the power. We were in San Juan, which is the main city, and the mall, Plaza Las Americas, which was a source of income for them -- the power would not stay up. There would be two or three days where it would close sometimes and they would reopen and hope it would say on. Believe it or not, with everybody shopping online these days, that mall happened to still be an outlet where someone can go and get AC or just get away from the reality of what was going on. We saw that constantly happening.

It is interesting to think about the question of public space, when the mall is the public space that people can access.

Right. You have other things, like San Juan -- there wasn't a single street light that worked. That experience in itself was another experience. Just imagine you are driving through Times Square without a single street light. That is what we experienced out there when we were driving.

When you guys were leaving, there were more rounds of volunteers coming in, but I guess the question is: How long is that going to keep up? How long are people going to be able to keep doing volunteer trips down there?

I have got to say, on the union movement side, I was really proud. We went down there with 327 people. I have got to say, if not 100 percent, at least 99 percent of us said that we would definitely go back if we were asked to go back. That, to me, means a lot and is a big thank you for everybody that is willing to go back. That is the biggest way that somebody can repay me. I really don't need a thank you from somebody saying, "Thanks for what you did." The biggest way I could be repaid is that somebody volunteers to go down and also provide help and assistance.

Anything else you think people should know about what is going on right now?

The situation is definitely dire. They need help. They really need help. If anybody can help in any way, it would be gladly appreciated. The Puerto Rican people are very grateful. People really need to understand that they are Americans. There's a stat that a lot of people don't know about, but when the Vietnam War happened, there were more Puerto Ricans drafted from Puerto Rico than any state on the mainland. People need to remember that and not forget about them in this time of crisis.

How can people keep up with you and how can people keep up with the work that the Teamsters and others are doing in Puerto Rico?

I don't think we are really looking for the credit or looking for the accolades. Basically, the Teamsters put something out and they got an overwhelming response of people that just wanted to go help. It is not the first crisis that we have been involved in with as Teamsters. If you look at us from 2001 -- 9/11 -- we were in Houston, a month prior, with Hurricane Harvey. We have been in Katrina. We have been in all kinds of disasters. More than likely, if there is a disaster, you are probably going to have the Teamsters there as the first responders.

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

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Categories: Latest News

Everything Is Terrible

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

Experts: Uzbekistan Hosted CIA Black Sites Post-9/11; It Is Not a Hotbed of Terror

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 21:00

Sayfullo Saipov, the alleged assailant in the Tuesday attack that killed at least eight people in New York City, is an immigrant from Uzbekistan, a country that is now the focus of much attention, with some in the media calling it a hotbed of Islamist terror. We go to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, to speak with Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch. We're also joined by Edward Lemon, postdoctoral fellow at the Harriman Institute at Columbia University.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Trump Scapegoats Immigrants, Calls to End Diversity Visa Lottery That Brought Saipov to US in 2010

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 21:00

Sayfullo Saipov, the suspect in the New York City attack that left eight people dead, is an immigrant from Uzbekistan who entered the United States in 2010 through the diversity visa lottery program. Now President Trump has called for a crackdown on immigration, telling Congress to cancel the program. We speak with Yolanda Rondon, staff attorney with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, who argues that blaming the visa program "scapegoats the vulnerable, which always happens to be immigrants under this administration."

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

The Cost of Addiction Treatment Keeps Poor People Addicted

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 21:00

This article was published by TalkPoverty.org.

I can barely remember the day I learned I was pregnant with my first daughter. Not because I was overwhelmed with emotions, but because I was high on heroin. I had been addicted for five years, and I had been trying to rid myself of that addiction for almost as long. I've lost count of how many times I detoxed during that time. I just know that, even when I managed to make it through the week of withdrawal, I inevitably relapsed.

By the time I learned I was pregnant, I knew abstinence didn't work. I also knew I had to do something if I wanted to have a healthy baby. So, I enrolled in methadone maintenance treatment. My doctor insisted on it -- he told me it would keep my body from going through withdrawal, which could have caused a miscarriage. But I almost couldn't afford it. I was in Colorado, one of 17 states that does not cover methadone through Medicaid or state funds. Luckily, I was able to get my treatment paid for through grant money specifically designated for pregnant methadone patients.

Because of that grant, I never had to worry about the cost of my treatment. I was able to stand to the side and watch while other patients came into the clinic, begging for an extra couple days to come up with their fee, only to receive the same response from the receptionist: "You could get together money for your drugs, why are you having a problem getting money for treatment?"

I lost count of how many times I heard her say that.

Approximately 2 million people in the United States are addicted to pharmaceutical opiates, and half a million to heroin. The latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates more than 60,000 overdose deaths in the United States last year.

Despite the broad scope of the crisis, data compiled by Rockefeller University's Addictive Diseases lab show that there are only about 350,000 Americans in methadone treatment, a long-acting opioid agonist that has historically been the gold standard of care for opioid addiction. Only about 75,000 are in buprenorphine treatment, a newer alternative that is similar to methadone in function and purpose.

There are some basic reasons that so few people receive treatment: More than 30 million people live in counties without a licensed provider of buprenorphine, and the daily process of receiving methadone maintenance treatment at a specialized clinic is incredibly time consuming.

And it's expensive.

In addition to the limits on Medicaid funding, opioid treatment providers can decide whether or not to accept private insurance. Many decide against it, or contract with just one or two providers, because methadone treatment is difficult to translate into insurance billing terms. Every state provides coverage for buprenorphine/naloxone (naloxone is an additive that prevents abuse of the drug), but patients often have to find cash for treatment regardless of whether the medication itself is covered.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that the per-patient cost of methadone for providers is $4,700 yearly, but for-profit opioid treatment programs get to decide what they charge their patients. This means the actual cost to patients varies by clinic. Methadone patients I interviewed reported rates that ranged from $350 per month to $200 per week. Buprenorphine patients reported clinic costs between $100 and $300 per month, with medication costs broaching the thousands for those without insurance.

Zac Talbott owns two opioid treatment programs -- one in Georgia and one in North Carolina -- and is also a methadone patient (through a different provider). He explains to me over the phone that just because Medicaid covers methadone in a certain state, that does not mean the clinics actually accept it. Take Georgia, for example: Although Medicaid has covered methadone for several years, programs that were not directly affiliated with behavioral health entities could not bill Medicaid prior to 2016. Only two clinics met that standard, out of 62 in the state. The rules recently changed, and Talbott's Georgia clinic, Counseling Solutions Treatment Centers, is now six months into the process of setting up Medicaid billing. He's unsure how many other area clinics will actually take on the new insurance option.

"[Opioid treatment programs] don't speak in insurance terms the way the rest of health care does. Insurance bills based on codes. There's no code for a daily bundled rate," he explains, referring to the daily or weekly flat-rate most clinics charge their patients.

"For a lot of the bigger corporate entities, it's easier and more profitable to just take that cash, baby," Talbott adds, punctuating his point with a morose chuckle.

Patients who struggle to find the money for treatment may live with the threat of an administrative detox hanging over their heads. This is a common technique practiced by many methadone clinics, in which a patient who is no longer able to pay is placed on a rapidly tapering dose to wean him off the medication. The length of these tapers varies by clinic, but they often mean going down by 10mg a day, usually with one- or two-month limits. That's a far cry from the slow, medically supervised taper recommended for patients choosing to withdraw from treatment.

Medication-assisted treatment is designed for long-term use -- sometimes even lifelong. Mary Jeanne Kreek, who was part of the team that developed methadone treatment, explains that methadone and buprenorphine help correct brain changes that may require years of maintenance.

"It's just like treating depressive disorders. Most people on chronic antidepressants need those for a long time or life," says Kreek. "I think they're very analogous."

But even these administrative detoxes are less harsh than what patients face at clinics that simply cut them off. Because methadone is designed to remain stable in the body for long periods of time, withdrawal from a therapeutic dose may take up to a week to begin. Once it does, however, it is nearly unbearable. It's not necessarily the sweats and cold chills, aching bones, diarrhea, racing heart, nausea, and restless legs that make it so difficult. It's the fact that your brain thinks it's dying without the drug. That is part of the reason relapse rates after opioid detoxification are so high -- some estimates say 88 percent within three years, and up to 70 percent within six months.

Liz Hock Clark, a 59-year-old woman who has been on methadone for 34 years, says her clinic is one of many that simply ceases to dose patients who come in without payment in hand. She isn't sure if it's legal, but she's seen it done, and she's terrified it will happen to her.

Clark lives in a small apartment in West Virginia. She doesn't have much furniture, and there's no internet connection. If she needs to go online, she hops into her beat up 2000 Chevrolet Cavalier and drives to her cousin's house. She picks up odd jobs, like house cleaning and dog walking, in order to pay for her medication. She does janitorial maintenance for her building in exchange for rent on the apartment. It's tough on her body, but it allows her to put every penny she makes into methadone. Her clinic charges $15.50 a day. She says when she started methadone 34 years ago in Texas, it was $2 a day. She is terrified of the day when she doesn't have the money for her clinic, which she fears will be soon.

"I'm not afraid of relapse," she explains in her soft Southern drawl. "I'm afraid of dying. For someone my age, going cold turkey off 118 milligrams, I don't know if I'd survive."

Death from opioid withdrawal is rare, but because of her age, complications like cardiac arrest from a harsh detox are a credible fear.

"The thing is," she adds wistfully, "I don't want to get off methadone. I want to stay on it my whole life."

How do we help patients like Clark access these essential medications without becoming enslaved by the exploitative tactics of some providers? For starters, the burden of methadone and buprenorphine regulations needs to fall on providers rather than patients. And we need to have a lot more payment options for low-income people, who are already more vulnerable to addiction in the first place.

The preliminary report offered by the White House opioid commission asks for expansion of access to medication-assisted treatment. It does not, however, express the need for a mandate on clinics to accept Medicaid, or for any kind of internal restructuring that will make accepting Medicaid and other forms of insurance more attractive to clinics. Trump's attitude during his recent public health emergency declaration does not leave much hope that the commission's advice will be followed -- his $57,000 allocation will not come close to covering the cost gap. We'll need to do a lot more if we are going to serve Clark and other patients like her -- or like me -- before it's too late.

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Categories: Latest News

Speaking Truth in a World That Silences Women

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 21:00
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LIARS.

That's the White House "position" on the 12 women who have come forward with allegations of sexual assault against Donald Trump.

When CBS News correspondent Jacqueline Alemany asked, "Is the official White House position that all of these women are lying?" Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded, "Yeah, we've been clear on that from the beginning, and the president's spoken on it."

The press conference took place on October 27, less than two weeks after the New York Times, and then multiple media outlets, reported on dozens of women who had been sexually harassed or assaulted by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

Since then, women from all over the world have told their own stories of abuse and harassment in response to the #MeToo campaign on social media. Those speaking up have included celebrities abused by the likes of Weinstein and former President George Bush Sr., but also millions of women whose stories would otherwise be unknown.

#MeToo has also become a place for LGBTQ survivors of sexual violence to shine a light on the abuse they face in the shadows.

Despite all this, a familiar criticism is being heard about #MeToo -- that all these stories won't do anything constructive.

Some of the criticism comes from pretty questionable sources -- like National Review columnist Heather Wilhelm who claimed #MeToo encourages us to "cast stones at all men."

For others -- and here I mean people who actually take sexism seriously -- the criticism is that women telling their personal stories of sexual assault is neither a movement nor the way to win a world where abuse doesn't take place.

For some, this criticism reflects understandable impatience with the fact that women even have to talk about this today -- to bear witness to the reality of sexual harassment and assault -- decades after the women's liberation movement.

Undeniably, it is frustrating that this fight has to be waged at all. But that can't mean that the millions of women speaking out about their personal experiences are dismissed or relegated to a place of any less importance than they deserve.

***

First, it was important for women to simply break the silence -- because silence has played a leading role in the story of sexual abuse and harassment, not just on the part of serial offenders like Weinstein, but in a systemic way that affects a broad layer of women.

It's easy to marginalize women who dare to speak out. Trump has done it in the most direct way, by calling the accusations against him "fake news." But in workplaces around the country, women are being told to shut up in other ways -- speaking out could mean that they would get fired, for one.

When the New York Times interviewed women working in the offices of the California state government, they said there were "pages and pages of rules on how the system is supposed to work" -- but women didn't use trust or use them because "their attempts to seek redress can sometimes backfire and result in them being fired or shunned."

"Retaliation can come in the form of intimidation, public trashing or being blacklisted," 28-year-old Naveen Habib, who has been employed in government and lobbying in Sacramento since graduating college, told the Times. "Your career is effectively over because you snitched."

When women file complaints, the Times reported, "many harassment cases disappear into the court system, where the outcomes are often sealed as women sign nondisclosure agreements." This was exactly the same experience for serial abusers like Weinstein or Bill O'Reilly at Fox News, where the company protected the criminals by forcing women to agree not to say anything about their abuse.

In other words, even after a woman has stepped forward, she is silenced again during the process of seeking "justice."

And remember, the Times story was about what women endured in the offices of a state government -- and a famously liberal state to boot. Conditions in the workplaces of private employers are even worse.

A June 2016 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission study of workplace harassment reported that 90 percent of workers who say they have experienced harassment never take formal action. The most common workplace response is to "avoid the harasser" (33 percent to 75 percent); deny or downplay the gravity of the situation (54 percent to 73 percent); or attempt to ignore, forget or endure the behavior (44 percent to 70 percent).

"The fears that stop most employees from reporting harassment are well-founded," the EEOC report states. "One 2003 study found that 75 percent of employees who spoke out against workplace mistreatment faced some form of retaliation."

This should tell us that the act of speaking out -- and actually being heard -- is not only courageous, but an act of defiance against the status quo.

***

During theearly years of the women's movement of the 1970s, the idea that the "personal is political" was a way for women to take the examples of sexism and discrimination they faced in their personal lives -- sexual assault, illegal abortion, domestic violence, discrimination and harassment at work -- and give it a vocal political expression.

In this way, the burdens that women faced as individuals in isolation were linked with the experiences of others -- and generalized so that they could be seen as part of systematic sexism in US society at large.

As they shared experiences, many women also arrived at collective solutions to the problems that were too often viewed as "personal." For example, when a New York legislative committee refused to hear the testimony of numerous women during a hearing on abortion laws in 1969 -- the only testimony being presented was that of 14 men and a nun -- women organized a speak-out where they talked about their experiences obtaining illegal abortions.

Actions like these were repeated across the country, and the stories of women seeking to terminate their pregnancies under the often deadly conditions of illegality were brought out into the open.

In turn, the movement for women's rights, fortified by other movements for liberation, helped draw public attention to women's oppression in every corner of society, including the workplace.

Women who worked in "pink-collar" jobs and endured low pay, disrespect on the job and the threat on retaliation began speaking out about the harassment they faced.

In 1975, a group calling itself Working Women United organized a speak-out against sexual harassment at Cornell University, leafleting for it around campus and at Ithaca's two major factories, as well as local businesses. Women spoke publicly about sexual harassment on the job. The action led to an article in the New York Times and more actions by women in other workplaces.

An organizer recalls receiving an envelope containing a $20 bill with the message: "To help with the fight against sexual harassment. I can't sign my name."

Events like these that broke the silence helped create the conditions where women could see the possibility of confronting harassment in their own workplaces.

***

As the women's movement subsided and receded after the 1970s, the idea that "the personal is political" underwent a transformation. It became the slogan of a politics that emphasized individual and personal actions to combat systemic sexism -- as well as the idea that people who didn't personally suffer from oppression wouldn't fight against it.

As Megan Behrent wrote in the International Socialist Review:

At its best...the idea that the "personal is political" transformed consciousness by insisting on the need to understand the social, economic, cultural and political oppression of women as the basis for all "personal" problems that afflicted individual women.

At its most extreme, however, it could also lead to a rigid understanding of feminism that insisted that no person could fight a form of oppression he or she did not personally experience. In its later years, as the feminist movement itself collapsed amid myriad internal divisions, increasingly "the personal is political" came to represent an ideology that consciously advocated for individual or personal change as a solution to collective problems.

Three years ago, Emma Sulkowicz told her personal story of sexual assault as a freshman at Columbia University, and the administration's foot-dragging on her case, by carrying the mattress on which she had been assaulted throughout the year.

She "carried the weight" of that rape -- and an administration that did nothing for her -- until the day she graduated. But in so doing, she opened up a space for others to tell their stories and stand in solidarity with all survivors.

Contrary to the media's conventional wisdom, sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination are alive and well decades after the height of the women's movement. This is a fact that can no longer be swept under the rug.

A lot of organizing has to be done beyond #MeToo to begin confronting sexual harassment, pushing back on the attacks on Title IX and challenging the many forms women's oppression takes in US society.

But the fact that women are breaking the silence is an important development, especially since there are so many forces working to shut us up -- from employers to college administrations, to the police and courts, to the president of the United States.

Categories: Latest News

New York City Activists Protest Chinatown Gallery Exhibit for Being "Racism Disguised as Art"

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 21:00

Activists drop a banner reading "Racism disguised as art," in front of the James Cohan Gallery in Chinatown. (WNV/Louis Chan)

Artist Omer Fast's crass, stereotypical mock up of a business in pre-gentrified Chinatown has finally left New York City. His transformation of the James Cohan gallery into a dingy, fake storefront with a waiting area that proudly displayed a broken ATM sign, drew fire from the community. Its emphasis on depicting faux squalor was received as poverty porn. Both artist and venue were charged with mocking immigrants being driven from the neighborhood.

On October 28, protesters from the Chinatown Art Brigade, Decolonize This Place, Bushwick's Mi Casa No Es Su Casa, and the Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement hoisted a banner, which read "Racism disguised as art," across the faded awning Fast had installed. Faced with protesters banging drums and chanting "Chinatown, not for sale," the Israeli-American artist received quite the send off.

This symbolic intervention featured a conference with local Chinese language press and a bilingual speak-out about the pivotal role galleries and the art world play in gentrification. This was key, as residents and neighborhood advocates needed space to loudly decry the ongoing displacement and demand a municipal model that would protect the neighborhood. Activists say these issues are simultaneously connected to and bigger than the individual prejudices of Omer Fast and individuals like him.

In fact, the link between the art world and gentrifying developers deserves intense scrutiny. According to the Chinatown Art Brigade -- a collective of activists, artists and media makers committed to defending tenants rights and fighting evictions -- galleries are often involved in displacing the most vulnerable long-term residents in neighborhoods they enter. Viewed in that light, Fast and James Cohan's conduct was simply a particularly bold iteration of entrenched structural racism that abets creeping gentrification.

The Chinatown Art Brigade has worked alongside the Coalition Against Anti-Asian Violence and the Chinatown Tenant Union. They helped launch the "Here to Stay" project, which used massive outdoor projections to illuminate art "based on oral histories, photography and video created in community-led workshops." They have also confronted galleries for being implicated in the expulsion of 30 percent of the Chinese population and elimination of 50 percent of affordable housing throughout Chinatown and the Lower East Side.

This has catalyzed a drastic transformation of these neighborhoods. The galleries are a vanguard for pricey condos and megatowers that push out grocery stores and other services on which the community has relied. The gentrification of Chinatown is a brutal business. Ambitious landlords heap abuse on poorer tenants and reserve needed repairs for units intended for newer tenants with higher disposable incomes. At the same time, outlets like Paper and i-D ponder whether Chinatown is the "new Chelsea."

Residents and advocates protest gentrification of Chinatown outside the James Cohan Gallery. (WNV/Louis Chan)

In reality, an incoming population that is whiter and more affluent is receiving benefits largely withheld from the existing community. This isn't an entirely new phenomenon, though. This kind of discrimination has been integral to the historically racist treatment of Chinatown, which has taken many forms including unreliable trash collection and residential segregation. Today, these each factor into the exodus of Chinese and other residents of color from Lower Manhattan.

Moreover, gallery owners are directly involved in the real estate transformation that is making life in Chinatown prohibitively expensive. Marc Straus, for example, owns several properties near James Cohan that have been slated for demolition and replacement by a seven-story luxury building. On his website, it says his gallery at 299 Grand Street is located in what "began as a tenement and in the last century has housed various retail stores consistent with a changing population."

James Fuentes, who fastidiously emphasizes his Lower East Side and South Bronx roots, is a creative-class nomad, like many in the gallery scene. Fuentes has relocated several times, beginning on Broome Street and then settling at 55 Delancey Street two years ago. Gallery owners, it turns out, aren't immune to the rent cycle either. The difference is that they can pay more than Chinatown's working class residents. When there's a large gap between the disposable incomes of newer and established tenants, landlords see the opportunity to raise rents. Fuentes has noted this, saying that he "knew he was implicated from the minute" he signed a 10-year renewal on his latest space.

Fuentes waxes nostalgic about the Lower East Side -- and by extension Chinatown -- being a hub for the immigrant community. He is a fatalist about gentrification, though, convinced that the immigrant presence is bound to be supplanted and that galleries are the future of development. During an interview with the Art Dealers Association of America, he referenced Darwin when describing the "nature" of New York, explaining that "the species that survives is able to best adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself."

The Chinatown Art Brigade and its allies would dispute that sort of received wisdom. Presenting the transformation of Chinatown and the Lower East Side as an evolutionary process, where those who cannot adapt are naturally selected out, is in and of itself a historically racist position. It obscures how powerful entrepreneurs aggressively leverage their advantages, which were largely conferred by historic discrimination and segregation, over tenants.

The protest continues inside Omer Fast's racist exhibit at the James Cohan Gallery. (WNV/Louis Chan)

Individuals like Fuentes and Straus like to brand their ventures as small businesses. Fuentes has gone so far as to anoint his space a "Mom-and-Pop" fighting the good fight before the culture of Lower Manhattan gets erased. That framing, however, is relative. As Liz Moy, one of the brigade's activists, pointed out, a bakery in Chinatown would have to do significantly more business than a gallery to make rent, since the latter need only sell a few pieces. Moreover, the capital concentrated in galleries won't be reinvested in the neighborhood long term, at least not in ways that are immediately beneficial to the community. Straus' work demonstrates how investment in galleries eventually leads to building high-end condos.

This is why the Chinatown Art Brigade has been putting these owners on notice and fighting for an alternative development model in the neighborhood. Before the latest protest, a small contingent of organizers live-streamed a gallery tour in which they presented each owner with a pledge to support Chinatown's middle and lower-class residents' right to public and residential space, as well as initiatives to curb the impact of gentrification.

Last year, Margaret Lee of the 47 Canal gallery responded positively to a similar pledge. Straus, on the other hand, refused to look at the current version. Regardless, the gallery owners should know by now that those who won't respect Chinatown's existence can expect continued resistance.

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Categories: Latest News

There Is a New Urgency to the Threat of Nuclear Annihilation

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 21:00

Despite Trump's vows to seal the US border and eradicate ISIS, the real terrorists of the world today are the US and Russia. They possess 94 percent of the nuclear weapons on the planet, and they hold the rest of the world hostage to their provocative and self-serving foreign policies and misadventures. As a result, we are closer to nuclear war now than we've ever been before, even during the height of the Cold War.

In this photo provided by South Korea Defense Ministry, South Korea's Hyunmoo II ballistic missile is fired during an exercise at an undisclosed location in South Korea, Monday, September 4, 2017. (Photo: South Korea Defense Ministry via NUR)

For a while, it may have seemed that the threat of nuclear war had diminished. But Donald Trump's vow to increase and "upgrade" the United States nuclear arsenal, tensions between the US and North Korea, and the unsecured stockpiles of aging weapons around the globe make it clear we still need to be concerned about this apocalyptic danger. Order the timely new anthology Sleepwalking to Armageddon: The Threat of Nuclear Annihilation by donating to Truthout now!

In the following excerpt from her introduction to Sleepwalking to Armageddon, pioneering anti-nuclear activist Dr. Helen Caldicott explains why nuclear catastrophe is still a very real and pressing danger to humanity.

Despite Donald Trump's vows to seal the US border and eradicate ISIS, the real terrorists of the world today are the United States and Russia. They possess 94 percent of the nuclear weapons on the planet, and they hold the rest of the world hostage to their provocative and self-serving foreign policies and misadventures. As a result, we are closer to nuclear war now, at the start of the twenty-first century, than we've ever been before, even during the height of the Cold War.

While we must be concerned about global warming -- the other existential threat to the planet -- it is imperative that we do not take our eyes off the nuclear threat. To do so is to risk sleepwalking to Armageddon. Nine countries around the globe are known to have nuclear weapons, many of them on hair-trigger alert. In at least five separate locations in the world, two or more nuclear-armed countries are in actual or proxy wars or standoffs that could escalate at any time. And the United States has elected to the presidency a man who seems to feel that, because they exist, nuclear weapons ought to be used. Donald Trump has implied that he feels tactical nuclear weapons can be effectively employed in battle and seemed to imply in comments about Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia that he had few concerns about proliferation of nuclear weapons to additional countries.

Tony Schwartz, the co-writer of Trump's bestselling book Trump: The Art of the Deal, who spent eighteen months "camping out in [Trump's] office, joining him on his helicopter, tagging along at meetings, and spending weekends with him at his Manhattan apartment and his Florida estate," listening in on Trump's business meetings and phone conversations, told Jane Mayer of the New Yorker that if he were titling Trump's book today, instead of The Art of the Deal, Schwartz would call it The Sociopath. Schwartz has tweeted, "Trump is totally willing to blow up the world to protect his fragile sense of self. Please God don't give this man the nuclear codes." And Mayer reports that Schwartz said, "I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization."

During the Cold War, there were restraints on either side between Russia and America. Now, for the first time since the Cold War ended, Russia and America are confronting each other militarily with seemingly no restraints. During the political debate preceding the 2016 American presidential election, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton were overtly discussing the notion of bombing such countries as Syria, Iran, Yemen, and others. And all of them have discussed the use of nuclear weapons.

To understand what drives America's frighteningly militaristic stance and warmongering, follow the money. After the Cold War ended, US negotiators promised Mikhail Gorbachev that America would not enlarge NATO, and the world enjoyed a period of relative peace. But the United States reneged on its promise a few short years later: “No war” was bad for business! In 1997 Norman Augustine, the head of Lockheed Martin, traveled to Romania, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the other newly liberated Eastern European countries and asked: Do you want to join NATO and be a democracy? (Joining NATO doesn't make you a democracy.) But in order to join NATO, these small countries had to spend billions of dollars to buy weapons.

That's the dynamic that instigated NATO's expansion from the end of the Cold War to the present time -- right up to the border of Russia. Imagine if Russia expanded its territory to the border of Canada with the United States. Remember what America did when Russia placed nuclear weapons in Cuba? We were minutes from nuclear war.

More recently, Hillary Clinton has been a recipient of huge amounts of money from the military-industrial complex. So are most members of the US Congress and Senate, with the top donors including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, BAE Systems, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, and Airbus in Western Europe. America now wants to enlarge NATO forces and equipment to the tune of $3.4 billion. America also plans to spend $1 trillion over the next thirty years, replacing every single hydrogen bomb, submarine, ship missile, and airplane. In order for Barack Obama to persuade the US Senate to ratify the START III treaty in 2010, he had to promise Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), a leading conservative on military issues, that he would replace every single nuclear weapon and delivery system. In the context of these provocations, Vladimir Putin's speeches are actually very restrained.

During the Obama administration, conservatives in the US State Department, including Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland and her husband Robert Kagan, founder of the Project for a New American Century, as well as Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the United Nations, and others, have adopted a policy to prod and provoke Putin, and have overtly stated that they want "regime change" in Russia. Predictably, Russia is renewing its nuclear weapons in response, and so is China. Yes, the United States always sets the trend. Donald Trump, perhaps for nefarious reasons, has seemed more inclined to court Putin, which, in a small silver lining for his election as president, may actually defuse the situation in Ukraine and elsewhere.

But we also face proliferation of nuclear weapons in other countries, which could destabilize the balance of terror between Russia and the United States. India and Pakistan each have over a hundred nuclear weapons, because they were sold nuclear power plants which provided them with plutonium fuel that they turned into weapons. India's reactors were constructed with the help of Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Russia, while Pakistan's reactors were sourced with help from Canada and China. Neither of these countries is a signatory of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), nor is Israel, which is armed with up to two hundred H-bombs. And North Korea, which signed the NPT but withdrew in 2003, might have one or several bombs capable of blowing up a city or two.

But only Russia and America can destroy evolution, and the creation, which makes them the real terrorists of the world. Why don't the European countries stand up to America? Where is their courage? Do they need the American nuclear umbrella, with its potential to exterminate them all?

The global population doesn't realize just how little time exists for our leaders to make a decision about whether or not to use nuclear weapons even today. Former nuclear launch missile officer Bruce Blair wrote, "Russia has shortened the launch time from what it was during the Cold War. Top military command posts in [the] Moscow area can bypass the entire human chain of command, and directly fire by remote control, rockets in silos and on trucks, as far away as Siberia, in 20 minutes...."

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Cyberwarfare has made the situation worse. People are hacking into the early warning system in the Pentagon, and also in Russia. There are over one thousand verified attempted hacks into the Pentagon system per day. It's not clear if they are all separate people.

It is within the realm of possibility that sixteen-year-old boys -- very smart, minimal frontal lobe development, with little moral awareness -- might think it a good thing and a bit of fun to blow up the world. Indeed, in 1974 a sixteen-year-old from Britain hacked into the Pentagon network and into Lockheed Missiles and Space Company, in California.

Apparently an order to launch weapons in US missile silos is the length of a tweet. One hundred and forty characters! Missile crews then in turn transmit a short string of computer signals that immediately ignite the rocket engines of hundreds of land-based missiles. There are 440 land-based missiles in America, each armed with one or two hydrogen bombs, each many times larger than the Hiroshima bomb. It takes one minute to ignite the rocket engines -- sixty seconds. As Bruce Blair writes, "I practiced it a hundred times. We were called Minutemen. US submarine crews in Trident submarines, they can fire their missiles within 12 minutes." One minute? Twelve minutes? For humans to destroy evolution?

Copyright (2017) by Helen Caldicott. Not to be reprinted without permission of the publisher, The New Press.

Categories: Latest News

Afghanistan Inspector General Ready to Criticize War "The First Day I'm Out of This Job"

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 21:00

Inspector General John F. Sopko testifies before Congress on April 10, 2013. (Photo: Special IG for Afghanistan Reconstruction)

As the most prominent official overseeing the War in Afghanistan, John Sopko has made some enemies among hawks on Capitol Hill.

At a House Oversight Committee panel on Wednesday, Sopko had a warning for them.

"The first day I'm out of this job -- because it's not by job to talk policy -- I'm happy to publicly tell you what I really think about our mission in Afghanistan," he said.

The Special Inspector General of Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) was responding to a question from Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC).

A lawmaker since 1995, Jones has been a critic of US military intervention since the middle of last decade, after the War in Iraq. He isn't even on the Oversight Committee, but was allowed to participate in Wednesday's proceedings by Ron DeSantis (R-Fla), chair of the Subcommittee on National Security.

"I know there are people who don't appreciate you and your staff and what you do because many of them are in Congress," Jones said, referring to media reports last year.

In May 2016, Politico ran a lengthy article calling Sopko's work into disrepute, entitled "The Donald Trump of inspectors general." The piece featured claims that Sopko's analyses are flimsy, and that he's mostly interested in media attention.

The article centered on unattributed quotes from national security mandarins, and previously public criticism of Sopko, from John McCain (R-Ariz) and Jack Reed (D-RI), leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Sopko has served as SIGAR since 2012.

"Y'all are the truth tellers," Jones added on Wednesday. "The problem is Congress continues to pass, to waste money over there, and we can't even get a debate."

In July, House Republican leaders unilaterally stopped legislation that would have put an eight month sunset on the broad, vague post-9/11 law authorizing the War on Afghanistan and the Global War on Terror. It had been passed through committee overwhelmingly, without a recorded vote, and was proposed by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) -- the only lawmaker in both houses of Congress to vote against the so-called 2001 AUMF.

While there wasn't much criticism of Sopko at Wednesday's hearing, the subcommittee wasn't without harsh words for the watchdog.

"The more that we feed this narrative that our nation does not have the will and the resolve to get things done is part of the problem," Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.) said.

A veteran of Afghanistan, Russell, at one point, seemed to question the very idea of civilian oversight of ongoing military operations.

"What is hard for me as a warrior -- for most of my adult life -- it's always people sitting here talking to people sitting there, pointing bony fingers with red faces saying: 'why is this a failure?' Why did this go wrong? We should quit. We should pull out," he said.

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Categories: Latest News

As Elon Musk Proposes Taking Over Power Authority, Puerto Ricans Demand Community-Owned Solar Power

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 21:00

While in Puerto Rico this past weekend, Democracy Now! spoke to Ángel Figueroa Jaramillo, the head of UTIER, the electrical workers' union in Puerto Rico, about Elon Musk's proposal to make Puerto Rico the model of sustainable energy. We also visited the Casa Sol Bed and Breakfast in San Juan, which runs entirely on solar power.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: So, as the governor announced they were going to try to cancel this Whitefish Energy contract, on Sunday, we were in the offices of Ángel Figueroa Jaramillo. He is the head of UTIER, the electrical workers' union in Puerto Rico. We were asking him about Elon Musk's proposal to make Puerto Rico a model of sustainable energy. I asked him how to rebuild the devastated grid, if it's possible, in a more sustainable way, and whether solar power has to mean privatization.

ÁNGEL FIGUEROA JARAMILLO: [translated] First, the complexity of the electrical system of Puerto Rico, it's a totally isolated system. A system with a large amount of demand poses a major challenge in terms of looking at the possibility of solar power for powering the whole country. It's very complex. It requires many studies, a lot of analysis, many evaluations. And the people of Puerto Rico can't wait for all of that right now. Now, that doesn't mean that Puerto Rico doesn't have to look very seriously at the possibility of the transformation towards solar power. Nonetheless, the transformation that UTIER believes is most appropriate is -- are solar communities. The communities themselves should appropriate that system. It's not that we will become a commodity for renewable solar energy.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you interested in meeting with Tesla, Elon Musk or his representatives to figure out what a solar solution or a sustainable solution would be for Puerto Rico?

ÁNGEL FIGUEROA JARAMILLO: [translated] Yes. Yes, of course. Of course, yes. We have to meet and search for alternatives to transform the country. This doesn't mean that we're against -- I mean, in favor of this becoming privatized. I believe that we have to meet and have a dialogue. We have to search for alternatives. But we are very clear: All the alternatives have to be owned by the community.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Ángel Figueroa Jaramillo, the head of UTIER, the electrical workers' union in Puerto Rico.

Well, when we were in Puerto Rico, just before we got to his office on Saturday night, we stayed in an apartment. Like most of the country, it had no electricity. When we got there in the middle of the night, it was dark. But just next door, there was a bed and breakfast that did have electricity, because it was powered entirely by solar. This is Tisha Pastor, who runs the Casa Sol Bed and Breakfast in Old San Juan.

AMY GOODMAN: You have a bed and breakfast here in Calle Sol?

TISHA PASTOR: Sí, we have a bed and breakfast in Calle Sol. It's a sustainable building, so we have solar panels. And we have a well that we have from 2,000 to 3,000 gallons of water, clean water, because we have filters that clean that water. And some of them came from the roof, a little bit from the roof, the water.

AMY GOODMAN: So you got a lot of water during the hurricane.

TISHA PASTOR: Yeah, yeah. We've been working since two weeks and a half or three, receiving like firemen from New York, people who wanted to come and help. The first week was for neighbors that couldn't live without any water or electricity, so they need a respiratory thing to sleep. And we helped the neighborhood with our fridge to reserve water and stuff and like cooling their water.

AMY GOODMAN: And you have solar panels?

TISHA PASTOR: We have solar panels.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you show us?

TISHA PASTOR: Sí. We have 30 solar panels. And we have the solar panels here. And because of that, we can receive people, and we can help the community as much as we can. We do kind of a -- everybody came here, can take the ice, take the water and put the ice on the fridge, and, in the afternoon, can take it back home. So we help the community as much as we can.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, now there isn't clean water in this neighborhood, except for what you have. And there's no electricity, except for what you have.

TISHA PASTOR: Well, there is -- we don't have electricity, but now we have clean water. Since two days ago, they fixed our pumps from -- for the neighborhood. And now we have the water. At least we have water, since two days ago.

AMY GOODMAN: But you have electricity because of the solar panels --

TISHA PASTOR: Sí, we have --

AMY GOODMAN:  -- not because of the city.

TISHA PASTOR: No, not because of the city, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Right. And the water, would you drink it?

TISHA PASTOR: Here, yeah, because we have filters. And with the filters, we can drink the water, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Tisha Pastor, who runs Casa Sol Bed and Breakfast in Old San Juan. So, right next to her, we stayed, and there was no electricity, as in most of the island, Juan. But this issue of can a sustainable grid be built, and does it necessarily have to mean privatization?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I don't think it does require privatization. But I do think that the issue of solar power and wind power in Puerto Rico is really the key to the future of the island's energy independence, because right now Puerto Rico requires oil to power 50 percent of its electrical capacity, while in the United States I think it's less than 1 percent or 2 percent of US generating capacity comes from oil. Another 15 to 20 percent of Puerto Rico's generating capacity comes from natural gas, and another big percentage from coal. So renewables --

AMY GOODMAN: Imported coal.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Imported -- well, everything is imported. The oil, the gas and the coal, they're all imported. So that the reality is that as long as Puerto Rico depends on imported fossil fuels to power its electrical grid, not only is it polluting -- continuing to pollute the planet, but it's also being dependent on the suppliers. So, the energy independence for Puerto Rico is really a national issue that requires a immediate solution, and the best solution is clearly solar and wind power.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, that does it for today's report on Puerto Rico. We'll be bringing you reports across the week, just having returned from Puerto Rico. And let's not forget that on Monday U.N. experts condemned the US's handling of the disaster in Puerto Rico, saying the response was ineffective, that the mainland states of Florida and Texas had received far more support after being struck by hurricanes than Puerto Rico. And we'll see what happens with San Juan's mayor, who flew up to Washington, DC, for a hearing today, which, when she landed in DC, was canceled.

When we come back, a federal judge blocks part of President Trump's transgender military ban. We'll speak with a trans former marine who's challenging the ban. Stay with us.

Categories: Latest News

Shocking New Investigation Links Berta Cáceres's Assassination to Executives at Honduran Dam Company

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 21:00

We look at shocking revelations released Tuesday that link the assassination of renowned Honduran indigenous environmental leader Berta Cáceres to the highest levels of the company whose hydroelectric dam project she and her indigenous Lenca community were protesting. We speak with New York Times reporter Elisabeth Malkin, who has read the new report by a team of five international lawyers who found evidence that the plot to kill Cáceres went up to the top of the Honduran energy company behind the dam, Desarrollos Energéticos, known as "DESA." The lawyers were selected by Cáceres's daughter Bertha Zúniga and are independent of the Honduran government's ongoing official investigation. They examined some 40,000 pages of text messages. The investigation also revealed DESA exercised control over security forces in the area, issuing directives and paying for police units' room, board and equipment.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

New York Truck Attack Being Investigated as "Act of Terror"

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 21:00

Investigators work around the wreckage of a Home Depot pickup truck, a day after it was used to attack pedestrians, in New York on November 1, 2017. (Photo: JEWEL SAMAD / AFP / Getty Images)

This is a breaking news story and will likely be updated...

Eight people were killed and a dozen injured Tuesday after a man drove a rented pickup truck down a bike lane in lower Manhattan, plowing into cyclists and colliding with a school bus. After driving for several blocks, the man exited the truck and -- according to witnesses -- fired a weapon that may have been a pellet gun. Shortly thereafter, the suspect was shot by police and taken into custody.

The incident is being investigated as a terrorist attack. The police say they are not searching for any other suspects.

CBS News posted a video of scene:

"The actual number of injured at this point is still unclear," @AnthonyMasonCBS reports on Lower Manhattan attack https://t.co/fad8qNTMeb pic.twitter.com/7lRGT1n6eC

— CBS News (@CBSNews) October 31, 2017

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo traveled to the scene Tuesday and gave a press conference with updates from police that evening. Both the mayor and governor referred to the event as an "act of terror."

BREAKING: NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio says "this was an act of terror"; at least eight people dead. https://t.co/pkCObWn0sZ pic.twitter.com/uGi6EJVnwH

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) October 31, 2017

The New York Times reported later Tuesday evening that the suspect had been identified as 29-year-old Sayfullo Saipov, and that he was in critical condition after being shot by a police officer in the abdomen. "Saipov came to the United States from Uzbekistan in 2010, and had a green card that allowed permanent legal residence," according to the Times, which noted he had lived in Paterson, New Jersey, and Tampa, Florida.

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As Congress Finally Questions Endless War, Activists Call for Resurgence of Antiwar Movement

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 21:00

With Donald Trump in the White House, leading Democrats and other lawmakers are questioning the broad power enjoyed by the executive branch to wage the seemingly endless war on terror. However, don't expect Democrats in Washington to bring an end to the "forever war." Activists say that effort must come from the grassroots.

Activists march against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on March 9, 2011, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo: Fibonacci Blue)

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Last summer at the Democratic National Convention, a group of delegates loudly interrupted former CIA director and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta as he attempted a takedown of Donald Trump's views on foreign policy, chanting "no more war." The next evening, Gen. John Allen faced the same chant as he delivered a speech during the convention's final session.

Bernie Sanders had boldly energized the Democratic Party's progressive base, bringing with him delegates who questioned the party leadership on a number of issues, including their ongoing support for perpetual war overseas. At the time, polls suggested that antiwar sentiments among Democrats had grown during the final years of the Obama administration. However, this was not enough to prevent a hawkish Hillary Clinton from winning the nomination with help from the party establishment.

The Clinton campaign would go on to effectively take voters in its base for granted, pushing policies that prioritized "elusive" Republican swing voters instead, according to a new "autopsy" of the Democratic Party released by progressive activists who have formed Action for a Progressive Future, a 501(c)4 organization. As a result of this skewed prioritization, Clinton and the Democrats suffered from low turnout among young people, people of color and the working class, helping Donald Trump secure an upset that has placed him at the helm of the world's largest military.

Fast forward to today. Any hope that the White House might take steps toward ending the 16-year "war on terror" spanning multiple continents was dashed on Monday when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where a number of lawmakers are considering options for reasserting Congress's authority over when, where and how the nation makes war overseas.

In response to questions from senators concerned about the recent deaths of four US soldiers in Niger and President Trump's handling of North Korean nuclear threats, Mattis and Tillerson claimed that the threats posed by "transnational" enemies of the United States continue to "mutate" and "morph." Any attempt by Congress to limit the military's ability to go anywhere in the world and fight anti-US Islamic groups for as long as necessary would be a mistake, they said.

Senators Question Unlimited Power for Endless War

Lawmakers called in President Trump's top national security officials to discuss the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that has allowed the executive branch wide-ranging powers to wage war over the past 16 years. Congress passed the AUMF in 2001, in the emotional days following the 9/11 attacks. The authorization allowed the Bush administration to pursue Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and it continues to be the legal justification for a broad range of military operations in countries across Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

The operation which killed four elite US soldiers and several Niger troops was authorized not by the AUMF, but by the federal law outlining the basic role of the military.

Today, US forces are deployed and equipped for combat in 19 different countries, according to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Every year, the US spends about $100 billion maintaining 800 military bases in 70 countries across the globe.

Senators from both parties said members of Congress never expected that the AUMF would still be used to justify combat operations a decade and a half after its initial passage against groups like ISIS (also known as Daesh), which did not exist in 2001. There is a growing interest, at least in the Senate, to consider a new AUMF that would force debate over a seemingly endless war on terror that has expanded the US military footprint to the far reaches of the globe.

There's little doubt that senators in both parties are motivated by the fact that a former reality TV show star with a penchant for framing US foreign policy with explosive statements on Twitter is now the military's commander in chief. The big question facing lawmakers is whether a new use of force authorization should include restrictions on how the so-called "forever war" is waged, including, for example, limits on the number of troops that can be deployed in foreign countries.

Mattis and Tillerson pushed back against proposals for limitations, arguing that a renewed AUMF should not include restrictions on where US forces can operate geographically, what resources they can use and how long they can be there. The Trump administration asserts -- as the Bush and Obama administrations did before it -- that the president and Pentagon have broad authority to wage war against Islamic extremists around the world.

"We cannot afford to have any gap in terms of our authorities," Tillerson said.

The military enjoys "authority" to operate overseas outside of the 2001 authorization, of course. Mattis revealed that the operation in early October in which militants killed four elite US soldiers and several Niger troops was authorized not by the AUMF, but by the federal law outlining the basic role of the military in defending the country. This section of US Code has been interpreted to authorize "train-and-advise" missions with local forces in Niger and many other countries.

The Antiwar Movement and the Future of the Democratic Party

Sen. Cory Booker, the Democratic Party's rising star from New Jersey, pointed out that the US creates more terrorists when it partners with brutal regimes in countries like Nigeria and Saudi Arabia that have a record of killing civilians and other human rights atrocities. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) questioned whether the White House is seeking a "permanent transition of power" that takes Congress out of the picture.  

Could such criticism from leading Democrats after years of complicity with the international war machine be a sign that the party is ready to listen to its progressive base and take a more antiwar stance in the Trump era? Not so fast, says Norman Solomon, an antiwar activist and journalist who co-authored "Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis."

"We got to raise hell from the grassroots to turn the party around, and in turn, the whole country."

"One has to wonder how deep and wide within the Democratic Party the genuine opposition to perpetual war really is," Solomon told Truthout.

Solomon drew an analogy to another cause championed by progressives: single-payer health care. Democrats in the California legislature successfully passed single-payer legislation in 2006 and 2008, knowing full well that then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, would veto it. Progressives launched a renewed push for single-payer under a Democratic governor last year, but the bill famously never made it to the governor's desk despite a Democratic majority.

"I draw the analogy because we have not seen during the eight years of the Obama administration any substantial movement from the Democratic members of the House or Senate to stop perpetual war," Solomon said.

Barack Obama originally ran for president on an antiwar platform, and much of his base of support was passionately against the war in Iraq. However, he did not untangle the country from the quagmire created by his predecessor, despite attempts to replace troops on the ground with indigenous security forces and high-tech killer drones. (Of course, drone attacks are an act of war, not an end to war.) Despite this disappointment, much of Obama's base remained loyal to the president. The antiwar movement dwindled, but never died.

Now, Solomon says, the push to end the "forever war" must come from the progressive movement itself, and it's time to rededicate energy toward challenging US militarism and imperialism overseas. While Democratic lawmakers may question the president's authority to wage endless war, they are still part of a political system in which the military-industrial complex holds a considerable amount of wealth and political power.

"We, as the US public overall, have been led by the nose to accept perpetual war," Solomon said. "I think there is a notable lack of enthusiasm for perpetual war, but that is different than the active opposition that I think we really need."

In their "autopsy" report, Solomon and his co-authors argue that the base voters neglected by Clinton and the Democrats in 2016 are not only the people who can lead the charge to end the war on terror, they are also the future of the Democratic Party, if only the party could see it. People of color will make up the majority of the working class by 2032, and countless young people are energized by grassroots calls to reject environmental destruction, institutional racism, economic equality and endless war.

"If the Democratic Party is to determine how to truly connect with this new universe of voters -- and young people overall -- the party must grasp that the high support for Sanders from those voters in the 2016 primaries and his enduring popularity are markers for a sustained progressive wave," the authors of the report conclude. "The Democratic Party can learn to ride that wave or choose to duck under it."

What course leading Democrats in Washington will choose in the Trump era remains to be seen. In the meantime, Solomon said people who oppose endless war must get (or stay) active and fight for a Democratic Party that is built by the participation of its base instead of by insiders who lock the grassroots out.

"We got to raise hell from the grassroots to turn the party around, and in turn, the whole country," Solomon said.

Categories: Latest News

Seven Southern Elections to Watch in November

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 21:00
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Off-year elections -- those held in odd-numbered years when neither a presidential election nor a midterm election takes place -- don't tend to get a lot of national attention. Only five states, most of them in the South, conduct statewide elections on off years: Virginia and New Jersey in the year after presidential elections, and Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi in the year before presidential elections.

This year, however, Virginia's off-year gubernatorial election is front and center among politics watchers, as beleaguered Democrats look for signs of hope ahead of next year's midterms. In 2018, all seats are up for grabs in the US House, which Republicans now control by a margin of 227 to 192. Democrats nationwide will also have a chance to gain ground in legislatures ahead of the 2020 census, after which state lawmakers will draw new congressional and legislative district lines.

"We're Ground Zero," as Virginia Democratic Party chairperson Susan Swecker told the Washington Post. "All eyes are on us."

But off-year wins don't necessarily translate to midterm and presidential victories: In 2013, for example, Democrats swept Virginia's three statewide elections only to lose the US Senate a year later.

For Virginians, the upcoming election couldn't be more important as they will be deciding not only on a new governor but also a lieutenant governor, attorney general and representatives in the state House of Delegates. Elsewhere around the South, several major cities are holding mayoral elections in November, with Atlanta's primary followed by a likely runoff in December and heated runoffs underway in New Orleans and Raleigh, North Carolina.

Here are seven key races to watch around the South, all of which will be held on Nov. 7 except for New Orleans' Nov. 18 runoff:

Virginia Governor: "Ground Zero" for Democratic Hopes

Pitting current Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam against former Republican National Committee chair and lobbyist Ed Gillespie, Virginia's open gubernatorial race promises to be the most widely watched of the election season. Both candidates staved off tough primary challenges -- Northam from populist former US Rep. Tom Perriello for Northam, Gillespie from far-right Confederate flag defender Corey Stewart -- thus setting up a general-election battle between establishment candidates.

A business-friendly moderate, Northam -- a former Army physician and pediatric neurologist -- stands to benefit from current Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe's popularity in Virginia, where governors cannot run for consecutive terms. Also working in his favor is President Trump's low approval rating of just 35 percent in a state he lost by six points last year. Gillespie, despite his establishment bona fides and career as a lobbyist, has embraced the anti-immigration rhetoric of Trump. Meanwhile, Northam is significantly out-fundraising Gillespie, with just under $22.8 million raised as of Sept. 30 compared to Gillespie's $14.8 million.

While polling averages show Northam with a 4-point lead, a recent Hampton University poll shook Democrats when it showed Gillespie up by 8. But as the Washington Post explained, the pollster's unusual methods have led to unreliable results in the past.

Virginia Lieutenant Governor: A Stark Ideological Choice

Democratic attorney Justin Fairfax and attorney and Republican state Sen. Jill Vogel are vying to replace Northam as the state's second-highest elected official in a race that pits a progressive black Democrat against a white Trump supporter.

A 38-year-old former assistant US attorney and private litigator, Fairfax first ran for office in 2013 but lost his bid to be Virginia's attorney general. Despite that run, Fairfax was a party outsider prior to this race, with the Richmond-Times Dispatch noting in a profile that he's only spoken to Gov. McAuliffe "in passing." He also drew complaints that he was trying to "divide the party" last year after his campaign said his being denied a speaking slot at a state party convention was "deeply unfortunate."

But the party has warmed up to Fairfax: The Democrats have called him a "rising star," and he picked up the endorsement of the two top Democrats in the state Senate. In June, he won a three-person primary for lieutenant governor, defeating his main competitor Susan Platt 49 percent to 39 percent.

His race against Vogel presents Virginia voters with a stark ideological choice.

Fairfax is running on progressive policies that include raising the minimum wage and criminal justice reform. In addition, he has declined to take donations from Dominion Energy, a Richmond-based company that's the lead developer of the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline proposed to run from West Virginia through Virginia to North Carolina.

Vogel, on the other hand, is running on a platform that calls for reducing regulations and cutting taxes. Meanwhile, her law firm has stirred controversy for its role in voting rights cases in Louisiana and North Carolina. And Vogel herself has come under criticism for making a racially charged comment about Fairfax, who was also curiously omitted from a Northam canvassing flier.

Vogel has raised $2.6 million since last year compared to $2.3 million by Fairfax. But in September, Fairfax raised over twice as she did -- over $600,000 compared to under $300,000 -- and has three times as much cash on hand, $568,304 as opposed to $168,493 for Vogel. According to a poll conducted last month by Christopher Newport University, Fairfax has a slim four-point advantage over Vogel, just outside the margin of error.

Virginia Attorney General: Another Term for a Liberal?

Virginia's only statewide officeholder running for re-election is Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring, who's facing Republican political newcomer John Adams. Herring has earned a reputation as one of the country's more liberal attorney generals, while Adams, a government investigations and white-collar litigation attorney and US Navy veteran, is a social conservative whose website quotes deceased US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark 2015 decision legalizing gay marriage.

Elected in 2013, Herring decided upon taking office that he wouldn't defend the state's gay marriage ban and later declined to defend the state's voter ID law. His actions have drawn the ire of legislative Republicans, who earlier this month launched an investigation into his office's civil asset forfeiture revenues and whether it properly reviewed state contracts.

While Adams maintains that he wants to keep the attorney general's office politics-free, his campaign is emphasizing his social conservatism. For example, when Oklahoma-based retail crafts chain Hobby Lobby sued the federal government on religious freedom grounds over the Affordable Care Act's provision requiring companies to provide free contraceptive coverage to employees, Adams was the lawyer for 15 Republican members of Congress who filed a brief in support of the company. The case ultimately went to the US Supreme Court, and Hobby Lobby won.

In this race, Adams has attacked Herring for refusing to defend the gay marriage ban. "When I was a naval officer, if you didn't do your job, people would get hurt or killed," he said in a recent debate, alluding to Herring's decision. "When I was a federal prosecutor, if you didn't do your job, dangerous people would be put back out into our community."

Though the Republican Attorneys General Association pumped $900,000 into the Adams campaign earlier this month, Herring still has a fundraising advantage of $2.8 million, the Washington Post reports. Herring also maintains a slim lead over Adams in polling.

Virginia House of Delegates: Women Rise Up

The upcoming elections in Virginia are not only bellwethers for next year's midterms but also exemplify a nationwide development that some attribute to the backlash against President Trump: a surge in women running for office.

An unprecedented 51 Democratic women competed in primary races for the Virginia House of Delegates this year, up from 26 who filed in 2015. Of those, 31 are advancing to the general election in November. They include 26 first-time Democratic women candidates, according to The Nation.

Republicans currently hold a 66- to 34-seat advantage in the lower chamber of Virginia's state legislature, and they're unlikely to lose that in this year's election. Gov. McAuliffe recently predicted that the Democrats would pick up between six and eight House seats -- far short of the 17 they'd need to take control of the chamber.

But Republicans need to pick up just one seat to return to the veto-proof supermajority they held in the state House during the first two years of McAuliffe's term. That means there's a possibility that even if Northam wins the governor's race he could be up against a veto-proof supermajority in the House. After all, even when Democrats swept Virginia's 2013 statewide elections, Republicans picked up a seat in the House of Delegates.

The Virginia Senate, which elects its members in four-year terms, will hold its next election in 2019. That chamber is currently controlled by Republicans by a slim margin of 21 to 19.

New Orleans Mayor: Breaking a Barrier for Black Women

When New Orleans voters go to the polls to choose a new mayor on Nov. 18 to replace popular but term-limited Democrat Mitch Landrieu, they will make history by electing the first African-American woman to the post. It's just a question of which one.

In the Oct. 14 primary, Democratic city councilwoman, longtime community activist and charter school co-founder LaToya Cantrell topped the field of 18 mayoral candidates with 39 percent of the vote. She was followed by former judge Desiree Charbonnet, also a Democrat, with 30 percent of the vote. The two women will face off in the city's municipal elections on Nov. 18. (This is the first time New Orleans elections will be held in the fall as opposed to February and March, a change made in an effort to improve voter turnout.)

Cantrell is running as a populist looking to bridge the gap between the rapidly gentrifying city's rich and poor, with a campaign focusing on a "tale of two cities." As she told The Advocate newspaper in a recent interview,"That disparity just hits you, up close and personal."

Charbonnet, who served as an Orleans Parish municipal judge for a decade, wants to tackle crime in the city and boasts a record of creating diversion programs for nonviolent offenders. She has lined up significant endorsements including US Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Democrat whose district includes most of New Orleans and the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Charbonnet leads in leads in fundraising, having taken in $1.3 million as of Oct. 4. That's more than double the $618,650 Cantrell raised in that same period.

Atlanta Mayor: Women Leaders Vie for City's Top Spot

The race to replace Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, a Democrat who has frequently been mentioned as a potential candidate for higher office, has a crowded field of eight. It's led by two city councilors, both women: independent Mary Norwood, who is white, and Democrat Keisha Lance Bottoms, who is African-American. (Neither would be the city's first woman or black woman mayor, however; that honor is held by Shirley Franklin, who served from 2002 to 2010.)

The race has focused on problems that have afflicted other fast-growing cities, with concerns about infrastructure, traffic woes and the city's growing homeless population dominating the campaign.

A former radio station executive who owns a communications company, Norwood narrowly lost to Reed in 2009. In her second try she is focusing on public safety but has found herself in hot water for courting the state Republican Party. Bottoms -- a lawyer and former executive director of the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority who has Reed's endorsement -- says she wants to "be a good partner" with the city's business community but doesn't want to "leave [Atlanta's] communities behind."

Running a distant third is Democrat Peter Aman, a former chief operating officer for the city under Reed and a former partner at Bain & Company global management consultancy; his focus is rebuilding Atlanta's infrastructure. The other candidates are current Atlanta City Council President Caesar Mitchell, former council President Cathy Woolard, city council member Kwanza Hall, Bernie Sanders-aligned state Sen. Vincent Fort, and Fulton County Commission Chair John Eaves, all Democrats.

Mitchell and Aman are the top fundraisers, raking in more than $2 million each in contributions, Atlanta Loop reported. Norwood has raised $1.3 million, while Bottoms is right behind her with $1.2 million.

In a poll conducted earlier this month, Norwood led the field at just over with 22 percent, with Bottoms within the margin of error at 19 percent. Aman at 13 percent was the only other candidate above 10 percent, with 20 percent of voters undecided.

The first round of voting will be held on Nov. 7. If no candidate crosses the 50 percent-plus-one-vote threshold, a runoff will be held on Dec. 5.

Raleigh mayor: A Racial Divide in the Capital City

While North Carolina has been at the center of controversy in recent years for the far-right politics of its legislature, elections in its fast-growing capital city have been relatively noncontroversial affairs, with moderately progressive mayors leading Raleigh since 2001 and winning re-election by wide margins -- until this year.

In a three-way, officially nonpartisan blanket primary held on Oct. 10, incumbent Mayor Nancy McFarlane -- a political independent who is socially progressive and business friendly -- came in first in a field of three but failed to get over 50 percent of the vote needed to avoid a runoff, which was called for by the second-place finisher, Democratic attorney Charles Francis. McFarlane, a retired pharmacist and business owner who is white, won the city's wealthier, whiter areas while Francis, who is African-American, won the predominantly black neighborhoods and neighborhoods frustrated with the city's rapid development. The third-place finisher, Republican Paul Fitts, got less than 15 percent of the vote compared to 48 percent for McFarlane and 36 percent for Francis.

A self-described "fiscal conservative," Francis has campaigned on the growing divide between the rich and poor. Though McFarlane was instrumental in the passage of a tax increase that's providing an additional $6 million a year for affordable housing, Francis has accused her of not doing enough to help Raleigh's have-nots in the rapidly gentrifying city. North Carolina law prohibits local inclusionary zoning ordinances that require developers to set aside a percentage of units as affordable housing.

While Francis is running as an outsider, he has picked up the endorsements of both the local Democratic and Republican parties as well as Fitts. However, in the runoff he lost the endorsement of the LGBTQ rights group Equality NC, which had given the nod to both him and McFarlane in the October election; the group cited his support for former Republican state Sen. Fred Smith, a prominent backer of a state constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage before it was struck down by the federal courts.

This election also showed the limits of fundraising in local races. The top two fundraisers in the races for Raleigh city council both lost, and although McFarlane slightly outspent Francis in the blanket primary by $167,000 to $163,500 it wasn't enough to avoid a runoff.

In the second round, Francis would have to boost turnout significantly and pick up nearly all of Fitts' voters to have a chance at toppling McFarlane. But his strong showing illustrates a deep dissatisfaction with the uneven distribution of economic gains in one of the South's boomtowns.

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Sunday Hot Takes: Sexual Harassment Edition

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 21:00
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"We Draw the Line": Lummi Nation Connects With Museum to Grow the Climate Justice Movement

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 21:00

Every year since 2013, the Lummi Nation of northern Washington State has delivered totem poles to Indigenous communities whose sacred land and water are threatened by fossil fuel projects. This year, they have teamed up with The Natural History Museum to deliver exhibits around the country to educate the public and build alliances in their fight against fossil fuels.

The Lummi Nation totem pole. (Photo: Neal Anderson)

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Smoke from burning buffalo sage and red cedar circles over a recently carved totem pole. Indigenous tradition says wherever there is sage, evil spirits cannot enter. An elder from the Lummi Nation -- a coastal Salish fishing people who've lived for millennia on Washington State's Northwest coast -- drums and chants. He urges the crowd gathered at a Seattle church to touch the totem pole and offer blessings for its cross-country journey. Hands reach out to touch an image of a nine-foot bear. At its side are images of salmon and salmon eggs, painted in blue and red ocher. Bears are a part of Lummi mythology, says master carver Jewell James. If rivers and lands are polluted, salmon won't spawn. Bears won't eat. At the top of the totem pole is a bowl representing the full moon. Seated next to it is a tribal member performing a fire ceremony, which in Native tradition offers an opportunity to release energy or emotions from the past.

Since 2013, the Lummi Nation has taken totem poles on yearly journeys. Each year, the totem pole has been delivered to a different tribal community confronting fossil fuel projects which threaten sacred lands and waters: the Northern Cheyenne and Crow fighting coal mining in Wyoming and Montana; the Sioux fighting the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota. The totem pole journeys are meant to unite and strengthen cooperation between tribes and faith-based, environmental and community allies.

We're the first generation to recognize climate change and we're the last generation that can do something about it before it's too late.

This year, the totem pole journey is doing something different. It's collaborating with a museum to draw attention to fossil fuel development and climate change. The exhibit, "Kwel Hoy': We Draw the Line," is a collaboration between the Lummi Nation and The Natural History Museum. Created by a New York-based collection of artists, scientists and activists three years ago to bring attention to current natural world challenges like climate change into the museum environment, The Natural History Museum is a mobile/pop-up museum. Named in the New York Times and Artnet's "Best of Art in 2015," the group's work has been widely exhibited in museums nationally and internationally. "Kwel Hoy'" opened at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on October 25 for a six-month stay. In the spring of 2018, the exhibit is slated to move to other museums.

Museums as Education Hubs

Surveys show the US public considers museums, especially science and natural history museums, to be among their most trusted sources of information. They see more visitors than theme parks and sporting events combined. "When we learned about the Lummi totem pole journey," says Beka Economopoulos, co-curator of The Natural History Museum, "we thought it presented an incredibly powerful way to build alliances and help the public understand why Indigenous and allied communities are drawing a line in the sand to block fossil fuel projects." The exhibit includes the totem pole, a documentation of its journey from Washington State to Pennsylvania, and objects collected on the journey: a jar of water from the Columbia River contaminated with coal; a mural collectively painted by dozens of people -- Indigenous and non-Indigenous -- along the totem pole journey, and a 150-year-old sacred pipe. These "aren't just static objects to be isolated and preserved by an institution," said Economopoulos. Instead, they're charged with the stories of resilience they've picked up on their cross-country journey.

Totem poles are powerful symbols, says Jewell James, the Lummi master carver. And symbols are based on experience "that allow people to interpret what they see based on how they feel inside." Carl Jung says we dream in symbols, James adds, which connect us to the collective unconscious. "We hope the totem touches into a deeper chord and moves people to action. We always say it's your constitutional right to assemble and speak out, but you need to make those rights so important to yourself that you'll stand up and use them. Without you ... how are we going to make the change from a fossil fuel economy to a clean energy one?"

The intensity, frequency and duration of hurricanes, droughts, fires, sea level rise and warming rivers has seen a shift in public awareness about changes in extreme weather and climate events. But time is running out, said Freddie Lane, a Lummi photographer and documentary filmmaker traveling with the totem pole. "People need to ask why we're burning fossil fuels for energy. Why are we destroying the Earth? We're the first generation to recognize climate change and we're the last generation that can do something about it before it's too late." The exhibit and totem journey are about bringing that message to communities in all states, regardless of political affiliation.

If museums like The Natural History Museum can nurture a chain of solidarity with peoples across the country who are waging climate fights, says Economopoulos, it will go a long way to foster "an informed appreciation of the rich and diverse world we've inherited and need to preserve ... for posterity."

A Lummi woman burns sage. (Photo: Neal Anderson)

The Pacific Northwest: The Fossil Fuel Market Nexus

The Pacific Northwest, the region the Lummi Nation inhabits, stands squarely between fast-growing energy markets in Asia and large fossil fuel deposits, including coal, oil and gas in the interior of North America. In order to reach these markets, energy companies like Kinder Morgan and Energy Transfer Partners have proposed to build a range of large fossil fuel infrastructure projects in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. Seven new coal terminals, two new oil pipelines, 15 oil-by-rail facilities, six new gas pipelines and multiple petrochemical projects have been proposed in the last five years.

The Lummi Nation prevailed in one of the Pacific Northwest's biggest fossil fuel fights: a proposal to build the largest coal port ever proposed in North America at Cherry Point, on the coast of Washington. Cherry Point is the last undeveloped bit of shore on a deep-water cove, between a smelter and two oil refineries. Some of the last remaining herring and salmon runs go through these waters. In May of 2016, the US Army Corp of Engineers, the agency reviewing permits for the deep-water port project, agreed that it couldn't grant a permit for a project that would infringe on the Lummi Nation's treaty-protected fishing rights. The 34-page decision was celebrated by community groups and tribes all over the Northwest that opposed the coal port.

The Sierra Club, Earth Ministry and others were actively engaged in the multi-year fight to stop the Cherry Point coal terminal. "Now," says Victoria Leistman, a Sierra Club organizer, "We're shifting resources to support the work of folks who are being impacted first and worst." It's the Lummi's fisheries and way of life that are being wiped out. They're also "a strong example of a victory story," she says. The decision to reject the Cherry Point proposal followed federal obligations to protect tribal treaty rights and the habitat that makes those reserved rights meaningful. It was also based on the fact that the coal terminal was upland from one of the Lummi's oldest and largest villages and burial grounds.

A Surge of Fossil Fuel Projects

Since 2012, British Columbia, Oregon and Washington have seen a surge of fossil fuel proposals. Six coal terminals have been defeated and one is in litigation. One oil pipeline has been defeated and the other, Canada's Kinder Morgan pipeline, is being challenged by First Nations in British Columbia. Seven of the 15 oil-by-rail facilities have been pushed back.

"Coal, oil and fracked gas proposals are separate waves of a tsunami," said Eric de Place, energy policy director with Sightline Institute, a Washington State-based think tank. The first were coal and oil projects. The third and most contentious to date are gas and petrochemical projects, which de Place calls a "fracking beast" because they have so many tentacles. The proposals are coming from the same industry trying to push coal and oil through the region, he says. Projects range from methanol, xylene and liquefied natural gas to liquefied petrochemical projects. De Place's research also finds the projects would consume large quantities of fresh water, create potentially serious safety and public health risks to local communities, release various forms of toxic contaminants into the air and water, and increase the region's carbon pollution load.

Since many of the projects drive Canada's fracked gas industry, tribal communities in the Northwest will have First Nation allies.

"Indian nations are saying 'no more,'" says Jewell James. "We're protectors, protecting the land and the water for everyone."

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Bracing for Right to Work, Public Sector Unions Up the Ante

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 21:00

The whole public sector will likely become "right to work" next year, barring another miracle at the Supreme Court.

Once the conservative majority rules in Janus v. AFSCME, likely before June, life will change for unions in the 23 states that till now have rejected right-to-work laws. Public sector unions in those states will no longer be able to collect "agency fees" from workers whom they represent but who choose not to join their locals.

Agency fees, charged to non-members to cover the cost of bargaining and representation, are typically at least 90 percent of union dues, and in some cases are equal. But under Janus, non-members will pay nothing.

If that weren't bad enough, in states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, and Indiana, the passage of right to work has been packaged with even more measures to hamstring unions and limit collective bargaining.

The Supreme Court ruling is just "the first of many hits that we are going to take," says Barbara Madeloni, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA). "But what we have that Wisconsin didn't have is an opportunity to prepare."

Recognizing the threat for several years now, big national public sector unions such as AFSCME and the National Education Association have thus far focused on convincing agency fee payers to become members. But today, unions realize that current members are also at risk of quitting and that a more ambitious engagement strategy is needed.

Most unions would agree that building stronger connections with members and non-members alike is key to survival. But some locals are building leadership structures inside the workplace that can not only keep member numbers up but also lay the basis for shop floor campaigns -- where members act on their own behalf on the job.

Contract Campaign Dovetails

AFSCME Local 3299, which represents University of California campus and health care employees, is a good model.

The 22,000-member local is preparing for Janus at the same time that it launches a contract fight. That way workers are encouraged not just to join the union but to use it to actively fight management.

The union settled its previous contract in 2013 after multiple short strikes, and used that momentum to prepare for a predicted loss of agency fee when the Supreme Court heard the Friedrichs case. (That Janus predecessor became deadlocked in the Court when Justice Scalia died last year.)

During that campaign, the local built up Member Action Teams (committees in each workplace with an ideal ratio of 1:10) and signed up 4,000 agency fee payers as members. The MATs have now turned to signing up existing members on commitment cards. Their goal is 90 percent.

This time around, the local also waged a six-month campaign for a membership vote to increase dues from 1.5 to 2 percent, knowing that after Janus it will have to spend more money on full-time and part-time organizers.

All in

In Massachusetts, MTA launched its "All In" campaign this fall not just to hang on to members but to develop record levels of activism in the union.

The union is fresh off last year's big victory against a ballot initiative that would have expanded charter schools in the state. The new campaign will deploy 10 organizers for 15 months to work with locals and train them on identifying leaders and having organizing conversations.

MTA is offering resources and support to locals that want to participate in the campaign. While the campaign includes signing up new members, "it has to go beyond card signing and just talking at someone about why it matters to be in a union," says Madeloni. Local leaders are enlisted to "find things members care about and develop a plan [to win them]. That has to be a key part of what we are training people to do."

"You can't put it up on your webpage or only put it out in your newsletter," says Maureen Posner, president of the Springfield local. "It's not going to be enough."

In Posner's local, building reps (stewards) at each school are tasked with getting each member to fill out an updated contact form. Reps are encouraged to chart their buildings. "That's a way to test which buildings are organized," says Posner.

The local has identified buildings that don't have a rep and are now pushing to recruit one rep for every 10 members. Building reps will share their experiences when they bring back the first round of cards to their next meeting.

Like New Organizing

California's Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1245 is preparing its 2,500 public sector members, including city and public utility workers, for Janus as if they were joining the union for the first time.

"In a new drive, you are building leadership," said organizer Fred Ross. "We are rebuilding and expanding leadership."

The union has launched a card-signing campaign, aiming to re-sign 100 percent of current members. Rather than pile that job on top of stewards' existing duties, they're reaching out to other respected workers willing to work on union building.

The local starts with a small group of volunteers in each workplace, who are asked to recruit a representative committee of members, and to make a plan to launch the card signing.

Volunteers also get education on the issues. In August, they were invited to a public-sector-wide meeting to learn about the union difference: What are wages and benefits like for comparable jobs in right-to-work states? What are contracts like? Research shows weaker contracts, lower pay, and fewer job rights.

At Sacramento Regional Transit, Connie Bibbs, a maintenance worker and steward, is on a committee that set up Q&A's at each bus station to talk about Janus. Each volunteer on the committee started with 10 assignments, people to talk to in their work area.

Bibbs says their diverse 25-person committee includes different work areas and social groups. "We realize some people might be more comfortable with certain people," she said.

Each committee plans its own campaign. Leaders in the City of Redding launched theirs by having a member BBQ and inviting family and community, to show that the importance of strong unions goes beyond the workplace.

M&M'S

The union at Glendale Community College in California faced a tough situation: like many faculty and grad student unions, the local had high turnover, especially among adjuncts. Only 66 percent of workers were members in 2015.

With support from their statewide union, the California Federation of Teachers, Glendale activists formed a Membership and Mobilization committee (M&Ms) and practiced one-on-one conversations. They organized pizza parties after work to give updates on contract talks.

At those meetings they sought out non-members and new employees. "It wasn't just signing up people to be members, it was giving people the opportunity to get involved," said Zohara Kaye, the local's president at the time.

But adjuncts don't work full schedules or have offices, so the local took other steps to reach them. They pulled up class schedules and made a plan for every person. Each M&M had a membership card and an update about the contract campaign to give to potential members, often right after their class ended.

M&Ms even left campus to find potential members at their second jobs or at local libraries. "Most people were extremely pleased," Kaye said about newly signed members, "and we had a face to put a name to."

In two years the local grew from 66 to 95 percent membership. And then it signed existing members on new cards.

Meanwhile, in contract talks, the administration was pushing for pay cuts, so the M&Ms' pitch became, "Come stand with us to show you support a fair salary deal," Kaye said.

When the call went out to pack a board of trustees meeting, 200 people (a fifth of the membership) showed up. Kaye was expecting 50. And when the local finally reached a contract that fought off concessions, the bargaining team made sure there were material wins for everyone, including higher raises for adjuncts.

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